…but what’s new?
Looking at my posts from this time last year, I seem to have been going through a great deal of uncertainty and change. In my head were three basic issues which I think are pivotal for all translators: quality, rates and finding clients. Of course, the three all feed off one another too. The problem was simple to state and difficult to solve. My income had stagnated, even beginning to fall back a little, despite an across-the-board rates increase and I was worried about the quality of my work, which I felt needed improving. But I couldn’t improve quality without taking more time over my work, and if I was to take more time I was going to lose even more money without increasing rates. But it seemed unlikely that my existing customers would pay higher rates. What could I do?
I decided on a twin course of action: I would try to improve quality without slowing down, and I would look for new clients who would pay higher rates without dumping the old ones. There are some translators, of course, who have succeeded in putting up their rates much more dramatically than that. The problem is that they have had to deliberately put themselves through months with very little work before they have managed to make it work. That’s fine, if a little nerve-wracking, for someone young and unattached, but anyone with family responsibilities needs to take a different tack.
Where I’ve been most successful is undoubtedly in improving quality. Without becoming complacent, I’m now much more satisfied with the quality of the work I do. I have followed the plan I set out in a blog post last December:
1. Rescheduling: I now make every effort not to do a translation and carry out the final edit on the same day. I’m convinced this has had a considerable effect, particularly on avoiding the silly mistakes I feel have sometimes plagued my work in the past. When I mention this simple strategy to other translators they often say “That’s not always possible” and it’s true, it isn’t. But it’s much more possible than you might think. If I finish a translation one afternoon, for example, and it’s due the next morning, instead of doing a rushed second reading, I’ll start the job I’m planning to do the next day and take some time the following morning to give my finished job a final look. There’s usually a way of achieving it.
2. Technology: Mostly this means using PerfectIt, a tool bolted on to Word which brings a lot more consistency to my work, telling me when I’ve used a hyphen in one place and written the same thing as one word in another. I still think I’m just scratching the surface with it, but it’s helping me avoid annoying errors.
3. Sample reviews: This is where the greatest success has been achieved. As I explained in a blog post in March, I have become involved with two colleagues in what we call Revision Club. Basically, we take it in turns to send one another a piece of our work for comments by the other two. We have now extended this to include a translation slam between the three of us once a month. Revision Club has had a tremendous effect on my ability to be critical of my own work. Many’s the time I have been looking at a piece of my work, about to let a slightly weak translation pass, and have then imagined my colleagues Tim Gutteridge and Victoria Patience frowning over my shoulder, forcing me to think again.
4. Outside editing: This one has been trickier, but in the last month there has been a flicker of hope. This year, I’ve tried, when approached by potential new clients, to offer quotes that would allow me to employ an outside editor to check my translations, and most of the time it has failed dismally. It has to be said that quality isn’t always uppermost in the minds of Spanish and Catalan clients, so I’ve often been disappointed to find them dropping out of sight as soon as they hear my prices.
5. Two-tier pricing: To deal with this problem, I’ve taken up the idea of two-tier pricing: offering translation plus outside revision at one price, and making sure the client knows this is my recommended option, and quoting another price for translation only. The advantage is that even a client put off by the higher price doesn’t necessarily run away altogether. And in the last few weeks I’ve even had not one but two clients taking me up on the higher price. At last I’ve been able to employ editors, as I’d love to be able to do all the time for direct clients.
There have been casualties of this new approach, most notably my blog, which, with my revision club commitments, I quickly realised I wouldn’t be able to maintain with the weekly frequency I had kept up ever since I started it in 2014. I switched to monthly posting, which I’ve been able to supplement with the occasional guest post. In fact little has given me more pleasure this year than giving a couple of excellent translators – Cristina Bertuccini and Veronica Sardon – a platform for really good posts they wanted to publish.
I also enjoyed seeing my stint as a MET mentor come to a natural conclusion and I was delighted at the increased confidence and growing success of my mentee after our time working together. She might have got there herself, of course, but it’s rewarding to feel I might have done some good for someone. I also presented talks again this year, firstly at a MET training day in Barcelona in September. Then, after another presenter dropped out, I repeated the presentation on specialisation, in a slightly shortened version, at the METM17 conference in Brescia. I was very pleased at the positive response it received, particularly in Brescia, and I’m now hoping to develop it into a workshop for another year.
Where I haven’t been so successful, as is often the case, is on the marketing side. It really hasn’t been for want of ideas or effort. I launched a new section of my website, aimed at finding wine-related customers, I’ve written blogs aimed at clients and I started two Twitter accounts mostly aimed at clients too. I also went to the International Wine Tourism Conference in Sicily in April. It has to be said that the direct results of all this effort have been negligible, and I’m seriously considering whether it’s worth continuing with many of them.
And yet, as I’ve already mentioned, I have finally found one or two clients willing to pay the new higher prices I’m looking for. This year is going to be better than last in terms of earnings, and I’m ending it as busy ever, with a couple of big and interesting projects already booked to take me well into 2018. On top of that, I’ve managed to increase my rates, seemingly without adverse effects, for a handful of clients who I decided were paying too little.
How has that come about, if my marketing efforts have had such little reward? The truth is that it has mostly come through the methods I mentioned in my blog post and presentation last year on what I called “spider marketing”, basically consisting of working on ways for potential clients to find me. This time last year I was writing that I thought I had taken that approach as far as I could, but it seems there is life in the old spider yet. The world of translation never ceases to surprise me.
Great post, Simon. It’s so nice to read others’ experiences of the ups and downs of this profession, and has given me new ideas for 2018!
Thanks, Kirsty. I’m glad I could offer you some new ideas.
Good to read, Simon! I’m glad things are, on the whole, looking up.
The two-tier pricing strategy is probably a good idea in a market like yours, where you might want to do something to ensure a client doesn’t run away entirely. More than that, you’re explaining where the money goes.
In conversion theory, there’s also something called the rule of three: presented with three options at different price points, most people will go for the middle option. You could test this, perhaps, by offering a third tier: translation, review, plus back-translation or monolingual editing by a subject-matter expert, or whatever else would make sense for that client/job. Naming the different levels of service can help, e.g. standard, premium, and luxury (that way nobody feels bad for going for the bottom option, and the second one still feels quite special, while also feeling quite ‘normal’ next to the third). It’s not a method I use, but it might work for you.
Thanks, Rose. The three-tier option is something I could certainly look at.