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The next session of my online course Beyond the Basics of Freelancing starts on November 12, and I have five spots open. This course is for mid-career freelancers who have established businesses, but want to earn more money, work with higher-quality agencies or direct clients, develop a clearer financial plan for their businesses and get more enjoyment out of their work (why not?). The course is four weeks long and entirely online, and registration is $350, with a $50 discount for ATA members. The registration fee includes four weekly lessons, individual feedback from me on each assignment that you submit, a weekly one-hour question and answer conference call for the whole class, and a one-hour individual conference call for you after the class ends.

Here’s a comment from a recent participant in this course, “Though I was more or less satisfied with my business, it had plateaued and I wasn’t sure how to up my game. Corinne’s class was exactly what I needed. She asked questions that forced me to focus on the most important aspects of my business and acted as a sounding board for marketing ideas. I especially appreciated that the class included ample opportunity to ask specific questions about nearly anything. I learned a great deal from Corinne and from the other students and came away from the class with a concrete plan and timeline for the next 6-12 months to take my business to the next level.”

To read more or to register, hop on over to my website.

This morning I presented a webinar for the ATA professional development series, entitled “Translating for the international development sector.” We didn’t have time to take questions, so if you have any, you can send them to me here. Also, if you have any feedback that you didn’t include on the evaluation, you can post it in the Comments or e-mail me directly at corinne@translatewrite.com. The webinar was sold out, so if you wanted to attend but couldn’t, you’ll be able to purchase the recording from the link above, in a few days. Thanks!

A student in my online course asks: How do I decide if a translation specialization is viable?

Hmm, interesting question, and one that nearly all freelancers have to grapple with at some point. Short answer: nearly any specialization is viable, depending on your marketing zeal and income needs. Longer answer follows.

When you’re looking at potential specializations, here are a few factors to consider (and readers, please add your thoughts in the Comments):

    1. What’s your knowledge of/interest in this specialization? That’s undoubtedly the most important factor, and one that outweighs most other factors if you’re looking at a technical subject area.
    2. What’s the demand? Some specializations (like legal translation) are so content-heavy that having enough work isn’t much of a concern. Others (restaurant menus) may have a lot of demand in terms of the *number* of clients, but not in terms of the size of each individual project.
    3. Who are the clients? This is one that a lot of translators overlook. Some specializations (software, pharmaceuticals) are almost exclusively the domain of agencies, because most of the end client companies are so huge that they tend not to use individual freelancers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there an infinite number of niche specializations that are almost exclusively the domain of direct clients. I’ve met translators who specialize in horses, cross-country skiing, stamps, cookbooks, and so on. If you’re outside the scope of the big business areas like legal, financial, medical, pharmaceutical, IT, patents, etc., you need to consider whether you are OK with working only or primarily with direct clients.
    4. How much are you willing to market? Again, this is a big one. Law firms and legal translation companies are easy to find, and there are lots of them out there. Cookbook publishers that need a Russian translator? They’re out there too, but you’ll have to work harder to find them.
    5. What’s the income potential? Of course, there’s a huge variation within every specialization. But in general, you can’t translate poetry if you need to make money from it, and you wouldn’t translate financial documents just for personal enjoyment.
    6. How much do you care about doing work that is meaningful to you? Again, mileage varies widely. But many clients in, say, legal or IT translation are only translating because they have to, not because they really want to. But one of the things I particularly enjoy about international development translation is that the documents affect real people’s lives, and are commissioned by clients that really, really care about the quality of the translation.

Readers, your thoughts?

It’s been interesting to read people’s reactions to my post about translator rants, and I always love a good and lively discussion. Here’s a followup: it seems to me that many translators look at “successful freelancers,” (with varying definitions of that), and think, “It’s easy to sit around and tell other, less successful freelancers what they’re doing wrong, without saying what you, the successful freelancer are doing right in order to be so successful.” So, since I’m into contentious topics lately, let’s have a go at this one: is freelance success mostly a matter of luck, connections, and external factors, or is it mostly a matter of working like a fiend until you make it?

Short answer: it’s a combination.

Longer answer: I like illustrative examples, so let me give you one. My husband and I are really frugal. As I wrote about in 2009 and again in 2013, our frugal lifestyle has netted some significant advantages, namely that are completely debt-free including our mortgage, despite the fact that a) we’ve only ever had “regular” jobs;¬† b) we’ve lived in places (Boston, Boulder) with fairly high housing costs and c) we have a kid. When people ask us how we did this, we tell them: we bought a fixer-upper house and renovated it ourselves; the house didn’t have a shower for 3 months and we showered with the hose after the neighbors went to bed; we’ve never bought a brand new car; we use bicycles for the majority of our in-town transportation; we’ve never bought a brand new piece of furniture; we cook the vast majority of our meals from scratch; when we’re going to make a major purchase, we first comb Craigslist and eBay to see if we can get it used, and so on. At times when we’ve been really broke, we’ve gone ever further into blackbelt frugality territory: my husband cut my hair for a couple of years; when our daughter was little, I regularly worked for 3-4 hours every night, even on weekends, so we used very little childcare; most of our vacations involved camping. You get the picture.

