Tag: Freelance translators

I have recently read quite a few rants online from translators complaining about “bad” clients. Mostly the complaints went something along the lines of clients making changes and reducing the quality of a translation, clients expecting unreasonable turnaround times, clients telling you that they could do your job if they had time, clients questioning your terminology choices, clients wanting to use Google Translate, etc. Who has not had one of those?

Nonetheless, I believe that the only bad client is a client that does not pay for a service delivered; in which case that is not just a bad client, but a criminal one. All other clients are either good clients, potentially good clients or not a good fit for your business.

I will not argue that every translator who has been in the business for a few years or so will have had the odd tough experience with a client. I get it that every now and then we get a client that tests our limits and our patience, but I believe that we, the translators, are responsible for most of these experiences and I can explain why.

First, a client who attempts to mistakenly correct a translation is a potentially good client, because this client is giving you an opportunity to showcase your expertise when you explain why they are mistaken. If they insist on changing the final translation anyway, then as long as you have noted your objections and they do not attach your name to the final product, there is no reason why this should bother you. I mean, they did buy the translation to do as they see fit after all.

A client who expects an unreasonable turnaround, may just be someone who has never translated anything and has no idea how long it takes. The same goes for a client who offers a very low rate. In both cases, you have an opportunity to explain your quality process and why your translation may take a little longer or cost a little more than they expect. This is also a potentially good client.

Clients who cannot be persuaded when they have unreasonable expectations in regards to deadline and rates, clients who do not believe you need to be a professional to do your job, even after you have shown how different a professional translation is from an amateur one, and clients who want to use Google Translate are just not a good fit for your business.

Many of us seem to operate under the premise that business is business and we need to take whatever comes our way. I think that is a massively flawed premise, and I am not the only one who thinks so. I have recently read an article summarizing the main trends arising from the Localization World Conference in Dublin, Ireland, and basically the third main trend is saying no or “firing” clients who do not fit into your business model.

I think firing is a harsh word, but, as a service provider, working for someone for whom you do not wish to work for, or do not have the competence to work for is doing both your business and your clients’ a disservice. For example, I do not wish to work for someone who has unreasonable expectations. If a client comes to me with an unreasonable deadline and cannot be persuaded that either the quality of the job will suffer, in which case we may need a “work in progress” approach to the translation, or the deadline has to be flexible, I will kindly advise this client to find another provider.

The problem is, if I take this job and deliver within the deadline, the quality will indeed suffer, and it is my name and my business that may become known for poor translations. This client, who was expecting a high quality product, may become unhappy with the final work delivered and choose to never come back, or worse, bad mouth my services. It is likely that this client will have a hard time too, because he will have to find another translator, thus overextending his deadline and budget anyway, or “make do” with a substandard translation. In short, no one will have a positive experience.

Some clients may be ok with a poorer translation, in which case I am also happy for them to find a cheaper provider. It is only fair, and I do not feel bad when they do not choose me for budgetary reasons. I cannot help but care for the outcome of my work, and I would not accept much less money, because I know I would work just as hard.

As business owners, we need to determine the kind of business we want to be and who we want to serve. In other words, what characteristics make a client a good fit for our business.

Client is potentially a good fit for your business

The clients who are a good fit for my business are those who want a personal service, who want an open channel to talk about their expectations and questions, who want quality and understand that this may take a little more time or cost a little more.

They want flexibility from me, in terms of deadlines, last minute changes, etc., but they are also prepared to be flexible if necessary and work with me to ensure the best possible outcome.

The clients who are a good fit for my business want to have a relationship with their translation provider, they want to know that they do not need to recruit a new translator each time they have a job in my language pair, and they want to know they can trust that they will have a product that I, and they, will be proud of.

The clients who are a good fit for my business know that a good translation will boost both their business and mine, and they know they can expect that commitment from me.

Clients who want different things, may be better off finding a different provider.

When we adopt a “good fit approach” we feel more at ease, because we work with people who want to work with us. Everybody has a positive experience that fulfills their expectations and no one feels like they are being over charged, underpaid, treated unfairly or unappreciated. The final product is actually final and of good quality and both businesses thrive.

Dear readers,

The following post is a review of the second edition of Tradusa, an event for translators and interpreters in the healthcare industry, held in Brazil. I was not involved in it, but one of my readers has asked me to publish this review and help promote the event. If you like what you read, by all means support the event and make sure you are a part of its next edition.

