Year-one chronicle: My first twelve months as a professional translator

A few days before Christmas I got a thick, imposing envelope in the mail from the Washington State Department of Revenue.

“ACTION REQUIRED: Business Tax Return due January 31” it shouted in bold, red font across the front. Yikes! What have I gotten myself into?

Inauspicious beginnings

Two years ago, I didn’t even know that document translation was a real profession. I still remember where I was in late August 2016—surfing the web in a friend’s living room in Manaus, Brazil—when I stumbled across a blog post describing the qualities of a successful translator. I thought, People actually make a living doing this? From then on things kind of snowballed.

I immediately began digging deeper. It didn’t take long to discover Corinne McKay’s award-winning blog about all things translation, and the podcast she co-hosts with Eve Bodeux. I soaked it all in.

By mid-November I was back in the U.S. and taking Corinne’s course, Getting Started as a Freelance Translator. I had found my calling and I wasn’t looking back.

Baby steps

I formalized my business, Language of the Americas, in Washington State in January 2017.

Aside from a one-off gig for a neighbor when I lived in Colombia, I had never translated for pay before. I felt like a high school freshman on the first day of class all over again. Undaunted, and with Corinne’s counsel, I began prospecting for work by:

  • verifying potential agency clients on Payment Practices;
  • sending out warm emails or—my favorite—paper letters to those prospects, including a polished resume;
  • fine-tuning my LinkedIn profile; and
  • creating a business website.

I also started a blog about trends in Latin American agriculture, thinking that would attract clients while keeping me current on terminology in my niche of agriculture. It was a fun exercise, but it wasn’t catching anyone’s attention, or so I thought. But more on that later.

Peaks and valleys

Initial email and snail mail prospecting was overwhelmingly successful—at least in terms of engaging prospective clients. My response rate was around 50%. This was starting to look easy!

But nobody wanted to send me work. A few “saved my resume for future reference,” but, as the days stretched into weeks and the weeks into months, my inbox was still empty. My problem seemed to be a lack of experience. But how do I get that experience?

I had been knocking on the virtual door of one of the larger agencies out there, as I knew they had loads of work and a lower bar of entry. I finally heard back from them after my third application in as many months, and tested onto their roster as a translation editor in the life sciences department. This was my chance to get the experience I needed. I thought of it as an apprenticeship.

As time went by, I learned how to communicate with project managers, how to negotiate bids, how to make tight deadlines, and how to invoice. Everything was so new.

As an editor, I also learned how to research hard terminology, and I found out a lot about the mistakes translators are prone to make, and how to catch them. As a bonus, I was being exposed to Spanish from all over the world, and that, along with floods of technical terminology unique to the life sciences, kept my language skills moving forward. I worked my way up the pay scale within the agency by doing thorough work and being dependable.

Work was steady (by jerks) and interesting, and I was learning lots. That’s when I decided to revisit South America.

Remote (im)possibility

Twice in prior months I had successfully travelled with my office on working vacations, visiting family on the other side of the state. On these trips, I had a nice table to work at in a relatively quiet setting. I was digging the ‘free’ in ‘freelance’.

Soon, I had visions of doing the same in South America. In July 2017, I flew to Peru and began what would become a two-month stay in the southern hemisphere. But I soon found I couldn’t work reliably.

I needed at least a full day of preparation to get in the ‘zone’ and a space to call my own, with minimal distractions. During those two months spent in Peru and Brazil, I was simply on the road too much and too often to be able to buckle down and do quality work. And, except in bigger cities, internet was sparse.

Thankfully, my project managers at the large agency (almost) didn’t bat an eye when I came back online two months later, and work picked up faster than ever. But it started feeling like time for a change.

The time is write

The Latin American agriculture blog languished while I was away. In a lull after my return, I hammered out a new post about the need for collaboration between the world’s agricultural researchers.

As I sometimes do (to ensure that somebody reads my blog!), I emailed the post’s URL to the sources whose work I had used to write it. This time, I was in for a surprise.

One of these sources shared the post with his colleagues, one of whom happened to be a communications coordinator for a large, international organization. She read the post, liked my style and grasp of the subject, and asked if I’d like to write freelance for them on an ongoing basis. I thought, People actually make a living doing this?

