Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I love it when fun things go viral. Earlier today, I submitted a proposal for the 2014 ATA conference, then commented on Twitter that we need an “I Submitted” badge for the ATA conference, like the “I Voted” stickers that polling places in the U.S. give out. French/Hungarian>English translator Carolyn Yohn ran with the idea, and soon changed her Twitter profile picture to:
piC6pvqR_bigger

Cute, don’t you think? And there’s still time to earn your own badge, since the proposal submission deadline is March 10! If you’re looking for tips on how to write your session proposal, you can view the free webinar that I presented for ATA, “How to write a winning session proposal.” Thanks, Carolyn, for this fun meme!

Next Wednesday, March 12 at 12 noon New York time, Eve Bodeux and I will host a free Speaking of Translation conference call, on the topic “Speaking of Interpreting.” We’re crossing the aisle to interview two of the most dynamic interpreters in the business today: InterpretAmerica Co-Presidents Katharine Allen and Barry Slaughter Olsen. Katharine and Barry will give us their insights on the current status of the interpreting profession, what’s coming on the horizon (new developments in remote interpreting, where will we find interpreters for minority languages?), and their tips for new interpreters wanting to break into the industry. Don’t miss it! The live call is limited to 100 callers, but we’ll post a recording afterward.

Here’s the live call access information.

In addition, I had a burst of energy this morning and reorganized the Speaking of Translation recordings, so that each one has its own page. You can listen and learn about the following topics in our archive:
Finding direct clients through industry conferences
The freelance juggling act: balancing work, family and the rest of life
Insider tips for a successful freelance business
International payments: an overview, with Eve Bodeux
Jost Zetzsche solves your translation technology problems
How to take a freelance sabbatical abroad, Part I and Part II

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?

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?

If you’re not yet listening to English>Swedish translator Tess Whitty’s new podcast Marketing tips for translators, I highly recommend it! Last night while cooking dinner, I listened to Tess interviewing Karen Tkaczyk about the pros, cons and best practices of working in a highly specialized field (for Karen, French to English chemistry translation). Definitely check it out!

Eve Bodeux and I just scheduled our next Speaking of Translation conference call/podcast. On the topic of “Speaking of Interpreting,” we’ll be interviewing Katharine Allen and Barry Slaughter Olsen, Co-Presidents of InterpretAmerica. We’re really excited to “cross the aisle” for this (free) call, with a podcast recording available afterward. Barry and Katharine will fill us in on the current state of interpreting in the US, what they see in the near future, what interpreters and translators can learn from each other, and what a new interpreter needs to do to succeed. All of the access information is on our website, and we’ll post a recording afterward.

No matter how long you’ve been a freelancer, rates are always a source of intense stress: charge too much, and you’re afraid of having too little work. Charge too little, and you’re afraid of not earning enough. There are lots of ways to think about rates (see my previous post about deciding how much to charge) and about raising rates, but let’s take a shot at the basics. Here’s a question I often get from other freelancers: how do I raise my rates, and what’s the best time to raise my rates? My take:

If you’re talking about raising your rates with existing clients, my two word answer is: you can’t. That’s a little harsh, but think of it this way. If you have a salaried job and you want to make 30% more than you’re making right now, you’re unlikely to get that raise in your current position. To make that jump, you have to change jobs. And so it is with freelance rates: a longstanding client is probably not going to agree to a significant rate increase, so you just have to look elsewhere. But let’s say you’re talking about a modest increase. A few options here; some may be nothing you’d ever say, and some might work for you:

  1. You could use Chris Durban‘s suggestion and invoke a third-party authority, like “My accountant has brought it to my attention that you’re my last client paying X cents per word/hour.” This can be a good tactic because the mythical third party is the bad cop, and you get to be the good cop and tell the client how much you love working with them, and that you really hope you can continue the relationship.
  2. You could try a human-to-human conversation with the client, like “I love working with you because you offer so many advantages : your staff are so helpful and easy to deal with, your projects are interesting and you always pay on time. At the same time, looking at my bottom line, you’re now my lowest-paying client, which means that I only accept work from you when I have nothing else in the pipeline. I’d really love for you to be one of my preferred clients, and the rate that it would take to get here is X.”
  3. You could just impose the rate increase and see what the client does; send an e-mail saying “As of March 1, 2014, my base rate will increase to X. Please let me know if you have any questions.”
  4. If you sense that the client could pay more but for some reason is resisting, you could try asking them for the truth (always a dicey proposition, but worth a try!). Such as “I’d like to ask for your feedback on what it would take for me to move into your top tier of translators. I love working with you and am committed to always doing excellent work, so this type of feedback would really help me move my business to the next level.”

But my succinct advice on how to really raise your rates remains: look for new clients.

Now, on to the question of when to raise your rates. Short answer: with new clients, and when you’re already really busy. Why? Because then, if the new potential client says no to the higher rate, you’ve lost absolutely nothing. You’re still really busy and you have enough work. And if the new potential client says yes to the higher rate, you know that at least some portion of your target clientele will bear that rate. Try 15% or 25% higher than you’re charging right now; heck, even try 50% higher and just see what happens. If you believe that you deserve that rate and that your work is worth it, there’s a good chance that the potential client will believe it too. And do not forget that if 100% of potential clients accept your rates without negotiating, you could be charging more. That’s not business advice, it’s just a fact. If literally no one thinks that you are too expensive, you’re leaving money on the table.

Here’s another rate truth: I work with both agencies and direct clients, and I like them both for different reasons. With my agencies, I just translate, and sometimes that’s just what I want to do. With my direct clients, I’m in the thick of the action, usually dealing with either the person who wrote the French document or the person who’s going to use the English document, and sometimes that’s just what I want to do. But here’s a truth of the agency market: you can only compete on quality and service to a certain point. Once you hit the agency’s rate ceiling, you’re stuck. For example I recently wanted to raise my rates with one of my agency clients, but they told me (and I believe, honestly) that they’re already paying me 2 cents per word more than any of their other French to English translators, so I can either continue at the current rate or not work for them anymore. This is not to say that direct clients will blindly agree to every rate increase, but they generally have more flexibility to move money from other budgets and allocate them to translation if they really want to retain you.

Readers, any thoughts on this? Any rate increase techniques that have worked for you?

I’m excited to announce that my new course, Beyond the Basics of Freelancing, is now open for registration! For a while, I’ve been wanting to offer a more advanced course as a sequel to Getting Started as a Freelance Translator (running since 2006!), and I’ve finally forced myself to work on the course materials. The first session of Beyond the Basics will start on February 26, and then I’ll probably offer another session in May.

Every student will receive copies of my books How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Thoughts on Translation, a one-hour individual consultation call with me, and individualized feedback on: your current and potential marketing materials; a profile of your ideal client, and a list of direct clients you’d like to market to; a plan for raising your profile in the translation industry and meeting your potential direct clients on their turf; a financial plan for your translation business, and a plan of action for the next six months so that you can reach these goals. In addition, we’ll do a one-hour question and answer conference call every week (one of the most popular features of Getting Started as a Freelance Translator!). The cost is the same as for my Getting Started course, US $305 with a $50 discount for members of the American Translators Association. You can read the details about both courses on my website. Hope to see some of you there!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,831 other followers