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After tomorrow, the Thoughts on Translation world headquarters will be closed for vacation through January 4, so before we dig into today’s topic, here are a few end-of-year recommendations:

  • Start thinking about taxes as soon as you get back from your holiday break. You can close out your books immediately, so why not do it in January rather than on April 14?
  • If you achieved your business goals for this year, be a good boss and give yourself a bonus. If you need some ideas, I wrote a whole post about bonuses last year.
  • If you’re an experienced translator with enough work and income, take some real time off over the holidays. Put your auto-responder on and put the computer in the rear view mirror.
  • If you’re a new translator, be aware that the holidays are a great time to pick up new clients; end-of-year panic plus lots of experienced translators on vacation equals a potential opening for a newcomer. Today on Twitter, one agency owner commented that at this time of year, agencies are much more likely to take a chance on a new person…which could lead to a lasting relationship. French to English translator Karen Tkaczyk reported that during her first year as a freelancer, she picked up many new clients by being available between Christmas and New Year’s.

But now, let’s talk about something else: how to select an online course. I’m a big fan of this topic, having taught my own courses for about eight years, and having taken several Coursera classes, a couple of writing classes through Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and most recently Ed Gandia’s Warm e-mail prospecting course. There’s no shortage of online courses out there, but the question is how to choose one; while the range of potential courses might be limitless, your available time and money surely are not. So here are some deciding factors to help you:

  1. Are you interested in a specific topic, or in a specific teacher? When I took Coursera’s class Epidemics: the dynamics of infectious diseases, it was the topic that grabbed me. As a bonus, the instructors were amazing (and just for the record, I learned more from this class than from any other science class I’ve ever taken, including in-person courses in college), but I didn’t know any of the instructors to start out with. When I took Ed Gandia’s class, I was attracted by the fact that he’s a marketing coach whose advice fits with my preferred way of finding new clients (as he says “without the ick factor”).
  2. What delivery method works best for you? Here I’m talking about live versus self-paced, video lectures versus audio lectures, etc. The advantage of a live/synchronous course is that you have to be there, so there’s no weaseling out. With self-paced/asynchronous, you can do the course at 2 AM if you want. My tip: if you take a self-paced course, set a certain block of time aside for it and stick to that. For example I listened to Ed’s e-mail marketing course in the evenings, when I didn’t feel like staring at the computer screen any more. In terms of audio versus video, the topic may dictate your preference. For example the Coursera epidemics class includes tons of animations; that may have driven some people crazy, but for me (person with a strong interest in science but not much of a hard science background), they were tremendously helpful. I also really appreciated the possibility of pausing the video and looking something up on Wikipedia, or listening to a few seconds of the video again. By contrast, Ed Gandia’s e-mail marketing course is audio lectures with handouts; this worked for me because it’s a topic I “get,” and because Ed has a great speaking voice, but if you’ve never done much freelance marketing before, it might be better to take a video course.
  3. Do you get any individualized feedback? To me, this is huge. If you’re taking the course primarily/exclusively to absorb information, individual attention may not be that important. For example in my epidemics classes, I was fine with the auto-graded quizzes and peer discussion boards, because my main goal was to learn facts, not improve my subjective skills. But if you’re taking a course specifically to improve your skills, individual attention makes a huge difference; this is something I always mention when people are considering my online courses. Lots of classes in the $150-$200 price point are going to give you great information, and will be a lot more interesting than reading a book, but you won’t get individualized feedback from the instructor, whereas the whole foundation of my classes is individualized feedback. From the instructor standpoint, individualized feedback takes a lot of of time, which is probably why most courses that offer it are in the $300+ price point.
  4. If the class is self-paced, do you have the discipline to follow through on it? Another big one: with Ed’s e-mail marketing course, I found that I really had to carve out the time to do it, or I forgot about it since there’s no enforced schedule. Especially if the course is a significant financial investment, consider your level of self-discipline before you sign up. Ditto for courses that last a long time: signing up for a year of coaching at a reduced rate sounds good, but if you lose interest after three months, it could be a waste of money.

Readers, any other thoughts on this? And happy 2015 to everyone!

