Professional subjects from a personal perspective

A translator’s favourite client

Translators often talk about what we can and should do to please our clients. There’s nothing wrong with that at all – I always strive to exceed expectations – but we should also be selective when looking for new opportunities.

I revisited this guide for clients on Betti Moser’s website the other day, which outlines many points that create and maintain a healthy and successful business relationship. Maybe we should all have one of these on our websites…

The best things about my favourite clients are:
Friendly relationship
As I mention on my main website, I enjoy a relaxed relationship with my clients. The lack of forced formality creates a friendly atmosphere and makes asking questions a lot easier, which brings me to…
Good communication
Sharing information can really help when issues arise. Does your client let you know when the finished file has been safely received? I always check up on the receipt of files and invoices, and it’s a real help when I get a prompt reply.
Feedback
I am happy to provide feedback for my graphic designer or web designer. As a client, I know that they all appreciate the time it takes to make comments or suggestions, and I am very grateful when my clients do the same. It also helps to add to my testimonials and build on my reputation, which is never a bad thing.
Respect for my work
Unfortunately, receiving an enquiry with an unrealistic deadline is not all that rare. When my favourite clients get in touch, they understand that quality work takes time and that I may not be able to take on a new project straight away. This understanding means that, faced with a choice, I make work for my favourite clients a priority.
Prompt, hassle-free payment
Paying promptly should be a given, but fast and reliable payment is definitely something that makes my favourite clients stand out.

What do you love about your favourite clients? It’s good to share 🙂

2014: where do I go from here?

New Year’s Resolutions are everywhere at the moment, so I’ll make mine short and sweet:

1) Work with more local companies

Last year, I hired The Sketch Collective for professional photos and Rachel Bonness Design to design some marketing materials. I loved having the opportunity to meet in person to discuss my ideas, and supporting other young businesses was fantastic. Here are the results:

Speech Marks Translation marketing postcards

Graphic design by Rachel Bonness, photography by Thom Williams of The Sketch Collective

2) Attend client events

There are always plenty of translator only events to choose from, and they are both beneficial and enjoyable (see my post on the 2013 ITI Conference). In 2014, though, my goal is to change my focus to industry events, where I can maintain and improve subject knowledge, gain expert contacts for terminology queries and, ultimately, identify potential clients. If you’re joining me in looking for possible events, here are Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s top tips for visiting trade shows.

3) More CPD

2013 was all about maintaining (or attempting) a balance between my business and my degree. Now that my course is over – I’ll graduate in a few weeks’ time – I can give my business my full attention. One of my main aims for this year is to dedicate more time to new and existing skills with the help of in-person courses and online options from providers such as eCPD Webinars and Coursera.

4) Celebrate achievements and reward myself

Sometimes, we freelancers can be a little hard on ourselves. I, for one, can be a bit of a mean boss on occasion. In order to stay motivated, it’s really important to recognise and celebrate achievements. 2013 was the year that I finished my Master’s degree, worked with more direct clients than ever before and turned colleagues into true friends. What’s not to love? If you’re looking for a way to reward yourself for a job well done in 2013, take a look at Corinne McKay’s post on giving yourself a bonus.

What are your goals for this coming year?

Specialisation according to Valeria Aliperta

Valeria is (or should be) well known to translators as the face of Rainy London Translations:

Valeria Aliperta, translator and interpreter English-Spanish-French-Italian

She is an expert on all things branding and even provides personalised sessions via her sister business. Here is her take on specialising:

Why do/don’t you specialise? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
I did a BA in translation but then specialised in Interpreting and while the MA in Translation had several majors (Technical, Scientific, Literary or Business) the Conference Interpreting MA was focusing on the booth practice 100% (and I am thankful for that!) and did not have any specific topic to follow.

This means I did not really have a specialization per se. Plus, as a ‘pure’ linguist ie. not a person who has a previous degree in engineering or medicine etc. – I came out of uni like many, many colleagues and asked myself: riiiight… so what now?

As I did a work placement in a translation agency, I tried to find a job in-house as a PM but despite having the right experience, I was never successful as the recession hit right in that period. Hiring choices went towards the more experienced or those who were already internally working for the companies would be preferred to save money.  So I decided to go freelance!

