Do you have trouble saying “no”?


As freelancers we’re always on the lookout for potential clients. Even those of us with large client bases need to replace clients from time to time (perhaps with better paying ones, perhaps to replace ones who no longer have relevant projects). So when new enquiries come in it’s usually something to get excited about.

However, I feel that there are plenty of traps that beginner translators in particular regularly fall into (and I’d be prepared to hazard a guess that even seasoned translators struggle with some of these situations from time to time). The added pressure of just starting out though and really needing more work means that as beginner freelancers we often don’t think clearly when dealing with potential clients. In this article I want to talk about a few strategies which you can apply from the outset which will hopefully help you avoid making some rookie mistakes and taking on projects which were never meant for you or clients you were never destined to serve.

Stage 1: Funny feelings (implementation level: easy) – when your own existential anxieties interfere with your decision-making

If you have a funny feeling about a job from the outset, walk away. It’s really important to listen to your intuition. It is completely understandable that if you are concerned about meeting your monthly earnings target, you will try to take every opportunity which comes your way. However, if you can already see the pitfalls (you don’t have the subject-field knowledge, it sounds like timely payment could be an issue, etc.) or you and the client just aren’t on the same page, leave it. It will just lead to problems further down the line. If, on the other hand, you can simply see issues which need to be clarified and you are genuinely interested in the job then do, of course, ask the questions you need to ask before sending or agreeing to send a quote. Just make sure you do any clarification work in advance before making a commitment.

Stage 2: (implementation level: intermediate) – when potential clients start to have expectations

Just because you’ve entered into a dialogue about the client’s needs and expectations does not mean that you are then obliged to take the job on. Once you can see that it’s not for you, say so. It is true that once a potential client has the feeling that you are “dealing” with their translation (asking questions, for example, see stage 1) – even before you’ve sent a quote and agreed to do it – you will find it more difficult to say “no, sorry, I’m not interested” later on. It is a fact that it is much easier to say “no” if you haven’t already sent several emails back and forth. So be careful how much advice you give away for free before you’ve agreed to do the job and start to feel like you have tied yourself into something you haven’t actually decided to do (and remember here that feeling like you have tied yourself in is simply that, a feeling. If you have not made a commitment, you are still free to walk away).

Until you have agreed to do a translation it is not your problem and you do not need to justify your decisions. If a job is not for you then it’s not for you and you politely tell the client that the job is not a good fit or that you have decided not to submit a quote this time. Quoting a higher price in the hope that the client will not accept it is a recipe for disaster. Clients accept those higher quotes much more often than you may think – and the extra money will never be enough to compensate for the problems you know you will encounter along the way and the potential damage to your reputation. Be straight with the client to avoid setting yourself up for a fall.

Stage 3: (implementation level: for the advanced) – when existing clients make assumptions

What about existing clients who come along needing a translation in an area of specialisation you don’t cover? Do you take it on anyway because you’re the translator of choice and you’re anxious that you may otherwise lose the client? Be careful because if you don’t provide your usual standard of quality then it’s quite likely that you will lose the client anyway. Instead, try explaining that you do not cover that area or reiterate that you specialise in a particular field. Try to provide the name of a trusted colleague or offer to arrange for a colleague to do the translation. This is a much more professional way of dealing with these situations and will also increase your credibility and strengthen your relationship with the client because you will have an opportunity to reiterate what it is that you do do and are good at while simultaneously demonstrating your integrity.


In this article we have briefly looked at how our decision-making is affected not only by fears and anxieties but also by the mind’s response to expectations and assumptions made by others. Having a set of internal rules/steps for dealing with these kinds of situations can really help us to make more professional, objective and rational decisions at times when our emotions are running high and our brains are on overdrive. These steps can also include the prices we’re not prepared to go below or the number of words/pages we’re prepared to accept as a maximum in a particular time period. When clients or potential clients then assert pressure we can refer to our rules/steps and hopefully coach ourselves to follow through on the decisions we made when we thought about these situations in advance in an objective manner in a relaxed environment.


