Translators vs. Translation Agencies: How Falling Rates Have Turned Once-Allies into Enemies (and What We Can Do to Fix it)

We’ve noticed something strange: though demand has risen for language services, it would appear that prices are falling. Whether due to advances in technology, economic issues, global supply, or simply more aggressive buyers, we find ourselves in an industry that’s never been more in demand and yet has never been more precarious. This understandably leaves many of us overworked, underpaid, and seriously stressed out.

So why aren’t translators and translation agencies banding together to form a united front against this downward race to the bottom? Instead of saying no to unreasonable demands or rates and seeking better clients, many of us have turned our antagonism inward and, unfortunately, at each other. How is it that translator and agency—once sworn allies—are now seemingly always butting heads?

Constant downward pressure has caused a serious rift between translators and translation agencies that did not always exist. Agencies, translators say, bring little to the table and do nothing more than take a cut of an already smaller pie. Translators, agencies assert, don’t fully understand the value in having a company bring them work, advocate for them, and pay them even if the client defaults.

However, speaking as both experienced freelance translator and now proud translation agency owner, I can say it’s not too late. Both agency and translator can work together to separate the wheat from the chaff by finding serious clients.

Growing at a compounded average growth rate of 7.76% every year, the translation industry is expected to be worth approximately US$68 billion by 2020. What’s more, due to the ever-increasing trend toward globalization, translation is often considered recession-proof. The businesses of translation, software localization, and interpreting generate revenues of US$37 billion a year—and that’s for the software-assisted segment of the market alone.

By anyone’s metrics, that’s more than enough money to go around. So how do we repair this rift and start working together again? Below, I will introduce some helpful ways both translators and agencies can remember to work together.

Translation agencies are not the enemy—translators just have to know who to choose

One step toward cooperation is realizing that translation agencies on the whole are not the enemy. For every agency employing fly-by-night tactics and offering a pittance, there is another that could serve as a worthwhile source of income.

As a translator, think of every agency you work with. Are they a serious outfit? Do they pay on time? Do they take the time to match a translation with the best translator for the job? Have any colleagues worked with them, and if so, what did those colleagues say? There are vast resources online for translators to perform due diligence before accepting work.

The main idea here is to stop accepting work from any old agency. One way to achieve that is by carrying out due diligence on every translation agency you come across. Read their website carefully; see if their copy focuses on quality over quantity. And, pro tip? If the agency doesn’t list their rates on their website, it’s probably a good sign. Excellent translation agencies know that a one-size-fits-all approach to translation is not the way to go.

It’s okay to be picky about who you work with and who you work for. At the end of the day, you bring immense value to the table, so doing what you can to protect it is just plain smart. Now you might be asking yourself what can agencies do to make translators want to work with them?

How agencies can attract excellent translators

First things first, as an agency, your job is to serve your clients’ needs. But that doesn’t mean you have to bargain hard with your language service providers, shortchange them, or overwork them.

A reputable agency should be able to strike a happy medium between happy clients and happy freelancers. It’s okay to be competitive on price, but it’s not okay to expect that your translators will work for peanuts. Setting your rates at or above the industry average is a good place to start. The better your rates, the better the translators you can work with. And for clients seeking quality, this is a winning combination.

Oh, and those translators who work for you? If you want to be a translation agency worth its salt, make sure that you take the time to call them by name in emails. If you don’t value the people doing the translations, why would they want to work with you again? And never, ever, ever mass-mail a job to every translator on your roster. Not only would your client hate this, your translators will as well.

Beyond the above, translation agencies would do well to pay on time, every time. When a client (hopefully never) defaults on payment, this is not an excuse to stiff a translator who has already handed in work.

Finally, translation agencies must take care to recognize that not every translator is suited for every job. It takes a professional translation agency to match a job with the right translator—you should never hand a finance job to a generalist or a medical job to a bilingual attorney, for example.