Well, when I was younger I used to like drawing and being creative. Therefore, anything that has that direction drew my attention and as my partner is a designer, I was naturally exposed to the IT world. Even though I never studied marketing I find ads funny and creativity is something I tend to have in me, so I improved my skills by reading, reading and more reading,… with the objective of producing flawless copy in my language. As other colleagues of this series said, initially I had no clue so I did go for the ‘take it all or bust’ approach, making my mistakes 🙂

You’ll never see me translate medical, financial or hard-core technical texts now but as in any job, I always have to SEE the file before accepting.

How and why did you select your specialist field(s)?
Specialising is a good option and everyone should try and find what they like. I now work for agencies and direct clients and my favourite topics are marketing, tourism, fashion/beauty and ads. I’ve recently started getting more and more work for software companies, TV or acting studios, even though for interpreting I may end up working in agriculture or architecture because in most cases you get to prepare the material.

Do you feel that marketing yourself as a specialist allows/would allow you to charge higher rates?
It should. Sometimes the market can be tough, especially in financially challenging times like – alas – these, where sometimes clients are ready to accept lower quality for cheap prices. Still, they will come back to you if you’re THE expert, because… only when it hits them in their face, they realise how it hurts to have chosen a non-professional or non-specialised linguist 🙂

How would you go about adding another specialist area?
I am fascinated by the legal sector but I feel I lack the extensive skills to say I specialise in it. The differences between the legal systems of different countries make it even harder to find the right correspondences and material, as it’s all ever changing and complex. But I’m working on it! I have already translated software, but I would eventually like to expand my creative side even more towards apps (which I am addicted too!) and other online platforms. As you see, what you love is the key here. The only thing sometimes is starting. Just read more in the topic you find interesting, scout for blogs or publications, stuff your e-reader with RSS and feeds and maybe get some online CPD/training. Echoing the famous Confucius’ motto, here’s my interpretation: choose a specialisation you love and you’ll never have to work a single day in your life.

Valeria Aliperta (Associate of the ITI, MCIL, member of ASETRAD and IAPTI Head of External Relations) is a conference interpreter and translator at Rainy London Translations, working from English, Spanish and French into her native Italian for IT and web, fashion, design, marketing, legal and advertising. She also runs a branding consultancy at www.rainylondonbranding.com and is co-founder of The Freelance Box, which provides seminars and hands-on courses for freelancers.

Specialisation according to Rose Newell

Today’s interview is a great one. If you don’t yet know Rose Newell or her blog, you should.

Rose Newell, German to English finance and technology translator

Rose is based in Berlin and translates finance and technology material from German to British English. Here’s what she has to say about specialising:

Why do you specialise? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
I would recommend every translator, indeed every professional, specialises in what they do best. Why do I do it? Everyone is better at some fields than others: be it professional experience, academic background or general interest – any of these will enhance your insight into a given field, making you are faster and better. It works a bit like RPG games: the more you do something, the more experience you gain, which improves your abilities. If you spread yourself between very diverse fields you are making your task harder, because you have so much more to learn and this learning will be slower in each area as a result. There are also significant business advantages to being a specialist rather than a generalist. My combination is relatively common, so it is not like I can sell myself as simply “a qualified German to English translator” – it’s not exactly “Farsi to Korean”, where the combination alone would be your unique selling point. I must differentiate to attract the best clients. I also prefer to stick to my specialist areas because I am more confident – and this confidence means more than correct terminology, but deep understanding and the confidence to decide resolutely that there is an error in the source, and take appropriate action. I can do that with IT, technology and finance. I would never be able to do this with engine parts descriptions, so I will turn such jobs away.

Now we come to the drawback: being specialised means turning work away when it does not match our areas of specialisation, even if in reality I could probably do a better job on many of them than a generalist who may take the job without the same qualms. Referrals are usually the way to go: this protects my integrity AND the profession, since a professional experience with translation providers helps our overall image. It also works both ways – my colleagues know what I specialise in, too, and what goes around comes around. 

