Need More Work? It’s Not Them, It’s You…
and That’s the Best News You’ve Heard All Day

If you don’t have work, the most likely reason is not them, it’s you. Before you start raging at me through your computer, keep reading. That’s actually good news…no…it’s GREAT news. Think about it. If the reason you don’t have work is because of the state of the economy or the translation industry, then there’s not much you can do about it, right? All you can do is sit around and wait for whatever reason you’ve decided is the culprit to go away or improve. Can we at least agree that waiting for the industry to improve is not a solid business plan? Great. Glad we’re on the same page.
We freelancers know that there are peaks and valleys in the industry. We know that sometimes we are flooded with more work than we know what to do with, and other times we wonder if we’ve been fired by our clients and no one told us. If you’re relatively established in the industry, you start to enjoy the drop-offs in work because that’s when you actually have time to get caught up on the growing list of tasks you’ll complete “when you have time.”
However, this isn’t the case for many and often times when those valleys hit, so does panic. When will my next job come? Will I have enough money to make it until then? What if it doesn’t come? These are all questions that would run through my mind as a new, and even intermediate, freelancer. I remember sitting around blaming the industry for my financial worries and talking about how it’s always slow in X month (December, maybe?) and it was all true…it was indeed slow for everyone. But then I started thinking about it more. Someone is working, just not me. Yes, it’s slow but the translation industry doesn’t just grind to a complete halt…ever. This wasn’t the time to sit around eating ramen noodles and waiting for a better month. This was the time to hustle.
I have found this to be true over and over again. Even when the industry slows to a near halt, when I get determined, suddenly work appears. You might be thinking that your clients just don’t have work right now because if they did, they would contact you. Well, did you e-mail them and ask? Did you call them? Do they even know you are available? If you’re dealing with agencies, definitely let them know you have availability especially when you’ve been booked for a long time. I once had a project manager contact me and say “I know you’re booked, but is there any way you can squeeze this in.” I wasn’t booked. I had tons of availability at that time. It turns out that she just randomly assumed that because I delivered such high quality, I must be booked (oh, the irony). It might seem silly, but this just goes to show that you can’t assume anything, ever.
Still not sure what to do?
Here are 10 ways you can hustle…now!
1) Let your current clients know your availability. Don’t beg for work, just let them know that you have a good bit of availability and you’d like to work with them if they have any upcoming projects.
2) Check with clients you haven’t heard from in a while. The beginning of the year is a great time to send e-mails to those clients and let them know what you’ve been up to for the past year. Did you get a new website? Start a blog? Move? Reach out and let them know. This is your chance to get your name in front of them again.
3) Contact new clients and let them know you’ll follow up with them…and actually do it. I used to close my cover letters with something like “I’ll give you a call next week to discuss how I can meet your needs.” Then I really called them. Even a few minutes on the phone will get you a lot of information. If they tell you they aren’t interested right now, try to find out why. Maybe it’s something you can change/fix in your marketing materials.
4) If your marketing materials or resume and cover letter need some work, now is the time to do that and start getting more clients. Keep updating marketing materials throughout your career. You never know when you will lose a client and you don’t want to be in the position of starting from scratch.
5) If you prefer agencies, use job boards to find out who has work and no freelancers to do it and contact those agencies. (Please check the agencies out first to make sure they’re not a fly-by-night operation.)
6) If you prefer direct clients, now is the time to network. Use LinkedIn or go to in-person events in your industry (that means the medical, legal, or other industry, by the way).
7) Do you owe any potential clients any paperwork or did you complete paperwork for a client and never hear from them? This is the time to follow up.
8) Check your online presence. I can’t tell you how many translators I have googled and had almost zero hits. Be everywhere. When someone googles you, they should get the feeling that you are extremely active and known in the industry. Remember that when people hire us to translate, they have to trust us. Who wants to trust someone they are barely sure exists? If you’re uncomfortable posting your information all over the place, get a PO Box/UPS Box for your address and a Google phone number.
9) Make sure you are 100% caught up on your invoicing and other top priority things you’ve been putting off. You might be panicking for no reason, and when the work starts flooding in again, you’ll go back to your “I haven’t sent an invoice in 4 months” status and wish you hadn’t wasted your time. Get it done!
10) Find out what you need to do, and do it. If you’re not meeting your current clients’ needs, listen to them and figure out how to help them. I once asked a client why they were only hiring me for editing jobs and not translation (my preference). It turned out it was because I wasn’t using Studio. The funny thing was, I owned it but just never bothered to learn to use it. I spent about an hour learning it and translation jobs started rolling my way. A freelancer client of mine in California told me that he was so determined to be on stage interpreting for a client on the east coast of the US, he flew there to pitch that client in person. Guess what? He won the contract.
So, embrace the fact that not only is it more likely you are the reason you’re not working, remember that that’s wonderful news! You are in control of your business and you alone. Not the industry. Not your clients. Don’t let anyone determine your success but you.
Posted in Business.


