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

The Savvy Newcomer Resources page

It was a genius who said, “Never memorize something you can look up.” But as any good translator or interpreter knows, you have to know where to look it up as well! In this case, you’re in luck: The Savvy Newcomer has done the work for you with our Resources page. You can find the list, which contains links to what we consider to be some of the most useful resources on the web, in the tab titled “Resources” at the top of our blog. As the blog has grown, we have found that it is hard to get a glimpse of the full gamut of information it contains, so we wanted to have this way to share some of the tips and tricks we have found that make our lives a whole lot easier! Here is a glance at the content on the Resources page:

Journals, Newsletters, and Style Guides

Who doesn’t love a good style guide? We have compiled a list of just a few resources that may help as you make style decisions in your translations—some in English, some in Spanish. Know of a good style guide for another language? Let us know—we would love to include it!

Technology

The three resources listed under the Technology section are great not only for translators but for any computer user—they can even help you proofread general documents in Word.

Glossaries, Terminology, and Research

The resources in this section contain a wealth of information on terms and language use. They are especially helpful for subject-specific work and term research.

Education and Courses

Translators and interpreters alike can agree it is important to receive training. These resources will give you an idea of where to get started, whether you are looking into a certificate or a degree, interpreting or translation, local or distance learning.

Resources developed by ATA’s Certification Committee

The links in this section are a great starting point if you are considering taking the ATA Certification Exam; they will help you learn more about how the exam is developed, scored, and managed. The style guide and resource list are helpful not only for those preparing for the exam, but also for use in everyday translation work.

Advocacy Resources

The resource in this category is a link to ATA’s response to the Department of Homeland Security’s request for comments on its Language Access Plans. It is an interesting read as we look for ways to explain our credentials and advocate for our profession.

ATA Division Sites

This category contains links to all of ATA’s division websites. Take a look and see if any strike your fancy! ATA members can join an unlimited number of divisions for free and access division websites, forums, and newsletters on each particular subject matter or language.

As you may know, Savvy is always looking for more great content, and our Resources page is no exception—if you’d like to suggest a resource for us to include, send us an email at atasavvynewcomer@atanet.org.

Header image: Pixabay

Resources to Help Ensure Translation Payment

Resources to Help Ensure Translation PaymentOne of the questions that many newer translators ask is “How do I find good clients?” This question is often closely followed by a second: “How do I know they’re good?” To address this topic, specifically regarding scams and non-payment by translation clients, Ted Wozniak recently presented a session at the ATA conference titled “Ensuring Payment Before, During, and After the Project” which included an overview of the many actions translators can take in order to minimize the risk of not being paid for their services.

This list contains a variety of online resources that freelancers can use to vet potential clients, report non-payers and scammers, and get/share information about translation payment issues in general.

Online Resources

“Nigerian check scam alerts”
A free database of names and email addresses of assumed “Nigerian check scams” directed specifically at translators and interpreters.
www.paymentpractices.net/Scams.aspx

Blue Board – Proz
21,432 total outsourcers, searchable by name or country, as of 21 November 2016. Not all listings have scores. The LWA (likelihood of working again) is a subjective score from 1 to 5 that is entered by service provider. While there are numerous rules governing Blue Board postings, there are no rules or guidelines on how to rate an outsourcer, e.g. what constitutes a 1 or a 5.
www.proz.com/blueboard/

Hall of Fame & Shame – TranslatorsCafe
Reserved for paying members ($110/year) or to ATA certified translators who have their certification verified by TC for $25. 6,196 registered site members have access to this forum. The Hall of Fame & Shame forum contains 12,647 rating records for 2,525 agencies of the total of 7,094 agency profiles and 6,949 rating records for service providers. Caveat – When “praising” an outsourcer you do not have to confirm that you have actually worked for them, but that you would work for them again. Conversely, when “complaining”, you must affirm that you would not work for them again. No “neutral” or third-party comments allowed.
www.translatorscafe.com