Photo credit: Mario Kingemann,

Emotional self-discipline as a key ingredient for success as a freelance translator

business people network and communicate in speech bubbles.

I’m sure we’ve all heard and experienced how important self-discipline is for freelancers, particularly those working from home. Some of us may naturally gravitate towards working all of the time and others of us might have trouble motivating ourselves to do any work at all. Without the routine of going to the office every day for a fixed number of hours and being answerable to somebody higher up and without a set start and finish time, freelancing really does bring with it as many challenges as it does luxuries. But that isn’t quite the topic of my blog post today. What I want us to look at in this post is emotional self-discipline and how I believe that this is a key ingredient for success as a freelancer – and one that people are much less aware of.

Emotional self-discipline

I’m going to start by letting you into a little secret: I hear voices in my head. In fact, I can hear one right now “you’re not seriously going to write that are you?”. Perhaps you hear them too. If not, try listening a little more closely because we all have them. It’s just mind chatter and it’s completely normal (or at least I hope it is). This mind chatter is simply the mind’s way of making sense of what we are doing and protecting us on the basis of past experience. The mind’s main objective is to keep us safely in our comfort zones and to keep everything as it is. Now there are certainly advantages to this. I mean, if your mind remembers that you once did something and something terrible happened, then you’re unlikely to want to go and do it again. However, what about all of those opinions those voices have and judgements those voices are constantly making on things you haven’t tried out yet, like raising your rates, contacting new clients, choosing a new area of specialisation and so forth. If we listen to them all of the time and haven’t learnt how to distinguish between useful objective information and fear, then the voices will soon start to take over your business. Are they already running yours?

The only way to grow, both personally and as a freelancer, is to take steps out of your comfort zone and to be prepared to try something new – even where the outcome is uncertain.

The illusion of control being necessary

Not being in control isn’t something that the human mind can handle very well. For that reason, it does all it can to try to stay in control of every situation. This is one of the reasons that voice telling you not to take new action is so loud. The only way to stay in control is to take the same action you’ve always taken. Then there’s no (or little) risk. But remember that saying “no risk, no gain”? It’s 100% true. If you want change, if you want to get out of the vicious circle you feel you are stuck in, then you need to take new considered action and then let go and be open to what happens next.

Listen carefully

When you start carefully listening to the voices in your head you may find that there are several, that some want to support you and some want to hold you back, some are encouraging you to move forwards and others are doing everything they can to stand in your way. Which of those voices is the loudest? If it’s not the one encouraging you, then it might be useful to ask why you are listening to the ones that are trying to hold you back. Is it just because they are louder? Is it simply a habit? Is it easier for you that way?

I hear from so many translators who feel like they are stuck in a vicious circle. They read books about marketing, they try to take new action but they rarely get very far. Even if they have the best of intentions and some of them are the most conscientious translators I know who are excellent at their craft, and yet lack of emotional self-discipline leaves them unable to break out of this vicious circle.

A process, not instant results

Like anything, learning to practise emotional self-discipline is a process. If you expect immediate results then you are going to be in for a disappointment. Just like any new client or personal relationship, learning to get to know your mind and to listen to and to differentiate between the different voices and to weigh up which ones you are going to choose to listen to takes time. But once you start to do this, you will feel more empowered because even if you still find yourself listening to the obstructive voices for a while, you will, from the time when you finish reading this post onwards, at least be aware of what you are doing and awareness, as I tell my mentees again and again, is the first step on the path to change and the first step on the ladder to success.

