ATA’s Back to Business Basics – Diversification: A Tool for Thriving in Uncertain Times

ATA launched its new Back to Business Basics webinar series in September 2020. These webinars focus on a small, practical piece of business advice for translators and interpreters at different stages of their careers. The series quickly became popular: there are usually a few hundred people attending each live session. Members can access these webinars free of charge, and non-members can purchase each recording for $25.

Diversification: A Tool for Thriving in Uncertain Times was the second webinar in the Back to Business Basics series. The live event was streamed on October 5, 2020, and a recording is available in ATA’s on-demand webinar library. The webinar was given by Corinne McKay, a French to English translator and interpreter, seasoned trainer, and past ATA President. Corinne explained what diversification may look like for language professionals, shared a few reasons to diversify your business, and provided tips on how to do that.

Diversification refers to having more than one revenue stream, such as more than one type of client or service. By diversifying their businesses, language professionals can spread out their risks and avoid becoming dependent on their one or two top clients. In other words, diversifying gives you the freedom to focus on the profitable part of your services.

Corinne shared a few ways of diversifying your business. She stressed that it is okay to have multiple specializations as long as you don’t stretch yourself too thin and don’t choose too many unrelated subjects. Combining work for agencies and direct clients could also help you reap the benefits and mitigate the risks of working with each type. Finally, Corinne listed some services translators and interpreters can expand into, from purely linguistic to other creative endeavors.

Especially during difficult times, like the COVID-19 pandemic or a global recession, when translators and interpreters may see some of their work dry up and clients disappear into thin air, diversification can help you future-proof your business.

Check out the recording of this webinar and share it with colleagues who may be interested!

Author bio

Maria Guzenko is an ATA-certified English<>Russian translator and a certified medical interpreter (CMI-Russian). She holds an MA in translation from Kent State University and specializes in healthcare translation. Maria is a co-founder of the SLD certification exam practice group and the host of the SLD podcast, now rebranded as Slovo. More information can be found on her website at https://intorussian.net.

What are ATA’s Mastermind Groups?

Preview blog post for Next Level: The ATA Business Practices Blog

 The following post is a preview of a new blogging venture by the ATA Business Practices Education Committee. Next Level: The ATA Business Practices Blog will provide helpful information about business practices for established translators and interpreters (those with five or more years of experience). If you have moved beyond the “newbie” stage or are curious about what to expect in your future career, check us out! We expect to launch in the next few months and look forward to building a community that seeks to improve our T&I businesses together. For more information or to submit a query, contact us at atabizpractices@gmail.com.

Mastermind groups are small peer-based groups formed to learn more about a specific topic. The members of Mastermind groups help each other solve problems and develop their professional objectives by sharing input and advice. The groups’ core value is the synergy of energy, motivation, and commitment, as well as everyone’s willingness to learn and grow together.

The ATA Mentoring Committee is introducing the new Mastermind concept for ATA in 2021 as part of a broader effort to expand benefits for long-term members. The application process will open every January. The pilot roll-out for the groups is planned for the spring of 2021.

The term “Mastermind” may suggest a connection to the concept of a masterclass, in which highly qualified experts share their knowledge as instructors. Mastermind groups are the exact opposite—instead of a group of people learning from one expert, the groups are self-guided and choose their own activities. Mastermind groups offer a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability, and support. Members challenge each other to set strong goals and, more importantly, to accomplish them by holding each other accountable and sharing resources and tips.

What does that look like? It means that professional peers, people who are at approximately the same level of professional experience, get together regularly to learn more about a specific topic together. The meetings follow a defined outline, which helps to share time fairly and ensures equal speaking opportunities for all members.

The group size is relatively small, typically around six people. When you think of a 60-minute meeting, a group of six gives everybody enough time to speak for five to ten minutes. Participation matters a lot in Mastermind groups. All members are expected to come fully prepared and to engage in meaningful conversation with the other group members.

The idea of Mastermind groups originated from the process of matching mentors and mentees. Although we match 30 mentor/mentee pairs of ATA members every year (https://www.atanet.org/careers/mentoring.php), the Mentoring Committee saw an unmet need for an in-depth discussion of more advanced learning topics.

Developed as a benefit for more experienced members who want to grow their translation or interpretation businesses, the new Mastermind groups at ATA will be offered once a year. ATA members can register by completing a survey form (open until January 31st). The information to be provided will include desired fields of learning and some information about professional experience. The groups will be open exclusively to ATA members and are expected to run for 6 months.

