Somebody Out There Loves Me

If you’ve worked in a traditional office setting, you’ve been through at least one of those mandatory birthday celebrations. They do it everywhere. Somewhere along the line, somebody must have decided the birthday thing was good for morale.

One morale booster you don’t get much of when you work from home is recognition.

You don’t get your boss’s praise, or his boss’s notice. Nobody singles you out for your job well done at a meeting or function. You don’t hear through the grapevine that so-and-so was really impressed with something you did. It feels good to know your work is appreciated, but working the way we do, you can sometimes feel like you’re operating in a vacuum.

From my home office in Paris, one of the things I do is project management for a translation co-op located in the Dominican Republic. I recently had some software strings localized into four languages for a client in Quebec. There were some terminology issues in the Dutch translation that needed to be resolved, and I asked the translator (a Belgian living in the Philippines) to address them. It wasn’t a question of shoddy work; it was the perennial problem of lack of context when you’re working with strings. I delivered the fresh files and, a few days later, I got a message from the client asking me to thank the translator for his good work and professionalism. I forwarded his message to the translator, who was thrilled to get it.

I’m a translator too and, trust me, it’s quite rare for us to get client feedback. This is partly because there is usually a middleman agency, and not all project managers are as concerned about maintaining the mental health and loyalty of their translators as I am! Of course, some of your clients come back to you for additional projects, and you can assume this means they were happy with your work, even of they don’t go out of their way to say so. But the percentage of work you get from return clients depends on what it is you do. In my case, many of my projects are one-time jobs.

So, how do you get that warm, fuzzy feeling when you slave away on project after project for anonymous strangers you may never hear from again? Well, you have to look elsewhere. If I’m between projects, I’ll sometimes do a little pro-bono work.

Granted, it’s never wise to undermine the value of the work done in your industry by giving it away for free, or to engage in unfair competition. But it is possible to do pro-bono work and still remain within ethical bounds. Plus, it can beef up your CV and client list, help you branch out, give you visibility, and bring in paying business through referrals.

I recently did a free translation for Kiva, a micro-financing organization that puts individual lenders together with micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries. They wanted to put an article in which they were mentioned on their website, and the author sent them to me. They, like many nonprofits, have no budget for translation. Many professional services fall into the category of pure luxury for such organizations. Clients like these are overjoyed to have your help.

As it turns out, Kiva has a network of volunteer translators, and now I’m one of them. So the next time a couple of women in some remote, French-speaking country would like a small loan to open a beauty salon, I might get to translate their request.

And that feels great.


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