Hone Your Craft Before You Sell—How I Would Have Practiced as a Newbie in Hindsight

 

I made almost every mistake in the book when I was starting out as a translator. However, I recently reflected on what I would have done differently if I knew then what I know now. This led me to come up with a specific self-practice process simulating real-world working conditions that I wish I had followed before selling my services. The system is also designed to provide valuable feedback and data. Now I would like to share this with readers in the hope it proves useful to others.

This post is inspired by one of my favorite Marta Stelmaszak posts, “A letter to my younger self as a translator,” and conversations I’ve had in my capacity as a mentor in the ATA Mentoring Program. So, here are the steps I would follow if I could go back in time.

Identify realistic source texts

Consider what types of businesses are a good fit for your skillset, meet your interest, and have a demand for your services. What industry or industries are you willing and able to specialize in? What types of texts need to be translated in those industries?

If you don’t know, find out. Ask colleagues with similar specializations what types of documents they usually translate. Or better yet, ask businesses in your field what types of documents they usually need translated into your language. Now go and find these texts online in your source language and save them as practice texts.

Identify good target-language texts in your field and compare

Next, find some high-quality, monolingual texts of the same type in your target language. Studying these will help you get a better feel for conventions and terminology in your field and avoid “translatorese.” Then compare these with source-language material to identify key differences and how some standard terms might be translated.

The source-language material should be as realistic as possible, which means it may not always be perfect or amazingly well written. For the target-language material, you should strive to find the best work possible. Look for well-written texts that you can aspire to and learn from. Good writers read a lot and take inspiration from what they readthe same can be said of translators.

Find someone who is willing and able to give constructive feedback

How will you know if you are making mistakes if nobody tells you? How will you know if your work is worth what you’re charging?

Working closely with revisers on direct-client projects has taught me a lot. The feedback from colleagues has been invaluable, and I regret not getting more of it earlier in my career.

It would be ideal to make an arrangement with someone before you start practicing so you can get feedback on your work as you practice. Here are a few suggestions on how to find someone (disclaimer: I haven’t tried these, but in hindsight, I would):

  • Ask an experienced colleague with the right language combination and specialization if they would be willing to mentor you by providing feedback, at least on a few short practice translations.
  • Find one or more other newbies with the same language combination and specialization to look over each other’s practice translations. It can be easier to spot room for improvement in others’ work, and this would be mutually beneficial.
  • Join or a start a revision club for your language combination.

Set up a time-tracking app and a statistics template

Like most newbies, I struggled to determine what to charge when starting out. It can also be hard to estimate how long a job will take. Tracking how much time it takes you to translate various text types is a great way to solve this problem. This will allow you to more confidently set, accept, or reject a deadline, and determine which types of texts are most lucrative for you.

First, you need to choose a time tracking app. There are many to choose from, and I use TimeCamp. You can even track manually in an Excel file or on a piece of paper if you prefer. The important thing is that you record the time when you start and stop working.

Then you will need a template or method of compiling and comparing your statistics. I use a custom Excel file where I enter parameters such as text type, end client, editor, word count, fee, hours, and an hourly rate calculated by dividing the total project fee by the number of hours worked. If you aren’t an Excel nerd, you can use another method or fewer parameters. Just be sure to set up a system that works for you, so you can make use of your data.

Tracking time this way helps you determine which types of texts go faster or slower, which you’re better at, and which ones you might be better off avoiding. For example, if you spend four hours on a 500-word company presentation in PowerPoint and two hours on a 500-word press release, then you know that charging the same fee based on the number of words for both isn’t a great deal for you.

Start practicing and evaluate

Crack open your realistic source texts, start your time tracker, and get to work! When you’re done, send your translation for feedback and editing, and enter your hours into your spreadsheet. Now carefully evaluate the feedback and data.

Imagine this were a billable project and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Would you and your client be satisfied?
  • If not, what needs to change, or where can you improve?
  • Do you need to brush up on your specialization, source-language comprehension, or target-language writing skills?
  • How long did it take you?
  • Would you be satisfied with your earning capacity translating at this speed?