If you’re looking for a last-minute gift for your favorite translator, or if you’re looking for some winter break reading for yourself, I’ve got two recommendations for you (and of course, feel free to add your own book recommendations in the comments!). One is The Green and the Red, a French novel written by Armand Chauvet and translated by Elisabeth Lyman, and the other is The Marketing Cookbook for Translators, written by Swedish translator Tess Whitty, who also hosts the Marketing Tips for Translators podcast. Here they are!
books

A few comments about each book (disclosure: I received review copies of them): The Green and the Red is set in Rennes, France, and the plot can be summed up as “pork producers versus vegetarians” (seriously!). As a vegetarian, I was hooked on the first page, which features the heroine Léa desperately trying to order in a vegetarian-unfriendly restaurant in Paris–ending with her claiming to be “allergic to ham.” This gave me flashbacks to my study abroad year in Paris in the early ’90s (picking ham out of the food: been there!) and it sets the tone for this delightful story, in which Léa ultimately falls in love with the pork producer’s marketing director. The book is a fun, easy read, and Elisabeth’s translation is as smooth as it is invisible; if I didn’t know the book was a translation, I never would have guessed. However, get this: Elisabeth’s name appears on the cover, and she’s listed alongside the author on the Amazon page. So, kudos to her and to Ashland Creek Press for that recognition. I think The Green and the Red would be make a great romantic comedy movie, so maybe we’ll see it again on the big screen!

The Marketing Cookbook for Translators is a fantastic addition to the translator business book genre, and Tess draws on her international marketing background to create a thoroughly practical guidebook; no theory at all, just “how do I actually do this?” I liked Tess’ book so much that I wrote a back cover blurb for it, and here it is: “Many freelancers struggle with marketing because it feels overwhelming: in the face of too many options, most of us end up doing nothing. Tess Whitty’s ‘cookbook’ approach helps defeat analysis paralysis by breaking the seemingly insurmountable task of finding clients into steps that take as long as you have. If you have fifteen minutes, pick one marketing appetizer to get the ball rolling; if you can block out more time, pick a main dish and really dive in. Whatever you choose, you’ll reap the benefits of Tess’ international marketing background and the lessons she’s drawn from building her own freelance business from the ground up.” I really like Tess’ compartmentalized approach to marketing; there’s definitely a place for books that take the “complete overhaul” approach, but lots of people won’t make it past chapter one of that kind of plan. Definitely better to pull off a manageable chunk and actually do it; and Tess’ book will show you the way!

Readers, any other suggestions for winter break reading?

I’m in the mood to think about things other than work, so here’s a recipe for chocolate truffles that anyone with reasonable culinary skills can make. For this I consulted my friend and colleague Marianne Reiner who’s an incredible cook and also French (double truffle cred), and a friend who went to cooking school in France (lots of truffle cred as well!), so these will definitely not disappoint you.

The challenge: lots of classic French truffle recipes will rapidly melt at room temperature. So, if you’re going to eat them right out of the chocolatier’s cold case, great. But if you want to give them as gifts, they could be a mushy mess by the time the person gets them home. This method is a little heavier on the chocolate and lighter on the cream than some classic recipes, so the truffles will survive at room temperature for a little while.

Ingredients: 1 pound of good bittersweet chocolate (bars or chips will work; aim for about 60% cocoa), 1 cup of heavy whipping cream, about 1/2 cup good cocoa powder, and any flavorings you want to use. Liqueur (i.e. a couple of tablespoons of framboise, poire, Kahlua) is a popular flavoring. I find liqueur a little overpowering but I like to give the chocolate some complexity, so I added a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of instant espresso powder.

Vegan tip: inspired by a recipe I found on the Vegetarian Times website, I made a small batch of vegan truffles for a friend who’s dairy-free. For a one-person batch, use 6 ounces dairy-free bittersweet chocolate chips, 1/4 cup canola oil (or other similarly flavorless vegetable oil) and 1/3 cup water. Heat the chocolate, oil and water in a double boiler or over very low heat on a simmer burner  until the chocolate is fully melted, then continue with the method below, at the step where you scrape the mixture into a shallow glass pan. Mine are still cooling, but so far they look totally comparable to the dairy version.

