Dealing with Uncertain Times

By the time you have this issue in your hands, things may or may not have gotten back to normal after a very difficult and unprecedented spring due to the coronavirus outbreak. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that things will be far from normal, so an article about how to deal with your interpreting business should be relevant at the time of this writing and in early summer.

In mid-March, I saw my interpreting business decline by 90%. By the end of the month, it was completely decimated as law firms cancelled depositions, arbitrations, mediations, etc., and courts continued most cases but only held hearings for urgent cases. The few court hearings that needed an interpreter were easily handled by in-house interpreters rather than by contractors like me. I had quite a few conference interpreting assignments lined up, and those were all cancelled in mid-March. Some entrepreneurial law firms and litigation services companies moved to remote depositions, and I’ve done many of them with experiences ranging from very good to average. I continued charging my same hourly rate, but as we were using Zoom or even just a phone conference call, everything had to be done consecutively, which is challenging (but lucrative, as I bill these by the hour). Some of my law firm clients stopped doing remote after they realized how difficult this was for most parties, including the court reporter and deponents, who often rely on a cell phone and speakerphone with poor audio quality.

Just like for all my colleagues, this has been a difficult time. Not necessarily for me personally, because I’m in the lucky position of also having a boutique translation business that still has clients and work coming in (albeit less), but because I’m worried about others of lesser means and the impact this situation will have on so many who already live paycheck to paycheck. The global effect of this crisis is almost unimaginable, and it’s made me feel hopeless, angry, and sad. However, I’ve come up with a few ways to deal with this terrible uncertainty and my own feeling of powerlessness, plus my empty calendar, that you might also find useful.

  • Do Something Nice for Others: Our profession is a very supportive under normal circumstances, but now we’ve become even more supportive, which is great. I go beyond our profession every day, including: ordering books from a small independent bookstore that’s been hard hit by the virus, making cookies and delivering them to a friend’s house, writing a letter of recommendation for a colleague, becoming a peer mentor in Corinne McKay’s free MOOC-style course for beginning translators, helping find clients for a colleague who wanted to get into remote interpreting, and doing a video chat a day with a colleague or friend who wants to talk. The possibilities are endless, and helping others feels good. You can’t control what the virus does, but you can certainly control what you do for others.
  • Exercise and Yoga: Studies show that exercise may actually strengthen your immune system. With my yoga studio and gym closed, I’ve found new ways to exercise. I’ve been running outside more (keeping a safe distance from others), gone on walks with one friend at a time, taken live Zoom classes with yoga instructors (helping to support them as their businesses have collapsed), and grown to love yoga videos on YouTube.
  • Virtual Book Club and Happy Hours: To retain some sense of normalcy, I’ve moved my book club online and am doing at least one happy hour a week via some form of video chat. We each grab snacks and a favorite drink and chat away. It’s almost as good as the real thing.
  • Learn Something New: I’ve filled my usually packed calendar with webinars, MOOCs (on coronavirus through Coursera), and have learned about new software, how to translate virus-related terms, how to teach remotely more efficiently, etc.
  • Catch Up on Your To-Do List: While I’ll never get to inbox zero, I’m currently closer than ever. I’ve shredded a box of old documents, started going through my photos that were in dire need of a clean-up, and tackled some drawers I should have organized a long time ago. These are small successes that do wonders for my mood and motivation.
  • Don’t Reduce Your Rates: Finally, while it’s very tempting to do so, I would resist the temptation of lowering rates and working conditions, as it will be challenging to reverse them once things are better. We might have to temporarily relax standards a bit, but just for now. For example, I had always declined over-the-phone consecutive interpreting for depositions, but I did accept a few during the crisis. But we do need to make sure we safeguard our rates and working conditions, now more than ever.

We’re all in this together, dear colleagues and friends. Now is the time for even more kindness and support. Let’s help each other through this. What can you do to help someone today or in the near future?


Judy Jenner is a Spanish and German business and legal translator and a federally and state-certified (California, Nevada) Spanish court interpreter. She has an MBA in marketing and runs her boutique translation and interpreting business, Twin Translations, with her twin sister Dagmar. She was born in Austria and grew up in Mexico City. A former in-house translation department manager, she is a past president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She writes the blog Translation Times and is a frequent conference speaker. She serves as one of the ATA spokespersons. She is the co-author of The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation. Contact: judy.jenner@twintranslations.com.

This column is not intended to constitute legal, financial, or other business advice. Each individual or company should make its own independent business decisions and consult its own legal, financial, or other advisors as appropriate. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of ATA or its Board of Directors. Ideas and questions should be directed to judy.jenner@twintranslations.com.

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