In February 2015, one of my top 3 clients told me one morning that due to a plunging Canadian dollar, they would no longer be able to pay for my services. Our relationship came to a very abrupt end, at least for the time being. We miss each other and still exchange sporadic pleasantries by email, but at time of writing, I haven’t done any work for them in almost 8 months.

They made up 30 to 40% of my income.

Yikes.

How can a freelance translator survive a situation like this? Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you work with agency clients, have lots and lots of them. Remember that agencies have pools of translators and rarely get upset if you have to turn down a job because you are simply too busy. They would rather be told “no” than receive shoddy work because it was done at 3 AM.
  • If you work with direct clients, have enough of them to keep busy, without having to turn business down. Work with a partner if needed, to help out during busy periods.
  • Have some admin/non-revenue generating work waiting for you (if you are like most normal people, this happens automatically). Get that banking problem sorted out, reorganize your desk or repot your office plants.
  • Nurture your network and make connections outside of your language pairs. It’s always difficult to ask someone who works in the same languages as you for referrals because they might see you as a competitor. I would think twice about asking an EN<>FR translator for help finding new clients, but I would contact a German or Spanish colleague in a heartbeat.
  • Refer your colleagues regularly, and they will refer you!
  • Do the things that have been on the back-burner for so long they’ve gone cold: follow-up with old connections, refresh your website, follow-up with old clients, etc.
  • Try out or learn something new: take a class, look for a new client in an unexpected place or sign up to a new professional association. Offer your local ATA chapter (or another professional association) to organize an event that matches your skills.

Readers, have you ever faced a sudden drop in revenue? How did you cope in the moment, and how did things turn out in the long run?

PS. meet my office plants! They seem to be enjoying the afternoon sunlight in their new pots.