Starting out in translation? Find a mentor!

This post originally appeared on sciword and it is republished with permission.

I was reading one of Kevin Lossner’s blog posts from 2010, titled “No Monkeys!”. He gives 12 pieces of advice—a twelve-step program, as he calls it—for those getting started in the translation business. All of it is great advice and I think everyone should follow it, newbie or not; however, there is one point on which I’d like to expand to impress upon any new translator coming across this blog how important it is to follow.

“Find a mentor. This one is not optional. Most twelve-step programs involve a sponsor, usually one who has struggled with the same issues in the past. In our movement we offer more latitude: you don’t have to seek out a recovering monkey as your mentor. You can also work under the watchful eye of someone who got things right the first or second time.”

When I did my traineeship at the European Commission’s Translation Service fourteen years ago I had a mentor. “The Godfather”, they called him (I still laugh at this). All trainees had a godfather. Mine was a walking encyclopedia, a Greek translator from Alexandria, Egypt, who taught me a lot; though it would be fair to say that most Greek translators in the technical/scientific translation unit of the DGT (Directorate-General for Translation) went out of their way to teach me translation methods as applied in the EU. Business practices I learned on my own and from other freelancers later on; it is difficult to learn the tricks of the trade and how to handle your own projects, do your own marketing, and interact with clients from non-freelancers.

Finding a mentor “is not optional,” says Kevin Lossner. It really shouldn’t be. Having a mentor will make your life so much easier. It will save you time and mistakes. Sure, after hours of looking for good online FR-EN dictionaries you may come across Termium and proudly celebrate your discovery when you realize what a gem it is; or you can skip to celebrating a FR-EN job well done after your mentor saved you those hours by telling you from the start “Make sure to use Termium, it’s an excellent resource, here’s the link.” Or he can save you the embarrassment (and perhaps the legal trouble) of finding out that Google Translate is not reliable and could not care less about the confidentiality of the document you need to translate by explaining to you how it is being developed and how it works. (I am assuming that all seasoned translators know about the dangers of using Google Translate. If not, please read on this topic, e.g. article Confidentiality and Google Translate.)

What should you not expect to learn from a mentor? How to translate! You should already know how to do that. Comparative stylistics and translation techniques should be well engraved on your brain by now. Expect to learn things you’re not exposed to in your translation studies. Use your traineeship to learn how to run your own business.

So what should you learn from a mentor?

Research

How to do research on the topic of the text you’re translating, what resources to use. Resources include paper and/or online dictionaries in your language pair(s) and field(s), online encyclopedias (Wikipedia is the most popular one but please use it with caution—some colleagues and I had a blast with some outrageous errors in several Greek Wikipedia articles, and then didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the Greek entries machine-translated from the English ones.

Your mentor will tell you which resources are reliable, which ones should be used with caution, and which ones should be avoided), journals with articles in your field(s), websites on the subject matter of your texts (could be a section of the Airbus website if you’re translating about airplanes, or the online Health Library of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute if you’re translating the medical records of cancer patients and need to know more about cancer).

Proofreading

I wrote previously that you shouldn’t expect to learn how to translate because you should already know that before starting your traineeship. Proofreading, on the other hand, is a different story. How many of us who formally studied translation were taught how to proofread a text? How many learned how to edit a translation? And how many of us learned in our studies the difference between proofreading and editing?

Sure, we knew how to use the Track Changes feature in Word, but were we shown what to change and what not to touch, what constitutes an error and what is simply a matter of personal preference and style? Were we taught how to charge for proofreading and editing and how to determine our rate? These are all things that your mentor can help you with.

CAT tools

There are several: MemoQ, OmegaT, Wordfast, SDL Trados, among others. Should you use any of these? Which one is more user-friendly? Would the tool of your choice work on your MAC? Are the more expensive ones better? How do you answer to a client that might ask for a discount due to repeated terms as calculated by the CAT tool? These are questions your mentor can help you answer.

See which tool he uses, if any. Watch him use it. Get your hands on it (don’t get nervous if your mentor is standing right over your head while you use it; many of us are very picky about what goes into our translation memories), or perhaps you can just use a trial version. How about voice-recognition software? Perhaps you’ve heard of Dragon Naturally Speaking. Is it available in your language? If your mentor uses it, take a shot at it and see whether it increases your productivity or not.