Be sure to try a variety of different text types to get a feel for which ones you’re better at. Repeat similar text types to see whether the practice helps you improve and produce quality work faster.

When are you ready for the real thing?

I think a good way to measure when you’re ready to not only start on a basic level, but work effectively at a high level in the translation industry, would be when you’re confident in your ability to:

  • Produce accurate translations suited to the client’s needs
  • Be clear about your specialization(s) and the types of texts you’re proficient in (know your limits)
  • Quote a rate that reflects the time and effort you expect to spend on the project based on your experience and data from similar work
  • Quote a deadline that’s realistic based on your experience and that won’t jeopardize quality

Although this process may take time and effort, I believe that this type of rigorous practice regimen is better than attempting to learn on the job or winging it, not least because it can be stressful and time-consuming to accurately quote and sell your services as a newbie—you might end up either wasting precious time and energy trying to figure it out on the spot or accepting projects you live to regret.

One might argue that learning on the job means you get paid while you learn, but this could prove a risky gamble if you get in over your head. If you get stuck doing text types that have little to do with the type of work you actually want to be doing in the long term, you might not be learning the right things or might adopt practices and habits that take time to unlearn later, especially if you receive little or no feedback. Finding what direction you want your career to take early on and working hard to achieve your goals will surely give you a flying start.

Do you plan to try any of these methods or similar techniques or have you had positive experiences with a similar type of practice regimen? If you already have some experience under your belt, how would you have practiced in hindsight?

Image source: Pixabay

Bad Business Practices for Freelancers

We often hear about what a good freelancer should be like. But somewhere in between good advice, we let a bad decision slip in. Having a clear idea of what not to do is just as important as knowing what you should do.

Below is a list of bad choices taken from real-life scenarios of the freelance world.

Accept too much work.

Pretty soon, people will start to say one of these things:

  • Oh, when Joe has too much work he works late hours and rushes the work out with no review. You just can’t trust him.
  • When Joe is too busy he starts to subcontract to lower-priced colleagues and doesn’t check their work. You never know whether you are going to get his good work or something else.
  • When Mary is overbooked, she sends unqualified people to interpret in her place. My agency lost a contract because of that already!

Don’t answer emails.

Whether it is from established clients or—even worse—a prospective client, nothing screams “unreliable” like ignoring an email, or answering a few days later without a decent explanation.

Don’t meet deadlines.

Need we say more?

Be late to appointments.

You should arrive early to ask orientation questions, get familiar with the venue, maybe check the speaker’s PowerPoint, so nobody is worried about their communication. When everyone else is on time, waiting for you… this will be your last job.

Overpromise and underdeliver.

We have heard of some agencies that say they always send certified interpreters, but the doctors notice that the interpreters don’t always understand their English. Another translation company said its work always went through a reviewer, but delivered substandard work.

Don’t keep your clients posted on how your work is progressing with a long project, or if you need to slide a deadline because of a natural disaster, or a family situation (yes, these things do happen). Clients would often be quite understanding if you spoke up, or would tell you that this deadline just can’t be changed, so you could find another way to meet it…

Things always have to be done your way, because the translator knows best.

The client is the expert on how the readers respond to the text, so you have to listen to your client and find a reasonable way to deal with the issues at hand.

Don’t show any interest in helping your client’s mission move forward.

Your translations are, after all, intended to help your client’s mission move forward. It is your job to see how you can partner with the client to help with language access in as many ways as possible. They may not have considered some issues.

Don’t explain how you set your deadlines.

Explaining the rationale for your deadlines helps your client see that you are respecting the work you do, and you are not a mindless machine.

Don’t offer improvements on the source text when appropriate.

If there is typo in the copy, they want to know so they can improve it. If there is an ambiguous phrase, they would like to clarify it in the next edition. This does not make you their copy editor, but we do catch a few issues as we translate. We should point them out.

Don’t explain your translation choices.

Sometimes a translation choice may not appear obvious to some bilingual speakers. Explaining it helps your client understand the process of translation better.

Don’t ask questions about your work.

If you never have any questions, your client can’t see much difference between working with you and an automated service.

