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Getting used to busy/totally empty workload periods
Thread poster: Anabel Martínez

Anabel Martínez  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:30
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Feb 7, 2011

Hi everyone,

Not long ago I wrote in this forum to ask for advice on how to get used to working at home again, after a few years as an on-site freelancer.

All of the advice given has been very useful, and I have had quite a busy schedule almost from the beginning, which is actually more than I was hoping for. So much so that recently I found myself unwilling to say no to interesting and new collaborations, and ended up working 4 weeks non-stop.

However, luckily for me this time, all things come to an end, but the end was quite abrupt, since now I find myself with no work at all. Sure, I have a lot of administrative tasks to complete, and I am keeping myself busy with them, and today is the first idle day, but I can't help but feel a nagging worry in my head... Worrying how long will the dry spell last, etc.

Since I have been so terribly busy, I really needed a rest, which makes me wonder, does this worry about uncertainty ever pass? Have you learnt to cope with it? Maybe with 20 years of freelancing experience behind? Please, reassure me there!

Thanks and have a nice day


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Gilla Evans  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
the nature of the beast? Feb 7, 2011

I think this is a very common problem. I am currently working at capacity and turning away work, but it only takes me half a day of idleness (well, catching up with my accounts) before I start panicking. I've been a freelance for many many years and usually have plenty of work, so it makes no sense at all.

I berate myself about it, but I think it is perhaps the nature of the beast.

I admire any colleagues who manage to make the most of any "free" time that a gap in work offers. Perhaps others might share their strategies for avoiding this instant panic?


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Mihaela Buruiana  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 22:30
Member (2011)
English to Romanian
+ ...
Similar worries Feb 7, 2011

Hi all,

I work both as an on-site and freelance translator and I'm currently trying to gather all my courage to part with my secure (and maddening) work place and become freelancer only. The main fear I'm confronted with is that I may not have enough work and, therefore, income. So I hesitate between putting up with my current job, as annoying and stressful as it may be, and going out there, facing the unknown, risking my welfare.

Any input on that from the more experienced? Thank you…


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:30
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Welcome to your professional life! Feb 7, 2011

Anabel Martínez wrote:
Since I have been so terribly busy, I really needed a rest, which makes me wonder, does this worry about uncertainty ever pass? Have you learnt to cope with it? Maybe with 20 years of freelancing experience behind? Please, reassure me there!

Well, unfortunately this is the nature of our profession. As independent professionals, we can never have a guaranteed income level or a constant workflow. Some moments you will work 6 AM-11 PM for three weeks, then rest a bit for a couple of days, then it all starts again. Just normal!

However, I think there are things you can do to improve the situation:
- Make sure you keep a rather varied portfolio of customers (companies from different parts of the world and different industries). I would say that the very minimum in terms of number of customers is 15-20 different agencies or direct customers.

- Agencies can send more work your way than most direct customers. Serve them with dedication, respond to their emails and calls immediately, show your availability and try to be flexible. Be very careful with deadlines and commit only to what you can really do.

- Be careful with your rates. Don't go too low or you will be working like crazy for very little money. If you charge too little, you will be short of cash in low periods... and your customers won't respect you.

Good luck!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:30
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
No reason for panic Feb 7, 2011

Gilla Evans wrote:
I think this is a very common problem. I am currently working at capacity and turning away work, but it only takes me half a day of idleness (well, catching up with my accounts) before I start panicking. I've been a freelance for many many years and usually have plenty of work, so it makes no sense at all.

Same in my case. In 15 years with my own business, I have never been idle, and the longest period with a low workload has been 3-4 days in a row. So there is really no reason to panic, but we do panic. After all, our expenses are quite regular and unavoidable and all we want is some reassurance that we will have enough money for everything and that we can sign a mortgage with some peace of mind.


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Anabel Martínez  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:30
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I agree, Tomás! Feb 7, 2011

Hi again,

Hi Tomás, thanks for the advice! Luckily I'm not new to freelancing, but for most of my career I have either worked on-site or was lucky enough to have enough regular work to keep me busy for very long periods of time. However, now the nature of my projects has changed, and it's like I'm starting all over again to build my client base.

I absolutely agree with you on the rates aspect, and rest assured that I'd rather not translate than do so for clients who don't respect my work I guess my worry about work does not come from an immediate need of money, since as a freelancer I am used to having savings for late payments or issues than can occur; that is to say, I do not urgently need work. However, even so, I get a bit restless not having any project waiting for me... And I was wondering how all of you managed to get rid of the fear of uncertainty, in case you succeeded in vanquishing it!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:30
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
You will not have enough work... at first Feb 7, 2011

Ella B wrote:
I work both as an on-site and freelance translator and I'm currently trying to gather all my courage to part with my secure (and maddening) work place and become freelancer only. The main fear I'm confronted with is that I may not have enough work and, therefore, income. So I hesitate between putting up with my current job, as annoying and stressful as it may be, and going out there, facing the unknown, risking my welfare.

