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

Pursuing the Translation Dream: How to Keep the Phone Ringing

Have you been following our five-part series on how to assess your readiness to become a successful translator, inspired by ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators? If so, we hope your phone is ringing by now! Today we will discuss tips for how to keep the calls coming, based on section 3 of the aforementioned ATA checklist, titled “Professional Relationships (How to keep the phone ringing).”

But before we dive in: if you are just joining, you may want to have a look at the first two posts in the series:

Part 1: Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know Before the Phone Rings

Part 2: Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know After the Phone Rings

Now buckle up and get ready for the good stuff.

By now your hook is baited and you’re starting to get some bites. How do you keep the catches coming?

As you may expect, there are some no-brainers when it comes to retaining clients and landing new ones: make sure to offer consistent quality, be trustworthy (think honoring deadlines and confidentiality agreements), and, importantly, when it comes to finding new clients, be sure to regularly evaluate and refine your marketing strategies. (Here are some ideas on how to get your name out there, from Carlos Djomo’s post, “6-Step Strategy to Translators’ Visibility.”)

Beyond these foundations for fostering strong relationships, we selected four more tips ripe for the picking, based on the ATA questionnaire.

Do I return phone calls promptly?

Availability and promptness may strike you as “no-brainers,” but as obvious as they may seem, their importance cannot be emphasized enough—hence this being the first of the four tips.

If you take away only one thing from this post, let it be to respond promptly to clients.

If possible, make a habit of replying to new project requests and other important client emails within 30 minutes to an hour. To avoid distractions from work, you may choose to set a reminder to check email every hour. I do this by checking email when my Pomodoro timer goes off (every 25 or 50 minutes, depending on the day or the task at hand).

If you do check email frequently for client messages, be sure to filter out nonurgent emails and tend only to client messages that merit a response. Otherwise, you may end up unnecessarily digressing from work. If you are unable to respond for 90–120 minutes or more, consider setting an autoresponder to let clients know you will reply as soon as possible.

Even if you are unavailable for a job, send a prompt and gracious reply so the client knows they can rely on you next time. You may want to streamline the process by creating an email template (or a “canned response” if you’re using Gmail) that you can reuse and make minor edits to on a case-by-case basis. This limits time spent drafting responses for each individual email, yet allows you to keep clients informed.

Interested in more email hacks? Have a look at this post by Victoria Chavez-Kruse: “Inbox Zero: Forever in pursuit of ‘No new mail!’”

Do I maintain a positive, cooperative attitude? (Are my requests and specific working requirements reasonable?)

You have probably heard the saying, “People work with people they know, like and trust.” In fact, you may have heard it more than a few times. (Clichés are cliché for a reason: they are true!) Successful translators are easy to work with: they have a pleasant, can-do attitude, are willing to cooperate, and have the ability to see things from the client’s perspective. All of these qualities will make you a pleasure to work with.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you reflect on what kind of impression you make: When I am asked to edit a text that was poorly translated, do I immediately complain about quality, or do I try to get to the bottom of why this happened and how to avoid it in the future? When a client cancels a project after it has already been approved, is my response firm and professional, yet friendly, and does it invite the client to collaborate with me on ways to avoid the problem in the future? When I correspond with my clients, do I show them they are valued and not just an email address without a face or name? I like to feel valued by them, and surely the same is true for them!

You may just find that your quest for a positive attitude in your work makes you not only a pleasant collaborator, but a more optimistic person in other aspects of your life, too. Talk about a win-win!

Am I flexible? Am I open to change? (Can I readily admit mistakes and offer to correct them?)

Translation projects are often dynamic. There are last-minute changes, unexpected hurdles, and the occasional impossible expectation. You can minimize the impact of these challenges by accounting for them from the start (for example, add in a time buffer when agreeing to deadlines). When difficulties arise, flexibility and a can-do attitude are key in overcoming them.

