It’s been a while…
I was thinking of writing an introductory post to the next post on my blog that would explain my absence and all that’s been going on in my sabbatical. Then I realised it’s been far too much to squeeze into a paragraph there, especially when people are clicking on that link because they want to read that post, not my life story. However, to really put everything into context, a bit of my ‘life story’ is indeed needed – at least the part covering the past couple of years.
Please don’t feel the need to read everything: I’m using headings so you can just skip ahead to the parts that interest you. I’m writing this as much for me as for any of my readers.
I’m not going to edit this post as thoroughly as most of my posts, simply because I want it to still sound natural. Upcoming posts will show my typical incisive style and artistic side. This is a brain dump.
Let’s start with my professional journey over the last few years.
My professional journey
Shall I be honest with you guys for a moment? If you got this far, you probably deserve it.
I’ve not always been as successful as I feel and objectively am today. When I started this blog, I was pretty much as clueless as everyone else, if not more so. The fact I gave advice to others (albeit limited in scope) makes me cringe today, but I guess it’s part of the journey. Looking back, I guess those old articles still contain good advice, and that is the sort of advice I followed on my path upwards. I just cringe a bit at having published advice so comparatively early on in my journey, and it’s odd that it made me well-known among my colleagues. On the plus side, it brought me into contact with people who were instrumental in my journey upwards. It also brought me in contact with many lovely colleagues who I consider good friends. Some of them even ARE good friends. ;)
The truth is that at some point around 2010/2011 I realised the hopeless position I was in. See, I’m no economist and I’ll try not to pretend to be, but it does not take an economist to realise that working for agencies is not a long-term viable option in a globalising world with increasing downward pressure in the bulk market. I had convinced myself I was in a good upper-middle ground, working for agencies at low double-digit word rates, but some of my agency clients were starting to “go bad” – asking for rates lower than what I’d started on back in 2006 (€0.06 and €0.07 per word). I love to spot patterns and make predictions about what might happen next. I then try to make that prediction work to my advantage.
Many people will try to tell you the world is not black and white, but shades of grey. They’re often right. But sometimes you have to realise that charcoal is turning black and light grey is turning white. In an increasingly globalised world, translation at the bottom end is getting cheaper. At the other end, however, it’s getting more expensive. And that’s where I wanted to be. I realised I needed to change something to succeed. Hell, I needed to change something to survive. Everything since that realisation has been about getting me where I am now.
Finding safer ground
(Edit: section added for clarification in 2017)
I had to reposition myself. I knew that I wasn’t getting taken seriously when I presented myself as an IT specialist without a shred of paper to back that up. I also had a huge chip on my shoulder about never having done IT at university after a bad teacher messed things up for me by making me spend more time teaching than doing my own coursework. Whatever the result, going back to university for a degree in an IT-related field, in my case, human aspects of information technology, should put me in a much better position. Maybe I would even go into IT after the degree – at that point, I didn’t really know. I hoped would be enough to ensure I received more of that better paying work from agencies, or maybe, in the long run, I might win some nice direct clients who would appreciate my expertise.
During that time at university, I cut down my workload. That meant eliminating the lowest payers, and being picky about which new clients I’d accept. I earned plenty to pay for my studies, and of course, the excellence scholarship helped, but I was naturally earning less than before. I enjoyed the time to relax, unwind, and reflect on the translation industry and my place in it. When I finished, it was time to aim higher.
At first, I simply increased my agency-focused advertising, improving my website, and charging what I felt were professional rates. By 2012, however, I realised that I needed to be acquire direct clients if I wanted to ensure my long-term financial stability. With that in mind, starting in 2012/2013, I began working on going out to meet clients, learning a lot more about marketing, increasing my writing and copywriting skills, reading journals, listening to podcasts, networking, and more besides. I made a lot of mistakes, I embarrassed myself a few times, I charmed the pants off people at trade shows then never had the guts to follow up … and of course, and I learned a lot. I also took an income hit most people would never be prepared to make – down to three figures in at least one month.
Fast forward to the end of 2013 and I decided it was time to rebrand. I was being held back by everything I’d built under this terribly cliché brand name – lingocode – so rebranded as English Rose Berlin. I designed and wrote the copy for that website based on everything I’d learned in my MA in Human Aspects of Information Technology, independent research and academic reading, other research and personal extrapolations. Again, I took a massive income hit to work on it. I engaged further in networking and did a much better job than in 2013. It appears I’d been learning all along.
I hate that I have to say this, so I apologise in advance: I’ve been plagiarised a lot, often by people I know personally and who I’ve actively tried to help. English Rose Berlin is very personal to me (i.e. it won’t even have the same results for you). If anyone plagiarises me again I will shame them on social media and set a scary German lawyer on them. Also note that rephrasing the same idea still counts as plagiarism – even in a court of law.
By March 2013 something had clicked and the rebranding was paying off. Suddenly I was experiencing high demand, even at my much higher rates. It felt like something amazing was happening nearly every day. Everyday fireworks. This has continued to today and I’m still increasing my rates and figuring out other ways how to deal with the demand. That’s actually the inspiration behind my upcoming presentation at BP15: Work those (supply and demand) curves!
The upshot of that is that I kept experiencing high demand and expecting a slow period to follow shortly, during which I could catch up on my blog. That slow period never came. I’ve barely had a quiet moment since March 2014 and have been working too much since about June.
In the last few months of 2014 I earned as much as I’d earned in the whole of 2013 (the year with a big income hit) or what I would have earned full-time as a freelancer had I stayed on in that in-house position back in Nottingham. Demand (and income) continues to increase.
