Best way to transition to part-time?
Thread poster: PulpFriction
Dec 13, 2011

Hi all,

Looking for some feedback on a career transition I've been pondering. Bonus points for those who can speak from experience, but I'm also interested in the thoughts of those for whom it's an abstract question.

I've been a full-time freelance translator for about ten years, and it has lost much of its lustre. I make a decent living from a reasonably large roster of direct clients... but I can't translate day-in, day-out and hit around 250 deadlines a year anymore.
... See more
Hi all,

Looking for some feedback on a career transition I've been pondering. Bonus points for those who can speak from experience, but I'm also interested in the thoughts of those for whom it's an abstract question.

I've been a full-time freelance translator for about ten years, and it has lost much of its lustre. I make a decent living from a reasonably large roster of direct clients... but I can't translate day-in, day-out and hit around 250 deadlines a year anymore. It's just too draining.

So, I'm planning to scale back and spend more time on other pursuits. But I'm not seriously considering a complete career change just yet; I'm planning on going part-time for at least the next year.

Here's the question: what's the most sensible way to cut back on translation without burning a bunch of bridges or inadvertently leaving myself high and dry? How do I do this while keeping open the option of going full-time again?

The most obvious, perhaps safest, approach seems to be simply to stop accepting new clients and let normal client turnover whittle down my business to the more modest level I want. The hitch is that this could take too long to achieve the desired result. And you just know the "dream client" will come knocking the moment I resolve not to take new clients.

The other is to cherry-pick the most interesting offers and reject the rest. My concern is that this is even more wildly unpredictable than the usual freelance life.

No matter what I do, I'm at a loss as to how to deal with those clients whose work I'll start refusing. Do I simply tell them I'm scaling back and they didn't make the cut, and refer them to a colleague? Like many freelancers, turning away a client is completely counter to my natural reflex... it's hard to get my head around the idea of doing it systematically.

Any insights appreciated. (And as it happens I'm on a big deadline right now, so if this gets a conversation going I may not be able to check in for a few days...)
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Jenn Mercer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:29
Member (2009)
French to English
Form an Agency/Collaboration Dec 13, 2011

I understand when you say you are feeling burnt out. What is your tolerance for the administrative side of translation? If it is truly the translation piece that is exhausting you, consider collaborating with other translators. In this way, you could still serve your clients by making sure that you edit the work to meet their expectations. You could also keep some of the more interesting assignments for yourself. If you are working with direct clients, you should have enough of a margin to pay a... See more
I understand when you say you are feeling burnt out. What is your tolerance for the administrative side of translation? If it is truly the translation piece that is exhausting you, consider collaborating with other translators. In this way, you could still serve your clients by making sure that you edit the work to meet their expectations. You could also keep some of the more interesting assignments for yourself. If you are working with direct clients, you should have enough of a margin to pay a good rate. If not, you can always reduce your workload by raising your rates until the cheaper clients cry uncle.Collapse


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:29
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Do it gradually Dec 13, 2011

In my opinion, the most elegant way of getting rid of a customer that it is not that interesting, whatever the reason may be --in your case, your desire to recover time for your private life--, is to raise the rates you apply to them.

Believe me, I have thought about it very many times and every Christmas I look at my children and promise myself to take firm action to reduce my 14-hour working time to 10 or --sigh, that would be quite a dream-- 8 hours, and maybe enjoy some occasion
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In my opinion, the most elegant way of getting rid of a customer that it is not that interesting, whatever the reason may be --in your case, your desire to recover time for your private life--, is to raise the rates you apply to them.

Believe me, I have thought about it very many times and every Christmas I look at my children and promise myself to take firm action to reduce my 14-hour working time to 10 or --sigh, that would be quite a dream-- 8 hours, and maybe enjoy some occasional weekend with no work to do. But I am weak, and keep falling in the same situation where I feel that it is sad not to serve long-time customers. They are all very nice people after all!

