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Emergency survival when incapable of working
Thread poster: Dylan Jan Hartmann

Dylan Jan Hartmann  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

May 17, 2016

How, as translators, are we best to protect ourselves and our income in times of emergency?

I ask this after a particularly troublesome month for me, my wife and our 2 children.

I think it may be an important aspect for us all to keep in mind.

It began like this. I'm a pretty active cyclist, involved in the racing scene here in Thailand as well as plenty of social rides. On an early Sunday 4 weeks ago, coming down the large mountain that overshadows Chiang Mai, I lost traction of my front tyre and fell off the bike, straight into an oncoming 4wd pickup. I lost consciousness immediately, but looking at some of the pictures afterwards, it seems my bike got stuck under the front of the vehicle, stopping my body from going under as well! 3 bones in my arm were broken, as well as 2 ribs and my collarbone. My lung was punctured, I had bleeding on the brain and I lost a lot of blood, which is usually quite serious for a B blood type in Asia, fortunately the hospital had stores! They were also concerned about fractures in 2 vertebrae. And, I was smiling with a cracked and dying front tooth!

I was completely out of it for 3 days, and in the following 3 I spoke complete nonsense. Gladly, after 8 days I was back to normal, nursing a sore arm and collarbone and cleared of any other internal problems.

I had 2 projects running at the time of the accident. My wife luckily took control of my mobile phone and seeing several work emails appearing, she emailed those project managers (from my favourite agency) stating the seriousness of what had just happened, and they were fully understanding and were able to sort the projects out with other linguists. Only kind and good messages were received from the PMs, wishing that I would heal quickly.

The other offers for jobs during that period, I ignored completely.

My health insurance covered all of the medical costs, but it was my family's upcoming living costs that concerned me!

After 8 days, I had regained enough consciousness and started to worry about the realities of life, i.e. food and expenses for the next few months! I began to select offers that I could confidently subcontract and proof before submission and continued this for 2 weeks. There was no way that April was going to be a high-earning month but it was going to bring in enough to make it even on expenses.

I now think this is one of the bonuses of the universal 45-90 day payment periods of all agencies. When you are incapable of earning for a certain amount of time, you'll always rest assured that there's still going to be some money coming in.

I started to be able to type with more than a single hand after those two weeks and could choose projects that weren't urgent and ones that I could handle okay. Since then, I've been getting more and more movement back and now I can type pretty well, as long as I don't have to move my arm. The broken bones and collarbone all affected my right arm. Luckily, I'm ambidextrous, so swapping the mouse to the left hand side didn't work too bad. This month, May, so far has been average, yet I'm still ignoring the urgent or high pressure tasks.

So following this experience, I wanted to ask the community, have you thought about the unexpected? How have you planned to survive through it?

In a professional employment environment we could take paid sick leave, but this doesn't exist in our freelance industry, so what can we do?

(my eldest daughter is happy that Daddy's getting better)


Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:22
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Thailand May 17, 2016

As a Thai translator, I deeply sympathized with you on 2 issues:

1. Bike riding in Thailand is quite dangerous. I am working with the Thai and the Japanese governments for 2 years to eradicate such 2nd global top rank traffic accidents but we fail so far in this country.
2. Human feeling: I once broke my left forearm due to falling from a mango tree in my house. I delayed delivery of 2 ongoing jobs after brief notices. Both agencies said sorry for my misfortune. Later, they claimed and paid less for my delivery.

Nothing on earth goes on the side a misfortune bearer ever expected. Please be patient, DJHartman, my old (cyber-based) friend.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:22
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Cycling May 17, 2016

I'm happy to hear you got over your nasty accident. As a serious cyclist, you probably travel very fast but have no protection, so anything you collide with is going to hurt you.

I'm not a serious cyclist myself, but I have a couple of neighbours who are. Recently, on a very ordinary training ride, one of them glanced sideways just for a second and was temporarily dazzled by the sun. Travelling at approximately 35 mph she ran into a parked car and smashed the windscreen as well as many parts of her own body.

