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Mrs H Translates

The Tale of a Freelance Translator

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Maternity Allowance for the self-employed

Today, I am taking a more detailed look at (read: going on a lengthy rant about) the perplexing process of maternity pay in the UK, so feel free to skip this one if it doesn’t apply.

Before we begin, I need to point out that I am by no means an expert on this subject so please don’t take my word as gospel. I’m simply sharing my experience and highlighting a couple of things I wish someone had told me. Also, all circumstances are obviously different, so you can check your eligibility by going to https://www.gov.uk/pay-leave-for-parents.

So, maternity pay. For many years, I was led to believe that self-employed people were not entitled to any maternity pay whatsoever, much the same as we’re not entitled to holiday pay. (Not that the two are really comparable). Even now, at eight months pregnant, at no point has anyone said to me “oh hey, did you know you can get £145.18 a week from the government? Here’s how to claim it”. You’re just expected to know. If it wasn’t for the fact one of Mr H’s clients was claiming maternity allowance, I may never have been let in on the secret.

Right, so you’ve checked with the DWP and the princely sum of £145 is to be yours. Huzzah! You’re 25 weeks pregnant, starting to suffer from baby brain and eager to get cracking on some complicated additional admin. Here’s what happens next:

  • Get a MAT B1 form from your midwife (this basically just says when your due date is). You should get this at the midwife appointment following your 20-week scan, so feel free to ask if you don’t.
  • Download and fill in the MA1 form from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/maternity-allowance-claim-form
  • You can submit the form from the 14th week before your baby is due (week 26 of your pregnancy). In my experience, this process involves a ridiculous amount of back and forth between government agencies, so I would definitely recommend submitting it as soon as you possibly can. I submitted mine in week 27 of my pregnancy, and as it stands I won’t be getting paid until a month after the date I originally requested payments to start on. As the DWP keep pointing out, payments are backdated. But still.
  • After submitting your form, you should receive a text message from DWP to say they are processing your claim. I received this two weeks after posting my form, but to be fair there were a couple of bank holidays in that period so I think they might normally be a bit quicker.
  • DWP then has 24 working days to process your claim. I received my letter three and a half weeks after the text message.
  • Currently, the full amount of Maternity Allowance is £145.18 per week for 39 weeks. If, like me, you are self-employed and have been for at least six months and all your Class 2 National Insurance Contributions are up to date then you should be entitled to the full amount. My letter informed me I would be paid £27 a week. Cue frantic phone call to the DWP to see why I was going to be £3300 worse off than expected. As soon as I started to explain the issue, an extremely fed-up young man called John* (*names have been changed) cut me off and launched into a spiel about my Class 2 NICs. You see my friends, this is where the process gets a little ridiculous.
  • Since 2015, National Insurance has been paid as part of your self-assessment rather than in arrears on a monthly basis (as was the case previously). According to John, this means that when you pay your tax in January, your Class 2 NICs aren’t allocated until the following January. So you don’t have the 13 weeks of NICs required to claim the full amount of Maternity Allowance. John seemed very annoyed that I didn’t know this, so I am sharing this information in the hope it will help others avoid his wrath.
  • When they have processed your claim for Maternity Allowance, DWP then contact HMRC to tell them you have made a claim for Maternity Allowance and ask them to update your Class 2 NICs. HMRC then have 10 working days to write to you and ask you to pay your Class 2 NICs in advance, or allocate money you have already paid to your National Insurance account (which, I’m sure we all agree, is awfully good of them. I’m delighted to have handed over £7000 in tax to then be asked to stump up some more “in advance”. Jolly good show. Maybe next year I’ll wait twelve months to process their request for my tax return. We’ll see who’s laughing then).
  • After you have paid any “outstanding” Class 2 NICs, DWP then have 22 working days to reassess your claim for Maternity Allowance to see if you are then entitled to the full amount. I received a letter from HMRC on Thursday (exactly 10 working days after my initial letter from the DWP) to let me know I owe £10. I paid this online immediately, and am now waiting to hear back from DWP.
  • Then, when you finish work to start your maternity leave, you have to send a form to DWP confirming you have finished work. If you have less than four weeks to go before your due date, your maternity allowance payments have to start the day after you finish work (still spending a vast amount of time Googling whether that’s the next calendar day or the next working day). I’m finishing on Friday, so I need to post my form on Friday. Apparently, my payments will then start on Saturday. I have complete faith that will happen.

