Archive for the ‘Freelancing’ Category

The next sessions of my online courses start on August 20 (Beyond the Basics of Freelancing) and September 24 (Getting Started as a Freelance Translator). Getting Started is for students who want to launch and run a successful freelance business, and Beyond the Basics is for students who have established freelance businesses. Each class is four weeks long and consists of four lessons on which you get individual feedback from me, plus a weekly question-and-answer conference call for the whole class. Additionally, students in Beyond the Basics get a one-hour individual consultation with me.

Getting Started focuses on the basics of getting your freelance business up and running: writing a translation-targeted resumé and cover letter, creating a marketing plan and rates sheet and establishing an online presence (LinkedIn profile, translators association directory profile, website, etc.). Beyond the Basics focuses on marketing your services to high-quality translation agencies and direct clients, creating a professional profile document and identifying ways to meet direct clients on their turf.

Registration for either class is US $325, and after these sessions I’ll be raising the price to US $350, so now is a good time to register if you’ve been thinking about it. All sessions of both courses have filled up before the deadline for the past year, so hop on over to my website and read the full descriptions if you’re thinking of joining one of these sessions! ATA members receive a $50 discount on registration for either course.

Here’s a comment from a participant in the most recent session of Beyond the Basics: “This course really helped me define a path for moving my business forward, as well as giving me some helpful tools for getting there. I received valuable input and tips not only from Corinne, but also from the other students, and it was great to be part of a little virtual community.”

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…and remove:

  1. Vague blah blah that applies to 10,000 other translators (possibly even 11,000). “I help clients communicate across cultures” (let’s hope so…), “Accurate and efficient,” “Detail-oriented,” “Committed to meeting deadlines.” Instead, get specific: “In 12+ years of freelancing, I have never missed a deadline.” “More than just a word-replacer, I’m a key member of my clients’ communications teams.” “I regularly decline assignments that aren’t within my scope of expertise; instead I concentrate on what I do extremely well.” “In addition to working with words, I’m committed to working well with people, and my goal is for the translation process to be as painless as possible for my clients.” I just made those up, and they may not apply to you, and you may not like the style (but if you do, you can steal them). But they’re examples of statements that get your specific story out there.
  2. “References available upon request.” Either include testimonials from clients directly on your marketing materials, or get this sentence out of there. It goes without saying that the client will ask for references if they want them.
  3. “Objective: freelance translation projects using demonstrated expertise in Japanese to English translation.” Again: a message from the department of redundancy department. Clearly, the objective of marketing materials is to find work, and hopefully you have some demonstrated expertise, or you’d be doing something else.
  4. Any reference to “the best.” Translation is very subjective: Usain Bolt can safely say that he’s “the best” at the 100 meter dash, but you can’t measure translation skill with a clock or a meter stick. Plus, every client’s preference varies. If you want to look at every word in the French document and see a direct equivalent in the English document, I’m not your woman, because I like to rewrite more than I like to replace words. Some clients disagree, and that’s OK.
  5. Photos of you with animals (unless you’re a vet), or anything that looks like a selfie. It’s surprising how many people’s “professional photos” are anything but. Translator next to a horse? Snuggling a puppy? Cruise LinkedIn and you’ll find these and more, plus lots of photos that are clearly selfies. To me, a crummy headshot photo is sort of like business cards with the “Get your free business cards at…” logo on the back. It shows that the person isn’t willing to put forth even the small amount of effort required to do better. For example, my current headshot was taken by a friend with a nice camera; our local translators association offers discount group headshot sessions every few years. A professional session is absolutely worth it, but there are also alternatives that still look good. Again, people’s preferences will vary: for my own photos, I lean toward a more natural, less posed look. I wouldn’t cuddle my cat in the photo, but a little wind in the hair doesn’t bother me, whereas other people prefer a more posed, studio look.

Readers, anything else that needs to get the ax?

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A short post, because I’d really like to hear from you. What would our industry look like if agencies were more transparent about what services they provide and what percentage of the total project fee they earn? For example:

In other types of “agent” relationships (authors, athletes, etc.), the client knows exactly what the agent will do, and what percentage of the total billings they will take in exchange. If you find a salaried job through a recruiter, they get a percentage of your first year’s salary, and you know what that percentage is.

This idea came to me for a few reasons. Good agencies have trouble finding good translators, even if they are willing to pay/interested in paying/desperate to pay real money for their services. Partially, this is because some good translators have had it with agencies and will only work with direct clients. A more transparent model could solve some of that problem. In addition, a more transparent model would make it clear that the agency is adding value (or not), and translators could choose to jump on that value (or not).