Project lifecycle

A good mentor will give you exposure to the entire lifecycle of a project, including a translation request, a PO (purchase order), acceptance or rejection of a project in the beginning, and delivery of a project in the end. Look at a request with your mentor: sometimes (quite often, actually) requests are incomplete and make it impossible to judge whether we can take on the project or not.

Sometimes a client will ask me if I can translate a text of X thousand words by such and such date, without telling me the subject field and sometimes without even telling me the language pair! Your mentor will tell you what to look for in a request before you jump into accepting it. He will also tell you when to say no. Look at some POs. What information do they contain? Does the client need the translator to sign an NDA? What is an NDA? Should you always sign it?

E-mails

All projects involve some correspondence between the translator and the client. Sometimes communication takes place over the phone but most often it is done by e-mail. The speed and convenience of e-mail communication does not mean that your e-mails can be sloppy. Shadow your mentor when she replies to a client: watch how she addresses the client, how careful she is with punctuation, what register she uses (which of course may vary from one client to the next, but not by much, a client is a client, and even if you’ve worked with him for a while and are on friendly terms, you wouldn’t use the same register as with your nephew), how she re-reads her e-mail before hitting Send to make sure it is linguistically and semantically correct, knowing the bad impression a message with errors written by a language professional would make. I’m stating the obvious, I know, but unfortunately I’ve seen too many e-mails full of spelling and grammar errors, even some e-mails starting with “Hey there,…”, to omit this point.

Invoices

At the end of a project or at the end of the month you’ll have to send an invoice in order to get paid for your work. It is surprising how many posts we see in online forums by new translators asking how to write an invoice. I don’t know why so many university translation programs don’t dedicate a lesson or two to this. Ask your mentor to show you a couple of old invoices. Make a note of the information they include. Ask her to let you write the next invoice. Ask her also to tell you about different payment methods.

Project-management tools

By this I don’t mean any complex software that a full-time PM might use. But whether you like project management or not, you’ll have to manage your own projects, so you’ll have to find a way to organize your work. There is software you can buy or you may opt for an Excel file or plain old paper and pencil. I use a weekly planner—which is always open in front of me—to write project names and deadlines, and an Excel sheet to write all my project details such as client, project number and/or PO number, project name, number of words, rate, total price, assignment date, and delivery date.

These details come in very handy when it’s time to write invoices, that way I don’t have to look for this information in POs and e-mails. After I send my invoice for a project I write the date on that sheet, as well as the payment due date. After I receive payment, I mark the date of payment and move that project (that Excel line) to another sheet of the Excel file. You may use one or a combination of these and/or other tools. See what your mentor uses and ask for her advice on how to organize your first projects.

Translation portals

You don’t have to ask your mentor which translation portal/site to join (I wouldn’t recommend them, except for Stridonium if you work with German and qualify to join) but do ask her to tell you everything she knows about them (hopefully she will know about them), including which ones to avoid—or at least which sections of them to avoid. You may have heard of ProZ.com, translatorscafe.com, peopleperhour.com (this last one is not just for translators but for freelancers in general, and I would stay away from it unless you want to work for a month to make enough to buy a sandwich).

ProZ.com used to be a great resource for the first few years after it was launched—which happened to coincide with my first years in the business and I cannot deny that it helped me immensely. Unfortunately it has changed focus from serving the interests of translators to serving the interests of big translation companies that seek lower prices and treat translation as a commodity. So this site should be used with caution, if used at all. I would avoid the jobs section like the plague. The forum archives can be very useful, though for any new questions you might want to ask, I would opt for translators’ groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. Ask your mentor to recommend some translators’ groups; they can be general or language-specific or domain-specific.

For example, I am a member of the following groups on LinkedIn: International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters, Applied Linguistics, Polyglot-Multilingual Professionals, Aviation Network, International Aviation Professionals, Aircraft Maintenance and Manufacturing, Boston Interpreters, IMIA – International Medical Interpreters Association, and Translation & Localization Professionals Worldwide, among others; and the following groups/pages on Facebook: International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters, Certified Medical and Healthcare Interpreters UNITE!, The League of Extraordinary Translators, South Florida Business Owners Networking Group, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Interpreting and translation forum, ESA – European Space Agency, Translation Journal, Interpreting the World, etc.

