Welcome to a new entry of our series of interviews with translators from all over the globe. Translation is a very diverse industry – we want to introduce some of the people behind making the world a more multilingual place. This episode is an interview with Sara Colombo.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a qualified freelance translator and interpreter (English – French – Italian) specialising in health, sport/fitness, marketing and corporate communication. I am a marketing and social media speaker, a ProZ.com professional trainer, a prolific blogger and author.
I studied languages and translation, worked briefly in a series of different companies then decided to set up my business.
I am also a fitness instructor and a yoga enthusiast, love dance and tattoos.
How did you decide to become a translator?
I love languages but at one point of my life I had to admit that writing, performing arts and also creativity attracted me equally. Cut it short, I loved dancing, as much I loved writing or translating for someone else.
After a series of business experiences and the support of brilliant and inspiring businessmen and women I realised that I could set up my own business and combine my passions: I could use my linguistic knowledge to help businesses and professional to develop their communication projects while contributing to their success with my non-translation related understanding.
What are good or bad things about freelancing?
I think that, if actively run, a translation business gives you access to an amazing umbrella of options and life changing possibilities that can really bring the best out of you and make a difference. From creating your own network of clients or establishing long-term collaborations or be your own boss, there are many good aspects.
For instance, I like working with specific or small markets, as you end up building a network of supportive clients who, in some cases, become friends. And I think this has to do with the way I decided to run my business and focus on collaborating rather than selling services.
Things are now always easy, though. Chasing non-paying clients or turning down interesting offers because of a very low rate is not exactly a great way of starting a day. And there are less busy weeks in which you start to doubt about your workflow: will I make it this month?
But after a while you get used to it and find a way of using those empty hours to create a new project or work on something different. I have been working in big companies before and even if receiving a regular monthly salary gave me a feeling of safety, I would never go back. Those years taught me a lot, but now I am so enjoying what I do, I am so much pushing and challenging myself that when I’ll reach my goals the safety of a contract will mean nothing if compared to them.
In self-marketing, which factors have helped out the most so far?
I think my determination and constant research. When I started out, non-branded business cards were more than enough to promote myself, but in 2014 even students work on their design and create very recognisable brands. You need to observe, brainstorm and be brave enough to challenge the boundaries of this industry to look at what other businesses are doing. And above all, once you find your style stick to it, and be consistent.
Could you tell us how you integrate different media into one self-marketing strategy?
Saying that I have a ‘media strategy’ is a bit exaggerated. Rather, I would call myself a social media enthusiast with a passion for the web.
I like visual and written contents, and I like to create my own design or photos. I like to use different platforms, online and offline, and try to be as constant, clear and coherent as possible.
As I say here there are tips to help you optimize your time such as knowing when to post or connecting with supportive people and engage them with different contents, but I have never created a media campaign. I have a very organic approach to marketing and I think my clients appreciate it.
Which of the social networks do you use most successfully for customer acquisition, which ones more for interaction with others in your industry?
Social media give you the chance to showcase you expertise through the creation of targeted contents, and Twitter is my favourite.
I like to use it to connect with clients, colleagues and in some cases with friends, too. I also like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, which is a bit of a visual journey through my daily life as a translator and fitness pro.
In your work with clients and partners, what are you doing differently today in comparison to the early phase of your career?
I think things have changed radically because in the beginning I was naive and not patient enough to build a continuous professional rapport, while now I am learning to face difficulties in a more determined way.
I am a little bit more organised and now I can count on a network of collaborators that I regularly hire throughout the year but that I didn’t have in the beginning.
Where do you find inspiration for your blog?
My daily life is a good resource. I work with businessmen and women who are extremely passionate about their companies and are so talented that I feel lucky every time they ask me to collaborate on a new project. I like to talk with my clients and we spend time together, too.
I also love reading and studying, but I am pretty eclectic and appreciate different kinds of readings.
Which online and offline resources do you read on a regular basis?
I don’t have a specific one, as I tend to choose different resources depending on what I am doing during a certain period of my life. At the moment I am appreciating and finding inspiring Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist and author. He is really witty and funny.
How does your average working day look like?
I work between 10 to 12 hours a day and wake up quite early to fit everything in. I start with tea and a bit of planning and organisation, then tackle any urgent project or assignment and end up with my daily dose of gym or exercise. But my weeks are all pretty varied, depending on where I am and what I am working on.
If I am in London my day usually starts with a walk to a local café where I eat and spend some time working. But if I am in Brussels or Italy things are different because I usually wake up early to walk the dog out and exercise before working.
I am not a control freak, but definitely a very habitual person, so organisation comes first: I need to create lists, goals, plans and work to get them. Even missing one scheduled call or a yoga session represents a small failure to me.
If you could change something in your work environment, what would it be?
I’m thinking about renting a place like a small office or moving stuff here and there and enlarging my current office space as it is becoming a bit too small for my tastes. I work with 3 screens and a dog-secretary, so we need a larger environment suiting both!
Are you a desk person or more of a mobile worker?
A desk person. I don’t move around the house when working, I think it’s a matter of ‘mental organisation’: every space has its functions and I have to keep them separated.
What would you pass on as personal advice to translators new to the industry?
As I have said in my book, the first advice is to try, and if you fail try again. Right after setting my business I made mistakes and lost potential clients, but tried again and found new contacts.
People think that success comes easily, as in a linear projection. But in reality success is a very complex process requiring compromising, waiting and admitting failure, too. You learn all the way though and in some cases you learn the hard way.
Secondly, keep an eye on your budget because the first years will be quite expensive with lots of stuff to be bought and travel expenses no one will cover for you. If you feel like finding a part-time job to support your freelancing experience, don’t be afraid to accept the challenge because in the beginning you’ll have many empty hours.
Be very determined and obsessively in love with what you do, and if you do this job will change your life, because it will: you’ll meet people and face situations that will make you re-consider much of the notions and ideas you had until that moment. Not into challenges and unpredictable experiences? Then freelancing might not be your thing.