Tess Whitty and Dorothee Racette recorded a free webinar on November 5, 2020, to explain the primary responsibilities of leading a Mastermind group. The recording is available here.

We will initially offer five or six topics a year but are open to suggestions for special issues ATA members want to discuss. The groups will run from February to July. ATA will not be directly involved in scheduling or running the groups. We will expect the groups to follow shared guidelines so everyone has equal learning opportunities. The Mentoring Committee has compiled a manual with practical resources the groups can use.

Based on the responses we received after the 2020 conference and the webinar presentation, we already know there is interest in groups to discuss: Marketing to direct clients, Building a freelance website, Advanced use of CAT tools, and Building a market for a new specialization. The Mentoring Committee will put people with the same interests in contact and provide instructions for the next steps. Training will be offered to people who are interested in serving as group facilitators.

At least two years of professional experience are required to participate in ATA Mastermind groups. The concept is not an ideal fit for beginners who are still learning about the industry and their careers. A mentor-mentee group, professional development courses, or the Savvy Newcomer blog are more beneficial options for beginners.

The regular group meetings will include elements not typically addressed in a class or presentation: giving each other feedback, sharing what you learned, or pursuing specific questions. No one in the group, including the facilitator, has to be an expert on the subject matter. Activities such as selling your products and services, discussing unrelated concerns, or “hogging” everyone’s time will be firmly discouraged. Groups will decide independently where and how to meet. Venues can include Zoom, Google Meet, or similar programs.

What Does it Take to be a Mastermind Group Participant?

Before and during the first meeting, members will agree on group rules, expectations, and guidelines. That includes setting a single, definite focus for the group and clarifying the outcome everyone is looking to achieve. Confidentiality is another critical concern—be sure to talk about what everyone can and cannot share.

Mastermind group work doesn’t end after a meeting. Everyone makes time for action, learning, and research between meetings. The group can also decide on shared activities outside of meetings, such as reading an article or chapter of a book together. Groups may invite outside speakers on specific topics or arrange for presentations. The most crucial point is that activities are planned jointly and that everyone takes an active role in the conversations. Leaning back and letting others do the work is not acceptable.

Group Facilitators

When you fill out your participation survey, you have the option to volunteer as a group facilitator. Mastermind group facilitators start and run groups. They help the group dive deeply into discussions and work with members to create success by holding each other accountable.

Facilitators do NOT have to be an expert on the subject.

They will NOT be expected to teach about the topic.

Qualifications include an interest in learning about the topic and a willingness to network with peers in other language pairs/fields/locations. Mastermind group facilitation is a 6-month commitment.

Benefits:

  • An ideal way to try something new
  • No previous leadership experience required
  • The same level of professional experience as group members
  • No expectation of teaching or being an expert in a topic

Group participants are eligible to earn up to 10 continuing education points (1 CE point for every 2 hours of meeting time). Mastermind groups will be asked to keep attendance records to document CE claims.

Facilitating a Mastermind group can also help to expand your network beyond your language pair or division. Because all participants are ATA members, you will learn more about other ATA membership benefits and division activities.

The Mentoring Committee is excited to offer Mastermind groups as a new membership benefit in 2021. With your active participation and feedback, we hope to roll out a more extensive variety of groups in 2022. Questions or suggestions? The Mentoring Committee is looking forward to hearing from you! They can be reached at mentoring@atanet.org.

Author bios

Tess Whitty has been an English-Swedish freelance translator since 2003. She is also the current chair of the ATA Business Practices Education Committee. With her degree in International Marketing and background as marketing manager, she also enjoys sharing her marketing knowledge and experience with other freelance translators as an award-winning speaker, trainer, consultant, author and podcaster.

Dorothee Racette has been a full-time freelance GER < > EN translator for over 25 years. She served as ATA President from 2011 to 2013. In 2014, she established her own coaching business, Take Back My Day, to help individuals and organizations solve problems related to workflow and time management. As a certified productivity coach (CPC), she now divides her time between translating and coaching.

Freelance Finance: Separating Personal from Professional

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

In this installment of the Freelance Finance series, we’ll discuss the topic of separating the personal aspects of your finances from the professional ones. This involves more than just having two bank accounts, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.