Of course some of these may not apply to you (I have aerospace engineering background and translate for aircraft manufacturers, hence the aviation-related groups); your mentor, who is working in the same language pair(s) and probably also in the same field(s) will be the best person to recommend the most helpful groups for you.

Associations

It is a very good idea to join a professional association. Look into local associations (e.g. NETA if you live in New England in the USA, Société française des traducteurs (SFT) if you live in France, etc.) and domain-specific ones (e.g. IMIA if you are a medical interpreter and/or translator). Ask your mentor which associations she is a member of, what she has gained from her membership, what the mission of those associations is and how they are contributing to the profession.

Where to find a mentor

There are plenty of translators’ groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. I mentioned some above but there are many others. Join some. Actually join many; later on you can unsubscribe from the ones you don’t find interesting or useful. Browse some old discussions, learn from them, start participating, make connections. Introduce yourself, say that you’re a new translator and that you’re looking for a mentor. Try to find a mentor that lives in your area so that you can work at her office (even if it is a home office and even if you do so only once or twice a week) and so that you can practice all the points mentioned above, i.e. shadowing her while she e-mails a client to accept/reject a project, see in person how she uses a CAT tool so you can learn quickly, have her watch you write an invoice, etc. If that is not possible, you can still take advantage of a traineeship by finding a mentor willing to spend some time explaining things to you over the phone, by e-mail, skype, etc., guiding you as you take your first steps as a freelance translator.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Author bio

Maria Karra is an aerospace engineer and technical translator. After years of testing spacecraft instruments, she discovered that translation was more fun, so she established her technical translation business and never looked back. Maria was born in Greece and spent the better part of her life in Boston, Massachusetts. Having lived and worked in France, Belgium, and the USA, she now calls Miami, Florida her home. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Three Lessons: Humility, Collaboration, Perseverance

This post originally appeared on Word Prisms and it is republished with permission.

All three – in that order – hold the key to becoming a world-class translator.

An interviewer, who was also a writer, once asked me how many words I’d translated before I published my first translated book for the American Institute of Physics. I imagined he expected an answer of perhaps ten thousand or so.

“About two million,” I replied.

Two million?! How is that possible?

“That’s a conservative figure, I think.”

I explained that I was young and had been dictating scientific translations from Russian into English for publication in scientific journals for almost a decade when I published my first book translation. I kept two technical typists busy full-time.

I might have added that I was also personally responsible for perhaps 1% of all US East Coast consumption of editorial red ink scrawled all over my translations.

It turned out that my translator-editor colleagues at the American Institute of Physics, Plenum Publishing, the Optical Society of America, the Congressional Research Service, the World Bank and the U.S. national labs, to name just a few, were even better than I was.

I thought of myself as a terrific translator at the time – don’t we all? I knew my subject-matter cold. I could write convincingly and clearly. I had completed tons of college coursework in translation at Georgetown and had published translations with nationally renowned Russian scholars at the Smithsonian. I’d been selected by scientific publishers from many hundreds of applicants, often the only translator chosen in a given selection round. The staff at the American Institute of Physics would always call me “Dr. Hendzel” when I called because many of the other translators on the translation program held PhDs in physics (I didn’t)  and they were wary of offending somebody (I would politely correct them, but they would just as politely ignore me.)

So this editorial brutalization took some getting used to.

Twice a week I’d receive these fat packets stuffed full of hard-copy final corrections (later I’d receive red-lined electronic files). It was feedback on a massive scale, constantly, every single year, across dozens of sub-disciplines in physics, optics and engineering, and seemingly without end.

It occurred to me that this level of collaboration and correction was a lot like the scientific enterprise itself.

You learn three things from this kind of decades-long editorial mauling.

1. Humility.

2. Collaboration.

3. Perseverance.

Welcome to the Commercial Translation Market

Fast forward a few years to when I jumped feet first into the commercial translation market with my company ASET.

The first of many sobering realizations you come to in the early phases of building a premier boutique translation company is that you cannot possibly do all the work yourself, even if you do dictate.

