It’s a new tax year in the UK (well it was yesterday) and a new financial year for my business. I’m taking time off over Easter to recover from the busiest March I have ever had, and seeing as March is Scandinavian Annual Report Season, that is pretty busy. I don’t translate accounts, I hasten to add. Being originally taught translation by someone who was a qualified accountant convinced me that my talents definitely lay elsewhere, but the thing about March is that either you get to translate the interesting bits of the annual reports while someone else gets the parts with all the numbers in (which I am sure they, being expert at it, find utterly fascinating) or you get all the work that isn’t annual reports because everyone else is fully booked translating them instead. And some years you get both at once.

And now I am breathing, recovering and taking the time to copy even more things over to my lovely new work computer (I do know enough about accounts to get my business expenses in before the end of the tax year), completing my accounts for the year, analysing income and client breakdown and taking stock for the future.

I have also updated the layout of this blog. The tiles in the header are from a photo I took at Tyntesfield, where we went a couple of weeks ago. I love the idea of sitting translating in a tiled pagoda in a rose garden but I fear it might prove a little draughty in practice.


Alan Plater and translators in popular drama

Playwright Alan Plater died on 25 June. I grew up with The Biederbecke Affair, Big Al, Little Norm and Medium-sized Mrs Swinburne, suspiciousness of people with forward-facing haircuts and Peterson, the man with no name. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1982 adaptation of Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles that had Alan Rickman as the most slitheringly sinister Mr Slope you ever saw.

But I most recently encountered him as the writer of the episode of Lewis, Your Sudden Death Question, which had me dashing to the internet to find out who was behind the line:

“Are you aware of the hourly rate a Russian translator will charge at the weekend?”

Hooray for telling the Great British Public (if they were listening) that getting the entire contents of the victim’s computer translated from Russian into English might come a tad expensive. And that getting a translator to work over the weekend might be even more expensive still.

The fact that the murdered Russian literary translator had also interpreted for negotiations over a construction contract with dodgy Russian businessmen was a rather more unlikely portrayal of the profession but possibly there is only one Russian speaker in Oxford.

It’s not often that translators feature in TV drama. The BBC’s long-running radio soap The Archers featured Siobhan Hathaway, a German – English translator for quite a while but she wasn’t that great an advert for the profession either as she had an affair with Brian Aldridge (who has those little gold chains on his shoes) and then died leaving poor long-suffering Jennifer Aldridge to bring up her love child.

It would be nice to see more translators in prime time TV drama but next time it would be great if they weren’t either obnoxious or dead.



I’m now on twitter as translatingkate. There are 14 other people called Kate Lambert. Perhaps I should have taken my husband’s unique Finnish surname after all.


“I don’t know how you do it” freelancing with children

Since my husband was made redundant in November and I have been translating full-time again, friends locally have been coming up to me in the street and saying “I don’t know how you do it”, as if I was in that book by Allison Pearson, except that her heroine wasn’t a translator. Well to be honest, working full-time with a partner available for childcare is a darn sight easier than working part-time was. The children-work juggling act is difficult, and at the Proz Translator as a Strategic Partner conference in November, I kept having muttered, brief conversations in coffee breaks with people, all women, about exactly how we do it. As Sarah Dillon says here, it’s something the translation industry seems reluctant to debate, probably for fear that translation will once more be seen as something that women do for “pin money” rather than a job for professionals.

So, if anyone wants to know, here is how I did it. In 2001 I had been freelancing for five years, had taken on an employee, gained ITI membership and made the employee a partner.  Then I had a baby. Having a well-established business first helps. Having a business partner who kept the business going while I took 3 months’ maternity leave (the maximum at the time) and then while I worked part-time helped even more. The baby went to nursery two full days a week, my business partner booked work in for me on the other days and I would pop into the office with the baby to keep in touch as well. There were times when I used to wheel her round the streets in the pushchair at nap time until she fell asleep and then dive into the office  to type frantically for an hour until she woke up again, and I did quite a bit after she had gone to bed, but it worked. It kept working when I had my son in 2004 (longer maternity leave), although when the eldest started school, I could no longer work from 8 am – 6 pm and switched to three mornings instead.

In 2007 we moved out of Bristol and I had child no. 3. Since neither of us were now living in the same place, or in the same place as the office, we dissolved the business partnership at the end of my maternity leave.  From April 2008 I was working from home doing the juggling act on my own and it was much harder. The baby goes to nursery three mornings a week and often naps when she gets home. That was as much time as I wanted to be working but when I firmly stated that I was not available on Tuesdays and Fridays, I found that clients ended up not contacting me at all because they couldn’t remember which days I worked. As soon as my husband was made redundant and I contacted everyone and told them I was full-time again, the work picked up.

In my experience, the biggest issue is contactability/availability. I work mainly for agencies, often on small projects with fast turnaround. They don’t mind when I actually do the work, but they do need to know fairly instantly whether I can take it or not. If I am working part-time, there will consequently be times when I am answering work enquiries with children in the background. I think, and my experience last autumn shows, that clients would prefer that to me not answering at all. Isn’t not getting back to them promptly more unprofessional? I do try to make e-mail the default rather than the phone and I have Skype so clients can tell when I am at the computer for instant replies. As I said above, at the moment it’s all less of an issue because I am working full time and my husband is entertaining the baby when she isn’t at nursery. I stop at 3.30 when the children come home from school, but my Scandinavian clients are coming to the end of their working day by then anyway.

