Welcome to the next post in the Great Productivity Project series, part of the Looking-Glass Translations productivity programme! Contact me on today if you’d like to be featured in the series.

This week, I speak to Lloyd Bingham of Capital Translations! Let’s go!

 

1. How did you enter the industry and what do you remember most about your first year in business?

I’d like the answer to be more inspiring than ‘at university’, but it was the translation modules in the fourth year of my language degree that stimulated my interest in translation, which pushed me to look for pro bono opportunities to build up my experience. I got in touch with the Welsh National Opera and started working with their dramaturg to translate poems from German to English.

Towards the end of my degree, I applied for in-house vacancies and I must have done something right to be offered a job at a respected LSP in Northumberland, working in a team of ten translators under the guidance and mentorship of two senior translators. After a couple of years working my magic there, I was promoted to senior translator myself and joint translation department manager, a role which I used to take the opportunity to help train new translators entering the profession. I wouldn’t have swapped that in-house experience for anything in the world because it really prepared me for the realities of how the profession works and I’d strongly encourage anyone seeking to become a translator to spend a few years working in-house first where possible.

Then in July 2014, I made the bold move of leaving my secure job in rural North-East England to start up my own translation business in Cardiff (where my fiancée and I are from), as I wanted much more out of my career and to live and work in a more exciting, big-city environment. I owe the successful start to my first year in business to the smooth transition from in-house translator to freelancer. I was able to establish an online presence, research the business aspects of translation and meet other professionals at industry events all while acquiring the practical experience working for a translation company.

 

2. Are you a morning lark or a night owl?

They say the most productive time of the working day is within the first two hours after you wake up. Rubbish! It takes me a while to wake up and as a result I often work until late at night on some days if I’m still on a roll by then. I really envy early risers. If I’m doing a weekend shift, I’m much more productive starting work at midday and working until 9 or 10 pm, than doing 9-5. That said, I do try to maintain a 9-5 pattern in the week for my fiancée’s (and clients’) sake, and to get more out of my evenings.

 

3. On average, how many hours do you work a week?

Hmm, define work. If we’re talking about purely translation, it’s hard to say. The duration of my lunch break varies from day to day; it can be fifteen minutes or an hour depending on how I’m feeling. But throw in time for business and social media tasks, add the odd weekend of work, and take holidays and time spent on professional development into account, I reckon around 50 hours a week.

 

4. Do you stick to a set routine or do you prefer to go with the flow?

I think it’s good to have ‘skeleton hours’. Like I said, I work towards a 9-5 pattern to try to retain some element of routine, but I absolutely take advantage of the flexibility that we can enjoy and making the most of the ‘free’ in ‘freelancer’. So, I might finish a translation for 3 or 4 pm, enjoy a few hours of the evening and then go back to work later on to proofread it and deliver (unless it can wait until the morning of course). If I’ve got some flexibility with a deadline, I might decide to take Friday afternoon at the last minute and finish off over the weekend.

For me, it’s about identifying when I’m going through a bout of or a lull in productivity. If I’m not particularly inspired at a given moment and have a flexible deadline, it’s much better to leave the translation for a while and come back to it. Maybe go to the gym in-between or meet up with a friend for coffee.

 

5. As freelancers, we are very lucky in that we have a lot more flexibility than other workers. How do you take advantage of this?

I try to coordinate my working hours with my fiancée’s. She’s a teaching assistant, so of course we both work during weekdays, but she’s also very much into art and crafts, and spends her spare time making stuff for family or friends or to sell. If I have extra work to do, I’ll try to do this when she is doing that so we can spend more spare time together.

 

6. What does work-life balance mean to you? Do you think it’s important?

In my first six months of business, I worked extremely hard to get off to a good start, but since then I’ve pulled the throttle back slightly, although not by much! Having said that, I still make a great deal of time for family and friends. I socialise regularly with other translators and speakers of my source languages in the area, which is where I find the work-life boundaries blur somewhat – not that I find that problematic – but this is a phenomenon in our profession, with some of us becoming very close to certain colleagues.

