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.

Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service at Girard College.

This past Monday, January 19th, Global Citizen Philadelphia held its annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service at Girard College. The focus of this year’s King Day of Service was the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Various community and business leaders and active volunteers coordinated events and activities centered on promoting volunteer service and civic engagement. The Honorable Judge Ida Chen, one of the many community leaders present at the event, organized an information session with interpreters regarding voting rights and Election Day procedures.

With help from City Commissioner Al Schmidt and his staff, Judge Chen provided the attendees with vital information on Election Day services and originals of all official documents used on Election Day. Each document was distributed and reviewed during the program.

The Delaware Valley Translators Association, along with members and representatives from the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania, National Bar Association, Women Lawyers Division, and Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania, were present at the session.

The session topics included:

• Registering to Vote

• Provisional Ballots

• Alternative Ballots

• Absentee Ballots

• Finding the Correct Polling Place

• Identification Requirements for First-Time Voters in Their Division

• Obtaining Interpreter Certification from Office of the City Commissioners.

Commissioner Schmidt spoke about the responsibilities of the Office of the Philadelphia City Commissioners to ensure fair and honest elections and the importance of increasing accessibility and effective outreach to non-native English speakers.

The program concluded with a demonstration of the opening and closing of polls using an electronic voting machine provided by the City Commissioners.

The Office of the City Commissioners provides certification to interpreters who are eligible to work on Election Day. For more information on working as an interpreter in the upcoming Primary election, contact:

Tim Dowling Acting Supervisor of Elections


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ATA Conference, San Antonio, Texas, November 6-9, 2013 by Carlota Dalziel

So much to see, so much to do and such a short time to do it in! A lot was crammed into four action-packed days. As many as 175 educational sessions were offered to the 1,500 members present. With 72 booths of sponsors offering the latest technology, software, equipment and books, the exhibition hall was definitely a paradise for interpreters and translators.  Booth: 49, presented by Capiche, was one of the ones that especially caught my attention. Mobile Video Interpreting Platform is a remote interpreting ecosystem that unlocks the potential of the industry and empowers the independent interpreter. Interpreters can work from the comfort of their home offices while growing global business. Clients can access vetted professional interpreters through their mobile device or laptop. DVTA plans to offer a webinar by Capiche next year. ATA did a splendid job at setting up the exhibition hall which showcased the sponsors. Everything worked like a well- oiled engine.  The registration went smoothly and the hotel elected as the venue, The Marriot Rivercenter, was very satisfactory, as was the food served throughout; plentiful and tasty.

A special event that took place on Wednesday had been organized for first-time attendees. It was an invitation to team up with a seasoned colleague. Buddies Welcome Newbies was designed to help get the most from the conference experience. Buddies and newbies were paired up, and both took part in some getting-to-know-you activities and networking role-playing.

The welcome reception on Wednesday evening was undoubtedly a success.  Each attendee got two vouchers for drinks, and that really got the ball rolling. It was a bubbly crowd, dynamic and enthusiastic, and plenty of networking took place around tables set up in the ballroom. Interpreters and translators enjoyed an excellent dinner and each other’s company.

One of the pleasures to look forward to at these conferences is meeting old friends and making new ones. I was delighted to see Esther Navarro-Hall at the conference and to catch up with her.  Anne Connor, Maria Weir and I, all DVTA members, enjoyed a meal with her on Friday at one of the elegant San Antonio restaurants on the water front. I had met Esther for the first time a few months ago when she came from California to give our DVTA members a most interesting one-day seminar on the use of the famous digital pen, used widely in California by interpreters but not, as yet, on the East Coast.

In the interest of time and space I will only be mentioning a selection of the sessions I attended, but one in particular stood out for me: the session on the Nuremberg trials by Siegfried Ramler. DVTA, the local ATA chapter I belong to, had actually organized a successful talk at La Salle University on the subject of interpreting at these trials, where simultaneous interpreting was used for the first time.  A Witness to History was the name of the presentation at that event in October this year. The speaker was Dr. George Sakheim, who had been serving in the US army and applied for the job of interpreter at the trials after his discharge in 1945. I was interested in seeing what this speaker, with similar experiences, Siegfried Ramler, had to say on the subject. I purchased the book he wrote: Nuremberg and Beyond, The Memories of Siegfried Ramler, From 20th Century Europe to Hawai’i, a fascinating read, as was his talk. It was an inspiration to see a 90 –year- old gentleman able to keep a crowd of us hanging on his words.

The session with Roda P. Roberts, Enhancing Short Term Memory for Accurate Interpretation, was outstanding. She analyzed how short term memory functions in the two main modes of interpreting and discussed methods for improving short term memory and enhancing accurate interpreting. Roda suggested ten exercises which would enable us to improve our STM. This goes a long way toward avoiding problems such as omissions, approximations, inaccuracies and saturation.

