Why it has been a while…

First of all, I would like to offer a big “SORRY” to my readers. I have been pretty busy over the past few month preparing for my move to the Netherlands, as well as settling in once having got here. Why am I here? I decided to study Information and Communication Sciences, specialising in Human Aspects of Information Technology, at the Tilburg University. Am I still translating? Of course! Now I am somewhat settled in, I will get back to blogging, too.

Quite a while back now, I began my series on what makes a good, successful and happy translator. In Part 1 I covered “what makes a good translator”, i.e. the skills one needs to be good at the practical skill of translating and how to obtain them (including some skills one would not expect). In Part 2 I covered “what makes a successful translator”, i.e. the skills one needs to find work, good clients, and earn a living wage (avoiding the pitfalls of poor Mox). Now, I am finally going to offer my thoughts on how to do well in your freelance career and achieving happiness.

How to be a happy translator

There was a natural flow to this series, since each of these sections requires having already tackled and achieved the goals in the preceding sections. First and foremost, one must one be good. Success is not implicit and one must work on this separately – although of course raw translation skills are required, too. Happiness, therefore, requires that one has achieved success as a translator. Happiness is the goal for those who have achieved the basic goal of being a successful translator – a steady flow of work with a predictable and professional income. If you feel you are successful but not happy, it is possible there are further tips that you can gleam from my advice on how to be a successful translator – especially when it comes to self-respect.


Work-life balance is a buzzword among freelancers, including freelance translators.

At one UK-based workshop for this audience, the attendees were asked to raise their hand if they felt they were “too busy”. More than 50% did. And yet none could really figure out how busy they wanted to be.

This is the crux of the issue: If you are too busy, you are working more than you need to.

Some readers may come back with comments such as, “But I have to please my clients”, or, “But I have to work such long hours to earn my living wage” – and these people in particular I would refer back to the section on self-respect in the previous section. To find happiness as a freelance translator, you must learn to:

  • Set professional rates
  • Refuse to work for less than you are worth
  • Never offer volume discounts
  • Value your own free time
  • Dump bad clients
  • Be true to yourself and your values

Translators with self-respect do not put their clients first beyond the point where this impacts on their own standard of life. Nor do they charge low rates, put up with dodgy payment practices or sell-out on their own values. Doing these things will lead the unpleasant feelings of loss of self-determination and independence: a terrible sacrifice when this is something every freelancer should be free to relish. It would be daft to repeat myself, so anyone who would like to read more on these points should read my previous post on “what makes a successful translator”.

Set your priorities

To ensure happiness in your (working) life it is important to make sure you are fully aware of what it is you are striving towards. Your professional activities should enable you to achieve the things that will make you happy (within reason – it will not get you a date with Colin Firth/Keira Knightley, but it can, if you desire it, bring you into contact with educated and possibly attractive people of a similar mindset). Think deeply about what would bring you satisfaction: you are a freelancer, so you are in a good position to shape your professional life to achieve these things.

Know when to take time out

The alternative issue is that you may have inadvertently become a work-a-holic. You may in fact have many clients that fully respect you, and you find it so hard to say no to a well-paying, interesting job… It is even harder to say no when you think of the economic climate, or how badly some of our nearest and dearest are doing… It seems only good sense to put more, and more aside for a rainy day.

But we must keep some perspective. Yes, it is true, we do not have the commuting time or other work stresses that other professionals do, but at the same time, this is no reason to work long hours for days on end without a break. Make sure to make time for yourself . Take care to not end up being your own nightmare boss.

Giving back to yourself and society

Taking time out for your friends and family is somewhat obvious. But what about other things? Do you have a favourite sport or other leisure activity? If so, you should take time out to enjoy the key benefits of being a freelance translator – financial freedom and the ability to simply take time out when you feel like it. If you want to learn a new skill, be it another language, watercolour painting or climbing, actively schedule time to pursue this.

Similarly, maybe now is the time to balance your karma and give something back to a cause you care about. Of course, we can give money or free translations for good causes, but there are further interesting ways we can use our skills to help a good cause, perhaps even broadening our professional horizons. As a translator, it may be a nice change to do some voluntary interpreting for immigrants in difficulties. Or you might try writing, or editing: for example, I have spent a good two or three weeks this year editing a book for a European environmental and marine life protection organisation, “The Black Fish”. Similarly, you might like the chance to do something completely different, such as cooking for the homeless.

Charity is not for everyone, of course, many of us would rather earn the money and donate it, or simply have too many existing demands closer to home. However, there are reasons for even the most self-interested of us to consider charity – namely, the chance to exercise new skills and gain new experience, as well as a demonstration of your integrity to paying clients.

Diversify your work

As explained above, charity is a great way to learn new skills and diversify your work. However you can also do this in your paid professional work. For example, you might find it stimulating to take a break from translation and engage in a sideline career.

