Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

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?

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 »

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?

Read Full Post »

Let’s just dive on in to this one; a few basic business management things that every freelancer should do, right this red hot second. Not rocket science, just things that are crucial to the survival of your business!

  1. Completely separate your business and personal finances. Even if you are not incorporated, open a separate checking account for your business to keep things clean. This also really facilitates recreating your accounting records if you ever need to.
  2. Have a reliable project and invoice tracking system. Post-it notes on the computer monitor work if you’re doing one translation job every two months. But when you start juggling multiple clients in a week or a day, you need a better system. Whether it’s Translation Office 3000 (not an affiliate link), a spreadsheet or even a whiteboard, make sure to have something in place.
  3. Buy a domain name and use it for your work e-mail. Your own domain name looks professional, and protects you against ever having to change your e-mail address again. You can also use whatever interface you want (i.e. Outlook, Gmail) to manage it.
  4. Put a percentage of every payment into a business savings account. I say “a percentage,” because it depends on your country and your tax bracket. But here in the US, let’s say at least 30% of every invoice if you just want to cover your taxes, and probably 40% if you also want to establish a paid vacation fund in order to pay yourself when you take time off. In a higher tax situation, say if you live in the European Union, you might be looking at more like 50% just to cover taxes and social charges. But the point being, don’t get caught short at tax time with no way to pay what you owe.
  5. Investigate retirement account options. Again, a little vague, but that’s on purpose. Put it this way: although one of the nice things about freelancing is that you can potentially work into your older years if you want or need to, don’t depend on that. I have an individual 401K through Charles Schwab that I’m quite happy with (and it has very high contribution limits, allowing you to put away a lot of money tax-free), but there are lots of other options out there: Roth IRAs, SEPs, etc.
  6. Investigate whether it’s worth incorporating. If you live in the US and are a sole proprietor (non-incorporated self-employed person), self-employment tax is a big hit. Essentially, you pay some taxes as if you are the employER and the employEE. Incorporating can allow you to legally avoid paying self-employment tax on some of your income, and can also give you some liability protection. Downside: having to file payroll taxes and a separate tax return for the corporation, depending on the corporate structure that you use.
  7. Use a professional e-mail signature. An e-mail signature (the few lines of text that get pasted at the bottom of every e-mail you send) is a very basic marketing tool, and also helps people know who you are. Here’s mine:–
    Corinne McKay, CT
    ATA-certified French to English translator
    http://www.translatewrite.com (professional site)
    http://www.thoughtsontranslation.com (blog)
    http://speakingoftranslation.com (podcast)
    303-499-9622

    Even if you have a very basic signature, like “English to Japanese translator,” it’s worthwhile. But overdoing it can be worse than nothing: the original convention was 4 lines, and I’ve clearly broken that rule, but definitely do not double the length of a typical e-mail with your signature.

Any other basic tips out there?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,166 other followers