Wrapping up the year and looking ahead
I think that we can now call the new year and the new decade well and truly started…finally! I took two weeks off over the holidays, then spent all of last week interpreting for a deposition and a trial, plus translated a set of press releases and some academic transcripts. All went well and I learned a lot, but I finished the week completely exhausted and even more behind on e-mail and administrative catch-up. Today I’m finally down to inbox 20 (not inbox zero, but better than inbox 197, which is where I started) and my head is a little clearer–so it’s time to take stock of 2019. I’ll give you my thoughts on the year, via some questions that you can use to do your own assessment if you’d like to.
A few questions for self-examination
What’s something you’d like to give yourself credit for?
Let’s start here. As freelancers, we’re often incredibly self-critical, to a point that just is not helpful in terms of moving forward. So let’s start with a positive: what’s something you did in 2019 that you worked really hard to achieve, or that you’d tried and failed at before, or that worked out even though you thought it might not?
Mine: Two things–successfully transitioning off the ATA Board, and passing the state court interpreter exam. The first one might sound weird–my term on the ATA Board was ending, so I really had no choice but to leave, right? But here’s what I mean: I had some fears that I would either a) struggle to let go (after seven years!)/immediately take on a million ATA responsibilities to make up for no longer being president, etc., or b) sit at my desk–bored, lonely, and alone, wondering what to do with the 10-20 hours of my week that ATA had consumed.
Enter positive development #2, passing the state court interpreter exam. I’ve already talked your ears off about this (in this blog post and this podcast episode), so I won’t say a ton more about it here, but it’s proven to be a) very fulfilling, and b) a great way to absorb the time I had been spending on the ATA Board. And after 400+ hours of preparation, I was gratified to have passed…definitely the biggest professional development project I’ve pursued in a while.
Are you satisfied with how much money you earned, and how hard you worked to earn it?
After giving yourself credit for something, I think it’s time to look at a quantifiable element of your business: how much money did you make, and did you work just hard enough, or too hard, for that money?
In the early years of my freelance business, I was definitely in column B: not dissatisfied overall with how much money I was earning, but feeling that I had worked way too hard for that amount of money. This year I earned about the same as in previous years; to clarify, I give details about my income because I think it’s something that anyone who gives business development advice to other translators should do. I mean this information in no way to insinuate that this is what other translators can earn, should be earning, should aspire to earn, etc. etc. That being said, this year I earned almost exactly $100,000 from translation, interpreting and online courses (that’s money I earned directly; my company earns more than that because I pay instructors for a lot of my online courses). Overall, I’m satisfied with that amount. To be honest, the first three quarters of 2019 felt frantic–too little sleep and too many balls in the air, because the ATA Board took an increasing amount of my time as my term got closer to ending. The last quarter of 2019 was much more sane, and showed me that I could successfully add interpreting jobs to the mix without losing my mind.
Are there any process changes that you want to make to your business in 2020?
Many of us pay too little attention to the internal workings of our businesses, and whether we have the tools we need to do a good job. I regularly hear from freelancers who balk at paying less than $100 a year for services like a PDF converter, an editing tool, etc., and I think that’s very short-sighted and can degrade your business in the long run. To boot, that mindset (“I can’t afford anything because I’m a starving artist”) isn’t helpful if you want to run an actual business. The more you can streamline and automate your non-translation tasks so that you can spend as much time as possible doing what you actually enjoy doing and are good at, the better.
I’ll answer this one: I really need to modernize my accounting system this year, and I think I’ve picked a tool to do that. Right now–don’t laugh, because my accountant is the one who told me this system was OK–I use a completely manual system of Excel sheets and PDFs. When I invoice a client, I create a PDF invoice (it’s nice-looking, don’t worry!), manually enter that in my Outstanding Invoices spreadsheet, then e-mail it to the client. When they pay, I manually enter the payment in my Income and Expenses spreadsheet, and manually remove it from my Outstanding Invoices spreadsheet. Then I have a lot of PayPal payments that I have to manually enter into the income spreadsheet as well. It’s clunky, and a lot of work, and there’s a lot of room for human error when I’m rushed or stressed (not that that ever happens…haha!). One thing I’ve decided for 2020 is that this must end: I have to convert to an integrated online tool where my bank account and PayPal are automatically fed in, and where I can invoice clients from one location and log their payments right there. I’ll keep you updated on this one!
Finally: how are you feeling about your freelance business in general?
Of course this is not an objective metric, but I think it’s important. Are you excited about your work? Bored? Ready to change careers? Interested in exploring a different facet of the language professions? Make sure to take the pulse of your enthusiasm for freelancing, not least of all so that you can plan for the future–are you planning on working more, less, about the same, in the same specializations or different ones, etc. etc.?
In this category, I’ll say that I feel quite enthusiastic about my freelance business in general. I loved my work on the ATA Board while it lasted, and I was ready to move on when it was over. My translation work is still fulfilling, and I landed two new large NGO clients this year. Interpreting is proving really enjoyable and in-demand, and I’m happy with how much money I’m earning. I like my co-working office and have decided to stay there even though it’s expensive. Things at my world headquarters look good.
Readers, over to you! Your thoughts on 2019 and what lies ahead??