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Quiet Patch?
Thread poster: Joanna Coryndon

Joanna Coryndon  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:40
French to English
Oct 17, 2013

Dear All

I posted on this forum at the beginning of the year and got some fabulously encouraging replies. I consequently set myself up as a freelance French to English translator and was very soon drowning in work, to my surprise and delight. Everything was going brilliantly until July/August and then suddenly it was as if someone turned off a tap. There is simply nothing... and I spend my day gazing increasingly despairingly at my inbox. I've contacted all my agencies, who have reassured me that it's nothing I've done, or not done, it's just a quiet patch. I've tried to use the time productively to find more work (CV and profile updating, contacting other agencies, etc.) But it's been going on for nearly two months now and I'm getting a little anxious!

Any thoughts? Anyone experiencing, or has anyone experienced, something similar?

Thanks in advance


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Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:40
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Hang in there Oct 17, 2013

Joanna Coryndon wrote:

Dear All

I posted on this forum at the beginning of the year and got some fabulously encouraging replies. I consequently set myself up as a freelance French to English translator and was very soon drowning in work, to my surprise and delight. Everything was going brilliantly until July/August and then suddenly it was as if someone turned off a tap. There is simply nothing... and I spend my day gazing increasingly despairingly at my inbox. I've contacted all my agencies, who have reassured me that it's nothing I've done, or not done, it's just a quiet patch. I've tried to use the time productively to find more work (CV and profile updating, contacting other agencies, etc.) But it's been going on for nearly two months now and I'm getting a little anxious!

Any thoughts? Anyone experiencing, or has anyone experienced, something similar?

Thanks in advance


Hi Joanna,

Yes I went through a period of this too. I started full time this year and had a very easy time getting enough work for a few months and then almost did not work in March at all! I think you're smart to use this time to contact agencies and what not. Other thoughts for things to do on a slow day (or slow month): volunteer, read / watch TV or a movie in your foreign language, look into a MOOC ... and the list goes on.

Good luck!


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:40
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Followed this site for more than 10 years Oct 17, 2013

Dear Joanna,

I've followed this website for more than a decade now and I've never discerned a general pattern other than panic around Christmas.

You've probably had a lot of luck when you started out. A few years ago I had the feeling that I was the king of French cheese into Dutch translations. Some clients must have tipped eachother about my work. This year I haven't done one cheese translation.

Agencies can be mean too. When they've had one or two complaints about your work they'll just move on to the next translator without ever telling you. Those complaints can be completely unjustified but for an agency retaining a customer can be more important than arguing with a translator.

Good luck,
Gerard


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564354352  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 08:40
Danish to English
+ ...
Hang in there Oct 18, 2013

Hi Joanna

In my experience, the translation world is utterly and completely unpredictable. One year, you will be working flat out during the summer holidays because clients have decided to send off loads of work that can then be ready when they get back from their own holidays. The next year, they either get better organised and distribute any translation work more evenly, or they simply do not have the same need. The year after that, they may have a new product line, for which they need translation, and at the same time, they want you to update all the work you did for them before, and suddenly you are inundated with work from them again.

There is no way of telling when those peak periods will occur and for which clients. The only thing you can do to safeguard your business is to do what you are doing now: hang in there, use your time creatively, contact more potential clients, spread your wings further afield... Get better at what you do, read up on your specialist subjects in your working languages, maybe research new subject fields, do terminology work, get better at using CAT tools and any other software you work with etc. Maybe consider a different, creative marketing strategy, or aim at direct clients within your specialist areas rather than agencies...

I understand that there is quite a lot of competition in your language pair, and I would say that you have had a beginner's luck to be inundated with work so quickly. I think it would be more realistic to think that it takes at least two years to get a steady flow of business going. But then again, I don't think there are any general rules of thumb to go by in our line of work.

Don't give up yet, if you're a good translator and work hard at finding clients, there is plenty of work out there, and some of it will end up on your desk.

Good luck!

Gitte


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:40
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Another pattern Oct 18, 2013

Gerard de Noord wrote:
I've followed this website for more than a decade now and I've never discerned a general pattern other than panic around Christmas.

And panic before the summer holidays!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:40
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Just one thought Oct 18, 2013

Joanna Coryndon wrote:
Any thoughts? Anyone experiencing, or has anyone experienced, something similar?

Just one thought in case this helps you strategically in the future. Unfortunately, in our profession there is only two possible states: A) either you have a reasonable volume of work during half of the year (when you have work), or B) you have an excessive volume of work half of the year, and a reasonable volume of work in the rest of the year.

I am exaggerating of course, but ideally a translator should be somewhere between A o B. This of course means actively marketing yourself while you already have work, having a larger and more globally widespread customer base, and accepting an coping amount of work many times in the year just to ensure that you will have a steady flow of work during the year.

Just my opinion! The balance between overload and quiet patches is probably impossible to strike for independent translators, and this has been a matter of debate for ages here.


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Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:40
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Beginner's luck Oct 18, 2013

It does usually take a while to start getting regular work. I know some freelance translators who took two whole years to build up their business. I don't mean that to discourage you in any way but I do think that there are some agencies that may get a lot of work in certain language pairs and in other language pairs the work is more sporadic. I have some agency clients that have sent me maybe two projects in a year and it's hard to identify in advance which ones these are going to be.

It sounds as though you had beginner's luck. The good thing about that is that you have experience and you can now market yourself to new agencies from a different position in the market. It's definitely worth taking this time to find new clients. Finding clients who send you work regularly, are good to work with and don't need chasing up for payments, is often a case of trial and error so it sounds as though you're doing the right thing.

Also, try not to panic too much and/or blame yourself. (It's not you, it's them *joke*)
We freelance translators tend to think that we've done something wrong, or that things will never change when the work doesn't form a constant trickle in our inboxes but really, it's just a sign that you need new clients.