Action steps

  1. Pay attention to those inner voices. What are they saying? Is there more than one? Listen carefully to what the quiet ones are saying.
  2. Write down everything those voices are telling you on a piece of paper. This is important as it allows you to detach. When they are all in your head shouting for attention, it’s easy to lose track or to only hear the loudest ones or the ones you are most used to listening to.
  3. Now that you have everything down on paper, try to disidentify with the situation. Perhaps try imagining that you are advising a good friend rather than yourself.
  4. Go through the statements provided by your inner voices one by one and look for objective useful information and write it down.
  5. Identify the statements which are purely fear-based. Identify what the fear is in each case.
  6. Determine whether the fear is valid or whether your mind has simply been making up stories about one of the potential outcomes and is perhaps focussing on what it considers to be the worst case scenario. Ask whether the negative outcome you are expecting is a certainty or whether there are other possibilities.
  7. Take the new action. Coach yourself through it if necessary. Talk back to those voices and explain why you are doing what you are doing and that you have carefully considered the situation and that this is the best objective course of Action.
  8. Let go, trust and embrace any changes. Remember that until you take new action, you can’t know exactly how things will change. Life is never as black and white as our minds want us to believe it is.


Photo credit: Fotolia #50460503



The importance of making conscious decisions

Conscious business

Did you know that “I don’t have a choice” is the most disempowering thing you can tell yourself? And do you know what, it isn’t even true. You always, but always, have a choice.

You may not always make good choices and you may feel under pressure (financial, emotional) to make a particular choice but, even then, you are still making a choice.

It’s really not surprising that many translators feel like they don’t have a choice. Just look at the way many translation agencies and even some direct clients communicate with freelance translators. “Please translate this text by Friday, 9am. We will pay a rate of X.” Erm, hello? Am I an employee? I don’t think so. If you are interested in my translation services, I will be more than happy to send you a quote with my earliest delivery date if I decide (choose) that this is a project that I am interested in working on. I’m prepared to hazard a guess that there must be one heck of a lot of freelance translators out there who accept (choose) to be treated by translation agencies and clients in this way. Otherwise, surely they’d have changed the way they try to talk to us by now.

What you need to know

You have a choice about how your business develops.

I’m not talking about being able to control everything single thing that happens in your business. I’m talking about welcoming everything that happens into your business life and making conscious choices in order to steer your business in the direction you want it to develop (your choice). It’s about being proactive and not allowing (choosing) to let other people’s priorities run your business. How many times have you accepted a translation job you didn’t really want to do because the buyer sounded so desperate/was putting on the pressure and you felt like you had to help/had to do it.

Do you aspire to work for more direct clients but you find yourself filling all of your time with work for translation agencies? By accepting (choosing) all of these jobs and not making time (your choice) for marketing and getting out and meeting potential direct clients, you are, in fact, making a choice to move away rather than towards your goals.

Sounds crazy when I put it like that, right?

If you do not make conscious choices, your business will develop a life of its own.

Now I know that when we’re busy and stressed or under financial pressure, we sometimes make snap decisions on the spur of the moment and may come to regret some of them. I’m not for a minute suggesting that we can all be perfect and on the ball every second of every day. However, what I am saying is that by learning to live in and to make choices from the present moment in line with our goals, we will ultimately move our business in our direction of choice. Proactivity is key here but equally important, in my experience, is making time on a regular basis to reflect on the choices we have made recently to determine whether they were in line with our goals and objectives. And when we do make choices which don’t fit with what we really want, it’s a good idea to try to work out why we chose to act in that way so that we can learn from our behaviour and make more positive choices in the future.

Perhaps you have a belief that you can’t say “no” or that you have to please and serve every client who comes your way or perhaps you are a very helpful person. Don’t worry, we are all running programmes of behaviour that go back to childhood in many cases. By taking time out to take conscious stock of why we may have made a choice we later regret or which was simply not in line with what we really want, we can learn from this behaviour, learn to notice these automatic patterns when they start to play out and to make better choices next time round. Our priorities come first, not those of other people.

Your goals should be flexible.