After seeking out and examining the actual translation work produced by your commercial colleagues, you soon begin to realize that something is terribly wrong.

The commercial translation market appears to be radically different from the scientific publication market in some very crucial ways.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of the work is genuinely good. This warms your heart and brings a smile to your weary face. But much of the technical, legal and even financial translations produced by some of the most visible and recognizable names in the commercial translation industry – even those with graduate translation degrees and certifications a mile long – are dramatically and bizarrely uneven.


This comes as a bit of a shock. How is this possible?

The quality spectrum and relative distribution looked something like this:

Publishable – Good – Understandable – Technical Fiction – Embarrassing – WTF?

After you’ve carefully evaluated several hundred translation samples yourself and had thousands more assessed by your former scientific-translator colleagues you do trust, a pattern begins to emerge.

The translators whose work is most solid – technically accurate, well-researched and elegantly written – are those who have had excellent technical subject-matter training (whatever relevant field) and have been translating professionally for a minimum of ten years. A decade appeared to be a tipping point.

But that’s only a start. Far more crucial to real expertise was the way these translators worked for all those years.

The Essential Role of Collaboration

The best translators had dodged the bullet of working in total isolation. They had spent their careers working in a massively collaborative environment – either physical or virtual (sometimes both). These people had been revised. They’d been edited. They’d been re-written. Their texts had been scrutinized, disemboweled, blasted apart and re-assembled.

They’d been fine-tuned and polished and burnished and shined.

Their translations had been at risk their entire careers: At risk for acceptance or rejection or revision by their own colleagues who were right there in the trenches working with them.

They would project their translations on screens at translation conferences and stand by them. They would reflect and consult and discuss with the session attendees ways to improve them.

Often conference interpreters who also worked as translators – the ultimate experts in collaboration and active learning from each other – were, surprisingly enough, much more flexible and receptive to instruction and guidance than were (written-only) translators with subject-matter training working into their native language of English.

Angry Isolationists

This rejection did not go over well with some of the translators whose work I evaluated, heavily edited and then rejected for requiring far too much intervention on every level.

“Your changes are a matter of opinion,” some sniffed (perhaps, but their translations were describing a physical world that did not actually exist).

“Here are my responses to your changes,” they would say, writing out 20-page single-spaced responses defending terms they “found in the dictionary” but made no sense in the context, to the extent that their context made any sense at all.

“Translators are creative artists and do their best work alone, like authors do,” some translators argued, often angrily and vociferously. It was pointed out to me more than once that Shakespeare worked alone (seriously). They would dispute the most minor of points and reject all feedback on principle. Most of these objections followed Sayre’s Law: “In any dispute, the intensity of the feelings is inversely proportional to the value of the issue at stake.”

“I’ve Never Had a Complaint from a Client.”

Then there were the translators who would defend their translation quality based on the specious and puzzling notion that they’d “never had a complaint from a client.”

This could not be true, first, because I was a client, and my rejection of their work based on a careful assessment was about as “complaint-y” as it gets.

Second, veterinarians never have complaints from their patients, either – nor do coroners – for perhaps the same reason that some translators don’t. Many clients cannot accurately assess translation quality – certainly monolingual clients can’t – so they say nothing at all.

Silence should not be confused with a vote of confidence.

The Exorbitant Price of Arrogance

All humans have an enormous cognitive and emotional investment in self-image. And translators are running a business, which supports their very livelihood. So these are some very sensitive grounds on which we tread.

Unfortunately, these translators had made the regrettable decision somewhere in their careers to defend their ego and self-image over all else, even (and especially) the quality of their product. This is a doomed strategy in a competitive market. It’s also an unfortunate one given the opportunities we all have to learn from colleagues through collaboration.

And even a modicum of modesty – or a realization of the limits the complexity of the world place on us – would have unwound all that defensive energy and pointed them into a much more productive – and ultimately happier – direction.

Author bio

Translator, linguist, media commentator and business executive Kevin Hendzel draws on over 35 years of experience in the translation and localization industry in a broad range of roles, including translator, language lead, company owner, lexicographer, media commentator, and national event panelist.

As the official translator of 34 published books in physics and engineering and 10,000 articles for the Russian Academy of Sciences, Kevin Hendzel is one of the most widely published translators in the English language.

