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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Working from Home

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Working from Home

Working from Home


Freelancers who are just starting out often face pressures on many fronts. They have to acquire customers, watch their finances, put effort into marketing, and translate with particular care to establish a good reputation. Another challenging aspect that is rarely discussed is the working environment. Instead of commuting to a place of work, the newly minted freelancer often has to establish new routines for effectively working from home.

Dear Business Smarts:

 I am writing about a problem that I am too embarrassed to bring up in an online discussion forum. After being laid off from my previous in-house job, I started working from home as an independent contractor six months ago, specializing in English into Spanish translations in the financial and business field. I like the benefits of this work arrangement, but did not anticipate the reactions of my family. My husband will take over the computer any time he likes to check his e-mail and read the news online, while my kids are asking for online access to do their homework and chat with their friends. On one occasion, I missed an urgent message from a new client about a rush job. When I finally responded, the project had already been assigned to someone else. No one seems to listen when I explain what I do, and I am exasperated.
Is Working from Home for Me?

Dear Working from Home:

Setting up parameters and work routines for a new employment situation at home is not easy. Since you are just getting started, purchasing a second computer is probably out of the question for the time being. Instead of accommodating all of your family’s cyber needs, however, it is essential that you establish firm hours during which you can do your best work and will have exclusive access to the computer. It may be helpful to draw up a schedule that shows “business hours” and “family time” for the computer. Post the schedule next to the computer, and insist that your reserved work hours be respected and interrupted as little as possible. Also, plan plenty of review time for your translation projects before your place of work becomes hectic with family activities in the afternoon and evening. Structure your workday to allow for maximum undisturbed work time. For example, you may want to delay any housework or errands until the afternoon, when you cannot get much translation work done anyway, and do all your writing in the morning.

Because your work computer is being used for so many other purposes, including online access by children or teens, be sure to back up your data in a safe location, preferably to an external hard drive.

It may also be helpful to give some more thought to how your work environment is organized. Is the computer set up in a location where it invites spontaneous access by other family members? Do you have enough space where you are currently working? You may want to consider changing the furniture configuration and desk setup to underscore the fact that you are not just pursuing a hobby, but working to earn an income. If your children are still fairly young, they will learn very quickly to adapt to your new work reality.

For maximum data security and confidentiality, you should plan as soon as possible to purchase a laptop or second computer exclusively for your own work. Setting aside a small portion of every translation payment you receive is a relatively


Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: March 2008, p 36