Central London:

Bistro at 66 – Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) beautiful HQ also houses this hidden gem. There’s a café next to the entrance but it’s the first floor you want to go to. A great space to work or have meetings, there’s even a roof terrace for when it’s warm, decent coffee, nice food, free wifi – 66 Portland Place, W1B 1AD, nearest tube Oxford Circus or Regents Park.

Timbeyard (Covent Garden) – This is a well known freelancers hangout, and they hang out there to work. Your initial feeling is ‘where on earth can I find a space’, but there’s always one somewhere, and when you find your spot you’ll find it easy to work as everyone else is busy beavering away too. Coffee is amazing (excellent Has Bean coffee used here), fabulous selection of yummy snacks and light lunches, and of course seamless wifi. You even get a bottle of tap water brought to you,… and replaced when it’s finished, even if you haven’t ordered anything else! – 7 Upper St Martin’s Lane, just down from Seven Dials, WC2H 9DL, nearest tube: Leicester Square or Covent Garden


Tried and True – spacious, wifi, great coffee (Red Brick coffee served here), unobtrusive music – 279 Upper Richmond Road, Putney


This is a bit of a sticky one.
In the UK, unless you have a high turnover (currently £79000 see UK tax website for more details, you don’t have to register for VAT. This has benefits for the freelancer:
– Your fee is as seen, no VAT to add, so cheaper for
your client
– less paperwork
However, as I’ve discovered not charging VAT can seem very strange when dealing with clients elsewhere in the EU. As freelance translators many of us are dealing with European clients or agencies all the time, and it doesn’t appear to be straightforward, not our clients fault, but just slightly unclear directives and rules.

It’s the holiday season here in the UK, though it’s just coming to an end. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what holiday means to a freelancer.

As a freelancer and a sole trader at that, it’s not easy to take holiday, because if I do I know that my business is on holiday too. But we do need to have holidays, don’t we.

But can we switch off? I mean, not reply to emails, not catch up with blogs, not catch up on work related reading, not even check emails. That’s REALLY hard. Especially as the proliferation of smartphones and wifi internet access at home or abroad makes it ever so easy to be always on.
More to follow…

As a professional translator I have to believe that businesses need and will choose to invest in professional translation. But you might be saying, well why should they? With tools like Google Translate and Babel Fish there’s no need, right?

Well, I recently sent an email to a web design company based in Mexico offering my services and I was surprised at their response. They said that there was no need for my services, since they could integrate Google Translate into their websites. So, I went and looked at one of them, and yes, Google did translate the website into English for me, but it was very poor English, with a number of sentences which didn’t make much sense. Could I understand it? Yes. Did it look like the face of a professional, serious company? No, not at all.

Information is heavily in demand from all corners of the globe, but people usually want information readily available and properly written in their own language. In fact, a recent Eurobarometer survey User language preferences online”found that 9 out of 10 internet users, if given a choice of languages, would choose a website in their own language. When the information provider, be it a public service or a private company selling products and services considers itself to be a professionally run organisation, what impression does it leave with the user if what they can access in their own language is poorly written? That the organisation is not very professional, and the chances of the user trusting that organisation are distinctly lowered, which if it is a company selling things, means there is a greatly reduced chance of the user making a purchase of any kind!

I would say that it would be better to have no translation at all, than a machine translation or one done by a non-professional translator.

So what does this mean?

1. People, perhaps without knowing it, want any content of interest to them that was originally written in another language, to be professionally translated. And of course this is not just literature, this is information available on the internet to do with just about everything.

2. Professional translation is and will be in high demand. And this is proven to be the case – Common Sense Advisory calculates that the market for outsourced language services is worth US$33.523 billion in 2012, and as of 2012 the language services market is growing by 12.17%.

People are searching globally for products and information, we live in the age of the global marketplace. Surely to grow beyond your domestic market you need to be able sell your products in other languages? Surely a marketing and brand development strategy cannot be seen to be worth so little, so as not to be worthy of a proper, professional translation?

The same Eurobarometer survey referred to above also showed that only 1 in 5 respondents would buy products online in a foreign language.

So if you want to know how to grow your business and you have yet to invest in translation of your marketing materials and especially your website, look no further. A recent article entitled “Translation at Fortune 500 companies” published by the Common Sense Advisory found that companies which increased their translation budgets were 1.5 times more likely than other Fortune 500 companies to increase their total revenue. Of course we’re talking about the top end here, but this surely is a way SMEs can get the edge over their larger competitors, isn’t it?

So why invest in professional translation?

  • So that your material, for whatever purpose, is not sneered, sniffed or laughed at by a native speaker.
  • So that you can communicate your information to whoever you want to, clearly, and as you intended it to be.
  • So that you can reach a wider audience.
  • So that you can grow your business.
  • So that you can be accessible to the world, when the world comes knocking at your door.