She was in hospital for weeks and has still not recovered completely. She's lucky that here in the UK, medical treatment is free at the point of delivery because if not, this would have cost her a fortune.

You cannot plan for the unexpected. That would be a contradiction in terms. Risk is inherent in living. I have no idea what I would do if I suddenly found myself unable to work. I would cross that bridge when I came to it.

I guess the main thing is to have plenty of money in the bank, as a safety net.

A biblical quotation has just occurred to me:

" Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

[Edited at 2016-05-17 10:29 GMT]


Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Some thoughts May 17, 2016

So sorry to hear that. I fell on ice in front of my own house in January and broke my right arm, but it was fortunately not so bad that I couldn't work. I simply needed a few more days for an on-going project.

You said: "I now think this is one of the bonuses of the universal 45-90 day payment periods of all agencies. When you are incapable of earning for a certain amount of time, you'll always rest assured that there's still going to be some money coming in.”

Sorry to disappoint you, but that simply means the gap in income will appear 45-90 days later. The duration of the gap and the total loss of income will be exactly the same.

As a general precaution, it would be wise to keep a cash reserve in savings accounts, sufficient to cover 6-12 months' complete living costs. That means having enough discipline not to dive into the 'rescue' fund just because one wants the latest flat screen/tablet/smartphone or whatever. By spending less than one earns, one can build up such a fund, but that's easier said than done, I know.

The question of how much insurance to pay to cover all eventualities is a more difficult one. One can insure one's earning ability, the cost of permanent care and a lot more, but it doesn't come cheap. If one participates in dangerous activities like this, more insurance would probably be a good idea.

At least I hope you'll soon find a way to get back to work, even with reduced speed.

[Edited at 2016-05-17 10:33 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-05-17 10:37 GMT]


Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:22
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Get well soon May 17, 2016

DJHartmann wrote:
In a professional employment environment we could take paid sick leave, but this doesn't exist in our freelance industry, so what can we do?

My God you are lucky you're not dead, really. Glad to see you're on the mend. Would not now be a fortuitous time to look into the use of voice recognition? (Dragon Naturally Speaking or similar.)

The curse of self-employment is that, in essence, we ARE what we sell. It is our personal skills and services that clients want, so substitution isn't realistic. You could arrange a few names of other translators to recommend to clients, just in case, but beyond that...?

Growing a business so that it is no longer dependent on the founder is an age-old theme and fraught with risk. And of course many freelancers simply don't want to grow their business beyond themselves, for their own excellent reasons.


PS beautiful child BTW


Niina Lahokoski  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:22
Member (2008)
English to Finnish
+ ...
Savings May 17, 2016

Sorry to hear about your accident. Get well soon!

I love horse riding, and it's not exactly the safest of hobbies, so I have given some thought to this. I'm afraid pretty much the only thing we freelancers can do (apart from insurance) is to aim for an income that allows us to save for "a rainy day". That is, we have to try to set our rates to a sufficient level, and keep a good, varied client base so that one client dropping out doesn't cause to much havoc.

In some countries, entrepreneurs have access to similar social security benefits as employees in case of illness or temporal incapacity, so it's always a good idea to check if you are entitled to something like that.


Mirja Maletzki  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:22
Korean to German
+ ...
Passive income May 17, 2016

I’m glad you’re on the mend and I hope you get better soon.

I’m a big fan of passive income. This doesn’t have much to do with translation itself but for me it's one of the the ultimate goals in life.

Passive income could be income from rent, from dividends or from book royalties (or tons of other smaller niches).

I think you might be actually in the perfect situation, living in Thailand. The cost of living is low and you probably have clients paying in dollars and Euros.

I have a friend who’s building a house on Koh Samui at the moment and she paid for the whole house and the plot less than I paid for just my plot in Germany. She’s planning on renting it out to tourists. Since Chiang Mai is a tourist destination, maybe this could be a way for you to create passive income as well? You could just hire a company to do the renting and take care of other related stuff (cleaning, marketing) and pay them a percentage of the money you’re making.

