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...