Look Out(!) for these Red Flags in Client Communications

Over the years I’ve received a lot of spam emails from would-be “clients” requesting my services. Here are just a few of the red flags I look for to determine whether an email is from a legitimate client or a scammer.

Ambiguous requests

“Hello, I’m contacting you in regard to an English content document worth 11,633 words (44 Pages). I need this document translated into [your language here]. I would like to know if you are interested and available to get this done for me. Please get back to me as soon as you can. Thank you.”

Some of the details I noticed here:

  • No deadline
  • Nothing about the topic
  • No mention about why you would be the right linguist for the job
  • It comes from a Gmail account or some other free domain

Trying to get personal / Grammatical errors

“I hope that you are enjoying the best of health and this message meet you well.

I would like to know if you are interested and available, I got your contact from an online Directory of Translators and Interpreters.”

Note the writing errors:

  • Sentences are separated by periods instead of commas
  • Poor subject-verb agreement; “this sentence meets you well” would have been correct

Inaccurate claims about your profile

“Your portfolio published on [your association here]…”

We don’t put portfolios on our association websites! We have profile listings that describe our skills and specialties. That’s an immediate red flag.

Math about the experience of their staff

Sometimes a client will try to convince you they are great by saying they are “managed by highly erudite professionals with over [xx] years of combined experience.” We don’t know how many professionals are on the management team, so if their combined experience adds up to 50 years but there are only 20 people, this doesn’t mean much.

Unusual contracting procedures

Some clients will claim to offer a certain amount of pay per month, and will report with a 1099-k structure. That means that they are not the ones sending you the 1099; whoever processes the electronic payments is. That would be PayPal, QuickBooks, or whoever they work with. You have to receive either 200 payments or $20,000 through that system to get a report through them. In other words, they do not do their own 1099 reports.

Phone number and address

When in doubt, I call the phone number listed in the potential client’s email. If I get a Google phone message, this raises a red flag. A Google message is unusual for a language company, especially if it does not identify the company the email supposedly came from.

You can also look up their listed address on Google Maps. Occasionally it is at a Dollar Tree, a barber, or a storage unit site—I have seen all three of these! As soon as I ask why they operate from that type of address, the emails stop coming.

Better Business Bureau rating

If a company reaching out to me has a poor rating on the Better Business Bureau website, that’s a red flag too. The company isn’t worth working with if they are known to be delinquent in payment to their contractors. If a company has one star out of five, beware!

Unsolicited prepayments

Some clients will try to send me a check before I have started the job, without me asking them to do so or agreeing on a price. Once, I got the translation… and a check in the mail for an amount I had not negotiated. We had not negotiated any price at all! Then I got persistent emails asking whether I cashed the check instead of asking whether I had any questions about the translation. This is a red flag, too!

I went to the bank and discovered it was a fake account from a fake bank. The bank destroyed the check. I never cash a check before finishing my assignment; first I have to negotiate the deal, then complete the assignment, then receive payment.

When something looks off, it probably is. If you think something is questionable, it probably is. Standard business practices exist because they prevent problems. It is always helpful to find colleagues to check with when you have questions, though. Local chapters and national professional associations such as ATA are excellent resources.

Image source: Pixabay

Pursuing the Translation Dream: Professional Demeanor

Your translation career is moving right along: you have a growing slate of repeat customers and a modest circle of close colleagues. You can even hear a little voice in your head wondering whether you’ve finally “made it.” But that little voice has a devilish counterpart that doubts work will always be plentiful and that you’ll earn enough to meet your goals.

This post, which is part four of a five-part series on how to achieve a successful professional career in translation, explores what it takes to continue to build your business and foster professional relationships that will help you meet your long-term goals.

This series is inspired by the ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators. The previous three posts in the series contemplated what to know before the phone rings, what to know after the phone rings, and how to keep the phone ringing. In this fourth installment, we’ll look at selected questions from section 4 of the questionnaire, on “Professional Demeanor.”

Have I honed my “client education skills”? (For instance, what would I say to politely refuse a request for a job with an unreasonable deadline or fee?)

Sooner or later, newcomers to the profession will hear old-timers talk about the need for client education. But it can be hard for a budding translator to imagine what client education looks like until she finds herself in a situation that calls for it. Even then, it can feel easier to shy away from the problem than to figure out how to face it.

Here are two recommendations on how to help clients understand your work as a translator:

Talk to experienced colleagues. If there’s no one you feel comfortable seeking advice from, consider consulting the enlightened and lively participants of the ATA Business Practices list, where you’ll be sure to reap advice from those who have worked through their own trial and error. (For the record, we’re always happy to answer your questions here at The Savvy Newcomer blog, too!)

