Dealing with the quiet times

Up until a few days ago, this month had been pretty quiet. A lot has been written about feast and famine periods in freelancing but, so far, I had been relatively lucky in that the famine periods had only lasted for a few days. At first, I was glad of a bit of time to do some MA work and have some kind of social life (!), but there came a point where the sinking feeling set in. I’m sure you know the one I mean. The somewhat irrational fear that, despite your skills, previous client record and motivation, no-one will ever work with you again. There’s nothing quite like the vulnerability so keenly felt by freelancers!

Given this lack of (paid) work, you’d think that I’d have had more time to write more posts here (sorry!), but I made a big effort to use this quiet time to enhance my online presence, work on my skills, gain more knowledge and market to new clients. And it seems to be working: over the past few days, I’ve been flat out with work for, wait for it…new clients!

Between my ‘feast’ periods, I worked on a lot of things that can get swept away in a tide of work. Now that my diary has filled up again, I’m glad I took the time to work behind the scenes. So what have I been up to?

Required reading
In times of uncertainty or low confidence, it’s a good idea to go back to the experts:
How to Succeeed as a Freelance Translator – Corinne McKay
The Entrepreneurial Linguist – Judy and Dagmar Jenner

I have also been exploring some new books recently:
The Translation Sales Handbook – Luke Spear
The Little Book of PR for Translators – Nicole Y. Adams

Aside from great CPD, these books have given me a new perspective on how to run my business.

Webinars and online courses
Back in January, I made the most of an offer run by eCPD Webinars and bought three recorded webinars. I took my famine period to build on my knowledge and skills. Even now the offer is over, webinars start from just over £20 – a very reasonable fee for what can be very beneficial advice and knowledge from subject experts.

I have also signed up for two online courses on copywriting and proofreading, which can be completed in my own time. The flexibility offered by these (often free) distance learning courses are ideal for freelance lifestyles.

Online presence
Ever since I started translating, let alone freelancing, I have maintained online profiles. That said, it’s easy to let things slide and let your bios age. I try to revisit my LinkedIn profile every month or so, and I make a note of new skills and courses to add to other profiles when I update them. Recently though, I have been looking for more places for Speech Marks Translation to live on the web. My first port of call was a local group for businesswomen that I belong to, where I added myself to the members directory.

These are the other profiles that I have made in the last few weeks:
vizualize.me
Pinterest (speechmarks)
Linguaquote

Marketing to new clients
I always try to dedicate some of my day to identifying and contacting potential clients, so this took up a lot of my time during the famine period. Sometimes it takes a bit of motivation and courage to contact new companies, but I spent a lot of time researching and compiling a spreadsheet, and I contact a few of these businesses each day, which is very manageable.

Working with agencies
Up until recently, I hadn’t worked with agencies all that much. However, after reading about fellow translators’ experiences of working with select agencies, I started to listen up and do some research. In particular, I wanted to know the mix of agency and direct clients favoured by colleagues. I now know that, for example, Catherine Christaki, co-writer of Adventures in Freelance Translation, only works with agencies, Rose Newell, who writes the brilliant Translator’s Teacup blog, has a 50/50 split of direct and agency clients, and Judy Jenner, blogger at Translation Times, works exclusively with direct clients. Clearly, there’s no perfect solution. What works for one person won’t be right for another.

So what next? I started by reading the following posts on working with agencies:
Konstantinos Stardelis – Dealing with a translation agency
Corinne McKay – Marketing your services to translation agencies

After doing a bit of research, and having a think about what I wanted to get out of agency work, I created a checklist of criteria to identify good prospects. The most important of these were, unsurprisingly, rates and payment terms. I also found some great-looking agencies which specialise in my favoured sectors, and contacted a number of advertising agencies with translation or transcreation departments, as suggested by a colleague who specialises in advertising. The most important thing for me was to add to my current portfolio, not contradict it, as I’m working on narrowing my specialist fields (more news to come – stay tuned).

So, there’s my story of dealing with freelance famine. I’d love to hear your suggestions and experiences – a problem shared and all that…get in touch.

In the meantime, here are some links to great posts on addressing the issue:
Dealing with Freelancing Famine – Adventures in Freelance Translation
Avoiding feast or famine by marketing consistently – Thoughts on Translation
Avoiding the famine: be ready for anything – There’s Something about Translation

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    This article was written by: Megan Onions

    1. 14 Comments

      • Rose - German to English Translator says:

        Great post, Megan! Nicely structured. I also like to take time out for me. It is the universe’s way of saying, “time for a break”. ;)

        • Thanks, Rose. It’s easy to let panic set in, but I’m glad I took the time to work on some skills and get a look at my business from the outside.

      • Ron McCoy says:

        It sounds like what you’re saying is that there’s no such thing as “quiet time.” There’s always something to be done, if not doing translation work, then making preparations for the next project. That’s how we see it anyway. Thanks again for your post. Ron

        • Thanks for reading and commenting, Ron. I agree that there is always something to do in terms of furthering the business, but there is also a point where a real, ‘unplugged’ break is needed. I’ll be sure to write on that subject when I get there!

      • I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

        • Thanks for commenting, Randy. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog!

      • Alexandra Stephens says:

        Great post, Megan. You address the feast and famine topic really well. Over the years it’s become one of the things I like the most about translating freelance – the freedom and flexibility you get in exchange from packing in 10,000 words in 4 days!! :)

        • Thanks for reading and commenting, Alexandra. I’m really glad you enjoyed the post. I completely agree about the payoff of longer projects – I’m working on one right now, and I’m looking forward to the mini-break at the end!

      • Catherine Christaki (@LinguaGreca) says:

        Great post as always Megan :)
        This month has been quieter than previous months for us, so I’ve been spending half of my days for translation work and the other half for promotion, i.e. exploring (mostly) local events we can attend to find direct clients.
        I am fully aware that in Greece that will be extremely hard given the dire financial situation we’re in, but I’m very determined to secure at least 1 direct client by the end of 2013 and get way better at networking (so by the time we move to Canada, I’ll far less shy and super-effective at it!).

        • Thanks for commenting, Catherine.

          It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who has had a reasonably slow start to 2013. Things are picking up now, and I have made a few promising contacts, so I hope the same goes for you! As lovely as you are, I’m sure you’ll be able to win people over :)

          When are you moving to Canada? I really must get out to Greece or meet you somewhere in Europe before you move too far away!

          • Georgia Efraimidou says:

            Great post, Megan. Really encouraging. After saying “no” tp a couple of new clients due to work overload in January, I came across a major decline in work in February. Yes, it is a bit frustrating and always makes you wonder whether you did something wrong, so it was such a relief to read your blog:-)

            Nevertheless, I enjoyed some very good webinars last month, got a chance to do practice more on my CAT tools, read some wonderful articles by other translators and got the chance to work out more!

            Thank you for your post and thank you also Catherine Christaki for your excellent blog and tweets. I was really surprised to read that you decided to relocate to Canada and I’d like to wish you all the best with your new start. I wish I had the chance to meet you before you left Athens, because you’re a professional that rocks the industry!

            • Hi Georgia, thanks very much for reading and commenting. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and found it useful. Well done for making the most of your quiet period – it looks like we’re both reaping the benefits now!

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