Dividends: Though blue chip stocks don’t have the highest dividends, they are at least relatively stable and low risk. There are companies on the market that have been paying and increasing dividends for more than 50 years straight. The good thing is, US companies usually pay out their dividends every 3 months, so if you pick your stocks wisely, you can get dividends every single month into your account.

Book royalties: I don’t know much about Thailand but the Korean market really likes Westerners who can speak Korean. I could imagine you’d maybe be able to write a book (or ten) about your experiences in Thailand and sell them? Royalties are also paid either every couple of months or once or twice a year.


Local time: 09:22
Spanish to English
Get well May 17, 2016

Quite list of injuries! Not nice at all...

Anyway, my solution is really old fashioned: take out some sick insurance - there are loads of plans for the self-employed. Otherwise a small savings scheme (maybe again with an insurer) that you can always use for other purposes, like kids' education, later on.

As Dan said, Dragon is an idea. If it doesn't pack up on the switch to Windows 10 (or something) like mine did!


Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:22
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Longer payment terms are good in this case May 17, 2016

Thomas T. Frost wrote:

You said: "I now think this is one of the bonuses of the universal 45-90 day payment periods of all agencies. When you are incapable of earning for a certain amount of time, you'll always rest assured that there's still going to be some money coming in.”

Sorry to disappoint you, but that simply means the gap in income will appear 45-90 days later. The duration of the gap and the total loss of income will be exactly the same.

I disagree that this is a downside. In fact I view it as one of the only upsides of long payment terms. If something like an accident happens, you know you are covered at least for the time being with money still coming in, and you have 45-90 days to prepare for that upcoming gap in income. That is enough time to hold off on major purchases or discuss emergency payment plans for people and organisations you expect to owe money to over that period. It is also enough time to call on your support network and get help if you need it without being an instant financial burden on others; they also have time to make arrangements to help you if that is what is necessary.

Of course, having an emergency buffer or savings account is better because you have instant peace of mind and do not have to scurry around making arrangements whilst injured. But if you find yourself in a pickle without the buffer to rely on, those long payment terms are a plus, I think.

DJ, glad to hear you are on the mend. Take care of yourself!


Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:22
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Insurance May 17, 2016

Another thought on this topic. In the West at least, you can get insurance for situations that would leave you out of work. But I haven't done much research into this. Right now my backup plans include having emergency buffer money and having dictation software installed and being relatively familiar with how it works so I can dictate my work if I break an arm or something.


Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:22
German to English
Get well soon! May 17, 2016

And take care of your fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, back, eyes, etc.: Don't burden yourself with permanent problems by hurrying back to work.

And then start saving: Freelancers have paid sick leave, too, they just have to save up the money for it themselves.

A lot of us are going to have major and minor accidents over the next decades. Some of us are going to go through extended treatment for major illnesses or have extended personal crises and be unable to effectively work for many months at a time. A lot of us will end up buying a house or a car that turns into a money pit or needing to help loved ones with major, unexpected financial problems. Almost all of us are probably going to end up unable to work effectively for many years or decades at the end of our lives.

Insurance is probably the only viable solution for things like death, permanent disability or retirement, but we need to be three or six months or twelve months ahead of our expenses, because being vulnerable to a lack of income any shorter than that means betting on consistently being lucky for decades.

So, I don't know how to protect your income, but it's easy to protect the well-being of yourself and your family when it comes to more or less predictable disasters like this. Save 20% of your net income for one year and put it in the bank and there you have it: Three months' paid sick leave.


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
"Emergency envelope" May 17, 2016

First, I wish you a very quick and full recovery! You are back here in the fora, and that is the best news.

