Book Review: Never Split the Difference

Never Split the Difference is a book by former police officer and FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss that offers “a new, field-tested approach to high-stakes negotiations—whether in the boardroom or at home.” Well, it may be your home office, but the book has some helpful ideas and skills of great use to freelance translators and interpreters. These tactics are not always easy to implement in email or phone conversations, which tend to form the majority of a freelance translator’s conversations since we don’t often have face-to-face interaction with our clients, but they are absolutely worth considering when contacting new clients, negotiating rates and terms, or dealing with conflicts that may arise in a business relationship. Below I’ve compiled some thoughts about the author’s most salient points and some examples of how his tips could be used in our professions.

  • Use “no” to evoke more explanation.

When interacting with clients, we generally want to come across as knowledgeable. It may feel counter-intuitive to ask a question to which you know the answer will be “no,” but Voss suggests that we use questions like this to get more information. For instance, if you reach out to a potential direct client by email, you’ll probably research the company online and get an idea of what they do first. But instead of regurgitating what you’ve learned about the company from their website when you write to them, instead ask a question to draw out more information about their company or how they work. This will evoke further conversation and show you are interested in learning more about them. Voss says “no” can help the client feel more secure in their response and will allow them to clarify their position. “No” is not a failure, he says; it’s an opportunity. Here’s an example:

Translator: Hello, client. I read about your company in Article Y and am interested in connecting with you as an independent Spanish translator. Do you often work with companies in other countries?

 

Client: Yes, we do.

Translator: Hello, client. I read about your company in Article Y and am interested in connecting with you as an independent Spanish translator. Are your current translation solutions fulfilling your needs and meeting your expectations?

 

Client: No, we’ve struggled to complete all the translations we need in-house with our own bilingual employees and are finding that they don’t have the know-how to translate accurately and consistently. We’re also not sure how to manage translation projects and keep files organized. Is this something you can help us with?

Here’s another example of how I use “no” on a regular basis:

Translator: Hello, client. I’m checking in about the project you inquired about last week. Is this project still on hold?

 

Client: Yes, it is.

Translator: Hello, client. I’m checking in about the project you inquired about last week. Has this project been cancelled?

 

Client: No, we are actually waiting on another department to finalize the documents and expect to get back to you tomorrow with approval.

  • Listen and mirror the last few words the other person said. Empathize by labeling the other person’s emotions (or pain points).

When communicating with a client or colleague by phone or email, we aren’t able to see the other person’s emotions or reactions but can listen for cues to learn what they are thinking and feeling instead. Voss’s recommendation to mirror the last few words the other person said is emotionally resounding when used in person (“I’ve been feeling really sad lately.” “You’ve been feeling sad lately? Why is that?”), and it can also be very effective in writing. Everyone wants to know they are being heard, so repeating back what the other person has said can reaffirm to them that you’ve understood what they said and aren’t simply thinking about your own response. Voss calls this “tactical empathy.” Here’s an example of how this could work while speaking with a client over the phone:

Client: I have a project for you and it’s a bit urgent. The client just sent over three files and they want them back by tomorrow. We’re really short-staffed here and I didn’t have time to wait for an email response so I thought I’d call and see if you’re available. Can you take this job?

 

Translator: What’s the rate, and can you pay a rush fee?

Client: I have a project for you and it’s a bit urgent. The client just sent over three files and they want them back by tomorrow. We’re really short-staffed here and I didn’t have time to wait for an email response so I thought I’d call and see if you’re available. Can you take this job?

 

Translator: It sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate right now! Those three urgent files for tomorrow sound doable to me but I’d like to take a look before confirming. I’m at my computer now, so can you send over the files and I’ll reply right away to confirm availability and rates?

  • Don’t be afraid of silence.

Many of us are naturally uncomfortable in situations of silence when face-to-face with another person, and this can happen in writing too. When a client doesn’t get back to you about a project for several days and the project sits in your inbox as “pending approval,” does that make you a little uneasy? Voss says not to be afraid of silence; it can serve as an opportunity to put pressure on the person you’re speaking with, or it may allow them a chance to think harder on what you’ve discussed. Pestering your client more than once about a pending project won’t make them any more likely to approve it; it may just have the opposite effect! Give people time to think by scheduling your communications carefully.