Obviously, by the end of this process, your child will be around two months old. The good people at DWP will backdate any payments due, but my advice would be to have some savings in place in the meantime. On a side note, my advice to DWP would be to actually tell people that this is what you’re going to do. It would surely save you countless time and money and, among other things, the last of John’s sanity.

Mrs H

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Freelance superheroes

A couple of months ago, I had one of those days that makes me feel like freelancing just isn’t for me. It was January and, along with the standard post-Christmas blues, January means taxes, indemnity insurance and domain name renewals. Every year, I vow not to leave my taxes to the last minute and every year I do exactly that. This year, I got as far as filling in the form in October then leaving it so I could come back and check it. At which point I obviously realised that the reason I’d left it was because I didn’t understand half the questions and had just answered “no” to everything.

Then, one of my main clients didn’t pay me. For the second time in three months. Now, we’re not talking about a private individual or even a small company here; we’re talking one of the world’s biggest translation agencies. I sent three emails to chase the money, all of which went unanswered, and ended up having a frustration-induced breakdown where I told Mr H in no uncertain terms that the freelancing dream was over and I was going back to work in-house.

Running a business is hard. No matter how seemingly straightforward your business model or how low your overheads, things will undoubtedly crop up that leave you wishing you had a HR or accounts department to call. Or even just a manager to give you a second opinion. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that translation requires a very different set of skills to, say, credit control or web design. But here we are, manning the entire fort. Like freelance superheroes.

Last September, I found out I was pregnant. As you may remember, this was a planned pregnancy and Mr H and I are, of course, delighted. However, here are some things about pregnancy that don’t exactly go hand-in-hand with freelancing:

  1. Morning sickness. You can’t call in sick, so you either power through or you don’t get paid.
  2. Hospital appointments. Unfortunately, Baby Girl H has had some complications. Fingers crossed, it’s nothing major, but it has meant a few extra scans and consultant appointments. I absolutely cannot stress enough how grateful I am for our NHS and I cannot fault the standard of care we have received. However, the rules of time don’t seem to apply to hospitals, and if you arrive for a 30-minute appointment at 8am you should fully expect to then re-emerge from some kind of alternate dimension around five hours later. Again, you can’t take leave for this, so you don’t get paid.
  3. Maternity pay. I’ll come back to this one. In a separate post.
  4. Baby brain. Scoff away—I know I did—but this is a real issue, my friends. I cannot tell you how hard it is to focus on a 26-hour review of a document about registering trademarks when you can’t even send an email without misspelling your own name.

Basically, there are times when freelancing is tough. It can be lonely, both in terms of a lack of colleagues and a lack of a corporate support structure. An email from Google asking you to “update your settings for the General Data Protection Regulation” can blow your overworked mind. You are the accounts team, the HR department, the complaints department and the CEO.

Yes, it’s hard. But it’s all for you and you are the boss.

Last Thursday, the weather was truly beautiful for the first time this year. Mr H and I finished work at lunchtime, packed a picnic and headed out into the sunshine. I didn’t have to put in a holiday request two weeks in advance. I didn’t have to find someone to cover my work. Heck, I didn’t even have to tell anyone where I was going. And that is what freelancing is about to me.

When times are tough, sometimes all you can do is hide behind your mask or don your cape and power through to the sunny days.

Mrs H

 

 

 

A little bit about an awful lot

As a “mid-career” translator, I’m prepared to admit that I’m still learning the ropes and occasionally find myself in over my head. A document that looks perfectly manageable when I give it the pre-acceptance once-over somehow morphs into an acronym-riddled monster full of technicians’ notes that only someone with a minimum of twenty years in a highly specialised field would understand.

Such was the horror that befell me last week when I foolishly accepted a task based on a sample source file. Month-end was fast approaching but my target earnings were still woefully short. So I panicked, and I took a job that actually turned out to be full of mathematical equations for testing a piece of machinery whose purpose I still don’t fully understand. Needless to say, what I learned from the experience was not—despite my hours of research—anything remotely connected to physics, but more that sometimes I need to “just say no”.