Happy reading!

Karen

TRADUSA Round Two: More Than Skin and Bones

The second iteration of TRADUSA, Brazil’s event for translators and interpreters specialized in healthcare and medicine, was held at the Instituto Phorte in São Paulo on April 1-2, 2016. Fruit of the organizers’ arduous labor and an ever-increasing demand for quality language services in the health sector, this year’s participants enjoyed a balanced combination of hour-long presentations and hands-on workshops–a note-worthy improvement over TRADUSA’s speaker-heavy inaugural edition.

Right from Friday’s opening pitch, participants were offered their choice of a mini-course in neuroanatomy or various translation workshop options, allowing them to grab their bull of interest by the horns from the outset. In his neuroanatomy mini-course, Dr. Altiere A. Carvalho managed to get everyone’s neurotransmitters firing due to his engaging, participatory lecture style, accessible explanations, and plain good nature. Everyone left the workshop with a voluntary appreciation for the body’s involuntary intelligence.

Following a caloric refuelling in the company of new and old colleagues, a round of presentations kicked off with Val Ivonica’s plunge into the controversial topic of machine translation. Ivonica’s talk was practical, product-oriented and properly prudent, but the overarching take-home—embrace these tools, if for no other reason than for sheer productivity’s sake—was the most valuable reminder for a field in disruption.

Pharmacist and translator Beatriz Araújo guided her audience through the dense forest of Brazilian healthcare legislation, stopping to highlight those laws that affect which and how medical texts make their way into the hands of translators. Some of the material was also relevant for those of us from the interpreting world who would like to see limited Portuguese proficient patients access their constitutional right to healthcare—as guaranteed in article 197 of the 1988 constitution (thank you Beatriz!)—via hospital and clinic interpreting services.

Adriana Dominici offered more grist for the translator mill in her presentation about the translation of pharmaceutical package inserts. Though the presentation was tailored to the German-Portuguese combination, the larger message about differing publication formats and regulations among countries was relevant to any pharmaceuticals translator.

The day rounded out with a presentation from the Colectiva team, Cecilia Tsukamoto, Daniele Fonseca, Livia Cais and Suzana Gontijo
who reengaged any interpreters who may have been drifting off following the translation heavy stretch of speakers. Both warm and professional, the squad delineated a roadmap to the demanding world of medical conference interpreting. Though they responsibly reminded aspirants that the field is not one to be taken lightly, the overall message was non-exclusive and grounded: hard work over time can indeed build expertise. No silver bullets were nor could be peddled, but the veteran interpreters did offer a useful introduction, outlining the types of assignments one might encounter and preparation tips for the booth.

Day two’s format mirrored its predecessor: a workshop or mini-course in the morning followed by afternoon speakers (with plenty of breaks for coffee and snacks throughout the day, claro!). Your author attended Rosario Garcia’s workshop on Portuguese-English medical translation intended for translators with little to no experience in the specialty. Garcia proved to be very at home in the classroom, adeptly guiding students through a bit of theory and moving straight on to practical exercises, allowing for immediate experimentation and application of the information presented.

First up to bat in the afternoon round of presentations was conference circuit speaker Ana Julia Perrotti-Garcia with her presentation on medical terminology equivalency pitfalls. Though heavy on the lexical side, Perrotti-Garcia also took the time to revisit fundamental medical concepts—background knowledge valuable to newcomers and seasoned professionals alike.

William Jacob de Lima then exposed us, unprotected, to the evolution of radiology and just about every type of imaging process possible. Though our thyroid glands emerged unscathed, the deluge of isolated images did provoke a sort of vertigo among the uninitiated. Though Jacob de Lima could not be faulted for his completeness, a more detailed pathological contextualization of fewer slides would have been helpful for the layperson.

TRADUSA’s final speaker, Andresa Medeiros, shed light on an interpreting setting nascent in the Brazilian market but long ubiquitous in many other parts of the world: the so-called public service or community healthcare interpreting setting. Medeiros focused on the special considerations that must be taken when interpreting for immigrants, making apparent the jarring differences between this sort of public service interpreting work and that of its sister setting: conference interpreting.