Putting it all together—and working together in 2019 and beyond

As translators and translation agencies, we are all part of an industry that our agency has noticed is both growing and facing downward pressure like never before. However, this does not mean that the proverbial pie is getting smaller for all of us. Instead, the best pies are now bought at the specialty shops and the artisanal bakeries. In other words, the best agencies are now concentrating on finding clients who appreciate good, quality work. They’re not interested in packaging up a million pies for wholesale distributors.

The best pies are now bought at the specialty shops and the artisanal bakeries.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think the best translations are born of organic relationships between translator and agency that are based on mutual respect and cultivated over time. Getting to know each other goes a long way—and is certainly better than a mass-mail call for the lowest rate.

So, to that end: reach out to the person behind the screen. On the one hand, translators should get to know who’s behind the agencies they work with. Conversely, agencies should make a concerted effort to know their translators: their strengths, their weaknesses, and the catalogue of services they offer. Only by communicating clearly and effectively with each other can we continue to prosper and attract better clients for all.

Image credit: Pixabay

Author bio

Prior to founding Metropolitan Translations, Audra de Falco was a freelance legal translator and interpreter for 15 years and holds a BA in Jurisprudence and an MSc in Law and Public Policy. She knows the translation industry intimately as both freelancer and translation agency representative, and believes we can all land excellent, well-paying clients.

When she’s not helping clients get the incisive (and accurate) translations they deserve, she’s working her way through the family cookbook and walking her brother’s dog (he’s the best boy!).

You can visit Metropolitan Translations at http://www.metropolitantranslations.com/ or on Twitter at @translatenyc.

 

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

Escaping lockdown

Reblogged from SJB Translations’ blog, with permission (incl. the image)

How (and how not) to cope with big projects

A couple of weeks ago I won my freedom, or at least that’s what it felt like. I finally completed a series of big translation and revision projects that had kept me in what amounted to professional lockdown for more that two months. I’m now once again able to take on the projects I want without worrying about where I’m going to find the time to do them. I don’t have the pressure of knowing I still have thousands and thousands of words to translate and revise by a week on Thursday. And it feels great.

It was certainly a very unusual way to start the year. I’m used to January being a bit of a struggle, with things gradually picking up into February and March. 2018, though, has been different. It actually started last November with a phone call. Was I interested in translating a book? Well, as it turned out to be a historical study right up my street, of course I was. So I found myself one morning in Barcelona’s atmospheric Ateneu meeting the author and the publisher of the book.

“This has always been a place for conspiracies,” said the publisher, looking round the lounge where we sat with our coffees. “They still go on in here even today.” My eyes followed his gaze around the leather armchairs and into the dark corners of the room. I could well believe it, especially in the feverish political context of last autumn in Catalonia. But the only conspiracy we were hatching was for me to translate the best part of 100,000 words, one of the biggest jobs I’ve ever tackled. I had plenty of time to do it, and the deadline wasn’t rigid, but it triggered a series of events that led to my becoming “trapped”.

My big mistake was to fill up all the “gap days” I’d negotiated when agreeing the deadline for the history book so that I’d also be able to take on a little other work every week. The problem was that almost immediately along came a client demanding to pay in advance for a job that would fill more or less all this time I’d set aside. I felt I couldn’t say no, and the lockdown began so I was more or less forced to turn everything else away for two months.

Then another client popped up to remind me that I’d promised to revise his book, which was almost as long as the one I was translating. This wasn’t so much a last straw to break the translator’s back as an enormous tree trunk. I resisted. I even went as far as to sound out some colleagues about the possibility of them doing the job for my client and I told him it would be out of the question for me to do the job by the deadline he had given me but that I could arrange for an alternative. But it was no good, he wouldn’t budge: it had to be me. At this point I discovered that his deadline was more flexible than I had thought, so I gave him the earliest possible date I could, more than a month later than the one he had initially told me, and astonishingly he accepted. Now I was saved, but the lockdown had been extended by almost two weeks. It was going to be a long winter, especially as I was rapidly developing symptoms of the flu and somewhere into all this I had to fit in a trip to England to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday.