The method: Prepare 1 pound of chocolate. If you’re using chocolate bars, chop them finely and place them in a mixing bowl. If you’re lazy (like me) and using chocolate chips, just dump them into a mixing bowl.
chips

In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup heavy cream to a boil, whisking constantly to avoid burning.
cream
Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate, but do not stir it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a plate, and let it stand for 10 minutes.
creamychips
After 10 minutes, stir the chocolate/cream mixture until smooth, and add any flavorings you want (liqueur, salt, spices, instant espresso powder, etc.)
Scrape the mixture into a shallow glass baking pan and allow it to cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
pan
After the mixture has cooled to room temperature, place the pan in the fridge until the mixture is the consistency of stiff cake frosting, about 30 minutes. In the meantime, pour about 1/2 cup good cocoa powder into a small soup bowl. Remove the glass pan from the fridge, and, using a tablespoon, scoop out balls of the chocolate mixture. Roll each ball in your hand until relatively round (remember, these are supposed to look like natural forest truffles, so they don’t have to be perfect) and then place it in the bowl of cocoa powder.
cocoa
Use a spoon to roll each truffle in the cocoa powder until fully coated. Then arrange the truffles on a parchment-covered baking sheet and refrigerate them for a couple of hours until they are really firm.
truffles
These should keep in an airtight container for about a week, but why would you want to wait that long? Either serve them right away, or package them as gifts. I got these “mini lunchboxes” at a local craft store and packaged the truffles for people at my co-working office.
box

If you’re looking to get a jump on your business goals for 2015, I have sessions of my online courses–Getting Started as a Freelance Translator for beginners and Beyond the Basics of Freelancing for experienced translators–coming up in January and February. Getting Started begins on January 7, and Beyond the Basics on February 18.

Each class lasts four weeks and is fully online and at your own pace; every student gets individual feedback from me on four assignments (for example your resumé or professional profile, marketing plan, billable hours and rates sheet, online presence, etc.) and we do four question-and-answer conference calls–you can attend live or listen to recordings. As part of the Beyond the Basics course, every student also gets an hour of individual consulting time with me, and students in both classes receive free copies of my books How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Thoughts on Translation.
Registration for either class is US $350, with a $50 discount for ATA members.

I’m flattered that two graduates of Beyond the Basics of Freelancing have recently written online reviews of the course; you can read Nelia Fahloun’s review in the ITI ScotNet newsletter or Elizabeth Garrison’s review on Tranix Translations’ blog. Another graduate commented, “The course is part overview of the industry, part specialized workshop focusing on a particular aspect of the job, and in very large part individualized coaching. Neither in my undergraduate classes in education nor in some of the more practical classes I took as part of my MA in English (including the course connected to my assistantship as a writing consultant) did I ever experience one course that delivered as much precise and helpful information as this course.

Hope to see some of you in these sessions!

In marketing your freelance services, you may wonder (or at least I do!) whether it’s better to market to direct clients by e-mail, on paper, or both. I don’t have a succinct answer to that, but here are a few thoughts.

For a long time, I was a devotée of marketing on paper: writing out a full-page cover letter, attaching my resumé and a business card, sticking it all in an envelope and mailing it to the potential client. I also did a number of postcard marketing campaigns, and I do think there’s a place for paper marketing materials:

  1. They stand out: most people’s postal mail is 95% ads and bills. So, although your marketing packet is a type of ad, it’s also interesting, and personalized, and shows that you took more than 30 seconds to put something together for this potential candidate.
  2. They stick around: once someone deletes an e-mail, it’s gone. But I’ve gotten inquiries from clients (literally) years after I sent them a marketing pitch in the mail, because my business card was still kicking around their office.
  3. They let you say more than you would in an e-mail: no one is going to read an e-mail that’s the equivalent of a full-page cover letter. But I’ve had fairly good success with full-page cover letters sent in the mail. They let you describe your recent projects, something about the client that makes you feel there’s a good fit, etc.

