By: Joanna Diez
In my article I will focus on important aspects of working as a translator at a home based office. This will be a short guide to this job for translators, who have children and who, realistically speaking, are mostly women and mothers. Of course, my article also refers to male work-at-home translators who are fathers, those may please replace the words mother/wife/she in the article with the words father/husband/he and vice versa—and accept my apologies, of course.
1. Setting Priorities
When you are a mom, who works at home as a translator, the most important thing is setting priorities. Of course, nobody expects you to declare if your kids or your work are the most important thing for you, but it is clear that priorities tend to change depending on certain factors. When an important project from a client comes in, the rest must wait. Organizing childcare, neglecting house chores for a while and focusing on the project become more important at this time. When workflow is slow, it is more important to focus on children, home and other errands. For a freelancer who also has a second full-time job as a mother and housekeeper, workflow tends to fluctuate due to the fact that she can’t and doesn’t want to give up all of her time to advertising, marketing, bidding for new jobs etc. Therefore a realistic approach would be not counting on a major career right away as well as a load of money after a month of translating. A slowly developing, steady base of clients and setting quality before quantity is the goal to success. If you are good, they will come back. Just keep your daily set priorities in mind.
2. A Flexible Approach to Your Schedule
You can plan ahead, but you also have to remember that all plans can end up being useless. Reasonable deadlines are key. If there is an urgent job you would not like to refuse, ensure one or two backups regarding childcare and other issues on this day or week. If one of your children is sick or has a break from school or preschool, you may want to choose to notify a couple of clients that you will not be in the office for a couple of days and refrain from bidding on or accepting new assignments. When everything comes at once and it usually does for me, try not to let anyone down. Working odd hours, serving takeout food, neglecting the house for a few days and dumping your kids once in a while on a friend or family member won’t hurt anyone. Set up a few emergency plans. It can be helpful to write them on your wall calendar—phone numbers of friends, pediatrician, leaving weekends unplanned, even marking hectic and less hectic times of day with different colors on the calendar may help. Just remember to keep your head cool. I once accepted a big yet pretty easy assignment due in a couple of days, paid a good friend—a stay-at-home-mother—to hang out with her kids at my house all day long for a week and ended up doing great—the client was happy, the kids had playmates and my friend earned a couple of dollars for watching them.
3. A Backup Plan
A backup plan can involve friend like described above. It can be a daycare nearby or your husband taking a few hours off work. When you are self-employed, there are no sick days or family days. You have to come up with your own solutions and remember if you say “no” too often to clients, they will tend to disappear. So write down a couple of backup plans in case of different emergencies, not only meaning sick kids, but also a repair guy coming to fix your roof or dealing with a problem HTML file.
4. Maintaining a Professional Image
An office at home, especially an office of a mother rarely looks like a real office. Sometimes a kitchen table pretends to be an office and a closet has clients’ files standing next to children’s books. But it is important to maintain a professional image for your clients. E-mails and faxes always need to be written on a proper letterhead, with signature and in a proper business style. It is not enough to check the e-mail and fax twice a day and there is no excuse for that. Most clients expect a prompt and professional answer to their inquiries and remember—they live in different time zones, too. You need a separate telephone and fax line for your business. Answer your phone in a professional way and keep kids’ voices in the background to a minimum—little children can be occupied in a variety of ways, usually by playing with something quiet and/or forbidden—kitchen utensils, complicated puzzles, stickers, glitter markers while older ones actually listen when you ask them to keep quiet for 10 minutes. Keep a stash of these next to your business telephone easy to reach in a crisis situation. It’s optimal to call your clients when children are out of the house, but with incoming calls, this is not always possible.
5. Options for Childcare
There are various options for childcare depending on the number and age of your children as well as your financial situation. The start is always difficult, because you make little or no money at all, but still try to solicit new business and build a client base. Therefore the cheapest options are best at the beginning. Working while a child is at school, using a babysitting co-op or sending your kids to a relative or friend who likes to watch them for free seem like best solutions at that point. Later, when a solid client base has been established and you depend on a steady workflow, a more stable and pricey childcare solution can be applied—a sitter, an au-pair, a daycare or after school program etc. The possibilities differ depending on the area of you residence. It is recommended to take a look at all of them, write them down and decide for a couple of the best ones that fit you shortly before you start your business.
6. Stay Cool!
The most important part of this multitasking job is to convince yourself that you can do it. No two days will be the same and you cannot expect it. But keep in mind: you are a flexible, strong individual who can handle hard and long days to achieve his or her goal—financial stability without leaving your children for eight hours a day in the hands of a stranger. Enjoy!