Here’s the thing. By the time we get halfway through the “how we did it” spiel, most people decide that this is not something they’re willing to do in order to live a financially secure, debt-free life. Fair enough: but they asked how we did it, and we told them.

You can tell that I’m about to draw a parallel to freelancing. Sure, most successful freelancers, myself included, have some advantages that some other people don’t have. Some worked their connections in industries in which they had experience; some live in places where their language combination is in unusually high demand; I guess that the fact that my parents paid for my undergraduate degree and my employer paid for my graduate degree could fall into that category too. But, it’s also rare that I meet a freelancer who claims to be struggling and is doing everything possible to change the situation.

Illustrative example: here’s a snapshot from my first day as a freelancer. Sitting in my kitchen with my newborn daughter, I theorized that if I wanted to work from home and use my academic and professional background in French, translation might be a good bet. So, literally, I opened up the yellow pages (!) and started cold-calling agencies and asking for work, or what I would have to do to get work from them. Later that year I joined the Colorado Translators Association, then ATA, and when my ATA member directory came in the mail, I started at “A” and sent my resume and cover letter to every single agency in the directory, until I started getting some work. My first year as a freelancer, I made US $9,000 (total), and I was thrilled with that. I set a goal to double my income every year for the next four years, and I met that goal.

Over time, I did make a lot of connections, but looking back on it, I made a lot of my own luck as well. I volunteered as the Colorado Translators Association newsletter editor, which allowed me to meet pretty much everyone in the association. After I attended my first ATA conference, I e-mailed every single presenter whose session I attended and made a contact with them. Every single time a colleague referred me for a job, I sent them a handwritten thank you note. Every single time a potential client responded to my inquiry, even with “We’ll keep your materials on file,” I sent them a handwritten thank you note and then followed up in another month or so. I served in various volunteer roles within ATA; I started this blog; I started helping newbies as soon as I had half a clue more than they did.

Luck? Hard work? Right place at the right time? Probably some combination of all of those factors, but here’s the takeaway: if you’re smart, and you work hard, and you’re good at this job, you can be one of the successful people too (really).

…well, a “really long time” in Internet years. When I click “Publish” on this post, WordPress will cheerfully tell me that it’s the 552nd post that I’ve written since February of 2008, which is when I took Beth Hayden’s introductory blogging class and decided to give it a go. So my blog will be six (awww… it’s growing up so fast!): it gets about a thousand visitors on most days and has won a couple of awards, so I guess I’ve gleaned a few tips along the way, for anyone who wants to create or invigorate their presence in the blogosphere. How do you keep flapping your lips (or I guess, your fingertips) for 552 posts that at least some people seem to want to read?

Pick a topic that you really, really like to talk/write/read about. Here’s how you know I need to get out more: I actually have more ideas for this blog than when I started, and it’s really only limited by my available time. I really want to do a series of video interviews, like Live from Daryl’s House, but with translators–and you just found out about one of my secret addictions, so I should probably move on. Reader questions could provide inspiration for at least 552 more posts; I feel like I should do more with topics that relate to translation technique, research skills, how do you know when you’re OK at this job, and so on. As a counterpoint, I frequently get asked to write articles for translation clients/buyers. And once I get beyond the basics (how to set the project up for success, what to do before contacting a translator, how to choose between a freelancer and an agency), I kind of draw a blank. I sure couldn’t write 552 articles that clients would want to read. Why? I don’t really know why; I just like to write about topics that other freelancers can relate to.

Write something substantive, at least once in a while. I’m not opposed to the occasional post that consists of links, a contest, a request to vote for the blogger for some award, a reblog from another site, etc. But lots of blogs are 96% that stuff and 4% original, substantive stuff.

It’s OK to be kind of low-rent. This blog still uses the exact same template and technical platform as the day I launched it. I still spend the grandiose sum of maybe $25 a year so that it has its own domain name and a custom header image. It wouldn’t be outside my budget to hire a designer to make the site more commercial, and shoot a popup in your face every time you arrived here, or stick some ads in the sidebars, or put buy buttons on here for my books and classes. Partially I’m too cheap and lazy to do that, but partially I think that the site’s emphasis on content shows the truth of it: that I really write it not to make money, but to share ideas with other people and provide an outlet for my own writing.

Just keep on clacking the keys. If you’re in blogging, or any kind of writing, for the long haul, sometimes you’ll feel inspired and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes I write posts that I think are really hot, and no one except my mom seems to notice them. Sometimes I write posts that I think are relatively basic, or even boring, and they go viral. So, as long as some people seem to like what you write some of the time, just keep on churning and some of it will stick.

Keep in mind that it’s the Internet. I don’t write about particularly controversial topics, and I’m a pretty mellow person who gets along with most other people, mellow or not. But when you put your writing out there for anyone to see, people are going to rip into you in ways they haven’t since middle school, unless you went to law school, and in that case your skin is way thicker than mine. Fairly routinely, people comment on my blog and tell me I should take posts down, or that my advice is reckless, or based on my own experience which isn’t representative (probably true), or that they used to like me/want to sit at my lunch table, but now they most definitely do not. And I have one thing to say about that: it’s the Internet, folks. Just as I got to blow off some steam by writing a one-star review of the $800 washing machine that we ended up trashing just after it went out of warranty, people get to say whatever they want on my blog. And as long as it’s not totally off the wall, I publish it.

