I was surprised to feel myself smiling in recognition this morning during my usual scan of industry-relevant blogs. In asking himself if translators should care how much their colleagues charge, translator and programmer Ryan Ginstrom summed up what I found myself trying to express only yesterday in an aborted message to a mailing list. [Read more…]
With a background in landscape planning and several years’ freelance experience as a copywriter, editor and desktop publisher, in 2001 Betti Moser decided to qualify as a German translator so she could work from home more often. Currently based in London, Betti talks to us about about setting up a freelance practice, finding clients and marketing yourself as a freelancer. [Read more…]
Personally, I think working for direct clients has the biggest potential impact on earnings for freelance translators, and her point about being a businessperson/translator is spot on. Direct clients certainly make the world of difference for newly established and mid-career translators as they work towards a high degree of specialisation (very likely in a completely unrelated field) and try not to starve in the process. Finding these direct clients is of course another story (and one Chris Durban is eminently able to tell, in my opinion).
On another note, I do love posts like Corinne’s that acknowledge the diversity of a group, weigh up a couple of factors from a range of sources, add some personal insights and then draw something useful from it all. Excellent stuff!
With nearly a quarter-century executive-level experience in the localisation industry under his belt, Renato Beninatto has been researching and leading the consulting practice of Common Sense Advisory since 2002. Here he offers us a business consultant’s view of freelance translation practitioners, and language service providers (LSPs) in general.
Sarah Dillon: You’ve worked in localisation for many years, and in many different roles. How do you see the role of the translator changing within the industry? What kinds of new tasks or jobs are they taking on?
Renato Beninatto: The role of the translator is the pillar of an important production chain. Nothing happens without the translator. Good translators do not grow in trees. Good translators are scarce and becoming scarcer. Research from storage companies shows that content grows at a rate of more than 50% per year. If you assume – like we at Common Sense Advisory do – that the demand for translation grows at a lower rate of 15% to 20% per year, you would need tens of thousands of translators to come into the market every year, which is not the case.
That brings me to what is changing within the industry. Productivity. LSPs are searching for ways to deal with the dearth of good translators, and therefore investing in technology. Translators will have to find ways to produce 10 thousand words a day, even if that requires them to work with more advanced translation memories and machine translation.
Notice that I always say “good” translators. You can compare translators to wine: There are thousands of varieties of wine, but only a few of them are really good, mostly those that age well and get better as time goes by.
As to what tasks they are taking on, my answer would be that it is irrelevant. Translators are in the service business and they should provide the tasks that their clients request. The mistake is to accept to do tasks for free. If the task or job that you take on reduces your productivity, charge for it. If it increases your productivity, celebrate it. As for the new jobs in the translation business, I would say that telephone interpreting and post-editing of machine translation are up and coming requirements. However, I would avoid asking good translators to do post-editing. That’s something that can be done by non-linguists more efficiently and with less frustration.
SD: I heard you speak at an ATC conference in London once where you said that, when it comes to selling translation, quality doesn’t matter. Can you tell us what this means for translators?
RB: Quality is a given. That’s why I don’t like to talk about it. In my seminars I propose a new paradigm for the translation industry in which everybody is responsible for perfect quality at every stage of the process. It is hard to explain a two hour workshop in a couple of sentences, but in a nutshell today’s model is based on catching errors and on translators expecting that someone is going to review their work and correct mistakes. This is counterproductive, costly, and inefficient. Good translators deliver excellent quality, always. Issues are solved before the job is delivered and the review phase becomes unnecessary. As soon as people understand this, they can start charging more.
SD: What are some other typical business mistakes that you see being made by language service providers in general?
RB: The most typical mistake made by LSPs is to talk too much about themselves. Once LSPs understand that selling is not telling clients about TM, about cents per word or about the translation process, but asking questions about how the client is going to use the translation and how much value the translated version is going to add to the company’s bottom line, then they will see conversations switch from price to value.
SD: Any tips on how owners of ‘micro’ translation businesses could differentiate themselves from their larger counterparts?
RB: One of my favorite comeback stories is from the salesperson from a small LSP with 12 employees that was confronted with the fact that the large LSP that they were competing against had thousands of employees. “How many project managers are you going to work with in the large LSP?” the salesperson asked. “One,” said the client. “Well, that is the same number of project managers you are going to work with at our company.”
This story falls into the sales principle that says that you have to make yourself equal before you make yourself different. Think of that.
SD: Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to freelance translators interested in growing their business?
