The efficient investment of time by the freelance translator – Practical rules to schedule your work-day and activities

timeAs a freelance translator, are you ‘free’ to work at your own discretion and with no rules? Of course no. The wrong and widespread assumption according to which freelancers enjoy more freedom of movement if compared to employees is definitely a misunderstanding.

Working as a freelancer implies a strong sense of responsibility and requires a strict discipline: it does not mean, nor it should, that you should have no time-tables to follow, and most freelancers know that by experience.
While it is true that it is important to work, you should also bear in mind that improving the quality of your pool of customers requires a constant ‘background’ and preliminary work. That is why time and its optimal management is crucial. Spending too much time just working – especially during periods of peaks – may distract you from the marketing and administrative activities which are the basis and the conditio sine qua non of any independent business. How can customers find you if you do not dedicate time and efforts to marketing?
Time management involves good organizational abilities and some practical common sense. Everybody can learn how to organize his/her work and day-life so not to waste time, do better his/her job and still have a social life. Lack of organization leads to chaos, especially when it comes to work.

First of all, you should determine which are your priority activities during the day and start scheduling them. In general, it is a good rule to start your work-day by scrolling your list of to-do activities – and, yes, do not forget to prepare and update a to-do list! – , such as phone calls, replying to e-mails, fixing appointments, etc. I would suggest to use a practical method so to carry out all those activities which require no more than 2 minutes, including reading and replying to e-mails, first thing in the morning.
Among the preliminary tasks you should carry out in order to simplify your working life, there is the organization of your e-mails, either incoming and outgoing. Today, we get and send tons of e-mails, so it is easy to accumulate them, and unless you keep them in order in a timely and appropriate manner, they will turn to be a real problem. That is why you should organise them so to be able to track back the relevant communication quickly, if needed, and not to waste time.

First of all, create separate folders for personal and work e-mails. Then, create sub-folders under the work folder, one for each customer, and a miscellaneous folder where to save general e-mails. Despite what some people think about free e-mail accounts, Gmail works fine and enables you to set many options which help you keep your correspondence in order. Besides, if you have multiple e-mail accounts, you can re-direct them to your main Gmail account and keep all the e-mails in the same place and under control.
When setting your e-mail preferences, do not forget to set the auto-responder, whose message can be customized, e.g. when you are on holiday or out of office for a shorter period. That way, your customers will always get a reply to their e-mails and know when you will be available again.
The same process can applied to work and invoices folders, each of one can be further divided into more specific sub-folders. Finally, do not forget to zip and archive old jobs once done, and to back-up them on a regular basis.
In addition to organizing your time in reading and replying to your e-mails and archiving your jobs in a more efficient manner, you should also establish opening hours for your home office: working at home does not mean you should work 24/7. Your customers will understand that and, once they know which your rules are, they will stick to them.
Freelance translators mainly work on the Internet: there they get their e-mails, on-line dictionaries, resources, etc. so it is easy to get distracted while surfing. You should resist the temptation to ‘have just a quick look at Facebook’ while working. When you start working, try to limit the occasions of distraction closing any Internet websites not relevant to your work searches, setting the answering machine on and not checking e-mails every 5 minutes!

As already mentioned before, working is not enough: you are your own boss, so you have to dedicate some time to marketing and invoicing. Indeed, marketing is the primary activity you should focus on, especially at the beginning of your career as a freelance. If you want to build a quality portfolio of customers and establish good and lasting working relationships, you have to be prepared to study some marketing strategies. It is time freelance translators get used to think in themselves as business-people and act accordingly.
Marketing activities are time-demanding and may also be boring. Still, they are necessary and you should dedicate some hours every week to look for new customers, honing your public profiles, writing articles, press-releases, compiling specialised glossaries, keeping in touch with colleagues, reading any marketing literature you may deem useful, etc.

Of course, your marketing strategies will vary depending if you target to translation agencies or direct clients. The latter are much more difficult to approach and acquire as returning customers, so it goes without saying that you will need to put more efforts and time in finding direct customers. On the other hand, it will be more rewarding in monetary terms than working with intermediaries. Cutting the middle-man is of course the best solution to increase your income, but it also requires many hours spent at trade fairs, documenting the targeted direct customers’ activities, etc.
One of the first steps you should take to acquire visibility on the Internet is to have a web-site, through which you will communicate any updates and news about your profession and activities. In particular, I am thinking in an interactive web site that you can manage without any external aid by a web-master: my two web-sites, for example, are build using Plone, an open-source platform. If you give a look at them at and, you will notice they are platforms, not traditional web-sites. That means that every time you have to add/change/remove anything on the web-site, you can do it yourself in seconds. Such a web-site is a powerful means to convey information and news to your potential customers, but also to your colleagues and readers.
Of course, a web-site alone is no magic wand and is not sufficient to market your services, unless you follow and update it constantly, adding new contents and that way improving its Google ranking. In addition to a web-site, it is very useful to network on portals and sites dedicated to translation and translators, build your professional profile and follow the threads in the Forums. That is a very good way of acquiring information and getting to know more about what happens in the translation world: your colleagues opinions are valuable and enable you to keep linked to your professional environment. Working alone at home day after day may pose the risk of being isolated, so…stay connected!

A page on Facebook is also useful, but you should pay extra attention when publishing your profile on the Internet: remember that all the contents you post there will be seen by everybody and not only when you write it, but years later. Should you post any inappropriate content or opinion, remember that it will contribute to build the image potential customers will have of you. So be careful to protect your reputation, because as a freelance translator your public image coincides with your profession, and potential customers will identify your image with your job.
This short article does not aim to give detailed marketing methods other that the few hints above. It’s main purpose is to point out the relevance of organization and time for freelancers. Remember that being a freelancer involves a huge responsibility as if anything goes wrong it is you the one to blame. But the good news is that every time you succeed, it is you – again ! – the one to praise.

This article has been originally published at Translation Journal, whose Editor Gabe Bokor we wish to thank.

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