I also have the advantage that Scandinavian clients seem to be more child-friendly than UK ones. Work-life balance is more advanced there than it is here. I have had project managers (even male ones) tell me they are working at home while looking after  a sick child, that they have to leave early to pick up a child from daycare but will get back to me in the evening, or ask very politely if I could deliver early because it is sunny and they want to stop work and take their children to the park. I don’t have a problem with that, or think it makes them more unprofessional when they are at work. Why does the UK?

When the baby starts school in 2011, I’ll be able to work from 9.30 to 3, five days a week, and that will be fine. If my husband finds a job before then,  I’ll be single-handedly juggling again and I’ll have to think hard about the contactability issue. We shall see… This business is flexible. And it’s my business. And in our experience, over the past eight years it has proved to offer more job security than the IT industry. Why, when I have spent 12 years building it up, would it make sense to abandon it completely as soon as I have children? I am still the same person and I am just as professional now as I was back in 2000, probably more so as I am aware life offers more distractions these days and double check everything. And if I had stopped work completely due to having babies, what on earth would we all be living on now?


SFÖ membership

I’m officially now a member of the Swedish Association of Professional Translators. I had heard from a couple of clients who I had given as references that they had been contacted about me but the official confirmation, complete with a certificate and a badge, has now arrived in the post. All five of my referees must have said good things. I needed three for Swedish-English and three for Finnish-English and there was one that could vouch for both. All had to be able to state  I had worked for them for five years.

This is something I should have done years ago. After all, I’ve worked with one of them for ten years. I applied for and gained ITI membership after five years of experience (references plus assessment of work) but didn’t get round to joining the Swedish one. It will be interesting to see whether I get more enquiries as a result of being in their database and what kind of enquiries. While I have gained long-standing Swedish agency clients through the ITI database, the UK agency clients that contact me through the ITI tend to be agencies who have suddenly encountered a piece of Finnish and aren’t likely to see another one for another couple of years. I’m wondering whether I’m likely to get more Swedish enquiries as a result of being in SFÖ or whether Swedes looking for English native speakers tend to look at the ITI first instead. Maybe Proz is taking over now.  Well, I’m there too. I wish I’d kept records of how my clients found me initially right from day one. At some point when there’s a lull, I should go through and see if I can remember.

Membership isn’t just about new clients either. There’s also the benefit of keeping up with what’s going on in the industry in my main market, and the opportunity of attending conferences in Sweden. Do I want to go to Borås in April? Can I abandon the 18-month old for two nights again?


Workload management

Last week was half term holidays so I was only working minimally and stopped altogether at Thursday lunchtime. This means that firstly I’ve had three days off and feel quite refreshed and ready for full-on work tomorrow and secondly that I spent some time this evening seeing what e-mails I’d missed and planning ahead for the next couple of weeks.

Unusually I’ve got a few jobs with long deadlines. Often I’m permanently busy but with no work booked for more than two days in advance. I’ve entered everything into TO3000 but am irritated that it doesn’t let you show how long the job is on the Main Projects page. The columns are customisable but only from a selection provided: Code, Project name, Client name, Deadline, Flag (I use these) and Date assigned, Completed and Client PM (I don’t see the need for those). But no length or volume option. When you’ve got several projects overlapping, it would be useful to be able to see at a glance whether each one is 12,000 words long or 350. I have customised the columns in the Client Jobs view to show volume so maybe I need to use that as my main view instead, but then I’d lose the Flags in seven cool colours that I use to show whether the job is at the draft, rewrite or proofreading stage.

I am happy with TO3000, and it seems much better designed for the lone freelancer than Translator’s Office Manager, which I also tested when I was looking for something to replace the translation management software my husband designed ten years ago, which sadly won’t run on anything later than Access 97, but there are always things you’d like to tweak. And the less said about TO3000’s Schedule of Projects calendar the better.

Look, it does the invoicing. Be grateful.


Back to the dark ages

dscn9649When the majority of your clients are in Sweden and Finland, it is slightly awkward to have to explain that an inch of snow means you have no electricity.

This was two weeks ago now. Fortunately I’d e-mailed the only job due out for the day at 8.30 when the power went off at 9, and I was in the part of town whose power lines were mended by late afternoon, not the bit that didn’t get fixed for three days.

All the snow has since vanished and life has returned to normal but it was quite a shock to realise just how much my business depends on power.  Of course it does, it’s obvious, but you do rather take it for granted until the moment it all suddenly disappears. No computer. No internet, no e-mail, and therefore complete inability to work. No landline either, until I climbed about in the loft and dug out an old phone that doesn’t need to be plugged in. All I could do was phone a colleague who e-mailed a couple of clients to tell them I was out of action, and go sledging instead. I made up the time lost on the long-running jobs over the following weekend.

Things that would have helped had I thought about it in advance:

  • Having all my clients’ contact details somewhere other than in TO3000 and Thunderbird, on my computer.
  • Having a working laptop. The keyboard on mine died a few months ago and now I’m working from home all the time, rather than switching between home and office, I haven’t really needed it. Replacing it would probably be a good idea. In this case it would have given me enough battery power to finish anything urgent.