Though arguably lacking the depth or vibrancy that will evolve in later editions, this second iteration of TRADUSA has proven that the event is right on track for future stardom. The conference is a valuable hub for an interpreting sub-specialty that merits and demands apt professionals. After all, the stakes are, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

http://www.tradusaencontro.com.br/

The author

For nearly a decade, Laura Vaughn Holcomb has been the conveyor of intimacies passed between embattled cancer patients and their oncologists, transplant candidates and their care team, and midwives and new mothers. Healthcare interpreter by heart and conference interpreter by hat, in the booth Laura specializes in coffee and cacao.

Laura co-developed and currently runs the Glendon College Virtual Healthcare Interpreting Practicum (VHIP), an online internship program for advanced students preparing to enter the healthcare market. She also trains conference interpreting students for the fully online, Brazil-based Interpret2B. Laura holds a Master of Conference Interpreting from Glendon College in Toronto. More at: LauraHolcomb.com

 

When you decide to embark on a career in translation, one of your first road blocks is that every agency you get in touch with requires experience.  Even when getting in touch with direct clients for the first time, you may feel that your CV is not yet something to be proud of and may feel discouraged and overwhelmed.

You are then faced with the dilemma, how will I get experience if I cannot get work? This frustrates many beginner translators, who may start wondering if they will ever get any decent work.

The reason why I am writing this post is because I have a different perspective on this, which took me some years to realize, and I think it may help you feel more motivated and ready for the challenge.

Unlike being a doctor, for which your training starts when you enter university, being a translator involves a lifetime of training. Acquiring language competence in two or more languages takes much longer than it does to train a doctor. So even if you never go to translation school, all your years of learning both your native(s) and foreign language(s) were preparing you to work as a translator. Thus, not for one second allow yourself to believe that you have not been preparing and, therefore, have no experience in translation.

When you read something in a foreign language about a topic of interest of yours and then relayed this information to a friend or relative, you were translating. When a song in your foreign language moved you and you shared it with someone for whom you had to explain it in a different language than it had originally been written, you were translating. Translating becomes such a natural part of our lives when we speak more than one language that we often forget how often we do it. This is something that is not readily obvious to someone who does not speak more than one language, but when you are competent in at least two languages, you have a lot of translation experience.

What you lack is formal training and experience on how to translate professionally, such as best practices, computer-assisted translation tools, memory and terminology management, etc. All of this can be learned, through formal training and/or experience, but it does not mean that you cannot start working now.

This may sound like I am undermining the role of an experienced professional translator, and that is not at all my intention. An experienced professional translator has the benefit of years of working with particular topics, has the advantage of in-depth knowledge of vocabulary in that translator’s particular specialist fields, in addition to being more knowledgeable about resources, tools and practices that can facilitate the translation process. Hence, from a client’s perspective, ideally you would want the best of both worlds, a professional translator who is highly knowledgeable about the topic of your translation. Nonetheless, my intention is to encourage and empower beginner translators to leverage their life experience, instead of being discourage by their current lack of specific professional translation experience.

In practice, what this means is that if you have an interest, a hobby even, or formal education in an area other than translation, and you have been using your language skills to further your knowledge of these topics, you have the leverage of being familiar with vocabulary and the style of communications used in that particular field. You may be a beginner translator, but you are not a beginner in that field and this can be used to leverage your CV when introducing yourself to agencies and direct clients.

Agencies may be more stringent in their criteria, but direct clients, once they see how knowledgeable you are about the topic of their translation, and how linguistically competent you are, they will be pleased to allow you to translate their materials.

Hence, I do advise you to follow the traditional route of studying, doing volunteer work, maybe creating some high visibility translations of topics of interest to you and promoting them online, etc., but also, make sure you do promote the knowledge that you have. Do not undersell yourself, just because you have not been a translator formally for x number of years.

 In other words, follow the traditional route, but do not be discouraged in pursuing the direct clients and high-end agencies as well, because if you are linguistically competent in more than one language, you are  no beginner!

In my most recent post: Why should freelance translators spend some time standardizing their processes? I discussed briefly the value of having some standardized processes to free up brain space and time to do the things you love, such as translating. I will not go into too much detail on that at this point, but feel free to read the post if you are interested.

The aim of this particular process is to ensure that you keep track of your clients and rates. If you are a beginner translator, you may not be feeling the need for such a process just yet, but this is the ideal time to begin.

Over the years as a freelance translator, you will work with many clients and for varying periods. Some will get on board at the beginning of your career and stay with you for many years; others will hire you for one-off projects, and some of these seemingly “one-off” projects will come back after a few years with a new project. Keeping track of who they are and how much you charged them for your last project with them is crucial to your business development.