Have you heard of any of these issues? This is not an exhaustive list. We would love to hear some stories in the comments.

Image source: Pixabay

How Interpreting Principles Have Influenced My Translation Practices

As a translator, I find that the principles I have learned in interpreting serve me every day. I am a certified translator, a certified court interpreter, and a certified medical interpreter. These professions, in my opinion, have a lot in common. Practicing in both professions for over 30 years has broadened my perspective. Having applied the ethics of both professions has prepared me to interact in unique conversations and help some regulators in my home state of Oregon make more informed decisions.

For example, in March 2016 I made a chart comparing medical and court interpreting ethics for the Worker’s Compensation Division of Oregon (WCD) to help them understand the ethics of interpreters in these two fields. The WCD rules said anybody could interpret. They were not aware that we had certification processes and that certified interpreters did, indeed, follow a code of ethics, which are applied by the certifying organizations. The WCD had studied the issue carefully before the national medical-interpreting certification exams had been implemented, and they were unaware of the changes. Since we wanted them to work with professionals and value them, they needed to know what we brought to the table. They were especially appreciative of the commitment certified interpreters have made to confidentiality, impartiality, and accuracy.

The core values of ethics for medical and court interpreting are different, but they both apply to translation in many cases. For example, in both it is important to be culturally sensitive. In translation, this is especially important when preparing documents for public-relations departments or advertising. The goal is that the non-English speakers be placed in the same position as similarly situated persons for whom there is no such barrier. This always applies in translation, but in a legal document it would mean that we change and adapt as little as possible, while still making the text readable.

Confidentiality is common to both interpreting codes of ethics mentioned above. As translators, we are also expected to keep all materials that we work with confidential and not take advantage of the information that we acquire through translation. In court interpreting, that goes so far as to include a specific restriction on public comment. As translators, we sign NDAs that require the same level of confidentiality. Even without an NDA, translators are expected to share information only on a “need-to-know” basis: with people who are working on the project and are equally committed to confidentiality.

Both medical and court interpreting require that we be accurate in our rendition of the message in the target language. We are expected not to explain, alter, omit, or add anything to the message. Depending on the purpose of our work, we might have a conversation with our clients if we need to stray from these guidelines.

All codes require that the interpreter be impartial. As translators, we must be careful not to change the nuance of the text. The author chose certain adjectives and nouns that carry a particular shade of meaning to show his bias. We need to make sure our translation reflects the same tone, nuance and bias of the source text. Additionally, we need to translate in a way that t carries the voice of the author and is easily understood in the target language.

All interpreting codes require that we act professionally. That means answering emails promptly, meeting commitments, keeping deadlines, and charging what was on the estimate. When issues that will delay the project come up, professionals communicate that as soon as possible. They also take pride in the quality of their work, so it is quite appropriate to tell our clients exactly why we are great.

All the applicable codes include professional development. As a matter of fact, this is a common thread in all professions, and nurses, teachers and doctors, for example, also have to submit continuing-education credits to maintain their credentials.

Court interpreters are expected to represent their qualifications honestly. They should not accept assignments they are not qualified for. This is an important principle for everyone to follow.

Court interpreters are also expected to report impediments to their performance. As translators, we too should be able to tell our clients when a deadline is too tight to deliver appropriate quality, or whether any other impediment could affect our work. For example, we might ask for additional documents on the same subject translated by the client so we can adopt similar terminology to avoid confusing their readers. I often ask language companies to share with me how the reviewers have modified my documents so I know how to come closer to their expectations the next time. I do not always get what I ask for, but I keep trying.

Beyond ethics, interpreters and translators also have overlapping skills. One of the skills evaluated in interpreting certification exams is sight translation. This skill is helping me a lot now that I have a rotator-cuff injury and an arthritic thumb, and I am dictating a lot of my translations into Dragon, a voice-recognition program. Interpreters often sight translate forms for patients in medical offices and write, in English, the patient’s verbal response. Since the end product is written, this is listed as audio translation in the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) skill descriptions.