Do you feel that marketing yourself as an IT, finance and technology specialist allows you to charge higher rates?
Definitely. Differentiating myself through my specialist areas means I can market myself better to clients and obtain higher rates. Further, it is really the only way to go if you want top-notch direct clients. They will always be more willing to accept higher rates than an agency. For example, I won a new client at CeBIT because my MA happens to relate very closely to his invention. This meant I instantly grasped the concepts and he felt more at ease, relating me more as a colleague in his field than a service provider. The client was assured that I was the right person for the job and his chances of finding someone better were very slim. A generalist in this situation has nothing to say to differentiate themselves from the next generalist translator or agency. Expertise will trump a good sales pitch from even the best of bulk translation providers – provided the client is looking for that, of course.

How and why did you select your specialist field(s)?
A specialist area should be something obvious to you, I think. My specialist areas were pretty obvious choices for me. Or rather, my father chose them for me:
My father’s background is in financial forecasting at the Royal Mail, managing a big budget while keeping an eye on the economy as a whole to look out for potential changes. He has a habit of predicting things – as when I was three, he decided that it would be a good idea to start giving me computer time. He thought this black and white box of lights was the future, so as my tiny hands played with different shades of grey on Paintbrush, he managed to prime me for my interest in geekery. My father would pass on his old computers every time he upgraded – which happened often. Learning by observation, as is common among linguists, I worked out how to use Windows and MS DOS from looking over my father’s shoulder, first rescuing precious files and reformatting my hard drive via MS DOS at age seven.

My fascination with computers and technology never ceased, so it wasn’t a big surprise that when the IT boom hit, I knew more than the teachers did. Classmates would queue behind me in IT lessons, often joined by the teacher, who would push to the front. The remuneration for this assistant teaching came in the form of the school’s IT prize, but the lack of quality teaching meant I temporarily lost interest in an academic sense. The fascination continued, of course, and I have been reading IT and technology journals, magazines, books, websites and forums for as long as I can remember. Later, I decided to do my MA not in translation, but in “Human Aspects of Information Technology”, especially when offered a generous excellence scholarship. This was partly for my own satisfaction – but also for the benefit of my career, and ultimately, my clients.Why I chose finance is a little similar. My mother is not the greatest fan of computers or finance, so my father would often discuss these things with me instead. I would hear many finance-related tales from the office and comments on the news, which of course meant I adopted an interest in finance and economics, which later led to my later study of economics at AS level and politics through to degree level. At university, I would invariably take an economics slant on any course I studied or essay I wrote – where my centrist attitudes dismayed certain lecturers and fellow students at both ends of the spectrum. That said, the recent privatisation of the Royal Mail was… painful.

Put simply, my interest in finance lies in how it reflects wider scheme of things: even the driest of financial reports for a small business or 200-word article in an economics supplement can reveal underlying social and economic trends and likely future developments. I have not yet confirmed this interest through further study, but it is far from ruled out for the future.

Why I didn’t choose anything else? They just don’t interest me as much as IT, technology or finance. Simple.

How would you go about adding another specialist area?
As you’ve gathered from the above, I don’t really believe in choosing a specialist area simply because you want more clients. Really, a specialisation will choose you. (Or, as in my case, your father will choose them for you…)
That is not to say you cannot add one, but I think to really work it has to be something you are genuinely interested in – something you will happily read about in your spare time and spend time researching, not caring too much if a job overruns because you’re enjoying the learning process. I know some people say they have not yet found what they want to specialise in, but I admit not having much advice here. Perhaps they could read more to see what they enjoy reading? Or perhaps they could look to their hobbies, interests and professional experience? There are others out there who would choose based on rates surveys, which generally state that those willing to translate patents or military documents will be paid a lot more for their trouble. If choosing in this order – first choosing a desired specialism, then acquiring the knowledge – I would say gaining experience and knowledge is a priority. Perhaps also working in the field, reading related materials in your source and target language, translating some documents for practice or connecting with others in the industry through trade fairs and conferences. Then all the standard rules for producing good quality apply – if you are new to that field, take considerable care with your terminology research, consulting experienced colleagues where necessary.

My final word of warning would echo the words of Chris Durban: think about how you would do in a sort of Turing Test among experts in that discipline. Consider whether you can pass as one of them. To take IT as an example, do not think that knowing how to use software or owning a computer, iPad and smartphone mean you are on their level. You need to have some idea of how these things work, from computer languages to hardware. A n00b will be quickly found out and left out of the conversations a good translator needs to be part of.

Rose Newell runs Lingocode from Berlin. You can find her on her website, blog, Twitter and Facebook.