Payment Practices
The “grandfather” of all payment issues lists, founded as a Yahoo Groups list in 1999. The database is searchable by a variety of parameters and contains 11,749 outsourcers, 8,717 responses (direct experience) and 3,398 comments (non-payment related information or summary of reports from other lists) on those outsourcers. The annual subscription fee is $19.99/€19.99. A free 7-day trial is available, as is a discounted rate for ATA members.
www.paymentpractices.net

Translation Scammers
Listing of various scammers (Nigerian check scams, CV theft, etc.) Not for reporting payment issues. http://www.translator-scammers.com/

Translation Ethics
Basically dead since 2014 but still has some good advice.
http://translationethics.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html#.VP2p1-HQO9Y

Mailing Lists

Betaalmoraal (Dutch)
400 members.
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/betaalmoraal/info

The TCR List (Translator Client Review List)
http://www.webelists.com/cgi/lyris.pl?site=tcr&id=634874789

the-checklist (Italian)
1,020 members, 20 messages/month.
https://it.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/the-checklist/info

TradPayeur (French)
531 members. Not very active (31 messages so far in 2016, only 21 in all of 2015).
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/tradpayeur/info

Translation Agencies Payment Practices
Online message group, 190 topics (not very active 12 messages in 2015, 7 so far in 2016).
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/transpayment

Translation Agency Payment
1,155 members, 3 messages/month.
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/translationagencypayment/info

translation-agencies
Any issues connected with translation agencies, not just payment. 1,174 members, on life support; 2 message in 2016, 0 in 2015. Topics seem to go in fits and starts.
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/translation-agencies/info

TranslationPaymentsWhoWhenWhat
630 members. On life support. 12 messages in 2015, 17 messages in 2016.
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/translation-agencies/info

Untrustworthy Translation Agencies
The full list of 700+ outsourcers (as of 31 Aug 2010) can be obtained by becoming a member (€96/year as of 1/2014). This info has not been updated since 2014 so its extent and usefulness are unknown. www.translationdirectory.com/non-payers.htm

WPPF
1,997 members, 47 messages/month.
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/WPPF/info

Zahlungspraxis (German)
2,586 members, 25,168 messages, about 100/month.
https://de.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/zahlungspraxis/info

Inactive Lists

The groups and lists below are inactive or moribund; you should ignore them if they show up in your search.

Práticas Comerciais de Tradução (Portuguese)
124 members, 5 messages/month. Dead.
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/pp_brasil/info

Translators-RedAlert-Hotline
57 members, Dead.
http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/Translators-RedAlert-Hotline/

transpaybulletin
All spam. No legitimate mail since 2007.
http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/transpaybulletin/

Transref
480 members, no activity since May 2010.
http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/transref

Other resources

EU Directive 2000/35/EC
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2000:200:0035:0038:en:PDF

ATA Business Practices list
(NOT for payment issues)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ata_business_practices/

FIT Europe
Information on debt collection procedures in various countries. Go to site, then click on What We Do > Completed Projects > Debt Collection Procedures.
http://www.fit-europe.org/
http://www.fit-europe.org/en/what-we-do/completed-projects/debt-collection-procedures

LinkedIn Groups

Unacceptable Translation Rates Naming & Shaming Group
Translation Agency Business Practices
Translation Agencies – Good, Bad and Cheap

We hope this list of resources will be of help next time you are vetting a new client! If you have resources to add to this list, please comment below.

Header image credit: StockSnap

Resources courtesy of Ted Wozniak

Ted R. WozniakTed R. Wozniak holds bachelor’s degrees in accounting and German and is a graduate of the German Basic Course at the Defense Language Institute. Before becoming a freelance translator, he was an accountant, stockbroker, Army liaison officer in Germany, and an interrogation instructor at the U.S. Army Intelligence School. After pursuing graduate studies in Germanics, he became a freelance German > English translator, specializing in finance, accounting and taxation. He is also the president of Payment Practices, Inc., an online database of translation-company payment practices, a former mentor at the Graham School, University of Chicago German to English financial translation program, a former instructor in the New York University German to English financial translation course, isthe current Treasurer of the American Translators Association, and owner/moderator of Finanztrans, a mailing list for German financial translators. He resides in New Orleans, LA.