But I set to work, and really I can’t complain about the progress of the various projects. The work was interesting, I managed to keep my discipline and do it by more or less when I said I would, and the clients behaved exquisitely and paid their invoices almost immediately. There was simply no way I could have turned them down. But I also feel I didn’t always deal with the big projects especially well. So for anyone who is suddenly faced with a 100,000-word project here are some tips I learned, or was forcefully reminded of:

  1. Negotiate a generous deadline. Here, I was fortunate that my clients were willing to be flexible, but perhaps I could have pushed things even further and eased my situation by asking for another couple of weeks.
  2. Negotiate a good rate and never give discounts just because a project is big. I was happy with what I was earning from both these jobs and neither author asked for a reduction, but it is very important not to give one. Big projects bring their own particular problems, particularly concerning our ability to maintain consistency in all areas of the translation. That means anyone agreeing to work cheaply on a big project is highly likely to end up producing shoddy work and also liable to lose money on the project, compared with what they might have made on smaller pieces of work.
  3. Negotiate payment in installments. If you’re working on the same job for a period of several weeks or months you won’t want to wait until the end to be paid. In this case, I asked for three equal payments, one in advance (because it was a big job and I’d never worked for the client before), one in the middle of the work and one at the end. This worked well and the client turned out to be one of the prompted payers I’ve ever come across.
  4. Don’t panic. Seeing you’ve got 100,000 words to translate is daunting, no matter what the deadline. It’s easy to panic, but it’s something you need to avoid. Divide it by the number of working days or weeks you have available to do it and it suddenly seems much more manageable. Then all you you need to do is work in the same way as you always do and it WILL get done.
  5. Be disciplined. One of the big dangers on a large project is getting behind. Somehow, because the work is set out in front of you day after day, there’s a tendency to let things slip. If that happens, you not only end up missing the deadline, you lose money, because you probably wouldn’t have let things slide with short jobs and tighter deadlines.
  6. Learn to say no. I definitely should have done more of this. With hindsight, filling the “gap days” I’d managed to negotiated with another big job was a bad mistake, however enticing it might have seemed. Some work also came in that I couldn’t say no to, from regular direct clients and I had to make time to do this too, which meant working some weekends. For me, this is one of the most stressful aspects of being in the lockdown situation. It got to the stage where I hated looking in my inbox for fear of finding a mail from someone asking me to do another job. Not feeling like that any more is a huge relief.
  7. Refer work to colleagues. Some would say outsource, but I don’t like doing that because in those circumstances I would feel responsible for the work delivered. The last thing I need when I’m busy is the stress of having to project manage and revise other people’s work, even if I know them well. On the other hand, referring clients to colleagues who perhaps need the work and allowing them to deal directly with the client is an absolute pleasure and sometimes a necessity.
  8. Put off the unnecessary. While I had these big projects I’m afraid all non-essential e-mails went unanswered and all requests for forms to be filled in were unheeded. I also cancelled all marketing, not so much for reasons as time, as for fear that it might succeed. Despite the fact that one of the principles of marketing is that it should be consistent, even when you’re busy, in this case the last thing I wanted was for a new customer to suddenly appear.
  9. Don’t neglect your health or family. Despite the fact I had all that work to do, I did manage to continue my regular visits to the swimming pool and spend time with my wife and son. When I’d done my quota of work for the day, I forced myself to stop thinking of everything still to be done on the project. I tried to get ahead if possible without working unreasonable hours, but nightshifts weren’t going to solve anything on a project of that size.
  10. Remember there’s life and work after the big project. There comes a point, with a week or so to go, where it becomes possible to start saying “yes” to offers of work again, but sometimes the word “no” becomes so ingrained that you continue to turn projects down when it’s not really necessary. That’s a mistake, because you don’t want to suddenly go from frantically busy to having nothing to do.