Throttling work is probably the hardest thing to do for a translator. I have no experience here, but my plan is to increase the rates to the customers that are less interesting (be it because they consume a lot of time, are "high-maintaintenance" in communications, their jobs come back after delivery with little extra bits or new versions time and time again...).

By increasing their rates, they will send less work or will discontinue the relationship altogether. Choose a dozen core customers and keep working for them normally while the less interesting ones die out (in the metaphorical sense of course). Then you know how much work you get in the middle run. Take your time to assess the situation. Six months at least. Still too much work? Then increase the rate of a couple more customers.

Of course, you never want to have just two or three customers, since that is always a risk if one of the companies goes bankrupt or some VP enforces serious budget cuts that leave you out of the game. You want to keep doing work, right?

Just some ideas I have considered for a very long time and never put in practice!
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Claudia Brauer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:29
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Share your work load Dec 13, 2011

Seldom do I see a translator who wants to "scale down"! Wow. I am impressed. Most translators/interpreters I know are always looking for more work, not less. So, I believe there would be a huge demand for work from some of your colleagues. You might want to look into those who are already vetted by ProZ as part of the Pro team in your language pair. Or you may create your own little test based on previous translations you have already completed yourself and see how your peers meet your qua... See more
Seldom do I see a translator who wants to "scale down"! Wow. I am impressed. Most translators/interpreters I know are always looking for more work, not less. So, I believe there would be a huge demand for work from some of your colleagues. You might want to look into those who are already vetted by ProZ as part of the Pro team in your language pair. Or you may create your own little test based on previous translations you have already completed yourself and see how your peers meet your quality standards. This way you can create your own little network of translators with whom you share your work, without giving up your clients. And then you can always choose the amount you want to keep for yourself and the amount you will be sharing. Now then, you must be very careful about confidentiality. You should let your clients know that you will be sharing their work with trusted translators and see if they have any objections. Make sure you have your peers who will work with you sign a strict confidentiality agreement and a non-compete clause that binds them not to offer or receive work directly from your client during the entire duration of your agreement plus some more time (if they receive work for that client through a third party that would be Ok as they cannot control that piece).

Bottom line: All translators/interpreters are desperately looking to land clients. You have a gold mine if you have too much work. Don't give it away (and if you are going to give it away, give it away to someone who is "worthy" o it... some friend or colleague of yours who will take good care of your clients and give You work when you need it.)
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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:29
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Do not agree, and why Dec 13, 2011

Claudia Brauer wrote:
Bottom line: All translators/interpreters are desperately looking to land clients. You have a gold mine if you have too much work. Don't give it away (and if you are going to give it away, give it away to someone who is "worthy" o it... some friend or colleague of yours who will take good care of your clients and give You work when you need it.)

I am sorry but I simply do not agree. If you are serious about cutting down your working hours and "have a life", the worst approach is to have to worry about whether your decision was a good one:

- If you outsource work to other people, you not only make very little money in the end (if you choose good translators, I mean), but also have to supervise their work and worry when you find the first mistake. Chances are that you do not like the style or the attitude of your helping hand, which can cause discomfort. By outsourcing work, you become a full-time agency, instead of becoming a part-time translator as planned.

- If you introduce another translator to your customer, the customer might end up having problems with the translator. After all, what they want is you, not the other person. They will come back to you some day, and then you have to reject them again, which feels bad for all parties.

Personally I do not believe that it is a good idea to channel the work to other people. The customer is the one who should choose another translator and bear the responsibility in the long run. This way you also protect your "good old Jim" image and the memory of your work and character will always be a positive one. Life is very long, and you want to protect your good image as a reliable partner in case you need work in the future.


 

Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:29
Swedish to English
+ ...
Do it helpfully Dec 13, 2011

Suggestions:
1. Select the customers you most like (or least dislike) working for.
2. Tell them you are increasingly busy with other activities, and you are less available.
3. Tell them you prefer short documents.
4. Quote later delivery dates - always add a day or two.
5. Above all, keep these customers informed – tell them when you are / are not available.


