I’ve never been one of those oversharers *disdainful sniff* I don’t particularly like people knowing my business, it brings up lots of thoughts on dirty laundry being aired in public, support groups and crumpled hankies. That said, I hate secrecy (as you probably gathered from the Let’s Talk Rates live chat!) When it comes to being open and transparent and helpful, I am on it like a car bonnet. Providing resources, blogging and sharing information is totally my bag (baby) – and I love it when people I admire provide a bit of behind the scenes insight and show what really works for them….and what doesn’t. But when it comes to the emotional side of things, and a lot of the touchy-feely stuff behind the scenes, I’ve always shied away from *that sort* of sharing.

Feeling the fear

In my recent post on using fear as a business strategy, I extolled the virtues of regularly challenging yourself to move out of your comfort zone. I make it my business (pun intended) to do something that scares me, every day. Whether that’s contacting a potential client, doing a live chat or upping my rates, it doesn’t matter, the point is to move beyond the fear factor and take action. It also doesn’t matter how big or small your action is, it’s about moving forward and making progress – however incrementally. So today, to challenge myself, I’m going to do something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s something that’s come up often in recent weeks. Spookily often. (See what I did there? Halloween…spooky….okay, never mind.)

In the first paragraph of this post, I mentioned that I’ve always shied away from sharing the touchy-feely stuff. You know, the stuff behind the fear. Some of the vulnerable stuff. With everything I’ve been challenging myself on, all of this public, putting it out there, stuff – the live chats, the videos, the resources – I’ve received feedback on how refreshing it is to have someone be honest about how they work, what they charge and some of their techniques. But I’ve also had these comments too:

“I couldn’t do that sort of thing.”

“I couldn’t charge that.”

“I couldn’t get those clients.”

“I couldn’t diversify.”

And you know what? This time last year,

I couldn’t either.

Or at least, I couldn’t conceive of it. Why? Because this time last year, I was having a humdinger of a time. And not the good kind of humdinger. I was tired. We’d had a family bereavement. I was trying to juggle my business and raising two young children with a husband who works away for the majority of the week. I’d had two non-payers (one of which I’ve since had to write off) to the tune of almost £4000. I was, for the first time in my career as a translator, considering packing the whole thing in and moving to Siberia getting a “regular job”. I was, in all senses of the word, failing at what I loved doing, and I could not see a way out. This negative, wobbly, scary spiral took up most of the second half of 2015. I didn’t write. I didn’t do marketing. I prospected to the sum total of 3 clients. I turned down jobs as I didn’t feel confident. When I did accept jobs I accepted low-baller rates. I cried often, laughed seldom.

In short, I was absolutely bloody miserable.

sharing is caring

I confessed how I was feeling to a group of supportive, outstanding colleagues and received love, support and great advice. Then, in mid-December, I got another boost. A client came back and said they really liked my translation and asked if he could pass my details on to a colleague. I almost said no. It turned out the new client had a text for me to translate. It wasn’t the best rate in the world and it meant that I spent 4 crazy weeks (over Christmas, no less) giving Trados the workout of its life, but it saved me. At the beginning of the process I somehow, from somewhere in the recesses of my self-respect reserves, found a way to negotiate on the rate and the payment terms, and secured a part payment when I submitted the first 10,000 words. So Herculean was the text that I even ended up sharing some of the work with colleagues, when the client added in extra sections unexpectedly.

But I did it.

So what did I do next?

When I finished those 100,000+ words at the end of 2015, I was so proud of myself that I immediately became sick for a week (yeah, I know, I need to work on my celebration skills.) But the whole experience taught me a lot (even the getting sick bit.) From never allowing myself to rely on a few clients for the lion’s share of my income, to the importance of keeping up my marketing activities, right through to being strong enough to remember that it’s me who decides how much and when I get paid. I came out of the experience determined to do things differently. I developed templates for those tricky interactions with clients (whether that’s raising your rates or breaking up with them.) I realised that word-of-mouth, social proof and feedback are three incredibly powerful client acquisition tools, so I learned how best to ask for it and, yep, you guessed it, wrote myself templates for those conversations too. I thought long and hard about my client list, and developed a system for working out which client relationships were working out for me, and which I needed to shelve. In short, I gained clarity. And confidence. I realised that, although on the surface I’d been doing all the right things for my clients, I’d failed to implement some of the biggest changes for me. I had the direct client work, I’d just become lazy and relied on a precious few. I could have wallowed in the misery and bashed myself with the lazy stick a bit more, but I was kinda over that, so I chose to take confidence from the wobble instead.