Ah yes. And so it’s back to the freshman books for me.

Goals for year two

In 2018, I’d like to achieve the following:

  • Secure at least two additional quality clients, both for translation and writing. Diversity in work activities and revenue stream is always a good thing.
  • Develop a better portfolio of translations that I can share with potential clients to prove that I know what I’m doing, even though I’ve only been doing it for one year.
  • Keep learning and keep improving! I’ve got some good books to read, in addition to staying current on the top blogs and podcasts out there on writing and translation. (I have benefited much from Carol Tice’s blog for freelance writers.)

Over to you…

What were some of the notable highs and lows in your first year of translating or interpreting? Do you have any tips to share with readers (and me!) for making that second year a bang-up success? Please comment below!

Image source: Pixabay

Author bio

Paul Froese is a freelance Spanish to English translator and writer specializing in agricultural and life sciences content. A native of Walla Walla, Washington, he holds an undergraduate degree in plant science and biotechnology and a graduate degree in crop science focused on plant breeding and genetics. He enjoyed the challenges of his first year (2017) as a freelance translator and writer and is looking forward to continued growth in 2018!

You can visit Paul’s website at www.lotamtranslations.com and his blog about trends in Latin American agriculture at www.latinagtrends.com. E-mail him with any thoughts at paul@lotamtranslations.com.

Tips on Getting and Keeping Agency Clients

Tips on Getting and Keeping Agency ClientsAfter a ten-year stretch as director of the interpreting department for a mid-sized language company on the East Coast, I have recently reentered the freelance world. The language industry has changed considerably for independent contractors since I last worked as an interpreter, and while there is more work to be had, there are also more interpreters and more rigorous standards, certification requirements and regulations. I have encountered the freelance challenges of self promotion, procuring assignments, and negotiating scrutiny in the face of fierce competition. I’ve taken stock of what interests me, what I am good at, my current qualifications and of course, what is in demand.

My strategy is to secure work with agencies as much as possible to build my practice, while concurrently developing my skills, accreditations and specializations.

Below is a systematic approach which breaks down the various elements or steps in the process. This is not intended to be linear but rather circular in that many of the elements can be revisited and are interchangeable, overlapping and ongoing.

  • RESEARCH

Knowledge is power. Keeping current means staying informed of latest trends, new regulations, recent developments and relevant technology to better understand your place in the business. Starting with a thorough and honest self-assessment will help you know how you fit into the professional spectrum and how you stack up against the competition, in order to leverage your services. This self examination can be critical in determining if and how you are equipped to be a successful freelancer in the language industry.

Self-Evaluation

Education: What was your field of study, what degrees or certifications have you attained or do you need to attain to adequately compete?

Skills and Proficiency: For interpreters, modes in simultaneous, consecutive, or sight, and for translators, what CAT tools and formats do you work in and what is your maximum capacity of words per day?

Background: What are your working language pairs and are they equally bi-directional? Are you a native speaker of one or both languages of your pair (for interpreters) or of the target language (for translators)? Have you lived or worked in the non-native country? How many years have you worked in the industry?

Personal considerations: Are there any health or family restrictions? Interpreters: Are you willing to travel? Do you have the time and resources to service a large geographical area? With small children, how many hours a day can you dedicate? Are you the main breadwinner in your family and are you capable of working at this on a part-time or full-time basis? Are you financially able to weather seasonal dry spells? This may influence the volume of work you may need to generate as an independent contractor.

Industry Evaluation

Where is the work? Is there enough work for your language pair in your region to sustain a career in the language industry? Do you plan to work solely as an interpreter, a translator or both?

What is the going rate for your services in your region?

How unique is your language group – locally or nationally – and how do your qualifications compare to those of your colleagues with similar education and backgrounds?

What and where are some of the dominant or obvious business opportunities for your language group (e.g. Pashtu/Government, Japanese/Patents). If you know that the demand for your specialization is greater than the qualified supply, it is advisable to assess the current industry value, capitalize on that uniqueness and strategically position yourself accordingly.