Side-effects and ‘preventative therapy’
A dramatic change in income leads to a change in perspective. My subconscious seemed bothered by this, I guess because I’d somewhere got the impression that high-earners were evil. I had a couple of disturbing dreams. It passed, but that’s what told me it was time to take a break. The good thing is I had stability now and could see the light through the trees.
My mind just needed time to adjust. I was experiencing some kind of minor shock, albeit positive. It is strange to suddenly have the means to do what I want.
On the plus side, this pushed me to take some of that money and spend it on making my working life more comfortable. ‘Preventative therapy’ has included:
- a freezer (for freezing pre-prepared healthy vegan ready meals to heat up in busy periods)
- a sitting/standing desk (just the Bekant one from Ikea – it’s good!)
- a 27” monitor (biggest improvement of the lot! I could not imagine going back…)
- an office sofa (lovely for a change and relaxing while doing research and reading)
- an ergonomic keyboard (quite an obvious one…)
- occasional cider (my tipple of choice)
- occasional orders from that amazing new vegan sushi place in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, that delivers within an hour (www.chay-asia.de)
Reasons I’ve not been posting…
As hinted at in the part about my career over the past few years, I was initially spending a lot of time on my own marketing efforts and after (as a consequence of) that I’ve experienced an ever increasing workload. There isn’t really much to say about this, just that I’ve been busy and something has to give. Given the other additional real or perceived commitments, I’ve found my free time and blogging time put under substantial pressure. My project for this year is to increase my productivity, focus, and quality of life. I’ll attempt to stop pressuring myself to meet stupidly high targets, too.
Social media and networking
I guess people knew this one was going to come up. This is the major reason.
In early 2014 a conflict on one Facebook group lead to the co-founding of another, The League of Extraordinary Translators, and that one has come to take up a lot of my time. That’s a good thing, though. I share my thoughts there, and I like the fact it’s so interactive and egalitarian. We are strongly against censorship in that group, given the reasons for its foundation, and this makes it quite a stimulating environment to “hang out” in. I’ve made some wonderful friends there, in Things Translators Never Say and on Twitter, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I’ve formed and strengthened some amazing friendships. I’m awful at forgetting people at important moments so it’s best I don’t mention anyone, because I’ll forget the people who are most special. Suffice to say that my best friends are nearly all translators whom I originally met online, or in person, but via mutual friends whom one or both of us originally met online.
I’ve also met some amazing colleagues in person at various conferences and translation meet-ups.
On the other hand, I’ve been brutally attacked, slandered, betrayed and lied about on social media. I’ll not bother going into it too deeply here. In short, I’ve had people lie about my professional practices, accuse me of lying, make jokes about what might appear on my gravestone, and most recently, spread it around that my parents are both bankers and financially supporting me (not true on either count!). It’s hard to keep up and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of people I’ve tried to help going crazy on me and start publishing lies and casting aspersions. I’m tired of blame games and point-scoring, and this is why I’m not going to name names or make any counter-accusations here. Just suffice that it has got me down, especially when it’s involved some kind of backstabbing and caught me by surprise.
On top of this, I’ve been plagiarised more than once by two relative newbies I’ve called friends. One I guess I would still call a friend, as I really don’t think she knows what she did or how serious it is. I’ve got no idea how to talk about it with her, especially as she’s done it before and then of her own volition admitted it and changed it. It’s too awkward. Too heart-breaking. The other one was so rude about it initially he ruined not just the possibility of my referring work to him or us becoming friends, but also, for some time, my faith in helping colleagues at all. These examples are of course in addition to the many more subtle examples I’ve seen, which bother me decidedly less. You put all your heart and soul into your marketing efforts, spending considerable time and money on getting things just right, and then someone you tried to help comes along and copies you in one hour or something? It’s so hurtful. I’ll be covering plagiarism among colleagues in an upcoming post.
Then we have the psycho colleague who reacted badly to my blocking him after he made racist comments on Facebook. He told my best friends and boyfriend to dump me (carefully looking them up on Facebook in order to do so) and sent multiple abusive emails, including claims that he’d reported me for bogus offences to tax authorities in two countries. (Edit, 2017: Then there are the things that happened after this. OMG. Life lesson learned: trust your gut, avoid narcissists, and always be suspicious when someone’s ‘success’ doesn’t match up to their apparent skills.)
These negative situations have at times made me very stressed, very distracted and almost unwell. It’s put me off sharing things on my blog or elsewhere. It’s put me off trying to help out newbies. Why should I put myself out there, trying to advise, analyse, defend and inspire if that’s the crap I get? I expect you see where I’m coming from now, after hearing the negative. In spite of this, the positives have been amazing, and I really owe it to the good people to not give up just because of the nasty folk.
I was happy with my own life – and short of time. Helping others and sharing advice only seemed to bring me trouble, or even invite plagiarism, which could directly damage my business. I didn’t want that. I don’t want that.
…and that’s about it.
Those are the reasons I have not posted anything on this blog for a while. I’m open to some feedback and advice I guess, just please do consider how monumentally shit some of these situations have been. I don’t feel sorry for myself, though; my life is good.
I feel guilty for not having posted for a while, especially since a couple of you messaged me asking me to post. I feel people like that, or indeed any people interested and caring enough to read to this part of the blog, deserve an honest and complete explanation. Maybe you can even learn from some of my mistakes and ensure you don’t repeat them.
It will probably still be sporadic, but I promise that I’ll try better from now on. I can at least do better than one post a year… ;)