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…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 Sébastien 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.

The next session of my online course for beginning translators, Getting Started as a Freelance Translator, starts on September 24, and there are currently three spots left. This is a four-week course for translators in any language combination; we focus on four targeted assignments (your resume and cover letter, marketing plan, rates and billable hours sheet and online presence), and every week we also do a one-hour question and answer conference call. Every student receives copies of my books How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Thoughts on Translation.

A recent participant in the course commented, “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.” If you’d like to join us, registration is US $325, with a $50 discount for ATA members. Visit my website for a full description or to register! And if you’re a more experienced translator looking for a nudge toward your business goals, registration is also open (same page) for the next session of Beyond the Basics of Freelancing, beginning November 12.

A reader asks: On my website and resumé, is it OK to use my clients’ names? Does it matter if I worked for them directly or through an agency?

Short answer: To be safe, never use a client’s name without their permission. If you’re “sure that the client won’t mind,” then why not take two minutes and write them an e-mail, just to make sure. Clients may have their reasons for not wanting you to use their name, so why risk the relationship over it?

Longer answer: Using clients’ names in your marketing materials is a big asset, especially if the client is a big-name one. But if you use a client’s name without permission, you can create a very bad situation for them, and thus for yourself as well. Here are my personal recommendations for using clients’ names, with the caveat that these fall on the conservative side. Only use a client’s name in your marketing materials if:

  • You worked for them as an employee, not as a freelancer;
  • Or, if your name appears in the credits of a published translation for that client;
  • Or, if you have the client’s permission in writing;
  • Or, if the client wrote you a public testimonial or LinkedIn recommendation (or similar) and included their name on it.

I recommend never using the name of an end client that you worked for through an agency. They’re the agency’s client, not yours: the agency presumably found, landed, and retains the client, and you have no direct relationship with the end client. For similar reasons, an agency should never use the end client’s non-payment as a reason not to pay you, but that’s another post entirely!

I think that these (fairly restrictive) guidelines help avoid misunderstandings, and respect the fact that even a client with whom you have a good relationship may decline to be named publicly as one of your clients. By the same token, I always ask my direct clients to put my name on the translation (and many of them agree), but I never push back if the client declines this request.

Other thoughts on using clients’ names?

I often refer to LinkedIn as the most underused social media resource out there: most of us have a LinkedIn profile, but we just “set it and forget it,” rather than using the site’s more sophisticated capabilities. At the very least, LinkedIn is a great way to connect with people in your target industries, by joining Groups that they also belong to (direct client 101: you don’t find them if you only hang out with other translators). You can also use LinkedIn saved searches–even with the free account–to keep track of business prospects. You can use LinkedIn like a virtual Rolodex so that you’re not scrabbling through your desk drawer for the business card of someone you met at a conference five years ago. LinkedIn is also really useful for doing research about your potential clients: finding out who’s hiring, who changed jobs, and so on.

But first, you have to contend with the sticky issue of how to handle LinkedIn connection requests. When I first joined LinkedIn, I was pretty liberal about who I connected with, theorizing that anyone who worked in our industry was potentially a good connection. Over the years (and many hundreds of connections later), I’ve become less of an “open networker,” so I only accept connection requests from a) people I know or b) people who personalize their connection request message and explain how we know each other or why they want to connect with me. If I don’t know the person outside LinkedIn and they don’t explain why they want to connect, I hit “Ignore” and then “I don’t know John Doe,” because I see little value in these types of blind connections.

“But LinkedIn just sends the connection request automatically!,” I hear you cry…”It’s gone before I can personalize it!” Well, not if you do it the right way. Yes, if you’re just looking at LinkedIn’s list of “People You May Know,” and you click the “Connect” button, there goes the invitation with the stock message “I’d like to add you as a connection on LinkedIn.” However if you are looking at the profile of the person you want to connect with, and then you click Connect, you’ll get this popup:
ATA_LinkedIn

Then, you can indicate how you know the person, and you can write them a personal message. Everyone has to come up with their own LinkedIn strategy: some people will connect only with people they personally know and work with, while others are open to networking with anyone who hits the Connect button. But personalizing your connection request looks more professional and will undoubtedly result in a greater success rate than mass-connecting anonymously.

This year’s ProZ community choice awards are open for voting, and I’m excited to have been nominated in a few categories. Last year Eve Bodeux and I won in the Best Podcast category for Speaking of Translation, and I won in the Best Blog Post category for Why do some freelance translators fail?.

This year Eve and I are nominated again in the Best Podcast category, my blog is nominated in the Best Blog category, and I’m nominated in the Best Trainer category. The awards are always fun, so hop on over and vote!

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