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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Promote Yourself—in the Right Way

The first thing any business should do is to look for and attract clients. The translation business is no different, except that we're not selling nuts and bolts where most vendors offer basically the same merchandise, the only difference being price, service, and other intangibles like the vendor's reputation.

Translation is different in that each job is custom-made for a specific client, and no two translations, even of the same text, are identical. Therefore, the price is but one factor for the client to decide for a particular provider. Your job, as a translation provider, is to convince your potential client that the product and service you're offering is better than those of your competitor. 

How can you tell your story so that you reach the largest possible number of potential translation buyers and convince them to buy your product? In the old days you would have placed ads in newspapers, sent out thousands of pieces of mail, and placed expensive display ads in the Yellow Pages of several key markets. Today, with all the electronic communication tools, your job is easier, but you also have more competition vying for the same customers. 

The first key to a successful promotion is convincing the potential client of your professionalism. There are millions of people who speak two or more languages; many of them call themselves translators, but only a handful can handle anything but the simplest translation job. You must stand out of the crowd to be noticed. But being noticed and getting your first job is just the beginning. If the translation you deliver is not up to your client's quality standard, it can also be the last job, at least from that client. So, no matter how hungry for work you are, never accept a job you cannot competently handle. It is preferable to lose a job that to lose a client. Don't try to "fake" it. most areas of human activity have a specific style and vocabulary, and if you can't write instructions for a machine like an engineer or describe a disease like a doctor, your work will appear as amateurish, regardless of how fluent you are in the languages involved and how competent you may be in other areas. 

Today, the first thing a translator should consider is having a professional-looking website. It doesn't have to have all the bells and whistles, but make sure it has an attractive design and provides the right information about you and your services. There are several WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get) program packages that allow you to design your own website, even if you're not familiar with HTML programming. Or look around for a website you like, contact its designer, and negotiate a price you can afford. 

The different social media can also serve as tools to promote your translation services. Again, professionalism is of primary concern, both in selecting the right medium and in posting the right content. 

Sending our e-mails to potential clients seems to be a good successor to old-time mailings, but with the volume of e-mails in everybody's inbox, e-mail message tend to end up in the trash can. 

Personal contact remains the best promotion. Visit your client or potential client personally if you can. Go to events your potential clients are likely to attend. And, as always, keep professionalism in mind: in your way of dressing, speaking, and behaving yourself in your client's presence. 

Promotion via traditional and electronic media plus occasional personal contacts is a winning combination that should make your client remember you when it comes to selecting a provider.

Good luck!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How to Make More $$ without Really Trying

Have you noticed how different businesses are constantly inventing new ways to nickel and dime their customers? Airlines have first stopped offering free in-flight meals; then introduced a fee for checked-in luggage; they reduced the leg space of their seats and are now charging for "special" (exit row and bulkhead) seats that leave you less cramped at the end of a two-hour flight. At the same time, they tacked a host of fees to their ticket prices, so that now the amount of these fees (and government taxes) exceeds the nominal price of the ticket itself.

Other businesses are not bashful either in inventing sneaky ways to separate you from your money. A carton of orange juice, which used to contain half a gallon (64 oz) of juice now contains only 59 oz. A can of coffee, which at one time contained a pound (16 oz) now contains 12, 11, or 10.5 oz. And don't expect the price to go down for these shrinking quantities of products.

Gas stations are now adding a separate fee, in addition to their already sky-high prices, for credit card payments.

Some physicians are charging thousands of dollars in yearly fees just to keep you as a patient (no specific service included). The list may go on and on. Many of these and other businesses count on their customers being stupid or at least not paying attention to what they are being charged for and how much they are getting. Of course, they're also trying to compensate for their own rising costs (in part due to similar tactics by other businesses) and shrinking revenues due to the recession.