There is a big difference between changing your goals because you are procrastinating (your choice) over taking action towards achieving them (negative motivator) and choosing to change them for a good reason (positive motivator). What I’m talking about here is accepting that right at this moment, you are the person you are today with the knowledge you have at this present moment. On the basis of who you are today and with your current level of knowledge, you can set your goals and start working towards them. However, since we’re all growing every day through experience, it may well be that in six months’ time, you have a different perspective and want (choose) to set different goals. This is ok and it’s another reason why it is necessary to regularly take some time out to consciously reassess our situation and to check whether we want or need (choose) to make any adjustments.

Take away tips

  • Get clear about what you want for your Business.
  • Check-in with yourself regularly. Ask whether your actions and choices are in line with your goals.
  • Make conscious choices.
  • Remember that you always but ALWAYS have a choice.



Photo credit: ©Ron Mader, Buzzword Bingo: Conscious Business Flickr


Ideals and reality



So I’m aware that I’ve not posted for a good while. This has been due to other projects and having to put a few things on the back-burner for a while. To my surprise, however, this has not resulted in less traffic to my blog and it’s great to see that the older articles are read just as much as the newer ones. I hope that my blog will continue to provide advice and to act as a source of information for translators all over the world.

Today’s post is just to let you know that I have recently published an article in the University of Trieste’s International Journal of Translation entitled “The importance of active foreign language competence – Maximising choice for graduate translators”. The article is based on a talk I gave at the University of Trieste in December 2015 at a conference considering the question of the degree of foreign language competence required by future graduate translators in view of the native speaker principle, i.e. if translators are only supposed to be translating into their native language, how much active foreign language competence do they really need? As usual, I jumped at the chance to talk and write about this subject which is close to my heart and is all about ideals and reality. While ideals do have their place and I personally also apply the native speaker principle in my professional legal translation practice, it is not the only way. Real life and the requirements of companies and institutions, as I discuss in my article, is often a completely different ball game. This is why I take such a keen interest in this field and, when it comes to the academic perspective, I like to keep a very open mind and to consider what the situation really is like on the ground, right now, in order to assist translators (particularly beginner translators) who are facing these questions right now and not in some ideal world which they may not live to see.

The article is freely accessible via the following link and can be downloaded as a PDF file:

Translating in one direction or both – your choice to make

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Today’s post is an English translation with slight adaptations from an article I first published on my German blog. When reviewing the site stats for Translator Mentoring Blog earlier this week, I found that the most popular post by far continues to be Should I only translate into my native language? which suggests that this topic is one which translators, especially those just starting out, struggle to get their heads around. This is hardly surprising with so much conflicting information out there, apparent rules, requests which seem to run counter to these “rules”, and strong opinions. So I thought that my readers might be interested in this article which is a brief summary of the main points I discussed at a workshop last year. A longer article is soon to be published. Please feel free to e-mail me if you would like a copy.

The future of the translation industry – what will translator training look like in the future?

In September 2015 an interesting invitation landed in my inbox. I was being invited to speak at a workshop entitled “Foreign Language for Future Language Professionals: Reassessing Market Needs and Training Programmes” in Trieste, Italy. The seminar was being organised by the University of Trieste and the European Union and would address, among other things, the topics of translator training and translation competence into the non-native language and the extent to which this is necessary given the native speaker principle which appears to dominate the industry.

As a representative of the translation industry, in my presentation I wanted to set the advantages of the native speaker principle against my experience of the requirements and needs of corporate clients and to explain why translators must be extremely competent in their foreign language(s), irrespective of whether they translate into their non-native language or not.

The native speaker principle

Personally I am and will remain a proponent of the native speaker principle, but purely because this happens to fit my own personal circumstances. The main argument in favour of the native speaker principle is that it ensures that the translation is linguistically and grammatically flawless. In many cases, this is, of course, of utmost importance. However, being a native speaker of the target language alone is in no way sufficient to ensure that the translation also properly accurately conveys the source text message – and this must surely always be at the very top of the list of objectives.