Kevin’s professional background includes an extended period working on the US-Russia Direct Communications Link, also known as the Presidential “Hotline,” where he was Senior Linguist of the technical translation staff. Between 1992 and 2008, Kevin worked to advance ASET International Services Corp. to become the leading firm on all nuclear programs in the former Soviet Union before selling the company with his business partner in 2008.

Kevin was the original architect of the ATA national media program launched in 2001. Between 2001 and 2012 he served as National Media Spokesman of the American Translators Association. During that period he appeared on CNN, FoxNews Live, ABC World News Tonight, CBS News, NBC News, MSNBC, National Public Radio, Voice of America, PBS, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the AP wire service, ReutersThe Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionUSATodayWired and many more outlets promoting translation and interpretation services as vital to commerce, diplomacy, security, and culture.

Translator’s Star Wars: 7 lessons from the saga

This post originally appeared on Just Translate It and it is republished with permission.

Searching for a balance between creativity and routine

As an old school Star Wars fan, I can safely say now: “All is well that ends.”

The 42-year legendary saga ended in phews and negative remarks. For me, it’s a reminder that we should not try to monetise all and everything committing our lives to printing money in perpetuity.

Moreover, technology is only as good as people using it. Without a passion and a vision, it’s an empty vessel hardly worth the second glance.

I still believe that the first part of the saga gave rise to better sci-fi movies and new talents. And here is my short tribute to Star Wars I watched “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.

Seven Star Wars lessons for becoming a better professional and a better person.

1. Find a good mentor

A good mentor like Grand Master Yoda plays an integral role in shaping your life by stimulating personal and professional growth and challenging you to think differently.

Just like Pade put it, “Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults that we would like. It’s the only way we grow.”

A mentor does:

  • Take a view of your development.
  • Help you see the destination.
  • Offer encouragement but not “how-tos”.

A mentor does not:

  • Serve as a coach or a counselor.
  • Function as an advocate of yours.
  • Support you on short-term problems.

Each of us develops at our own pace, but mentoring can have many positive and lasting effects both for the mentor and the mentee.

“Do or do not… there is no try.” Yoda
Star Wars: find a mentor

2. Overcome failures to achieve success

As entrepreneurs, translators deal with ups and downs. Gradually, we learn to cope with the feast and famine cycle.

Success is found through trial and error, dedication, and the ability to see setbacks as stepping stones towards better deals.

We all make mistakes, and we sometimes fail. But successful people are good at overcoming failure.

• Do not fear mistakes or failures and treat them like a scientist.
• See challenges as opportunities.
• Take time each day to reflect what’s working and what’s not.
• Take small, repeated actions and focus on small wins.

“Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

3. Do not be guided by fear

Fear cripples us from doing what needs to be done. It prevents us from becoming the people we are eager to be.

We are afraid of failing, succeeding, offending people and looking silly. Suddenly, deleting all the old emails in the inbox seems more important than writing to a potential client.

  • Scared of not being good enough? Use that as motivation for consistent CPD activities and credentials.
  • Embrace a system with funny permissions and prizes to get unstuck (like ’28 Days to Clients’).
  • Spend time enjoying yourself to deal with the stress that fear creates.
  • Give yourself credit for all your efforts and not just achievements.

 

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

4. Dream big

We can do incredible things. But to get both driving force and creative passion to overcome the challenges, you need to know your aim. Accept the fact that there will be people who don’t believe in you. All you can do is work hard to prove them wrong.

Do you think your business is going to be substantially more this year? If your answer is a yes, then you are dreaming big!

• A dream without a plan is just a wish, so plan your next steps.
• Time to work on your plans and steps needs to be a priority on your everyday calendar.
• Your friends and special ones are the people who would support you against all odds.
• As a freelancer, you’re way further along the track than most people. Believe in your abilities!

“Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.”
“Never tell me the odds.”

 

5. Complete what you started

Goal setting means nothing without goal achievement.

Starting new project is exciting, emotionally arousing, and infused with the natural motivator of novelty. We do not pay much attention to obstacles, downsides or challenges we’ll soon face.

And later (more often than not?), we are inclined to drop off things that we started, without reaching the finish line.