Due to the “live” nature of their work, interpreters are in close communication with those who benefit from their services. They get instant feedback on whether their message was understood or not. As a translator, I benefit from my interpreting experience. I know my target readers because I have spent time with them. In addition, I am starting a Spanish-language book club at my local library so we can stay connected with the language at a different level. We start in September, after almost a year of planning. My Venezuelan, Mexican and Colombian friends are thrilled.

Interpreters are in close contact with the language-access needs of the community. As translators, we can learn from them and partner with them to meet those needs on the translation side. As we hear about problems, we can offer our services in the organizations where our interpreter colleagues say the forms are wrong or they do not send letters in the language of the Limited English Proficient (LEP) person. We can also offer to fix the incorrect language on the signs on the walls. Without talking to our interpreter colleagues, we would never know what services are needed!

As translators, there is a lot we can learn from our interpreter colleagues. The next time you have an opportunity, swing by one of their ethics trainings. You will discover you are participating in a lively discussion! Reading interpreting codes of ethics can also add perspective to our work as translators. Do not rule it out as you seek guidance in your translation career.

Image source: Pixabay

Pursuing the Translation Dream: How to Keep the Phone Ringing

Have you been following our five-part series on how to assess your readiness to become a successful translator, inspired by ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators? If so, we hope your phone is ringing by now! Today we will discuss tips for how to keep the calls coming, based on section 3 of the aforementioned ATA checklist, titled “Professional Relationships (How to keep the phone ringing).”

But before we dive in: if you are just joining, you may want to have a look at the first two posts in the series:

Part 1: Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know Before the Phone Rings

Part 2: Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know After the Phone Rings

Now buckle up and get ready for the good stuff.

By now your hook is baited and you’re starting to get some bites. How do you keep the catches coming?

As you may expect, there are some no-brainers when it comes to retaining clients and landing new ones: make sure to offer consistent quality, be trustworthy (think honoring deadlines and confidentiality agreements), and, importantly, when it comes to finding new clients, be sure to regularly evaluate and refine your marketing strategies. (Here are some ideas on how to get your name out there, from Carlos Djomo’s post, “6-Step Strategy to Translators’ Visibility.”)

Beyond these foundations for fostering strong relationships, we selected four more tips ripe for the picking, based on the ATA questionnaire.

Do I return phone calls promptly?

Availability and promptness may strike you as “no-brainers,” but as obvious as they may seem, their importance cannot be emphasized enough—hence this being the first of the four tips.

If you take away only one thing from this post, let it be to respond promptly to clients.

If possible, make a habit of replying to new project requests and other important client emails within 30 minutes to an hour. To avoid distractions from work, you may choose to set a reminder to check email every hour. I do this by checking email when my Pomodoro timer goes off (every 25 or 50 minutes, depending on the day or the task at hand).

If you do check email frequently for client messages, be sure to filter out nonurgent emails and tend only to client messages that merit a response. Otherwise, you may end up unnecessarily digressing from work. If you are unable to respond for 90–120 minutes or more, consider setting an autoresponder to let clients know you will reply as soon as possible.

Even if you are unavailable for a job, send a prompt and gracious reply so the client knows they can rely on you next time. You may want to streamline the process by creating an email template (or a “canned response” if you’re using Gmail) that you can reuse and make minor edits to on a case-by-case basis. This limits time spent drafting responses for each individual email, yet allows you to keep clients informed.

Interested in more email hacks? Have a look at this post by Victoria Chavez-Kruse: “Inbox Zero: Forever in pursuit of ‘No new mail!’”

Do I maintain a positive, cooperative attitude? (Are my requests and specific working requirements reasonable?)

You have probably heard the saying, “People work with people they know, like and trust.” In fact, you may have heard it more than a few times. (Clichés are cliché for a reason: they are true!) Successful translators are easy to work with: they have a pleasant, can-do attitude, are willing to cooperate, and have the ability to see things from the client’s perspective. All of these qualities will make you a pleasure to work with.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you reflect on what kind of impression you make: When I am asked to edit a text that was poorly translated, do I immediately complain about quality, or do I try to get to the bottom of why this happened and how to avoid it in the future? When a client cancels a project after it has already been approved, is my response firm and professional, yet friendly, and does it invite the client to collaborate with me on ways to avoid the problem in the future? When I correspond with my clients, do I show them they are valued and not just an email address without a face or name? I like to feel valued by them, and surely the same is true for them!