RB: Value your product and mentor your colleagues. In line with the saying that the rising tide lifts all the boats, if the quality of work of all the players in the market is improved, the image of the market as a whole is improved. One of the characteristics of a good translation is that it is invisible. If the translation is bad, however, everybody notices and talks about it. So, protect your work by educating your peers.
A really interesting perspective on things, Renato – thank you!
I first wrote this post in 2008. A lot has changed since then but it is still one of my most popular posts. I believe this is because shows that platforms may come and go, but the principles of a sound social media strategy stands the test of time. Read it with this in mind, and enjoy!
There seems to be a lot of mystery around the business benefits of social media, including the ways in which it can be applied to meet various professional goals*.
So in an attempt to contribute to the discussion, here’s how this humble translator uses WordPress (macroblogging), Twitter (microblogging), LinkedIn, Proz, and a whole raft of other online bells and whistles in her day-to-day work.
(Bear in mind that this process often changes as I tweak, measure and experiment.)
- I converse with other people, both inside and outside my field, via this blog and by regularly following and leaving comments on other blogs. I use Google Reader [now defunct: try Feedly instead] as a feedreader to subscribe to other blogs, which means I can see at a glance when a new post has been added to one of my ‘favourites’.
- I ‘flesh out’ my online persona even more by participating in relevant blogging communities. Tools like Technorati and MyBlogLog help with this, although there are plenty of others which do the same job.
- I use the likes of LinkedIn, Ning and Proz as relatively ‘static’ shop fronts, with links back to my website. I’m not worried that keeping a lower profile in these communities will lose me clients, because I’ve discovered that my target clients don’t tend to look for their translators in these places anyway. This won’t be true for everyone, of course.
- I share snippets of interesting content with other professionals via Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and Twitter. This is for when I don’t have the time or inclination to write an entire blog post on an issue but I’d still like to guage reactions, or when I want to share something that doesn’t really fit the scope of my blog. And it’s fun!
- I occasionally contribute to relevant group discussions on various Google, Yahoo and Proz forums. I’d like to make this more of a focus in the future, but generally I’m trying to move away from email and lengthy discussion threads which take a long time to sift through (unlike the RSS feeds in my feedreader). Translating involves enough keyboard pounding and text trawling as it is…
- Twitter is my watercooler. I can eavesdrop on chatter in areas that interest me, get quick answers to certain kinds of questions or thow out ideas to test the waters for reactions. I like the perspective I get on things here because it’s not just translators, and best of all, it’s all kept to 140 characters or less 🙂 Oh, and this is fun too.
- As all roads lead to my website, I use Google Analytics to measure the impact of the online tools I’m using. I’m very conscious of not wasting my time and this means I know exactly what return I’m getting in terms of interest in my services, etc. I’m working at improving this all the time.
- For me, Facebook is strictly friends only. I’ve made a decision not to bring work into it because it annoys me to see other people tarting themselves about in my downtime. Likewise, Bebo is family only. And yes, my family is large enough to warrant an entire online networking application dedicated to staying in touch 🙂 [update: Facebook has refined its targeting features and the division between friends and colleagues has become less clear. I now have a Facebook Page for my business]
Most importantly, I see these tools as a simple compliment to my overall online and offline activities.
For example, my ultimate marketing goal is to make it easy for various interested parties to find me. When they do find me, I want their positive image of me to be reinforced across a range of channels. Then, I want them to be able to contact me directly and quickly so we can do the deed, so to speak 😉 As a plan it’s far from perfect and there’s lots I’d like to do differently. But let’s face it, it’s not rocket science either. (I have similar goals around being part of a community of like-minded professionals.)
My advice to translators on making the most of social media, and indeed web 2.0 in general?
First, be clear on what you want to achieve for your business overall. Then, dive right in and give it a try.
If you get stuck, read this. If you’re still not getting it, or if you get it far too well but still lack a valid business reason to surf the web all day, then read Read Brian Solis’s Essential Guide to Social Media. Keep experimenting and referring back to your original business goals. Above all else, ignore the conspiracy theorists, new-technology scaremongers and social networking naysayers and have FUN!
WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT THIS?
If you want to read some more about making social networking work for you, check out:
– a great post from Scot Herrick’s Cube Rules: Joining social sites – the criteria
– an excellent podcast called Facebook for Professionals from Duct Tape Marketing. It’s not exactly how I like to use Facebook (as outlined above), but Mari Smith has plenty of practical examples to explain how small businesses can make effective use of social media.