  • Affirm the worst things they could say about you first.

I’ve saved this idea for last because I haven’t tried it yet but am intrigued by the concept! One of Voss’s recommendations is to confront your fellow negotiator head-on by affirming the worst right at the onset. He says that in business negotiations he will often come out of the gate saying, “My price is higher than the next guy’s,” and “We don’t skimp on quality for the sake of saving money,” so that the negotiator can only affirm what has already been said and can’t attack him with new criticism. For me, to open a negotiation with a new client by saying, “I know my rate isn’t cheap” would be very uncomfortable… but may be worth a try!

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Lots of other great advice from this book can be used in all kinds of scenarios that are common for professional translators and interpreters; I hope from this small taste of the author’s expertise and out-of-the-box thinking you get an idea of what you could learn from this book and are encouraged to pick up a copy. Whether or not my negotiations ever involve another person’s life hanging in the balance (I sure hope not), you can bet I’ll be taking a page out of this book to use in my own business communications.

International Translation Day — It wouldn’t be possible without translators and interpreters!

2020 has been a year of changes and “new normals” but one thing hasn’t changed: translators and interpreters still power the world’s communications. ATA wants to celebrate International Translation Day this year by reminding the world just how critical translators and interpreters really are.

Have you ever wondered how your smartphone went from an idea in an engineer’s mind to the invaluable assistant in your hand… or how translators and interpreters may have been involved every step of the way? On ITD (September 30, 2020), ATA will unveil an informational video that showcases how translators and interpreters help bring smartphones to life. This year, ITD is all about showing the world’s 3.5 billion smartphone users how our work as translators and interpreters directly impacts their daily lives.

The video features the life cycle of a smartphone, from concept to the product in your hand. We will walk you through the many steps it takes to produce a smartphone and the myriad linguists involved in getting the job done. Translators, interpreters, localizers, transcreation experts, proofreaders, editors, and more are critical components to this process that impacts every one of us, and we are excited to show just how fundamental our work is to the global economy.

Help us spread the word! Follow ATA on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram) and share ATA’s posts throughout the day on September 30. You can also visit the ITD webpage on September 30, download the video, and post it on your own social media accounts. In your post to social media, we’d love to see you tell us how your daily work helps the world go ‘round!

Freelance Finance: Setting Rates

Here at The Savvy Newcomer we understand that it can be intimidating to talk about money. It’s often a sticky subject, but we feel it couldn’t be more important to address as small business owners. One major component of succeeding as a freelance translator or interpreter is managing your finances well. If you don’t master your money, your translation career won’t be profitable or sustainable. This series on money matters is intended to get right to the heart of some of our biggest questions about freelance finances; we won’t shy away from the tough questions and we invite you to dive into these topics along with us.

Rates. There, we said it! Any conversation about freelance finances would be remiss not to mention the R-word; one of the biggest questions burning in the mind of every aspiring translator or interpreter is “What should I charge for my services?” Let us start with a little secret: there’s no right or wrong answer to this question.

A variety of factors, from your living situation, to your geographic location, to your level of experience, to your specialization, should all play a role in determining your rates. A one-size-fits-all response to this question wouldn‘t be fair; that’s part of why it’s tough to get a straight answer from practicing translators and interpreters to this type of inquiry! Another reason practitioners are hesitant to share their rates is because when a group of competing service providers agrees to charge a certain rate for their services it’s considered price fixing, which results in an unfair profit to sellers and increased cost to buyers.

So how does a newcomer to this profession go about deciding what to charge?

  1. Look at your own data.

A one-size-fits-all approach to translation and interpreting pricing just doesn’t work. Here’s why: everyone is different! Some key personal metrics to consider as you seek to set prices for your work include:

– How fast you translate

– How fast you type

– What business expenses you need to cover (don’t forget taxes!)