Focus on Words: The Death of Reliable Interpreting, by Harry Obst, was another of my favorites. Last year I read and enjoyed Mr. Obst’s book, The White House Interpreter, and I was therefore eager to attend his session and meet him. He centered his talk on reliable interpreting and the need to avoid a preoccupation with mere words, which can distract and even introduce distortions. Concentrating on the meaning and the message is key to a good interpretation! This reminds me of an interpreting course I took two years ago at the Library of Congress: Conveying the Meaning.  Too much note taking can easily make you miss the real thread of what is being said. Techniques to the rescue!

The Vocabulary of International Affairs by Joseph Mazza, head of the US Department of State translation team proved very interesting and to the point, especially for attendees who might be contemplating a job in the State Department. Top hot topics: democracy, human rights and labor! Attendees were introduced to technical jargon and given material to help them face the challenges of their profession. We were encouraged to study countries and their cultures so we could better understand what makes them unique. Here is a tool that can enable a better grasp of the significance of a situation and help to convey true meaning and to deal efficiently with an assignment, which might otherwise be foreign to us.

Two sessions were offered this year for preparing for taking the ATA exam. The speakers, Geoffrey Koby and Jonathan Mendoza, invited questions and clarified certification policies and procedures. Tips on how to prepare for the exam were also given. A thorough language proficiency in the examinee’s language pair is indispensable for success. Unfortunately, we were reminded that fewer than 20% of those who sit for the exam get through the first time. Sessions like these aim at raising that percentage.

Music and Meaning for Interpreters, by Armando Ezquerra Hasbun, was definitely a session that aroused a lot of interest. DVTA will be offering this talk to its members in 2014. The essence of the talk was on training our brain to expand and to refresh our interpreting skills by using a tool that surrounds us everywhere: music. The session aimed at helping us to decode meaning in order to improve our interpreting ability and to expand our semantic range in order to convey target messages and context in both directions more accurately.

As mentioned at the start of this account the huge number of sessions offered and the variety of topics made choosing which one to listen to a difficult task. To help us do this and keep us organized, ATA’s TripBuilder EventMobile App provided a user friendly access to important event information that included schedules, changes, additions and floor plans, to mention a few. Working as a great time saver, it enabled attendees to quickly locate and reach sessions on time. It also expedited connecting with colleagues, which was a big help in building partnerships for professional development. Meeting members with similar interests and sharing their experiences was most gratifying. As in past years, the social aspect of the ATA conference was very well addressed through the inclusion of networking sessions with business owners, project managers and government representatives.

All in all, the conference impressed with the quality of its sessions and the breadth of its scope.

Dinner with Siegfried, by Carlota Dalziel

Siefried_photoA chance meeting on the streets of San Antonio last month led to a delightful dinner at Mia Maria Restaurant, right next door to the Marriot Rivercenter Hotel, where I was staying for the ATA Conference.  My colleagues, Maria Weir and Tony Guerra, and I had spent a couple of hours visiting The Alamo and brushing up on our history.  Night was falling. We were discussing our dinner plans for the evening as we walked back to our hotel when Tony suddenly exclaimed “Did you notice Siegfried? He just walked past us.”  We considered our next move.  By then our 90- year- old friend was almost a block away. He walks fast.

On the spur of the moment I suggested having him join us for dinner. But would he recognize us from the crowd that attended his riveting talks at the conference? As Tony gallantly ran after him I wondered how Siegfried would react to a stranger chasing him on the dark streets and inviting him to join another two strangers for dinner.  As it happened, Tony’s gracious invitation and our friendly smiles won his acceptance and we had a most enjoyable time together.

Over dinner we engaged Siegfried in conversation about his experiences as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, the subject of his sessions at the conference. This year’s ATA Conference gathered 1,500 attendees from the US and abroad.  Tony, Maria and I were already acquainted with Siegfried’s book, Nuremberg and Beyond, The Memoirs of Siegfried Ramler, which was on sale at the conference Exhibit Hall. It had already given us an insight into the author’s unique experience as a young refugee, just fourteen years old, sent by his parents from Vienna to England through a program called Kindertransport. Set up by the British Jewish Refugee Committee and approved by Parliament after a debate in the House of Commons, its purpose was to rescue children under seventeen and bring them to Great Britain from Germany, Austria and the Czech territories.  They were received by foster families, hostels or farms. In Siegfried’s case, two of his uncles were living in London and willing to receive him there. Kindertransport ended when the war broke out in 1939.  Years later, at age 21, Siegfried Ramler’s fluency in English and German made him the perfect choice as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, where he later stayed on as chief of the interpreting branch from 1947 until 1949. Goring, Bormann, Hess and Speer were just a few of the names that came up in the course of our conversation. An interesting quote of Hermann Goring included in Siegfried’s book was his comment on simultaneous interpreting, a mode used for the first time at the Nuremberg Trials: “This system is very efficient, but it will also shorten my life!” Siegfried had a captive audience that evening. The encounter for us turned out to be a bonus of the ATA conference. We exchanged emails and I made plans for another meeting, perhaps in Hawai’i, where a newlywed Siegfried went to live at the conclusion of the trials. It was at Nuremberg where he met his wife, a very attractive young lady working as a court reporter!