For example, I understand it when translators rail about “agencies that add no value,” and simply forward e-mails back and forth from the end client to the translator. I get it, and I also avoid working for those types of agencies. But I also think that agencies add a value that they don’t always trumpet: finding the client in the first place. As anyone who works with direct clients will tell you, finding them is a lot of work. It takes time and creativity and persistence and research, so the fact that a translator who works with agencies is freed from that step in the process should be worth a lot, and agencies don’t always point that out.

So what about this. The agency tells the translator how much they’re charging the end client. Sometimes translators already know this, because agency staff mistakenly send us e-mails meant for the end client. In any case, my assumption is that my agency clients are charging the end client 2-3 times what they’re paying me, and I’m OK with that. Then, the agency takes a set percentage of that amount, just for having found the client in the first place. Then, the rest of the agency’s fee is based on what they actually do; the translator knows whether the document is being edited by another translator in the same language pair, or proofed by a speaker of the target language, or not reviewed at all, and the agency charges accordingly. It seems like this would also allow translators to gravitate to agencies that provide the level of service that they want or need. For example, I spend a lot of time researching and marketing to direct clients, and I’d rather work with my own editors than with an anonymous editor provided by an agency. So, I’d be interested in working with an agency (or perhaps more accurately, an agent) who would simply find clients for me, forward the work back and forth and take a percentage of my billings.

Further disclaimer: I’m not at all anti-agency. I disagree with translators who call agencies “parasites,” and I really enjoy working with my agency clients because they let me focus on the parts of the job that I enjoy and am good at. But I think that a) agencies need to do a better job of highlighting their strengths (such as finding and retaining clients), and b) there’s room in the market for more of a commission-based “translator’s agent.”

An idea whose time has come, or a non-starter? Over to you!

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Update: the May 14 session of Beyond the Basics is now full. Registration is open for the August 20 session (same links as below)

The next session of my online course Beyond the Basics of Freelancing starts next Wednesday (May 14) and I have four spots left. The course lasts four weeks and is for established freelance translators who want to work with higher-quality agencies and with direct clients. Everyone gets individualized feedback from me on four homework assignments: the current state of your business; marketing to the clients you want rather than taking the work that falls in the inbox;  money matters (rates and income) and creating a plan to move your business forward. In addition, everyone gets a one-hour individual consulting call with me, and we do four one-hour question and answer conference calls with the whole group. The last session went quite well, with this feedback from a student:

This course boosted my confidence immensely in terms of how to look for work and it gave me a sense of direction and of what I need to do in order to find long-term success as a freelance translator. Before, I felt as though I was reaching around in the dark and this course has really clarified the “how-to” business aspects for me.

Registration is $325, with a $50 discount for members of the American Translators Association. Read the full description or register on my website, and you can also read about/register for my beginner-level class, Getting Started as a Freelance Translator, which starts on June 18 (seven spots left in that session).

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If I may, I’m going to start this post with a rant. I think there’s room in the translation industry for all kinds of service providers: from freelancers who want to work 10 hours a week to mega-agencies that operate around the world and around the clock. I just wish that all of these providers would be more honest about the advantages that they offer, and likewise about what they cannot do. For example, I don’t work for mega-agencies, but I think that they fill a niche: they can turn huge projects around in a short amount of time, they can manage really complicated projects with tons of languages or components, and they (hopefully) take a lot of responsibilities off the client’s plate because they can find people who provide nearly any linguistic service imaginable.

But by definition, mega-agencies have some limitations: there are many layers between the end client and the person who actually does the linguistic work,  the client will almost never communicate with the person who does the linguistic work, and it’s difficult for the client to have a lot of input into a project that is parceled out to many different freelancers. When something goes wrong in a mega-agency project, it can be difficult to even identify where the mistake happened (the salesperson? the PM? the translator? the person who the translator subcontracted to, in violation of the NDA? the editor? the proofreader? the DTP person? the QA reviewer? the PM who filled in when the original PM went on vacation?). So, here is my wish for our industry: that everyone, from the part-time freelancer to the mega-agency, is honest about their capabilities and limitations.

