Keeping track of agency applications

When I first started out, I didn’t really have a strategy for applying to agencies. I pretty much applied to any agency that didn’t ask for 5 years of experience. After a while, I couldn’t remember which agencies I’d already applied to so I created an Excel document to keep track. I have an Excel file for nearly everything!

Like my project management system, this method of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is not particularly sophisticated but it does the job effectively.

In my Excel document, I have two tabs labelled ‘CRM’ and ‘Organisations’.

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Organisations

Let’s start with the Organisations sheet. This sheet is my personal database: a list of all of the agencies, professional bodies, freelance platforms, volunteer organisations and potential recruiters that I’ve come across in my research.

These are the columns I use to organise the sheet.

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The first column is labelled Tr/In.

TrIn

So for a translation agency, I would fill in Tr, for an interpreting agency, In, and for agencies that provide both, Tr/In. I know agencies offer many other services so you can adapt this column for yourself. You don’t want it to get too complicated though.

The next column is for the Organisation Name. Type refers to the type of organisation, i.e. agency, professional body, freelance platform.

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In the fourth column, Contact, I insert the name and contact details of the person I liaised with, who may be a recruitment professional or project manager. If I don’t have a specific contact, I add in the generic contact details of the organisation.

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After Website, I fill in the location(s) of the organisation as this may sometimes be relevant. For instance, an agency I work for has offices in the US and France, and each office sends me work separately.

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Finally, I write any additional information in the Notes column. This information may be areas of specialisation, specific requirements or how to apply. When agencies need x years of experience, I make sure to note it down so that I can apply in the future.

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I also include dodgy organisations in my list, as well as low or late payers, and highlight them in red. I always check the list of scammers if an organisation looks suspicious. Translator forums such as the ITI London Regional Network can help to identify scammers too, as well as low or late payers. Whenever a forum member makes a negative comment about an agency, I note it down for future reference.

CRM

The CRM sheet is where I keep track of my applications, and organisations that have my details. It is separated into sections like so:

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I hope the sections are fairly self-explanatory.

I have included a section for volunteer organisations and freelance platforms so that I don’t forget where I have created a profile. It is important to keep profiles updated as your business develops, especially on platforms such as ProZ.com or TheOpenMic, which agencies and clients may use to learn more about you. Similarly as you gain experience and skills, you may be able to re-contact organisations with special requirements.

Every time I insert an organisation into my CRM sheet, I add the date I signed up or the date my application was approved, and other relevant information such as agreed rates. I also note the date I last sent an updated CV.

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An Excel document is a easy way to keep track of your applications when you’re starting out but you may eventually want to invest in a CRM tool. There are paid and free options out there which I have yet to try. For now, I’m happy to continue using Excel but I know I can improve my system. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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Dealing with stress

Sorry if the length of this post stresses you out. Apparently, when it comes to stress I have a lot to say.

Stress affects all freelancers, not just translators. Knowing that you alone are responsible for earning a living sometimes gets overwhelming. I feel as if I am always thinking about my business, even when I’m not working. I’m constantly thinking of new ideas and ways to develop and expand. This is because I am passionate about what I do but it is not necessarily healthy, as it can all get too much from time to time.

Becoming a freelance translator is not just about translating. Of course, your translation and interpreting skills are paramount, and you should set aside time to brush up on those skills. Then you need to make sure you continue to work on your languages too, which in my case are French, Spanish and Gujarati. It’s also a good idea to stay up to date with developments in the industry, by attending events and reading books and articles. And you absolutely have to stay on top of the administrative side of running a business. It’s a very long list of Things to Do.

The best way to deal with this is to be organised. I always have my diary open at my desk, and each day has two columns. One column is for jobs and appointments, and the second column is for things to do. (By the way, how great is this diary?) I try to keep my phone calendar updated too because I can access it wherever I am. I have a weekly schedule where I have allocated time slots for paid and unpaid work, so that I don’t fall behind on admin and professional development. For instance, on Mondays, I have allocated an hour for interpreting practice before starting work at 9. On Tuesdays, I would use this time to check my accounts.

The problem is that every week is different so it’s hard to get into a routine. I feel stressed when I can’t keep to my schedule but I have accepted that it won’t always be possible. For instance, if an interpreting job comes up at the last minute, I have to make this a priority. I have to be flexible and adjust to circumstances.

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As freelancers, we are very ambitious and we want to achieve so much. My schedule is a reflection of this. I have played around with it to make it more achievable although I’m not sure I’ve succeeded yet. It’s hard not to look at other freelancers and think, wow, he/she seems to be doing so many things, I need to be doing more. That is a treacherous path to tread and I’ve realised that I should focus on what is achievable for me. I can benefit from the advice of experienced professionals without necessarily comparing myself to them.

