Running a translation business is like a sport. It must be built on key practices that, repeated over and over, make up a solid foundation from which you can safely take big leaps forward. Such practices are a combination of translation-specific and business-oriented. Also, many are simple and easily taken for granted, as is the one I discuss below.
I’ve decided to address the importance of a solid filing system because it has, in recent months, become invaluable to me. I've learned first-hand how it can help me better serve my clients and work more efficiently. As such, I want to share some advice and my experience to ensure other translators understand that it is a key practice that must not be taken for granted.
1) Let’s talk about what sorts of things need to be in an organized filing system.
Well, everything does, but, to be more specific, any files and software that you use regularly for your business. Start with the items on your desktop. On mine, I lined up all of my translation-related software side-by-side, then put my most frequently used files (where I store current projects) just underneath.
CAT tool files – placed where your CAT tool knows to find them.
Source and target drafts – includes current and finished jobs.
Bookkeeping tools – this refers to invoices, templates, related software, receipts for tax purposes, etc.
Client guidelines – each client has different expectations, you don’t want to mix these up!
2) Think about where you file things so that you can get to them easily.
A major consideration for many translators who work on two different computers is: what do you store in the hard drive vs the cloud/external drive? I choose what goes where based on level of confidentiality and basic files that I use consistently.
Also, where, as in, where do they fit within your folder system? Do invoices belong in a sub-folder of Translation Memories? Probably not. So, create a main folder titled Invoices, then sub-folders within it for each business year, then sub-folders within those for clients, and so on. Be logical. The idea here is to have a system that is quick and easy to navigate. For example, you don’t want to waste time looking at your screen thinking, now where did I put that client glossary from 6 months ago? Instead, you want a system that allows you to open your system folder, click on Glossaries, Client Name X, and then the necessary file.
3) Be careful and logical about how you name files and folders.
Just like before, you want a system that is quick and easy to navigate. You must include enough information in the file name so that you know what it is AND don’t mix it up with similar files. I learned this lesson when I accidentally sent a European client my OCR file of the source document. While I was sleeping that night, they were trying desperately to reach me and get the correct file. One lesson I learned from that experience was to create a more clear naming system. Now, I download a dead PDF source, I OCR it and save it as a Word document that I can use in my CAT tool. The name I use is always OCR_Source_ClientFileName. Once I’ve finished translating in my CAT tool, I click “save file as translated,” and name the resulting file Draft_Target_ClientFileName. This has saved me from making that mistake again!
If you maintain a consistent, logical filing system as you work, your client will thank you, and so will your translation business. As a side note, don’t hesitate to change your system when the need arises. These sorts of things always need improvements over time.
What are some of your favorite practices that you find are essential to your business? Please let me know in the comments below.
Like any journey, the terrain has changed as my translation business has moved forward. As a result, I adapted my initial strategy of marketing-comes-first to the current one of taking the time to develop my specialization in the life sciences.
Interesting topics I've recently learned about:
Bonus skills I’ve learned along the way:
I knew all of the above was an important part of growing my brand: “Thoughtful translator: making French ideas accessible in the life sciences.” So, I reallocated most of my social media time to developing my specialization. I read scientific articles and news. I took on projects that were daunting at the time, and applied my skill set to provide quality translations.
It was slow-going at first, but very rewarding. Pushing my boundaries this way led to moments of stress and moments of joy demonstrated by lots of fist-pumping and dancing around my office. I knew I was capable of it. I also knew it was a step in my professional career that would pay off handsomely with time.
And it did! My expertise expanded, I created a work process that I apply to every project, and I found a handful of preferred, reliable resources for all of my research. Above all, I gained a large quantity of knowledge (that will continue to grow) and I know it will serve my business in the future, no matter the terrain.
What being stuck looked like for me
I came to this profession after realizing I was stuck in many areas of my life. Becoming a freelance translator was my way of getting unstuck. I started by gathering information: taking classes, reading professionals’ blogs, attending webinars and workshops, and, above all, connecting with other translators. It felt liberating, exhilarating for a while, until I realized… I was stuck again. I was glued to my seat at the table in the comfortable research phase that prefaces launching a new career. It was time to get out of my seat and get active, put myself out there.
How will you use these 3 actions?
I’m sure I’m not the first translator to feel stuck like that. You may not necessarily be in the same place I was, but I bet you know the feeling. It could be due to any number of reasons from reaching a plateau to feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed. Who knows? Only you do.
What I can tell you is what worked for me to get unstuck so I could move on to the next phase of my career. How will these you use these three actions?
1. Get a mentor
2. Join a translator association board or support it
3. Develop a brand via social media
I’m not saying the above steps are easy to take. You don’t just send an email and suddenly have an answer that gets you moving. It requires devotion and commitment on your part. And time. It takes time. Give these steps a shot, if you feel like they could help you.
If you have a similar success story from taking one of the above actions, please share it below.
*I know, I know, people could just get that information from your CV, but it’s 2016, and social media is a major communication platform that no business can afford to not be a part of.
A year ago, I would have been embarrassed to admit that I’m in the early stages of my translation career. It’s because I wanted to know everything already and be translating full-time: fingers flying over the keyboard, clients filling my inbox, organized accounting system, and confidence oozing from my pores. I just knew I was ready… But the fact that it wasn’t happening yet embarrassed me. I thought something must be wrong.
Fast forward one year, and work has gone from the rare, random visitor at my front door to multiple semi-regular ones. Looking back, I see that I did a lot of growing and learned important lessons from those random visitors. Each experience contributed to the foundation of my business. I see that nothing was wrong, I just needed to change perspective. I now gladly tell people,
“I’m in the building phase of my business.”
This period starts with (A) building a small, unfurnished house in a forest and only having water to serve to the rare visitor who finds you. It continues on to (B) putting in infrastructure (like a nice driveway and road that visitors take regularly), and hosting them, sometimes two or more at a time, with pizzazz.
It takes time to do all of that, and that’s fine. No way was I ready a year ago. I would’ve been overwhelmed if two clients made it to my house at the same time, one with a 90-minute documentary to be subtitled in English, the other needing a three-page marriage certificate translated. I needed individual hands-on experiences first. I needed to visit other translators and invite them to my small house to chat over lemonade. I also needed to figure out what made me stand out. (Side note: I’m still adding onto my foundation.)
I hope other new translators will read this and recognize that they’re in the building phase, too. In fact, not just translators, but any business owner goes through this. It’s part of the process.
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