I know I’m not the only freelancer, or even the only self-employed person, who fears after finishing every job that they will never work again, but the struggle for me is remembering to stay true to my focus on quality while balancing productivity. As I slowly chipped away at the aforementioned brute (spending around ten minutes researching every word before it became clear in the next paragraph that what I had written was totally wrong) my overriding thought was that I needed to be able to justify what I’d written in court.

My brother—a lawyer—tells me frequently that it would be extremely difficult to prosecute a translator, as everything we do is so subjective. This is of little comfort to me. To my mind, there are translators out there with a wealth of experience in translating texts about physics and maths and they’re the ones who should have handled this. My former boss used to say that translators know a little bit about an awful lot and, while this is true, I feel that some things should be left to those who know an awful lot about a little bit.

In the end, the beast was slain. I checked every word twice to make sure I knew why I’d used it. I spent an hour phrasing queries about abbreviations—which might as well have been in Greek—in such a way as to make it seem like I knew exactly what they meant, but I just wanted to check in case the client would rather use an alternative term. I delivered the job with a list of notes, and had a mild heart attack every time the reviewer asked if I could explain one of my choices. I am obviously also holding off submitting my invoice so as not to tempt fate.

All in all, I lost money on this job. I ended up exceeding my earnings target anyway, meaning that I could have turned this one down. I missed out on a lovely looking marketing piece about visiting Canada because I couldn’t fit it in around all my extra research and obsessive checking. I questioned my skills as a translator and my ethics as a professional, but ultimately I knew I’d done everything I could (albeit at some personal cost) to ensure that my translation was accurate.

Today, I have been doing some proofreading. Around 1000 words in, I found the first of several comments left for me by the translator: “I don’t understand what this means”. Not cool, man. Not cool.

Mrs H

 

The lonelier side of self-employment

Having successfully navigated 18 months of marriage, Mr H and I have, like so many newlyweds before us, tentatively turned our attention to the omnipresent “what shall we do about having children” question. Now, whilst I am aware that there are countless bridges to cross before I find myself responsible for another human being, my Type A personality has got me considering my options.

First up: where would I work once the baby was here?

You may find that, especially if you’re a woman, well-meaning friends and family members assure you that freelancing is the ideal choice for working mums. These people are not translators. As much as I wish translation was a booming industry, I find I need to work more than the length of a two-hour nap to pay the bills. Furthermore, if I’ve had so much as a glass of wine the night before a job about different types of pliers then my mind starts to wander, so I can’t imagine 30 minutes of sleep a night would be great for quality. And if Spotify’s “Music for concentration” playlist tinkling away gently in the background ruins my focus, then I doubt a loop of screaming baby or—worse—Peppa Pig on repeat would be overly helpful.

What’s more, although I’m obviously no expert on the matter, I’m led to believe that babies require a fair amount of attention. Maybe they’re not going to be up for sitting quietly in a bouncy chair while I spend eight hours at my desk. 

Throw in the fact that we only have a two-bedroomed house (one of which is currently my office) and the idea that, working from home, I would have no neutral office setting to return to after having my world turned upside down, and it’s starting to look like I might need to rent some desk space. 

I absolutely love translating. I love that I’m lucky enough to combine two of the things I enjoy the most: languages and writing. I love that I actually get to use the degree that I worked so hard for. For the most part, I feel so lucky that this is what I get to do. The only thing I don’t love is the loneliness.

I miss people. When you work from home, there’s no one to go for a cup of tea with or eat lunch with. There’s no one to act as a sounding board for any issues, professional or otherwise. If my computer randomly restarts mid-job and loses half a day’s work, there’s no co-worker to sigh at or boss to step in and negotiate a deadline extension. Some days, the only person I see is my husband. And as lucky as I know I am to even see him when so many people working from home also live alone, I am beginning to think I’m losing the ability to talk to other people. And to him (I also have a tendency to unload every thought I’ve had that day as soon as he steps through the door, probably hoping for a sit down and a bit of peace).

