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    This is one of a series of contributions that provide useful insights and tips from experienced freelancers who already participate in the MedComms Workbook service. We hope you find it useful. If you make the move to freelancing then please do join us - and we wish you good luck with your venture!

    A day in the life of a freelance translator
    By Lee Seaman, posted 8 January 2017

    I translate pharmaceutical documents, mostly regulatory materials and journal articles, from Japanese to English, and recently I have also started working with clients on writing materials in English directly from the Japanese source documents. I worked in-house in two different translation agencies when I was starting out, but I've been freelancing for over 20 years now. I incorporated (Seaman Medical, Inc.) a few years ago for tax reasons, and now I work with a small international team of other freelancers so that I can take on larger projects. But I'm still very close to my freelancer roots.

    Most of my clients are in Japan, quite a few time zones away, so my workday starts around noon local time. I check email, respond to work offers from outside Japan if any, go to an exercise class or do some basic warm-ups, kiss my husband, feed the cat, do groceries and healthcare-related appointments, and make sure I'm available to check in with clients from around 9 AM Japan time.

    For the kind of work that I do, I need email access almost 24/7, so I can respond quickly to the occasional job offer from Europe or the US. But the most important time of the day for work is 5:00 to 8:00 PM Japan time, when my Japanese contacts finally finish all their meetings and their bosses remember to send them the translations they need to outsource. That means I need to be available without fail from about 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM my time.

    One of my biggest challenges is staying organized, especially since I sometimes work with other team members. I use Trello for intra-team communication, and I'm a big fan of templates so that I can "recycle" the work of writing a contract, invoice, or estimate. (I write my own templates; it's turned out to be faster than trying to find something appropriate off-the-shelf.)

    The first thing I would recommend to new freelancers is: Absolutely as soon as you can afford it, start outsourcing the things you aren't as good at. For me, the first thing was bookkeeping, and in 2016 I added an incredible retired executive assistant for a few hours a week to manage general communications and keep me on track. (I'm her fourth CEO-in-training, she says.)

    The second (I know everyone says this): Freelancing is hard work, and stressful. Invest in your health by optimizing your diet as much as you can and getting adequate regular exercise. Core muscle training is particularly essential for sedentary workers; otherwise, gravity folds us up into knotted clumps of nonproductive misery.

    The third is: Cherish the significant people in your life. They are the ones who will remind you that you are worthwhile after you complete the Job from Hell and then the client complains about the word count, graphics handling, or previously negotiated hourly rate.

    The fourth is: ALWAYS confirm a verbal understanding in writing. And always write as clearly and simply as possible. Bullet points and bold-faced headings can be your friend, even in email. The person you are working with may be tired/overextended/replaced by another worker in the middle of the project/required to explain your agreement to a coworker or superior whose native language is not English or who is a poor listener. I don't usually require a signed contract for each small project with a long-term customer, but I always get a signed contract for the first job with a new customer, and I include the price, delivery date(s), and payment schedule in that contract.

    The fifth is: Every year, get better at what you do. Both translators and medical writers are in a highly competitive global industry. The only option we have, if we want to succeed as freelancers, is to constantly improve our skills and add services that our clients need.

    This is a very exciting time to be a freelancer. Best of luck!

    Lee Seaman
    Seaman Medical
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