Living up to success
It may be hard to believe but the year’s half gone already. That means this blog is now two years old. It also means it’s time to look back at what’s gone right and wrong in the first six months of 2016 and forward to what can be done in the second half of the year, an exercise somewhat complicated by the uncertainties brought about by the UK’s Brexit vote which I discussed in last week’s post.
At the turn of the year I wrote a post grandly declaring that I felt as if I was moving into another league in terms of translation and clients. Like so many grand statements, that has only turned out to be partly true. Last year turned out to have been an exceptionally good one, particularly in terms of attracting good quality, well-paid work, and that success has been difficult to follow, leaving me at times this year taking projects I would rather have turned down. This demonstrates, I think, that I’m still somewhat lacking in the marketing department. Although I can bring in plenty of work, I don’t yet have enough of the right kind of customers, and I really need to start addressing this in the second half of the year.
In January, I increased my rates once again, this time without the trepidation with which I approached a similar rise in 2015, but in fact the effect has been more profound. Even without the increase, this year I would have lost my biggest customer anyway, as the client in question was trying to force my rates in the opposite direction. Fortunately, I’ve always believed it was dangerous to depend too much on any one source of income and it’s not the first time I’ve had to make up for a setback like this, but it’s never easy having to fill a big gap in your workload.
My proportion of agency customers has certainly declined, and when agencies do come to me now the jobs they ask me to do are not the same. I’m being asked to do more editing, more urgent jobs and more French-English translations. It shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose. I imagine that agencies on tight budgets may be able to afford my revision skills where it might prove too expensive to ask me to translate a text. With urgent jobs, presumably they are charging a premium and can afford my rates or, alternatively, they are desperate to find someone and prepared to cut into their margins in order to satisfy their client. Meanwhile, French-English translators are relatively hard to find in Spain, and I’m also doing more work for customers in France and Belgium, who tend to pay better than their Spanish counterparts.
To be honest, I’m not sure how to feel about these developments. Translating more from French is certainly a challenge, as it is very much my third source language. It means I tend to work more slowly, as I have to use dictionaries more often and work harder on finding the right terms. But I also enjoy it and I feel my French is improving and my translations from French are becoming much more confident and polished. I’m spending three weeks in France this summer and, while it will be a holiday, I also hope to use it to sharpen up my French still further. Editing is another matter. It’s something I don’t always find very satisfying and I wonder whether in future I may decide to reduce it or even eliminate it. For the reasons I’ve already mentioned, though, now doesn’t seem like the right time.
One event I did go to earlier this year with a view to finding new clients was the European Language Industry Association conference in Barcelona. As a customer-finding exercise it has not proved a huge success, as so far only one actual client, and one job, have come from it. This reinforces my feeling that it was a worthwhile exercise only because it was near to home, and I shall certainly not be going to the Berlin event next year. However much I enjoyed the social side of ELIA, this agency-dominated event is not where I’m going to find the kind of new client I want.
ELIA was also the scene for what might be described as a confrontation, when I stood up to challenge Lloyd Bingham after his talk criticising what he described as bad translator behaviour online. This is not the place to revive that particular issue, details of which can be read here in a post written shortly after the event. As can be seen from the many comments, that blog post itself around a great deal of debate, most of it polite and good tempered and some, sadly, not. Being at the centre of this online storm not only made an impression on me, however, it also helped make me some new highly professional friends, some of whom have reinforced ways in which I was already beginning to look at translation and at my business. Their influence will undoubtedly inspire future posts.
One of those aspects involves improving my knowledge in my specialist areas and, to this end, in April I decided to take on a new challenge, studying for the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) level 2 diploma, an examination I was delighted to pass with a distinction. The course was thoroughly enjoyable (despite the fact that the number of wines we had to taste in such a short time meant that spitting rather than swallowing was essential) and I intend to do a lot more in the second half of the year to promote myself in the world of wine and wine tourism, where I strongly believe there are new clients waiting to be found.
Towards the end of the first half of the year, I’ve also become involved in a mentoring scheme, organised by MET (Mediterranean Editors and Translators). My mentee and I have now started working together and so far everything seems to be very positive. I’m really looking forward to taking this working relationship forward in the second half of the year, when I will also be giving my first conference presentation at the MET annual meeting in Tarragona. My subject will be building networks of contacts, something that comes from my own experience and which I refer to as “spider marketing”. In fact, the idea originated with a blog post I wrote towards the end of last year, and which you can read here. I thought long and hard about whether I really wanted to get involved in all the nerves and hard work of giving a presentation, but if I can offer ideas or inspiration to someone I believe it will be worthwhile.
So, the final part of the year will offer the challenges of offering my newly honed wine translation skills to potential customers at a wine fair in Barcelona and making my first conference presentation. I’ll also be continuing my mentoring work and, of course, keeping up with my own translation work as it comes in, not to mention blogging. At that rate it will soon be Christmas!