Business and the human touch

Business and the human touch

Another way of looking at the world

I had an interesting reaction to last week’s blog post. A reader wrote me a message saying how much she liked it and particularly welcoming the fact that I wrote from a non-business point of view. She shared my view that there’s a considerable business bias in the information and material produced for translators.

That shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose. Most translators are not natural business people so we feel the need for as much information and support as we can get in this area of our work. I have absolutely no problem with the practical, common sense aspects of this. We all need to know something about publicising and selling our services, for example. Setting and sticking to rates is also extremely important. So I really don’t mind if people want to define me as a business person or entrepreneur.

But at the same time, that’s not all we are, because we have what so many businesses sadly lack: the truly human touch. In general, we don’t cheat and lie to our customers; we don’t use misleading advertising to pressurise them into buying things they don’t need, and we don’t destroy people’s lives by sacking them or cutting their wages in order to pay rich bosses even bigger bonuses and wealthy shareholders even fatter dividends, traits we have all seen plenty of in the world of business. Nor do we waste time with pointless meetings or form-filling; waste energy on internal politics, or waste money on elaborate but meaningless certification schemes.


So although I don’t think there’s anything wrong in learning from business, neither do I believe we should be overimpressed or swallowed up by it. Instead, we should be proud of the differences which, to my mind, make us stand out from it, particularly in terms of honesty and transparency. That’s why I base my website copy on the idea “Do you know your translator?”, stressing the fact that if customers come to me they will know exactly who’s doing their translation. In fact, of course, any freelance who doesn’t outsource could say the same, but sometimes we are so concerned at being businesslike we don’t see our own humanity as anything to shout about.

Everyone needs to make a profit, of course, but my view is that once businesses get to the point where they demand not only profit, but more profit ever year, they become an utterly inhuman and malevolent force. So, as far as I am concerned, the more freelances and small businesses there are in the world, making money for ordinary people to live on, not for the rich to buy third homes and second yachts, the better that world will be.

And if we can link in networks and associations, to support, help and advise one another and, if necessary, to protect and warn one another against those businesses that would exploit us (in our case mostly unscrupulous translation agencies), then we might even turn freelance culture into a valid alternative to the business mentality we are told is the only way.




  1. Nikki Graham

    I totally agree with you, Simon. There comes a point when the be-all and end-all seems to be the pursuit, and even worship, of ever larger piles of money. Surely life is about more than the expensive car you drive, the luxury holidays you take X-times a year and flying first class.
    I am not a natural business person myself, and the constant pressure to go out there and connect with direct clients is not something I feel comfortable with and not something I bargained for when I first started translating.
    I also believe that once you land yourself a direct client or two, you are inevitably going to have to outsource sometime, since you cannot possibly be available all the time to take on their jobs.


      Thanks for your comment, Nikki. It’s not so much direct clients I have a problem with as the business ethic (or lack of one). This post was a kind of declaration of indpendence from that. A way of saying: look, I’m not a business, I’m a person. I’m making my living at this, but if you deal with me you’re dealing with a human being and you can get used to that or go elsewhere. I’m actually very fortunate with my direct clients. They understand that I’m not always available and will generally wait for their translations if necessary. But any client, whether direct or agency, that tries to turn me into an employee or to make me feel guilty for not being available from time to time, will get dumped.


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