American Translators Association (ATA): Ten Golden Rules

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American Translators Association (ATA): Ten Golden Rules

Ten Golden Rules for Making the Most of a Freelance Business

This marks the last of the "Business Smarts" columns. Beginning with the November/December issue, Judy Jenner has graciously volunteered to offer up equally useful tips on business practices in a new column, "Entrepreneurial Linguist." Judy is no stranger to the pages of this magazine, having published several articles of interest to entrepreneurs in the past year. Some of you might also be familiar with her blog, Translation Times, or with her work as vice-president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. We are really excited that Judy has agreed to share her expertise, and look forward to learning about new ways to work better and smarter.

We want to take this opportunity to thank readers for helping to shape this column over the past three years with your thought-provoking questions and comments. For this last edition, instead of answering a reader’s question, we offer 10 rules for success as a freelance translator or interpreter.

  1. Keep Your Office Organized
    No matter how big your workspace, keep it organized so you can focus. Throw out the clutter, keep your desk free of unnecessary papers, and file important papers using a meaningful system. Your computer is a crucial part of your workspace as well. To be efficient, you need a clean e-mail inbox and a concise file structure that lets you find what you are looking for easily.

  2. Use Time Wisely
    Most people are at their peak productivity in the morning. Plan accordingly and schedule your most challenging project work during your most productive hours. Other chores such as filing paperwork, billing, or organizing can be done at times when you are too tired to do your best translation work. Keep interruptions to a minimum and switch off instant messaging and other bells and whistles when you need to get work done.

  3. Keep up with Professional Developments
    Our profession keeps evolving. New products and methods are introduced, and trends in other industries affect the work of translators and interpreters. It is important to know about these developments so you can respond appropriately and keep your marketing strategy fresh. Stay informed by reading professional publications and blogs, and network regularly with colleagues to find out what is going on.

  4. Outsource
    Consider outsourcing non-translation chores and responsibilities that keep you from doing your work. Let someone else clean your house, deal with your taxes, or watch your children. You can be most efficient by concentrating on your job while other people do theirs.

  5. Stay on Top of Billing and Financial Data
    No matter how busy you are or how many projects are crossing your desk, do not forget to bill clients promptly and to keep accurate records of all invoices. Small business owners who do not bill promptly are cheating themselves out of their hard-earned money and risk cash flow shortages. When it comes to following up on a delayed payment, precise notes about the date, amount, and project order number of an invoice save lots of time and make a professional impression.

  6. Review Your Rates Regularly
    Pricing review is part of small business management and should be taken very seriously. Your pricing has to appropriately reflect factors such as the Cost of Living Index, taxes, insurance, your cost of doing business, but also your level of specialization and years of experience. If you need to increase your rates, plan ahead and notify your clients well in advance.

  7. Plan Strategically
    Set aside some time from your day-today project work to think about the future of your business. What will be your professional standing in five or ten years, and how will you achieve that? Which types of projects do you find especially enjoyable and how can you get more of them? Would you benefit from specific training or certifications?

  8. Be Picky About Your Clients
    Choose your clients well. Once you find clients who appreciate your work and respect you enough to establish a good working relationship, put all of your effort into keeping them. Do not waste your time with clients who do not seem interested in quality concerns or cannot be bothered to pay on time.

  9. Save for Retirement
    Make sure to put money aside for your retirement. There are many options for small business owners to save for retirement in tax-deferred accounts. If you are not sure where to start, talk to a financial planner or an advisor at your bank. Keep in mind that you may not want to compete for projects with much younger colleagues once you are 70.

  10. Take Time to Play
    Do not allow your business to consume all of your time and energy. Say no to late-night and weekend jobs whenever you can and spend time with your friends and family. Put the “free” in freelance. Get out of your office often and enjoy life.


Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: October 2009, pp 32-33