Here are the two main reasons why:

  • Consistency and opportunities for increasing rates

Needless to say, even if you start out with the same rate, you will have different rates for these clients over time. Your rates will hopefully increase as your experience increases and you become more knowledgeable about the market. You can charge more from new clients coming on board now than for clients who have been with you from the beginning and paid your initial lower rate. In addition, you will have varying degrees of success in your negotiations with other clients, which will mean different rates as well. If you keep track of how much each client paid you for your most recent project with them, whenever a client comes back requesting a quote, all you have to do is quickly check your spreadsheet and you know what your negotiated rate with that client was. This information enables you to provide a quick quote, or start negotiating a new rate from your first reply.

Furthermore, as I mentioned before, some clients will disappear for a few years and come back unexpectedly with a large project. In such cases, it is handy to know how much you charged back then, so that you can decide, before they ask, whether you need to charge them more or not. Also, you may have charged them a higher rate at the time than what most of your clients are paying now, e.g. because they are a direct client and you are currently working predominantly with agencies, and if you just go ahead and charge your must current rate, you may waste an opportunity to earn more for that job.

Conversely, if your rates are much higher now, when a client comes back to you after a few years expecting your original rate, you are able to decide whether to go with the original rate, increase your rate slightly so as not to scare them, or gently let them know your current rate. Many clients will agree a project with you assuming your original rate, without even asking for a quote, so you are better off always making sure the rates that you are charging for a particular project are clearly stated in every case. Again, in any case, not having to go back through your files to try to find how much you charged originally is extremely handy.

  • You have a ready-made list of leads

Sometimes we work with clients, they come and go, and over the years, we forget to check when we last worked for them. This will not happen in the beginning of your career, but after a few years, you will see that you actually forget certain clients, because you were busy with other projects.

When you keep a list of your clients, your contacts in their companies and rates, you have a ready-made list of marketing leads. Whenever you have a low period, you can go through your list, identify those clients with whom you have not been in touch in a while, and send them a friendly reminder that you are available, or just say hello. This is incredibly effective in making sure that your clients remember you and whenever they have a project in your language pair, you will be the first person they think of.

In addition, if you decide to offer a discount for a limited period or any other deals, you can contact all of these people easily and it will not be cold emailing, because they are already familiar with you and your work.

In order to do this, I use a spreadsheet that I created (picture below), which I call Client Database. My spreadsheet contains:

  • Client: company or person
  • Last job: date of the last job
  • Service: translation, revision, proofreading, transcription, content analysis, etc.
  • Rates currency: GBP, USD, EUR (depending on what I negotiated with the client)
  • Rate: amount/unit, e.g. 40/hour or 0.1/word
  • Status: Active or inactive. If I am currently working on a project for this client, or if this client regularly contacts me for projects, I consider this an active client. Otherwise, I classify the client as inactive. The reason for this item is that I can easily filter my spreadsheet by active or inactive clients depending on my marketing strategy. For example, I may want to contact all clients with whom I have not been in touch in a while, so I filter my spreadsheet by inactive clients. If I decide to offer a discount to my current clients, I can filter the spreadsheet by active clients.
  • Last contact: date of last contact with a representative of this client, perhaps when they offered a project that fell through, etc. This may or may not be the same as the last job date, but it is useful for you to know that you may have been in touch with them, but unable to secure work with them for some reason.
  • Contact person: name of project manager or direct client
  • Contact details: e-mail address. I am unlikely to call my clients, so I use e-mail, but if you like calling on occasion to make it more personal, then also add a phone number.
  • Notes: this is more for inactive clients and, basically, I add any information that might be useful if I were to engage with this client again in the future, such as tried to negotiate rate down or delays payments, etc. For example, if I have a promotional discount for some time, I may contact a client who negotiated my rates down and ask if they want to take advantage of a limited discount offer.

Client database printscreen

I update this spreadsheet at the end of every month. Updating your spreadsheet regularly is essential to ensuring that you have recent data on when you last worked for a client, etc. In addition, it helps you remember all those clients and reach out to them when you need more projects. It is very easy to panic and look for new leads every time you find yourself in a low period, and forget that you have a ready-made database of people who already know you, know your work, and who would probably be willing to work with you again.

