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!