So, why don't we, translators, get imaginative and enhance our incomes by adding a few items to our rates? I envision my future bill to my clients to look something like this:



Availability fee


Keyboarding fee


Administrative fee


Billing fee


Software usage fee


Hardware usage fee


e-mailing fee


Alertness fee*


Innovation fee **


Bundling fee***


Total payable


* That's for the espresso to keep me awake while I'm translating.

** That's for inventing all these possible and impossible fees.

*** Let them figure out what this means (you can use any random word from the dictionary here).

Feel free to add your own bright ideas to this list.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who Goes First?

The other day I needed a gallon of milk, so I stopped by my favorite convenience store, picked up a gallon of low-fat, and headed toward the cashier. When it came to my turn, I told the cashier: "I'll pay $1.20 for this." She pretended not to hear me, but answered, in a polite but firm voice: "Two-ninety, please." I could describe the exchange that followed (the whole story is imaginary, anyway), but it should suffice to say that I ended up paying the price asked for by the cashier.

If it sounds unusual that the customer proposes a price he or she is willing to pay in a store, why is it accepted without discussion if a translation client tells the translator up front what rate is to be paid for a translation job. We see announcements even in "translation portals" looking for a translator to do a job in a certain language combination at a certain rate. And many of those rates are at or below the level that prevailed in the U.S. in the 50s or 60s.

Of course, the price of any merchandise is determined by mutual consent between vendor and buyer. In principle, it doesn't matter who "goes first" naming a price. The practice becomes questionable when the buyer attempts to give the impression that the price he is offering is immutable, non-negotiable, as if handed down by God as the eleventh Commandment.

Translators should not accept any condition imposed by their clients, and that includes the rate to be paid for their work. A client's offer should be considered a first bid in a negotiation that is ultimately to result in a rate that is acceptable and advantageous to both parties. Even if the client is offering a rate that is a fraction of our normal rate, we shouldn't be afraid to make a counteroffer: "Sorry, but my rate for this kind of work is $XX.00." If the conversation stops here, the translator has lost nothing (compared with the alternative of shutting up in disgust), and the client has received a piece of information that he could use in his offer to the next translator.

And if there is a sufficient number of translators unwilling to accept an unreasonable offer, but the client needs the translation badly enough, the scenario at the cashier's counter in the convenience store may repeat itself: The buyer may ultimately accept the vendor's price.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Translation Industry Survey

The final results of this survey can be viewed at Thanks to all who responded.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Communication Is Power

Few of the current generation of translators remember the times when translation was a lonely profession and the translator had the opportunity to meet other translators only in person or over the phone.

Then came FLEFO, which allowed us to communicate with our colleagues instantly and across oceans and national borders, the mailing list of Lantra-L, and the newsgroup sci.lang.translation. Today we are all linked via hundreds of websites, mailing lists, and social networking utilities. These tools allow us not only to consult fellow translators all over the world about a technical term or an idiom, but also to exchange information and experiences about specific clients. We can also ask for and receive advice from experienced colleagues on how to handle certain business situations.

In the old days we were almost powerless against a client who refused to pay for work performed. Today, in addition to the dozens of mailing lists that cater to translators working in certain languages or certain areas of expertise (patents, law, medicine), we have sites and facilities dedicated to defending our business interests regardless of our language combination or specialization. Payment practices and client rating sites such as ProZ, Ted Wozniak's Payment Practices, or the Translator Client Review List can be used both for obtaining information about potential clients before accepting a job and for denouncing a client who has reneged on his obligation to pay for a translation done.

It is difficult to overestimate the power of tens of thousands of translators in permanent contact with each other, exchanging information and acting on it by deciding on how to deal with a certain client or whether to do business with that client at all. It is perfectly conceivable that a translator in Thailand is offered a job from France but, after consulting one of the payment practices lists, refuses to accept it because a colleague living in Argentina once had a bad experience with that French client.

