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Four Lessons Learned in the Private Sector that I Apply to my Freelance Business

By Gio Lester © 2017

The number one myth freelancers fall for is that they get rid of bosses once they go solo. That is not true: each one of our clients is a boss! What changes is our relationship with them. We can now pick and choose (wallet permitting) whom to work for, which projects to accept, how much to charge, to do pro bono work, etc.

An important skill we need to develop is customer service.

Customer service requires special sensibilities and the goal to do what is right, in spite of our needs or wants. Putting someone else’s interest ahead of our own is not a natural reaction, therefore we have to work at it. But it is not that hard to learn. Customer service is not only the post-sale things we do for our clients, it is also the explanations we provide to them when they ask for the impossible or undoable without making them feel guilty. I have two email templates that are used often. One explains the new Brazilian guidelines for using apostilles and the other is about Form 2526 used by the Florida Courts, which is a notice to the parties that a certified interpreter could not be found and the professional who will be used in the case meets the otherwise required criteria.

That’s what you are paid for.

One of the most important lessons came from a boss I had at a bank I worked for. One day after listening to me, he said “I really do not need to know what you had to do to get the job done. I need to see that the job got done. That’s what you are paid for.” I was incensed when I heard that, but the truth is he was right. And I apply that to my freelance business by not charging my clients for my learning curve, or if I have to work after hours because I chose to watch a movie or go for a walk. It is none of their business and it should not come out of their pockets.

Change what is within your power.

Another lesson came from a friend. We would go out to lunch two to three times a week, and I invariably complained about my job at the bank. In one of those occasions, after a few months of complaints, before I could open my mouth, she said “You know, if you are so unhappy at your job, you should leave it. Complaining to me will not help you and is straining our relationship because I can’t help you. Let’s make a point of not talking work when we are together.” Right: If you don’t like it, change it; if you can’t change it, change your attitude! It wasn’t easy to hear that, but she was right. I focused on what I had power over about myself and on the job. Things got more tolerable and I left, after about a year.

Clients are a constant source of lessons, and opportunities to apply those learned.

Recently, my email service has been holding on to my messages to the point where emails sent to me in the morning only reach me late afternoon. A few weeks ago I got a call from a potential client asking about a message she had sent around 12 hours earlier. (Guess what happened? Right.) I explained to her what was going on, and apologized. She accepted my apology, but wanted a quote right there and then. Her project involved a large number of documents, with multiple pages, and they were all photo- not text-pdf formatted. She was not ready to wait two days to get the quote (my schedule has been very busy). This goes back to lesson #1, customer service. It was not her fault, she did not need to know my issues, she needed the job done – not necessarily by me either.  Lesson #2 from my boss. My solution? It was two-fold. I provided her with the names and contact of some colleagues who might be able to assist her, swallowed my frustration at the client’s lack of compassion for my predicament (lesson #3), and immediately proceeded to prepare the quote, which I sent to her promptly. (And yes, I got the job). Lesson #4 is that every moment can be a learning opportunity and we should venture outside our comfort zones once in a while, even if only to find out what lessons may be lurking out there.  


woman with grey hair, in a red dress

Brazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester, Co-Chair of NAJIT’s PR Committee, started her career in translation and interpreting in 1980. Gio is very active in her profession and in the associations she is affiliated with. In 2009, she co-founded the Florida ATA Chapter (ATIF), served as its first elected president (2011-2012), and later as president of its interim board. As an international conference interpreter, Gio has been the voice of government heads and officials, scientists, researchers, doctors, hairdressers, teachers, engineers, investors and more. Gio has been a contributor to The NAJIT Observer since its inception in 2011, and its Editor since 2016. In 2017 she was appointed Chair of the Miami Dade College Translation and Interpretation Advisory Committee, which she had been a member of since 2014. In 2018, Gio was elected to the Executive Committee of the Brazilian Association of Translators and Interpreters,  Abrates, as its General Secretary. You can follow her on Twitter (@cariobana), learn more about Gio on her website, and she can also be reached at gio@giolester.com. Click here to read other posts by Gio.

2 Comments
  • Anne Connor
    Posted at 13:33h, 21 September Reply

    Amen, Gio! I totally relate to all of the excellent points you made in your article. In addition, I truly believe that the customer service skills I learned at my first paid job (McDonald’s) have carried me through my 28-year freelance career. Those tough pieces of advice I got from bosses that seemed harsh at the time have also stuck in my mind over the years. Sometimes I still make those mistakes you mentioned, due to my nature, but I try to remember not to complain about things so much. Networking with my “competition” who work in my same language pairs has also paid off for me big time when I am unavailable for a project but can recommend them – making my client happy whether they extend the deadline for me or can get it done using my colleagues. If I can solve that problem for them, that’s what they remember and will come back to me later. Thank you for these helpful hints and reminders!

    • Gio Lester
      Posted at 18:11h, 21 September Reply

      True, Anne. Some lessons are hard to take – our emotional is never ready – but their value remains true.

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