In that vein, I think that a lot of freelancers who want to work with direct clients make a big mistake: they don’t sell the advantage of using an individual freelancer. Tip: if you’re an individual freelancer and your website refers to “we” or “our company,” you’re not selling the freelance advantage. You’re trying to compete with agencies, and agencies surely handle high-volume, fast-turnaround projects better than you do. So instead, how about selling this instead:

  • You assure your direct clients that you know your limits. A mega-agency may take on virtually every project that comes through the door. You never (never!) take on a project if you’re not confident you can do an outstanding job.
  • You are an “I,” not an amorphous “we.” Even if (as I do) you have a corporation for administrative purposes, you have a one-on-one relationship with your clients. They hire you, they get you. You never subcontract work without permission from the client. When a client really needs you, you answer the phone whenever, wherever. The buck stops with you: if you make a mistake, you take responsibility for it. Drawback of the mega-agency model: so many people touch each project that responsibility gets diffused. You can always convince yourself that someone else will find the mistakes that you don’t find. So when you sell the freelance advantage to direct clients, assure them that you do not work this way: you assume full responsibility for every aspect of your work.
  • You maintain complete confidentiality. It always mystifies me when mega-agencies send a mass e-mail to a huge group of translators, including documents marked HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL (uh, not any more!). When you sell the freelance advantage to a direct client, you emphasize that you can keep the documents as confidential as the client needs: I even have a few clients whose documents I will not work on at my co-working office, to ensure that no one but me ever sees them.
  • You get to know your clients’ projects inside out. A mega-agency can try to have the same translator work on a client’s projects every time, but they can’t guarantee it: said translator may be unavailable, or they may raise their rates. When you sell the freelance advantage to direct clients, you emphasize that over time, your translations will be more consistent than an agency’s, because you will be the only one working on them. For example, I maintain a customer preferences file for all of my direct clients, including their in-house style preferences, their standard instructions for formatting, the names and titles of key people in the company, and any company-specific terms that they use.
  • You bring up questions as soon as they arise. With a mega-agency, the chain of communication between the translator and the client includes many other people. Some agency clients I’ve worked with even discourage translators from “pestering” the client with questions. I agree: don’t pester. But don’t “just translate” either. Example: one of my clients is a European business school. When I translated their admissions materials into English, the entrance requirements were clearly not applicable to American students, who don’t take the French Baccalauréat. I brought this up with the client as soon as I saw it, because the entrance requirements section needed to be completely rewritten for an international audience. This saved the client time and money, since they would have received a useless document, had I “just translated.”

Following these types of tips can help you focus on the clients you serve best, while you let mega-agencies do the same!

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Let’s just dive in to this one: bad habits that may be putting the brakes on your freelance ambitions. Feel free to add your own in the comments! And for the record, I’m not getting all superior here…I culled many of these bad habits from my own experiences!

  • Waiting for the big block of time that is never coming. That book you’ve been planning to write; that marketing campaign you’ve been meaning to launch; that blog that you’ve been on the verge of creating…but not until you can take a week and focus only on that task. News flash: unless you’re independently wealthy and have no responsibilities to anyone except yourself, the big block of time is never coming. I tell you this because I waited (literally) two years to write the second edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, because I was going to take a month off and just blaze away at it. After two years of waiting for that elusive month, I decided that even if I only wrote one sentence, I had to work on the second edition every single day. And guess what; in another six months, it was done. So, whatever your long-term goals are, chip away at them in small, regular increments.
  • Publicly ranting about clients or colleagues. When I see people doing this, mostly in the form of Facebook or Twitter posts, I have one question for them: Why? I agree, everyone needs to vent now and again. But that’s what your e-mail and phone connections to your most trusted colleagues are for. Public ranting has so many downsides, it’s hard to know where to begin. First, nothing on social media is private, and someone may forward the rant to the client or colleague at whom it’s directed, even if you don’t actually name them in the post. Second, social media is there forever. You can delete the ranting post, but lots of people have already seen it. Third, it’s off-putting to other people who might refer work to you. I would never take the risk of referring a client to someone who is a habitual ranter. Also, I think that most clients run away from translators who have a reputation as being high-drama or difficult to work with. The emotional release of publicly flaming someone just isn’t worth the risk. Fourth: that whole thing about people in glass houses. I definitely get irritated when clients or colleagues inconvenience me because of their own bad planning, or send the wrong file, or don’t understand a question or instruction that seems simple to me. But I try to keep the perspective that undoubtedly, I do those same things sometimes, possibly without even realizing it. Fifth, it’s a waste of your time and energy. With the time you spend being aggravated at a client who bugs you, you could proactively go look for a new client who pays more and is less annoying. So, keep the complaints offline, and only to a few colleagues who you really, really trust.
  • Feeling that other people have all the luck in this industry. Everyone else lands the plum direct clients. Everyone else gets asked to speak at the cool conferences. Everyone else’s webinars sell out. My take: it’s not luck.  If you want to be jealous of something, be jealous that those “lucky” people work harder than you are willing to. As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So go out there and perspire; just don’t wait for the big block of time to do it!
  • Overestimating your marketing/networking/professional development efforts. I bet that if you asked most translators to honestly audit themselves, most people are doing *no* outbound marketing at all: zero. And even those of us who are doing outbound marketing are likely to be radically overestimating how much we’re doing. For example, I think I’m pretty good at outbound marketing, and I have a database of potential clients who I regularly send stuff too. But, I ordered a set of 100 marketing postcards about 10 months ago, and I have at least 40 of them left. I aim to send out one postcard per day, and I’m actually achieving more like one and a half per week. Ditto with professional development: let’s say that we recommended that freelancers spend the extravagant sum of 5% of their yearly gross income on professional development. So if you’re making 70K, that would be $3,500…here again, I’m guessing that even translators who attend something like the ATA conference are not hitting that mark. Result: if you don’t move forward, neither will your business, in terms of new clients and new opportunities (see “some people have all the luck” for more on this).