Following this advice will help avoid the worst of the stress inevitably associated of accepting a large project. However, it probably won’t prevent the huge sigh of relief when it’s all over.

The Seven Virtues of the New Translation Era

Building on the Rubble of the Shattered “Poverty Cult”

This article was first published in 1997 on the NCTA (Northern California Translators Association) website in the earliest days of the web. It’s a window into the translation industry as it existed more than 20 years ago, but the advice is more important than ever in today’s supercharged technology and business environment.

There is a great vibrancy and dynamism in the U.S. translation community today as translators stand up and refuse to surrender to the prevailing undertow of the “Poverty Cult,” a disease diagnosed and declared dead by Neil Inglis at the ATA Regional Conference in Washington, D.C. Inglis characterized what might be termed the Seven Deadly Sins of the Poverty Cult as “envying the success of others, gloating over the failure of others; a pervasive sense that it is better for everybody to fail than for a few to succeed; a sickly squeamishness where the subject of money is concerned; shabby gentility, more shabby than genteel; a widespread conviction that it is better to have a little and be secure than to take a gamble and risk losing everything; and last, and very much least, schadenfreude mixed with sour grapes.” I hereby offer the following Seven Virtues as guidelines for the aspiring translator striving to “cast off the counterproductive mentalities that paralyze translator progress in the United States.”