Surroundings impact stress levels as well. I need a tidy space to work in. If my space is cluttered, my brain feels cluttered. It doesn’t help that my office space is also my bedroom. I am very fortunate to have a big loft all to myself, but it is difficult to escape from work when I am always surrounded by it. One of my solutions is to have a bare desk, with only my computer screens, a diary and a lamp. That way, I feel like I have a dedicated work space.

It is important to be able to find a balance between your personal and professional life. Technology makes it so easy to be switched on at all times. It may be past 5 but you can still check emails, tweet or read blogs. It’s not necessarily work but you’re still thinking about work in your personal time. It’s one of the reasons why I love my weekly yoga class. I walk into the room and I know I’m there for one thing only, so I can switch off.

As a freelancer, you’re always worried you’ll miss out. 5 minutes away from your phone or laptop could mean you lose a job. It’s why I’m not a fan of job platforms. You have to watch them constantly and respond straight away. I can see the value of these platforms but it seems exhausting and stressful in the long term. Ideally, if you can build a relationship with a client, you’ll be the only one they want. So I’d rather focus on making myself stand out, even if I’m not making enough in the meantime. But of course, earning so little is another trigger of stress.

Regret:

I am lucky to have friends in the industry who understand the challenges I face, and they always offer a sympathetic ear when I am stressed. To be honest, I feel guilty complaining to them when I have so many positive things in my life! However, everyone needs an outlet to deal with stress and I prefer to talk about it (had you noticed?).

The key is to stay positive (sorry, I know it’s cliché). We are often too hard on ourselves. When I really think about it, I’ve done plenty of great things this year. Starting this blog for one thing. So I will leave you with some advice. First, write down your reasons for doing what you do. Why did you decide to become a translator? Why did you choose to go freelance instead of working in-house? Or vice-versa. Second, keep a log of your achievements, big or small. Sometimes it’s the smallest things which give me a buzz.

When you get stressed, go back and look at these two lists. It will remind you why you’re on this path and that you’re good at what you do.

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Finding ways to reduce stress and therefore, cortisol levels is beneficial to your long-term health - www.awakening-intuition.com:

So you got a job offer – what next?

Before you start working as a translator, there are little practical details you won’t have even thought about yet. Project management is one of those things. At the beginning, you won’t be getting much work (unless you’re really lucky) so it won’t be hard to keep track of your jobs. As you start to get more work, it’s a good idea to have some sort of system in place, starting from the moment you get a job offer. Here’s my step-by-step guide:

1. Can you do this job? Check the deadline, the number of words, software requirements and the documents to be translated. You might not be able to read the text in full but have a skim to make sure you have the knowledge or at least the resources to tackle the topic. I’ve realised recently I should open the document with my CAT tool too in case there are any technical issues.

2. Accept the job offer. Do you have any questions for the Project Manager? Ask them now.

3. Save the document(s) to be translated. You will  figure out the best way to organise your folders. Mine are organised by client, then project.

Do you have a backup system in place to make sure you don’t lose your work?

4. Enter the job details into your project management tool.  I use Microsoft Excel to log my jobs and this is what it looks like:

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At the beginning, you won’t know how much you can manage in a day or what your work rhythm is. This is why I added the Estimated Time and Average Output columns. The Estimated Time is the number of hours/days you plan to spend translating and proofreading. The Average Output is the word count divided by the number of hours/days you actually spend. Once you’ve finished a job, you can compare your expectations with reality.

Remember it’s not all about word count – a short technical piece might take the same time as a 2,000 word news article.

Once you know your own speed, it’ll be easier to decide whether to accept future job offers. Unfortunately that comes with experience and you will inevitably accept a job without realising how long it’ll take you. Your average output will also help to calculate how much you’re earning per hour so you can determine whether certain jobs are worth your time. The great thing about Excel is that it’s easy to make calculations and this will be useful when you’re invoicing too.

5. Make your intentions. This is a step I’ve thought about recently and I’d like to start implementing it. Most of us don’t translate just to earn money (although that is of course important), we do it because we love it. We have an overall goal or maybe we’re still thinking about what that goal is. Thinking about this before starting a translation can make the job more fulfilling. What do you hope to achieve by doing this translation? How will it help you to achieve your overall goals? Will this translation help another person? The great thing is, a translation will nearly always help someone else, if not many people.

6Start translating.

This is very basic project management but it’s a start. There are plenty of  apps available now to help you manage your projects but I haven’t tried any yet. I will at some point and let you know what I think.

Have you got any ideas to improve my system? Your comments are welcome!

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