For Freelancers, the Mistakes Made Are Mostly Expensive But Priceless. Here’s What I Learned From Mine

They say mistakes help us to discover who we truly are, help us to let go of fear,  help us grow and evolve, and allow us to be happy. From mistakes, we finally know what we want in life. Some also say, when you make mistakes, the sky will not fall down and the whole world will not stop spinning just to laugh at you. But these are what they say. Let’s take a look at my top five biggest mistakes in my freelance translation career;

“I’m not afraid to make a mistake. I embrace mistakes, they make you who you are.”  Beyonce Knowles

Cold calls, hard copy resume and face to face meeting with local agencies and companies. Business is a war zone. They say we should learn from mentors to minimize the number of mistakes we’re going to make. And one of my mentors in this field disclosed her marketing secrets; cold calls, hard copy resume and face to face meeting. I thought that’s it. Equipped with a Yellow Pages book and a brief script in hand, I spent hours and hours calling local agencies to introduce myself with the same boring script just to get my call routed to the wrong person most of the time. I have also gone to the cheapest stationery shop in town once in a week to get a supply of envelopes to mail my resume out to these agencies, just to receive no feedback from all of them. I have accepted 2-3 invitations for a face to face meeting with several local companies, just to be handed a one-page recruitment form. It feels suck when they seriously want the completed version to be handed in on a hard copy by myself when I know that the fuel cost isn’t worth the investment. After all of these ambitious attempts ‘failed’, I may proudly conclude that my mentor’s marketing secrets are highly effective – only in the 80s, not in this era.

Google AdWords linked to Proz profile. All the hype about how effective Google AdWords is, got me trapped in my second biggest mistake ever. It is pretty obvious that nobody has a website when they are just starting out. However, I did not want to be like other newbies out there despite me being one. I wanted to be a smarter version newbie. Since I was very smart, I used my only profile online at Proz profile and linked it with the Google AdWords . I was not earning at all from any translation job yet, so the AdWords stunts that cost me about RM300 per month are fully funded by my pocket money. Yet, the result was remarkable. The number of visitors jumped from 4-5 to 100-150 per month. The only problem was, it did not land me any single job. Not even one. Why on earth my AdWords traffic isn’t converting? After months of observing, thinking and scratching my head, I’ve landed into a simple conclusion. An answer that I already know it all along but neglect it. AdWords need a website. Paid ads need to go hand-in-hand with an impressive website. The ads won’t win you customers. It’ll only help to increase traffic to your website. It’s your website that sells stuff for you.

Created my own website. Frankly speaking, I could not afford to hire a copywriter and a web designer to build an impressive website. Hence, I did everything my own. DIY is the only way ahead. After all, how hard can it be? That what I thought at that time. They were many free website templates, cheap domain, hosting and all. Of course, the cost of hiring self-proclaimed professionals in Fiverr sounds fair and shouldn’t break the bank too. Happily, I decorated my website with whatever I thought was going to get people to hire me. Dark background colour picked, no SEO or analytics inserted, no quality content and poorly optimised pages. Happily and with a sky-high confidence, I linked my newly built website with AdWords . This time, it will surely fly. But it didn’t. What is wrong now?!

As reviewed by a few of my mentors, there are several grammatical errors on my website. To some people, that’s a sin. It’s a complete switch-off. On top of that, the website didn’t answer the ultimate question; Why they should hire me in the first place. The wow factor was not there and a number of other errors were spotted too. Apparently, creating something from the customer’s point of view is not as easy as I initially thought. I realised at that time that I got monkeys after investing peanuts for my website. Period.

Registered a company, created a current account and business card. Determined to be a real-deal language entrepreneur, I equipped myself with business knowledge. From my reading, I found a term called Business to Business (B2B), which means a mutual business between two companies. In my opinion, in order to secure a translation project from a large company, I would need to stand as an entity and not as an individual. After all, a business-minded and forward thinking person like me needs to think big and thus, I should work on establishing my own company as my next move. In the period of 8 years, I have registered 3 companies namely Nor Afizah Thalhan, Fiza Ink and Fiza Translations as legal entities with the Companies Commission of Malaysia.  I have also created a banking account that comes along with the process. And I got myself a business card of my own too. I have done all of the formalities correctly, but did all these bring me any business? Unfortunately no. Why, simply because companies that require translation work are actually looking for individual freelance translators, that’s it. The company registration is only relevant if only you wish to set up a translation agency. Since the customers are mostly overseas and doing business via online, the business card is truly a waste. Big one.

Rented a shared services office. Apart from No. 2, this is my second most expensive mistakes ever. When I signed up for a 6 months rental for small cubicle somewhere in the Klang Valley, there was only one thing I had in mind. Professional vibe. I will not sugarcoat my home office to be a professional environment, regardless of how you decorate your workstation area within the house. That productive corner isn’t an office, no way! I also wanted to dress up too. I wanted to take the train to office and get some lunch during lunch hour just like any other professionals out there. I believe a little struggle like these will help discipline myself. Freelancer’s biggest enemy is sloppy-ness and I believed I have tackled that hiccups, excellently. This discipline basically cost me RM300 including GST per month, a damn good offer for a place in the heart of Kuala Lumpur!

Reality check. Six months down the road, I have come to the office not more than 25 times. As opposed to the salaried job, I don’t have professional things to do every day. I work for international clients residing on the other side of the world, and they start working when I am already out of office here in Malaysia. Apart from that, air-conditioned was too cold, I was charged for every single thing I touched from tea bags, A4 paper, photocopy, outgoing call and all other nonsense. There was no light after 6 PM. The cleaner was rude, and the best part is the sales manager informed me that I had to continue paying for the next 3 months under the Virtual Service Office package which cost me another RM600 per month when my tenancy expires soon. Two months deposit of RM1,200 I paid upfront a few moons ago was also not returned even after the building pass is returned and all parting-away documents signed. When I checked the agreement when home, they somehow have so many hidden clauses lying around and I would proudly say that I have been conned big time with my eyes wide-open.

Hence, to all freelance translators out there, just appreciate the freedom and perks that come with the job. Keep everything simple and stay humane. Office, it is not for us and yet we can still make money!

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