Sunday, September 22, 2019


I have been a freelancer for some 15 years now.  I began my translating career knowing next to nothing about translation and very little in practice about running my own business. To explain, my MBA did provide me with some macro understanding but very little guidance on how to run a one-person business. My tools were trial and error, analysis and, most importantly, intuition.

To be clear, I have made plenty of mistakes and still do occasionally.  After every “disaster”, I analyze what went wrong and how to avoid a repeat incident.  In this manner, I have managed to learn what my business education did not teach me: how to run a translation business. Aside from countless small technical tricks, my main conclusion of all my analysis is that the key for me on both a macro and micro level is not accounting or vision, which have their place, but but instead intution, 

Intuition is the “gut feeling” before any decision, big or small, that it feels right.  It is not necessarily rational and logical within the framework of the facts known at the time. Nor does it emotionally reflect our desires and/or fears. Intuition often leads us to take actions that have negative short term consequence or arouse fear.  In fact, our intuition both encompasses these elements and surpasses them in understanding. It is the feeling that a given plan of action is correct regardless of whether the brain or heart endorses it. Of course, it should not be confused with wishful thinking, a dangerous cousin, infamous for causing impulsive and foolish actions. The difference between them is similar to that between happy and contented, with the former describing the state of mind at any given time, subject to immediate change, while the latter describing a general state of mind regardless of immediate events. In fact, the key in known what a potential decision is intuitive or wishful is if it still feels correct after some time has passed.

I can say that I could have avoided close to 95% of my mistakes if I had noticed and heeded my intuition. On a macro level, I would have avoided several scammers since I sensed that something was wrong but did not investigate.  I would have avoided certain texts that were beyond my understanding and ability, which I immediately knew deep down. I would have pursued certain marketing media much earlier because I understood that they had good potential. On a micro level,  I would have insisted on longer deadlines since I had a strong feeling that the document was more complicated than it seemed at first glance but I did not insist. I would have rechecked and reedited phrases that lit up a red light before the client had to read it. In other words, as a translator, I “knew” what I needed to do but did not follow my intuition.

On a positive note, my intuitive decision to break out of the gilded cage of a salary and become independent has transformed my life and thinking.  I cannot imagine my life only as a teacher. Armed with intuition, I have found a long-term niche, developed practical operating procedures and pursued effective marketing strategies not only relying on my rational analysis but also my intuitive feeling. I have had almost no payment issues in a situation where most of my customers are far away. Without being an expert on any specific country, I have been able to communicate with people from a wide variety of cultures and expectations. In an uncertain future, I can rely on my intuition, with guidance from others as required, to overcome challenges.

To clarify, every business person, large and small, must be keep track and be aware of the key numbers: income, expenses, change, etc. Not only that, a vision of the business in five years is vital for long term planning. However, these two tools are not sufficient to guarantee success. At least for freelancers, intuition is an important key.

The advice is deceivingly simple. The voice of our intuition is much quieter than that of our desires, fear and cold logic.  Not only that, outside voices, both family and colleagues, can impact our decisions, many times but not always for the best. Consequently, it is important to consult people that truly understand, not primarily want to control. Ultimately, the success of freelancer is in the hands of the freelancer. You don’t need an MBA to succeed but it is vital to listen to the quiet but wise voice of intuition.


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