Managing the Ups and Downs of Freelancing

Managing the Ups and Downs of Freelancing

Written by Jamie Hartz

The choice to be a freelancer comes with a lot of fluctuation—there are slow times and busy times, and there are stressful projects and easier projects. The ups and downs that come with freelancing are aplenty—we often deal with loneliness, the stress of making all our own decisions, the struggles of having a home office (with the distractions of children, neighbors, pets, and housework)—and yet the majority of freelance translators and interpreters report that they are very satisfied with their work. How is that possible, you ask? It’s possible because we learn to manage the ups and downs.

The “ups” of freelancing tend to be easy to manage. We prioritize and make lists (dozens of lists, all over the house and home office!). We learn not to overbook ourselves, taking each project as it comes and planning our time effectively. We learn to leverage work we’ve done in the past, using old glossaries and TMs from previous projects. The “downs” are trickier, but managing the slow or discouraging times as a freelancer is the key to making your career sustainable and rewarding. Below are six tips I’d like to offer on managing the ups and downs of freelancing; take it from someone who’s riding the ups and downs at this very moment!

  1. Use downtime to market yourself.

A colleague recently reminded me that devoting 50% of your time to well-paying work and 50% to business development is better than devoting 99% to low-paying work and 1% to business development. If you have downtime you can devote to developing your client list and gaining better-paying clients, use it wisely! Create a marketing plan that will allow you to complete small, specific tasks related to marketing yourself on each day that you have downtime. Personally, I’ve found that downtime is the perfect opportunity to work on developing my website and adding in keywords that will help my site’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

  1. Keep good records and update them during slow times.

Keeping good records is important for any business, but as a freelancer it’s absolutely vital. In order to leverage previous work and plan for the future, you need to have client lists, rate sheets, and project databases organized and ready to work for you. Take advantage of slow times to organize a spreadsheet or a computer folder that has been accumulating junk for a few months, or to set up a new invoicing system that will streamline your billing process.

Keeping records will also help you to plan ahead. By looking back at your records kept from previous months or years, you may realize that a certain week is slow every year and you should plan a vacation for that time next year. During a recent slump in my work, I was encouraged to look at my records and find that I was still meeting my goals even though I had a few slow weeks towards the end of the year.

  1. Develop new skills or hone old ones.

Downtime can be a good opportunity to try new things. During slow times, consider volunteering your language skills for an organization in your area or a volunteer translator website. Volunteering can help you develop new skills; for example, if you are a translator, you may consider volunteering in a subject area you haven’t worked in before (with the understanding that a qualified professional should check your work). If you’re looking to begin offering a new service, such as transcription or interpreting, this can be a good time to hone those skills as well. I recently took a training course in interpreting but haven’t had much opportunity to practice it professionally, so one of the things I’d like to do in my downtime is volunteer as an interpreter for an immigrant and refugee center in York.

  1. Build your network.

Try building up your network during downtime, not only as a way to fill your time, but also as a way to get new work. Get to know other freelancers, whether in person in your local area or through social media. My experience has been that fellow freelancers are incredibly supportive and will be happy to give you tips to carry you through the rough times. Some of the people you meet may even become informal mentors or may refer work to you at times. Some ways to meet and connect with other professionals include chambers of commerce and meet-up groups. I personally plan on joining a Young Professionals Network here in Lancaster after the holidays to meet other like-minded people and expand my network.

  1. Keep a list of things you want to do “someday”.

When you have some downtime and have exhausted all of your professional efforts to market yourself, keep good records, develop new skills, and build your network, pull out this list. One of the perks of freelancing is that there’s no boss to tell you that you can’t go for a jog in the middle of the day or pull out that craft project you’ve been working on since 2002. I consider myself lucky to have had enough downtime in the last few weeks of the year to work on making Christmas gifts from ideas I found on Pinterest; this is the first year I’ve actually had time to do that!

  1. Hold a “Do It Day”.

One final suggestion I have on managing downtime is to gather a few freelance colleagues and hold a “Do It Day” (shout-out to freelance translators Corinne McKay and Tess Whitty for this idea). This is a day that you dedicate exclusively to cracking down on that list of tasks you’ve been avoiding for too long. You and your colleagues (I would limit it to three or four) connect once each hour to tell each other what you did in the last hour and what you plan to do in the next hour. My group uses ooVoo, a free video chat software. I have found that this is a great way to take advantage of downtime in a fun way that will hold you accountable to cutting down on that ever-growing to-do list.

Managing ups and downs isn’t easy, but if you leverage them to your advantage, your career will be far more rewarding and the busy times will return before you know it.

ATA Compass and Conference News

ATA Compass
Just wanted to remind everyone to take a look at the ATA Compass, which is a Client Outreach Blog, in case you haven’t read it before. Here’s the link:

ATA Conference Contest
Win one free night at the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter courtesy of ATA! For contest details, see:

The American Translators Association (ATA) will host its 54th Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas November 6-9. This conference showcases diverse panel discussions, expert presentations, training workshops and scholarly papers. Both general and language-specific sessions will be offered. The conference also offers language professionals one of the best opportunities to network with colleagues. For conference information see

For questions, contact Ms. Lauren Mendell, Member Relations and Office Manager
Phone: 1-703-683-6100, extension 3001

Growing Up into Translation

DVTA members, Yong Mei Li and Anne Connor with a student at the Lansdale Catholic High School Fair on January 12.

DVTA members, Yong Mei Li and Anne Connor with a student at the Lansdale Catholic High School Fair on January 12.

