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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.

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.



Brazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester’s career in translation and interpreting started 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. She can be reached at gio@giolester.com.

7 Comments
  • LIVIU-LEE ROTH
    Posted at 19:43h, 01 April Reply

    Thank you, Gio,

    Common sense rules that everybody should apply. Very well written and explained.

    • Gio Lester
      Posted at 20:40h, 01 April Reply

      Thank you! There are some nooks and crannies in our profession that come at us from unexpected directions. Being able to recognize their place in the scheme of things is challenging at times.

  • Dennise A Serrano
    Posted at 20:00h, 01 April Reply

    Thank you! I am just starting as a freelancer and good advice is welcome. I will never know all that there is to know, but I am open to learn something every day,

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 20:38h, 01 April Reply

    That is the beauty of professional associations: being able to learn from the collective knowledge and experience accumulated by the membership. Two things all beginners should apply themselves to doing: 1- volunteer to learn how the association works, and 2- ask questions as often as needed.

    NAJIT has its forum for more day-to-day exchanges, The Observer for informal discussions and Proteus for more learning and procedures related material. Make sure to use them, Denise.

  • Vicki Santamaria
    Posted at 04:36h, 02 April Reply

    Gio, I agree with what you said about giving your client the name or names of colleagues who can complete a job when you aren’t able to for whatever reason. I had to do this recently because it was a rush job and I was already committed to another project. However, first I gave the potential client quite a bit of information about apostilles (which is part of what he needed translated), and even though he went with another translator, he thanked me profusely for the information I gave him. I like to think that if he ever needed another translation done, he would remember the translator who was so helpful! Also, over the years I’ve found that most colleagues who you refer work to will return the favor when they’re too busy for a particular project or assignment.

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 03:03h, 03 April Reply

    Exactly, Vicki. In my workshops, I like to point out that our colleagues are part of our professional toolbox. They are the ones we need to network with, learn about the quality of their work, their specializations, etc. Our clients want a solution to their problems, and there are times when we are not the best answer (time, specialization, budget…), but being able to still help them is priceless.

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    Posted at 14:18h, 04 April Reply

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