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8 basic tips for designing your business card

01/03/2012 2 comments

We freelancers are aware of the importance of our business cards. They enable us to engage with colleagues and clients, they offer a first platform for gaining new customers and tell the world literally who we are, what services we offer and what the hell we actually do, etc. However, there are many things you can do wrong with the cards themselves. Especially when just recently graduated from uni and too eager to print them with the intention of casting them over the entire city from an airplane the next day. Then, there is a danger to forget some basics.  Bear the following tips in mind in order not to forget anything important before you print your business card.

1. Be creative

Business cards for freelancers should be as individual as possible. The more of your own personality is entailed in your card, the more likely it might be for a colleague/customer to remember you. But don’t forget: you are selling your language services, but you are also selling yourself. Therefore, your business card should also meet professional standards, as well as being creative. (And that is trickier than it sounds!)

2. Develop a basic concept

Try to come up with a basic concept based on the follwing questions:  How is the card supposed to look? Do I have some sort of corporate design I can include? What colours should predominate? How much textual information do I want to include? Who am I designing the cards for? Which impression do I want to convey?

3. Collect impressions

Try to collect as many business cards as you can, irrespectively from where they come from.  Spread them out in front of you and try to figure out what you like and don’t like about their colour, textual information, format, design, fonts, paper, etc… This will help you to establish some DO’s and DONT’s for your own card.

4. Don’t hurry

The design of your business cards is a time-consuming process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, either! So don’t stress yourself and don’t be too eager to come up with the perfect card on the very same day.

5. Consider feedback

Of course, if you have an idea that you consider the foundation for the most perfect business card the world has ever seen, you don’t want anyone to tell you that the idea is nonsense. But other people’s feedback might just be the thing to get where you want to get. Ask friends, colleagues and people unfamiliar with the interpreting and translation world for their opinion. You might be surprised what they could tell you. The more people take part in this creative process, the more creative ideas are channelled.

6. Less is more

Try to be simplistic with your design. Many people have business cards which are too confusing or too irritating, because they contain too much text, too many colours, etc. Try to convey the maximum information you want with a minimum of visual and textual resources. Think of a good PowerPoint presentation: no fancy images, no disturbing special effects, no overload of textual information. Just plain, simple and short.

7. Stick to conventions

Ask yourself the same questions that you do when you translate culturally-bound terms for example: What conventions are there for business cards in my country? (Yes, business cards are texts, too!).  I learnt, for example, that in Spain it’s might be okay to write “Traductor ES > DE” on your card, whereas in Germany the bracket and language abbreviation might cause some confusion. Don’t forget your “target audience” whilst designing and ask yourself if it might be better to omit certain things.

8. Good investment

Technically, you can create your own business cards in 5min for a bargain. However, business cards are something that you should invest as much financial resources as your budget allows. It hurts at first, but it will pay off! The impression you leave with an individual, creative, professional, well-printed and good-quality card will be better than by a cheap and random card from the web done in haste.

Designing your business cards is a process where you can learn a lot … if you want to! Of course, you need some software to do that: I can recommend Inkscape (http://inkscape.org). It’s OpenSource and available for both Windows and Mac OS. It’s a bit tricky to master, but there are many tutorials on the web and it shouldn’t scare any translator or interpreter off.

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From student to professional: some thoughts on teamwork in the booth

24/02/2012 1 comment

As students, interpreting  was a lonely fight we fought. We were in the booth alone most of the times and were left to our fate during the period we switched on the mic. At times, some of us even wanted to be alone, so that our own anxiety and fear over screwing up wouldn’t be noticed by more people than ourselves, or our teacher if we were less lucky. A colleague in the booth, at times, was maybe seen by some as a disturbance instead of a help. Of course, who wants to make a fool of himself with someone sitting next to him or her? The booth was often the place were we felt most vulnerable and who wants to idly expose that? A colleague in the booth was maybe also seen by some as someone they could release their own frustration on, along the lines of: “I screwed up, because my colleague let me down/didn’t help/couldn’t answer the question I had, etc…”. It all comes down to one’s own fear. Agression or rejection in this sense are just an indication of how afraid someone really is. And let’s be honest: As students, we were all afraid at some point!

I am saying that at university we got to understand what sharing the booth with someone meant. We understood that it can be a vital asset to have someone next to you, someone who helps you and we also learned to cherish and value that. I wished for a stronger focal point on teamwork during the studies actually, because it’s so vital to our work. But what I am also convinced of at the same time is that probably a majority of students preferred to be left alone, preferred to not have to engage in a team for the main reasons above mentioned.

Now why is this important once university is over? When we leave university, we have to make some sort of u-turn on this attitude. We have to be prepared to be in the booth with someone and be tied to this someone for the entire assignment. For good or bad. Interpreting is teamwork. And in the end there is no point in blaming the colleague for own mistakes/failures, etc. A team of interpreters fails or succeeds as a whole, as one team. It’s like having a look at a professional sports team. It’s not the individual that counts, it’s the whole team achieving something (or not).