This is a simple enough spreadsheet and a simple enough process, so make sure you implement it and you will reap the benefits from having this data compiled before you know it! Do you have any better processes for keeping track of your clients and rates? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Happy translating!

As freelancers, we take pride in managing our own time, being our own boss, and theoretically being able to choose our jobs and clients. However, when it gets down to it, being your own boss also means being your own IT department, being your own human resources department, your own accounts department, and so on. The tricky part is, we are only paid for the translation work, all the other jobs that we carry out are either unpaid, or you have to factor that time into your translation rate.

Even if you are a “boutique” translator, who charges a hefty fee for your services, factoring the cost of all the hours that you put into invoicing, learning how to use translation resources, figuring out IT problems, chasing payments, prospecting clients, etc. into your per hour or per word rate, would likely make you prohibitively expensive. Hence, there are two options, one is outsourcing some or all of these tasks, and the other is reducing the amount of time that you spend on each of these tasks.

In either case, you can benefit from standardizing some of your processes to ensure that you or the person who will perform a service for you is able to perform tasks quickly and keep appropriate records. If you think of yourself as a company, you may take some initial time (start-up) time to create certain documents and tools, but these will pay off later in time saved that you can use to earn money from translating or relax and enjoy the money that you have earned.

If you choose to outsource all of your non translation-related tasks, you need to find affordable services and determine how much of your earnings you are prepared to spend on “business costs”. The advantages of outsourcing services include freeing up brain space for translation, freeing up time, and not having to actually spend time doing things that you dislike versus translating, which you love. The disadvantages are primarily the cost of outsourcing, giving up some of your control over important aspects of your business and having more people to manage, which means that you will also have to manage their deadlines, deliverables, etc.

I particularly prefer a combination outsourcing and doing it myself. There are tasks, such as filing tax returns, which can be outsourced for a relatively low cost. Other tasks, such as your marketing, are potentially more effectively done by you. More importantly, if you chose to become a freelancer, you probably believe that you work well independently and are used to “figuring things out” for yourself. Hence, you probably do not think that you need to spend money on many of these tasks. Well, I believe that too, and in the very least, if you do spend some money, you should really only spend where necessary.

As freelancers, we do not operate as companies, and when we “hire” someone, we usually pay another freelancer on an hourly basis as well. Hence, it is important that the other freelancer is able to hit the ground running and do as much as possible for you in the hours that you are hiring them.

For example, if you hire someone to do your client prospecting for you, he or she will be contacting potential clients on your behalf. This is obviously great, provided that their approach truly represents how you want to portray yourself, and how good they are at recordkeeping. Let us say that you hire a sales person and give them a list of potential clients to contact, you tell them to create a template for initial communications through e-mails and letters, and send them off on their trail. Two or three months down the line, you may be a bit short on cash and decide that you do not need their services right now, so you fire them. How do you know who they contacted and what their responses were? How do you know who you need to follow up on? In a few months, when you decide to hire a new sales person, how will they know where to start?

In this example, you should have provided or had the first sales person create a brief on what to put in their communications, a list of contacts, a spreadsheet to track who had been contacted, and a results-tracker. Furthermore, you should have arranged periodic monitoring of their work to make sure that they were using your tools appropriately and that they were having some success. This would have meant spending a few hours initially, either creating the materials and/or briefing the sales person (paid hours). After this initial time, you would have to meet with the sales person for 1-2 hours per month to keep track of their progress and use of your materials.

 I know that not many translators will go as far as hiring a sales person, but this concept of having an outline of what you need from a task, templates to streamline accomplishing the task and a results-tracker applies to all of your potential processes, from accounting, to sales, to collections.

This is the first of a series of posts in which I am going to share some of my standardized practices with you. These are quick and simple processes that you can apply to ensure that you are on top of your finances, your marketing, your clients and your rates. The main concept behind all of them is setting out what you want from your tasks, creating as many templates as possible in advance and devising means to keep track of your results.

If you spend some time doing this for all your processes, and apply your processes consistently, not only will you be much quicker at doing them, but also if you ever choose to outsource, the person who takes over from you will be able to do so quickly and with little training.

Stay tuned and let me know your thoughts! Happy translating!

As freelancers, we take pride in managing our own time, being our own boss, and theoretically being able to choose our jobs and clients. However, when it gets down to it, being your own boss also means being your own IT department, being your own human resources department, your own accounts department, and so on. The tricky part is, we are only paid for the translation work, all the other jobs that we carry out are either unpaid, or you have to factor that time into your translation rate.

