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Dealing with the year-end lull December 29, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

Most translation agencies are closed between December 24th or December 25th and the first week of January. We don’t get too many lulls in our industry, so we have to take them when we can get them. I just finished a 2,000 word job and loved the fact that I had two days to do it. I went out to breakfast yesterday, worked from a friend’s office for a bit, and bought a desk chair to replace my broken Herman Miller chair (which will go out to the desk in the living room as soon as I take down the Christmas tree). I took advantage of the fact that my dog was at the groomer’s today and did a thorough cleaning and vacuuming of my apartment (she usually barks at the vacuum and tries to attack it, so I usually only do a cursory vacuuming when she is here). I also took a mess of old paper and newspapers to the recycling center. I feel refreshed and revitalized.

Another problem that freelancers have to contend with is the brief one or two week lull in payments in January. Some agencies pay their invoices early right now to get some tax benefits of making payments still in 2009. Not my agencies apparently. I have about $1500 in outstanding overdue invoices (and that does not count the invoices that come due next week). I received several checks yesterday with a huge pile of mail, but my mail box today was pretty empty. It seems to me as if most companies are busy doing year-end stuff, so they let the payments lapse a bit in January. It’s also pretty quiet until things start ramping up again mid-January. I spent time today sending out all my outstanding invoices to ensure they get processed before the end of the year – or first thing next year. In the meantime I have made sure I have a bit of a cushion to carry me through in case there are some lean moments next month.

I would be interested if you are experiencing a lull and how you handle things. I also hope you all have a wonderful New Year’s Eve and that 2010 is the most profitable and busiest year ever for all of us. See you all next year!


How do you handle health insurance? December 21, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

The Urban Muse, which is an excellent blog for freelance, self-employed writers, had a post about a month ago in which she asked her readers How do you handle health insurance. This seems to be a common question in our field as well.

As Susan so aptly puts it:

Health coverage has come up in the news a lot lately, and it’s a very touchy topic, especially for freelancers. I’m curious how other self-employed folks handle this issue. Do you take your chances and go without? Rely on a spouse or domestic partner for health coverage? Join a union and buy it through them? Perhaps your tips will be useful to another freelancer, so leave a comment and let us know.

As for me, I have a health insurance plan through Golden Rule. I recently switched to the Network Option to cut $100 a month off my monthly payment. I have a large ($2500) deductible and a health savings account that I try to pay a hundred bucks a month into until I accumulate $2500. I’m a little under halfway there at the moment. I also rarely go to the doctor, and I have yet to see a general practitioner since I moved back to the States. I also exercise regularly and try to stay healthy. That said, if I met a man with a good health insurance plan I would marry him in a heartbeat ;-).

I don’t want this to become a forum to debate health care reform. I thought it might be helpful to those just breaking into the business to see how other translators insure themselves.

TGIF: A doggy Christmas surprise – Karácsonyi kutyás meglepetés December 18, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.

Since I won’t be posting on Christmas Day, this will be the last TGIF video for the year. I wish you all a happy holiday, whatever you are celebrating, be it Hanukkah, Christmas, the Winter Solstice or Kwanzaa.

This is just too precious! A dog school in Hungary made this video. These dogs are amazing.

TGIF: Hanukkah Song December 11, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.
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Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown, so in honor of those of you who celebrate Hanukkah this video is for you. Even if you aren’t Jewish I promise you’ll enjoy the song. Everyone knows Adam Sandler from his movies, but this was one of the songs that shot him into the stratosphere of fame on Saturday Night Live. It’s one of my favorite songs that is played on the radio this time of year. For those of you who have difficulty understanding him singing, here are the words to the song.

So drink your gin-and-tonic-ah, and smoke your mara-juanic-ah,
If you really, really wanna-kah, have a happy, happy, happy, happy Hanukkah!

