Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

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?

Read Full Post »

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).

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

This morning I had lots of fun interviewing translation industry veteran Steve Lank (Monterey graduate, former ASTM translation QA standard subcommittee chair, longtime senior-level manager in agencies in the US, Ireland and Spain). Steve is currently Vice President for Translation Services at Cesco Linguistic Services, working from the Washington, DC office.

I put Steve in the hot seat and asked him:

  • Chicken/egg: how can beginning translators find their first clients?
  • What’s up with downward price negotiations? Why do agencies apply them, and how can translators best handle them?
  • What are the top dos and don’ts of translator resumes? What errors pop up again and again? How can a translator stand out among the many unsolicited applications that an agency receives?
  • How about following up on agency applications? How often should freelancers follow up, and using what method?
  • How does a translator turn a first-time client into a regular client, and become one of an agency’s preferred providers?
  • How about the increasing emphasis on specialization in our industry? Is the “learn by doing” mindset OK, or do translators need more formal training in their specializations?

To listen to the episode, cruise on over to the Speaking of Translation website.

Read Full Post »

One of the great things about having a blog is that I get to ask questions that I don’t know the answers to, and then people who are smarter than I am will respond and fill me in. Here’s one that’s frequently asked by students in my online courses, and it honestly puzzles me as much as it puzzles them.

We’re talking agencies here: why are agencies willing to pay a per-word rate that effectively equals a much higher hourly rate than they’re willing to pay? Example: if an agency pays a translator 15 cents a word and that person produces 500 finished words an hour, the translator is effectively earning $75 an hour. But if that same agency contacts that same translator for hourly work (editing, proofreading, etc.), the proposed hourly rate is likely to be much lower (or even much, much lower). I can’t say I understand this myself, other than the fact that when an agency pays per word, its costs are completely fixed, whereas by the hour, they aren’t.

Thoughts? What’s up here?

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,228 other followers