Five Strategies for Adapting to Uncertainty

Despite the curveball this pandemic has thrown at world economies, unemployment figures, family life, and more, freelance translators and interpreters have both the soft and hard skills necessary to rally in the face of challenges.

As freelancers, we’re well-equipped to adapt to changing environments. Despite the curveball this pandemic has thrown at world economies, unemployment figures, family life, and more, freelance translators and interpreters have both the soft and hard skills necessary to rally in the face of challenges. As professionals, it’s evident that we’re necessary in a world that’s more connected than ever before. And as bilinguals, our brains are trained to code-switch and multitask on a daily basis; we’re versatile, resilient, and innovative for a living. So, how do we take these traits and apply them in times when freelance work feels like a gamble and economies are still searching for solid footing?

It’s important to remember that some things are beyond our control, the present situation being a daily reminder of this inevitable fact of life. And yet, in a sense, freelancers have learned this lesson already: we don’t get to write our own source texts, and as hard as we try to educate clients, they continue to bungle terminology or use phrases that are tricky to interpret. We’re paradoxically both in control and dependent on others when it comes to our professional lives. So, confronted with the challenge of uncertain times, how can we face declines in our work or sudden changes in expectations without allowing these circumstances to dictate our attitudes, schedules, or worse yet, quality?

1. Relax

Has worrying ever cultivated a new client or produced a paid project out of thin air? I doubt it. Don’t let anxiety get the best of you. Try to think clearly and reasonably about your situation and consider solutions to the problems you may be facing. Writing down your concerns and brainstorming solutions on paper may help.

We tend to make poor decisions when we’re stressed; “rash” should never describe your method of decision-making. Think out the consequences of the choices you make during this time and consider whether you’re making them out of fear, aversion to risk, or forethought and wisdom. If feasible, I try to wait on making major decisions or responding to important emails for at least a day to clear my mind and make sure I’ve thought through what I’m doing or saying.

Slow times can also present positive opportunities. If you aren’t accustomed to awarding yourself an hour-long lunch break, take advantage of the extra time in your schedule to take a walk, stretch your legs, or spend more time with your kids in the middle of the day.

2. Communicate and Connect

During times of uncertainty we rely even more heavily on our networks. Take time to reach out to colleagues and acquaintances you don’t usually contact when things are busy. Touching base with others will help you understand how your scenario fits into the overall situation the profession is facing. Are you an anomaly, or is everyone experiencing the same drought or stop-and-go of work? Use the communication tools to which you’re accustomed but be willing to branch out. Email is a mainstay of professional communications, but now may be a good time to become more active on Twitter or LinkedIn as a way to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry and get real-time updates as to how situations are progressing. Tapping into the hive mind can usher in some great solutions, especially in times of challenge like the one we’re in now!

One of my favorite benefits of being part of a translator collective is fellowship. If you’ve thought about teaming up with a group of translators to offer mutual support and togetherness but haven’t done so yet, what better time than now? Begin reaching out to professionals you feel comfortable with and discuss the possibility of sharing a Slack group, for example, to keep in touch throughout the workday and share your respective queries, challenges, and insights with one another.

Another way to connect is through volunteering. Now is a great time to touch base with local teachers to discuss giving a webinar or creating a video for students to learn about what we do as translators and interpreters.

3. Learn and Innovate

Heaven forbid anything like the global pandemic and economic downturn we’re living in today should happen again, but we would be remiss not to take some lessons learned from this experience. The first item I would put on my list is that nothing in life is guaranteed. What actions must you take to secure your business against an insecure world? Maybe you’re inspired to put a bit more cash into your business savings account each month, or diversify your client base a little more broadly, or diversify into a new specialization.

You can also see downtime as an opportunity to improve and better yourself. Free webinars, online conference opportunities, and podcasts abound during this time, and in-person events are turning to virtual ones that are now easy to attend without spending a dime on travel. Can you leverage these opportunities to put a new continuing education achievement on your résumé or learn from the expertise of others who are willingly sharing their knowledge and experiences during this time?

4. Organize and Brainstorm

When work is busy and projects are flowing, it’s often easy to get into the habit of jumping from one job to the next without thinking about sustainability and long-term growth. How can you leverage the recent changes in your workflow to brainstorm how your processes can be improved, and how might you begin preparing to implement those improvements now? You may want to consider changes to your file structure, file backup system, translation memory system, terminology management process, research procedures, etc.

Here’s an example. I’ve been wanting to develop a more comprehensive quality assurance process for years (for the peace of mind of both myself and my clients), but never had the time to test out different options since I was always moving from one project to the next or focused on an upcoming task to be completed. With more downtime than usual, I’m now able to dedicate additional resources and availability to each project, which means I can take the extra time to try out different quality assurance tools and see which one is most feasible. This improves both quality and efficiency in the long run. If not for the current situation, I would have struggled to prioritize this important task.

5. Stand Your Ground and Stay Positive

Droughts of work can create a temptation to accept projects for which you aren’t qualified or develop poor negotiation habits, giving way to clients’ (sometimes unreasonable) requests. Don’t give in! Conceding anything—price, quality, or turnaround time—just because your work situation has changed will make it that much harder to return to normal when the time comes. When in doubt, think like a businessperson. You offer services and quality that haven’t changed, so neither should your terms and conditions.

Balance Realism and Positivity

And finally, realism and positivity need not be mutually exclusive. Don’t let concern over lost revenue and an uncertain outlook jeopardize your ability to see opportunities, make sound business decisions, and pave the way for future growth. However your work may have been affected by the current economic upset, we can be certain that a return to “normal” is a long way off, but it will come. As a freelancer weathering unique circumstances, stop to think about how your current situation could be transformed into an opportunity for professional growth and continue seeking ways to protect your business against uncertain times.


Jamie Hartz, CT is an ATA director and ATA-certified Spanish>English translator. She is a member of the ATA Savvy Newcomer blog team and leads ATA’s International Translation Day efforts. She works as a Spanish>English translator and transcriber specializing in legal and commercial translations. Contact: jamie@tildelanguage.com.

1 Responses to "Five Strategies for Adapting to Uncertainty"

  1. Dani in KY, USA says:

    Thank you for the positive tips and support. 🙂

Comments are closed.

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