End of the year musings December 10, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.
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I’m sure most of you also read Corinne McKay’s blog, Thoughts on Translation, but just in case you don’t (and if you don’t you should!), you should check out her latest post on her End of the year to-do list for translators. She has lots of good suggestions, and I am actually thinking of implementing some of them now while I am prepping my holiday card list.

I always send out holiday cards around this time to all the clients with whom I have worked throughout the last year – and a couple that I want to remind that I am still here and available. I decided to edit my list down drastically this year, but I still have 28 cards going overseas to clients and friends in Europe. I took advantage of having a lull today and took my laptop to one of my favorite breakfast restaurants to bang out my annual Christmas letter. I drank coffee, enjoyed a nice Cajun omelet, and reflected on the past year as I composed the letter. I don’t send the Christmas letter to my clients, but since I send out all the cards at once I have a set pattern I follow. I write the letter, drop it off at Office Max to be printed on holiday paper, buy stamps at the post office, print off labels based on my Microsoft Access database (which I have been maintaining throughout the year), and then stuff the envelopes and mail the cards off. It’s a nice feeling to have the big stuff done now. I should have it all done by this time tomorrow and can then concentrate on a proofreading job and any translation jobs that may come in in the next few weeks.

I plan on reviewing my clients like Corinne suggests. I have a feeling the balance will have shifted. My biggest client is most likely no longer my biggest client, but that is okay. I think now my revenue is probably balanced more evenly over several clients, and that is much more healthy. They still send me work, but not as much as in the past because they lost a big client this year who decided to hire someone in-house. There is always some attrition every year, so this isn’t all that surprising. This just proves how important it is to constantly market yourself. I found two new clients this year who have almost made up for the shortfall, and I just acquired two more this week – both through recommendations from fellow translators.

I also plan on either having my Aeron chair repaired or buying a new one before the end of the year. My lower back was tender during my massage yesterday, and I attribute that to the broken pneumatics in my chair. I am not sitting in the chair properly at the moment, and that is not a good idea ergonomically speaking. Corinne suggests any big purchases be made by the end of the year, and that is valuable advice. I bought a new sound card this afternoon at Office Max as well, so I’ll be installing that later tonight. Remember, any purchases for your office are tax-deductible – and that includes software and computer hardware.

January always tends to be a little slow while companies are starting back up after the holidays and reviewing and drafting their budgets, so I am preparing mentally for that – and if necessary I can use the financial cushion I have built up over the year. Hopefully the new clients and my existing clients will start contacting me with work by then. If not, I have some books I have been meaning to read and I might even get around to setting up my T-Mobile Dash to check my e-mail on the go…

Review of Star Transit NXT December 8, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Tools.
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I have been meaning to write a review of Star Transit NXT, which I use for one of my clients (they provide me with a copy), but the big project that was supposed to start months ago kept getting delayed. I had been planning to write the review as I actually used the tool, so now that the big project has been “postponed indefinitely” I was very happy to read this competent review on Translorial.com (the NCTA newsletter) by Michael Schubert. If you are interested in looking into Star Transit NXT or another TEnT, be sure to check out translatorstraining.com where you can “independently learn about translation technology and to compare tools without marketing hype.” If you are debating which tool is right for you it is definitely worth €34.99.

TGIF: This is Norway December 4, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.
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The days are starting to run together and I almost missed posting this Friday video this week too! You all need to start reminding me 😉

I happen to have a very fond place in my heart for Norway. I had a huge crush on an AFS student who lived a town over back when I was in high school. I also dated a guy who lived abroad in Norway. I spent an enjoyable week in Trondheim in February 1989 and visited my AFS friend. I learned to love bread with Swiss cheese with jam here and drank moonshine. My friend got so trashed on moonshine that she started speaking with a British accent. It was hilarious. Norwegian is also very similar to German, so it didn’t take me long to pick up what they were saying. I wanted to share this fun little video about Norway with you all.

Advice for a budding translator December 3, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Translation.

Hi Ms. Sommer!

