Should You Work From Home?

Partial view of Judy's home office.
Many newcomers to the profession are attracted to the flexibility that translation and interpreting afford: you get to work from home, and you make your own schedule. Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? But not so quick: working from home isn't for everyone. Read on if you are a beginning linguist or are thinking about making the move from in-house to at-home.

There are a few questions you should probably ask yourself before you decide that working sans a boss (as you will work for yourself) AND from home is a good idea. Here are a few questions to give you some food for thought.

Do you like being by yourself all day? In previous jobs, your co-workers may have bugged you and office politics may have driven you crazy, but working all by yourself can get lonely. It personally works for us, but Judy also works from a co-working space at least once a week.

Can you work with all the home distractions? Many people just can't work from home because they'd be too tempted to mop the floors, do the dishes, do the laundry, run errands, or anything else that needs to be done around the house. Others can't work from home because they don't have the discipline and would be watching sitcoms all day or viewing cute internet cat videos. There's nothing wrong with that, but obviously you need to be able to resist all these temptations if you want to get work done and make a living. We will occasionally do some chores around the house during our breaks, but most of the time, we put our head down and we work. And we watch no cat videos, as cute as they are.

Can you work without any direct pressure from anyone? Sure, your clients will put pressure on you, but the pressure will come in the form of mutually agreed-upon deadlines. Will you be able to work without someone checking on you? Have you done it before? This question really goes beyond the working-from-home question and is more about working for yourself in general. As much as many don't like being micromanaged and/or having any boss in general, he or she usually does hold employees accountable. Can you hold yourself accountable? Think about this for a bit before you take the plunge into self-employment.

Can you solve your own computer problems? We've been there, done that: we've worked in organizations that had entire IT departments to solve any challenge, and we got a bit lazy. After we started working for ourselves, we had to figure out how to solve IT-related problems, and we did so by hiring outside help and by being more resourceful ourselves (this involves a lot of time on Google, looking for tutorials). This topic also goes beyond working from home, and it's an important one. Your clients don't care that you can't open a Mac file; you just have to figure it out. And yes, sometimes it's painful. 

Do you need a lot of feedback and guidance? No translator or interpreter is an island, and you will need to build your network to get advice and feedback from more experienced colleagues (and you might have to pay for this). Until you do build a network, how will you get feedback? Do you have people in your life who are willing to guide you both on the T&I competencies side and the business side? This is much easier now than it was years ago when we started (we just had each other), but it's still a challenge. If you need assistance every step of the way, you need to get used to the idea that you might not able to get it and that you will need to make many decisions using incomplete information. And that many decisions will be wrong (ours were). BTW: we try to share our mistakes on this blog so you don't have to make the same ones.

So that's it, dear colleagues and future colleagues! Of course, this list isn't exhaustive, but we hope it gets you thinking a bit more about whether working from home is for you.

We'd love to hear your thoughts -- simply leave a comment below.

Keeping the "Free" in "Freelance"

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For today's quick post, we'd like to address an important topic: the fact that as freelancers, we are free to work or not work with any client. Oftentimes, we hear from colleagues that they feel locked into certain relationships, and while it's certainly difficult to walk away from established business relationships, we need to do so if they don't work for us -- or at least try to negotiate better terms. Let's keep the "free" in "freelance"!

Judy has been on the other side of this: she's worked as an in-house translator for a big e-commerce site. And while that was a lot of fun, she loved leading a team of translators, learned a lot about technology and made many lifelong friends, she wasn't free to choose what to work on. Her internal customers (=other departments) would request translations, sometimes with unreasonable expectations and unreasonable deadlines, and it was her and her team's job to get it done. She didn't have the option to say: "Thanks, but no thanks, this deadline is too tight." Everything always got done, but it required many all-nighters and many months of 80-hour weeks.

As freelancers, we have the choice and the luxury to select which projects we work on. Of course, we also need to make sure we make a living, so we need to choose wisely and make our customers happy while balancing that with the need to have a normal life, including time for friends, family, exercises, travel, and vacation.