* This post is based on a couple of discussions I’ve contributed to recently. See:
– Jill Sommer’s asks some great questions over at Musings from an Overworked Translator: Do you Twitter?
– Nick Pawley’s query on LinkedIn prompts some interesting discussion about using SEO / online marketing to increase your translation business
– Flying Solo article Is social networking for us? captures the mood of many
Based in Germany, Marc Prior is a freelance translator with over 20 years’ professional translation experience under his belt. By day, he translates from German, Italian and Dutch into English, specialising in occupational health and safety and environmental engineering. By night, he’s a mentor on the very popular ITI Professional Support Group and is also active on support forums for a range of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) tools. Read on for Marc’s take on life without Windows and getting started as a translator.
Naked Translator: Hi Marc. What is the one piece of advice you wish you’d had earlier in your career?
M: This is a very difficult one to answer, because looking back I’d say that there is very little that I would have done differently. I had already decided in my mid-teens that I wanted to go into translation, and I planned my moves accordingly. Combined with the fact that I was in the right place at just the right time on several occasions, things worked out well.
I sometimes wish I’d had the confidence to take certain steps earlier than I actually did: I’d been working as a translator for ten years before I joined ITI, for instance, because I doubted that I would satisfy the membership requirements. Like many other translators, I also seriously undersold myself in my early days as a freelancer. If I could summarize aspects like these, the advice would be to have more confidence in oneself as a business person. Not more confidence per se, though: I was without a doubt over-confident as a translator in the early years, and I think this is a common trait among fledgling freelance translators, and the reason for many problems: over-confidence in their translation ability, under-confidence in themselves as independent business people.
NT: Your website Linux for Translators is a really fantastic how-to guide. Could you give us a general overview of the IT tools you use in your day-to-day activities as a translator? How might this change in the future?
M: Office suite: OpenOffice.org, but I don’t do much translation work within the office suite itself. I also have Microsoft Office, running on Crossover Office so that it will run on Linux. I use both for more general housekeeping tasks, such as converting MS Office files to OpenOffice format for translation in OmegaT, and for tidying up the minor formatting glitches that result from the roundtripping process.
I’ve tried other word processors, notably Textmaker (nicer to look at and much faster than OpenOffice) and Applixware (which has a very powerful integral macro language), but neither comes close to OpenOffice’s conversion filters from/to Microsoft Office, which is by far the most important aspect.
CAT tool: OmegaT. This is the environment in which I do almost all my actual translation work. I’ve tried other CAT tools but at the moment, there is nothing available for Linux to match OmegaT‘s combination of functionality and ease of use.
I use Firefox as my browser and Thunderbird as my e-mail client. I have a range of utilities that I use less frequently for web-related tasks. One of these is Konquerer, the integral file manager/browser utility of the KDE desktop environment. I rarely use it as a browser but I find it very practical as an FTP client (e.g. for uploading new or modified files to my website). Then there are command-line utilities such as wget (which can be used to download an entire website, preserving the structure) and w3m (which is a text-based browser). These will sound very geeky to non-Linux users, but they are very simple and therefore – and this is something that is difficult to appreciate fully without having experienced Linux – they can be combined very easily with other tools for custom functions.
I use Adobe Reader (the Linux version of course) and Kpdf to view PDF files and extract the text from them; both have their strengths and weaknesses. There are also a range of other tools available for converting between different file formats (e.g. PDF to HTML).
The list goes on, with utilities that I use less and less frequently. There is a little program called Winston, for instance, that I use to submit my monthly VAT returns (German law requires them to be submitted electronically). I also have a number of utilities that I wrote myself in the tcl/tk scripting language. In saying this, I am probably also confirming preconceptions (or prejudices) about Linux users all being – and having to be – programmers. This is only one side of the story, though. Linux is a very programmer-friendly environment, and there is huge body of command-line tools, mostly free. It’s surprisingly easy to learn a little programming, especially using a scripting language such as tcl/tk or Python, sufficiently well to “glue” these tools together to perform certain tasks.
How might this change in the future? Well, I don’t anticipate any major changes in the near future. Firefox and Thunderbird are established applications, so their availability and continued development is fairly well assured; at the same time, my requirements are not particularly demanding, so I don’t envisage switching to different applications here. I would not be surprised if we were to see more CAT tools for Linux in the medium term; Swordfish, for instance, has been well received so far, and there is a standalone version of Wordfast on the horizon which will also run on Linux. Development of Anaphraseus, a Wordfast-style CAT tool that works from within OpenOffice, is also coming along nicely. However, my commitment to the OmegaT project means that I’m unlikely to switch to a different CAT tool, at least for routine work.
