Do the Next Thing

julentto-photography-CIuakYIjadc-unsplashHaving made it through this corona-ridden year relatively unscathed so far, I have now been staring at an empty inbox for the past two weeks and I’m getting nervous. I tell myself to take a deep breath and turn off the mental PowerPoint presentation with the colorful graphs presenting these past two weeks as a firm projection for the next two years in relation to mounting bills and unexpected major expenses. Like all freelancers I’ve been through this before and new projects inevitably come rolling in again, although the global situation right now is a little more unusual an uncertain than before. All the same, I know what to do. The strategy is simple and can be summarized as follows: do the next thing.

I didn’t come up with that and I first heard about it in the context of grieving. When things are tough and uncertain, just think of one small thing you can do, and do that. Make your bed. Go to the grocery store. Or in business terms: take care of invoices. Sign up for a professional development course. Write a blog post. When you’ve done that, think of the next thing and do that, and so on. Although each activity may seem small and unimportant, collectively they gradually bring about positive internal and external changes. Small actions can make a significant difference over time.

I’ve seen it in my own life. At some point during my early years as a translator, I realized after a conversation with a project manager that the low-paying agencies I was working for were never going to increase their rates, and that I would have to make some changes on my own if I wanted to earn more. So I did the next thing: I got my ATA certification. Followed by the next thing: pay a designer to create a professional website. And the next thing: marketing myself more intentionally. The immediate benefits were that I found better clients who were willing to pay for quality. That was great and as planned. What I did not foresee, though, were the long-term benefits of those actions.

When AB5 (the union-backed travesty that prohibits businesses in California from working with freelancers) took effect on January 1, several of my clients told me they couldn’t work with me anymore unless I incorporated. A ridiculous technicality since there is no change to the actual work or the business relationship, but a lifeline nonetheless, which I grabbed. During the hastily arranged appointment with my accountant to set up my LLC, I had to register the name of my company. Thankfully, I had already settled on Calliope Translations when I got my website so I didn’t have to come up with something on the spot — a good thing because spontaneous creativity is not my forte and the results could have been less than optimal.

Since then, the uproar over AB5 has continued and exemptions have been granted to various professions. Translators and interpreters have been fighting for an exemption as well but as it stands now, the AB 1850 amendment that is up for a vote includes an exemption for certified translators only. There is absolutely no logic to this, because the stated aim of AB5 is to encourage companies to hire freelancers as employees but it’s exactly the uncertified who would be at a disadvantage when competing for those jobs. Freelancing offers much more freedom to find clients and build your business on your own terms. But that’s a whole different issue. The point here is that I’m grateful that the decision I made many years ago to get certified is now instrumental, in an entirely unexpected way, in keeping my business afloat.

So I try to maintain the discipline of finding “the next thing” to do in these uncertain times. Take an online course. Double down on marketing. Judging from other blog posts I’m not alone in this, and several colleagues have been inspirational in this regard. Judy Jenner, for example, is embracing the challenge of working with the interpretation function in Zoom and sharing what she learns with others in recent blog posts. Or Claire Cox, who has been sharing honest accounts of life in quarantine and what she is doing to make the best of circumstances beyond her control. And just today another colleague, Jennifer Goforth Gregory, shared similar experiences on her blog. She also had the great idea of doing a survey to find out how other translators have been doing this year; you can read her post and the first survey results here.

And I try to resist those mental worst-case PowerPoint presentations. Granted, there are times when you have to face the fact that the most unpleasant explanation is the correct one, i.e. your pants are not tight because you put them in the dryer, they are tight because of those donuts you’ve been eating. In my case, the lack of projects these past two weeks could be because all my clients have all gone simultaneously bankrupt / decided they don’t want to work with me anymore / have all been bought up by Google in a hostile takeover and Gurgle translation is the only thing they offer now. Or, more likely, work is slowing down due to Covid-19 closures; many courts are closed, for example, so no litigation and no briefs that need to be translated. Not all that great either, but temporary and survivable.


To be continued . . .