 

PulpFriction
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the input so far... Dec 13, 2011

Thanks for all the replies. I had written one after the first couple of posts, but it spent so long waiting for moderator approval that much of it would have been irrelevant by now.

I'll chime in once the crunch is over.

Again, thank you. Some very helpful advice so far.

[Edited at 2011-12-14 13:42 GMT]


 

Adam Podstawczynski (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:29
Polish to English
+ ...
You should know yourself Dec 13, 2011

I had the same dilemma a few years ago, when I took not a part-time, but a full-time linguistic job for a company, and yet did not want to lose my best clients.

First I decided which clients are so valuable they must absolutely stay. Clients for whom I did not mind burning the midnight oil. I arranged with my new employer that they could contact me also at my new office hours. I communicated my new situation honestly but assured them that other than slight delays or deadline negotia
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I had the same dilemma a few years ago, when I took not a part-time, but a full-time linguistic job for a company, and yet did not want to lose my best clients.

First I decided which clients are so valuable they must absolutely stay. Clients for whom I did not mind burning the midnight oil. I arranged with my new employer that they could contact me also at my new office hours. I communicated my new situation honestly but assured them that other than slight delays or deadline negotiations there would be no difficulties from my side. And I continued working for them -- after my new office hours. It was not easy, but doable; especially because during that period I was living away from my family and simply had more time.

To other clients I spoke honestly too. I said that most probably I would reject most assignments, but that they were welcome to try. And they would try -- at least in most cases; and most of the times I rejected their jobs.

The situation lasted for over 10 months after which I came back to freelancing without losing a single client -- either valuable or not-so-valuable. My income from freelance translation was halved during those months, but it came back to normal very quickly. The most valuable clients did not notice any difference in dealing with me.

You know your clients best, so you are best positioned to answer your question.
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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:29
English to German
+ ...
In memoriam
I don't quite agree Dec 14, 2011

Claudia Brauer wrote:

those who are already vetted by ProZ as part of the Pro team in your language pair.


The Pro-Badge has absolutely, absolutely nothing to do with translation skills. This is highly deceptive.


All translators/interpreters are desperately looking to land clients.


Then I must be in the wrong club. Sounds like an invitation to all outsourcers who read this public forum to lower their rates.



 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:29
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Not really Dec 14, 2011

Claudia Brauer wrote:
All translators/interpreters are desperately looking to land clients.

Not my data either: the only translators I know who are not busy enough these days are those who did not notice (or did not want to notice) the bad trend in the field of software localisation and/or (normally and) decided to work for a single agency, mostly doing localisation. They now have to accept work from unreasonable agencies in that field, use their online MT-based platforms, and live with rates that are now about half of what they used to be in the 90's.

All other translators I know have plenty of work.


 

Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 07:29
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Raise your rates Dec 14, 2011

If you don't mind losing some clients then you are under little or no pressure in your negotiations, so you can impose your terms. If they paid 30% or 50% more, would they be still unattractive?

When you raise your rates, some clients accept it, others start sending less work, while others stop sending work (at least temporarily). Each of these outcomes seems to be fine for you.

Also, be more selective with the projects that you take on. If you prefer to avoid half-pag
... See more
If you don't mind losing some clients then you are under little or no pressure in your negotiations, so you can impose your terms. If they paid 30% or 50% more, would they be still unattractive?

When you raise your rates, some clients accept it, others start sending less work, while others stop sending work (at least temporarily). Each of these outcomes seems to be fine for you.

Also, be more selective with the projects that you take on. If you prefer to avoid half-page documents, raise your minimum fee.

When new clients approach you, quote a deadline and a price that make them attractive to you. This rate will be in the higher end of your ballpark.

There's never a better occasion to negotiate better condition than when you can afford to lose the assignment. If you downscale your operations first, it will be much more difficult to negotiate better terms later.