The native language of the translator therefore is only one factor which must be considered when commissioning a translation. Equally important is whether the translator understands the source text, i.e. the level of his/her foreign language competence and specialist technical language of the subject-field concerned. Only if the translator has a very good command of the foreign language and the specialist technical language, can he/she produce an accurate translation into his/her mother tongue.

Unfortunately, this second point is often ignored when applying the native speaker principle.

From ideals to reality

What is more, academic rules and ideals (“only translate into your native language”) are often not in line with the requirements of the industry and the needs of clients. It is increasingly the case that companies and clients are looking for their internal translators to meet all of their translation needs. Perhaps a company has a regular translation requirement and therefore wants to employ an internal translator, but doesn’t have enough translation work for it to make economic sense to employ one translator per language pair, let alone one translator per language direction. In such cases, it clearly makes business sense to employ one translator who can offer all of the language pairs required in both directions. But even companies which work with external translators are increasingly looking for a one-stop shop – often due to time constraints and concerns relating to confidentiality.

Translator training

Whether future translation graduates translate only into their own mother tongue or in both directions is, in my view, a question which each new translator must decide for him/herself. There will always be a market for translators who only offer the highest quality translations into their own mother tongue, providing that they also have extensive specialist knowledge in their field. However, there will also always be a market for translators wanting to translate in both directions.

Whatever the decision these translators make, it is, however, extremely important that they are given the opportunity during their training to increase their foreign language competence to the highest possible level and to polish their writing skills in the foreign language because, irrespective of whether they later decide to translate into the foreign language or not, one thing is for sure: in order to be successful in today’s translation industry, more than average foreign language competence is absolutely essential, not least for marketing purposes and communicating effectively with clients.

Your choice

So ultimately there is no “right” or”wrong”. Whether you decide to translate in one direction or both is simply a choice that you, as a businessman or businesswoman, are free to make on the basis of your skillset, your strengths and weaknesses and your vision. Know that whatever choice you make, there are clients out there for you – it is your job to find the ones which are the right fit for you.


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Curiosity as an approach to marketing


We’ve probably all heard marketing people say that we should try to write texts which spark curiosity as it is the best way to get people interested in our products and services and to get their attention long enough to read our marketing texts and website copy.

But what about curiosity as an approach to marketing?

This idea came to me recently as I was thinking about how people feel in relation to marketing. I know that, in the past, I have procrastinated on my marketing. Not because I was lazy, but because I was very attached to the outcome. I wanted to be able control the result – and since I obviously couldn’t do this, my mind helped me out by creating a story about what was going to happen: “Nobody will read my letters. Nobody will be interested. I don’t have enough experience. Other people can do this job better than me. The statistical return is only 1-3% anyway. It’s a waste of time.“ And once that negativity creeps in, it really isn’t easy to overcome it. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who has ever felt like that.

Turn it around

So what about trying a different approach? What if we were able to completely detach from the outcome – not easy, I know, when you need clients and you need the income – and look at marketing from the point of view of curiosity?

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Oh it’s all right for her. She already has plenty of clients. I, on the other hand, really need the clients and I really need the income.“ Ok, I hear you. But this is simply you attaching even more to an outcome over which you have no control – irrespective of how much you may feel you need or want to control it. And how exactly does that help you? All you are actually doing, in fact, is adding even more pointless emotional stress to a situation which is already difficult for you.

A change of focus

Now if you take the curiosity approach you could say to yourself, “Ok, I have never done this before, but I’m going to try sending out 100 letters to potential clients and see what happens.“ This way you are detaching emotionally from the result and approaching the matter with interest and openness – positive rather than negative emotions, positive rather than negative energy. This will already feel like, and indeed be, a big step forward. What is more, regardless of whether the marketing measure you choose first is successful or not, you will (a) be a step closer to learning what does and doesn’t work in your target market, and (b) have some experience under your belt, which means that next time round the emotional hurdle won’t be so high.