– What languages you work in

– Where you live

– What type of services you offer

– What specializations/settings you work in

– How much experience you have as a translator or interpreter

– How many hours a week you’d like to work

– How much vacation time you want to take each year

– How much money you need to live on

This may seem like a lot of factors to take into account; consider taking some time to determine actual figures for the items above that apply to your situation. Anytime you can have a concrete number in mind instead of a range or a guess, you’ll not only be more likely to stay firm on those numbers, but you’ll also feel better about your prospects since you know exactly where your goals are set.

Besides, I have some great news: once you’ve established the numbers above, there’s an incredible tool that a team of volunteers from the Spanish Translators, Copyeditors, and Interpreters Association (ASETRAD) developed to help calculate what you actually need to charge in order to make your business profitable! Calpro is a spreadsheet designed to be adapted to the individual situation of each translator or interpreter. The U.S. version of the spreadsheet includes suggested numbers that may be adjusted for your needs and can be downloaded by clicking here.

  1. Look online.

Another place to look in your pursuit for answers is the resource of all resources: the internet. By visiting the websites of both freelancers and language services agencies you can see how translators and interpreters discuss rates publicly, and this will give you a better idea of what your conversations about rates should look like. Many industry stakeholders choose not to publish their rates, but some do list pricing online—especially if they feel this will offer a competitive advantage. Some agencies’ rates are public due to their involvement with government agencies or GSA schedule listing. When a translation agency makes their pricing public, remember that the rate they are charging their customer will not necessarily represent what the subcontractor or translator will be paid; the agency needs to pay an editor and possibly other subcontractors, may include a project management fee, and will of course keep a margin of the funds to pay their employees and cover overhead.

As you peruse information about translation and interpretation pricing online, you’ll notice that not everyone uses the same units of measurement to charge their clients. Some translators charge per hour, while others charge per word, character, page, or line, and yet others prefer a flat fee per project. Interpreters may charge by the day, half-day, hour, or even minute depending on the type of work. There’s no right way to charge your clients, but you’ll start to see patterns and will want to consider the pros and cons based on the types of clients you work for and your language pair.

When you start to find information on what some of your colleagues are charging, it’s important to remember that pricing can differ across language pairs and specializations. Data from the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey[1] (based on information from 2014) and the ProZ.com average rate survey, for instance, suggests that certain language pairs command a higher rate than others, and specializing in certain areas may bring in better pricing. However, keep in mind that even if two translators use the same unit of measure, such as a per-word rate, their translation speed may differ greatly based on their specialization and level of experience, so they may wind up making the same amount of money per hour or per day. Also note the dates of any pricing you may see online, since rates can increase or decrease over time based on inflation, demand, and implementation of technology in the market.

  1. Look to clients.

If you’ve pursued the two sources of rate information above and are at a standstill on what to charge a translation or interpreting client, there’s always the option of asking the client what their budget is for your services. Some negotiators suggest that this may even result in higher rates than you would set for yourself, since many people tend to underestimate their value or aim low in setting prices. If you can get to the client’s bottom line right away, it could help to ensure that both you and the client are comfortable with the rate that’s agreed on. Be aware that clients may offer a rate lower than what you were expecting, however, and be prepared to negotiate or stay firm on your minimum rate. Since rates with language services agencies can be difficult to adjust, make sure you aren’t locking yourself into a rate you’re not happy with. It can be hard for agencies to increase your rates over time since they aim to make a certain margin off their own pricing and can’t always raise rates with their clients when you need to raise them with yours. Make sure that whatever price you agree on will comfortably allow you to work with the client at a rate that’s agreeable to both parties.

A word to the wise: be cautious about raising or lowering rates in unique circumstances (for example, during a pandemic). Lowering rates without giving a specific and justifiable reason why may set a precedent for offering the lower rate in the future. Raising your rates can cause your client to think you’re unhappy working with them at your current rate. As in many things, communication is key; talk to your clients, talk to your colleagues, and be honest with yourself about what rate will ensure your work is sustainable, profitable, and rewarding.

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Readers, have you found this information helpful as you set about establishing rates for your translation or interpreting services? Have we answered some of your questions and made the conversation about rates just a little bit less awkward?

We hope you’ll find these resources helpful and continue to engage with us about Freelance Finance. Leave a comment below on any topics you’d like to hear more about!