Why to separate personal from professional

Keeping your personal money separate from your professional money is similar to keeping your work life separate from your personal life; if you aren’t careful to set out clear boundaries and maintain them, one will start to creep into the other. It’s like how if you don’t plan ahead, you may end up taking work phone calls at 8:00 p.m. or taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon. It’s not easy to separate these two aspects of your life, but it’s worth it!

One clear and obvious reason to keep personal and professional finances separate is liability; if a client were to pursue legal action against you individually, are you confident that they would only be able to access your business-related funds and reputation, or would this bleed into your personal liability as well? If you were sued, having separate finances could be the difference between losing your life savings and losing a much smaller chunk of business capital.

Another rationale for keeping personal and professional finances separate is organization; it’s hard to know how much money your business is taking in (or spending) if you’ve got other non-business-related funds mixed in. If you wanted to get a mortgage and the bank asked you to prove your business income, would you be able to quickly and easily prepare a Profit and Loss statement, or would you have to muddle through the charges for coffee dates, charitable giving, and your latest vacation before finding the earnings you brought in for translation or interpreting work? It’s also helpful to have separate finances when you prepare your taxes each year, and depending on what type of business entity you set up (a corporation, for example) you may be legally required to keep money from your company separate from your own personal funds.

What to separate

What aspects of your finances should be separated between personal and professional? The first is your bank account. The quickest and easiest way to separate out which income and expenses are from your business versus personal money is to create two different accounts that will list them each separately for you. Each bank may have different guidelines to follow for business accounts (you may need to have an LLC, or use a particular name for the business account) as well as different fees and perks. The best way to find out what your bank can do for you is to set up a meeting to ask them about your options.

Other financial products can be separated between personal and financial also; for example, you could allocate certain expenses as business-related by paying for them on a separate business credit card. Lots of business cards come from the same companies that make your personal credit card but may have different perks and rewards systems; mine has a robust travel rewards system, which I love!

To separate your personal liability from professional, consider setting up an official entity based on the state or country in which you live. Limited Liability Companies, for instance, tend to be relatively easy and inexpensive to set up and require little ongoing maintenance in the form of tax filings and fees. Corporations, on the other hand, may require more time and money to set up at the outset but could offer further separation of liability and other tax benefits. Talk to an accountant or lawyer to determine the best option for your business.

How to separate your finances

It can be challenging to separate your personal and professional finances if you’re doing so for the first time. How do you know which home expenses are business-related versus personal if you have a home office but also live there? Is your phone primarily a business device or a personal one? These questions are best answered by a tax professional when it comes to claiming deductions, but from the perspective of where the funds should come from, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you use the product or service primarily for business or personal use? (e.g., I use my home internet for business use 8 hours a day so I pay for it from my business credit card… and they happen to offer higher rewards for these expenses!)
  2. When you buy the service or product, will you benefit more from it personally or professionally? (e.g., I may use Adobe Acrobat software occasionally to open non-business PDFs, but the primary benefit is for my company so I pay for the service using my business bank account.)
  3. For what purpose did you initiate the purchase? (e.g., I bought a new computer because I wasn’t as productive at work using my old, slow laptop, so I purchased it using business funds.)

Sometimes it will be tricky to determine which expenses are for business and which are personal. For instance, when I went on a trip to the Dominican Republic, it wasn’t considered business travel since I was going to the beach and not visiting clients, but the wi-fi I paid for in order to have access to email at the hotel was a business expense. Similarly, food expenses while traveling or working may be either business expenses or personal ones. And when it comes to tax deductions, the tax codes change from time to time, so you’ll want to work with an accountant who is aware of the latest tax breaks you can claim.

Transferring between the two

At some point you’ll need to exchange money between your personal and professional finances; your personal money comes from the proceeds of your business, after all! Taking money out of your professional account to set aside as personal funds may involve a biweekly paycheck or bank transfer from your business account to your personal one, based on how much money you’ve earned and how much you need to keep in the business account. On the other hand, you may also want to contribute funds from your personal bank account to the professional one; this is especially true when you are getting started or when you wish to make a large purchase that may not be covered by the funds you keep in your business account. The rules governing these owner contributions and draws between personal and business accounts will vary depending on your business entity, bank, and location; ask a professional what best practices you should follow depending on your situation. One thing we can recommend to everyone is to always keep track! Whether it’s a spreadsheet or accounting software, make sure to record any income and expenditure of funds to and from each of your accounts so you can be sure you know where your money is and account for any questions that may arise.

