Jul 19, 2017

Down But Not Out - Strategies to Remain Active While Work is Slow

By: JLD Member Paul Koehler

Those of us who have been working as freelancers for any length of time know that one of the most difficult things to deal with can be the uneven nature of the work. Whenever people ask me about my schedule, I always use the stock phrase "feast or famine" to describe what my work can be like. It's one thing to explain it to other people, but quite another thing to practice dealing with the ups and downs of the work on your own. What exactly can be done to deal with slow times even when you have a solid client base?

The most important thing to do, and one of the first things I do as soon as my work queue is clear (and I am ready to work) is to go down my list of previous clients and contact them one by one. Phone calls usually work best here, although e-mail works if only to serve as a reminder. Those people with sales experience will probably feel right at home with this step, and if you have an established client base it makes it all the easier to do. What about all those business cards you received from new clients and people you met at conferences? If you haven't contacted those people yet, do it now!
Are your finances in order? Do you have a monthly budget, and are you prepared to make any tax payments (which are much harsher for self-employed people than they are for regular employees)? How about receipts for any expenses, and are you sure you are taking advantage of all the deductions that are available? These are simple bookkeeping questions, but when things get busy with work it is difficult to keep up with all of this…let alone have a strategy to save and grow your wealth for the future. These tasks can be tedious, but the more you are aware of your financial situation the more it will help you in the long run.
Have you ever been curious to try out new tools or programs, but haven't had the time to sit down and figure out how to use these in your projects? Now is your chance. Downtime is usually one of the best chances to get new programs up and running, and you can also use previous projects as a sample for building up your own translation memory. Is your data backed up, and do you have a backup plan in case your main computer goes out? Start thinking of those things if you haven't already. You'll thank yourself later when you have a backup plan if something really bad happens.
One thing that can be related to work but not in a direct way is to volunteer your time to professional organizations and other groups that are directly related to translation. Aside from the fact that this is a great way to learn about the profession and to improve your own skills, it is also a golden networking opportunity and a way to put your name out to others. I can think of several cases where my participation in various committees and presentations has resulted in paid work. This is no guarantee of course, but it is one of many ways that you can start drumming up business when things are slow.
Finally…have fun! This may sound really counterintuitive, but it is very important that you take the chance to enjoy yourself when work is slow. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, right?
In all seriousness, it can be difficult for new freelancers to really sit down and enjoy their free time when they have it, especially if they are used to a 9-to-5 schedule like many wage or salary employees. One of the best advantages of working for yourself is that you can basically do what you want with your schedule, and if you have taken care of everything else on the list...you might as well enjoy your time. You've earned it!
These are just some basic tips to help out. Other people have different strategies as to how to effectively deal with the ups and downs of work, and you may find your own over time. That being said, these pointers should give you a slight idea of what can be done if business starts to get slow. Take care of some tasks that you normally wouldn't get done, and if all that is done…enjoy yourself before getting back into the swing of things. You will thank yourself later for doing so!

JLD Member Paul Koehler is currently based in Los Angeles. He works as a contractor for Honda Americas R&D at their office in Torrance, and is also the current chair of the JATTOOLS SIG. He loves swapping stories about the latest ways to make work more efficient when he isn't finding time to go to the beach! His preferred CAT tool is Deja Vu X3, although he uses TRADOS Suite 2017 as well when the situation warrants it.

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