You may just find that your quest for a positive attitude in your work makes you not only a pleasant collaborator, but a more optimistic person in other aspects of your life, too. Talk about a win-win!

Am I flexible? Am I open to change? (Can I readily admit mistakes and offer to correct them?)

Translation projects are often dynamic. There are last-minute changes, unexpected hurdles, and the occasional impossible expectation. You can minimize the impact of these challenges by accounting for them from the start (for example, add in a time buffer when agreeing to deadlines). When difficulties arise, flexibility and a can-do attitude are key in overcoming them.

As for inevitable oversights and mistakes, what matters most is not their occurrence, but how we face them when they are brought to our attention. It is natural to feel defensive about our work (after all, we put an excruciating amount of care into it!), but we must remember that our clients are our greatest allies. In fact, in the case of agencies, we share the self-same goal of producing an impeccable text for the end client, and as any writer or translator knows, four eyes are better than two.

Take time to evaluate the alleged mistake with a cool head before deciding how to proceed. If a correction is in order, be gracious and prompt about delivering the changes. Remember to take note of what went wrong for the future. If you truly feel the client is mistaken in their correction, you may opt to defend your translation, but do so considerately and be sure to acknowledge the client’s point of view.

Can I accept the fact that my client does not know all about my profession or its problems, nor my personal difficulties, and that it is not his or her responsibility to learn about them?

Think of the last time you hired someone. Whether it was a graphic designer, lawyer, general contractor, or taxi or Uber driver, what did you want or expect from this person? Did he or she deliver, or were you subjected to woes about professional or personal problems? Imagine, for example, a taxi driver who complains that he needs a new car battery or waxes on about the cause of his crabby mood. Now think of someone you hired or worked with who was a joy to do business with and whose service delivery was seamless.

Be someone you would enjoy doing business with. This means getting the job done well in a timely fashion and clueing in the client to decisions where they should be involved, while refraining from bringing up personal matters or complaints, as poignant as they may be. We are all human, but your client hired you for one reason and one reason only: to translate (or edit, etc.). Never lose sight of that reason.

Now that you have some new ideas on how to nurture strong relationships with clients, we hope you continue to reel in a steady flow of loyal customers. Even once you are sitting pretty with a solid client base, there is always room to fine-tune your business skills and relationships with clients and colleagues. Indeed, we will take it a step further in the fourth (and penultimate) installment of this series, which will touch on professional demeanor.

Get a sneak peek by checking out section 4 of the ATA questionnaire. Want more from Savvy in the meantime? Check out this post by Tony Guerra on getting and keeping agency clients. We would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Image source: Pixabay

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Money Matters

This post is the fourth (first post, second post, and third post) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

In the first post in this series, I alluded to a question I’ve been asked several times since I began freelancing—sometimes more subtly than others: “Do people actually pay you to do that?” Some days it feels surreal that, yes, people really do pay me for this and I get to read in Spanish, write in English, and sometimes even correct other people’s spelling and grammatical mistakes (Grammar Police Alert!), but the underlying question is whether translation and interpreting are viable career options for bilinguals. The short answer is yes—if you have the right skill set.

If you’re just beginning to consider whether a career in T&I may be for you and are asking the same question, you are not alone. Some of the biggest questions many beginning translators and interpreters have about getting started also revolve around money: How much do I charge? What kinds of expenses will I have? How do I make sure my clients actually pay me (on time)? I’ll do my best to cover these tricky yet essential questions in the following lines.

What should I charge?

Translators often charge per word (source or target) or per hour, while interpreters may charge per hour, half day, or per diem rates. Rates can vary significantly in different segments of the market, while your specialization and language combination can also play a major role. Quoting too much relative to the importance and budget of a particular project may make it hard to secure enough work. However, quoting too little could put you in a vicious cycle where you work long hours at low rates. Long-term business prospects and finances can be affected by your choice of rates because it’s difficult to make time to find higher-paying projects and invest in the skills development and training needed to qualify for them if you are too busy with smaller or lower-paying projects and clients. And on top of all that, you could end up undercutting your colleagues.