Through this confidence I started to do more client facing work again, and got asked to deliver some workshops on writing for businesses. At first it was just basic stuff like stopping them Randomly Capitalising Words in The middle of Sentences. Then we moved on to how to strengthen their writing – avoiding weak words, writing for their client (not themselves) and some SEO basics.

You know where this is going, right?

After I’d developed and delivered a few of these workshops I decided to dust off those big girl pants and offer my teachings out to translator colleagues, in an online course. I hashed out the course outline one snowy night in January, and refined it and polished it over the course of a few weeks. I realised that a lot of the things I’d learnt over the past six months, and the techniques and templates I’d developed to cope, would be useful for others too, so the course evolved into something that helped translators lay groundwork for their content and copy….even before they typed a single word. I recorded the webinars, wrote the material, interviewed experts, conducted a client survey and designed all the exercises and templates.

Then I shat myself for a good two weeks worrying about what everyone would think of me.

Once I’d finished doing that, I realised that what others thought of me was really none of my business, and besides, after a few months of proper, seat-of-the-pants, hope-I-can-pay-my-bills worries, I decided that a bit of judgment shouldn’t trouble me too much.

I still worried, of course. Worried about the who-does-she-think-she-is brigade and the “TYPO! TYPO! She’s got a typo in her content and she’s trying to teach us about copywriting!” comments. I worried that nobody would understand my accent on the videos, that my course content focused on the way that I liked to learn, and it wouldn’t help anyone else. I worried about the colleagues who’d seen my struggles in the past six months and would think my teaching was a load of rubbish, because clearly I don’t have it all figured out.

Then I did it anyway.

I’m not sharing this post to say “I did it. You can do it too!” or for you to think “She thinks she had a hard time?? Try this on for size, sweetheart.” and it’s certainly not intended to make anyone feel bad. It’s like when I see a really sad story on the news – I know that it should propel me into action because I’m clearly much more fortunate than the person in the aforementioned sad story. Or, at the very least, it should make me feel fortunate that I don’t have those problems. But you know what? It doesn’t. It just makes me feel that on top of being a terrible procrastinator who’s not fulfilling her potential, I’m ungrateful to boot. So I feel guilty, and then, you know, procrastinate some more.

So this post isn’t to make you feel bad, guilty, fortunate, disdainful, or even motivated (though if it does motivate you, that’s awesome, obviously.) It’s to say, it’s okay. Sometimes things are hard. Sometimes clients don’t pay. Sometimes we get lazy. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed, and alone, and like we haven’t the faintest notion what we’re doing. Sometimes it seems that everyone else is sorted, and you’re not. But that’s okay.

You’re not alone. We’ve got this.

How have you handled hard times in your career? I’d love to hear in the comments. If you’d like to sign up to receive these posts (and other goodies) as a subscriber, then click here. You can also read more about my course (I don’t cry, I promise) by clicking here.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Jane says:

    Powerful stuff this, Jo – thanks for being so open about your struggles. And congratulations for not only having pulled yourself out of a hole but also having decided to build on that experience and help other people. I could do with you visiting some of my clients with your session on how To stop Randomly Capitalising Words in The middle of Sentences!

    As to handling difficult times in one’s career, I’m going through one at present thanks to having been stupidly optimistic about how much the tax man was going to ask me for at the end of the year. I’m currently *really* working flat out and accepting (almost) every assignment, as opposed to my normal state of just feeling like I do. But I’m quite enjoying finding out just how much I can achieve, and I’ve gained a couple of really nice – and hugely grateful – clients en route. And I’ve got a much more realistic view of how much I need to be saving for the tax man next year!

  • Claire Culliford says:

    I for one really appreciate your honesty, Jo. We’ve soooo all been there and, especially in a profession where you often sit at home on your own with just your own thoughts for company, it’s important to remember that life’s path isn’t just one straight upward curve. Without the awfully hard, nay horrific, bits, we wouldn’t build resilience, grow, and be able to look back at how far we’ve come 🙂 Well done on doing just that.

  • Tiphaine says:

    Hi Jo, Thanks for sharing.
    I believe that we all have ups and downs. Even agencies have!!
    I experienced one of those a few months ago and, since in my first year as a freelancer, it was pretty scary. But I worked even harder on my marketing and it’s better now. That’s not the downs that will make us fail as much as the way we deal with those hard times.
    P.S. Excuse my French
    Tiphaine

  • Tamara says:

    Thanks very much, Jo! A much-needed reminder that it didn’t go smoothly from day one for others, either!

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