Why Pairing up Is a Good Idea, Especially for Freelance Translators!

“I’m a freelancer, so other freelancers are my competitors. Especially in my language pair. I should avoid them at all cost!”

As a small business owner (because that’s what you are as a freelancer!), it’s very easy to fall into this trap. It does make sense, doesn’t it? Professionals who offer exactly the same services as you are direct competitors who could steal your clients and ruin your livelihood. You need to be better, cheaper or faster than them so that you can beat them.

Well, think again. If there’s one thing we can glean from the history of mankind, it’s that human effort yields the best results when driven by collaboration. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day—nor was it built by one guy with a hammer and some nails. Where would giants like Apple and Google be if those tech-savvy programmers would have isolated themselves back in the day? They’d probably still be coding line after line in a basement or garage, eager to figure it all out by themselves.

I believe not isolated diligence, but open collaboration is the key to long-lasting success. This very much applies to translation too, though it does require that translators adopt a less paranoid and more collaborative attitude. Even if you don’t actually like other translators, the benefits of working together are such that it makes little sense to stick your head in the sand.

Before we continue, I have a confession to make. I’m a freelance translator and so is my partner, Lineke. We’ve been running our translation business together for three years now and we’ve been swamped with work right off the bat. Since we’re partners in real life, we live in the same house. That makes collaborating extremely easy—if I have a question for Lineke, I can simply walk up to her office and ask her straight away. I don’t need to send an email or call her.

Still, I’ve taken part in other forms of freelance collaboration and the results have always been fantastic. I’m happy, whoever I collaborate with is happy and, most importantly, the client is happy. The best business is blissful business.

Now, let’s move on to why freelancing should not be a permanent solo effort.

It Takes Two to Tango, Right? Well, It Takes Two to Translate as Well

Everyone in the translation business knows that a proper translation requires not one, but at the very least two pairs of eyes. The translation needs to be edited, and usually there’s a round of QA to mop up any blemishes that passed through the translation and editing phase unscathed.

If you pair up with another freelancer and become a translator/editor duo, you’ll be in a position to produce very high quality without having to rely on anyone else. In fact, once you pinpoint each other’s strengths and weaknesses, you’ll know exactly what to look out for, meaning you’ll spend less time on perfecting the copy than you would when you’d edit a translation done by God-knows-who. That’s not only good for your client, but for your hourly income as well, as your productivity grows while the collaboration lasts.

Two Translators Have Higher Capacity Than a Lone Wolf

Let’s assume business has picked up lately and you’re finding yourself with plenty of work on your plate. Suddenly, a very enticing offer comes in: a big, fat, juicy job for which you’ll be able to charge a hefty rush fee. Alas, you have to decline the offer since your one-man company is running at full speed. No can do.

Guess what? If you have a fellow translator to fall back on, you’ll still be able to take on that job, including that chunky rush fee. You can simply switch around your standard roles and have the editor translate the copy, with you taking care of the editing once the storm in your inbox has calmed. You’ll avert disaster, make more money and you’ll have a happy customer. It’s a win-win!

Before you worry about margins and rates: since you know each other well and function like a well-oiled machine, you can be completely transparent about the financial side of things. This is what Lineke and I like to do. We sometimes choose to work with a fellow translator because we’re both fully booked and we’ll always tell them: this and that is the maximum rate I can afford—is this acceptable for you? No need for awkward negotiating and hard-core haggling, since we’re not looking to make a big profit on the professionals who help us serve our customers well. In fact, we’re looking to enrich them as much as we can! It’s a whole different kind of dynamic—one that is in favor of the translator.

A One-Trick Pony Is Nice, but a Multi-Trick Horse Is Definitely Better

So, you’re very good at translating marketing, for instance, but your client needs help with the terms and conditions for their promotion. What will you do now? Decline, and risk sending the client into the arms of some random business they found on the internet, or accept, knowing you’ll have to struggle all night through unbridled legalese? Neither option sounds all that great, do they?

This scenario actually happened to us. Lineke and I both aren’t very keen on legal copy, but luckily, one of our fellow translators happens to excel at it. We sent the copy his way, edit it ourselves and poof—we managed to expand our business portfolio without inflicting frustration on ourselves. Not bad, right?

Having a broader range of services than what you can offer all by yourself makes you a more well-rounded business partner. Good clients hardly ever need one single service. They might require translation one day, and copywriting or DTP the next. For instance, we have clients who sometimes need Flemish versions of our Dutch copy. We don’t tell them “Well, good luck with that, because we cannot do that”. No—we have a contact for Flemish who is happy to edit our copy so that our work sounds good in Flemish, too. This saves our client quite a headache!

That’s the first three major benefits of collaboration for translators. There’s more to it though: the second part is coming soon.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your views on translation collaboration. Is it a feasible option for you? Or perhaps you already have your own unique form of collaboration in place to tell of? I’m eager to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Image credit: pixabay

Author bio

A native speaker of Dutch, Branco van der Werf runs his two-man translation company with his partner, Lineke van Straalen. His language pairs are English-Dutch and German-Dutch. He graduated from the School for Translation and Interpreting in the Netherlands in 2014 and has since specialized in marketing translation, transcreation and copywriting. His creative translations regularly appear in TV commercials, brand assets and digital spaces. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

What I Care About

By Helen Eby

hand-577777_1280What have I learned over the last few months?