I’ve weighed up my options:

  1. Work in cafés, spending money I don’t have on fuelling a budding coffee and cake addiction
  2. Work in the library, surrounded by children on school trips and trying to avoid the crazy man who once followed my friend home
  3. Rent desk space

On paper, desk space is the answer. It will give me somewhere to go to better separate my work life and home life; it will provide me with a potential-post-baby sanctuary; it will help me get socialised; it will save our heating bills in the middle of winter and, most importantly, it will save Mr H from two hours of saying “uh-huh” to hundreds of tedious statements.

Yes, desk space is surely the answer, my friends. So I’m setting off to find something suitable. 

I’ll report back.

Mrs H

Freelancing frenzy

Ok, so barring a post that I wrote eight months ago and then posted around ten minutes ago, I have become delinquent with my blog. I have been cheating on creativity with productivity, and focussing all my energy on my—pause for dramatic effect—work.

Before I started freelancing, and in those first few months when I was, at best, scraping by, the old pros assured me that it would take six months to get established. I held on to that number like a beacon of hope. “Sure, things are rubbish now, but I am only three months in. Of course they are! Why would I expect anything else?” Then, “OK, so now I’m five months and 25 days in. But that still isn’t six months. At six months I’ll be turning down work left, right and centre! Maybe I should hire an assistant now…”

Obviously, six months is not a concrete timeframe. As this imaginary deadline approached, I became nervous. I know a lot of translators and, in my experience, we’re a delicate breed. We pore over every carefully crafted sentence for hours and tie ourselves up in knots about the two possible, and near identical, translations of an almost irrelevant word. Add to that a complete lack of external validation and you have, in my case, a disaster theorist. What if I was the exception to the rule? What if it took me 12 months to get established? What if it took 18? What if no one ever contacted me to offer me any work ever again and I never made a penny? Or what if I actually just wasn’t very good at my job?

On Judgement Day (1st July) I received no new work. Fortunately, I was preoccupied with a job I’d started on 28 June and otherwise too distracted to notice that I didn’t actually receive any further new work until *over* six months after my initial freelancing start date.

But then, something wonderful happened. Things actually did start to pick up. OK, I might have been in the slower freelancing group and it might have taken me slightly over this magical six-month mark to get going. But things did get going.

Don’t get me wrong, every time I take a job I fear it will be my last. One day, I only had an hour’s work and immediately took to Monster to search for employment opportunities in the surrounding area. In an attempt to stash away enough money for an unknown quantity of rainy days, I worked all last weekend and have consequently thought every day since then has been Thursday. I haven’t perfected my methods yet, but I feel grateful that at least I have something to work with now.

The new plan is learning to become a more well-rounded, better organised freelancer,  who doesn’t take absolutely everything that’s offered to her and turn into a reclusive crazy person.

So cheers to that and cheers to Friday! Oh wait…

Mrs H

 

 

 

Hello, this is Freelancing

The other day, Mr H said to me, “if freelancing were a relationship, you’d still only be dating”.

I laughed at the comparison, but then realised he actually had a point. Freelancing and I are not quite comfortable with each other yet. We haven’t really got into a routine or found our rhythm. Finances are still a bit of a taboo subject and, quite frankly, I’m not really sure where it’s all going.

Now, don’t get me wrong: this is definitely not a relationship that I plan to give up on anytime soon. Sure, we have our ups and downs and, if we’re being honest, Freelancing can be a little unforthcoming sometimes, but I am willing to work on our issues. After all, Freelancing is being completely true to who it is, it’s me who has the problem.

Over the past few weeks, it has started to dawn on me just how much of my identity is linked to my career. When I worked in house, I would put in nine- or ten-hour days pretty much every day. As a result, I could never make any concrete weekday plans with Mr H, or indeed my friends. My weekends would then be crammed with visits, chores and wedmin. The fact that I had to be booked months in advance became a bit of a running joke and, let’s get something straight here, I am hardly the social butterfly that that comment would suggest. I loved translating, but as I climbed the ranks in my agency, I ended up instead spending most of my time checking the work of more junior staff members or freelancers.