I could go on…but, over to you!

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Here’s a question, prompted by a fellow tenant of my co-working office. If you had to choose one word that you hope is used to describe you as a businessperson, what would it be? When he (the fellow tenant) originally asked me that question, I drew a bit of a blank. But then yesterday, after I (hopefully successfully…) mediated a very tense professional interaction, a colleague referred to me as “truly a class act.” And then my answer came to me: if I have to be only one thing as a businessperson, I want to be classy. I want to be the person who never, ever takes personal jabs at people and never, ever operates unethically or puts my own glorification ahead of the good of the project, or the industry, or the association.

I posed this question on Twitter and other translators chimed in, hoping that they would be thought of as “Professional” (Daniela Guanipa), “Resourceful” (Angel Dominguez), “Re-hireable” (Richard Lardi), “Transparent” (Mia Wilson), “Competent” (Filippe Vasconcellos), “Trustworthy” (Kevin Hendzel), and “Appealing” (Karen Tkaczyk). It’s an interesting exercise: over to you for the comments!

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In my Beyond the Basics of Freelancing class, a student asked a really good question: how to stay sane while working on an insane project. No matter how carefully you manage your work flow and your routine, everyone has “one of those weeks” once in a while. A good client needs 15,000 words in a week, and you’re the only person they can trust it to…then the kid gets sick and the car breaks down and the dog has ear mites and the washing machine overflows.

Certainly, the best defense is a good offense: if I were to give one piece of advice to premium-market translators, it would be market in consistent, small increments, even when, or especially when, you have enough or too much work. Hopefully, that will smooth out some of the Everest-Death Valley cycle. But when you have one of those weeks, you need a freelance sanity routine: a few, small things that you do every single day, no matter how crazy the day is.

Here’s mine: I find that it makes me really nuts to be on the computer as soon as I wake up, or immediately before I go to bed. So, no matter how insane the day promises to be, I give myself some time in the morning to drink coffee (my one lifestyle vice) and have breakfast with my family. I never check e-mail or answer my work phone during that time, and this helps me get my day off to a relatively calm start. At the other end of the day, I’m often finishing up work or answering e-mail while my daughter does her homework after dinner. But I never let myself work until the second before I go to bed: otherwise I’m lying there awake, obsessing about some work-related thing. So my end-of-day sanity routine is that I try to log off all of my work stuff an hour before I want to go to bed. Then I practice my lute for half an hour and do a yoga podcast for half an hour, and no matter how insane the 15 hours between my morning coffee time and my evening music/yoga time were, I at least have that little oasis to look forward to.

The secret to a sanity routine is that you can compress it, but you never skip it completely. On a really bad day, like say yesterday, I might head to the office as soon as my daughter leaves for school, and the lute/yoga time might be 10 minutes of lute and 10 minutes of yoga instead of an hour total. But I really try to never, ever skip the sanity routine completely, or it really affects my happiness and productivity right away.

Other ideas for sanity routines?

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Let’s look some more at the “How much should I charge?” question, since it’s such a source of stress and speculation for most freelancers. You might also be interested in these previous posts–What is the right rate for your translation services, and How and why to raise your translation rates.

If you want, you can have an absolutely 100% set price for your translation services. My accountant (who I love), charges $220 an hour, end of story. Phone calls more than 5 minutes and lengthy e-mails are billable, end of story. That tactic could work for translators too. But whereas accounting work is relatively predictable, we’re always balancing factors like the subject matter, the turnaround time, the format of the source document, the high or low maintenance-ness of the client, the appeal of the project in general, and so on. So instead of having a set rate per hour or per word, here’s another option: think zones.