Those who accept your increased rates are likely to send you higher-profile jobs, which are often more interesting to you, too. This will increase your job satisfaction - which is also a crucial factor.

You don't need to apply this approach with all your clients at once, so you have quite a good safety net.

Best,
Attila


[Edited at 2011-12-14 10:36 GMT]
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Annett Hieber  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:29
English to German
Decide what you really want Dec 14, 2011

Although I can really understand you (I was in a similar situation two years ago around that time of year), I think it is hardly possible to throttle down your business from full-time to part-time. There will always be a (long-standing) client who urgently need a job to be done, and then you can't say no. You often will be in such ambigous situations.

It's my personal opinion that you should decide for yourself to go on pursuing this career or simply look for another line of busines
... See more
Although I can really understand you (I was in a similar situation two years ago around that time of year), I think it is hardly possible to throttle down your business from full-time to part-time. There will always be a (long-standing) client who urgently need a job to be done, and then you can't say no. You often will be in such ambigous situations.

It's my personal opinion that you should decide for yourself to go on pursuing this career or simply look for another line of business - or a full-time in-house translator job, for example, with fixed working hours.

Good luck for you and take your time for your decision!

Annett
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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:29
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Hm... Dec 14, 2011

Annett Hieber wrote:
It's my personal opinion that you should decide for yourself to go on pursuing this career or simply look for another line of business - or a full-time in-house translator job, for example, with fixed working hours.

Personally I don't think that taking an in-house job makes too much sense. Relinquishing the freedom of outsourcing, for a fraction of the money you can make freelancing? I don't know... Well, the only scenario in which I would do that is one where I really need fixed working hours to go back to university, to retrain for a 100% career change, or to engage in serious long-term training for some hobby (maybe picking up music or some other art again).

However, I entirely agree: any decision will require a lot of deep thinking about life, work, and balancing and making sense of both in the long run.


 

PulpFriction
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all Dec 14, 2011

Apologies if what follows is a little scattered; I'm at the tail end of a very busy day. I'm sure you know the feeling!

Without responding to each of you individually, let me thank you all for taking the time to chime in. All of you have been helpful and/or thought provoking in one way or another, even if not all in agreement with each other.

First, let me say that the recurring and related themes of raising prices and being more selective (or using prices to get client
... See more
Apologies if what follows is a little scattered; I'm at the tail end of a very busy day. I'm sure you know the feeling!

Without responding to each of you individually, let me thank you all for taking the time to chime in. All of you have been helpful and/or thought provoking in one way or another, even if not all in agreement with each other.

First, let me say that the recurring and related themes of raising prices and being more selective (or using prices to get clients to modify their behaviour) are very compelling points, and I thought Attila put this particularly well, pointing out that a time when I'm willing to lose clients is the ideal time to do it.

I'm not likely to be raising rates very much if at all for those clients whose work I really enjoy, but it makes a great deal of sense to do so for the more "mercenary" types of jobs that I tend to take out of - let's be frank - greed.

I have considered options such as giving myself a "promotion" to agency president, or more informally outsourcing some of my clients' work (and have actually done so from time to time), but the truth of the matter is that I'm not fond of project management, and don't relish the work of quality control and client contact for other translators. In a nutshell, this approach would multiply the number of deadlines I must deal with, and the constant barrage of deadlines is a big part of what's grinding me down.

I've also given some thought to going in-house. I'll spare you a detailed explanation, but suffice to say I know this isn't for me, though as Tomás's last post suggests there could be something to it as a means to achieve specific career-transition goals.

A final note for now: rest assured this isn't an end-of-year crunch-time whim. I've been thinking about this for a long time, and posted because the results of that thinking were still too murky, and some input from complete strangers seemed a good way to help bring some ideas into focus. (Sounds like a joke, but I'm serious... friends or close colleagues are not always the best people for this kind of discussion, though of course I've bounced some ideas off them, too.)
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