An area in which we might see some changes is that of office suites. Two interesting recent developments are that MS Office 2007 is now supported by Crossover Office, which translated for the benefit of Windows users means that it can be made to run on Linux; and that the default MS Office file format has now changed over to an accessible XML-based format. In other words, the latest version of MS Office runs on Linux, and quite separately from that, its native files are in a form that can be edited relatively easily independently of MS Office. Translators generally (perhaps reflecting the mood among their clients, as ever) seem to be resisting adoption of both the new version of MS Office and the associated file format, but these developments are a major step forward for Linux users, since MS Office texts can now be edited on Linux either in the native application (i.e. MS Office) or by working directly on the file in another application without conversion and the associated risks of formatting loss. It should also enable OpenOffice to improve its conversion filters. In the longer term, I would certainly expect this to shake up the market for CAT tools a little, though quite in what way, it’s probably too early to tell.
NT: Any advice for other translators who may be interested in dipping their toes into open-source software?
M: Try it! People quite often ask me for advice, and I describe the benefits as I see them but am also honest about the drawbacks. That, it seems, is usually sufficient for people to decide on the spot against even trying Linux. Linux has much higher visibility now than it used to have and my impression is that many people are worried that they might be missing out on some major development. When they hear that life isn’t all rosy for Linux users, either, the response often strikes me as one of relief! Then they go back to using Windows.
Linux doesn’t require any great commitment. It’s out there and can be downloaded free of charge, in dozens of different flavours. All you need is an old (but not ancient) PC, and you can try it out to your heart’s content at no cost.
Something else that I would recommend, now that they have become available, are the new netbook products that are supplied with Linux preinstalled. By these I mean the Asus Eee PC, MSI Wind, Acer Aspire One, and similar products – there are now something like forty different models to choose from, all of which have appeared within the 10 months since the product category was born with the introduction of the original Asus Eee PC. These mini-laptops typically cost between 200 and 400 euros and are excellent second (or more probably third) computers for those occasions when you want to be productive for an hour or two despite being on the move. With its lower cost and more efficient use of hardware resources, Linux is the operating system of choice, at least at the lower end (price and performance-wise) of this product category.
NT: You’ve been a mentor on the hugely successful ITI Professional Support Group for several years now. In your experience, what is the most common misconception held by inexperienced translators hoping to start up in the profession?
M: This one is easy! The mistake most new freelance translators make is to overlook that they are in fact setting up a new business. Some still think of translation as an academic exercise, but the more common mistake is to think of customers as “employers”, and to think that the business side, particularly the definition of their own services and the marketing of them, will take care of itself. Certain translators’ portals, which offer an all-inclusive service to translators including jobs apparently for the taking, exacerbate this impression.
NT: What do you read — in print and online — to keep up with developments in your field?
M: On a regular basis, I read the industry periodical International Environmental Technology, and VDSI Aktuell, the magazine of the VDSI (the society of German safety engineers), of which I am a member.
More generally, though, I keep in step with developments simply by going “the extra mile” when researching. If I face a terminology problem, I try to avoid the temptation of doing just enough research to resolve the particular term. Instead, I read up on the subject, in both source and target languages, which thanks to the Internet is now very easy. This is not only a more reliable way of finding exactly the right term, but also provides a better understanding of the subject as a whole, and therefore improves the quality of the whole text, besides enhancing background knowledge generally which may come in useful in future.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Marc – lots of tips and ideas for translators at all stages of their careers.
Guerrilla marketing involves taking a non-traditional approach to meeting conventional marketing goals. Best of all, it’s a way for small fry to successfully compete with the big players in the industry by applying a toolbox of tricks that no self-respecting translator should be without.
In fact, it’s probably more accurate to describe guerrilla marketing as a mindset. Key to its adoption is the understanding that marketing is not just about trying to sell your services. Marketing involves everything you do in the process of carrying out your day-to-day business activities (including the clients you choose to work with).
The really interesting thing about all this is that when you take a guerrilla approach to marketing, the question of whether to use [insert preferred web 2.0 tool here] is no longer relevant. Instead the question becomes what exactly do these online tools offer, and how can you apply them to meet your specific, offline goals.