As for inevitable oversights and mistakes, what matters most is not their occurrence, but how we face them when they are brought to our attention. It is natural to feel defensive about our work (after all, we put an excruciating amount of care into it!), but we must remember that our clients are our greatest allies. In fact, in the case of agencies, we share the self-same goal of producing an impeccable text for the end client, and as any writer or translator knows, four eyes are better than two.

Take time to evaluate the alleged mistake with a cool head before deciding how to proceed. If a correction is in order, be gracious and prompt about delivering the changes. Remember to take note of what went wrong for the future. If you truly feel the client is mistaken in their correction, you may opt to defend your translation, but do so considerately and be sure to acknowledge the client’s point of view.

Can I accept the fact that my client does not know all about my profession or its problems, nor my personal difficulties, and that it is not his or her responsibility to learn about them?

Think of the last time you hired someone. Whether it was a graphic designer, lawyer, general contractor, or taxi or Uber driver, what did you want or expect from this person? Did he or she deliver, or were you subjected to woes about professional or personal problems? Imagine, for example, a taxi driver who complains that he needs a new car battery or waxes on about the cause of his crabby mood. Now think of someone you hired or worked with who was a joy to do business with and whose service delivery was seamless.

Be someone you would enjoy doing business with. This means getting the job done well in a timely fashion and clueing in the client to decisions where they should be involved, while refraining from bringing up personal matters or complaints, as poignant as they may be. We are all human, but your client hired you for one reason and one reason only: to translate (or edit, etc.). Never lose sight of that reason.

Now that you have some new ideas on how to nurture strong relationships with clients, we hope you continue to reel in a steady flow of loyal customers. Even once you are sitting pretty with a solid client base, there is always room to fine-tune your business skills and relationships with clients and colleagues. Indeed, we will take it a step further in the fourth (and penultimate) installment of this series, which will touch on professional demeanor.

Get a sneak peek by checking out section 4 of the ATA questionnaire. Want more from Savvy in the meantime? Check out this post by Tony Guerra on getting and keeping agency clients. We would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Image source: Pixabay

Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know After the Phone Rings

As a new translator, you have prepared yourself long and hard to take on clients, and now the phone is ringing—metaphorically speaking. So, how do you answer?

This post is part two of a five-part series on how to assess your readiness to become a successful translator, inspired by the ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators.

If you have not already, check out the first post on what all translators should know before the phone rings. We also encourage you to explore the ATA questionnaire itself—you can fill it out on the computer to determine which areas you are already strong in and which you might consider working on.

In each post in this series, we delve into several questions from the questionnaire and offer additional insights. In today’s post, we explore section 2: “Professional Product and Services (What I need to know after the phone rings).”

This section includes several cardinal rules for independent contractors, no matter the profession: Honor deadlines without fail (or notify the client as soon as possible of your inability to do so), confirm receipt of materials, follow instructions, know how to collect overdue payments, and invest time, effort, and funds to broaden your knowledge and skillset.

In this post, we will focus on some of the meatier questions the questionnaire encourages new translators to consider:

Do I discuss fees and terms with potential clients confidently, without hesitation or cumbersome excuses and apologies?

Confidence is key for independent contractors, who exist in a sea of other options. Being confident can be as simple as having the conviction that your work and time are valuable, and making this apparent to clients by how you communicate with them.

So, when exactly does confidence come into play for a translator? When it comes to negotiating fees or contracts, sending a simple and factual message without beating around the bush or sounding apologetic will make you stand out as a professional who recognizes his or her abilities and worth.

Of course, there are times when being apologetic is appropriate (e.g., a deadline completely slips your mind until the client notifies you the project is overdue), but beware of behaving sheepishly when you have nothing to be sorry for.

If you do not know where to start, pay attention to examples of tasteful confidence in others and take a cue. As one of my professors used to say, “Fake it ’til you become it.” If you demonstrate confidence, soon enough you will not only be showing it; you will start to truly feel it, especially when others begin to respond.

Do I secure a written agreement for the work before I start the job? (If not, am I aware of the risks? Which risks am I willing to accept?)