Even if you are a “boutique” translator, who charges a hefty fee for your services, factoring the cost of all the hours that you put into invoicing, learning how to use translation resources, figuring out IT problems, chasing payments, prospecting clients, etc. into your per hour or per word rate, would likely make you prohibitively expensive. Hence, there are two options, one is outsourcing some or all of these tasks, and the other is reducing the amount of time that you spend on each of these tasks.

In either case, you can benefit from standardizing some of your processes to ensure that you or the person who will perform a service for you is able to perform tasks quickly and keep appropriate records. If you think of yourself as a company, you may take some initial time (start-up) to create certain documents and tools, but this will pay off later in time saved that you can use to earn money from translating or relax and enjoy the money that you have earned.

If you choose to outsource all of your non translation-related tasks, you need to find affordable services and determine how much of your earnings you are prepared to spend on “business costs”. The advantages of outsourcing services include freeing up brain space for translation, freeing up time, and not having to actually spend time doing things that you dislike versus translating, which you love. The disadvantages are primarily the cost of outsourcing, giving up some of your control over important aspects of your business and having more people to manage, which means that you will also have to manage their deadlines, deliverables, etc.

I particularly prefer a combination of outsourcing and doing it myself. There are tasks, such as filing tax returns, which can be outsourced for a relatively low cost. Other tasks, such as your marketing, are potentially more effectively done by you. More importantly, if you chose to become a freelancer, you probably believe that you work well independently and are used to “figuring things out” for yourself. Hence, you probably do not think that you need to spend money on many of these tasks. Well, I believe that too, and in the very least, if you do spend some money, you should really only spend where necessary.

As freelancers, we do not operate as companies, and when we “hire” someone, we usually pay another freelancer on an hourly basis as well. Hence, it is important that the other freelancer is able to hit the ground running and do as much as possible for you in the hours that you are hiring them.

For example, if you hire someone to do your client prospecting for you, he or she will be contacting potential clients on your behalf. This is obviously great, provided that their approach truly represents how you want to portray yourself, and how good they are at recordkeeping. Let us say that you hire a sales person and give them a list of potential clients to contact, you tell them to create a template for initial communications through e-mails and letters, and send them off on their trail. Two or three months down the line, you may be a bit short on cash and decide that you do not need their services right now, so you fire them. How do you know who they contacted and what their responses were? How do you know who you need to follow up on? In a few months, when you decide to hire a new sales person, how will they know where to start?

In this example, you should have provided or had the first sales person create a brief on what to put in their communications, a list of contacts, a spreadsheet to track who had been contacted, and a results-tracker. Furthermore, you should have arranged periodic monitoring of their work to make sure that they were using your tools appropriately and that they were having some success. This would have meant spending a few hours initially, either creating the materials and/or briefing the sales person (paid hours). After this initial time, you would have had to meet with the sales person for 1-2 hours per month to keep track of their progress and use of your materials.

 I know that not many translators will go as far as hiring a sales person, but this concept of having an outline of what you need from a task, templates to streamline accomplishing the task and a results-tracker applies to all of your potential processes, from accounting, to sales, to collections.

Whether your intent is to hire someone to do a job for you, or to do it yourself. You will benefit from creating materials in advance. Such materials should always include your goals and how you will measure your results, as well as, templates to streamline that particular task.

This is the first of a series of posts in which I am going to share some of my standardized practices with you. These are quick and simple processes that you can apply to ensure that you are on top of your finances, your marketing, your clients and your rates. The main concept behind all of them is setting out what you want from your tasks, creating as many templates as possible in advance and devising means to keep track of your results.

If you spend some time doing this for all your processes, and apply your processes consistently, not only will you be much quicker at doing them, but also if you ever choose to outsource, the person who takes over from you will be able to do so quickly and with little training.

Stay tuned and let me know your thoughts! Happy translating!

If you are thinking of venturing into medical translations, in this article you will find a brief description of the most common types of medical documents that you could be presented with. I will briefly discuss some categories of medical documents and the level of specialization required to work with them.

Like doctors, some translators choose to specialize in body systems, such as vascular, reproductive, respiratory, lymphatic, etc. Alternatively, they may specialize in a particular condition, such as diabetes, leukaemia, Alzheimer’s disease etc. These translators will usually handle all sorts of documentation within their particular field of expertise. This type of specialization usually works when you have a background working in that particular field. For example, I have a background as a researcher in human reproduction, so for this particular area of specialization I usually handle all types of medical documents. Otherwise, this type of specialization may be too limiting and the time investment it will take you to learn about all things related to that topic may not be feasible in the short to medium term.