• Know yourself and try to be realistic.
• Ensure your main motivation is based on personally meaningful reasons.
• Research more deeply into your next project before jumping in.
• Make a timeline or write out scheduled steps towards your goal.
• If needed, quit on purpose, without a sense of failure. Avoid the sunk cost fallacy.

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” – Darth Vader

star wars for translators_dream big

6. Don’t lie to yourself

Listen to your heart, the Force, and your conscience. We usually know what the right thing to do is.

Lie is comfortable as we don’t have to face the hard truth and can keep doing the same thing without changing anything. Lie helps avoid self-responsibility for our actions.

Sometimes, we are inclined to feel miserable. And it’s ok. As long as after that we start doing what’s right for us. You already know what to do. So do it.

• I’m not good enough.
• I don’t have enough time/money for it.
• I am not in the mood.
• It’s too late/early/the wrong day.

 “Already know you, that which you need.” – Yoda

7. There is Force in everyone

Your focus determines your reality. Our thoughts and interests directly affect our future for better or worse. You will find only what you bring in.

Invest your energy into the things and people you are passionate about rather than focusing on the negative moments or empty distractions. Be patient and do not give up — progress happens slowly.

May the force be with you in the new decade coming!

“Well, if droids could think, there’d be none of us here, would there?” — Obi-Wan Kenobi

Author bio

Olesya Zaytseva is an English and German to Russian freelance translator and content marketer with more than 20 years of experience, specializing in tech-focused marketing communications. She loves transforming complex topics into effective and engaging marketing materials for suppliers of printing, packaging and 3D systems and technologies. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/olesyazaytseva/

Eight tips to become the ideal translator

This post originally appeared on Multilingual and it is republished with permission.

As a senior localization manager, I spend a lot of time finding and hiring translators for my client’s projects. Over the past 15 years, I’ve discovered that the translators who consistently deliver the highest quality adhere to certain helpful and professional business practices. Whether you hire translators or are a professional linguist yourself, whether you are a new translator or one with many years of experience, incorporating these skills will ensure successful and long-lasting partnerships.

1. Be responsive

I routinely send out translation quote requests for potential jobs to an extensive network of professional linguists, but many times, I receive no response. As a project manager, this can be very frustrating. A lack of response doesn’t give me the feedback I need to understand why a particular job wasn’t of interest.

The ideal translator is responsive. They will let me know if they are interested in the project and when they might be free to work on it. If the project isn’t a match for their skill set, or if they aren’t available due to work on another project, they will still respond to let me know. When my contacts take the time to reply, even if the answer is “no thanks,” it shows that they are professional, courteous and that they are interested in a future working relationship.

2. Ask questions

When requesting quotes, I send the name of the client, the industry and the type of content to be translated. The ideal translator will always ask additional, follow-up questions to better understand what the project entails. They will ask about delivery dates, word counts ans so on — any information that will help them do a better job. The best will ask if the client has a style guide, any existing translation memories (TM) or glossaries. By asking questions, they will get the information they need in advance to determine if it is a job that they can complete successfully.

3. Respect deadlines

Translation can be a very deadline-driven business. That’s why translators who respect my deadlines and my client’s deadlines are ideal. As a project manager, I try to give our linguists plenty of time to complete a project. Managing rush jobs and several different delivery dates can be challenging, so knowing when a project will be completed is key to my ability to manage customer expectations. The best translators respect deadlines and will keep me apprised of their estimated delivery date and will always let me know if they need extra time to finish a project.

4. Discuss rates in advance

Most linguists have a per-word rate and different rates depending on the subject matter and type of content. It is important to discuss any applicable rates in advance, before committing to do a project. I always include rates in my initial email. The ideal translator will take note of that information and get any clarification they need on payment terms in advance. The ideal translator should also be willing to negotiate or offer discounts based on higher volumes and the consistent work that is available when working for larger clients. Agreeing to a lower rate can pay off by providing more steady work and lead to becoming a go-to resource for a particular client.

5. Keep in touch

It’s not unusual for project managers and translators to work in different time zones. As a result, it is important to make sure there is a time frame where those hours overlap, in order to communicate about the project in a timely manner. Nothing is more frustrating for a project manager than receiving an Out of Office reply that contains no information on when the recipient will be available. The ideal translator will keep in touch and let me know about any dates they are unavailable, such as local holidays, vacations or when they will be engaged with other projects.