Agency Evaluation

Once some of the questions above have been addressed, you can begin to research and explore the agencies which might best fit some of the above established criteria. For most interpreters, starting with a local search makes the most sense. Working through your local Chapter as well as the ATA for their corporate members is another good place to begin. The ATA annual conference attracts agencies from all over the country that have legal, medical, business and government clients in states beyond the location of their headquarters. Referrals from colleagues whom you trust and respect can also be a great way to expand your services to new agencies. Ultimately, you want to find agencies that are a good match for your services and that are reputable. It is always a good idea to cross-reference a new or unknown agency with other experienced and respected colleagues.

  • RESUMÉ / CV

Once you have identified and captured your qualifications, you will need to organize and present your profile in a single document tailored specifically to feature your professional language skills. For most agencies, a one or two-page resumé should suffice to accurately package your services. Your resumé is your single most powerful marketing tool. It is your opportunity to tell your story, to pitch your unique services to a Project Manager (PM) or Vendor Manager. These are typically the ones who receive, analyze, file or discard solicitations by hundreds of applicants both locally and internationally. A resumé should be above all truthful, well organized and formatted, concise and easy to read, with consistent and accurate grammatical structure. I have seen too many resumés tossed because of poor planning, typos, gaps of information, or language skills hidden in obscure places where they are easily missed. Polish your resumé so that it is outstanding and structured so that your most salient skills are immediately recognizable at a glance.

For higher-level work (e.g. legal document review, conferences) a longer CV may be desirable which details the years, clients and specific nature of complex assignments. Resumés should always be sent in a protected format such as encrypted PDF to protect your information and prevent tampering or piracy.

  • PROMOTION: GETTING/KEEPING THE WORK

Promotional Materials

Once you have conducted the necessary research to identify the targeted ideal agencies, you will need to put together an organized outreach strategy to circulate your resumé for potential work. Utilize LinkedIn and treat it as an extension of your resumé. If you do not have a website, recruiters doing a simple Google search of your name will find your LinkedIn profile. If not already a member of ATA or your local ATA chapter, invest the time and minor funds to join and tap into the terrific resources each offers. The better agencies will always resort to the directory in their searches for linguists. ATA, Chapter or Affiliate networking and educational events offer not only professional development and social support but also provide the opportunity for face-to-face contact with sponsoring agencies. The ATA annual conference and the ATA directory profile also attract top national agencies searching for talent. More and more professional translators and interpreters are creating websites to promote their services and can be another great marketing tool to reflect a polished, professional image, which can generate a lot of online traffic. Applying the same structural, aesthetic, grammatical and ethical rules as resumés, websites also require additional maintenance and utility. It should be noted that an outdated or dysfunctional website can be detrimental to landing a job and worse, to your reputation.

Introductory and Follow-up Emails

An email is your chance to close the deal, especially if acquiring your services may satisfy a deficiency in an agency’s language roster or fill a void for the loss of another vendor through illness, death or relocation. If you are following up with an agency after personally meeting with the owner, vendor manager or PM, be sure to add a personal touch, recapping the event with perhaps an anecdote reminding them of a chat you might have had or a colleague’s introduction or referral. If you are reaching out cold, try to make it as personable as possible, addressing it to the appropriate person. Emails with an impersonal opening, poor grammar or spelling in the target language might be deleted without even getting the resumé attachment opened. Because you never have a second chance to make a good first impression, an introductory email has to strike the right note and indicate the courtesy, professionalism and communication skills that would be desirable from a vendor representing the agency if ultimately hired. At the risk of being obvious, when presented with a job opportunity, not missing deadlines and returning emails in a timely fashion are sacrosanct to a successful practice.

