My first year of freelancing – ten things 2022 has taught me

  1. It’s important to say no sometimes. Thanks to project management work, my income has been pretty stable over the last 9 months. But the insecurity of being a freelancer lives on. And then I start being competitive with myself. If I could just squeeze this project in, then I’ve earned more this month compared to last month. If I say no to this project, they won’t ask me to do the next one. I’ll just take on this translation, and I don’t have to worry about food shopping for the rest of the month – that kind of thing. The problem with this mentality is that you sometimes end up taking projects that are more complicated, and take more time (for the same rate). Work starts eating into the evenings and weekends that you’d planned for relaxing. This isn’t healthy, and after a few months of saying yes to everything that came my way, I’m learning to take my foot off the gas a little bit, respect my working hours and boundaries, and pay more attention to projects that are fulfilling and interesting, rather than chasing figures all the time.
  2. Never stop marketing. Being constant and consistent with your marketing pays off. Translation clients come and go. Sometimes there’s not much work in a given language combination. Sometimes a Project Manager that you often worked with leaves the company. It’s always a good idea to stay in touch with existing clients so that you don’t get forgotten about, and approach new ones to build up a bank of clients. That way, you have the luxury of being a bit more picky with your projects (see above). My biggest takeaway from 2022: clients don’t fall into your lap. You’ve got to find them and keep them.
  3. The power of a personal brand. I accidentally became a content creator this year and built a network of almost 7,000 people on LinkedIn. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I started posting and interacting because I wanted to meet industry colleagues and clients. Every month or so I get a bit scared, because there’s no way on Earth I would ever address a stadium full of 7,000 people in person, but the online disinhibition effect can work wonders. But I managed to get here, and accidently built my personal brand: ‘🕵️‍♀️ Leading a not-so-secret double life as both Translator and Project Manager ✍️’. I’m really glad I did it because I’ve forged some great relationships with fellow translators, had countless knowledge exchanges, and met all but one of my clients on the platform.
  4. Staying humble and accepting feedback. I used to be terrified of the ‘F’ word. Until I started working for a couple of clients with a heavy feedback culture. It’s a good thing. We all love a bit of positive feedback of course. I’m not going to use the word ‘negative’, because this year I learned that there’s no such thing as negative feedback. It’s an opportunity to show how you react to constructive feedback. Reacting badly isn’t the best foot forward for a freelancer (or anyone, actually). Better to use it as a learning opportunity – be that learning about a client’s preferences, or accepting and learning from a mistake. It’s all good.  
  5. Communication issues. I got served more humble pie this year in the form of communication. I hadn’t fully appreciated how privileged I am to be able to communicate in my first language almost anywhere I go. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve always felt understood. It’s taken a bit of learning on my part to address the way that I communicate (indirectly), and how it’s received working through screens with people that speak English as their second or third language. I come from a culture of people that don’t tend to say what they mean, and being faced with people that are more direct is a bit of a process. I’m still working on not talking constantly in riddles, so that I can be best understood, not saying ‘sorry’ as a reflex in almost every situation, and not taking directness to heart.
  6. Keeping on topic. I’ve loved exploring different types of translation subjects this year, and this has hammered the message home that some translations are more time-consuming than others. I work on a per-word rate. Some translations are easy, and I can bash them out pretty quickly. Others end up taking longer. So long that my blood runs cold thinking about how much I actually earned if you look at how many hours it took. The trouble is, I enjoy going down the research rabbit holes a bit too much. And I look at the trickier translations as a learning process. But I’m going to be a bit pickier about accepting the more difficult assignments. I’ll push to take longer translations that require the same amount of research as a minimum charge job, and I’ll tell my clients what type of translations I prefer (otherwise, they’re never going to know what took ages and what didn’t).
  7. Making money. I started the year thinking ‘if I can earn X every month, then I will be happy’. Then, like I said, I chased numbers too much. But we all want to maximise our earning potential, don’t we? I don’t think that I could possibly squeeze in any more to my schedule if I tried, so I’m reassessing the work I take on, and focussing more on projects that yield more. I’m changing my mindset from money, money, money, to professional growth, learning, and opportunity. If I’ve earned what I need for the month, it’s actually pointless pushing myself to breaking point and not enjoying it because I’m being competitive with myself.
  8. Working hours. Not feeling tied to set working hours. This flexibility has massively helped my productivity. It turns out, that I’m much better at translating late in the afternoon, and on evenings and weekends, and I prefer to rattle through admin tasks first thing. I’ve really enjoying experimenting with different working hours over the year, seeing when and what time I’m most productive. So much better than forcing it when I’m not at my most creative, and taking twice as long.
  9. Professional development. I had underestimated how important Continuing Professional Development is. Especially in an industry that moves so fast. I lack time in general, so I’ve found that dedicating 15 minutes here and there to unpaid professional development can be really efficient. Whether it’s learning new features on a CAT tool, looking up keyboard shortcuts, watching a video in French, or chatting with colleagues, it’s all extremely valuable professional growth.
  10. Making time for things that matter. We’re really just visitors here – something that’s sadly hit home recently. I enjoy working so much, that it can be hard to strike a balance, but I’m going to flex my freelance freedom more in the future. I don’t normally believe in New Year’s resolutions, but maybe 2023 will be there year that I finally go whale watching, and better balance my time between interesting projects and family fun. What about you, what are your goals for the next year?

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