Questions?

When in doubt about whether something is related to your personal or professional finances, always ask a professional. Tax professionals can tell you what is suitable for deductions, business expenses, and other tax-related issues based on where you live. Legal professionals can tell you what is suitable depending on the type of business entity you have formed.

Stay tuned for more finance topics! And as always, comment below if there are any topics you’d like to learn more about.

Translators and Interpreters: The True Influencers

In this article, I will define influencers as those who make change happen, who are catalysts of the developments they seek. In translation and interpreting, that is up to the professionals in the field. This is true of any other profession, since the professionals understand their field best. According to the authors of The General Theory of the Translation Company, we need a bit more debate to move forward as a profession.

The translation profession has advanced since the early days of Saint Jerome and Marco Polo, through the celebrated interpreters of the Nuremberg trials, and the legislative and certification accomplishments our colleagues have led us through in the United States since 1964. At this point, nurses assume healthcare interpreters will be certified, judges assume that interpreters are certified, and contracting officers expect translators to be certified or be able to demonstrate equivalent skills. We have shown that we are professionals.

What are the new challenges that lie ahead, as we work with clients in today’s world?

Due to the limited resources many companies have today, there is a new emphasis on leveraging all the skills employees bring, including their ability to write in languages other than English. That means that translation is not always outsourced to professional translators. We will be asked to review the text that is either translated or written directly in the non-English language by the employees. To be ready for this task, it helps to pick up some editing skills from our colleagues in editing associations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (for English) or the Spanish Editors Association (for Spanish). Being able to discuss the text from an editor’s point of view will help us in our conversations with clients.

Bilingual employees review our translations for suitability because they are in contact with the public who will use our translations. We need to learn how to respect their point of view and accept some of their input while defending some of our choices.

As interpreters, now that our work is remote, we have different scenarios than we were used to. For example, when we were trying to connect with the Spanish speaker in an attorney-client interview, we realized that the attorney would not be able to dial that specific number. I was able to solve the communication problem by translating a quick email, translating the email with the response, and so on for a couple of hours, the same time I had reserved for the appointment in the first place. I became a transterpreter.

When we are asked to rush through a translation, we need to help our clients understand the risks involved. Can we translate in our sleep? If we ask for help, and we work with a team, then we have to spend some time unifying the text. Partial deliveries of a project can mean that we have to go back and send updated translations. The more our clients understand these issues, the more they support us. I usually tell my clients I will charge them extra for worse quality. They limit the amount of rush translation.

When we interpret on a remote platform, do we ask how we will communicate that it is time for us to say something? Can we turn our cameras on to get their attention when we need to? Do we get the information we need ahead of time to prepare for our interpreting assignments? Even having the material that the attorney will read out loud during the appointment is helpful so we can sight translate and follow along.

How do we prepare to shine tomorrow? Do we watch our health and stamina level and make sure we don’t overextend ourselves? We do very poor work when we are overly tired, and our clients are the first to notice.

How do we manage to keep track of it all? When I studied to be a teacher, my professors told me I could delegate everything that would not have my imprint. Could someone else format our text so we can use a CAT tool? Can someone else do our bookkeeping? Can someone else help us with our website? Can someone else troubleshoot that computer problem we are having? Would that free up our time for translation and interpreting so we can make more money on what we do well?

Do we spend time interacting with our clients so we can know them better? That will help us serve them better and help us be the ones to define our role. By doing that we will learn about interesting learning opportunities at SCORE, at the Chamber of Commerce, at the Oregon Medical Association and other places that might not give us continuing education credits but will make us much better at serving our clients.

Clients are looking for professionals who are certified in what they do, continually improve their craft, and advocate for their profession. That is what accountants, engineers, attorneys and other professionals do. They love it when we tell them, “Sorry, that day I am meeting with some government officials to discuss the profession.” We, the practitioners, define our profession. We move it forward. We, the professionals, go to the halls of government and tell them how we do our work. The future of the profession is in our hands.

Freelance Finance: Setting Rates

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

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

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

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

  1. Look at your own data.

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

– How fast you translate

– How fast you type

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

– What languages you work in

– Where you live

– What type of services you offer

– What specializations/settings you work in

– How much experience you have as a translator or interpreter

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

– How much vacation time you want to take each year

– How much money you need to live on

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

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

  1. Look online.

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

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

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

  1. Look to clients.

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

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

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

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

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