  1. I’m attacking that scary pile of boring paperwork every day, just to let it know who’s in charge 😉 It gets ugly, but it’s necessary.
    And, I assume that everyone is using Studio, so I tell everyone who don’t know me, that memoQ is 99% compatible. Then most of those who prefer Studio tell me it’s okay and let me in.

  2. 5) Job boards. I have found them to be a near-total waste of time. I use slack periods to catch up on invoicing and file the papers that have accumulated. Ideally, also to learn more about software, such as TM programs.
    I use slack periods to send out promotional letters to possible new contacts (agencies), but the reply rate is low and that seldom if ever produces jobs quickly. However, I sometimes hear from agencies long after a mailshot.
    Keeping in contact; asking for work can bring results, but then again the agency may not want to be pestered. I send out e-mail notifications whenever | am will be out of the office, plus Xmas cards as e-mail, and that reminds my customers that I exist.

    • Job boards can be useful depending on the stage of your career. It sounds like you are at the stage I mention when you enjoy those slack periods and have time to catch up. But early on in my career I definitely found them useful. I also think there’s a difference in pestering and just informing. If a translator has been booked for two weeks solid, it’s easy to be forgotten and a quick reminder doesn’t hurt and I’ve asked my agency clients how they feel about those reminders and they say they are very thankful. It’s always great to send Xmas cards and notifications though, as you said, to always stay at the forefront as much as possible…minus the pestering!

  3. By and large, I would not necessarily say that the translator is at fault if work is not coming in. Winter and summer have slack periods due to company vacations, there is also the issue of the financial year in various countries – a rush of work at the end of the financial year, and then it goes quiet. Needless to add, the result is that all the jobs come at the same time and when it gets busy I suddenly hear again from agencies who last contacted me a year or more previously. The absolute best solution is to have long-term jobs with “soft” deadlines that can be done when the other work slackens off, but they are very rare.

    • It’s impossible to not experience some slow periods and some swamped periods, but I find that in applying these strategies, I was able to turn those slow periods into what used to be my busy periods. It’s all a matter or perspective.

  4. I changed from freelancing to being in-house and also having some responsibility for outsourcing. One of the interesting changes from the freelance world to being in-house that I have observed in just under 18 months in the job was the asymmetry between when I was busiest as a freelancer to when I was busiest in-house. In the private sector I used to have a massive year-end surge as there was always budget left over that needed using up where possible, and I would work through the period when the office was closed. In-house the busiest months are the ones where I have a lot of training – September through to November and March to June, although my output has risen partially down to the fact that people are now more aware of what I do and what they can expect – at the outset I did a lot more editing and proof-reading, whereas now it is more or less exclusively translation.

  5. Dear Jenae, this is a great post! It has been on my “To read” list for slow periods for quite some time, and I have finally had a day when a project has been delayed and I can “catch up” as you said. Further to your point 4, I would add spend some time developing processes to make your admin tasks quicker for when you are too busy to do them. I go into more detail on that on a recent post
    Also, I recommend having a “To Read” list, with articles that you came across, but did not have time to read. When your mind has been freed up due to a slow period, it is amazing how these readings give you joy, ideas and, sometimes, even leads!

  6. There are some obvious pieces of advice, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of their practicality. I would avoid using the word “hustle” in professional contexts. Look it up, it’s not a good verb or noun to be associated with. From the content here, I assumed the author meant “get busy” (which is not the same as hustling) by setting up practical and attainable goals.

    A lot of the inertia we experience as independent (please, let’s not use “freelancer” as there are better alternatives) translators has to do with personality, work habits and assumptions. I like the way the author approached some of these assumptions, like putting the blame for our lack of work on external factors outside of our control.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for commenting. I actually love the word “hustle” here. It’s very common in the business and marketing worlds to mean exactly what is intended here: “To have the courage, confidence, self belief, and self-determination to go out there and work it out until you find the opportunities you want in life” (Urban Dictionary). I also quite like freelance (maybe because it reminds me of “freedom”…not really sure).

  7. Hi Mario and Jenae, Thank you Jenae for a very helpful and motivating article.
    Just regarding the word “hustle”, I have to agree with Mario that outside the US at least, the word has bad connotations and would only be used in a negative or at best humorous or light-hearted sense. To me being an English speaker from UK/Australia, it comes across as being specifically American context, and even then obviously there are disagreements as to its use.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *