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How can a translator try to maintain a more or less constant workflow?
Thread poster: Bárbara H

Bárbara H  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:19
Member (2013)
German to Spanish
+ ...
Feb 6, 2015

As a freelance translator is not always easy to have a control over the workflow. There are periods during the year when you get more work you will be able to do at a given moment. So you will have to decline some job offers. And, unfortunately, there may be other periods that are excessively quiet.

I am wondering if there is a way to influence upon the workflow? I think this might be not easy at all, because, if I have a large number of customers that contact you for work at a busy time, you will have to kindly decline some offers. Maybe it will take some time until they come back again.

In the quiet times you may take the opportunity to improve your skills, take courses and, perhaps, find more customers which maybe you cannot attend at the very busy times. I think this is kind of a vicious circle…

Has anyone a good formula how to deal with those ups and downs or feast and famine periods?


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 19:19
Chinese to English
Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen Feb 7, 2015

The only solution is to always be turning work away. As you say, if you turn a client away too many times, they will go elsewhere, so you have to be looking for new clients even when you're already fully booked. This is the inefficiency of our market structure.

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:19
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Many things you can do Feb 7, 2015

But none of them will work 100%.

As Phil says, you do need a constant queue of clients. As one gives up waiting and leaves, another one should be ready to fill that slot. That's the theory, anyway. Those clients should be as diverse as possible: in all your subject areas; in all your language pairs; big and small clients; agencies and direct clients; around the world... That way you can weather "local" problems, whether in one country, one industry, one pair...

You could also outsource during a busy period to avoid turning clients away. But that brings its own crop of problems and fundamentally changes your role. If you're to have time to ensure quality work is being delivered, you're going to have to outsource more work. Before long, you could find you're acting as an agency.

If you don't want to go down that route then I think you'll have to expect some degree of "feast or famine": that's the lot of all freelancers, not just translators. Just make the best possible use of famine periods. Apart from the obvious marketing and networking measures, you could do some training, streamline your admin and bookkeeping, sort out your filing...or just take some leisure time before the next rush period.


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Andrej Fric  Identity Verified
Slovenia
Local time: 12:19
Member (2011)
German to Slovenian
+ ...
Second job / income source Feb 7, 2015

I find it also difficult to maintain my workflow more or less constant. Luckily I am also 3D mold designer so my 2 areas combined are more reliable source of workflow. However, I'm not even satisfied with that. So I found my 3rd job as trader in forex market. So far I'm just learning but I also generate small profit.
My experience is, in all markets providing solutions/services to the client, you can never rely on constant workflow. As a freelancer one must accept it and seek for possibilities of "2nd job" that can compensate highs and lows of the 1st job.


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Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:19
Spanish to English
+ ...
Diversification Feb 8, 2015

I can only repeat what others have said. Translation is my primary source of income, but, as you already know, it can be sporadic. I try to diversify my workload between legal and commercial texts, which are keeping me really busy right now, and video game localization. I find that the two balance well and I am able to stay busy. Of course, I would much rather translate a video game than a contract

Andrej, when you say 3d molds, are you referring to molds that you cast with something like resin or cement? I recently started sculpting and molding as a hobby. I love it.


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Kattenoog  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:19
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Variation Feb 9, 2015

To me, variety in the translation jobs that you do is the key to a fairly constant stream of jobs. Yet, even then there may be times when it is either like I need 4 pairs of hands to do everything that comes in or the same 4 pairs of hands have very little to do. Apart from translations, I'm a photographer and (beginning) writer and I hope that both other sources will lead to a bit more income during those times when translation jobs are running low.
Marcel


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Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 11:19
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
Surprised Feb 9, 2015

Honestly, I am quite surprised to learn that it's not only me with hands elswhere besides of translations. I provide market entry services in Portugal and sometimes I wonder what I am at all: a consultant or a translator. And sometimes I wonder if that is a good thing to disperse yourself this way.
I wonder what percentage, approximately, of ProZ members afford a comfortable level of life purely from translations.