Other medical translators choose to specialize in a particular type of medical documentation, which is what we will focus on in this article. Specializing in a particular type of documentation requires a broad general knowledge of medicine and extensive experience with and exposure to that particular type of document. Usually, the terminology and style of these types of documents are very specific, but also somewhat standard, so they are quicker to learn and easier to master. Again, they require a time investment, because you will need to read many of those types of documents in both your working languages and, what’s more, you will need to keep up with your general medical knowledge to handle requests in any field. However, you will get the gist of the documents quicker and can start selecting jobs in areas that you are more familiar with.

Having said that, what types of medical documentation could you specialize in?

  • Clinical trial documentation: All pharmaceutical companies carry out clinical trials to ensure that their drugs are safe and market-ready. Many new drugs are meant to be sold globally and, for that reason, clinical trials also have to be conducted in several countries. Hence, this is a prolific field, because these trials happen all the time and in many languages. Typically, the source documentation is prepared in English, regardless of where the pharmaceutical company is based. These documents are then sent to medical translators for translation into the languages of the countries where the clinical trial will take place. The most common types of documents in clinical trials are clinical trial protocols, investigator’s brochures, informed consent forms, adverse event reports, communications between the main study centre and other study centres, and legal documentation between the pharmaceutical companies and study centres (e.g. agreements, statements, etc.). Specializing in this field requires a thorough knowledge of the technical and legal aspects of this type of documentation, as well as extreme attention to detail, because errors in clinical trial documentation are particularly serious. For example, a typo in a dosage could effectively kill or harm a patient.
  • Patents: Patent translations is also a prolific field. Because there is no unified patent legislation across the globe, patent holders often have to file for patents in several different countries, which means that there is a high demand for several languages. Translating patents requires some knowledge of medical devices and biochemistry, because most inventions related to the medical field are either devices or chemicals, as well as law. These are usually legal documents written according to very particular standards, so learning the style and terminology is essential, because patents are often rejected if their style is not compliant with the accepted standards. In addition, the translator needs to keep up with medical news, because patents are often inventions and the technology used is cutting-edge. Hence, you need to be willing to research and learn, because it will not always be easy to find equivalent terms in both your working languages.
  • Medical devices: medical device documentation consists primarily of manuals. These documents are usually extensive and explain in detail how a device works, what it contains and how it should be operated. This is a very technical field that requires some knowledge of engineering and physics, because you often have to describe parts and how they operate in relation to each other. Specific medical knowledge in this case is important for you to understand the purpose of a device, but understanding its mechanics and engineering is usually more important. A translator who wants to work in this field should focus on knowledge of engineering applied to the medical field, and health and safety regulations.
  • Regulatory & compliance: These are usually standards issued by governments or regulatory authorities, best practices, legislation, etc. In my experience, there is less demand for this type of documentation, except among economic groups, such as the EU, where certain standards are unified and therefore need to be translated into all applicable languages. Other cases in which regulatory documentation requires translation is when foreign companies are taking part in tenders and need to be compliant with local legislation. In such cases, there may be a demand for translation of such requirements and then translation of the applicable compliance statements. This type of translation requires a knowledge of legal terminology applied to the medical field and, if you translate into a language used within an economic group, knowledge of the style and terminology of standard documents used within that group.
  • Market research: Pharmaceutical and medical device companies often sell their products globally, therefore, they are always conducting market research in their target countries to determine their positioning, pricing, acceptance, branding, etc. Translators specialized in market research will often translate discussion guides for interviews with patients and physicians or other experts, product profiles, research screeners and transcripts of interviews. This is a “softer” type of translation because the medical knowledge required is not as technical. However, you need to be aware of the terminology used among physicians as well as among patients, because the same question will almost never be translated in exactly the same way to both audiences.
  • Websites and patient brochures: This is self-explanatory and technically speaking the easiest type of translation in the medical field. Websites are rarely too specialized, because they aim to attract broad audiences. However, you must be very careful in conveying the right tone and style. Translating a healthcare company’s website is not like translating a travel website. The language usually needs to be accessible, but credibility is essential, so your translation must ensure that the terminology used is in line with industry standards. In addition, patient leaflets and brochures must be understandable and credible, so that patients feel that they can rely on that information. Your job as a translator in this case is to learn how to communicate with each audience in a professional, but accessible manner.
  • Academic: These are usually scientific articles published in international journals. The demand for this type of translation is most often into English, because most international journals are in English. There may also be a demand to translate researcher CVs, abstracts, protocols, etc. This type of translation requires a knowledge of the standard formatting and style of scientific journals. Sometimes the translator must also become familiar with the style and requirements of a particular journal, in order to ensure that the translation is compliant. Furthermore, this type of translation requires technical knowledge, because many publications will be directed at experts in a particular field, which means that less than expert translations often discredit the work of the researcher.