Every time a particularly horrible text landed on my desk that had been rejected by all of our freelancers, I dreamed of freelancing. Every time I was invited out for drinks at 5 but then had to work until 7, I dreamed of freelancing. Every time I missed the post and had to rearrange collection of a parcel from the depot, I dreamed of freelancing. Every time I had to drag myself out in the dark and pouring rain to get to the office, I dreamed of freelancing.

The reality of freelancing has been somewhat different. In less than six months, I have gone from 200 mph to 0. Now, if you asked December Mrs H whether she fancied a few months of only working a few days a week and spending the rest of her time as a lady of leisure, she would almost certainly bite your hand off. Just think how much trashy TV she could get through with Mr H out of the house! She would get her hair cut and her nails done in the middle of the day and go to the supermarket when no one else was there. She could make plans every evening and always be on time.

Of course, with no work coming in, that means no money for beauty treatments or dinner plans. No one else is home during the day, so you can’t even suggest a walk in the park to get you out of the house. And eight hours is actually a really long time to fill with trashy TV shows. Plus, if you spend all your time relaxing but are not actually doing anything to warrant all that relaxation then you start to feel a bit, well, worthless really.

For a few weeks, I was genuinely concerned that I might go full-on crazy. Would I forget how to talk to people? Would I continue my new disturbing habit of talking to myself? Would my brain just start to shrivel up and die as a result of all the “Married by Mum and Dad” it had been subjected to?

The fact is, when I have translation work in, I couldn’t be happier. I am occupied all day and, more often than not, have plans in the evening that I’d made in case I didn’t have any work in and feared doing nothing other than sloping around the house for 24 hours. Those days, I am living the freelancing dream. It’s the days without any work that are taking some adjusting to.

No matter what, I make myself get out of bed and into the shower. I get dressed and have breakfast and generally just pretend that I am off to work. Sometimes, I treat myself to a bit of housework before I start (or indeed instead of) working. Sometimes, I am fired up and eager to find new agencies to apply to. Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do with myself and end up curled up on the sofa reading Harry Potter and wishing I lived at Hogwarts.

Today, I went for a run. The sun was out, the park was quiet and when I got back I felt wonderful. Perhaps all it really takes is a few things that I can control (running every morning, eating lunch at 1pm) and the rest will fall into place. Maybe the traditional 9-5 isn’t really for me anyway. Maybe I need to sit down with Freelancing and talk about what I really want from this relationship. Then maybe, just maybe, Freelancing and I will be OK.

Mrs H

 

 

If at first you don’t succeed…

Not going to lie, April was shaping up to be a bit of a rubbish freelancing month.

Firstly, Mr H and I were about as ill as I can remember being for a very, very long time. We were struck down by the type of flu that leaves you feeling as though you will never leave the sofa again, let alone the house. The kind of flu that actually takes weeks to recover from and leaves you feeling a bit shaken and a bit down on life in general. Plus, the fact that self-employed freelance translators do not get sick pay was suddenly an all too real issue for me.

The second, and I do not say this lightly, truly horrendous thing that happened was that, while in the very darkest hours of flu-fighting, I received an email from a translation agency to tell me I had failed their translation test. Even typing it now sends a ripple of horror through me. How can I be trying to establish myself as a freelance translator when I can’t even pass a simple translation test? How awful at my job must I actually be? After crying for about four hours and feeling ashamed for, well, I’ll let you know how that one turns out, I began to try to dissect what had happened.

The reviewer of my (technical) French to English test had commented (in French) that my English did not flow well and that the piece read like a literal translation. Now, I am sure that you don’t need me to tell you that this is just about some of the worst feedback a translator can receive. Translation 101: Must not read like a literal translation. Devastated, I picked over the corrections and then realised what had happened. I had missed an idiomatic expression that, hand to God, I had never heard before in my native-English speaking life. As a result, the reviewer had branded my work “too literal” and I had been kicked out of the club. Apparently, the fact that all the technical terminology was correct or that I had checked the client’s website to make sure I was using their preferred terms or that I had converted all measurements accurately and into the right units counted for nothing.