  • CULTIVATING THE RELATIONSHIP

One of the most rewarding aspects of our profession and an additional benefit of working with multiple agencies is the variety of assignments you can enjoy in a given week. Both legal and medical certification programs require continuing professional development as part of the code of conduct and ethics. Developing skills through diverse workshops, courses and accreditation programs, besides refining our skills, can permit you to expand the types of agencies, clients and settings that require language access. Once an agency evaluates an independent contractor as a top-tier vendor, they will always call on them first when a choice assignment becomes available because they know they can rely on quality, with consistent, fairly priced services. Another great way to keep your profile prominent on an agency’s radar is to regularly communicate to them new certifications achieved, new industries you are able to cover or an increase in your availability. Once you become a regular and can develop a relationship with one or two PMs, remind them of your services, keeping them informed by contacting them with vacation notices, birth notices and/or Christmas cards. PMs will often share these with co-workers and the preferred status is then shared among departments. All of these individuals are more than clients; they are human beings who – in addition to appreciating quality, flexibility and punctuality – respond to kindness, humor and courtesy.

Header image credit: Unsplash

Author bio

 Tony GuerraTony Guerra, the current president of the Delaware Valley Translators Association, has more than 20 years of experience in the management, marketing and development of multicultural communications services. A native of Havana, Cuba, he has worked as an independent contractor as well as in-house with companies and agencies. His Spanish<>English translation and interpretation services specialize in legal, medical, government and marketing sectors. Besides chairing DVTA’s PR and Certification Committees, he is also highly involved in numerous volunteer activities for the American Translators Association (ATA) including as National Chapters Chair, the interpretation Policy Advisory Committee, the PR Committee’s Speakers Forum and ATA’s Mentoring Program.

6 Ways to Foster a Strong Relationship with your Project Manager and Earn More Work

6 Ways to Foster a Strong Relationship with your Project ManagerAs a freelance translator, some of your projects will come from language service providers (LSPs) as opposed to direct clients. If you attend the ATA Conference, you’ll meet almost as many LSP representatives as fellow translators, looking to hire their next batch of vendors. Many of those representatives will be project managers (PMs). PMs often decide whom to hire for a project, and whether to continue working with the translator after the project ends.

Responsibilities and internal structures vary from company to company, but most PMs have the same set of fundamental responsibilities. They work with translation-buyers to determine the scope, projected budget, and client needs for a given project. They contact translators and make sure that projects are completed to client specifications. PMs save translation buyers the hassle of locating good translators themselves, while translators spend less time locating direct clients and more time translating.

As a freelancer, it’s important to establish a continuous stream of work. Since many PMs enjoy great discretion in whom they assign work to, how can you ensure you’ll get the job and keep it?

As a PM myself, I’m so glad you asked. After consulting with colleagues and reflecting on past projects, I’ve listed six ways to foster strong relationships with your PMs and earn more work.

  1. Be responsive. When a PM sends an assignment, confirm your availability immediately. Every project is a race against time, and your responsiveness is key. If a client sends changes or cancels a project that’s already started, the faster you respond to a PM, the more time you save everyone.
  2. Be communicative. The first point’s close cousin. Keep your PM up to-date on anything that might affect the quality, cost, or delivery of your project. Is there some issue with the document that will affect its delivery or final quality? Let your PM know immediately. The faster and more forthcoming you are when a problem presents itself, the easier finding a solution will be, and you’ll have helped not only your PM, but the end client too.
  3. Do your homework. This has two parts. First, it means to research the content and terminology of the document you are translating. Putting in the work to learn the industry-standard translation of a term or the correct spelling of a name shows attention to detail and commitment to your work. Second, never be afraid to ask questions. If you are not sure whether a term should be left in the original language, or what it means, there’s no shame in asking. It doesn’t make you seem ignorant or incompetent. On the contrary, you’ll come off as much more competent and thoughtful than the translator who guesses.
  4. Accept reasonable deadlines, and then meet them. It goes without saying that you should always deliver on time. Knowing the amount of time it takes to complete a project to the best of your abilities ensures that you stick to this rule. Remember, you’re being paid in part for the quality of your work. Unless explicitly told otherwise, you should never sacrifice quality on the altar of turnaround. If you know you cannot meet a deadline, say so, or even propose an extension.
  5. Step in. In translation, rush requests are common. A translator who steps in with little advance warning is helping out both the PM and the client. A PM may also be having a hard time finding a translator to take on a challenging assignment, and your strengths may match that challenge in particular. Challenge yourself,.
  6. Know when to turn work down. Finally, never be afraid to say no to a project, just do it promptly. If you can’t take the project, I need to know as quickly as possible so I lose no time in finding someone else. If a project is outside your area of expertise, I’ll know what I can and cannot send you, saving us both time. Never accept a project that you cannot complete to a good standard. I, or your editor, or the client, will notice.