Every business means a risk. And working as a freelancer is just a business like any other. You have to please your customers at a reasonable rate, convince them to hire you again, be flexible with them and, of course, supply a good quality according to the specifications and on or before the agreed deadline.

The key to success in freelancing is just being useful to the customer and offering reassurance in terms of quality, attention to detail and deadlines. Do these things and you will have work in due time. However, it is true that there will be months in which you don't get a single job.

In my opinion, you should probably keep your job and use a bigger fraction of your free time to advertise your services as a freelance. So you have to choose: either become a successful freelancer or you have a life.


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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:30
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
Find yourself a project Feb 7, 2011

Something you will work on during those quiet moments. It could be a website, book, glossary or simply studying something. Something that will help you in the long run.

Having something like that will make those slow periods much more peaceful

S


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:30
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Over a year Feb 7, 2011

Anabel Martínez wrote:

..... the end was quite abrupt, since now I find myself with no work at all.... Worrying how long will the dry spell last, etc.



Although I've been doing translations for almost all of my working life, I have only been seriously freelancing for about 3 years and I also have other non-translation-related activities, and an academic job. When the translating is going well, I can make more money (and with far less stress) from that than I can from my academic work or those other activities.

The trouble is, I find that translating does tend to come in avalanches followed by droughts. So I keep on with the academic work because (inter alia) it brings in a payment regularly every month and enables me to refuse translation jobs that would just bore me.

It probably depends on your language pair. I work mainly for clients based in Italy, and in Italy there are certain times of the year when there's a big rush on (e.g. just before Christmas) or when things suddenly go dead quiet (January, national Italian holidays, August).

I keep a daily record of what happens. This can be very useful in working out, over a year, what the pattern seems to be. I have a small number of good regular clients, and I ought to put more effort into getting some more....

Moneywise, there are the same periods of flood and drought, but if you average your earnings out over a 12-month period, you may find that you're doing OK despite the "dry" periods.

The main reason why I become anxious during dry periods is because I am addicted to translation. I love doing it so much that I suffer from withdrawal symptoms if I haven't got a nice meaty translation to be working on !

Such as today



[Edited at 2011-02-07 14:56 GMT]


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Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 15:30
Member (2008)
English to French
Trust in the cycles... and keep a nest egg :-) Feb 7, 2011

At first I was also worried about the perceived highs and lows until I started crunching the numbers.

My income can vary 4-fold month to month but it stays stable on a yearly basis so I budget based on that average (2x the amount earned in the smallest month, 1/2 the income of a mega month), this allows me to allocate half of my income to savings or luxuries and I am comfortable on the knowledge that the smallest months are enough for the basics (roof, food, etc.) so even in a long stretch of mini-months I won't be left out in the cold. I have found that about 2 months a year are "mega-months", 2 months a year are "mini-months" and the other 8 are "average". Personally, over the last few years, January and April have been mini and March and July have been mega.

I have come to appreciate and savour the mini-months for the personal freedom they afford me (more time to read books, watch movies, travel, etc.) and the mega-months for the financial freedom they afford me (technically after a mega month I could take an entire month off and still hit my budget). But I keep a watchful eye on the year-end tally so as not to overextend myself and dip too much into my savings. The equivalent of a 3-month nest egg (easily accessible, not in registered plans or invested in other things that are not easy to liquidate) should be enough to tide one over until work picks up.

When you say you worked 4 weeks non-stop, can you quantify that in hours, say compared to a 35 or 40-hour work week? If you've just done the equivalent of 6 weeks (or God forbid, 7 weeks) worth of work in 4 weeks there is no need to worry. Consider it payback for the weekends sacrificed and the vacation time you would have accumulated at an in-house job and don't sweat it. Prospect new clients, catch up on your reading list, manage your terminology and your TMs or just kick back and watch a movie...

Just don't forget to build a nest egg! Your long-term career depends on it since, as was mentioned by other posters, you won't be tempted to start cutting rates because you are missing the necessities in life (rent/food). You're better off working less at full rate than more at cut-throat rates, both from a mental and emotional point of view as well as a professional and financial one.

I just saw your latest post (I've been writing this as I'm watching TV so it's taken a while;-) )so I know that you are aware of many of these points already but I'll leave the last few paragraphs in support of your thoughts and to reassure you that you're not the only one! As long as you have a (financial) plan, the high road is always the best to take and just enjoy the ride!