This is by the way not only the interpreter’s perspective we have to look at here: Your client will not be interested in who did a great job in the booth and who didn’t. The client perceives one booth as one unit. He wouldn’t say: “Interpreter A in the English booth was good and Interpreter B was … well …”. No. He would say : “The whole English Booth was bad.” So whatever happens in the booth, it happens for the interpreters as a team. That’s why teamwork is so important and that’s precisely why graduated students need to be aware of its importance, irrespectively of how much they worked already in a team at uni … or how much they liked it.

‘Kleinunternehmerregelung’ in Germany: To apply or not to apply, that is the question!

21/02/2012 3 comments

In this post I’d like to discuss the Kleinunternehmerregelung in Germany and what implications this rule might have for a freelance translator and interpreter who is about to set up his own business in Germany, although things discussed here are valid for any freelancer-to-be. It is of importance latest when you get our first assignment and you wonder what to do with VAT when you write your first bill. Don’t be scared off by the dusty touch of the topic! Bureaucracy as well as economic aspects are an integral part of the freelancing world – and therefore they might haunt us even when we feel safe reading blogs about interpreting.

The Kleinunternehmerregelung (a typical long, bureaucratic German word, isn’t it?) is an amendment to German tax law. It basically states that freelance entrepreneurs have the option of not taxing their customers. Therefore, they can declare everything on the respective bills as net sums without adding any tax. In other words, the freelance income reamains free from VAT tax. Entrepreneurs can apply this option if they fulfill both the following two requirements:

– maximum turnover generated last year: €17.500
– maximum turnover expected for the current year: €50.000

Newbie freelancers are very unlikely to generate more than that in their first year(s) of work. In other words, they are very likely to fulfill both conditions. Therefore, they can opt for not taxing their services (=applying the Kleinunternehmerregelung) once they have had an assignment and write a bill. Hence, they don’t have to declare the tax on the bill and pass on any VAT to the financial authorities, given that both conditions are not breached, of course.

Reason for opting not to tax: This Kleinunternehmerregelung is feasible in my view, if you run a business that sells material goods to an end user. This excludes the freelance translator or interpreter who generates his turnover exclusively through language services. Applying the rule might also make your everyday freelance life a little easier and less complex concerning bureaucracy etc., as the processes of taxing your customer and declaring VAT to the government are eliminated.

Reason for opting to tax : At first sight, opting for taxing your customers from the very start means more bureaucratic work for you: You need to submit your taxes every month for two years as a starting freelancer in Germany (although that might change). It involves some bureaucratic adventures, such as registering as a freelancer with the authorities, applying for a special tax number (Umsatzsteuer-ID), the actual monthly, web-based declaration of VAT etc. However, if your ultimate goal is to become a freelancer you better get used these bureaucratic necessities as early as possible. It always sounds nice not to charge, pay, declare taxes, etc. but why go the easy way?

The most important reason to actually tax your services has a major benefit for you: If you refuse from applying Kleinunternehmerregelung, you are entitled to recieve a VAT tax refund on items you acquire for your own business. An example: you are a translator and you need to buy software or dictionaries. Previously you declared to tax your services. Hence, you will be refunded the VAT paid on your purchases. Sounds quite simple doesen’t it? This sort of VAT tax that you pay in advance for items necessary for your business is called Vorsteuer. When you submit your tax declaration every month, the amount of VAT you are liable for is substituted by the amount of VAT that you will be refunded (Vorsteuerabzug). 

It’s very important to bear in mind that you are only entitled to a VAT refund on bought items if you don’t apply the Kleinunternehmerregelung. Applying it excludes you from any sort of VAT refund. Also have in mind that the VAT your recieve on top of your services is a tax which you hand over to the government, but which is actually “paid” by the customer with you acting as a mediator. Hence, it’s not you who pays this tax. Therefore, a possible VAT refund sounds quite delightful somehow, doesn’t it?

Now, it’s not possible to switch between opting for or against this rule with every bill that you write. Once you decided to refuse, you are bound to your decision for five years. If you apply the rule and your turnover exceeds the previously mentioned maximum turnover, then you automatically have to pay VAT and fill some Federal German cauldrons, which might hurt (literally) if you, for example, generated much more turnover than you expected due to the fact that you had a major breakthrough on the market.

Now what to do? Obviously it’s your own choice! Read up on the subject and make up your own mind once you decided to set up your freelance business! If you have a lot of investment then it might be feasible not to apply the rule, just for the sake of saving VAT. However, applying the rule may make your entrepreneur’s life a little easier concerning bureaucracy – for a little while at least.

For additional information:

Information from the German Ministry for Economics [in German]

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