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I know that there has been a backlash amongst freelance circles recently against the culture of frugality which seems so prevalent amongst translators, and I’m all for investment at the appropriate time and place in one’s own business. Yet there are times when getting the most out of the limited hours available or stretching the pennies in periods of reduced income, be it due to recession or altered circumstances, working around young children, or just a temporary drought on the work front, is relevant for us all.

My (now) ex-husband walked out on us when my sons were 11 and 14, so I went, virtually overnight, from being a full-time mum with a part-time translation habit, to having to try to become a full-time translator. Not easy on so many fronts and in truth I didn’t become properly full-time until my younger son went into the sixth form, but I did gradually manage to increase my workload, and, perhaps equally importantly, to maximise the hours I had for translation and economise where I could in the process.

Below are 12 tips I’ve learned over the years. And yes, I know, some of them involve initial outlay, but you have to invest in yourself – or even speculate to accumulate, as the saying goes. You should reap the rewards in the long term…

  1. Invest in a CAT tool – I know, almost too obvious to mention, but it does bear repeating, just in case. Even if you don’t have repetitive texts, a CAT tool will save time on glossary maintenance and research, concordance searches, QA and consistency. JUST DO IT.
  2. Investigate speech recognition software – I won’t go into this at any length here, as I talked about Dragon in a previous post (see Taming the Dragon), but if you’ve only limited hours in the day in which to translate, this could be the answer to your prayers.
  3. Buy a second screen; this will save on printing costs, as you’ll no longer have to print out reference material or source pdf files. Timesaving too, as I tend to have my web browser, Outlook and any reference files open on the second screen, and the document I’m working on open on my main screen, so I don’t need to constantly change pages as I work. It also comes into its own when you have a long PowerPoint document to check; I’ve had these run into hundreds of pages, often with very little text on each page, so printing them out would be expensive, pointless and totally environmentally-unfriendly! With two screens, you can open the translated document on one screen, then open the source document in Slide Show, thus enabling you to see both documents at once over the two screens and edit the target file as you go – perfect!
  4. Print less in general: I’m afraid I’m one of the old guard who does like to proof-read on paper, at least for my final version, but the advent of CAT tools in two columns (e.g. Trados, Déja Vu, Memo Q) means that I only need to print off the last version. I also print on both sides of the paper.
  5. When you buy a printer, DO take out the extended warranty. I never normally do this, regarding it as a waste of money, but these are relatively cheap for something the size of a printer, and it means you never need be without a printer – you can just take it back in the knowledge you’ll get a brand-new replacement. In my experience, printers tend to last for just over the warranty period – 13 months on average, so a 3-year extended warranty has been well worth the small extra expense.
  6. Still on the subject of printing, do buy the manufacturer’s recommended ink. Over the years, I’ve experimented with compatible inks, which may seem a lot cheaper and look a similar quality at first glance, but they soon clog up your printer and may mean you need a new printhead sooner rather than later. The manufacturer’s warranties are quite clear that they do not cover the use of non-genuine ink, so do be careful!
  7. Concentrate on what you can do well: I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s much better for me to spend my time translating and paying someone else to do the jobs I don’t enjoy (and don’t do very well, truth be told!), like decorating, or DIY. That way, I can earn the money to pay for these jobs and have more free time to enjoy the benefits.
  8. Get a cleaner. When I lived in the big marital home, this was a must. It was like cleaning the Forth Road Bridge, trying to keep on top of things myself, but hiring a cleaner freed me to translate and was much more cost-effective. I confess I don’t have a cleaner in my current, much smaller house, but it’s worth weighing up how much time you spend doing things you could otherwise farm out.
  9. Employ an accountant. I do my own bookkeeping each month, but at the end of the year I hand it all over to an accountant to do my tax return for a reasonable one-off fee. That way I can be sure that I’m in compliance with the latest tax legislation, as it’s the accountant’s business to know what’s changed and what I can and cannot claim for each year.
  10. Switch to online shopping – if you add up the amount of time you spend going to the shops, doing your shopping, loading it/unloading it, bringing it home, it’s far more efficient to get in the habit of ordering your weekly shopping online. You also spend less because you’re not tempted by those special offers at the ends of the aisles, and you can use the time saved to get on with that urgent translation. I use my local Waitrose, who don’t apply a delivery charge as long as you spend over £50, but it would be worth it for the time savings even if I had to pay a delivery charge – think of it in terms of what you could earn in those two hours you’ve wasted shopping!
  11. Working at home already saves huge amounts of time and money in terms of not commuting (for which I’m constantly grateful!), but I love the extra benefits of easy access to homemade lunches too. I am a keen cook, it’s true, but I tend to make big batches of soup and casseroles at the weekends, then there’s always something in the freezer when you’re desperately trying to meet a deadline and haven’t time to knock together a meal.
  12. On a more general note, join your local library – these seem to be an underused resource nowadays, but when I was struggling for cash after my husband first left, buying books was a luxury I couldn’t afford. By joining my local library, I found I could reserve the latest books for a nominal sum (now 35p!) and usually be able to collect them in a few weeks’ time – bliss! I also joined Lovefilm (now under Amazon’s wing) so that I can keep up with the latest foreign (and other) films for a very reasonable monthly fee – less than £5, I think. As a nod to the times, I asked for a Kindle for my 50th birthday present from my parents and there are some amazing deals to be had on all kinds of books if you keep your eyes open – much as I love the feel of books themselves! (Plus you need never run out of reading matter when you’re away, as has happened to me on far too many occasions….).

One final thing – not a tip, more of a reward – is to treat yourself to something nice: something that makes working at home even more enjoyable. Given my love of coffee (and tea, but anyone with a kettle, a china mug and good loose-leaf tea can make a good cup of tea!), I asked for one of those fancy coffee-makers for Christmas a few years ago. I went for a Krups/Nespresso machine that uses capsules to make a delicious cup of coffee right in your own kitchen. After all, think of all the money you’ve saved not having to buy coffee-to-go on your non-existent daily commute…. It works out at about 29p a cup, so a highly affordable treat. Just don’t overdo it – I remember many moons ago, when I worked as a proofreader in a translation agency in Sindelfingen, going mad on the delicious filter coffee, but soon discovering that I was getting the jitters halfway through the afternoon – not a good sign! And don’t get me started on the other delicious treats we used to have in the offices there – fresh Schinkenhörnle from the baker’s below – perhaps it’s a good job I work from home nowadays!

I’m sure there are many more good ideas out there, and I’d love to hear about others’ time/money-saving tips to help increase productivity and streamline the task of running a business from home.

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