Life as a freelance translator Organisation Work-life balance

New routine

Finally, the now 2 year-old is sleeping all night rather than waking at three, and I am getting back to the work routine that suits me best.

5.30 – 7.15 a.m. Work

7.15-9.30 a.m. Breakfast with children, get everyone dressed, hunt for nursery bag, book bags and shoes that have unaccountably vanished since the night before, put in a load of washing, walk to school and nursery and walk back, through the fields if it’s not raining.

9.30 a.m. – 3.30 p.m. Work, not non-stop, though, unless under dire pressure of deadlines. Husband picks baby up from nursery at 1 and children from school at 3.15.

3.30 p.m. Stop work. Speak to children, wash up breakfast, hang up laundry, make scones, practise school reading, entertain visiting small friends, take people to Brownies, build train tracks…

I am a morning person. I wrote all my university essays at 5 a.m. and before children I used to start work at six. Now that I am able to do that again, things are so much better. I used to view breakfast with the children as a frustrating interminable delay preventing me from getting to the computer until about 9.30.  This did not make for a happy and harmonious home. Now it’s a pleasant interlude (admittedly, with the odd bit of shouting about shoes) after sending out the early jobs and getting a start on longer deadlines. I don’t feel so rushed in the mornings and last week I even had time for a quick coffee with a friend at 9 a.m. because I’d already done all the first thing urgent stuff.

I used to either be working when the children came home, which made them cross, or trying to work in the evenings, which makes me cross. It also makes me extremely slow and unproductive. For me, working after 8 p.m. is like trying to translate through fudge. Getting that time in the mornings back means I get evenings too. I can put the children to bed without feeling stressed at having to get back to the computer or having to choose between work and choir rehearsal.

It helps that many of my clients are in Scandinavia and with 3.30 being 4.30 in Sweden and 5.30 in Finland they tend  to be winding down for the day by the time I stop. My mobile phone downloads work e-mail via the home wifi until 6 p.m. so if something does come in, I know about it, but usually it’s quiet then anyway.

It might not suit everyone – my husband is one of those people who hits his mental peak at about 1 a.m. – but it suits me and I feel better for it.


“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?