Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tracking Data to Create a Business Plan

Most Mondays find me paying last week's bills, invoicing the work I did the previous week and generally inputting financial data into Quickbooks Pro. A few weeks ago I added another step to my weekly finance session: filling in a spreadsheet with the money earned during the previous week. For this purpose, any work submitted during the week counts as a project for which the money was earned that week. The spreadsheet is divided by currency (US$, Euros, Swiss Francs), with formulas to create US$ totals (using approximate average conversion rates) for the week and month, and a running US$ total.

This spreadsheet, along with a daily planner divided by half hour increments where I try to track how long I spend on various projects (including administrative chores, marketing, etc.) is an attempt to get enough data for an actual business plan. I can (usually) estimate reasonably accurately how long a given project might take and I know what money I have (or don't have) in the bank. But since payments for projects arrive a long time after the work has been completed and since I regularly transfer money from my business account to the family account, I don't have a good sense of how much I actually earn for the time I spend.

Hopefully this system will eventually give me enough data to figure out what I'm actually making per hour, both on average and from specific clients. That should help me create a realistic business plan. Let's see how it goes ...

How do you approach business planning?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Finding Time for Marketing

Sorry for posting so late in the week. The last couple of weeks have been really busy, plus I had contractors at my house renovating a bathroom. A one-week project that turned into two weeks and required more of my time than I had anticipated. That, at least, is over now. The work rush, though, is likely to continue for another week or more.

All business advice books and articles I have read say you have to market yourself, including on social media, even during busy times. I try to do that by scheduling my blog posts on my to do list and using Tweetdeck to set up my Tweets in advance. While I try to treat these marketing activities as just another project, they are clearly less urgent than paid work. So they occasionally fall by the wayside, like this week.

Eve Bodeux asked about my "How I Plan to Target Swiss Direct Clients post how that plan was coming along. To be honest: slowly, if at all. I started to research Swiss IT companies online before I left for Vienna, but found that most appear to be very local. There were a couple of possible leads, but I haven't really done anything with them. Maybe if next week is less crazy, I will contact them.

In addition to paid projects, there are the unpaid articles and book reviews I keep agreeing to write. They are marketing activities of sorts, too, I guess. My next to last book review for the STC's Intercom magazine was just published, and I'm waiting for my next review copy to arrive. Meanwhile, during my meeting with fellow interpreter & translator Sabina Illmer in Vienna, I agreed to write an article for the next newsletter of the Austrian Court Interpreters Association.

So how do you find time to market yourself?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hyperpolyglots or Unscrupulous Translators?

Last week, the New York Times profiled a New York high school student whose hobby was to learn a large number of different languages. The student, Timothy Doner, now creates You Tube videos of himself speaking in various languages, making him a minor Internet celebrity. By his own admission, he is not striving for near-native fluency in any of these languages, but rather attempts to learn the basics of as many languages as possible.

Doner is part of a select group of individuals who know dozens or more, often very dissimilar, languages, so-called "hyperpolyglots". They collect linguistic knowledge the way others collect porcelain figurines or autographed baseballs. It certainly takes quite a talent to learn foreign languages that quickly and it also helps to start that hobby young.

I'm not sure whether the e-mails I have seen advertising translation services from and into a dozen or more languages provided by a single person were from such hyperpolyglots or from unscrupulous translators. I could see people with a relatively basic (but not rudimentary) command of a language attempting to translate simple general texts, such as an invitation to an event, from that language.

Most documents handled by professional translators, however, are much more complex and/or specialized. So even if the person advertising such services were a talented linguist who collects languages, I doubt he or she would be able to accurately translate, say, a technical whitepaper for a new type of construction machinery into half a dozen languages.

As always, the challenge is to explain to end clients why they are unlikely to receive a translation of acceptable quality from such a super-multilingual translator and why that matters.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lessons Learned From a Long Trip

My trip to Vienna was fun, but despite regularly checking my e-mail while I was away, there is quite a bit that still needs to be addressed. Plus, clients were already e-mailing me about new projects before my plane had even arrived in New York. It's nice to be wanted, but it feels a little overwhelming sometimes.

Here are a few lessons I learned for the next long (at least by American standards) trip:

  1. Double-check WiFi availability for your destination/hotel. My (really cheap) hotel had only one (rather slow) desktop computer with an Internet connection next to the reception desk, with a time limit of 15 minutes per guest and no way to connect my Netbook. I wound up using the free WiFi in Vienna's largest train station (which was several subway stations from my hotel).
  2. Copy promotional information, rate sheets, etc. onto my Netbook (and a USB stick) before leaving. For some reason, several new potential clients contacted me while I was away. They were gracious about waiting for my return to provide that information, but then I have a number of them to follow up with this week.
  3. If I can solve 1. and 2., schedule about 30 minutes a day to deal with business. Yes, I'm on vacation, but following up immediately on new leads or potential projects to be completed after my return cuts down on the backlog I need to address right away when I've just arrived back home and am still jet lagged.
  4. Explore copying all that information to the cloud, rather than my Netbook, so I only have to take my iPad, instead of both Netbook and iPad (the latter for e-Books to read and for better portability in terms of Internet access).

How do you prepare for long trips/vacations?