Today, many translators work as independent contractors (or freelancers, for lack of a better term). And while this way of working allows them to explore a wide range of career opportunities, it also comes with a series of challenges.
For once, you don’t have the same work schedule as a 9-to-5 employee. Also, you are in charge of finding customers (marketing), deciding on the price, and ensuring deadlines are respected. Long story short, if you are a freelance/independent translator, you need a solid work ethic to stay organised and focused on succeeding.
Our agency works with native translators from all over the world (who are independent contractors), and they always deliver high-quality work. Therefore, we wanted to know how they manage to stay on top of their workflow while also delivering quality for each job.
Their answers allowed us to create a valuable list of tips and tricks, which we’re now happy to share with other freelance translators (or from other domains) looking for a bit of guidance.
#1: Have a Strategy for Naming Your Files
If your file naming policy starts with “final_draft” and ends with “final-draft_revision_13456”, you need to rethink things.
How you name and store your files decides how much time you’ll lose looking for a specific file in the future. So work on building a system of folders that lets you understand the type of files available in each folder (such as “Drafts”, “Intermediary Revisions”, and “Final Revisions”). Plus, if you work with multiple customers, having a separate folder for each is best.
Also, the name of your documents must provide clear indications of what the file contains, the project it was designed for, and its state. For instance, a file named “EN-FR-translation-birth_certificate-ClientX-Revision3” makes much more sense. True, it’s not a pretty name, but it offers a lot of information from the title.
#2: Use a Time Tracking Tool
When there’s no one to track your hours, it’s easy to lose the track of time and go to extremes (overworking or procrastination). This happens especially to beginners who switch from a 9-to-5 work environment to being their own boss – it’s fun until you have to manage everything by yourself.
Still, you can get back in charge by monitoring the time you spend on each task. Also, it helps to monitor your breaks and have a strict end-of-the-work-day time. The idea behind using a time tracking tool is that you get reports at the end of each week/month, and it’s easy to see where your time and effort go.
Plus, when you know the amount of time spent with a translation, it’s easy to calculate the price according to your hourly rate and other costs.
#3: Use a Project Management Tool
Keeping track of deadlines and assignments will become increasingly difficult if you work with multiple customers or on multiple projects and still use a manual system. This often leads to mistakes and missed deadlines, which can be costly.
However, if you use a project management tool (many free ones are available online), you can keep your schedule organised. Plus, once you know your workload for the rest of the month, you’ll know if you can take new jobs without compromising your work quality.
#4: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time
We all have 24 hours in the day, but some people manage to use their time a lot better than others. So how is it possible that someone working in similar conditions as yours is a lot more productive without feeling overworked?
The secret stands in the resource you choose to manage. Most of us are used to managing time (from 10 am to 12 pm, I’ll complete this translation, and from 12 pm to 2 pm, I’ll work on this other project), but this is not efficient.
Most people have trouble focusing around 2 pm because of the afternoon slump. These are a few hours during the day when our energy levels drop and productivity often stalls. As a result, you probably won’t be able to complete the work you’ve scheduled.
The better way to go about it is to manage your energy. This also requires a bit of inner analysis and habit tracking since you need to understand when your energy is at a pique level during the day. For instance, some people do their best work during morning hours while others would rather sleep in and work in the evening.
The best part of being an independent contractor or a freelancer is that you can decide your work schedule. So why not take advantage of it?
Good folder structure and naming policies, tools that help track your time and tasks, plus learning to manage your energy levels throughout the day are valuable skills for someone working as a freelancer.