I’m sure many of you have other tips that have worked for you. We’d love to hear them in the comments! Remember, the ideal translation is a collaboration between you and your project manager. I’ve literally heard colleagues spontaneously exclaim that they love working with some of our translators. You can’t buy that kind of publicity, but you can earn it by doing great work.

Header image credit: Picjumbo

Author bio

Dan McCartney

Dan McCartney is a freelance French and Spanish to English translator based in Chicago. Before translating, he worked as a consultant, instructor, and freelance math problem writer.

11 Tips for Freelance Translators from a Project Manager

By Enas Ibrahim
Reblogged from the ATA Chronicle (May 2014) with permission from the author

11 Tips for Freelance Translators from a Project ManagerHaving worked as a project manager in the language services industry for over five years, I have encountered many recurring issues when collaborating with freelancers that are not related to the linguistic aspect of the translation process. I share here what I see every day along with my recommendations for a more productive working relationship. I am sure that my fellow project managers have experienced similar issues. Some of the points, if not all, may seem like common sense, but I still see at least two to three of them every day.

  1. It is absolutely okay to say “no” if you are uncomfortable with the subject matter of the document or the delivery date/time.

Where I work, we only contact linguists who seem qualified for the subject matter, but sometimes the proposed assignment is more specialized than what you are comfortable handling. The same goes for the delivery date. It is okay if you cannot accommodate every time. Many project managers will either extend the deadline or, if they absolutely cannot, find someone else who can deliver on the date specified. However, even though most project managers can stretch a deadline occasionally, you should not make a habit of asking for extensions.

  1. Read the work order every time you receive one.

It might look like all of the others, but there might be some details that you will not catch unless you read the fine print.

  1. Examine the source files as soon as you receive them.

If they are in a format other than what you agreed on with the project manager, or if the text is corrupt, let the project manager know right away. Project managers are usually willing to work with you. Do not wait until the delivery date to mention that there was some text you could not see and left untranslated. If the project manager sent the document, it means he or she was able to see all of the elements in the text. Project managers will work with you to find out what went wrong with the file delivery and ensure that you have a properly formatted document from which to work.

  1. Always use the files you received with the work order and not the files that were sent to you with the initial inquiry detailing the assignment.

The purpose of the inquiry e-mail is just to check your availability and willingness to work, but most of the time any files that are attached with this query are not final. They could be drafts that are not formatted properly. Project managers send these initial files with the work query because they want to show you what the text is about and what the job involves. However, while the project manager waits for your reply, the files will most likely undergo additional editing to clean them up before being sent to you.

  1. Ask as many questions as you feel necessary.

It is the project manager’s job to coordinate between the translator and the client, and questions definitely help clarify any issues that might cause potential problems further into the project. If you do need to ask questions, it is better to compile them into a single file and send them to the project manager. Of course, you can always send more questions as things come up. Project managers generally want to help you as much as possible, since your success is critical to the project and retaining the end client.

  1. Please check the work order to make sure you understand what you are expected to deliver, including the acceptable file format.

Let the project manager know if you will not be able to deliver the document in the specified format for any reason. Most of the time the delivery format will be the same as the source format, but the project manager may request that a delivery package include clean/monolingual files and a translation memory export, in addition to the bilingual files.

  1. Please make sure the invoice number is not a duplicate.

Receiving two invoices labeled “Invoice #1” from the same translator is one too many. Duplicate numbers in an accounting system might also cause the invoice to be rejected and delay payment.

  1. Do not forget to include your company name on the invoice.

If you are an individual and do business as a company, include both your name and the company name on the invoice.

  1. Include the project manager’s name on the invoice.

If you choose to send one invoice for all projects done for a certain company, make sure to include the name of the project manager who assigned the work next to the purchase order number of each project. It will help speed up your payment.