We very rarely turn down projects from our fantastic long-term repeat customers, many of whom have worked with us for more than a decade, but we've negotiated good terms and reasonable deadlines. Oftentimes, we hear lovely colleagues complaining about their client's unreasonable expectations and deadlines. Without giving out too much tough love, we have this thought: a business agreement always takes two parties. If you say yes to something, then you must do it, preferably without complaining too much. If it doesn't work for you, tell the client rather than complaining to colleagues who can't do anything about it. Don't be afraid to negotiate better terms. It works like a charm if you say: "Unfortunately, we will not be able to complete this translation by Monday because we are completely booked. However, we can gladly complete it by Wednesday if your timeline allows or we can refer a trusted colleague." Needless to say, most clients will think that this is quite reasonable, as most clients understand that all of us have multiple clients and don't just work for one party. If they don't understand that and are continuously putting lots of pressure on you, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate that business relationship. Just because you've worked with someone once or twice doesn't mean you have to accept work from them for all eternity if the terms don't work for you. It's perfectly fine to say "no," as long as you do so nicely and offer alternatives if at all possible.

What do you think, dear colleagues? We would love to hear from you. Simply leave a comment below. 

Blind Translators: Making Their Lives Better

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Happy Friday, dear colleagues! This morning, Judy received an e-mail from her friend and colleague Jamey Cook, who is a trailblazing blind interpreter and translator. Yes, you read that correctly: she's blind, yet she's a certified medical interpreter and a translator. Judy had the honor of profiling her for the ITI Bulletin magazine in 2013, and her story even made the cover. Life in the translation world is very challenging for blind translators, as much of the software (and hardware) just isn't accessible to them because manufacturers have not made the necessary adjustments. Jamey has been at the forefront of campaigning for change. Will you help? It doesn't cost anything, and alll you have to do is go to a website and add a comment, which should take you no more than 30 seconds. What do you say? Let's come together as a community to support an important cause. The idea here is to ask Microsoft to add a fully functional screen reader to Windows 10.

But we will let Jamey speak -- here's her e-mail from earlier this morning:

Would you please consider voting on this?

The low down on why this matters: Macs are considerably more expensive than PC's, yet Apple long ago built in their VoiceOver screen reader for free. Now, Window Eyes is free for those who use Office 2013 or above, but Narrator, which comes with Windows, is only a functional
screen reader for the most basic of tasks. NVDA is a free screen reader, but needs more development. So that leaves JAWS for Windows, which is close to $2000 for starters, then there is the Software
Maintenance Agreement to maintain for $200 every two years. Bottom line: this could allow blind users to just pick up a computer and use it, as any sighted person can.

Thank you so much, in advance, for your help. Can you also help us spread the word about this important cause?

Here is the link again. Have a great weekend!

The Power of Price Quotes + Contracts

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We have oftentimes lectured on the importance of price quotes and contracts in our industry, including Judy's recent session at the 55th Annual American Translators Association Conference in Chicago in November 2014 (Quote This!), but haven't blogged about this topic in a while, so here we go (warning: it's long). Please remember that this is merely our point of view, and that we very much welcome others' opinions as well (just leave a comment). As always, for legal advice, please make sure you talk to a lawyer. 

In general, during most business transactions, the vendor sets the price and the buyer agrees to it, usually in writing if it's a service. This is even the case for something as simple as plumbing services, or agreeing to a monthly pool cleaning service. The customer calls and asks for an estimate, and the vendor issues it, states the terms, and has the client sign off on them. Very few professionals in any profession would consider working without such an agreement. Remember that our experience is limited almost exclusively to direct clients, but there's no reason we cannot get agencies into the habit of signing contracts as well (we gladly sign our subcontractors' terms/contracts, but few send them). The law is usually a good thing, and contracts are great. They spell things out and make them official. They also come in handy during disputes.

The few times a year we work with interpreting agencies, we are happy to sign their purchase orders, but don't ever enter into a working agreement without our own signed contract as well. Oral contracts are worth the paper they are written on, and back-and-forth e-mails are a poor substitute for a proper contract. Not that our direct clients would want us to skip the written agreement: they want a document where all the pertinent details are spelled out so there are no surprises. This even applies to customers who want something as simple as a birth certificate translated. The issuance of price quotes is so widespread in any business transaction that pretty much every potential client we come in contact with expects one. A contract is the cornerstone of a professional business agreement, Sadly, in our industry, the vast majority of translators and interpreters skip this step, which can be detrimental for their businesses. We think that most non-payment situations can be made much easier if a signed document exists -- it also strengthens any legal case if it comes to that.