What do you want to do when you grow up? is a question children are asked repeatedly. Even as they reach their senior year of High School, only a few know the answer. That’s why Career Days like the one held in Lansdale Catholic High School last January 12 are so important to help them choose a career path.

Two DVTA members, Anne V. B. Connor (translator) and Yong Mei Li (interpreter), were at the School Fair in Lansdale this year to share with the students their experience and, also, their enthusiasm for our profession.

Both are featured and quoted in an article that appeared in the Reporter on January 13 (

In her quote, Anne emphasizes the importance of following your passion while Li suggests to shadow a professional in your career of choice for a day to find out if it’s a good fit for you.

I totally agree with them.

Also, I wanted to add that, in the case of a translator, as our job is mainly done in solitude, the shadow program doesn’t necessarily have to be performed in person.

For instance, Anne Connor and I held a phone conversation with Stephanie, a current student at Muhlenberg College, the day before she started her second stay in France. Her articulate questions about what our profession entails showed she was well on the way to make an informed decision.

To her and all the students at Lansdale Catholic High Scholl I wish the best in whatever career they choose.

Cook Books. A Translator’s Last Fear



by Carmen Ferreiro

With Thanksgiving Day only one day away, it’s no wonder I was thinking about cooking today, or more exactly about what I’m going to cook on Thursday.
After living in the States for over twenty years, I consider myself totally bilingual. I can switch from English to Spanish and back at the drop of a word. Even the newspaper headlines, a puzzle that needed careful deciphering when I first moved here, hold no mystery for me.
But the moment I open a cook book, all my years of experience disappear and I feel again as lost as I did, so many years ago in California, when they first asked me if I wanted my sandwich “for here or to go.”
The first problem when trying to decipher an American recipe is, of course, the crazy system of measurements they still use. The moment I read cups, pints, fluid ounces and the like my head starts spinning. Then, there is the specific culinary vocabulary, and last but not less baffling, the cooking itself. I learned to cook in Spain, using olive oil and lots of onion and garlic and tomato in almost every recipe. I learned to mix ingredients together and prepare two course dinners. Yes, I know, that was a long time ago. Yet still, I haven’t changed my cooking patterns. Not a bit.
To my children’s friends’ surprise there is no ketchup in my refrigerator, or mac and cheese in my pantry, and I always drink my coffee black, an espresso, in a small cup.
I guess that, where food is concerned, I’m still one hundred percent Spanish and cooking a big turkey with bread crumbs inside is not in my genes, and the recipe to do so is not in any of my Spanish books. Which means that if I’m going to prepare the big bird, I’d have to follow an American recipe.
And I’m not sure I’m ready yet.
What about you? Do you find cook books from a country different than yours intimidating?

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban was born in Galicia (northern Spain) and went to college in Madrid, where she finished her Ph.D. in Biology. For the next ten years, she worked as a researcher both in Madrid and at the University of Davis in California. Since 2000 she has being a translator (En<>Sp) and writer (English and Spanish). Her two writer websites are: and You can also follow her at her blog:

She’s working right now at creating her website as a translator.

Carmen Ferreiro, Ph.D.

Writer/Editor/Translator (En<>Sp)
Life Sciences/Medical/Pharmaceutical/Literary


Credit for picture: France: The Beautiful Cookbook- Authentic Recipes from the Regions of France by Gilles Pudlowski, Pierre Hussenot, Peter Johnson and Leo Meier (Nov 7, 1989)

Impressions of a first time attendee at the ATA 53rd Annual Conference in San Diego – by Carmen Ferreiro

In my experience, translators live in two worlds.

Some of us grew up in one country before moving to another, others studied languages at school, then lived abroad. This experience marks us. We may speak both languages fluently and feel totally comfortable in both cultures, but because we cannot turn off our knowledge of one world when looking at the other, this also makes us outsiders.

That’s why attending my first annual conference in San Diego was such an extraordinary experience. I loved meeting so many people from so many different backgrounds who, like me, had a dual take on life.

But if meeting like-minded attendees was an unexpected bonus, the conference itself was even more gratifying. It provided an excellent space to network, learn about the new and improved CAT tools, and its more than 200 sessions covering a wide array of subjects had something for everyone.

In my case, and because I went to the conference to learn how to increase my client base as I move toward being a full time translator, I chose the workshops that were business related.

I did so reluctantly since, with my background in Biology and Languages, I feared I would not be able to follow the business jargon, but I was surprised. The speakers were most knowledgeable and conveyed their information in a language I could understand.

If I had to choose my two favorite workshops I would name: Chris Durban’s “The Care and Feeding of Direct Clients” and Friderike Butler and Jeana Clark’s “Making the Whole Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts: Virtual Partnership Among Freelance Translators.”

Chris Durban’s insistence we take pride in our professions was most inspiring, and I loved Friderike and Jeana’s idea of creating a partnership between two (or more) freelance translators to offer their services as a translator/editor team to their clients. It’s a win/win situation I’d love to imitate.

As for so many sessions I missed, I can’t wait to get them online to listen to them on my own time.

What about you? Which ones were your favorite sessions and why?


Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban was born in Galicia (northern Spain) and went to college in Madrid, where she finished her Ph.D. in Biology. For the next ten years, she worked as a researcher both in Madrid and at the University of Davis in California. Since 2000 she has being a translator (En<>Sp) and writer (English and Spanish). Her two writer websites are: and You can also follow her at her blog:

She’s working right now at creating her website as a translator.

Carmen Ferreiro, Ph.D.

Writer/Editor/Translator (En<>Sp)
Life Sciences/Medical/Pharmaceutical/Literary