[1] The most recent report on the results of ATA’s compensation survey is available to ATA members by logging into the Members Only area of ATA’s webpage.

Pursuing the Translation Dream: Promoter of the Profession

 

Since we last visited ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators we hope you’ve had a chance to practice the items we discussed in section 4, “Professional Demeanor.” It can be a challenge to develop a professional mindset and apply it to all your business interactions, but we’re confident that you’ve done so skillfully.

Now that you’ve mastered what to know before the phone rings, what to know after the phone rings, how to keep the phone ringing, and developing a professional demeanor, we’re ready to move on to the fifth and final installment of this series on how to achieve a successful professional career in translation. Today we’ll explore the steps to becoming a “Promoter of the Profession,” not only to gain respect from your peers and colleagues, but also more appreciation for your career from your friends, family, and acquaintances. We hope this prompts you to become a more active proponent and spokesperson for the translation and interpreting professions in your everyday life.

In conversation, whenever appropriate, do I bring up the words “translation,” “translator,” and “interpreter” in order to further the public’s awareness of the profession and its significance?

Mentioning what you do is a signal that you like it and you’re proud of it. Anytime I meet people who don’t like to talk about their jobs outside their workplace, it’s a sure sign to me that they don’t enjoy what they do! Talking about translation and/or interpreting with your personal and professional networks sends a message that you’re invested in your career and enjoy it for reasons other than simply the financial gains it may bring.

When you do discuss translation and interpreting with friends and family, try to be aware of any misunderstandings they may have about your profession. You may be the only translator they know! Make sure to listen carefully to how they ask or talk about your job in order to gently correct any myths they may have adopted about this profession. (For example, friends may assume you translate in both directions, that you speak lots of different languages, or that you only work in hospital settings when they hear “I’m a translator.”) Try not to diminish what you do in an effort to be modest; if you’re genuinely proud of your job, don’t downplay it! Don’t be afraid of admitting you’re fluent in another language and that you earn a good living doing what you do. It can be tempting to modulate your conversations with false humility, saying you’re “just” a translator or even choosing to refer to yourself as a “freelancer” instead of a “small business owner.” These small changes in the way we talk about our work can make a big difference in how people perceive us.

Would I consider doing outreach work for the profession by talking to high schools, participating in college career days, submitting articles about the translation field to general interest publications, writing letters to the editor, speaking at business community networking meetings, or informing new translators about professional associations and conferences, etc.?

One very meaningful way to promote the translation and interpreting professions is by talking to future generations about the importance of the work we do. ATA has an entire School Outreach team to encourage linguists to do this very activity! Teaching others about the work of translators and interpreters is a great way to both inform the public about the professions and also learn more about it yourself. By researching and preparing for these events and publications you may learn things you didn’t know and make connections you wouldn’t otherwise have made. Promoting the profession through outreach can be as simple as visiting your child’s classroom on Career Day or writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to share an interesting update about your profession. Whatever platform you may have to share information with others, consider it an opportunity to broadcast the fact that translators and interpreters play a crucial role in many of the everyday products and processes we take for granted.

Here’s a challenge for you: next time you are given a platform to share information with a group of people, try to mention your work in the fields of translation and interpreting. Slip in the fact that you speak multiple languages. See how many people come up to you later and want to know more! Perhaps this will even present more opportunities to share with a broader network of people or allow you to make connections that could benefit your business.

Am I interested in serving as an active volunteer or officer of a professional translator or interpreter organization?

Volunteers power our organizations! To volunteer in a professional association means to contribute your time and effort without pay; it can be a thankless job but it has the potential to benefit all your fellow translators and interpreters, not to mention the generations of professionals who will come after you. Involvement in professional organizations can come in many forms; within ATA alone there are volunteers who coordinate the Mentoring Program, School Outreach Contest, divisions, committees, certification program, and much more. If you’re interested in getting involved but don’t know where to start, see this ATA Chronicle article for some ideas.

Contributing time and energy as a volunteer can send some very powerful messages about you as a promoter of the profession; it tells onlookers that you care about your profession. Dedicating time to furthering the mission of translators and interpreters shows that you are committed to this career. Joining forces with fellow professionals says you’re a team player and that you collaborate and cooperate well with others. What do your current volunteer activities say about you?