My new best friend the Internet is rife with the musings of spurned translators on the subject of test translations. I saw every side of the argument and comments ranging from “my translation was sabotaged because the reviewer knew I’d done an amazing job and was afraid of the competition” (hmm) to “no good translator has ever failed a test translation” (ouch).

Now, while I would love to believe that my translation was so stunningly good that the rest of the freelance community now fear for their livelihoods, I unfortunately tend to react to criticism in a more “oh my God I am terrible” kind of way. With that in mind, I replied to the agency in question and said how disappointed I was with the outcome but thanked them for their time.

For the next couple of weeks, I dreaded the chirp of my work email. Please, no one send me translation: I suck! This agency told me so. Feeling betrayed by my profession, not to mention a crushing sense of humiliation and failure, I retreated into myself and decided I would never make it as a freelance translator. That was it. The dream was over, I was rubbish at everything. I began Googling admin jobs.

Then, I met up with my former boss from my old agency. She was astonished that I had simply rolled over and taken the rejection and hadn’t put forward any arguments as to all the things that I had got right. Translation is so subjective, if someone else had marked my test then maybe the outcome would have been different. I get it, but the fact is that what I was offering didn’t work for this agency and I started to think that maybe this had happened for a reason. This agency had already negotiated my rate down by 33% and, if they were so quick to fail me based on something that wasn’t really related to the test I was taking, then how quick would they be to refuse to pay me for work because they didn’t like my style? Yes, I had failed and yes, it felt horrible but these things happen. I had to pick myself up and get on with it. I may not know every idiomatic expression in the English language, but I do know what all the parts of a tractor are called and how to interpret technicians’ notes on what’s wrong with your intake manifold. I just needed to find some agencies that did like what I had to offer.

The next week, I got a call from a different agency. They had an urgent job that would take four days and pay me half the monthly income of my previous in-house role. I was nervous, but determined to do the best that I could. One day into the job, I got another email. I had done a translation a while back for a certain client, and they had contacted the agency to request me personally for another one. In the “feast or famine” way that seems to define freelancing, I had to turn it down but, honestly, it was a bit of a career highlight and exactly what I needed to lift my spirits.

This industry is tough. You’re never going to be able to please everyone all the time. You just have to do the best you can, always act professionally and learn to take the rough with the smooth.

Mrs H

 

Onwards and upwards

Yesterday, I received my first rejection.

Now, as you may remember, I have previously lamented the fact that the majority of my application emails have gone unanswered. I naively thought that there was nothing worse than the anguish of not knowing whether or not my application had been accepted, of not knowing whether I was saying the right things or quoting the right prices. Turns out I was wrong. Actually, my fragile ego is much happier believing that one day my acceptance email will come.

Having never been a massive fan of rejection (who is, right?) I will generally go out of my way to avoid it. With that in mind, the agencies I have applied to so far have been the bigger ones that I have heard of, or ones where I know people who work there. Basically, I tried to play it safe. I applied to this particular agency safe in the knowledge that they provide a steady supply of work to many of my former colleagues. I was reassured by the fact that I know not one, but two project managers who work there. So yesterday, when I received an email informing me that ‘they were not looking for translators with my profile’, I will admit to being a little crushed.

With my beloved Mr H working away in London and unavailable for rejection crisis talks, I took to the Internet to make sure that I was not the first freelance translator that this had happened to. I am sure you will not be surprised to learn that I was not. I really was comforted by the number of blog posts that addressed rejection specifically within the freelance translation community, and the overriding message of all of them was the same: don’t take it personally. Now, sensitive creative souls that we are, I think that this is an easy thing to say (and honestly mean!) to other people, but a difficult thing to take on board ourselves.

Last weekend, I went to visit my best friend. A psychologist by trade, weekends with her tend to involve food, wine and free therapy. I come away with my troubles eased, if not ever so slightly hungover. On this visit, I told her I was struggling with the lack of control I had over the freelancing situation. I didn’t know when the next job was coming in, or which agencies were going to sign me up, or whether I would even be successful. This then spiralled into worrying about the lack of control I had over other things: when we’d finally be able to afford to get the car fixed, when the DVLA would return my updated driving licence and our marriage certificate, when Mr H’s bank would finally authorise the payment he has tried to make to me six times so I can pay my credit card (and tax the car that won’t start). Dr Beth poured me a glass of wine and said, sounding exactly like a psychologist, “without wanting to sound like a psychologist, you may not be able to control those things, but you can control how you feel about them”.