If you want to read a little bit more about guerrilla marketing, I recommend downloading this free pdf called Guide to Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants. It doesn’t refer to web 2.0 directly but it does give a really useful framework on which to hang your activities.
Image via Wikipedia
As a freelancer, specialising doesn’t only refer to the sector you choose to work in but also the kind of clients you take on. Here are a couple of hard-earned lessons on pricing to make sure your clients are the keeping kind:
1. Don’t say yes to everything that comes your way. Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It may seem counter-intuitive (especially when you’re worried about keeping the wolves from the door) but if the price is not right, or if the work is bringing you into an area you don’t want to be in, then sometimes the best thing you can do is to turn it down. What happens if you accept the job, then the job of your dreams comes in tomorrow? Will you be able to give it the attention it deserves? Sometimes, no work really is better than crappy work.
2. Don’t worry about over-pricing. Clients won’t think less of you if you lower your rates, but it’s much, much harder to increase your rates after you realise they’re too low, – especially when you’re starting out. Premium rates will attract premium buyers (of course, it goes without saying that standard of your work is also premium). Peanuts, on the other hand, will only attract monkeys
3. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that after a few low paid jobs your client will suddenly see the light and start offering you better paid ones. In fact, the opposite usually occurs – your clients will see you as either someone naïve who doesn’t know the value of their work, or quite simply cheap. Not the personal brand any of us really want, now is it?
4. Work for free rather than for cheap. If you are really struggling to find work in your field and are tempted to take on a poorly-paid job, resist the urge and look for some genuine pro bono work instead. (And by genuine I mean not-for-profit organisations, not just unscrupulous agencies or cheap-scate companies looking for a freebie). There are lots of perks to this approach. Geniune pro bono clients are often more flexible with their deadlines and are usually generous with feedback, so you can really take the time to hone your skills. Even if it means taking a part-time job in another field to tide you over financially, you’ll gain a lot more than if you’d taken on work from some shark offering below industry rates.
There are companies out there who are willing and able to pay for excellent professional services. So put a price on your time, and stick to it – it will pay off.
*for a wordier version of this post, see What are you worth? Don’t be a monkey.
Agency rating lists are sites or groups specifically devoted to collecting information about translation agencies from translators. These ratings are then made available to other translators, either for free or for a small fee. The idea is you check these lists before taking on a new agency client to avoid being caught out by bad or late payers.
Riccardo gives an excellent summary of the pros and cons of each of the following services: Payment Practices, Translator Client Review List, ProZ’s Blue Board, Translators Café’s Hall of Fame and Shame, the WorldPaymentPracticesFree group, the Translation Agency Payment group and TranslationDirectory.com’s Black List. Well worth a look!
Seth Godin writes the most popular marketing blog in the world. So it’s reasonable to assume that when he writes about something, there just might be something to it. The good news for freelance translators is that for some time now he’s been saying that small is the new big. And some other great posts have been written about this too.
At some early point in their career, freelancers usually have to chose whether to position themselves as a “we” or as an “I”. Most Many translators tend to go for “we”, despite being soloists. There seems to be a perception that it’s weightier somehow, more credible. And no wonder – it’s easy to imagine that the only way to do business is the way we see it being done by the companies we hear about and deal with every day. But is the royal “we” really called for anymore?
Here are some things for freelance translators to consider when thinking about their brand positioning, based on Seth Godin’s book Small is the New Big:
1. “Find a niche, not a nation”. We don’t have to conquer the world every morning we open our doors for business just to break even. We can make a very nice living off the crumbs hat the big fish miss. What’s wrong with that?
2. Everyone likes to deal with the CEO. So don’t hide the fact that when clients deal with you, they are. Plus, because you call all the shots, there’s no need for pointless rules, needless paperwork or slow decision-making. What client wouldn’t want that level of attention and service?
3. Vive le solopreneur. Teamwork isn’t always the way to go. Groups can get bogged down and lose focus in areas where an individual can whip through. These are the areas where we can thrive.
4. Everybody loves an underdog. Some people even prefer to buy from them. Put yourself in front of these people.
5. Focus on your craft. Build your business by doing great work consistently, and you’ll never be short of work. (This is my favourite tip, and has always been my take on freelancing.)
6. Be a bootstrapper. This is the best bit of advice Godin has, in my opinion. By only spending money where you really need to, you give yourself the freedom of flexibility and time, and have a lot less to lose. I reckon this is the secret to long-term survival as a freelancer (and a good approach to money in general).
So why not embrace the fact that we’re small?