The downside of paper marketing materials is that they’re time-consuming and potentially costly to create and send, and your prospect has to make a very deliberate effort (in the form of calling or e-mailing you) to respond. There’s no reply button on a paper letter, so the prospect has to be really interested in order to follow up.

Just because I wondered what I might be missing, I recently joined Ed Gandia’s Warm E-mail Prospecting course. It’s online and self-paced, and I really like it. It’s helped me see the advantages of e-mail marketing–not blast e-mails that you send to 1,000 potential prospects with one click, but short (125 words or less), targeted, personalized e-mails that you send when you see a meaningful connection between you and the potential client. The appeal:

  1. They’re short: it takes me under one minute to read 125 words. I get a lot of unsolicited e-mail (marketing pitches from other translators, requests for information about freelancing, requests to speak or write or present, etc.) and when I open an e-mail and it’s short, personalized and to the point, I actually feel interested in reading it (here’s something written just for me and it will take two seconds…maybe it’s interesting!). But when I open an unsolicited e-mail and it’s 500 words, or begins with “I’d like to start by telling you about myself,” I often leave the e-mail “for later,” which usually means much later, or if the e-mail isn’t personalized, I end up deleting it without reading it.
  2. They invite immediate action: if your prospect is interested, they can click Reply, and simply answer, “Sounds interesting; can you send me some more information?” or “We may need someone like you in the future; feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn,” and they’re done with it.
  3. They’re easy to create once you get the hang of it: and easy is good. Easy is what gets done. Instead of tailoring the cover letter, then printing it, then printing your resumé, then locating a business card and an envelope, then stressing about whether the paper should be white or off-white, and whether it’s OK to use your leftover Christmas stamps on business letters, and so on, you just fire the thing off and you’re done.

Readers, other thoughts on this?

It’s a Courtesy…

Translator mailing lists and message boards are full of translators asking, “Can you charge extra for…?” (formatting, translating from a poor-quality PDF, talking to the client’s staff on the phone, and so on). If the client is an agency, you have to negotiate those extra charges (or extra unpaid work) directly with them. But here’s my solution for when you’re working with direct clients (and of course you can agree, disagree, or offer your own solution).

  1. Charge the client an all-inclusive rate that’s high enough to cover the occasional unexpected “extra” service: for example the client needs hard copies of a translation with your Certified Translator stamp on them, necessitating an impromptu run to FedEx. What’s that you say…you passed the ATA exam and you never downloaded your Certified Translator seal to have a stamp made? Well, you’d better take care of that right now!
  2. Then, don’t nickle-and-dime the client for these small extra services. Of course if you spend hours on an extra task, you should charge for it. But the FedEx run, the 15-minute phone consultation, the 33-word e-mail that the client forgot to ask you to translate…don’t make a big deal out of those.
  3. But don’t let the client simply forget about them either; it’s a good reminder of the value of a professional translator, and of why the client pays you a premium rate in the first place. My solution: put those items on your invoice, and in the column where you would normally include the cost, write “Courtesy.” “Overnight delivery of hard copies: Courtesy.” “Press release headline suggestions: Courtesy,” and so on. This will jog the client’s memory, remind them of how you helped them out in a pinch, and hopefully help you retain them as a premium client. To me, adding an extra charge for a task that took 10 minutes looks a bit petty and desperate; better to charge a higher rate overall and then do those Courtesy services without additional billing.

I’ve been wanting to add some videos to this blog for a while, and my very courageous colleague and friend Karen Tkaczyk agreed to be my test interviewee. Karen has an Ikea Bekant sit-stand desk that she really loves. Note from Ikea: The BEKANT sit/stand option is currently unavailable in stores. The delay only affects the sit/stand desk and does not affect the rest of the BEKANT series. There’s a labeling issue on the product, so it’s currently unavailable for sale until this issue can be remedied. Unfortunately we do not yet know how long this will take. IKEA is working this correction, but it is not a quick process. The other sit-stand desk that Karen mentioned in the interview is the Ergotron. Thanks Karen, and hopefully this is the inauguration of a series of interesting video interviews!

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