Surviving and thriving as a freelancer and mom

This is a guest post by Jennifer Nielsen. Jennifer is a freelance Spanish>English translator, interpreter and project manager specializing in law, business, cogeneration power plants and official translations. She recently returned to her home state of Colorado after spending the last seven years in Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, during which time she obtained her master’s degree in translation and interpreting, served as president of the Organización Mexicana de Traductores (Mexican Translators Association), gave courses and workshops on translating, and started a family.

Twin preschoolers…and a thriving freelance business

As a freelancer and mom of twin boys turning three next month, I can say with certainty that it is possible to thrive as a freelance translator and mom. I would even go so far as to say that being a freelancer is one of the few career paths that allows moms the flexibility to grow our careers and not miss out on the precious time we have with our kids while they are small. Of course, it’s not easy, and the struggle to find balance (and even sanity!) is very real. Over the past three years I have slept less than I ever imagined possible, spent loads of wonderful quality time with my family, and succeeded in continuing to grow my business and income each year.

How have I done it? Well, aside from a lot of hard work and even more trial and error, here are some mindset shifts and practical tips that have gotten me through, and that I hope might help more than one of you achieve your definition of personal and professional success.

Mindset shifts for freelancing moms

– Don’t be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. As a mom you have superpowers that allow you to do things you never thought you could, so don’t be afraid to take on more than you think you can handle. That said, even superheroes have their limits, so it’s just as important that you find yours—even if it’s by going past them on occasion—and accept that it’s not possible to do everything (well), all the time.

– Focus like a laser-beam on your priorities. Decide to spend your time on what gets you closer to your goals (both as a mother and freelancer) and don’t apologize for it, ever.

– Take time to reflect on and celebrate your accomplishments. Being a freelancer and a mom requires that we focus so much energy on conquering the everyday tasks in front of us that we rarely take time to notice what we’ve accomplished. Recognizing this gives you the motivation to continue when you are sure you can’t.

View work as a form of self-care. Working can help you to maintain a sense of self through a period where your time, and even your body are no longer yours, and most adult interaction vanishes from your life.

Embrace the chaos. Balance (as most people would define it) as a working mom with small children is an unrealistic goal. The most you can hope for is to hit a stride right at the time when you are ready to give up. Enjoy this cautiously, and be ready for it to change, as something will happen to throw you back into chaos most likely sooner than later.

Practical tips for reaching a manageable level of chaos (i.e. balance for freelancing moms)

Look for clients that need smaller jobs. This could include work like press releases, blogs, marketing texts, brochures, etc. Another less stimulating, but profitable, option is translating vital records, academic and official documents (this is a great option for freelancing mothers who don’t necessarily have the longer blocks of uninterrupted time longer projects demand).

Split large jobs with a colleague or negotiate a long deadline. Taking on that 50,000 word assignment may be doable if you can split it with a trusted colleague or find a client that can accept a longer timeline.

Focus on working with direct clients rather than agencies. I’ve accepted fewer jobs from agencies because they are almost always huge texts for yesterday, and you can’t get help from colleagues. With direct clients, you can establish a relationship that not only allows you to farm out projects to colleagues when you can’t take them on, but they will also potentially be more understanding when an emergency comes up and you need an extra day or two to finish a job.

Plan on some late nights working. It’s not something you want to make a habit of, but sometimes it’s worth it, either because you need the money, because you want to get a new client, or because it’s the only way to make a deadline.

Consider diversifying your professional activities. Look for non-translation work from clients or employers that can offer flexible deadlines or schedules. Depending on your skills and preferences, this could include project management, grading ESL exams, teaching, consulting, writing or reviewing.

Invest time in unpaid professional activities. Volunteer with a professional organization or mentor a new translator. Participating in professional organizations and helping newbies is something you can do on your own schedule that allows you to expand your network of trusted colleagues who can help you in a pinch.

Ask for and accept help from colleagues, friends, family, neighbors, daycare providers, and anyone you trust and is willing to lend a hand. Count on situations arising that will take you away from scheduled work time. It is inevitable, but also almost always manageable with help. Colleagues can allow you to take on more work than you are certain you can finish by doing part of a job or proofreading work you did at 2 a.m., and your personal network can give you a couple extra hours when a deadline is looming or allow you to take on an urgent job for an important client.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also want to take a look at:

Creating and managing translation teams, a guest post by Michelle Bradley

Being a freelancer and being a mom, a Speaking of Translation podcast featuring Jennifer (this guest post’s author) and Elena Langdon

Translating for individual clients, a post by Corinne McKay

8 Responses to “Surviving and thriving as a freelancer and mom”
  1. Karen Tkaczyk March 13, 2017
    • Corinne McKay March 13, 2017
  2. Corinne McKay March 13, 2017
  3. Elizabeth Duke March 14, 2017
    • Corinne McKay March 14, 2017
  4. Victoria Patience March 15, 2017
    • Corinne McKay March 15, 2017
  5. Jennifer Nielsen March 16, 2017

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