As I said in my previous post, coffee shops are my default location for hotdesking. Wherever I go, I think a coffee shop must fulfill the following requirements, otherwise productivity is lost:

1. Great coffee!


The picture here is the least I would be happy with. Of course you can only see how it looks, but I can tell you it tasted very smooth, a hint of nut and praline. The best part is I made it myself, with a bit of help from the Red Brick blend from the Square Mile Coffee Roasters. The mini lavender cupcakes are courtesy of my wife and daughter’s baking and icing exploits.

So if I go out, the coffee has a lot to live up to. A really well made flat white it has to be, or I just feel I’ve wasted my cash.

2. Free wifi.

That is easy to log onto, and is quick enough to browse, send receive emails and perhaps receive a voip call.

3. Table space enough for my laptop, the aforementioned coffee and a pen and paper.

If you’re jammed on a small table next to a group of people, you won’t feel comfortable. A good size table, a comfy seat and ideally no-one next to you is what you need.

4. Medium to low level noise.

Music is acceptable (though must be decent), chatter is too. But roadworks outside the door is not.

People like coffee shops with a “buzz”, but too much “buzz” is too much distraction.

A note on coffeehouse chains:

You see lots of people working in these, Starbucks and Costa Coffee seem to be the favourites, but they generally tick only 1or 2 out my 4 requirements. Very often the coffee is lacking, so bad value for money, and not all have wifi. For my preference if I use a chain I would use Starbucks as there’s always wifi and you can usually find a good space, plus if I fancy something fancy, the Starbucks Frappuccino is refreshing on a hot day! Beside that I’d like to try the new Costa Metro brand, they look kinda funky and potentially a good place to hotdesk!

My coffee shop recommendations to follow!

My desk is nice. I designed it myself. It has a concave curve, allowing me to swivel easily from my laptop to my reference works or to write notes. Please don’t misunderstand me, it’s really just a peice of MDF in the corner of a room, but I fashioned it myself and it’s very functional. Does that mean I always want to be at it? Should I always be at it?

I think not. For the sanity of the freelance translator, as they say, a change could do you good. So next question.. where? If I’m not going to be at my purpose built desk, with all my stuff within reach, should I go?

Well personally, I’m a coffee lover, so a good coffee shop is my default. I’ll put my coffee shop requirements and some recommended places in my next post.

After that, public libraries are often good places to go. They may have free wifi, and they’ll always have some desk space often with a plug handy. When you get bored you can always wander round, browse some books, travel guides or newspapers, or simply people watch. My local is Putney Library which I recommend.

Being in London, I sometimes make use of the many public spaces there are like the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre, and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). There’s often wifi, you can take coffee with you or buy it there, and you can usually find a quite corner, perhaps even one with a plug socket. Just check beforehand that there’s not a big event going.

And why not make the most of your memberships? By this I mean things like the National Trust. You’ll know what’s close to you, but they may have spaces where you could sit and work. I’m a member of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and I sometimes use a space at the top of the visitor centre at the London Wetlands Centre. It has great views, if you ask the right person you can get free wifi, and there’re plug sockets.

Finally why not beg, steal or borrow other people’s homes or workspaces? I regularly use a room at my mother in law’s house, but I’m considering asking other freelancers I know if I can come over and work at theirs for a morning. So lets network and share! Of course you might even be able to steal a desk at someone’s office every now and again if they don’t mind or don’t tell 😉

So where do you go? What works for you? Lets compile our ideas here.

1. Plan ahead.

If you don’t have any higher education language qualification or specific translation qualification, I believe this is a must before you get started. This may mean some study time before you can get going. (Click here for my previous post for info on the Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation.)

2. Get experience.

Offer your nascent skills to charities to get translation experience. Some have regular need for translators, others just need things translated on an ad hoc basis. I worked for a charity called Latin Link, where I did a number of translations and was using my language skills on a regular basis. Write to charities you know have activity in the countries where your translating language is spoken, besides the experience, you will find giving rewarding!

3. Network.

Join professional associations like ITI or IoL, even as just an associate member and translation communities like Proz or Translators Café as a non-paying member, then attend meetings, powwows, conferences. No need to go to everything going, but just somewhere where you will meet translators who you can ask about their work and get advice.

4. Get good equipment.

Make sure your hardware is up to scratch. Slow computers slow you down, simple, as does a slow internet connection. Both of these are not expensive to resolve. I recommend a laptop over a desktop. As a freelancer, the ability to hotdesk is a real benefit. The other thing I love having is a second screen. Your translation can be on one and your source document on the other.

5. Get good dictionaries and resources.

Of course there is a lot available for free online, but specialist dictionaries are not. If you know what area you are likely to be translating, invest. Some dictionaries come with a CD-ROM version, or allow you to download a digital copy from their website, this is REALLY helpful. My Collins Spanish-English dictionary gave me the latter.

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