While newer translators and interpreters may logically earn less than more experienced professionals—like in any other industry—you can earn fair compensation for your experience and education level, if you are putting the right amount of time and effort into your work and business development. But again, this begs the question: What should I charge? There are a few good ways to figure out what that means in terms of specific numbers.

First, the American Translators Association (ATA) has conducted and reported on a survey of professional translators and interpreters regarding their compensation and rates. The results of this ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey, Fifth Edition can be accessed for free in summary form or in full form (free to ATA members, $95 for non-members). The results cover information on rates, language pairs, and annual income.

Calpro is another resource you can use to determine what rate you should charge in order to bring in your target income, taking into account working hours, holidays, and other expenses. This spreadsheet was first developed by the Spanish association of translators, ASETRAD, and was adapted by ATA volunteers for use in the U.S.

Tracking the time you spend on each project is a great way to generate data that can help you figure out how much you actually are earning and which projects are more or less worthwhile for you. Start by using a time tracking tool like RescueTime or Timecamp and then use an Excel file or other method to compile your data and divide the total fee for a project by the number of hours spent on it to see how much you earned per hour. This will help you determine whether you might need to charge more next time for a similar type of text, or whether you would be better off rejecting a project that you will likely earn less on in favor of a project that would earn you more per hour, or even in favor of spending time on business development to grow your client base.

How do I make sure I get paid?

Two common issues when it comes to getting paid for freelance work are scams (where a fake client orders work from you and either never pays or scams money out of you by means of a fake check) and late payers. Several resources exist to help freelancers avoid these issues, including Payment Practices and WPPF (and check out this article on the topic).

How do freelance finances work?

I could write pages upon pages about freelance finances, but at the end of the day, the important thing is to understand that earning money as a freelancer (what we would refer to as “1099 income” in the U.S.) is vastly different from earning money as an employee of a company (“W2 income”). Freelancers need to send invoices to request payment from their clients, pay their own taxes (usually there is no withholding and you make estimated payments throughout the year), manage their own retirement savings, cover their own business expenses, and meet their own insurance needs. All of these are things that employers will often handle for their employees, while freelancers need to build them into their time and finances. I won’t go into detail about each of these topics, but I do want to provide a resource or two on each topic in case you need somewhere to start looking.

  1. Invoicing and Expenses

Some freelancers choose to create their own invoicing processes and others prefer to use software to help manage the process for them. The following are a few popular invoicing tools for freelance translators and interpreters: Xero, Translation Office 3000, Express Invoice.

  1. Taxes

Some freelancers choose to do their own taxes, but many prefer to outsource this service to a professional accountant or accounting firm. Since there are so many extra factors that go into freelance tax filings (e.g. multiple 1099’s, a Schedule C/1040, possibly other business filings depending on your setup and location, and deductions for business expenses), options like TurboTax and TaxAct would probably make for a stressful springtime… So unless you want to forego a lot of afternoons going crazy trying to decipher the tax code, I would suggest reaching out to other translators in your area to get recommendations for an accountant you can trust to take care of your tax needs.

  1. Retirement

Employers generally contribute to your retirement savings when you are a W2 employee, so it is extra important to start early if you’re a freelancer. Options for freelancers include traditional or Roth IRAs and SEPs, whether through financial planners or using online options like Vanguard and e-Trade.

  1. Insurance

Another expense that is often subsidized by employers for W2 employees is insurance (health, vision, dental, life, etc.) As a freelancer you’ll need to take care of this yourself, but you won’t be alone! Many options are available outside employer-sponsored health plans. For instance, Freelancers Union offers a private marketplace for members to connect with insurance companies (and Union membership is free!).

We hope this information has helped you get a better idea of what to expect as you consider a career as a freelance translator or interpreter! Stay tuned for the fifth and final installment in this series: Technology and Tools.

Image source: Pixabay