In the life of an entrepreneur few things are coveted as much as success, particularly that of the long-lasting kind. When happy clients just keep knocking on your door and you get to cherry-pick the most satisfying and interesting work offers, you hope for your pastures, now greener than ever, to never wither.

But life likes to dole out a good dose of doubt and unpredictability, particularly right at those moments you neither want nor need it. After feeling on top of the world, the inevitable comes to pass: a relentless lull kicks in. Where last week you were still brimming with self-confidence, you now feel self-doubt starting to nibble away at you. Where did you mess up? When will the tide turn in your favour again – if at all…?

In such a situation, it’s all too easy to wallow in despair. Lucky for you, the truth is much less disheartening: you’ve simply hit a drought. There is no need to abandon translation just yet. In fact, if you manage to make the most out of it, you might just come to appreciate occasional moments of respite.

The inevitable business dip

When it comes to business, the question isn’t really if, but rather when the quandary of having no work will present itself. After all, nobody’s able to find exactly the right amount of work for their intended working week and have all of those jobs fit together perfectly like puzzle pieces to boot. Simply put: lulls are part and parcel of entrepreneurial life and there simply is no way to keep them at bay – but dealing with them is much easier if you keep two things in mind.

Firstly, your initial reaction of bitter despair is nothing but human conditioning doing what it is supposed to do. As a species, we’re good at enjoying success, but we are probably even better at letting its glaring absence crush our spirit. The unease you feel during a thumb-twiddling marathon is simply your mind working as intended – it is how it is meant to cope by default.

Secondly, this hard-wired reaction is in fact a counterproductive mechanism if you’re not careful. Left unchecked, it will not find a solution, but instead fuel insecurity until it roars like a bonfire and you succumb to the heat. But here is the thing: if you do not allow yourself to be blind-sided by your perceived failure, a drought can turn out to be an excellent stepping stone to new clients and greater success. All you need to do is adopt a mindset that acts as a conduit for positivity and growth.

Of course, actually dealing with droughts can be quite a challenge, even when you don your positivity cape and happy glasses. Here are 4 ways we deal with them at Van der Werf & Van Straalen.

  1. Take a break

Translators are hard-working people. They can keep hammering away at it for months on end, but it’s no secret that prolonged overexertion will lead to health problems. Try and think about how you feel after a huge, stressful assignment. I bet you feel worn out and would welcome a change of pace. But the fear of having no work – and no income – is such that many believe they have no choice but to take on another job, and another, and another right after that, until *snap!* – you burn out.

If you suddenly have nothing on for a week, it’s not a bad idea to actually cherish the extra free time you find yourself having. You can now finally take care of the spring cleaning you’ve been meaning to do, or you could go and catch a film at the cinema, meet with friends, go for a hike in the woods – anything goes, as long as it is not related to your translation business.

  1. Find new clients

Let’s say you have indeed relaxed diligently and feel ready and rejuvenated, but still there’s nothing coming in. Should you now become a professional thumb-twiddler, videotape yourself and hope to become a YouTube celebrity? No. Use the time you have to find new clients instead. If you normally manage to keep yourself busy for 8 hours a day, imagine how much time you can now invest in some proper acquisition.

Send e-mails, make phone calls, attend networking events – do things that allow you to get in touch with new clients, to get your name out there. You never know – you might just find that one perfect client who is happy to accept your quote and has plenty of interesting work to keep you afloat until the next lull sets in.

  1. Work on – eek! – your personal branding and marketing

If you feel die-hard acquisition is a waste of time because you don’t know what to actually say to potential clients, you need to work on your marketing. Lucky for you, there’s no time like the present to dive head-first into the magical world of marketing. Why bother with marketing at all? Because it can potentially mean the difference between bankruptcy and world domination.

Many translators find marketing a very daunting field. Even if you translate marketing, like we do, and you really enjoy taking care of other people’s marketing, it’s still surprisingly hard to market yourself. You’ll have ten great ideas on day one and you’ll probably shoot them all down on day two. Marketing for translators is a process that demands a sizeable investment of time and effort. You cannot improvise marketing and hope that your business will land on its feet. In fact, haphazard marketing will make your business land sideways – not the ideal position to convince clients with.

To make matters worse, marketing is not a process that immediately yields great results. Good marketing needs time to mature. Your message needs to slowly seep through your target audience, so the sooner you start working on it, the better. Luckily, now that your clients are finally leaving you alone for a bit, you’ll have plenty of time to re-invent yourself – and your professional message.

  1. Expand your services portfolio

Maybe you already have your marketing in place, you feel as relaxed as ever and you don’t want new clients. If so, does having no work still present an opportunity to improve on your business? You bet! For us translators, the age-old adage is the more you know, the better – and now is the perfect time to let those dusty old words generate shiny new results!

Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new language. Well, get to it! This is the perfect opportunity to learn the basics of your new language and see whether you like it or would rather want to focus your efforts on something else. Or perhaps you’ve been dreaming of getting a firmer grip on the subject matter you translate. Buy a book, watch a documentary, do a Coursera course – become better acquainted with the industry you translate for. I always like to read blogs or interesting marketing books whenever I have a moment – or a few days – to spare. And serendipity is a real thing – one moment your reading about SEO, the next you’re offered a fantastic assignment that requires SEO knowledge.

Those are the 4 ways we deal with droughts. So far, this has worked for us: we’ve survived several droughts and these 4 strategies have even allowed us to come out of the ordeal in better business shape. So, next time you catch yourself staring at an empty inbox, give these ideas a whirl to keep the despair at bay and get your business back on track.