The green zone is a rate at which you would almost never turn down work, as long as the project is within your capabilities. It’s your ideal rate, and ideally, you’re always trying to push it a little higher. Note: the green zone is a good place for your clients to be, because it means you’ll bend over backward for them (worth subtly pointing out to them, too!).

The yellow zone is a rate that’s not ideal, but that’s worth taking a look at. This might be a rate that you consider when work has been a little slow, or if a project is particularly interesting, or when there’s some non-economic reason to consider the project. For example, when I translate books, it’s yellow zone work. It’s interesting, it’s nice to be off the daily deadline treadmill, but it’s at the low end of what is viable for me financially.

The red zone is work that you turn down because it’s too low-paying. Point being: to have a viable business, you have to have a red zone. If you are continually making exceptions to your absolute, I-don’t-go-below-this-number rate, just for this one project and then you’ll really never work for that little again…you will never have a viable business. So whether your red zone is 9, 20 or 40 cents per word, just make sure that you have one.

I find that this zone approach really helps me; having an “I don’t turn on the computer for less than…” rate helps me feel that this is a policy, rather than a case by case decision. Over time, I also find that I’m more attracted to billing direct clients by the hour; they understand where the number is coming from (which, with per-project pricing, they might not), but I also get paid for everything I end up doing (which, with per-word pricing, I might not). But that’s material for another post…any thoughts out there on pricing zones?

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A reader asks: I come across lots of bad translations in my language pairs. How can I use these to pitch my freelance services to new clients without sounding like a hyper-critical tattletale?

This is a regular topic of conversation among translators who work with direct clients, and bad translations can be a great marketing tool if you handle them correctly. Let’s say you come across a slick website, one that indicates that the company or government department has put a lot of time and money into its marketing efforts, but where the translation falls short. There are no shortage of these; in French to English, I recently came across the official site of the Paris Vélib program (“Bikes conceived and improved for your safety and your comfort!”) and the Montreux Jazz Festival (“an ideal platform and an intimate setting for the duration of its two weeks…”) as examples of great programs with great websites and not-great translations. Chris Durban regularly sends me examples of consumer enterprises in France that need better translations. So, there’s no shortage of material out there.

The key here is a three-step process. Before beginning, you have to expunge the “hyper-critical tattletale” part of your personality. If you’re like most translators, you regularly engage in behaviors like refusing to order misspelled items on restaurant menus, because won’t condone that type of behavior. I personally avoid the express lanes at my neighborhood supermarket, as a silent act of protest against their signs that read “15 items or less” instead of “15 items or fewer.” So, first have your judgmental moment, then move on to constructive marketing.

Step 1: Compliment the effort, maybe like this: “Very few U.S. museums attempt to reach out to the non-English speaking public, and I really admire your willingness to do that.” “During a recent trip to Paris, I was impressed by your efforts to create a multilingual rental system for your bike fleet.” “Your recent press release caught my eye; congratulations on your efforts to invite international exhibitors to your trade fair.”

Step 2: Provide a carefully-worded reality check. When I’m writing these kinds of pitches, I try to keep in mind that a) the person I’m writing to may be the author of the bad translation, and b) the person I’m writing to may have no clue that the translation is bad. So, maybe something like this: “As a professional translator, I know how challenging it can be to get a multilingual website right. I noticed that your site’s current English version has some translation glitches, and therefore doesn’t convey the same impression of your film festival that the Italian version does,” or “You’ve clearly put a great deal of effort into the graphic design and French text for your wine labels; as a professional translator, I’d love to help you bring that same quality to the English version,” or “Your slogan is the first thing that people notice about your company, and I’d love to help you create a German slogan that better reflects your mission and values.”

Step 3: Give them a little something for free. I’ve heard this referred to as “the free sample approach,” “the taste my truffles approach,” the get them hooked on you approach,”…you get the picture! Like this: “As an example of what professional translation services could do for you, I’ve taken the liberty of re-translating your home page, and I’m including it here for your perusal.” Or, “I’ve included three Portuguese slogans that better convey the spirit of your music festival. Feel free to run them by your Portuguese-speaking colleagues to get their take,” or “As a professional translator specializing in your industry, I’ve re-translated your press release using more consistent technical terminology. Feel free to take a look and let me know if this approach might help you in the future.”

Then of course, you wait, and then you follow up. You accept that the person on the receiving end of your pitch might know that the translations are sub-par and might not care, that the person might not “get” why good translations are important, or might have absolutely no budget with which to do better. For what it’s worth, I’ve received all three of those responses to pitches that I’ve sent to potential clients. However, you also have a chance to improve your pitch every time, and you have a good chance of landing a good direct client who really appreciates your work.

Readers, any tips or illustrative examples on this topic?

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