Use the power of visualization. In other words, put yourself in the client’s shoes. Close your eyes and imagine you’re the client. Visualize yourself in their office, at their computer, even literally in their shoes. Now think about what drives that person, what worries them.

Now think of the client’s role in the exchange at hand: Imagine you’re the one who needs the translation. You’re the project manager challenged with delivering a quality translation to the end client in a short timeframe and you must find a well-matched translator who’s also able to deliver on time. Or you’re the head of marketing trying to figure out how to produce effective copy to attract customers in other languages without the CFO questioning“unjustified” expenses.

Now open your eyes and return to your own shoes. Think about how you can communicate in a way that speaks to the “client version” of yourself. How can you help the client solve their problems, while still taking into account your knowledge of the nature and value of your own work?This may mean finding common ground with the client, or it may mean forgoing the project altogether in order to maintain your own sanity and professional standards.

Either way, understanding the other party’s perspective is key.Not only does this allow us to demonstrate empathy and solve our clients’ problems; it also helps us better understand the factors that impact negotiations. If you recognize the importance of a certain text or a critical deadline, there may even be room to negotiate a higher fee commensurate with the value you can offer.

Do I request constructive feedback on my work and services? (Do I accept criticism graciously, and consider it seriously with the intent to learn and improve my skills and services?)

We’re taught from a young age to seek positive feedback, whether in the form of good grades or “gold stars” for following the rules. This can make it uncomfortable to receive critical feedback later in life, since we often understand criticism to mean that we’ve done something wrong.

Yet constructive criticism is key to honing one’s professional skills. What master cellist, ballet dancer, or surgeon perfected their craft without any guidance? Similarly, the craft of translation is no easy feat and can’t be mastered in isolation.

Indeed, many translators are content to translate in the privacy of their own homes and share their work only with the clients who hire them. The best translators, on the other hand, spend painstaking hours teaming up with keen-eyed colleagues who help them refine their craft.

Yet, because translators are generally a kind breed, it can take time to find a colleague who has what it takes—that is, not only the talent, but the willingness—to provide the constructive feedback you need to advance your skills. That said, it’s worth the search.

You’ll find some helpful tips on how to do this and more in this post: “Hone Your Craft Before You Sell—How I Would Have Practiced as a Newbie in Hindsight.”

Do I refrain from casual discussion about an assignment or a client/bureau/colleague, realizing that such casual talk could be problematic and detrimental to everyone – the client and the translation profession as well as my colleagues?

Our job as freelance translators is both thrilling and challenging. There are inevitably times that we want to revel in a positive experience—or vent about a negative one—with colleagues.

Especially when it comes to negative experiences, keep in mind that there’s a difference between sharing factual information—such as a dubious payment record—and badmouthing a client or fellow translator. Before indulging in gossip, consider how your words will come across to others. How would you would react if your comments were to get back to the subject of the conversation (that is, the criticized client or colleague)?

Most importantly, if you have regular complaints about someone you work with, be it a client or a colleague, it’s probably time to find a new customer or collaborator whose praises you’ll want to sing!

Do I acknowledge those who refer clients to me with a thank you note or call, a reciprocal action, an agreed-upon finder’s fee, or some other mutually understood recognition?

Humans are social creatures. We function on reciprocity. A thank-you note or a return favor (for example, a return referral) goes a long way. The lack of reciprocation may go an equally long way—in the opposite direction.

In some professions, it’s customary to reciprocate referrals with a “finder’s fee.” There have been discussions about this on the ATA Business Practices list, and the general consensus has been that translator colleagues prefer a karma-based system (and a sincere thanks) over a cut of the earnings.

There are plenty of simple ways to show gratitude that may not fill anyone’s wallet, but do fill a metaphorical“bank account.” One of these is to let the referrer know you’ll keep her in mind as a resource in the future. If you know she would be a good fit, you could also hire her to collaborate on a project when the opportunity arises.

When you show gratitude for favors or, better yet, have the opportunity to return them in a meaningful way, you find yourself in a mutually beneficial cycle of reciprocity that builds trust, camaraderie, and—yes—more work.

In short, take advantage of the power of word-of-mouth referrals. Do so with grace and the benefits will multiply.

Now that you’ve armed yourself with powerful relationship-building tools and learned how to avoid pitfalls that could make things go sour,you’re ready to explore what it means to become a Promoter of the Profession, the topic of the fifth and final post in this series. Stay tuned!

Image source: Pixabay

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