I could go on…but after 552 posts, you probably need a break…I sure do!

This post is inspired by something Ted Wozniak posted on Facebook, linking to S√©bastien Devogele’s blog post “The Rate Rant.” The issue: translators who complain about bottom-feeding agencies that pay low rates, endlessly try to drive down prices even further through fuzzy match discounts, treat translators as a cog in the production machine, etc. Some would argue that this ranting has a point: it publicly shames these agencies and encourages other translators not to work for them. Others (including me) would argue that this ranting might serve as a catharsis, but it’s ultimately a waste of time and energy, and may even harm the ranter in the end. Here we go:

First, ranters, I hear you: bottom-feeding agencies, offering 2.765 cents a word for 8,000 words in two days are annoying. It’s doubly annoying that these bottom-rung agencies are, as Chris Durban found out in her “Mystery Shopper” experiment, telling clients that they provide high-quality translations by expert translators. As if Target said, “Shop here for heirloom-quality stuff that you’ll pass on to your grandchildren.” It also makes me sad (or maybe I’m just a bleeding heart…) that lots of translators see no way out of the bottom-rung market: they don’t know how to or don’t have the time to market themselves to better-paying clients, or they don’t know how to improve their translation or business skills so that they could work for better-paying clients, or they’re so busy cranking out the hoppers full of words at 2.765 cents each that they can only think about getting through the day.

At the same time, here’s my bottom line: if a client’s business model bugs you, simply don’t work for them and leave it at that. Just as I don’t give my money to Walmart or McDonald’s because I’m personally opposed to their business models and employment practices, I don’t work for bottom-rung clients because I choose to work for clients who value my work and are willing to pay accordingly. Why not rant? Here are my thoughts, but of course you can disagree:

  • It’s a waste of time. I’m not going to put Walmart out of business by refusing to shop there, because tons of other people will still shop there. My goal isn’t to put them out of business, it’s to refuse to support them. You’re not going to put A+ Fast-n-Cheap Xlationz out of business by railing against them, because lots of clients will still use them, and lots of translators (for the reasons described above) will still work for them. If you want to put your emotions to a better use, do client outreach presentations to teach businesses how to choose a (real) high-quality translation provider; do presentations for other translators to teach them how to market themselves to better paying clients.
  • As Chris Durban has commented before, ranting fosters a negative mindset about clients in general (they’re idiots, they don’t know anything about our work, they just want the fastest, cheapest translator out there, we should be suspicious of them until they prove otherwise). I’ll tell you–and lots of other premium-market translators will tell you–that’s not true. There are lots of clients out there who are not only willing but eager to pay real money to a highly-skilled professional who is consistent and confidential and responsive. But that work doesn’t fall into your inbox: you have to be out there looking for it, either online or in person or both; and realistically, most translators aren’t willing to do that or don’t know where to start.
  • If you’re not in the bottom-rung market, it’s a completely different industry. I really don’t concern myself with the lowball market, any more than I concern myself with whether machine translation is going to put me out of business. Because in the end, it’s so different from what I do that it’s not even worth complaining about: sort of as if Major League Baseball complained that a middle school was holding a baseball game right next to their stadium and potentially siphoning off their spectators. When a client approaches me and their first question is “how much do you charge?,” I know that there’s a 90% chance that I’m not the right fit for them. I tell them that I understand the reality of budget constraints, but that I’m busy all the time at my regular rates, so they should find someone else. And I’m busy all the time at my regular rates because I’m “out there”–writing, speaking, attending conferences, meeting other translators who refer work to me, giving out information that potential clients find online, visiting my existing clients so that they keep using me, and so on. If it’s a choice between spending 10 minutes railing about “Get a load of what this parasitic agency asked me to do!!! Can you believe it!!” versus spending 10 minutes reading a potential client’s blog and commenting on it and maybe getting their attention in a positive way, to me, that’s a no-brainer.

Other thoughts on the rate rant?

This is a small tip, but so exciting that I couldn’t resist sharing (nerd alert…). You probably have a feature-rich word-counting tool, or a TM tool that does complicated word counts. But let’s say that you want to do a quick-and-dirty word count of a bunch of files without opening them one by one. Like say this morning, a client e-mailed me 23 Word files and said “Don’t sink a whole lot of time into this, but roughly how long and how much?”…that kind of thing. Here’s your solution, at least in Windows:

  • In Windows Explorer, navigate to the folder
  • Right-click in the folder window, and select View, then Details
  • Right-click on any of the column headers in the folder window, for example “Name,” “Date modified,” etc.
  • Click “More”
  • Tick the “Word count” box in the list of options (visual aid below)

wordcount

This will add a “Word count” column to your folder view, and the word count for any countable file will be displayed, like this:
wordcount2
How exciting! This is a mashup of tips I culled from various forums, and works for all countable files on Windows 7. If anyone has a procedure for other Windows versions or for Mac, feel free to share it.

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