Guest Post/Open Thread: Who's the Boss?

We haven't had a guest post in a while, so we are delighted to welcome the first guest blogger of 2012 - and it happens to be the president-elect of the American Translators Association, Caitilin Walsh. We are honored that she's agreed to write an article for us. Read on about the important topic of providing your own benefits as a freelance translator/interpreter. We would love to hear your thoughts about affordable health care options in your state. Please share your insight with your colleagues by leaving a comment. 

I have the distinct pleasure of teaching students in a translation certificate program, and one of my favorite and liveliest discussions comes when we talk about deciding to work for yourself. Since most folks are used to working for companies, everyone knows how it works: you send out résumés, go for an interview, and, if everything goes well, you receive an offer. You look at what they offer, and decide if you will accept the job. Most of us assume that a full-time position will provide us with enough to live on (assuming a modest lifestyle—no Lamborghinis here), and most of us expect things like paid vacations and some sort of benefits package.

But it's amazing how many of us fail to translate this to the self-employment model that dominates our industry. We're pretty good at seeing ourselves as employees, but not so much as employers. Here's the bottom line: we simply cannot expect to be seen as professionals if we do not charge rates that allows us to provide ourselves with benefits that any right-minded professional would expect.

If you were an architect or a CPA looking to work in-house, you would expect paid vacation; paid sick leave; paid holidays; and some employer contribution to health insurance—that's medical, vision and dental. A full package would also likely include long-term disability and life insurance, along with a 401(k). That's in addition to things like paying a share of your Social Security taxes and withholding income tax and unemployment contributions. Employers don't offer these benefits out of the kindness of their hearts: some are required (like taxes) but mostly it's because they know that they need their employees, and that means they need to protect their business by taking good care of them. This applies as well when employee and employer are one and the same.

It's encouraging to see discussions on translation and interpreting business practices lists and blogs take on things like saving for retirement and the importance of actually taking a vacation. But what about insurance? What happens when your main employee—you—can't work because of illness? How about those eyeglasses you need to see the screen or the physical therapy for your aching wrists? Not to mention house fires, hurricanes, heart attacks and the like.

It helps to remember that being a business is not just about providing excellent service, but also being an excellent employer.  In all our discussions about "sexy" benefits like vacation and retirement, let's not forget to investigate the basic health insurance offered by most states, or buying a group policy as part of a larger organization with huge buying power (think warehouse clubs, national associations for the self-employed), or even setting up an Health Spending Account. Whatever choice we make, it all boils down to attracting and taking care of our most important professional asset—ourselves.

Caitilin Walsh is an ATA-Certified French-English translator who delights in producing publication-quality translations for the computer industry and food lovers alike. In addition to her longtime service to her local chapter, NOTIS (Northwest Translators & Interpreters Society), she serves as President-elect of the American Translators Association. She brings her strong opinions to teaching Ethics and Business Practices at the Translation and Interpreting Institute at Bellevue College, and chairing the T&I Advisory Committee for the Puget Sound Skills Center. When not at her computer, she can be found pursuing creative endeavors from orchestra to the kitchen. 


Roman Mironov on February 29, 2012 at 6:26 AM said...

Thank you very much for a great article!

Indeed, a freelance translator may at times get overwhelmed by the multitude of challenges they face daily. It's then quite easy to completely focus on what's urgent rather than what's important. Consequently, they may lose sight of their long-term goals.
Aside from insurance and retirement, another consequence of being overwhelmed is that some translators don't have a clear pricing policy and don't really know how much they should charge to run a profitable business. This might be one reason why folks accept low rates—they just don't have the time to sit down and calculate how much they must make and are actually making on a monthly or annual basis.

Warm regards,

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on February 29, 2012 at 7:53 AM said...

@Roman: thanks for reading and commenting and we are also delighted about Caitilin's article. You are completely right: oftentimes we get caught up in the daily tasks and forget about the bigger life goals.
And high rates are our favorite topic -- we are all about pricing strategies! You might be interested in this ATA webinar that Judy is giving for the ATA today. The recording will be available in a few days:

Roman Mironov on March 1, 2012 at 6:27 AM said...

@Judy and Dagmar: Thank you for the useful link! Actually, I am a big fan of your book and I always enjoy your insights about pricing strategies, because so much of what you teach is congruent with my values and my view of the industry. By the way, here is my brief review of The Entrepreneurial Linguist:

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 1, 2012 at 4:29 PM said...

@Roman: thanks for reading and for commenting. Happy to hear that we share the same beliefs. And thanks so much for that wonderful review. We are blushing a little!

Andie said...

Really excellent post! I love the perspective Caitlin gives by saying we wouldn't accept conditions from an employer that we give ourselves.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 15, 2012 at 8:30 PM said...

@Andie: thanks for chiming in and so glad to hear you enjoyed the post. Running one's own business sure does come with many responsibilities, and Caitilin is right: as both employer and employee, you have to create acceptable conditions for yourself.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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