Guest post: Reflections on 2017, my first $US 100,000+ year from translation 12

DJHartmann is a NAATI Certified Thai-English Translator specializing in the translation of issues relating to applied anthropology, international development, NGO’s, refugees and migration, human trafficking, indigenous peoples’ rights, the effects of mining and resource extraction on local communities, social impact assessments, land tenure and environmental management.

He is a ProZ.com member and member of the ProZ.com Certified PRO Network.

 

He shared this success story last week in ProZ.com forums.


We don’t normally share our successes here on ProZ.com. Most often we hear about issues that aren’t so hopeful such as bad clients or non-payment, problems getting established or a slow workload. I’d like to share my 2017 experience with everyone and what I’ll do differently in 2018.

To start off, I’ve only been a full-time translator and ProZ.com member since mid-2014. At the start of 2017 I had been fully dedicated to translation for a mere 2 1/2 years (having translated part-time since 2011 while studying and working).

The year 2017 was the first calendar year that I earned over $US 100,000 from translation, around $130,000+ if including other services. I think that this story is possible for anyone here on ProZ.com, that’s why I wanted to share.

What did I do differently to previous years?

Translation and my business came number 1.

What does that mean? Everything else got put behind me:

Family, wife, children, socialising, cycling and fitness, health, alcohol, holidays, anything that might’ve been deemed a waste of time…placed number 2

Saying this, I didn’t just take translation and my business seriously, I “became” DJHartmann Translation. Work became my existence. I generally would wake between 2-3am and work through till 6pm, in bed normally by 7-8pm, 7 days/week. This was the routine until the regular big projects would come through and I’d work for 20 hour + sessions, at least a couple of times/month. This lasted through till NYE, when I was pushing to finish a 40k word job that was previously due on 26 Dec but I got an extension…

I only had a handful of clients, most work coming from 2. Big projects (150,000+ words) were the norm and I said goodbye to the nagging, undercutting multinationals who wanted me to work for less than 1/2 my rate. I became very close with the project managers that I worked with and we built an excellent level of understanding and great professional relationships with one another. While these big projects occupied my month-long vision, I would of course have daily, well-paid jobs that didn’t take too much time at all (certified TRs etc). I never refused these and delivered ASAP.

Quality was paramount. As I mentioned above about needing an extension, if the job didn’t meet my own quality standard expectations, I wouldn’t deliver it. This was in no way regular but when it did happen it would frustrate the PMs who were being hounded by their clients to deliver. Upon seeing the delivered project, which was often more extensive than they’d first thought (Thai source WC is often underestimated), they’d always thank me. I built up a reputation with all in the process chain: proofreaders, quality assurance, project managers and end-clients. This kept those big jobs coming.

I stopped sub-contracting translations. Running on from the above point, with quality being my priority, and a complete lack of time to proof others’ work, it was not in my best interest to use sub-contractors. Instead, I branched out my service offerings to one ‘almost’ passive-income pursuit and one ‘easy money’ task. Without giving too many details, the passive-income task involves a team working for me in Thailand and the easy-money task is a job that most others refuse to take! Neither of these are translation but are both assigned to me by translation agencies. The agencies also have full knowledge of the team working for me, which I’ve helped to screen.

I’ve strengthened partnerships. Some colleagues in this industry are out to get you, ready to stab you in the back or undercut you at their first opportunity! Others are worth keeping close and worth building a mutually-beneficial future together. In the past I would’ve just sub-contracted work to them but for the reasons above I stopped doing that. Instead, I gave opportunities and shared their names with clients who needed desperate help. Everyone is happier in this situation and it promotes trust and friendship, better quality work and more money going to the right people!

I became accredited. For my language pair, there are only a very few translators who are accredited or certified. Most are non-natives and those who are natives (bar one or two) didn’t learn the source language at a higher-educational level. This is not a criticism of all translators without degrees, I’m just trying to show that on the whole, Thai-English translation has very poor quality. There are even varying levels of bad translations in this pair. Becoming accredited through testing gave all those I work with a level of assuredness that my translations were good. It also gave me a renewed confidence, which helped my own work. NAATI accreditation was expensive and very hard but I have no regrets after doing it.