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Now, when we work with interpreting agencies for conference interpreting assignments, we issue a very straightforward price quote that neatly summarizes all the details (which we copy and paste from e-mail conversations; it's also great to have all the information in one place). Our contract was drafted by an attorney and is routinely reviewed and updated, but it's very standard. It specifies the details, the time, the date, the booth partner, the location, the equipment to be used, preparation material, overtime, breaks, our payment terms, etc. The idea here is to agree to everything in writing so both parties know what to expect. We will post more on the actual essential elements of a quote in a future post, we promise! In the meantime, here's the ATA's great model contract. In general, the document should be concise, easy to read, and thorough without being an undue burden to the client (no one wants to read 1o pages). And of course the agreement has to work for both parties, so there can certainly be some back-and-forth negotiating until everyone is happy. There is a signature section where we have the client sign first and then we counter-sign. Once signed, that document becomes a binding contract. We really don't see a downside to it.  In 99% of cases, the client signs and we move on. We recently had an agency refusing to sign, but they could not come up with a reason, so we wished them best of luck on the project and amicably parted ways. We took the refusal as what it was: a red flag.

Freelancers really must get into the habit of issuing legally binding documents to protect themselves, and agencies will get used to it once it becomes standard practice. Perhaps some clients don't want to sign contracts and want to convince us to waive it, but basic business skills include knowing that working without a contract is usually a risky endeavor at best, and a disastrous decision at worst. For the record: for repeat customers we oftentimes have long-term contracts and/or don't make them sign each price quote for each project (we oftentimes accept an e-mail reply telling us to proceed). Of course you also have to be reasonable and make things convenient for your client -- all while protecting your business interest.

We would love to hear your thoughts, dear colleagues. Simply leave a comment below.

No More Sisyphus: Shifting Our Focus

We hope all our lovely friends and colleagues had a great start into 2015! Time sure does fly, doesn't it? It seems like yesterday that many were worried about Y2K and now here we are 15 years into this decade. 

We wanted to start the new year's posts off with a trend that is neither new but surprising,  but one that seems to be gaining momentum: complaining about things we cannot change in our industry. Our industry is wonderful, but it's not perfect, and even though most clients are outstanding, some are not. Yes, there's significant downward pressure on prices, and we are all responsible because someone is usually willing to offer a cheaper rate, hoping to get the short-term benefit of a particular assignment. Sure, bad translations abound, the public oftentimes doesn't care about translation, and the internet is full of terrible, terrible translations. However, what if we spent the same amount of time complaining about things we cannot change on improving things we can actually change? Wouldn't that be a much better use of our time?

What it comes down to is this: it's very difficult to change others' behavior, and while venting about things once in a while can be useful and cathartic, we've seen that sometimes in our industry the complaining can get a bit out of control. Wouldn't you agree?

We are no different than doctors who tell their patients to lose weight and they won't do it. Sometimes a potential client or even any company choose to use a sub-par translation that it shouldn't use because it's so terrible and makes their product or service look bad. After giving our qualified professional opinion (if we are asked to do so), it is up to them to take that advice or not. We are also like the personal stylist who tells you that you don't look good in red with black hair and that you should go back to your natural blond and wear neutral colors, and you won't do it. We are similar to interior designers who tell us that the floral vinyl couch doesn't match the rest of the house, but we don't want to get rid of it. Our point is: we cannot make people do things we want them to do (even if we are right), so perhaps it's time to focus on the things we can change. That would be our attitude, our prices, our clients. etc. If a client is truly terrible, don't work with him or her anymore. If you are not liking the rates you are achieving, raise them. Of course, this comes with some risk, but we all must take risks to succeed, and the level of risk we want to have depends on our personal situation.

So how about it, dear colleagues?. Let's educate our clients without being pedantic, and let's analyze our own behavior and business practices, as those can easily be changed by the only people whose behavior we can truly influence: ourselves.
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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