Remain curious

Perhaps next time you will try heading to an event attended by your target clients or a trade fair for your industry. Or maybe you’ll look into participating in a workshop or a CPD event aimed at your potential clients. No, I can’t tell you and you won’t be able to say in advance whether these options will be successful in terms of getting you those new clients you want and need, but you will, through curiosity and trial and error, be able to determine which marketing options are best suited to you and, if you run a survey or ask every new client who comes your way how they found you (which I highly recommend by the way), then, over time, you will be able to ascertain which marketing methods are working best for your business.


The truth about your marketing issues


“I hate marketing”, “I really should do some marketing”, “I just don’t think marketing is for me”, “I’m a linguist, I’m just not good at the business side”, “I know what I need to do in theory but somehow I never get round to it”. Ever heard any of these or said something similar yourself? If so, read on!

What makes marketing into such a big (negative) thing for so many people?

We all know the theory: marketing is essential for every business. It brings you new clients which makes sure that your business grows and thrives. Marketing is for your business what exercise is for your body. We don’t have to exercise, but if we don’t we’ll be unfit. It’s the same with marketing: if we want a healthy business we need to do it. Let’s draw another comparison: chores around the house. Probably not your favourite thing, certainly not mine. And we may put them off and put them off but eventually we’ll get round to doing them. For some people not doing any marketing really is purely and simply about procrastination. It’s just something they rarely make time to do. For many people, however, marketing isn’t simply a chore like the washing and ironing that they put off but do get round to doing eventually. Marketing is something that they don’t want to touch with barge pole. They may get as far as dipping their big toe in but then they get the barge pole out again and it’s back to square one. Ring any bells?

So what’s going on here?

Unlike chores which we may simply dislike, people tend to have a deeper emotional relationship with their feelings towards marketing. If you get round to other chores eventually but not to your marketing then this might be true for you. Let’s explore this idea some more.

So you know what marketing is, you know it’s good for your business, you’ve been to seminars and attended webinars, you’ve probably also read a few books on the subject but somehow this is the furthest you have got. Let’s take a look at why that might be.

When you think about marketing what emotions do you feel? If you’ve “simply” been dismissing marketing as something you just don’t like for a long time then you might need to sit quietly for a while and really listen to what your body is telling you. Perhaps you can relate to one or more of these responses:

  • Fear of the unknown – What if nobody is interested in my services? What if everyone is interested in my services? How will I handle that?
  • Lack of control – What if none of my prospects respond?
  • Rejection – What if my prospects aren’t interested? What if they reject me?
  • Lack of confidence – What if I’m not good enough? What if potential clients find out that I don’t have much experience? I’m not as self-confident as my website suggests, what if my prospects find out?

These are all viable and typical responses and they all stem from programmes which we have been running since early childhood. So the reason why so many people are unsuccessful with their marketing efforts is that although they are trying to implement tried and tested techniques, they haven’t started at the root of the problem. They’re trying to start somewhere higher up. It’s like spending thousands on renovating a house but not bothering to deal with the unsteady foundations or like trying to heal an illness by only treating the symptoms.

Ok so now what?

First of all don’t be tempted to run away from the uncomfortable feelings. Simply feel them and then start to examine them. Take them apart piece by piece and ask questions like “is this true for me now?”, “do I really believe this?”, “is this a likely outcome or am I simply making up stories?”, “is a rejection of my services really the same as a rejection of me as a person?”. This kind of introspection work can be extremely insightful. You may discover that some of the stories your mind is making up are pretty far-fetched and extreme scenarios. You can then start asking questions like “is this the only way I can see this?”, “what if I look at it in another way?”

Perspective is a powerful tool because your thoughts determine your experience. If you can be open to the unknown, do your marketing in good faith, focus on the possibility of creating new connections and finding new clients rather than on the potential for rejection and accept that you (can) have little control over the outcome, you will find marketing a much more straight-forward and less burdensome task which may still feel like a chore but will hopefully no longer be something you fear to such an extent that it paralyses you into inaction.



Photo credit: Leigh Blackall,