In translation, we are well-suited to a number of related professions – from interpreting and monolingual editing to language tuition on a one-on-one or even university level. You may even have further options relating to your chosen specialisation, e.g. chemistry tuition or programming. The choice is yours. If you feel you might gain something from pursuing one or more sideline careers, then go for it – there is nothing to lose, just experience to gain – even if you fall flat on your face!

Set boundaries – for everything!

This part applies to all parts of your life, not just your paying clients. If friends and family are not clear on the importance of you having dedicated working time, this can cause problems when it comes to deadlines. That will cause you undue stress and may even cost you clients. To achieve balance, everything must have a set priority in your life and an appropriate schedule to match, but nothing should be able to invade the other parts of your life at will and at random. Alejandro Moreno Ramos published a wonderful cartoon on the consequences of friends and family not understanding these boundaries.

If you decide to take on voluntary work, you must set deadlines you can meet – and those you agree to work with must understand that, like any professional, the work agreed cannot massively expand and still be expected by the same deadline, nor can the deadline be brought radically forward without due notice. Sure, you can do your best to help, but you are under no obligation. Similarly, you should ensure that whoever it is you are assisting respects the value of your time and skills – if they do not, there are plenty of other good causes you can assist.

The rules for paying clients are pretty clear – if you are on “personal time” (e.g. a holiday or other scheduled time-out), then it is always your choice whether you wish to be reachable or not. You should not be sitting there at your sister’s wedding, tapping away a quick response to an “urgent ” query from a client on your BlackBerry. Their query can always wait, or they can find another solution.

Get efficient

A good way of ensuring happiness in your work is to ensure you minimise the daily frustrations. For me, this means having a lot of convenient programs, and occasionally outsourcing things I really do not like. The exact selection of computer programs that will help you will depend a lot on your working style. I personally am big on synchronisation for my general business notes and contacts, so here are some of the synchronisation applications I love:

  1. Dropbox – so handy for synchronising across computers, even without a shared network. See my post on Dropbox here.
  2. Microsoft SyncToy – there are a number of programs that will perform this task, but I use this one. It synchronises certain folders between two computers on a local network (wireless or wired) at set intervals, or when you desire.
  3. Google Sync – very handy for synchronising email, calendar and contacts between various devices, formats and operating systems.

Please note that using Dropbox, Box or any other synchronisation tool for clients’ files, their personal details or your past work may well be against the terms of your client agreements. In case of doubt, don’t do it. I personally would strongly advise against using these tools for anything you do for a client, even projects that are not officially declared “confidential”.

There are numerous other handy programs I use, but there are too many to list here. Just remember a basic principle when faced with something inefficient in your working practices: if you have been frustrated by something before, so has a programmer. That programmer probably solved the problem, so have a look for the solution online.

For example, if you type “how to update multiple social networking sites at once” into Google, someone will eventually recommend Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. If you type “free .doc to .pdf converter”, you will find a number of free options, as well as someone pointing out that the free office software from OpenOffice.org, has such an integrated function. Search engines are your friend – use them to solve your problems and save you time.

Consider hiring others

As I said above, you may be at the stage where you might want to consider hiring others. Most obviously, this could be an accountant or book-keeper, or even a part-time secretary to deal with your invoices. I have found this especially handy when I have both a translation and invoicing deadline pending at the end of the month.

The other option is a little more controversial. It involves, to some extent, “becoming the demon”. You could begin hiring other translators to do the translation, whilst you take on the proofreading. That way, you can assure your clients that they will still receive a translation that is to your high quality standards. This can prove rewarding in both a financial and spiritual sense, as you teach a newbie the tricks of the profession, and ultimately secure their long-term professional success. However, nobody should ever underestimate the drastic change this will entail – you will go from being a freelancer in the truest sense of the word, to someone who others rely on, and to whom responsibility ultimately falls back on. Outsourcing the very core of your business is an option only to take with the maximum precautions, involving only persons one can fully rely on. Whilst it risks destroying an already working formula, this greater management focus could be exactly what an experienced translator seeks to capitalse on their excellent, loyal clients, useful connections and top-notch experience.

Find your own path

The final word of advice here is left to you. I cannot tell you in a single blog post what will make you happy, or even a thousand, and nor can anyone else. You will have to experiment for yourself, set your own goals, and these will determine the exact path that is right for you. Consider all of the above as mere suggestions, some of which will not apply to you in the slightest, others of which may seem to be exactly what you were looking for. If I knew how to instruct anyone to find happiness, I would be rich and happy enough to never study, work, or write a single blog post again…

No one is in control of your happiness but you; therefore, you have the power to change anything about yourself or your life that you want to change.
– Barbara de Angelis