Targets fall wide of the mark

Targets fall wide of the mark

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Ideas make my world go round

A few weeks ago I read an interesting blog post by a fellow translator reviewing her year. In it, she spent a great deal of time and energy castigating herself for failing to achieve her financial targets for 2015. I couldn’t help thinking this was a pity. She’d obviously worked hard and achieved some success, undermined in part by one or two unwise decisions (but who hasn’t made unwise decisions at one time or another?). She had compounded this with by setting what looked to me to be utterly unrealistic targets and the result of all this was her analysis – an impeccable one in terms of figures and targets – that her year had been a failure.

Now, it may be an unfashionable view in this measurement-driven age, but, the way I see it, strict targets in terms of percentage increases in turnover or profit are generally unhelpful to freelance translators. They belong in the world of big business, and even there it’s debatable whether they do more harm than good. The only time I would set myself specific financial targets would be if I was not earning enough to cover my basic expenses, and, fortunately, it’s been some years since I was in that unhappy situation. Beyond that, I certainly have ideas about what I would like to achieve, but I don’t burden myself with targets that would run the risk of either simply being pointless if they were too low or depressing and demotivating me if they were too demanding.


That doesn’t mean I have no idea about figures. For instance, it goes without saying that if I put my rates up by a certain percentage on 1 January, as I have this year, I expect to increase my income by a similar proportion. That was something I more than achieved last year and I hope to do the same in 2016. If I don’t manage it, I will investigate to find out why and, for me, that’s all that’s really necessary. Because other factors can come into play, making real life much more complex than simple figures can show. For example, instead of increasing my income by that certain percentage, I might decide to work proportionately less, I might have unforeseen problems with a particular client, or I might have health problems preventing me from working as much as I’d like. The important thing would be to understand why things hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped, not to label myself a failure.

For me, ideas about what I want to do and how are much more important than figures. We all need to feel we are going somewhere, whether that involves doing more, doing it better or doing something different. My aims for 2016 are, I think, very similar to those I had at the beginning of 2015. Firstly, I intend to make my rate increase stick. This may be more of a challenge than it was last year, as I believe I could be reaching the point where I’m becoming too expensive for some of my long-term clients. I’m heartened, however, by the fact that, in my first week back at work after the Christmas and New Year break, I’m already so busy I’m having to turn jobs away. So far, so good.

I also want to continue the process of specialisation begun so successfully last year, concentrating on translations related to tourism in the broadest sense. Although I did well in this respect in 2015, I can’t help feeling some good fortune was involved, and this, combined with the likely loss of some long-term customers which I’ve already mentioned, means finding new clients, or at least helping them find me, has got to be on this year’s agenda. What I am not going to do this year, is waste a lot of effort on time-consuming activities that are likely to be unproductive. I plan to find ways of directly approaching and contacting clients I’m interested in using e-mail, social media and their own associations, not spending hours preparing for trade shows where everyone’s likely to be too busy to talk to me or squandering my time at pointless local networking events.


In terms of training, I’m not going to change very much: if I’m going to commit much time to anything it needs to be related to improving my knowledge in my specialist areas. I am seriously considering, for example, taking a qualification related to knowledge of wine, an area of translation I’d like to develop. I will also go to two, or possibly three, translators’ conferences this year. This is not so much due to feeling a need to attend more than one (the MET meeting I’ve attended for the last few years) but rather to the fact that all three are going to be very close to home. First comes the ELIA “Together” conference in Barcelona next month, which I discussed in a previous blog post; then, a conference not yet announced but due to be organised by APTIC, another organisation I belong to, in April, probably also in Barcelona, and, finally, this year’s MET meeting in nearby Tarragona in October.  I may, although I have not yet definitely decided, offer to give a talk at one of these.

With those events, work, finding those new clients, keeping this blog going, my regular exercise in the swimming pool and, most importantly, having time to enjoy with my wife and son (that’s perhaps a clue as to why translators cannot live by figures alone), it’s going to be a busy year. That suits me just fine and I’m already launching myself into it. Meanwhile, I hope your year is whatever you would like it to be.

* A big thank you this week to Lloyd Bingham, who is now recommending this blog, among others, in his module in the Institute of Translators and Interpreters course on Setting Up as a Freelance Translator. I appreciate the support, Lloyd!


  1. Alison Hughes

    Happy New Year, Simon!

    A nice summary of your year and attitude to financial goals, which I share.

    I personally don’t lay a lot of emphasis on a particular year (except for my accountant and tax purposes) as I made a major change a couple of years back and it is still a work in progress. I’m moving in the right direction but it all takes time.

    I had a very up and down year in 2015 with rather a lot going on in my private life and health issues towards the end of the year. I had some very quiet periods which allowed me to learn a lot and add to my qualifications. My aim this year must be to do something with all that knowledge and ultimately earn more in 2016 otherwise that it will all have been a waste of time and money.

    Not sure this would pass the "shareholder" test but we have the privilege of not having to satisfy shareholders 🙂


      Thanks for your comment, Alison. As you say, we don’t have satisfy shareholders, which, as I enjoy pointing out, means we don’t need to adopt a strictly business approach when it doesn’t suit us. Or, as I might prefer to put it, we ARE the shareholders and if we’re satisfied it’s really no-one else’s business!


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