Rumination 3: Normalising Chaos

posted in: Translation business | 1

I don’t think there’s a better way to describe being a freelance translator than chaos. A dear friend asked me, how do I manage this reality? (She’s the very organised type). Well, I think that problems might start to happen if you were to try manage this monstrosity. It’s more about accepting the reality that work might not come in tomorrow, having things to do if it doesn’t, and knowing how to get more clients! In other words, normalising chaos!

I realised pretty soon where most of the work came from and adjusted my life accordingly. In Australia that means waking up around 3:30am in order to have a good window of opportunity to claim and negotiate big jobs from project managers in New York ($$$). These are the kind of jobs that aren’t available after 15 minutes. It goes without saying, being a fast shooting email responder is life or death in this industry.

On a normal day (I’m still in quarantine, so blogging is taking its stead) I’d at least have a few jobs already lined up, and could get out of the house for either a run or bike ride around 5am. Morning exercise for someone who slouches in a desk all day is crucial! It also reduces any stress and clears our head for the rest of the day! It’s also important to note that between 5am-8:30am is a dull zone where it’s unlikely any work will come through. This all depends on your time zones but here in AEST we’re 11-12 hours ahead of EST (New York). Project managers there assign all their jobs by then and the next place to come online will be Hong Kong, who come online from around 11am my time. From 9am direct clients start calling or emailing, so it’s best to be in the office during business hours. Around lunch time Mumbai comes online and last of all London.

What, you say? Are you telling me you’ve never worked 36 hours straight?!

The first step to normalising this is to always be available and be able to reply immediately. The second step is to know your limits and know your worth.

I only ever tell clients that I can handle around 2500 new words/day. I can’t imagine how much work I would’ve lost if I refused every job that I received if I had a full work schedule. It’s really important to reach out and build a network of reliable colleagues who you can trust. When a job comes through and your work schedule is already full, let your client know that it’ll be handled by your teammates and delivered with three steps: TR (translation), ED (editing) and QC (quality control) and 99 times out of 100 they’ll say sure!

You also need to take a fair cut of the payment for this work. In the end it’s your client, your reputation and you’re effectively handling the project management. Work out a fair remuneration with your team beforehand and assign them the work! Having a reliable team means you can send them work without having to wait for a confirmation. I think there has only been once in the last few years that my number one go-to has said no. What happened? I worked all through the night.

How important is sleep to you? I value it a lot, but I value work a lot more when it’s urgent. Normalising chaos is being prepared to work from 3am to midnight, nap on the office floor for an hour, then continue working through the next day…What, you say? Are you telling me you’ve never worked 36 hours straight?!

I suppose the best way to finish this is to say be available, be quick to respond, have measures in place to handle too much work, and a contingency plan if shit hits the fan!

Let me know your thoughts/comments below, or if you want me to talk more about anything.

Cheers! DJH

  1. Appi

    Thank you for this, I’m really enjoying your blog! This one especially felt very familiar and put a smile on my face. As a freelancer, chaos is definitely the normal in my life and “normalising chaos” perfectly describes how we manage our day. Some days flow well, some days… let’s just say they still get stuck in that “chaos”!

    However, thanks to this post, I’m feeling energized and now know that the chaos is a mutual friend to us all.

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