6. Identify potential translation issues

Translation is not an exact science. Sometimes word choices require the translator to make a judgment call on the best translation. We also know that clients might not necessarily agree with those decisions. The best translators will provide a summary of issues or certain word choice decisions, when the project is delivered, before the client sends it on to their reviewers. This type of proactive, conscientious work is always appreciated and helps to ensure that all parties are communicating to ensure the highest quality.

7. Be open to feedback

Feedback is important in translation project management. The ideal translator is professional, open to and accepting of feedback. They do not take negative feedback too personally. There are times when a client might insist on a translation that is non-standard. While it is important to bring this to their attention, the client always has the final say. As the adage goes, “the customer is always right.” Remember that the more feedback you receive, the more you learn. That information can be used to update the style guide of client preferences to ensure satisfaction with the final product.

8. Get certification

When I’m hiring translators, I look for native speakers of the target language(s). It is also important that they are accredited by a globally-recognized translation and interpretation industry organization such as the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), American Translators Association (ATA), Société Française des Traducteurs (SFT) and so on. The ideal translator will include any certifications they have and display them prominently on their website, profile, and resume. They should also include any subject matter expertise and relevant work history. This makes it easier to have an understanding of their level of qualification for any particular project.

Rise above the competition

Professional translators are facing increasing competition, from each other and from emerging technology that threatens to replace them. Forging long-lasting and financially beneficial relationships with localization project managers and language services providers is key to survival. Becoming the ideal translator is possible with greater communication, attention to detail, professionalism, and being proactive. Translators who adopt these eight business practices will quickly gain a reputation for conscientiousness and quality that will help them stand apart.

Author bio

Romina Castroman has an MBA from the Bremen University of Applied Sciences and a BA in travel and tourism from Brigham Young University. She has 15 years of experience successfully managing projects and cross cultural experience in Europe, Latin America and the US. She is fluent in German, Spanish and English.

Pricing Techniques in the Translation Industry

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn and it is republished with permission.

In the translation industry two pricing techniques seem to dominate: cost plus and competitive pricing. Before looking deeper into these and other pricing techniques, it is important to remember that price is one of the P’s described by Philip Kotler as the fundamental elements of every marketing mix. In a market that has matured over decades, it may surprise that price often is a frustrating factor. Fierce competition, sophisticated buyers and the resulting commoditizing of the translation activity may explain a lot. Whether a language service company is highly profitable or struggling to survive depends not only on the other P’s of the marketing mix, on corporate culture, sales force or even on technology. An inadequate pricing technique may annihilate efforts in the other critical success factors. In other words, the importance of using a pricing technique adapted to a specific business model cannot be overrated. Price is, with the other P’s, a business variable over which companies can to a certain level, exercise control.

Many translation companies opt for mark-up pricing and switch to meet-competitor pricing as soon as the buyer requests such a move or as soon as they are aware that their offer is being compared. This rationale may not be bad in itself, but leads to frustration every time both pricing techniques prove insufficient to conquer new customers or obtain a much necessary or expected project.

Cost plus pricing, also known as markup pricing, basically is a simple method of taking your cost and adding a desired profit margin to the unit cost price to obtain the final price. The formula below helps you to calculate the unit cost price:

Unit cost = (variable cost) + (fixed cost) / unit sales

E.g. a translation agency with fixed costs of 100,000 € that buys its translations from freelance translators at a unit price of 0.075 € /word (variable cost) and projects to sell 1,000,000 words:

(0.075 €) + (100,000 €) / 1,000,000 words = unit cost 0.175 €

Now that the unit cost is known, the markup or cost plus price can be calculated using the formula below, and assuming that the translation agency defined a desired return on sales of 20%:

Cost plus price = (Unit cost) / (1-Markup percentage)

Using our example from above, we would arrive at the following markup price:

(0.175 €) / (1 – 0.20) = 0.218 € cost plus price.

The translation agency in this example, at a volume of 1,000,000 units, has to sell every unit at 0.175 € to break even and at a price of 0.218 € to achieve its sales return targets.

