Only Human Translators

Dump the hard sell

Dump the hard sell

Start building relationships It may be a growing trend or it could be that I’m becoming more aware of it, but there seems to be an American-style sales logic creeping into the world of translation. I say “American-style” because, like many – perhaps most – Europeans I’m utterly put off by anyone trying to hard-sell anything to me. Phone me up and try to interest me in parting with my money and I’ll hang up on you. Knock on my door with something to push and I’ll probably slam it in your face. What I won’t do – never, ever – is buy anything from you. So I’m fairly sensitive to the emergence of ideas along these lines, and utterly resistant to using them in my own marketing, simply because I don’t believe they work. The other day, for example, there was a discussion on a translators’ group on Facebook during which a claim was made that clients never reject us because of price. Apparently, price is just an “objection” we have to overcome. To demonstrate just how ludicrous this statement is (and I’m particularly concerned with the “never”), I’ll use an example from my own experience the week before. An author wrote to me asking me to quote for the translation of a non-fiction book he had written. I made some calculations and quoted him a price and his response was unequivocal. “Thank you,” he said, “but your quote comes to more than all the money I’ve made from the book in Spanish. So I’ll have to say no. I’ll come back to you when I write a bestseller.” So...
Staying in or getting out

Staying in or getting out

It’s time to go when… In almost 20 years in translation now, I don’t think I can remember a time when so many people were getting out of the business. Lately it seems that hardly a day goes by when I don’t read a message from someone saying that they’re working on a plan B, or getting a part-time job, or packing up altogether. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair – people who seem to be doing all the right things get to a point where they can’t stand any more while others who, with the best will in the world, don’t deserve a place in the profession, seem indestructible. The number of people leaving is hardly surprising, I suppose. With bulk market work being gobbled up by machine translation on one hand and the daunting degree of effort and commitment required to go upmarket (which I still believe is the best way to stay in the business) on the other, it’s no wonder many people find it easier simply to look elsewhere in order to earn a living. Some, of course, remain in the world of translation, selling courses, consultancy or coaching to translators. We all know who some of them are. Others go in a completely different direction. Not long ago, a friend of mine decided to give up freelance translation, temporarily at least. This struck me as a terrible shame. She was someone who seemed set up to succeed: not only talented, but with a good business head too. She hadn’t “made it” yet, but she was well on the way. But the frustration of chasing late-payers...
On the road with RevClub

On the road with RevClub

Taking our message to the translation world At the beginning of this month, I was sitting in a Scottish hotel with my friend Tim Gutteridge listening to the lively buzz of more than 50 people discussing each other’s translations in small groups. And I suddenly realised that exactly a year before I’d been sitting in a meeting room in Barcelona, also with Tim, doing exactly the same thing. It’s been a year in which Tim, and Victoria Patience and I have taken our idea of getting together in a small group of translators to mutually revise one another’s work to the translation world. Before that, it had been more or less our secret, although I did write about it here and here, so if you want to find out more about what RevClub actually is you can read those posts. RevClub’s “tour” (and I must be careful with the rock band analogies considering that Victoria still regrets that we didn’t develop stage costumes for our presentations) really began just after METM17 in Brescia, where I gave a presentation of my own about specialisation. When I was discussing that by e-mail with Victoria and Tim they had lots of questions, but what they wanted to know really boiled down to two things: where’s the next one? And why don’t we present something next time? In no time at all, Victoria, who lives near Buenos Aires, had agreed that, if I could persuade MET to let the three of us give a workshop, she would cross the Atlantic for the next MET meeting in Girona. Just the thought of the three of us actually...
A welcome message

A welcome message

Hope for the future I went to this year’s ITI Conference in Sheffield hoping to meet friends and colleagues but not sure quite what else to expect. Many would now have us believe that the big translators’ organisations have sold out to the agencies and the pushers of machine translation in the drive to make translators complicit in the endless spiral of falling rates and enforced productivity increases. It was my first ITI Conference, having recently joined the organisation, and I was delighted to find that, at least for this association, it simply isn’t true. Everywhere the message was the one I believe is right: specialise, be a better translator and charge what you’re worth. Close interaction with clients was also one of the themes. David Jemielity, an in-house translator with a Swiss regional bank, explained how he has managed to put translators at the heart of his organisation’s communication campaigns. And Chris Durban, perhaps the one translator who really does need no introduction, spoke, with detailed examples, about the way many translators are churning out work little better than machines. Her route out of the trap: specialise, improve, take more time over your work and, to the biggest round of applause of the conference: eschew PEMT (and how many computers could ever come up with such a memorable and perfectly chosen verb?). As usual I avoided the sessions on machine translation. Fortunately for those of use who really can’t be bothered to attend talks on something we’re never planning to use, we have people like former ITI chair Sarah Bawa-Mason to keep a critical eye on it for...
Coming of age

Coming of age

Discussion, not drama I co-run a Facebook group for translators, which I have mentioned once or twice before in this blog. Standing Up began when members of Andrew Morris’s Standing Out group rebelled against his plan to charge them for forming part of what they had always considered a community that belonged to them, not to him. Several translators, of which I was one, decided it would be a good idea to offer them somewhere to go, so they could continue to enjoy the benefits of belonging to a group of like-minded people without Morris’s rather overbearing way of running things. Rule one of our group was that there were to be no gurus and, if I am proudly discussing it in this blog post, it is certainly not because I consider that the group belongs to me, it is simply because I’m glad to have played a part in making it happen and keeping it going. Things began slowly and there were initial difficulties. Some people felt betrayed at what Morris had tried to do, others never wanted to hear his name again, and still others wanted to remain on good terms with him while simultaneously trying out the new arrangement. That meant every time his name was mentioned there were terrible arguments. Conversations had to be shut down and people left the group. There were times when I wondered if it was worth carrying on. But eventually feelings calmed and, when the dust settled, not only was the group still there, it had started growing steadily. It is still growing today and only a few weeks ago,...
Success revisited