After saying all of this, I also moved my wife and two daughters back to Australia with me. We packed our whole lives from Thailand into a shipping container, sold the car and moved onto my family’s farm here in Australia for 9 months, living in the spare bedroom. My intent throughout 2017 was to save money for a house deposit. This was the driving force for all those above-detailed accomplishments…but I found out afterwards that internationally-sourced funds cannot be deemed ‘secure’ financing for a loan. Instead of buying a house, I’ve moved my family into a rental in one of the nicer suburbs of Brisbane that is near a good, well-known school. We’ve forgotten about buying a house because we couldn’t ever afford to buy the place we’re living in now!

Come January 2018. What has changed? I no longer have the ‘save money for a house’ mantra driving me like a madman. I burned out, seriously burned out after New Years and one of my main resolutions was to say “No”. I am unavailable on weekends, as these are now set for my family, wife and kids. I’ve prioritised health and fitness and am cycling most mornings once again (eg. prior to 2017). I’m back to enjoying cider and wine!!!! And now am glad to start work at 9am! I’m back to loving my job, loving my lifestyle, and my family is loving me for it! My income might’ve taken a cut but it was that extra 20% effort that caused all the pain. My feeling is now that this level is sustainable, whereas the other max-effort nearly killed me.

I thought this experience was worth sharing and hope that others can gain something from it.

Finally, it’s worth noting that I am the sole income provider for my family. My eldest daughter is 6 and youngest nearly 2. My wife stays at home caring for #2 and helps look after me through those long work-stints. Much of our success is thanks to her continual support and I couldn’t have done half of it without her!!!

Regards,

DJH


This post was originally made in a site forum.

Participate in the forum discussion, or leave your comment below!

12 comments

  1. Nice story, DJH, thanks for sharing with everyone. Twenty years ago (in 1997-8), I did something similar to what you’ve done, essentially working double-time as a translator to save up. (In my case, it was to gather up money to start a business. In a funny coincidence, investing my earnings in internet stocks, I wound up with $130,000 to start ProZ.com.)

    You have a beautiful family, I’m glad you have found a way to ramp up and now prioritize more normally. Thank you for investing in ProZ.com membership. Have a nice 2018 and beyond.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I almost feel sick and fatigued just from reading this. I have had my times where I have overextended myself, but obviously not to the extent that you have. I ended up feeling icky, and my whole family was mad at me and called me selfish. Definitely not worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

      • I would not be so pessimistic about it. The guy seems to spending quality time spending with his family, doing sports. when it comes to burning out – we all do that from time to time even when we research. I don’t know, perhaps you have a point Margo.

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  3. Hello DJH, interesting read indeed. However, I wonder how your wife, children (and family) reacted at “Family, wife, children, […] anything that might’ve been deemed a waste of time…placed number 2”. A good friend of mine spent his life dedicating almost as many hours to his job just to realize that he slowly became a stranger home, his children saying “hello dad” and “bye dad” just like they would have greeted somebody in a hotel corridor. Six years after changing his life style, he is still trying to mend the almost unexistant ties with his daughter. Food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They didn’t appreciate it, of course, but still gave me their support. In saying this, I was highlighting the excessive amount of focus and importance I had placed on work. I stopped this, took a step back and have re-prioritised things around “life” rather than around “work”.

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  4. This is very sad. This is not a success story. You lost a year from your life for what purpose? I hope you are happier now and I hope you consider working on your work-life balance. You have a great family, you are young and healthy and this is what matters. Not killing yourself in order to achieve a number which actually does not even give you a quality life now. Good luck! Don’t be like Americans, be more Scandinavian:) I wish you all the best!

    Like

  5. Thank you for being candid about your experience.
    It sounds like you are a very dedicated translator. But, seriously, after everything is said and done, your family, and other important things like health, relaxation and (in my case) time with God) are much more fulfilkling and lasting.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I am so glad that you have realised what really matters: time for your wife and children. Children grow too fast. Cherish every moment with them. And spend time with your wife. When your children leave home, she will be there on your side.

    have a great 2018! Roberta

    Like

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