As the final week of 2018 dawns, it’s a good time to take stock of what went well and what could have gone better in your freelance life this year. I’ll suggest a few metrics that might help you assess how this year went, and then it’s time to set some goals for 2019.
Most importantly, thank you so much to all of the readers who keep the Thoughts on Translation community going strong. As this blog prepares to turn 11 (!) in February, I really appreciate everyone who reads, comments on, learns from and shares my posts, and I hope to keep this blog relevant for many years to come!
First, please do this. Give yourself credit for what went well. As freelancers, it’s so easy to get caught up in the negatives: the goals we set and never worked on; the clients we meant to look for and never did; the project that went disastrously off the rails. Those can be useful learning tools, but in order to move forward, I really think it’s important to build on what went right. So, first, do that: make a point of focusing on what went well. In my case, my primary fear at the start of 2018 was how I would balance my own translation work, my books and classes, and my ATA work. Happily, the juggling act went–for the most part–well. There were a few overcaffeinated, holding-on-by-a-thread days in there, but on the whole, I feel happy with my balance in 2018.
Did you reach your income goals? This is a basic but very important question. Income goals will vary widely, depending on your phase of freelancing. During my first year of freelancing (2002), I was ecstatic to earn US $9,000. To me, that meant that I could actually generate income as a freelancer. These days, I set two income goals: a gross revenue goal, and a goal for how much of that revenue should come from translation work versus books and classes–largely because I want to keep translating, not just telling other people how to translate. Happily, I met both of those–my gross income was in the 90-110K range that I aim for every year, and more than 50% of that came directly from translation.
Did you enjoy what you worked on? This is a factor that a lot of people overlook. But to keep freelancing over the long term, it really helps if you enjoy your work. And–as I’ve said before, but it bears repeating–way too many freelancers are translating whatever falls in the inbox rather than looking for work they enjoy and are good at. In this category, I’ll give myself about a seven out of 10. I have a good balance of “bread and butter” work and work I feel passionate about, which is good. I still work with lots of clients I’ve worked with for over 10 years–also good. But after resolving to build on having a book translation shortlisted for a fairly high-profile outdoor book award, my enthusiasm–for marketing, not translating–just kind of fizzled. The publisher I worked with on that book isn’t doing many translations, nor are several outdoor publishers I contacted. Still, there’s a lot more I could have done in that department–I’m always encouraging other translators to find little-known authors, negotiate for their translation rights and then self-publish the translation–and I just kind of stalled out.
Did you do enough professional development? This is a hard one, because it’s hard to define “enough” and there’s always more professional development to do. Still, you want to make sure you’re not stagnating–a risk that increases the longer you’ve been in the business. I feel mostly positive about this category: I of course attended the ATA conference, and I really pushed myself to work on my interpreting skills in a series of online courses (more on this in the “back burner dreams” category below). I also presented a bunch of webinars that required research and creativity even though I was the presenter instead of the student, and I branched out into offering online courses with instructors other than myself–a longtime goal on which I finally took action. My major regret is that I attended zero client-side events this year. To be fair, I simply didn’t have much time or energy once I took care of everything else, but this is something I’d like to do next year.
Did you give yourself the tools to do a good job at your job? Imagine if you were interviewing for an in-house job, and the boss explained that this position came with demanding and irregular hours, minimal vacation or comp time, minimal benefits, a paltry professional development budget, an aging and flaky computer loaded with outdated software, and so on. Would you jump at that opportunity? If not, then don’t treat yourself that way: make sure you have what you need to be a good translator. Because I pay a lot of attention to these factors, I tend to prioritize them. My main “benefit” is working at a co-working office. I simply hate working at home, and this was a year of serious upheavals in my co-working life.
The office where I’d worked for over two years needed more space for their own employees, so I worked from home for the summer, then moved to a large and well-established office…which announced that it was going out of business two months later. An office nearby was offering a special deal to all the “orphans” from the going-out-of-business office, so I signed up there, only to find out that I was the only person regularly working there (no “co” in the co-working…). I lasted one very lonely week, then relocated to office number four in four months. Happily, I love office number four. It’s cozy, and lively, and filled with interesting and ambitious people and a super-cute dog who sometimes even brings dog friends. All of these moves forced me to accept that the physical environment where I work is extremely important to me, and it’s something that I’m willing to spend a significant amount of money on, in the name of happiness and productivity.
Are you simmering a back burner dream? Perhaps I’m just a sucker for all things positive and dreamy, but I do think this is important, so let’s wrap up on this note. When you’re in the trenches of freelancing, it’s so easy to focus on what’s due tomorrow, or how next month’s mortgage or rent is going to get paid, and then you look up from your monitor in 10 years and realize you’re not where you hoped you’d be. To avoid that fate, keep slowly nurturing that perhaps-crazy dream of what your freelance business might become. Maybe you want to expand into an agency. Maybe you want to be the next winner of some major translation book award. Maybe–like me–you’ve always wondered about another facet of the language professions. This year I started taking interpreting classes, and I’m hoping to take an interpreter certification exam in 2019. This falls into the “we’ll see” category, but if you’re reading this, make a commitment to keep your own back burner dream simmering!
And with that, happy 2019 to everyone who reads this blog, and feel free to add your own year-end wrapup thoughts in the comments.
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