Helen’s adventures in translation – Chapter 1

By Helen Ebylearn-64058

I started translating when I was 15, when I helped my mother with an IATA (International Air Transportation Association) contract. We each did half of it and reviewed each other’s work. That was back in 1976, with paper and pencil, in Argentina. I have continued translating and interpreting at different events, no matter what my official occupation was.

However, it was a side business for a long time. In 2001, I decided that after my children graduated from high school in 2011, I would make the switch from full-time homeschool mom to full-time translator/interpreter.

I made a plan. I would prepare to launch by their graduation. The following are some of the issues I dealt with to make myself marketable.

Credentials:

In the US, having an accepted credential is essential. It could be the ATA Certification exam or a college degree. Because I was raising children and a full degree program was not an option, I chose to go through the New York University certificate program. I thought it had advantages over the ATA exam:

  • I would know what my strengths and weaknesses were and have the opportunity to be mentored through them
  • I would have a clear understanding of the expectations and be able to make a plan to meet them
  • I would learn other issues surrounding translation, not just pass a test

However… it was more expensive. Seven courses at $700 each is $4,900. My husband and I looked at the ATA income survey. We found that the average income for a part-time translator was $15,000 per year. If in the first year I could make three times as much as the course cost, this was a good business deal.

I also got certified for court interpreting in Oregon and for medical interpreting by the National Board.

Resources:

Dictionaries: As I took NYU courses, the professors always recommended dictionaries for their specialties. I bought them all first, and asked questions later. Over time, I spent a few thousand dollars and filled a bookcase. They have all been tremendously useful and I’m still collecting more. Today I occasionally get emails from colleagues asking me to check my resources for a term.

Software: I took an online course on how to use Wordfast, used Trados, and settled on Fluency as my favorite CAT tool. Knowing some other tools has helped me use them intelligently. Though I have spent money on tools I haven’t needed for any particular client, I considered it an investment in my education. I have invested several thousand dollars in software, and it was all useful.

Computer:  I started with a laptop and now I have a desktop computer with two extra large screens. The laptop was very useful when I was doing translations while I sat at my children’s piano, cello and viola lessons.

Smartphone: I resisted getting a Smartphone until it was unavoidable. When I got tired of not getting work because someone else responded to the project managers before I did, I bought an iPhone. It paid for itself in the first two weeks.

Networking:

When I lived in Boston, I joined the New England Translators Association (NETA). There I made connections with clients, mentors, and other colleagues. It was a great place to ask my first “dumb questions” in a safe environment. Someone was always ready to give an honest answer to any question I had.

After that I joined ATA listservs (Espalista, and later on, Business Practices). I continued asking “dumb questions”.  It was wonderful to have colleagues reply with understanding and respect, always encouraging me to keep trying.

Now I am helping to launch a professional association in Oregon. I hope to help others launch their translation career through it.

Time:

Establishing these foundations took years. I got to know the business slowly, as an active participant with ideas worth testing.  Doing this while homeschooling, teaching Spanish at Gordon College, and dealing with other serious family issues meant I had to adjust my priorities. At that point, my main job was raising my children to be responsible adults. I had a transition plan and was working on it, chipping away at it slowly. I finally launched into full-time work in the fall of 2011, when my youngest started college. It was a 10 year plan, and it has worked well.

Of course there were times when I questioned whether this investment of time and money was ever going to pay off. There were years when I spent more than I made, and years when my total income for was enough to buy my husband a bicycle for his birthday (a nice one…). I knew that one way or another, all this would be worth it in the end. In any event, I was enjoying it!

At this point, I can say that every single thing I did in preparation for launching full-time was worth doing. Taking the classes, buying the dictionaries, buying the equipment, taking those first few jobs, and even having to turn down jobs because of other obligations. It has all been a good investment. Just a few days ago, my husband looked at me and said, “You really enjoy this! I mean the whole thing, every aspect of what you do in translation and interpreting!” He’s right. I do.

Next issue: The marketing side of preparing to launch.