This pricing technique is fast and easy to use but has a major drawback: it does not take into account customer demand. Customers may be willing to pay more … or less for the service than our translation agency is proposing using the cost plus technique. Another possible disqualifier for this technique is the arbitrary definition of the markup percentage. This pricing technique is similar to the target-return pricing where a company-defined return on investment is aimed at.

While many translation agencies have started out with the cost plus pricing technique, they end up applying the competitive pricing technique, also known as going rate pricing.

Competitive or going rate pricing, is a concept where companies define prices using the going rate for products/services as established by its competitors. Often applied in competitive markets with little differentiation between suppliers and consequently plenty of substitutes. Among translation agencies, it is well known that large, sophisticated buying organizations preselect similarly qualified suppliers and then choose the most competitive supplier among these ‘equal service offers’ or ask a preferred supplier to align its prices on those of a competitor. Many translation agencies will try to gather business intelligence on their competitor’s price and will align their price to get projects.

The main disadvantage of this pricing technique is the disconnection between price on the one hand and unit cost and desired return on sales or ROI on the other hand.

There are other pricing techniques that offer interesting alternatives to cost plus and competitive pricing, not in the least thanks to a better balance between the constitutive elements of pricing.

Penetration pricing, is part of a strategy which uses a lower price than many competitors to gain market share as quickly as possible. The logic behind penetration pricing is that of a powerful vision: the company with the largest market share has superior power in the market, and can achieve greater profitability than smaller players… if it can benefit from economies of scale to reduce the unit cost. Companies applying penetration pricing may want to seduce customers by a low price and connect the basic service with more expensive products/services.

A strong argument for this pricing technique is the rapid increase in sales volume. And once companies buy from a supplier offering the lowest price, they have proven to be reluctant to switch to a competitor even if prices begin to rise.

A major risk of this model lies in the lower profitability on the short term. Low prices may also pave the way for a price war with cataclysmic effects on profitability.

Tiered pricing or good-better-best pricing differentiates price according to levels of feature or quality for products/services. An example used by certain translation agencies:

Tiered pricing is used mainly to cater for varying levels of requirements within the same market. This technique enables customers to choose the exact product/service that fits their needs or budget and they know exactly what to expect. If you apply tiered pricing to complex services, the value of the different levels may become blurred – and your customers may need to be educated.

Perceived value to the customer or Value-in-Use pricing is based on the product/service’s value to the customer. A good example is a product or a service that is higher priced but that can arguably reduce overall costs on the long term. The price is disconnected from the cost (unlike cost-plus pricing) and enables companies to raise profitability on products/services that provide real value to buyers. It is crucial to understand the customer benefits and to translate these in financial terms. A well-known example in the translation industry is the use of CAT tools such as translation memory. At a higher word price, a translation agency making use of translation memories will reduce the number of new words to be translated and thus the overall cost for the customer, compared to a translation agency who with no CAT tools retranslates every word every time at the same price.

Variant pricing is a very interesting technique since it takes into account that different markets have different priorities and evaluation criteria. The general idea is to adapt the price setting to different market segments. In the translation industry, it is a well-known fact that medical device manufacturers, financial institutions, manufacturers of tooling machines, and government institutions, to name but a few, have different requirements when it comes to quality, reliability and speed of delivery, budget, project management and communication, etc. Variant pricing helps us to capture the value different market niches place on their specific requirements. Special variants often offer great freedom in pricing with little competition. A requirement to apply variant pricing, is to have conducted thorough market research.

There are many other pricing techniques, not all of which seem of interest for the translation industry. In terms of conclusion to this brief overview on pricing technique alternatives for translation agencies, price can be defined as a value that will buy a finite quantity of a product/service. Price is determined by what a buyer is willing to pay, a seller willing to accept and competition allowing to charge. Pricing also has an impact on organizational goals and it is important to fully grasp these consequences.

(c) Ralf Van den Haute 2014

Sources:

Philip Kotler: Principles of Marketing

Michael E. Porter: Competitive Advantage

Stephan Sorger: Marketing Analytics

Paul W. Farris, Neil T. Bendle, Phillip E. Pfeifer, David J. Reibstein: Marketing Metrics