Today, an individual or company who fails to pay or otherwise mistreats translators cannot expect to stay in business for long. Deadbeats are no longer dealing with individual translators, but with the entire global translator community, electronically interlinked and exchanging information at the speed of light. And those translators who fail to make use of this novel opportunity put themselves at a disadvantage in a business world that ignores national borders and physical distances.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Brave New World of Translation

No one disputes the fact that the translation industry is undergoing fundamental changes, which are affecting what we translate, the way do it, and the compensation we receive for our work.

The basic (interrelated) factors in these changes are
  1. Technology,

  2. Globalization, and

  3. Concentration of the Industry.

Technology—computers, CAT tools, and the Internet—has dramatically increased our productivity in the past decades, and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. In a recent conference I attended in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Renato Beninatto, CEO of the consulting firm milengo, predicted that, while the income of translators will remain unchanged or will slightly increase in the coming years, the compensation per translated word will drop substantially. He foresees translators' productivity to rise to 30,000 - 40,000 words a day thanks to CAT tools, which will be free of charge.

Beninatto also foresees that the traditional model of translator-reviser will be replaced by machine translations edited by often monolingual experts.

Since the technologies needed for advanced machine translation can only be afforded by large multinational companies, individual translators and mom-and-pop translation companies will be increasingly marginalized and left with the crumbs of the market and with highly specialized translations such as literature and advertising, which are not susceptible to machine translation. While no one expects Shakespeare to be machine-translated into Quechua in our lifetime, most technical documents (which includes almost all non-literary texts) can already be successfully "gisted" by corpus-based machine translation. In many cases such "gisting" is adequate for the purpose; this is why quality will continue to be trumped by price for all but the most specialized translations where both accuracy and style are critical or where cultural adaptation, rather than straightforward translation, is required.

Do you agree with these predictions? How do you see our industry's future in the next few years and decades? How do you see your own role in this "brave new world of translation"?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Translators and the Recession

For us translators recession means not only that fewer translations are being done, but also that clients are making an extra effort to cut costs, usually at our expense.

You can almost measure the severity of the recession by the delays with which invoices are getting paid. This means our clients are using us as a source of interest-free loans.

Clients are also becoming quite imaginative in requesting (or outright demanding) discounts for a variety of reasons or for no reason at all. Quantity discounts have been discussed in several translators' mailing lists. Although a quantity discount may sometimes be justified if a large technical translation job with repetitive terminology saves the translator research time, most translators refuse to give quantity discounts requested just because of the size of the job. The situation is similar in the case of discounts expected for total or partial matches when the translator uses a translation memory tool. We buy and learn to use TM tools to save ourselves time and money. If the client provides us with a reliable TM, which will save us research time, it's only fair that the savings be shared. But no one should ask us to give away the product of our investment in time and money.

Then there are clients who don't want to pay for numbers (they don't have to be translated, do they?). A colleague of mine replied to such a request by offering to deliver the job without the numbers, to be inserted by the client himself. I've even heard of a case where the client wanted to deduct all the occurrences, except the first one, of the word "the."

There are clients who want to save money by requesting just a "quick and dirty" translation. Of course, they don't specify whether "uncompromising quality" translated as "calidad sin compromiso" (quality without commitment) would be acceptable for the discounted price.

Another way of clients attempting to get more for their translation dollar is asking the translator to provide, for free, services that should be paid for: extra formatting, even DTP, glossary (compiled by the translator), or rush job without a rush surcharge.

What can the translator do when faced with unreasonable demands for discount or for extra unpaid work? There are basically three ways to handle such demands: 1) accept them without discussion; 2) state your own terms and refuse to make any concession; and 3) negotiate. Of course, the success of any negotiation depends on the strength of the translator's position vis-à-vis the client. If you're the only legal translator into Inuit, your chances of gettihg the job on your terms are better than if you have to compete with dozens of colleagues, some of whom are willing to work for peanuts. But even in the common language combinations, your relationship with the client will largely determine your negotiating power.

Have you found any creative and successful strategies to deal with unreasonable clients or to discourage your client from delaying payment due to you? How can translators best face the challenges posed by economic recession?