My name is [Nicole Kidman], and I just found your website! I’m a freshman at the University of Mary Washington, and I’m planning on majoring in German and…something else.  I always thought translating and interpreting were one and the same, but now I realize there is a difference.  The reason I wanted to double major is because I had NO idea what career options interested me, and my parents are pressuring me to have a back-up plan because I need to earn money somehow.  After reading your website, however, I’ve realized that being a translator doesn’t mean standing behind a diplomat, translating what a speaker is talking about.  I have a few questions that I hope you could entertain because I’ve never had the chance to talk to an actual translator before.  I studied abroad in Germany last year (took a gap year between high school and college), so I’m pretty steady in my German learning.  In high school, I took four years of Spanish (though I’m not passionate about the language), and this year I started Chinese.  I definitely plan on continuing with German and Chinese, but I was wondering if you could offer some advice as to which third language I should learn.  My parents want me to continue with Spanish. I realize this is the most reasonable choice since 22 countries speak Spanish, but I plan to either work in Europe or with a European country in America.  As a translator who has expertise in the German language, which language would be the best accompaniment to German?  My options are Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Arabic.  Also, since I do want to have a steady career and income, would you say that translation is a steady and growing field?
Sorry, this email has become much more long-winded than I meant it to be! 🙂

Hi Nicole,

I suggest concentrating on learning one language you are passionate about and learning it really well. Live overseas for as long as you can. Being a translator means you need to understand every nuance of the source text (including cultural references and subtleties). Being immersed in the language ensures you understand that the text is talking about a Tornado fighter plane and not an actual tornado. If I were to do it all over again my second major would have been something helpful, like business classes or some technical field that I enjoyed. That would allow you to specialize right out of the gate. It is very rare to find someone who speaks seven languages and knows them well enough to translate them effectively. There are a few people out there that do, but they are very rare indeed. Most agencies prefer to work with someone who translates from one or perhaps two languages into their native language. My friend Jane translates from German and French into English, for example. Dr. Geoff Koby translates from Dutch and German into English, etc. Both work in languages that are somewhat similar. Even though I don’t translate from Russian, I find my knowledge of Russian sometimes comes in handy in WWII documents, for example, when it comes to the transliteration of names or cultural background information.

As for translation being a steady and growing field, absolutely. With globalization the need for translation continues to grow by leaps and bounds. As the current ATA President Nick Hartmann mentioned in the closing ceremony of the ATA conference this year, the industry grew 15% last year and looks like it will grow another 15% this year. There aren’t enough trained translators out there to cover the demand, so I would suggest continuing your undergraduate studies and study abroad one of those years. Then consider studying translation at the graduate level at either Monterey (if you want to interpret, this would be the best choice) or Kent State University.

I hope that answers your questions.

Hey fellow translators, do you have any wisdom to add? If so, please feel free to add some more advice in the comments!

10 simple rules for project managers to live by and keep me happy December 2, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

1. Tell your client that there will be a rush rate/weekend surcharge of 50% if they want the file back at the end of the day or on Monday morning.

2. Keep in mind that we are not machines. If I just translated 30,000 words for you, please don’t contact me a day later asking for a 2,000 word job due the next day.

3. Don’t question your translator when he/she tells you their word count and it differs drastically. If the difference is 10,000 the translator is most likely right – they know how hard they worked. You don’t. I won’t quibble over anything under one hundred, but anything beyond that…

4. Do not pawn off your work onto the back of your translator. If you get a PDF don’t just guess how many words there are – convert the file to text or run it through an OCR tool and get an accurate word count.

5. Please charge the client more for special formatting requests. Our job is to translate, not to format it from scratch.

6. If at all humanly possible, do not contact your translators at 7 PM during the week or at 5 PM on Friday with a job and ask for quick turnaround.

7. Respond promptly to e-mails and especially to questions your translator may have regarding the text.

8. Honor your translators and proofreaders.

9. Maintain a sense of humor and do not take yourself too seriously. It makes my job – and yours – more enjoyable.

10. Remember that even the Lord rested on the seventh day.