DVTA at Interpret America Summit, Reston VA, June 14-15: Three Points of View


Tony Guerra at the 2013 InterpretAmerica Summit

Tony Guerra at the 2013 InterpretAmerica Summit

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Tony Guerra

This past weekend, three members of the DVTA traveled to Reston, VA to attend the 4th Annual Interpret America Conference, “The Cutting Edge: Bringing Interpreting to the Forefront”.

For the past four years, it has brought together interpreters of all levels and language industry professionals from multiple sectors and from around the US and as far as South/Central America, Asia, Australia/NZ and Europe. It was established to create a yearly platform for the distribution and exchange of information on trends, technology and critical issues, as well as to provide a unique networking opportunity. Below are some impressions from Tony Guerra, President of the DVTA and Director of Interpreting Service for CETRA Language Solutions, Maria Weir, DVTA Board member and Programming Chair, and Monique-Paule Tubb (FR<>EN) translator and interpreter.

Tony’s favorite session: “I participated in a spirited and dynamic breakout workgroup to discuss the challenges and priorities of a newly formed coalition made up of the nation’s top interpreting organizations such as ATA, RID, NAJIT, CCHI, IMIA, AIIC, TAALS and others. These organizations each have a representative on this coalition to collectively work towards a universally accepted interpreting certification. Moderated by Isabel Arocha (IMIA) and Dorothee Racette (ATA’s president), our work group was asked to identify the key challenges and priorities facing the interpreting industry today.”

“The idea of a generalist interpreting certification is one that would ultimately be recognized across all industries and throughout the nation (similar to that of ATA translation certification). This has been an issue that has been long deliberated and continues to prevail as our profession gains ever-growing numbers and the disparity of interpreters’ qualifications creates confusion and hinders the definition of clear-cut overarching professional guidelines and ethics.  With representatives from the main organizations, which dominate the legal, medical, sign- language and conference interpreting Diaspora, it is our hope that real progress can be made towards achieving this important and necessary goal.”

“Among the agreed-upon main challenges to the profession were, primarily, the misconceptions/lack of understanding about the profession from clients, interpreters themselves and language companies, and the need for a steering committee to establish best practices, standards and to govern as an authority.”

Maria Weir

“This was the first time that I ventured to the Interpret America Summit, and it was interesting to see the tremendous influence that technology and social media continue to exert on the language-service industries, and the call for change in the way we work as interpreters.”

“A group of startup companies exhibited their products at the Summit, and a few of them captured my attention.”

“Capiche: a mobile video-interpreting platform accessible to clients and interpreters via smart phone, was founded by industry experts and investors in Atlanta, Ga. Capiche is in a beta stage and will be launched this summer. Some of the advantages it offers are: working from home, scheduling sessions in advance and, if the client likes your work, he or she can link with you for future jobs. Payment is by the minute and the interpreter receives 2/3 of the total compensation.”.

“Stratus Video: another video-interpreting platform, the company offers the services from video centers to healthcare providers. They have an average of 50,000 video calls a days. If you are curious about it, go to:”.

“Other mobile video providers that you might want to check out for opportunities:”

Monique-Paule Tubb

“I have attended all four summits, and while the word ‘summit’ has disappeared to be replaced with the more common designation of ‘conference’, I have noticed a distinct shift in the attendance.  While the first summit was overwhelmingly attended by freelance interpreters, there is now a noticeable shift in the attendance toward fewer freelancers and more providers, in particular, technology-oriented companies. This year’s conference definitely made its point that technology is here to stay, that it will impact the way interpreting is delivered and that only those on board the tech train will survive. This is true and important to stress. However, I feel that this conference is moving away from catering to the independent interpreters and closer to helping companies deal with the shift. There were fewer strictly educational sessions and more general and tech sessions.”

“One discussion group I participated in, and which I felt was very interesting, was how interpreters can protect themselves, and/or repair the damage to their psyche, after particularly difficult assignments (for example, when death and dying or refugee recount of atrocities is involved, ).  We first described what happens in such cases: we may become sad, depressed, cold and unresponsive. All types of solutions were offered from physical activities (walking, sports, etc.), to meditation, debriefing with friends and family (while preserving confidentiality), and, when possible, participating in support groups. Someone even suggested organizing a help line at the national level.”

“Another point made during this conference was the importance of social media to establish our presence, from Facebook and LinkedIn to Twitter, blogs and any other dynamic means. Static websites are now things of the past and useless in promoting our services. We must incorporate a dynamic component that is constantly updated and brought to the attention of our target readers by alert systems.”

“On the whole, I agree with Tony that, while no earth-shattering information was shared, there was a lot of good information available to all attendees. It is a good idea to attend to keep up with the trends, offer suggestions, and mainly to network and get together with some old friends we would not see otherwise.  As a former company owner, I am always interested in keeping up with who is around and what challenges they are faced with. As a current freelance interpreter and editor, it is a good venue to remind everyone that I am here and ready to offer my many years of professional experience.”

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