I realised then that I could take back the power. I couldn’t force this agency to want me on their books, but I could deal with the rejection in a professional and positive way. So I emailed them back and thanked them for at least taking the time to let me know. I then decided to change my approach towards applying to agencies. Rather than following the masses to the biggest agencies, I would actually back myself and seek out the ones that specialise in my languages and skills. Translation is my passion. I want this more than anything, and in order to get it, I’m going to have to put myself out there. And by putting myself out there, I am putting myself in the path of rejection.

So I’m going in. Cross your fingers for me, I’ll keep you posted.

Mrs H

 

Honesty is the best policy

So I’ve already mentioned my freelance mentor. For the sake of argument, we’ll call him John. Now, John has something that I don’t have. A magical quality that apparently translation agencies worldwide clamour for. But what could this core value, essential to any translator worth their salt, be? CAT skills? A keen eye for detail? A solid working knowledge of the grammatical quirks of the English language? Why no my friends, what makes John so highly-prized is that John speaks German.

If you detect a note of bitterness here, that may be because I spent three and a half years on a team made up entirely of German speakers. My friends spoke German, my bosses spoke German, heck, even our admin assistants spoke German. For three and a half years I listened to “oh, well there’s no point hiring him. He only speaks French!” or “why can’t this project be in French? We’re never short of French translators!” and “what do you mean you don’t know what a case is? Didn’t you study languages?” Even when I left, the general consensus was that I would be much easier to replace than, God forbid, a German speaker.

In all honesty, I think this may be what has cast a shadow of self-doubt over my striking out alone. I am fighting for work that hundreds of other people could do. I imagine stressed-out translation agency recruiters eagerly scanning my CV for the word “German” before it is slung onto a virtual pile of identical files and never seen again. “Sure, she has in-house experience but she only speaks French? We’ll talk when she can at least offer us a degree in another subject as well. Our list of French-speaking physicists is down to about 7000”. Then, when I try to put that negativity aside, I’ll remember applying to Amazon as a freelance translator when I was at university. My friend and I applied on the same day. We filled in the application forms together. I never heard a word from them, she was recruited within the week. Her secret? You guessed it, she speaks German.

Anyway, back to John. John, who worked in-house for a whole year less than I did, assured me that the work would be coming in steadily within six weeks. Ahem. Been six weeks, John. Not eaten for a while now. Now, another slight problem with John is that he tends to embellish the truth slightly in order to make himself feel better. Basically, John lied to me and I’m narked about it.

Exasperated at not having worked for two weeks straight, I turned to my friend Patience. I had recommended Patience, a French and Spanish speaker, to a company who needed some Spanish translation doing and she had emailed to say thanks and ask how freelancing was going. I was straight with her. Freelancing sucked. I had done three jobs in the entire time I’d been working and one of them was for my mum. Patience, rather than telling me that everything would be fine, told me that it was six months before she’d started working properly. Six months. Six whole months! I could have kissed her.

She told me how she’d sat at the kitchen table and cried – the bills mounting up on the one hand and a complete lack of income on the other. She told me that some of the agencies she’d applied to didn’t get back to her for two *years*. She told me that her own freelancing mentor had had to talk her down from the ledge a couple of times and it was only then that she told me that everything would be fine.

The sudden rush of joy that I felt at not being the only one was overwhelming. This was what I needed – the naked, ugly truth. I didn’t need people to lie to me about how great things were in the beginning. I didn’t need to hear how wonderful life was for anyone fortunate enough not to have dropped German at GCSE (all jokes aside, I really could kick myself). Patience may not have known it but that day she talked me down from the ledge. And now I promise to try and do the same for you – a no-holds-barred account of what it’s really like to start out as a freelancer. Warts and all.

And in the interests of full disclosure – I have had two jobs so far this week. Both legal, both horrendously difficult but both two of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

Mrs H

 

 

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