Having three children (one of them born this year) and a wife, as well as a little translation office with two employees, I have given a lot of thought to this over the last few years. First there is the obvious stuff: you need to be insured, i.e. have life insurance that, in case of a serious event, will allow surviving family members pay any debt and carry on with a fairly normal life. Luckily my wife has a stable job, so I am reasonably sure that neither her nor my children would go hungry of the worst happened. It does not do any harm to have a last will and testament, especially in countries (like Spain) where the government takes precedence if you do not have one.

Now, what I wrote is a little 16-page little "brochure" (made it in PowerPoint with a big font) which I update every year approximately. I keep a copy at home and another one in the office in a closed envelope. My wife knows that, should something big happen, she has to go through the information and ask my chartered accountants, a lawyer, or a trusted family member for help. My oldest employee knows what the envelope is and has instructions to hand it over unopened to my wife or two other designated people whose phone numbers appear on the envelope.

Now, this little brochure contains the information any responsible person will need as a starting point in either covering for me (if I am not capable of working at all for an extended period of time) or honouring any work and payment commitments with everybody until the office is discontinued (if I am mentally disabled or simply gone for ever). It also contains information of who my chartered accountants are, what my employee's salary is, where I have bank accounts and whether I owe any sums to anyone (basically a mortgage), how much work is needed every month to keep my translation office sustainable, etc.

Just email me via my profile if you need any ideas as to what such a brochure should contain. It will heavily depend on your professional situation and whether you hire other people, etc.

I sincerely hope my little brochure is never actually needed!icon_smile.gif


Mohd Hamzah  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:22
English to Malay
+ ...
Take rest for a while May 17, 2016

Sorry to hear the incident just happened to you. It really make me have long thought if such incident happened to me or my family.

At this difficult time, sufficient savings and insurance are really helped. Take care.


Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:22
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
Sounds like you'll have a few good excuses for the odd typo or two ;) May 17, 2016

Begads, must be that dang blood clot on the brain again, hand's got a mind of its own nowadays, bet you'll get a few laughs from the PMs.

A few years after I started translating I had a full frontal motorbike crash into a car (bloody VW polo). Both vehicles were doing about 80kmh so as the only thing moving when all things collide was this idiot biker, balls smashed into petrol tank at an estimated 160 kmh, flew over bars, back flipped into windscreen, somersaulted over car the nearside wheel of which crushed me foot against the kerb and snapped me leg in half. As petrol started flooding out of the bike's tank and under the by now immobile idiot biker, some poor old lady in the car started screaming, which was understandable after seeing almost 2 m of idiot biker ride right into her and throw a coupla moves in very quick succession that woulda put Nadia Comanechi to shame in her day. Anyway she's in the car desperate to get out so starts slamming the door open right into my head (always wear a helmet, you never know when you'll need it). Bang, can't get out of car, idiot's head's in way. Try again, bang twice, bang harder, bang, I shout "OK, you've won!"

Anyway to cut a long story short, the actual accident was a blast, like WOWsville, laughin all the way to the hospital, but getting better was a bummer, a long hard one too. I started working again almost as soon as I could type just like you are. As you say having invoices in the pipeline keeps the cash flowing, but nowadays I have a little on the side too just in case there's a next time.

If you're immobile and want to stay fit one of those electristimulata thingmajigs is great. I was laid up in bed for 3 months until my screwed back together pelvis was more or less the shape it should be again and that electroshock therapy helped keep muscle tone. If you're not walking just don't forget to electrishock yer bum a bit (ask me how I know) because it's an important muscle group for moving the leggies and the first time you start walking or again......

Get well soon mate.


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 01:22
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
One more suggestion May 17, 2016

I'm very sorry to hear of your accident and I wish you a speedy recovery. In addition to all the good suggestions (insurance, another source of income, savings) I would recommend having one or more colleagues to refer job inquiries to.

I was sick last year and had to take 2 months off. I put an automatic message on my email and on referring any job inquiries to a colleague that I trust and have a good working relationship with. I think your regular clients will appreciate that and will come back to you when you (and your colleague) let them know that you are ready.

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