  1. Include your address on every invoice if you are asking to be paid by check.

It is also very important that you let the project manager know if you change your address. Many checks get sent to old addresses and take a long time to be delivered to the recipient. It also helps if you e-mail all of the clients on your roster informing them of your address change, even if you have not worked with them in the past few months (or years). This is actually a good way for you to let project managers know you are still available and refresh their memory regarding your services.

  1. Include all of your payment methods, if you have more than one, on the invoice and indicate which one you prefer.

We see many invoices with both PayPal and wire transfer options. Now that PayPal charges a percentage of the transaction, we do not always know which payment method will send more money to your account. Some banks and credit unions do not charge for incoming transfers, so you will get the full amount. But you know your bank, so you make the call.

These are just some general guidelines, but other companies may have other preferences. It is usually okay to check with your project manager if you have any doubts concerning anything related to an assignment.

Header image credit: Picjumbo
Header image edited with Canva

Author bio

Enas Ibrahim is a CCHI certified medical interpreter currently working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia helping LEP families with their medical encounters. In 2008 she started as a vendor manager at MTM LinguaSoft, focusing on screening linguists and maintaining the database of freelance translators, interpreters, and other language workers then was a project manager between 2010 and 2014. She is an English>Arabic translator and interpreter, and has a BA in translation and interpretation from Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, Iraq.

In Defense of Working with Translation Agencies

Working with Translation AgenciesAmidst all the chatter about rates, discounts, treatment of freelancers by agencies, etc., the commonly suggested solution seems to be to stop working for agencies and get direct clients.

I, for one, have absolutely no desire to work for direct clients and wish to speak in defense of the practice of working solely for agencies.

While working for direct clients may appear to be advantageous to us as freelancers, especially in terms of direct compensation, the disadvantages are seldom mentioned.

  • Inexperienced translators will find it difficult to provide the level of service required and market themselves well enough to obtain and retain direct clients.
  • Geography and language combinations may make it difficult to contact and negotiate with decision makers. Personally, I would need to woo German auditors, tax consultants and/or CFOs or corporate communications heads of SMEs in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. I find that extremely difficult to do from the USA.
  • There is a LOT of extra work and time involved in
  1. finding prospects
  2. selling yourself to those prospects
  3. client education when you win them over
  4. handholding before, during and after each project
  5. project management/outsourcing larger projects, DTP and layout work
  6. finding and keeping “substitutes” for you when you want some time off (and ensuring your helper doesn’t wind up taking your client away)

None of those activities (with the possible exception of project management duties) result in billable hours or pesos in your pocket. So while your gross per client/project may increase 1.5-fold or even 2-fold over agency pay, your net hourly pay could actually be lower depending on the time spent on these other non-billable activities.

Finally, some people, and I count myself among them, simply do not have the skills/aptitude, or may not have the desire to do all the marketing and “selling yourself” that is absolutely required to gain and hold direct clients.

And contrary to what many freelancers may think, or the impression newcomers may get reading blogs, LinkedIn or other social media “news” about our industry, there are plenty of translation agencies/companies that do pay fair rates (given market conditions), that do respect their vendors, that do pay as agreed, and that do return to those vendors/freelancers who not only deliver as promised, but also respect the agency for what they do.

Yes, the current wave of consolidation is seeing some of the “good guys” being taken over by some “not so great guys”. But even the mega-agencies have their “premium segments” and I have heard from numerous freelancers who are quite happy working for them under quite reasonable conditions. And there are still numerous SME-type agencies/companies out there that are run by “us”, as well as the “boutique” agencies that specialize in a niche market or a certain language pair/direction.

Working for direct clients is NOT the panacea for all of our freelancer woes. Yes, it may be the answer for some of us but it is not the only answer for all of us.

So until the market forces me to adopt a new strategy, I will happily continue to work for translation agencies and companies as my “direct” clients. I am more than happy to let them do all work required to get and retain clients, while I focus on delivering quality translations. And I am happy to let them take their fair share of the pie for that work. Such agencies are the norm, not the exception in my experience.

Header image credit: Picjumbo
Header image edited with Canva

Author bio

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.