Do I continue to be alert to what it is I do not yet know?

Part of being an advocate for the translation and interpreting profession is realizing you’ll never know all there is to know about it. As a promoter of the profession, you’re constantly on the lookout for new developments and changes that impact your work, and you use these updates as an opportunity to broaden your horizons and spread the word about your profession to new outlets. This may take the form of attending conferences, following newsletters and blogs, or just staying in touch with fellow professionals.

Do I enjoy the translation business?

People who don’t like what they do prefer not to talk about work. But if you love your job as a translator or interpreter, you’ll be bursting to share what you do with everyone around you! Focus on the aspects of your job that you enjoy; make a list if you have to, and be sure to share these perks with the people around you as you promote the profession and, as a result, promote translation and interpreting professionals everywhere.

Thank you for joining us for this journey in pursuing the translation dream; we hope it’s landed you closer to achieving your goals and helped you find success!

The Secret Sauce for Building Cohesive Teams

Though it may seem paradoxical since many of us work independently, teamwork is a critical component of a freelance translator or interpreter’s professional life. Introverts and extroverts alike need collaboration and interaction in order to thrive, and oftentimes quality necessitates working together to resolve questions and agree on solutions. Whether you’re volunteering on a committee, working with a team of translators and editors on a big project, or joining forces in the interpreting booth, cohesive teamwork enhances and enriches your efforts.

Here at The Savvy Newcomer, we have learned the value of cooperation and collaboration time and time again as we work together to bring you content on a weekly basis. No team is perfect, but we’ve worked out quite the recipe for cohesiveness as we have been growing and stretching as a team since 2013. Starting with a team of three translators who barely knew each other and had no idea what platform we would be creating, Savvy has grown to include eight members that coordinate both a weekly blog and two conference sessions. Read on to learn more about what we’ve concocted!

Ingredients

1 core team of 2-3 dedicated individuals who share a common goal

  • Each teammate should have a role to play. Know your strengths but also be willing to back each other up when needed.
  • Add more people to the mix as you need additional support; integrate slowly, making sure they know they are valuable to the team and have an important role to play in your group’s success.
  • Sometimes teammates don’t work out; be willing to have frank conversations with teammates who can’t commit to working with you or whose work doesn’t line up with your team’s objectives.

2 people trained and prepared to take on each task

  • It’s inevitable that teammates will need breaks or go on vacation or take leaves of absence, because life happens. Make sure that no one person on your team holds all the knowledge about critical processes.
  • Keep SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) so that it’s easier for someone else to take over when one person needs a break. Update these on a regular basis, or every time your process changes.

1 communication method that suits your team

  • Agree on a platform that everyone can communicate through, whether it be email, Slack, or a listserv. Keep communication clear and concise but friendly; business colleagues can talk about everyday stuff, not just business!
  • Share ideas openly; make it clear that your team is a safe place to springboard ideas and build confidence.

1 file sharing method that suits your team

  • Whether it’s Dropbox or Google Drive, make sure everyone on the team can access the documents they need in order to pull their own weight. If one person can’t get to the SOPs, they can’t be helpful even if they want to!
  • It’s also important for your file structure to be well-organized; when new members join the team they shouldn’t have to take a crash course in how your folder system works. It should be intuitive and logical so that people can get up to speed quickly when they pick up tasks for other team members.

Instructions

These ingredients aren’t foolproof, but hard work and good camaraderie are a good combination so we believe you’ll find that this mix will make for a viable team. Keeping commitments is critical to any team effort; make sure your teammates can count on you and vice versa. Be open to improvement and adaptation; your process may need some tweaking over time, and in particular you may need to do some adjusting as you get started. Lastly, be aware that sometimes you put together the perfect dream team and it just doesn’t work out—the timing might not be right, it might not be what your audience wants, or your dream team might not mix the way you thought it would. That’s okay! Take note of lessons learned and try again.

What types of teams are you a part of, readers? What is your team chemistry like? What unexpectedly worked or didn’t work?