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Adam Łobatiuk  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:30
Member (2009)
English to Polish
+ ...
@ Ella Feb 7, 2011

Ella B wrote:
I work both as an on-site and freelance translator and I'm currently trying to gather all my courage to part with my secure (and maddening) work place and become freelancer only. The main fear I'm confronted with is that I may not have enough work and, therefore, income. So I hesitate between putting up with my current job, as annoying and stressful as it may be, and going out there, facing the unknown, risking my welfare.

Any input on that from the more experienced? Thank you…


Sorry for hijacking the thread, but I thought I'd share my experience with Ella.

Talk to your boss and explain that you'd like to continue your cooperation as a freelancer, and it would be mutually beneficial: the company won't be paying for your social security, and you won't be wasting time on commuting. You can also mention areas that you want to pursue that the company doesn't operate in, so you won't be a competitor. If applicable in your country, you might also mention the fiscal advantages of being a businessperson-bosses understand those things very well (IT equipment costs, phone and Internet bills, etc).
This way you will keep doing what you're doing already (so you lose nothing), and with time you'll find more sources of work. Good luck!


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:30
French to English
+ ...
Perpetual paranoia Feb 7, 2011

Hi Anabel,

Join the club: we must all be perpetual worriers. I've been translating freelance for 22 years now and I still start to worry if a couple of days go by without any work. It doesn't happen very often and my income is usually pretty steady over the year, but it still doesn't help when you're faced with a bare desk, a silent phone and a mockingly empty inbox.

These days I do try and have "projects" lined up to keep me busy, as others have suggested. In my last quiet spell last May/June I started setting up my website, something I'd been meaning to do for ages and the time before that, several years earlier, I finally got round to joining the ITI, again a job that had been on my "To do" list, but when I was busy I didn't have time to do all the paperwork. Both projects have been well worthwhile, so the enforced down time was actually really useful. In the summer, it's not a problem as I can quite happily spend hours in the garden or the allotment - but you can always guarantee that the minute you stray too far from your desk, someone will ring or e-mail with a big project and bang goes your free time - then of course, you feel quite cross - or maybe I'm just perverse!

I posted a poll on this subject a few days ago, which had some quite interesting responses too. See: http://www.proz.com/polls/7109

All the best,

Claire


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Bilbo Baggins
Catalan to English
+ ...
Don't worry, enjoy the break:-) Feb 8, 2011

Anabel Martínez wrote:

I have had quite a busy schedule almost from the beginning, which is actually more than I was hoping for. So much so that recently I found myself unwilling to say no to interesting and new collaborations, and ended up working 4 weeks non-stop.

However, luckily for me this time, all things come to an end, but the end was quite abrupt, since now I find myself with no work at all. Sure, I have a lot of administrative tasks to complete, and I am keeping myself busy with them, and today is the first idle day, but I can't help but feel a nagging worry in my head... Worrying how long will the dry spell last, etc.

Thanks and have a nice day


I rarely have a spare moment (if I have it is used catching up), and just recently (over the last 2 months) I have been working to the point, at times, that I'm ready to cry; on top of that, I'm really nervous, have put on weight (fast) and am not eating properly or exercising.

It's truly hard to get a sense of balance, even after my 10 or so years in the business, but now I've set aside a week's break for S-O-O-N and will do so every quarter from now on, come what may:-)

That said, it's really difficult to say no to a) interesting jobs, b) preferred clients and c) new jobs with potential (good money, interesting work etc). It's also worrying to be living through a recession and wondering when it's going to hit you and how.


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Adrian Grant  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:30
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Six foot under Feb 8, 2011

Looking at it from another direction, if you're self-employed you can't be made redundant after 25 years working for an ungrateful employer in a crappy environment, and left with little or no prospect of re-employment.

As a freelance translator you can have any number of "employers" (clients), and this gives you security through distribution (eggs in many baskets rather than just one).
And to carry off the prize, you get to work as little or as much as you like, without having to leave the house or even get dressed.

With regard to empty work periods, well that happens at all levels of business. The difference is that, as a freelancer, with your own skill base and client base, an empty work period will not get you laid off, like it will the company guy.

Undertakers have no employers, as well as no regular clients, and they probably have relatively empty work periods too (e.g. early summer), but they know that the next job is waiting for them, just round the corner.


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Mihaela Buruiana  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 22:30
Member (2011)
English to Romanian
+ ...
Thank you Feb 8, 2011

Thank you for your advice and thoughts. The perspective of not having any work for a whole month scares me a lot (:D to put it nicely), especially since I'm used to working both at the office and at home.
In any other case, Adam's idea would be great, but I'm afraid it does not apply to my situation. Or, who knows, I'll look into it, anyway.

One thing is for sure: provided I keep my current clients, I still need to find more clients to compensate for my job. Otherwise I will find myself worrying about all that spare time and no money.


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