Good luck!


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Gudrun Wolfrath  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:40
English to German
+ ...
Don't worry too much, Joanna. Oct 18, 2013

There are always quiet times in between. This is quite normal.

I have been working as a freelance translator for 20 years. These are just the normal ups and downs I think.


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Joanna Coryndon  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:40
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you, everyone! Oct 18, 2013

Dear All

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my 'worried in France' post.

I think the most important message you all gave me is to hang in there.

You're right about beginner's luck, I'm sure. Most of my work was coming from one particular agency. I think I was flavour of the month all the way through March, April, May, June and July, until suddenly I wasn't. I have contacted them and they've said that it's nothing I've done, or not done, and that they love working with me...at the same time I can't believe a big agency is suddenly not getting any FR>EN work. Perhaps they are, but not as much, and they're doing it in-house. Ho hum. I can but speculate.

The irony of ironies is that I had SO much work I bought Trados in September. And haven't had a chance to use it!

But thanks to you guys, I will keep on with the CV overhaul and the demoralising agency contacting. I'll also sign up with Traductions Sans Frontières, learn to use Trados properly, and hone a killer bid text, etc. etc. I want to develop a specialism too, and am thinking of law, because I'm going to try and become 'assermentée' next year. So I'll put up another post about that - how to get experience in translating legal texts. Lots to do then, while hanging in there and preparing for the Christmas panic!

Thank you so much again. It's extremely heartwarming to know you're out there!


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:40
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Unpredictable Oct 18, 2013

Gitte Hovedskov, MCIL wrote:

Hi Joanna

In my experience, the translation world is utterly and completely unpredictable.


Yes - that's true and it's quite a problem. Sometimes I have periods of too much translation work, and then suddenly everything goes so quiet that I begin to think the world has stopped turning.

For the past few years I've been keeping a daily diary, as a way of trying to predict the highs and lows, but there's no real pattern except for the August holiday followed by the quiet September, which is normal in my language pair.

I spent last July working so hard on a massive job that I almost made myself ill, working day and night for a full month (including weekends). At the moment I have almost no work and am wondering when it might pick up again - or even IF it will ever pick up again ! I get those feelings on a regular basis !



[Edited at 2013-10-18 08:49 GMT]


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Joanna Coryndon  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:40
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Ditto Oct 18, 2013

Absolutely ditto, Tom in London, for thinking the world has stopped turning, or at least gone off somewhere and forgotten about you, and also for working so hard you almost make yourself ill.

You're not alone!


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Helen Hagon  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:40
Member (2011)
Russian to English
+ ...
Translation jobs are like buses Oct 18, 2013

I find that being a translator is like waiting for a bus - you wait around for what seems like ages, and then several come at once. It's irritating because, at busy times, I found myself having to turn some jobs away because I just can't fit them in - if only they would spread themselves out more evenly.

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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:40
Member
French to English
+ ...
Embrace the randomness! Oct 18, 2013

Recently I read a similar thread started by a French-English translator. I'll make the same point here that I made there: each of us makes up a tiny, tiny proportion of the market as a whole, and if one of us experiences a sharp drop or increase in our workload, it doesn't necessarily reflect a big change in the market as a whole. We're all just a drop in the ocean.

As others have said, if you were drowning in work at a very early stage, you were doing extremely well! You could look at the current slack period as the law of averages working itself out. I've had regular clients who keep me more than busy for a while and then mysteriously disappear, only to come back with a vengeance later on. My biggest client at the moment first approached me 5 years ago for a massive job plus a couple of smaller ones, then disappeared off the face of the earth for a couple of years, and then suddenly came back with a very regular flow of jobs. Similar things have happened with other clients over the years. I gave up trying to fathom out the reasons for these ups and downs long ago, I suppose all you can do is take things as they come and embrace the randomness, which is part and parcel of it all!

I worked part-time in a library for several months while getting established as a translator and then translated part-time while studying for a masters for a year. My translation workload only really started to expand around the time I finished my course. Who knows how things will pan out for you, but if you only started this year, it's still fairly early days and you might have to wait a while longer before your workload becomes more dependable. It sounds like you're doing all the right things in the meantime, so just keep at it!


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Agnes Lenkey  Identity Verified
German to Spanish
+ ...
Important Oct 18, 2013

Joanna Coryndon wrote:

Thank you so much again. It's extremely heartwarming to know you're out there!


Thank you indeed. At those times when for some reason it becomes hard, it's a huge help for all of us.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:40
English to Portuguese
+ ...
On buses... Oct 18, 2013

Helen Hagon wrote:

I find that being a translator is like waiting for a bus - you wait around for what seems like ages, and then several come at once. It's irritating because, at busy times, I found myself having to turn some jobs away because I just can't fit them in - if only they would spread themselves out more evenly.


To me it's more like the speed on a roller coaster... though some bus drivers try to provide the same thrill. Sometimes you feel the wind pincushioning your cheeks, in others it's like it had been shut off.

On "beginner's luck"...

A lesson to learn in this is diversification. During the first 20 years of my freelance translator career (I had 14 years of previous experience as a full-time employee whose job included considerable translation work), ONE local client accounted for 60-75% of my income. They paid royal rates, were extremely happy with my work and, to make matters worse, sun or rain, always paid me for every job within 48 hours from delivery.

Eventually some market paradigm shifted, and their demand for my services plummetted. The quantity of work they required from me dropped to 1/10 in average. I spent the first 3-4 years after that developing a widespread and diversified clientele to recover that level of income and cash flow in a sustainable manner.

So after you've apparently worn off your beginner's luck, no matter how long it lasted, spread your coverage as wide and far as you can.


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