Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Feast or Famine: the Freelancer's Eternal Lament

Last week, I wrote about trying to market myself. This week, I wish fewer clients wanted my services. Earlier this week I was working on three projects simultaneously while a fourth one was waiting in the wings. Now I'm down to two projects and had to decline two more because I can work only so many hours in a week. Besides, sometime this weekend I have to catch up on invoicing and following up with people I met lately at a couple of networking events.

That dilemma of too much work one week, none the other, is, of course, familiar to any freelancer. But the problem seems to be exacerbated in the translation industry where many projects have extremely tight deadlines. Even if a project were large enough to keep one translator busy for a few weeks, it usually needs to be done so quickly that it is divided up between different translators rather than spread out over time. Not only does this worsen each individual translator's uneven cycle of work, it opens a whole other host of problems in terms of different writing styles and terminology.

This brings me back to the fact that translation is frequently an afterthought at the end of a production cycle, rather than a planned step with appropriate deadlines. I have written about this before, but it bears repeating: end clients need to learn that the translator needs time to provide a quality product and that they therefore must build that time into their project plans. But as long as end clients can get 24-hour turnaround on translating 10,000 words, they won't learn. So language service providers -- agencies, but also translators -- must educate them about the time involved and refuse to do rushed, low-quality jobs.

That, unfortunately, does not appear to be where the profession is headed. I, for one, am looking for direct clients where I can negotiate terms and deadlines in advance. That, however, only works for the precious few companies that don't already have a contract with an agency and don't need their text in 20 different languages. It remains to be seen whether I can actually find -- and convince to hire me -- enough such clients so I can get out of the rat race translation has become. Stay tuned for updates ...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Writing Advertisements for Myself

Does anyone remember Norman Mailer's "Advertisements for Myself"? Well, I'm sure Mailer was much better at advertising himself than I seem to be.

After receiving an invitation to join the New York German-American Chamber of Commerce, I started to research (smaller) German companies who just expanded into the U.S. or are in the process of doing so. It turns out there are a number of companies that fit this description, especially in the alternative energy sector. After beginning to compile a list of names and addresses, both at German headquarters and at the U.S. branch, I tried to write a letter I could send to them to introduce my services. Despite reading a few books about marketing per se, it quickly became apparent that I really don't know how to write my own sales letter.

So what does someone who works with words do when they have difficulty doing something? Find a book on the subject, of course. I am now reading Robert Bly's The Copywriter's Handbook, which is subtitled "A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells". It's mostly meant for people who are selling other people's products, but I'm hoping I'll be able to extract enough information (and then act on that information) to write sales copy for my own business. So far, I've it's given me a few ideas on the letter's subject line and research I need to do before writing the actual body text.

After writing that sales letter in English the next challenge will then be to do so in German, as well -- this time aimed at the headquarter's staff rather than the branch office. So where in New York would I find a book about copywriting in German for the German market?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Office Away From Home

I just returned from a Webgrrrls networking event at a co-working space in Manhattan called "WeCreate". The space is located in one of the old manufacturing buildings around Union Square with an industrial elevator staffed by an "elevator man" (why aren't there any elevator women?) who manually closes the metal gates enclosing the elevator as it rides through the shaft. The space itself features long wooden communal tables, a shared coffee machine and bathroom, as well as a conference room fashioned by partitioning off one end of the loft-like space. There is also a shared printer, WiFi and a (possibly staffed) receptionist's table.

So why would anyone pay between $50 and 200 a month for basic membership to work here in his/her own business? For people with absolutely no space for a desk at home, this is probably quieter and nicer than their local coffee shop. Given recent cuts to the public library system here, an open branch library -- especially one equipped with WiFi -- may not be available when needed. Plus one meets other entrepreneurs -- unlikely in one's own home.

I do have a good-sized home office (my grown daughter's old bedroom), so why would I be contemplating space elsewhere for which I have to pay? Mostly, I'm not really looking that much, but meeting others around the water cooler does have its advantages. Plus, I wouldn't want to meet potential clients in my own home. Is that really enough to justify the cost of such a space? I'm not sure it is, particularly for a space that offers absolutely no privacy, no way to store anything and very limited workspace beyond parking my laptop.

There are, however, part-time shared spaces that offer more of a "real" office. That may be worth exploring if I am marketing myself to end clients and need to present a more professional image than my converted bedroom with its home-made desk extension and 20-year-old filing cabinets. The space I saw tonight does rent the conference room to non-members on a one-time basis, and so do other spaces. So maybe that's the way to go ...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Are Conferences Worth the Price?

In the past, I've attended conferences organized by professional organizations, such as the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and the American Translators Association (ATA), the online community, the German technical communications organization tekom and a Portuguese translation agency, Tradulinguas. Only one of these, the regional ProZ conference in Vienna in late 2009, directly led to actual translation jobs. On the other hand, I met a number of people at these events and eventually signed up with new agencies whose representatives I met at the conference.

With many conferences becoming ever pricier and the fact that I also have to cover airfare and lodging myself -- not to mention the time it takes away from potential translation assignments -- I have to carefully evaluate the potential benefits of attending out-of-town events. I decided against this year's STC conference because of its fairly steep admissions fee, but I kept vacillating about the conference hosted by the International Federation of Translators. It's only held every three years and this year it's in the U.S. -- in California, but that's still a lot cheaper for me than flying to, say, Shanghai. After looking at the conference program, I initially decided that there weren't enough sessions relating to my particular interests and specialization to be worth the money I'd have to spend.

But on Monday I did, in fact, register for the conference and book a flight and hotel, as well. The conference program hasn't really changed, but conferences are not just about the lectures, but also about meeting other attendees, presenters and exhibitors. I already received two responses to last week's post about a potential bilingual ghostwriters' network, so I reasoned that it would be helpful to meet other translators from around the world. And what better way to do that than at an international translation conference?

So I'll be out of the office (although possibly posting to this blog) from July 31 through August 5. I also plan to attend the ATA conference in Boston in late October, so that will be another 4 days or so not accepting translation jobs. And then there is my actual vacation, from July 9-16 in Harrisburg and York, PA; Baltimore, MD; and Washington, DC. Let's hope all these "out-of-office experiences" won't dent my workload (and income) for the year too much ...