To some translators, however, the job is just a job and they have no intention of socialising with their colleagues. Not to me, though, as I’d struggle to be productive if I had no friends in the same line of work, no-one who could empathise with the problems that come with the job or who could offer support in the work.

 

7. What’s the biggest productivity challenge you’ve faced running your own business?

I think it’s repeatedly working in the same environment alone. When I worked in-house, this wasn’t a problem of course, because I worked in an open plan office with other translators – 30 staff in total. Now, I work from my own office at home and it was hard to adjust to the diminished human interaction, which I find can result in reduced productivity.

 

8. How did you overcome it / what are you doing to make things better?

Since I started organising weekly translator co-working sessions in Cardiff for ITI Cymru Wales, I’ve found that this is not such a big problem anymore. Some translators are put off by the idea of co-working because they assume that we don’t get much work done. Admittedly, we do have a natter for the first quarter of an hour or so, as well as over lunch, but ultimately we all understand that we are there to work and have deadlines to meet, so we are just as productive as working from home, perhaps even more so as there are fewer distractions. Plus it’s great to have colleagues immediately available for any terminology queries.

I’m also now quite active in the local translation community. I meet up with other translators in the Cardiff region every month or so, on top of regular German-speaking social events in the city.

 

9. What’s the one productivity tip or tool you couldn’t live without?

Knowing what does and doesn’t motivate me. If I’m working on a certain text that’s dreadfully boring and I’m plodding along at snail’s pace, I find setting targets helps. For example, I’m only allowed a coffee after I’ve done 20% and then I’m allowed 10 minutes on Twitter at 40%. That can only work for those who are competitive by nature, and provided quality doesn’t suffer of course. The right choice in music also helps a great deal.

 

10. If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you’d tell yourself when you were just starting out?

I had a very successful start to the business and I’ve done everything I had set out to do to ensure a fruitful start-up. Nevertheless, I still had doubts about whether I’d find the right clients or get enough work, so I’d like to have been able to reassure my past self that I did have the right skills and experience to do well.

One thing I told myself when starting out, which I still stand by was: do the research, buy the books and read the blog posts. Then do what I think is best for me and my business. There are so many translators – including myself – who blog with advice for other professionals. But it’s exactly that… advice, ideas inspiration, not instructions. And we need to remember to do things our own way, or every freelancer will just end up a carbon copy of each other. Of course good practice, common sense and respect for one’s profession should be shared and should prevail, but we should add our own personality to our activity, challenge the ideas of others and not take the word of any single professional as the word of god.

 

JUST FOR FUN: Finally, we often only see each other professionally and I’d love to peek behind the business – can you name a hobby of yours that might surprise us? What do you do in your downtime?

I love cycling, not seriously, but just for fun. One of the first things I did at university was buy a bike and explore Newcastle and the north-east of England. Perhaps bizarrely, I really love urban cycling. I love biking around the city, through busy traffic (with a helmet and stopping at red lights of course), along bustling river banks and over towering bridges. Newcastle was perfect for that.

Now I’m in Cardiff, there are three main rivers in the city, each with a cycle route running alongside. The best one is a 60-mile cycle route that runs all along the River Taff, starting in the energetic Cardiff Bay, which is home of government buildings and tourist traps, past the high-rise building of the city centre and the imposing Millennium Stadium. After 8 miles, it leaves Cardiff and heads through industrial yet beautiful valleys up to the picturesque hills at Brecon. Unfortunately, my bike was nicked from my garage on Christmas Day!

 

Thank you so much for taking part in the series!

 

Three heads are better than one

Feeling inspired by Lloyd? Then you might like these articles on translator productivity:

 

Would you like to be involved in the Great Productivity Project? I’d love to hear from you! Contact me today at marie@lookingglasstranslations.com to be part of it.

 

  • Lloyd Bingham

  • Capital Translations

Lloyd Bingham MITI MCIL runs Capital Translations in Cardiff, working from French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Catalan into English. A former in-house translator, he specialises in marketing and business. Lloyd is a committee member of ITI Cymru Wales and publishes translation-related articles on his website: www.capital-translations.co.uk.

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