  1. Master Your Subjects.
    The first principle of commercial translation is to deliver a product of unparalleled quality. All long term success in the translation market is built on this foundation. The increasing complexity of modern technology and international commerce, however, has forced translators, journalists and other writers to develop increasing levels of sophistication and expertise in technology, law, banking, international trade and other fields. Translators with a formal education in the various subject areas have a huge advantage in the commercial market. There is simply nothing in the translator arsenal to substitute for mastery of subject matter. By hook or by crook, master your subjects. This expertise will improve the translation, solidify understanding, protect the client and enhance your authority. This authority is—not coincidentally—critical to the success of our profession. Forget nail biting through interminable “specialization vs. generalization” debates. Choose a few commercially viable specialty areas and learn everything about them. Remember that translators come in two varieties: “Specialists” and “hungry.”
  2. Appreciate Your Limits.
    If you ever come across a podiatrist who insists on surgically removing your spleen, you will soon discover why specialty knowledge is important. If you ever advertise yourself as a translator who can “do any subject,” you will look like the hapless podiatrist. The process of choosing specialty fields necessarily means not choosing many others. All good translators recognize the limits of their knowledge and turn down (or refer to colleagues) assignments that may imperil the quality of their product. The act of referring work to colleagues goes beyond charity: It protects the initial translator’s reputation by deflecting work that could deflate a hard won reputation for quality. It also promotes the notion that what translators do is sufficiently complex and demanding to require specialization. This happens to be true.
  3. Defend Your Product.
    If you work with direct clients (or the less reputable translation agencies) it is imperative to stand up and defend the integrity of your product against the full arsenal of assaults: Impossibly shrinking deadlines; the lost 40 pages that must be completed on the original deadline or the condemnation of your translation by the client’s sister who took a semester of French in college. Reputable translation agencies will fight this battle for you by establishing policies and practices that protect their product as well as their in house and freelance translators. The policies I have established at ASET place translators and editors in the role of decision makers not only on production and quality issues, but also on whether jobs are accepted by the company at all. Direct clients, on the other hand, have hired you the translator ostensibly to deliver expertise and a product that the client is unable to produce on his own. So, forget the mantra that “the client is always right.” In truth, there are good and bad clients, and the bad clients are almost always wrong when they insert themselves into the translation process. The good clients in the translation industry grasp this intuitively and recognize that they have hired a translator (or translation agency) to deliver a service they cannot. These clients will rely on the translator to look out for their interests on a level far in excess of their ability to judge it. They will give latitude sufficient to operate in a manner consistent with the translator’s quality standards, which in the end can only benefit them. Translators run into trouble when good clients start down the road toward bad, and the translator is foolish enough to actually follow the client down this road under the guise of “meeting the client’s needs.” This is idiotic and self destructive. What clients need to be told is that they are about to enter a minefield. No set of actions that places client circumstances above the quality level of the product (“I don’t care about quality, I need those 40 pages overnight!”) is ever acceptable, period. There is no excuse for a translator to act as a co conspirator by bowing to client demands that compromise that translator’s product. In the same way that no sane surgeon would ever agree to do a six hour triple bypass operation in a mere 45 minutes to meet the patient’s needs,” no translator should agree to butcher a translation toward the same end.
  4. Sign Your Work.
    The simple act of claiming authorship shatters the “black box” invisibility of the translation process and reinserts translators into their rightful place as craftsmen of the translation product. A host of respected translators, including John Bukacek in the U.S. and Chris Durban in Europe, have long promoted translators’ signing their work as a means to elevate public recognition and appreciation for the role of translators. The long absence of translators in the public consciousness has had many troubling and costly consequences for the profession, including a near universal lack of appreciation for what translators do—even among clients who should know better—and absurdly optimistic public expectations for machine translation and other automated solutions for leaping the language barrier. Translators who sign their work are also expressing confidence in their product in public while demonstrating the integrity to stand by their work.
  5. Quote Your Rate.
    One of the fastest ways to get rid of a plumber is to tell him what rate you will pay him to come fix your sink. The fact that plumbers slam down the phone at this kind of treatment and some translators do not is astonishing. Freelance translators are well advised to set rates at their own discretion and quote those rates to translation agencies (also referred to as “translation companies,” a preferred rendition, in this article). I can think of nothing that interests me less than what a translation company tells freelance translators it “will pay.” In fact, a reputable translation company can readily be identified by its request that you quote your rate first. There is plenty of room for good faith negotiations between parties that approach a transaction as equals.
  6. Promote Your Profession.
    Public relations and promotion of translation has been so catastrophically poor for so many years that it is a miracle the public knows we exist at all. There is no unified public policy promotion, advocacy or lobbying for translators on the national level, and extremely scant promotion through the popular media. Even in such a lackluster environment, translators are blessed by the fact that we all work in a field that the public finds intrinsically interesting (imagine the challenge of promoting, say, industrial fluids to the media.) Some of the most visible media coverage for translation, including magazine articles in the international trade press, major metropolitan newspapers and in flight magazines, as well as radio interviews and commentary, have been initiated in the last two years by individual working translators, interpreters and translation companies on the national, regional and local levels. Translators in Europe have begun a major client education initiative to reach out to industrial translation users. Translators in FLEFO report on their college campus appearances to promote translation and several of the more active FLEFO translators and interpreters share source information and feedback from client education and public relations efforts.
  7. Perfect Your Craft.
    Good translators do not become great translators by study, research or practice alone. These will get you to “good,” perhaps “very good,” and certainly are necessary steps to solid competence. Great is much, much more painful. Great translators—the ones who really stand out—have had their translations mauled, picked over, dissected, disemboweled, examined, edited, published, revised and amended by their translation colleagues, editors and reviewers, sometimes for years. Each successive translation then draws on the collective experience of the translator as well the entire host of creative input and guidance from those translation colleagues and editors. All translators benefit to the extent that their work is “at risk” for examination, revision or review. Translators are best served in their professional development by establishing and maintaining a close community of cooperative and disciplined colleagues whose talent and expertise help to guide and focus the intensely personal creative act that is translation.

Image source: Pixabay

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. His blog, Word Prisms, is an award-winning blog on translation, technology and the modern business of language, and has over 6,000 registered viewers from all over the world (http://www.kevinhendzel.com/blog/).

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 also 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, Reuters, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, Wired and many more outlets promoting translation and interpretation services as vital to commerce, diplomacy, security, and culture.