Success revisited

Making it, not faking it In the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about a subject I’ve touched on once or twice before in this blog (here, for example, and here too): success. I’ve been thinking about it for several reasons. On one hand, I’ve been finding posts by translators who claim to be a great success who in fact spend their time churning out junk at low rates for agency clients. On the other, there are translators I admire, with high standards, who, it turns out, are going through a rough time at the moment. So what is success for a translator? And does success mean anything at all? In one of the previous posts I referred to, I said we should define our own success, and I still believe that. Success can’t be the same for everyone because we’re not all motivated by the same things. Some seem to think that no-one is a success without a big house and a Porsche, others just want a pension, and still others will be happy if they can guarantee to put food on the table every day. But in this post I’m going define what success means for me. Are you the same, I wonder? What are my signs of success: You earn enough to do what you want to do. This is probably the most important of all. For some, here, we might be talking about buying the big house or the Porsche. For me, though, it means being able to take the time off I want to take, go where I want to go and do the professional...
Getting the message

Getting the message

Moving further from the agency fold I had another one of those messages last week. It came in e-mail form from an agency I’ve worked with for some years; an agency I’ve always respected and admired as one that paid reasonable rates without making unreasonable demands. I had, said the agency, expressed an interest in post-editing machine translation. Did I, they wanted to know. want to join in with their sparkling new machine translation programme and sign up for some post-editing work? It took me five minutes to ask them where they had got the idea that I’d ever been interested in machine translation and to inform them, politely but firmly, that it didn’t interest me in the least. But it doesn’t end there, of course. It’s one more step in my gradual estrangement from the world of translation agencies, which I began to describe just over a year ago. Now, I’m not against agencies as such. I’ve worked with them for all my translation career and I still work for some. I am fully aware that many translators want to continue working with them, mostly because they simply don’t want to have to do their own sales and marketing work. I am also fully aware, because they have told me so, that some translators don’t mind doing post-editing work and have found ways of making money out of it. Nor does the fact that an agency starts using MT necessarily mean that they will stop using human translators, or at least not for the moment. I am still working for some, although not all, of those which have sent me...
Take charge of your rates

Take charge of your rates

Increases are up to you Probably because it’s a New Year, there’s been a lot written recently about raising rates. I’ve even seen it said that it’s impossible to increase them for existing clients. So, having just raised mine for a large group of clients – something I’ve done many times in the past – I thought I’d offer a little inspiration and encouragement for those being put off by all the misleading noise. Because, however nerve-racking it might feel to actually do it, just like any other business you can always decide to put your prices up. Let’s have a look, then, at the how and the why (not to mention the what, where, who and when) of raising your rates. Why raise rates? This may be the biggest question of all. You’ve got clients who are happy to send you work at a particular rate. Why would you want to change that? In fact there are lots of reasons why you should. First of all, you know full well that prices go up all the time, which means your cost of living goes up. If, as a freelancer, you don’t put your own prices up, your standard of living will go down. Now you could try to find ways to improve your productivity to bridge the gap. You could, of course, work longer and longer hours to earn the same. But you can be sure your clients will put their prices to their customers up from time to time. So why shouldn’t you? Then there are clients you have perhaps been working for since you started, when...
Working together to improve

Working together to improve

An idea whose time has come Usually at the end of December I look back at the old year and forward to the new, and for 2018 one theme stands out above all: cooperation. Over the past 12 months it has come in various forms. I’ve worked on big projects with other translators, particularly a fascinating art book which I’ve been involved with over the past six months with my colleague Kate Major. I’ve also had my work revised by colleagues more than ever, and have got involved in frequent cooperation on French-English translations with Catharine Cellier-Smart, based on Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. My regular “accountability lunches” with the legal translator Rob Lunn, who happens to live just a ten-minute train ride from me, have also continued to be useful and enjoyable. More than anything else, though, 2018 has been about RevClub, the mutual revision group that Victoria Patience, Tim Gutteridge and I set up a couple of years ago now, which is why I want to return to a subject I’ve already written about here, because it’s beginning to look as if it’s an idea whose time has come. Tim, Victoria and I presented RevClub to about 20 colleagues at a successful workshop at the METM18 conference in Girona at the beginning of October, after Tim and I gave a pilot version of the same workshop with a smaller group, also for MET, in Barcelona in June. And next year we are moving on to the UK: Victoria and I will be presenting RevClub at the ITI conference in Sheffield in May, and Tim and I will be...
Going direct

Going direct

Client events offer a way in One of the most commonly asked questions in translators’ groups and forums is “How do I go about getting direct clients?”. In fact, there are probably as many ways of doing this there are potential clients to find, but I thought a recent experience of mine might offer colleagues some ideas and pointers. I discovered that an event was going on, very near to me, organised for precisely a group of clients I was very interested in contacting – in this case, people in charge of museums and similar institutions. Considering that it was open to everyone and not at all expensive, I decided to go and spent the day listening to speakers discussing the subject of cultural tourism. In fact this was something of a revelation to me, particularly when I heard Professor Greg Richards, who apparently coined the term cultural tourism, and who was a speaker, define exactly what he meant, because it actually summed up precisely the kind of translations I specialise in. I had gone in search of potential clients, and I came away with a new focus for my marketing. I was also there to make contacts, of course, and I tried to make use of the coffee and lunch breaks to do just that. I’ve written here b efore of my difficulties when faced with a room full of strangers, and, for me, that doesn’t get any easier, but I did manage to talk to at least some people who may turn out to be useful contacts. Potential I tried means of making contact other than face-to-face approaches,...