If you do not use a contract when offering translation services, you are not alone. Half of the translators surveyed by lawyer-linguist Paula Arturo do not use one at all, and 64.1% do not use their own, leaving both groups vulnerable to disputes involving issues such as project scope and nonpayment. The absence of a contract—or the use of a poor one—can even result in litigation.

Not only will having a contract help protect your business and set expectations for the work to be done, which means peace of mind for both you and the client, but, as Paula writes in her recent post on translation contracts, it can also help cover potential attorney’s fees and combat deprofessionalization.

A great resource when drafting your own contract is the ATA Translation Job Model Contract. This template is a helpful starting point, but keep in mind that it may need customization. When you are ready, consider seeking legal advice to maximize the effectiveness of your contract. Personally, I have used a local university’s legal clinic that offers discounted services to small businesses when I have needed to consult with an attorney, including to draft service agreements. Research resources that may be available in your area.

Am I aware of my limitations? (Do I decline projects which I cannot do well?)

Especially when you are just starting out, you may feel pressured to accept any work that comes your way. It can be tempting, but taking work beyond your limits is not only ethically dubious; it is also likely to cause anxiety and cost you more time and effort. You may hear from the client after the fact if they have been embarrassed by a poor translation. In a worst-case scenario, a poor translation could even cause real harm to a company or an individual.

In the end, it is not worth risking your reputation and your pride to accept work beyond your current skillset. The wisest course of action is to review the source document as thoroughly as possible before accepting the assignment and to turn it down if you are in doubt. Do not feel guilty—the client will thank you, and you can rest easy knowing you did the right thing.

So, what should you do when you see yourself obliged to turn down a job? Clients will appreciate a referral to a better suited translator, if you happen to know one. If you are asking yourself, “Well, how do I find work suited to me?”, Corinne McKay offers some helpful tips in this post.

Do I have convenient access to translation tools, state-of-the-art software, and high-speed Internet service?

Let me begin with an example of inconvenient access: Until recently, my favorite CAT tool was only installed on my desktop computer. Most of my translation memories (TMs) and glossaries were also stored only on that one immobile machine, limiting my ability to work efficiently on projects when traveling. I decided this had to change before the recent holidays, when I had travel plans, and lo and behold—not only was migrating all of my data and software easier than I had imagined, I was able to accept work over the holidays without thinking twice.

It can be hard to ditch old habits, but taking stock of areas where you could benefit from convenience, a better tool (whether a faster computer, a second screen, a higher-end CAT tool, or a CAT tool, period), you may be surprised at how much more productive you will be once you break out of your comfort zone. So, reconsider that tiny screen, the ergonomics of your current equipment, and the repetitive research you may be doing instead of using a TM or glossary. Have no idea where to begin when it comes to CAT tools? Check out this digest that explains the ABCs of CAT tools and tips for investing in one.

Do I keep an electronic copy for potential future corrections, revisions, or additions? For how long? (Do I inquire about returning background materials to the client upon completion of the job?)

When possible, most translators maintain copies of their work. There are a variety of reasons for this: You may be asked to make changes after the fact, or come across a similar translation in the future that would benefit from past work. If you do choose to reference previous translations, just be certain that your contract allows you to store them, and avoid including any confidential or proprietary information in the new translation if it is for a different end client.

In another scenario altogether, you may find that the client has introduced errors into your translation after the fact, in which case you could be faced with having to confirm that the errors were not your own—another good reason to have old work on hand.

Now it is your turn to try out some of these tips on how to “answer the phone” before the next post, where we will discuss how to nurture existing professional relationships and “keep the phone ringing.” Let me know how it goes in a comment below!

Image source: Pixabay

Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know Before the Phone Rings

Have you ever asked yourself if you have what it takes to be a translator? You probably know it takes more than being bilingual, but did you know there is more to it than being a good translator? If you are curious to know what it takes to build a successful translation career, you may be pleased to learn of this hidden gem offered by the ATA: A Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators. This comprehensive “checklist” for newcomers to the field is a juicy resource that answers the question of what it really takes to be a translator.

