Hire yourself

An excellent piece of advice that I’ve seen in various places (such as the Business Smarts column in the ATA Chronicle) is for self-employed freelance translators to “think of yourself as your own employee.” Taking a third-person look at your business, as if you’re the boss and some other person is the employee, is a great way to keep your productivity and motivation up and help yourself avoid burnout. Following are a few tips that may help:

  • Emulate your best boss. If you’ve ever had a boss who you really liked, think of what made that person so good to work for and treat yourself the same way. In my case, this was a boss who held employees to very high standards at work but insisted that everyone needed a fulfilling life outside of work. This boss was uncompromising about the quality of our work, but also forbid us to work past 4:00 on Fridays, which was a good lesson in the “smarter not harder” strategy.
  • Use objective measures to review your performance. Rather than praising or lambasting yourself based on your unscientific impression of how you’re doing, gather some data. How much of your work comes from repeat business, indicating that clients are happy with your work? How often do clients contact you with questions or corrections? Have you missed any deadlines? How much of your new business comes from word of mouth, indicating that you are building a good reputation for yourself? Are you earning enough income for the amount you are working? Are you expecting too much from too little marketing effort?
  • Objectively track your commitments. As a freelancer, the temptation to take on more and more work (thus earning more and more money) is always there, but we also know that work overload leads to poor quality which leads to a lack of repeat business. To keep this impulse in check, keep a list of the number of words or hours of work that you are committed to, just as a boss would track what employees are working on. For more on this, see Jill Sommer’s post on job tracking systems.
  • Give yourself as much interesting work as you can. In surveys about what employees want from their jobs, interesting work consistently ranks above a high salary. Admittedly, a lot of what we translate isn’t scintillating to read, it’s just the documents that make up the everyday worlds of business, medicine, finance, law, etc. However, it’s worth trying to find an intersection between what you like to work on and what clients will pay for; if the specialization you really love doesn’t pay well, think of a next-best option. For example, if you would really like to translate literature, think about contacting non-fiction book publishers. If your real passion is art history, maybe a local museum could use your services to translate its art loan agreements.
  • Reward yourself unexpectedly. Books like Punished by Rewards have made the case that incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes don’t work, so when you act as your own boss, avoid setting up this type of system. Instead, infrequently and spontaneously reward yourself for good performance with an item or an experience that is really valuable to you.
  • Plan for your future. One of the most important things that a boss does is to set you up for professional, personal and financial growth. When you hire yourself, set up a fund for continuing education and professional development; contribute consistently to a retirement plan; look over your health insurance policy yearly and make sure you’re getting good coverage for your money
  • Give yourself a pleasant working environment. You would despise a boss who made you come to work in a dark and depressing office with an out of date computer setup and potato chip bags on the floor, so don’t do this to yourself. Make your office a place where you feel comfortable and where you can work effectively.
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