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Armorel Young  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:19
German to English
Have "priority" and "second-tier" clients Feb 9, 2015

Cultivate a good and if possible long-term relationship with a couple of clients (if possible, direct ones) for whom you are their preferred translator in your language pair. If possible, never turn down work from these core clients. Have a couple more whose work you do whenever you can, but who you have to turn down occasionally. And have a wider circle of clients who approach you from time to time - if you are free, you take on their work but if you aren't you have no qualms about saying so and turning them down: both you and they understand that this is the basis on which you work. Enquiries from potential clients go into this same group of people whose work you take on if you have no higher-priority jobs in hand.

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Jean-Pierre Artigau
Canada
Local time: 06:19
English to French
+ ...
Another trick Feb 10, 2015

I can only agree with all that has been said. however I can suggest another trick for busy times when you have several assignments in line.
Of course the main reason why we sometimes decline offers is that we can't meet the deadlines. Very often the deadlines set by the client are not really imperative, you can still negociate on that point. If you can't meet the deadlline suggested by your client, don't just say no. Tell them you would be happy to do the work in question, but you are very busy (because you are such a good translator, of course) and suggest another deadline. Quite recently that little trick brought me a very interesting assignment.
Jean-Pierre


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Jean-Christophe Duc  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:19
English to French
+ ...
Tidy management Feb 11, 2015

You need first to establish how much you can reasonably expect to earn in a "normal" month, based on previous income. Then, you can set yourself targets and above all you need to put in place a system that tells you exactly and at all time how much is owed to you and the foreseeable expenses. You also need to build about a month's worth of income before you to avoid putting yourself under constant pressure.
As suggested above, you also need to build relationships with your clients, weed out all jobs that take a lot of time for not much, etc.
Once this is done, everything falls into place almost by itself and basically it is like running a train, putting cars at the right place, by way of negotiating deadlines, avoiding projects for which you don't feel you are the right person and the likes.


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Bárbara H  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:19
Member (2013)
German to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Feb 19, 2015

Many thanks to everybody for your valuable recommendations!

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Tiffany Hardy  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:19
Spanish to English
Get busy when you are slow Feb 20, 2015

Very good advice here. I can only add that you have a very important job to do during slow times (and as others have mentioned, even during busy times)...which is to look for more clients. If you take advantage of every quiet moment to reach out to your network ("keep in touch" feature on LinkedIn is great for this), apply to more agencies or do a mailing to businesses or individuals who may need your services, or attend translator events where you can network with other colleagues (who may be on the lookout for people they can pass work to on occasion), your down times will certainly become fewer and further between.

Saving money is absolutely key - mainly because often times you won't see the fruits of the marketing seeds you plant until much later, but the key is to constantly be planting!


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Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:19
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Proz membership Feb 23, 2015

At the risk of sounding like a saleswoman for Proz, which I certainly am not, I note that Asker is not a member. If you need more work, that is an obvious place to start. Most of my clients have come to me via Proz -- not from bidding, but from direct inquiries from outsourcers who have searched for a translator. As you undoubtedly know, the names of members come up at the top of the list, ordered by Kudoz points. One decent job pays for the membership fee.

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Richard Foulkes  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:19
German to English
+ ...
@Susan - if you don't mind me asking... Feb 23, 2015

Out of interest, how many 'proper' clients (as opposed to spam from bottom feeders) have you acquired this way and over how many years?

Perhaps your language combination is also slightly less crowded than others, so it may be that the benefits of membership are relative to your languages?


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Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:19
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
@Richard Feb 23, 2015

I don't know, maybe 15 good clients over 5-6 years (that's without looking at my records). I certainly get some emails via Proz from bottom-feeders, but I don't keep track of them, just delete them. Both of my language pairs are "crowded," but perhaps not as crowded as, say, the Spanish-English pair.

[Edited at 2015-02-23 23:15 GMT]


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