Let’s be honest: I would posit that few, if any, successful translators got to where they are today by methodically checking off boxes on a similar list. One example is Pilar Saslow, who writes in another article about what she learned from her follies: The Top Three Things I Wish Somebody Told Me When I First Started As a Freelance Translator. Entry into the profession is rarely a smooth and linear process. However, I do not doubt that many seasoned translators would have loved to have had such a list when they were starting out.

This post kicks off a new Savvy Newcomer series that will highlight questions from the ATA checklist for new translators. In each post, we will delve into several questions and offer additional insights. In today’s post, we explore the first section: “Professional Preparation (What I need to know before the phone rings).”

Am I willing to invest time, money, and physical and emotional energy to build a career?

There is no such thing as a career that does not require investment. However, most “traditional” careers follow a well-tread path towards success, whether that means obtaining a degree, earning a license, or getting hired at a company. On the contrary, most translators are self-employed, and this independence comes with added responsibilities, including self-motivation. A career in translation requires an ongoing commitment beyond the act of translating alone. But if you love the art itself, you will probably not hesitate to invest the time, money, and energy it takes to build a translation career. Alina Cincan elaborates on the first steps towards investing in your career in her post How (Not) to Be a Professional Translator and 6 Tips to Help You Become One.

Do I know the difference between an employee and an independent contractor in terms of tax law?

Not only are most translators self-employed; the majority are also independent contractors. Independent contractors provide services based on a verbal or written contract (hence the name) with another entity that is not their employer. Unlike the relationship between employer and employee, where the employer pays a portion of the employee’s taxes (in the US, usually 50%), independent contractors are responsible for paying the full amount of taxes owed each year.

Furthermore, it is the independent contractor’s responsibility to keep track of all payments received in exchange for work and to declare and pay taxes on this amount annually or quarterly. This means putting aside approximately 30% of all taxable earnings (i.e., after deductions such as costs, depreciation, etc.) If you live in the US, you can find more information on taxes for independent contractors via the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center. Our own Jamie Hartz also offers tips on paying taxes in this review of The Money Book.

Is my resume up to date and appropriate?

If you plan to offer services as a translator, it is important to have a resume dedicated solely to translation. You may want to include experience in relevant subject areas, but the job you held at the local pet shop years ago probably does not qualify.

Once you have your ideal translation resume, make sure not to let it collect dust. There is nothing like getting a resume request from a prospective client and letting the email languish while you scramble to get your resume in order. Taking the time to update your resume periodically will save you the headache later, and might even land you the client.

Find more tips in Marta Stelmaszak’s guide to translator CVs.

Am I able to give a reasonably accurate word count (in source and/or target languages) and turnaround estimate relatively quickly after I have seen the document?

Some things you simply cannot know until you know them, and word count and turnaround estimates sometimes fall into this category. However, one way to gain control is by tracking word counts and time spent on each project.

Use a tool like Toggl to determine how long it takes you to complete an assignment based on project or document type. You can also keep track of word output per hour to get an idea of how long it takes you to translate certain documents. Once you have your numbers, continue to expect the unexpected and give yourself a buffer so you are able to submit your projects on time.

Have I prearranged quality control measures to guarantee a top-notch product (such as time to mull over my draft, proofing tools, time to proofread, a third reading by a colleague with source- or target-language background, a subject area expert to consult, etc.)?

Never underestimate the importance of quality control. Like many translators, I consider myself a perfectionist, but experience has taught me that even perfectionists make mistakes. There are some things only a second pair of eyes will catch, like the misspelling of epidural (“epdiural”) that I once accidentally added to my dictionary in Word, causing spell check to overlook the typo. Whenever possible, it is invaluable to have a subject-matter expert on hand (whose fees you can budget into your quote) and to allow for ample time to mull over your draft.

Now that we have taken a closer look at things to keep in mind when first deciding to pursue a career in translation, it is time to prepare for what to do when your first clients start trickling in. Stay tuned for the next post in the series: “What to Do When the Phone Rings” (or when the first email arrives, in today’s business world!). Can’t wait for more inspiration? Check out this post by Corinne McKay with tips for new translators and interpreters.

Image source: pixabay