I care about people.

María Díaz. Wow! She was one of my students in a class in Woodburn. She was a nurse in Mexico, and came to the US because her son needed medical treatment. She knew no English when she came, but she had been managing five clinics in Mexico. She went from being in charge of the medical treatment of many people to having no understanding of the world around her while her son was in and out of doctor appointments. However, she never gave up. Almost thirty years later, she showed up in my medical interpreting class. She had worked in the kitchen at a restaurant and at a paintbrush factory, had taken ESL, and was now a case manager at a clinic. Read her story here: http://blog.gauchati.com/story-of-immigrant-interpreter/

Emerlinda. She grew up in rural Mexico. Her parents only let her go to school up until 6th grade. She was working at a childcare center, and I was using space in the center to teach interpreters how to write better. She jumped in and joined us, despite the fact that she hadn’t written anything for a class in over 40 years. In my class, I teach people by getting them to read good literature and write paragraphs based on what they think about the readings, and then we discuss grammar topics based on what they’ve written. Before I knew it, Emerlinda was explaining to the class what her “Teacher Chola” had told her in 4th grade, and was telling one of the other students how to understand stories by Cortázar, one of the great Argentine authors. Dictionaries don’t really help us understand certain things. Emerlinda had the cultural background to understand this, which John was lacking. I would have loved to take her into a college Spanish literature class to explain this story! In a few months, she had improved her writing significantly based on what we were doing. She was telling others how important it was to read. When her husband made it difficult for her to attend our sessions, I left a suitcase full of books at the center so she could read during lunch breaks. Nothing could stop Emerlinda once she had been bitten by the reading bug!

Emily. She just got back from getting her Masters in Interpreting in Spain and she signed up for my medical interpreting class in Woodburn. By the luck of the draw, she also asked the ATA for a mentor, and they assigned her to me! Wow! She’s awesome. We are working on how to help her to launch. Just helping her connect with local people, local needs and opportunities, and having lunch for a few hours once in a while is a privilege. And it sure is weird to teach someone else a class about what I learned by experience, while she studied it in a Master’s program, and one of her professors is the author of the book I’m teaching from! Emily and I have become friends. She wrote a document based on her Master’s research for a group of members of the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters (OSTI) to take to Washington DC in April (read more here).

Cynthia. She just graduated from college. She has a major in Linguistics and a minor in Spanish. She has so much to offer, and I have so much to learn from her! She’s my daughter, and I want to support her as she starts on her own path – it’s her path. She is already starting to tell me what I should be doing better… and she is right, almost all the time.

The Savvy Newcomer team. This team is amazing. I’m not going to go down the list (except for Cynthia), but each person is truly amazing and has taught me something special. Together, we work together and make great things come together for the benefit of others.

There is always something special in everyone around us. Every job we do is for someone who deserves our respect. If we do our jobs with that in mind, thinking of María and of Emerlinda, who still remembers what Teacher Chola taught her, we will do our jobs differently.

And then… I did something totally insane.

This summer, I organized a Training of Trainers for The Community® International here in Oregon. Twenty highly qualified interpreters came, fifteen of them from Oregon. After that, I walked with a lighter step. Now, if anything happens, I rest assured in the knowledge that we can work as partners and we can work together to solve problems. If a health issue comes up, one of my colleagues can teach my class. As a trainer, that is a huge relief! Knowing that others also care about training interpreters in Oregon is wonderful, too.

This training event would never have happened without support. It was, again, a team effort. Who helped out?

  • Western Oregon University. They wanted to reach out, and help ASL interpreters and spoken language interpreters to reach out to medical interpreters in Oregon together.
  • An organization that coordinates quite a few healthcare providers scattered throughout Oregon contacted me to offer support. The medical providers told us they needed us to be available to train staff and interpreters throughout Oregon, and Western Oregon University gave us a significant break in the cost of the space.

It seemed impossible. But with these partners, the impossible happened. We brought the training down to a cost that interpreters could afford, and they came to a retreat. It was awesome, and now we have a team that cares about others. We’ll see where it goes from here: http://blog.gauchati.com/tcitot-agenda/

Interpreting is teamwork. Even when we interpret, we are a team with the person we interpret for. When I say, “The interpreter requests a clarification,” it means, “I need your help to get your message across clearly. You and I are on the same team.” In simultaneous interpreting, of course, we have a partner in the booth who is tremendously supportive. We also are a team with the person who helps set up the project.

Translation is teamwork. I usually send a list of queries to my client: “Where you said this, I thought you should have said this, and translated it this way for now. Is that OK, or should I change it to something else? Please let me know. And you have a typo here. Please clarify.” The clients love it. Of course, there is also the reviser – a translator who is just as qualified as I am and who can tell me, “Helen, this is a better way to say it.” Or, “Helen, your translation is too literal; I think you’ve traveling into Calque-Land here. You may want to travel back to the land of good writing.”

We don’t ever work alone. We are a team. But, back to the original issue: people matter. The people I work with and work for really matter. When I train interpreters, blog about my work, and lead The Savvy Newcomer, I keep people in mind and I do it all with their support.