In my experience, these are the most common types of documents translated by medical translators. If you choose to specialize in a particular type of document, it does not mean that you can never venture into other types of documentation. All it means is that you need to be aware of how much you will need to learn and what to focus on, because with specific documentation you need more than expert knowledge of a particular field.

Can you think of any other types of documents translated by medical translators? If you do, please share them in your comments!

 

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This week I was reading a post by a fellow blogger and translator, Olga Arakelyan, about the 10 worst mistakes she made as a translator, and number 6 “I couldn’t say no to clients” resonated with me. Naturally, not saying no was not my only mistake, but it is one with which I have been struggling for over 13 years. Today, I want to share a few lessons that I learned from saying “no” more often.

When should we say no?

  • When a job does not pay a fee that we consider reasonable. In my post about setting rates, I discuss how there should be some flexibility in terms of pricing. Of course, we will have to negotiate sometimes, but you should set a minimum threshold under which you will not work.
  • When a job has an unreasonable deadline. You will have to work overnight, over the weekend and just barely have enough time to deliver the job. This is a disaster waiting to happen, believe me, just say no.
  • When a job is not within your area of expertise and you are not comfortable that the time available to do it will allow you to research it properly and deliver your customary high quality work. Again, another disaster waiting to happen!

These are straightforward reasons, so…

Why do we fail to say no?

When we start a career as freelance translators, most of us do not know much about business, let alone about a freelancing translation business. This means that we have to learn as we go, mostly from trial and error. We often start, like many businesses, without clients or with very few clients and have to build a client base from there. In this process, we will learn about website design, marketing, social media, etc. We will play every role in our business, from admin to strategic planning. However, what we are at heart is translators and what we really want to do is translate. Therefore, it is very easy to use the very purpose of our business as an excuse to take any job – i.e. “it is best to be translating than not doing anything or not making any money at all.” I have fallen into that trap repeatedly. Many times, I have accepted jobs just because “I was not doing anything that day” or “It was good practice and I learned a lot”.

Another excuse that we use to take any job – when I say any job I mean jobs outside our area of expertise, with unreasonable deadlines or underpaid – is that we cannot afford the luxury of picking and choosing our clients, at least not yet. This is a tricky excuse because it seems very valid and, when we are struggling to make ends meet, sometimes we feel like there is no other way. Naturally, it is our business and ultimately you will do what we need to do, but I will tell you in the next part of this post why perhaps you should really consider saying no and taking that chance.

Finally, we “feel sorry” for our clients. Particularly with long-term clients and project managers, when they are desperate, because they “need something translated by tomorrow,” or “you are the only person they trust to do the job at such short notice,” or “unfortunately their budget is very limited for this project, but they really want the job done by you,” or whatever it is they tell you, you feel like you cannot say no. You feel like they need you and it would be bad customer service to say no. After all, we should “go the extra mile” for our clients.

In my experience, the above are the three main reasons why we struggle to say no, but…

What are the downfalls of not saying no enough?

  • Whenever the quality of your work suffers, your business as a whole suffers. Whether you work with agencies, direct clients or both, repeat business and referrals will always depend on the quality of your work, your timeliness and your professionalism. Accepting a job with an unreasonable deadline is a recipe for disaster, because you will be working in a hurry, tired and, as with any work that requires attention to detail, will be likely to make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of any service provided by humans, but when clients pay you for a service, even if it is a rush job or a low rate, they assume that if you accepted it, you will deliver a job to the standard they expect from you. Hence, do not expect them to be OK with your mistakes, because you took a rush job from them, even if you did it to “help them”. This happened to me once with a translation agency; the project manager begged me to take on this translation for the next day, because there was no one else, etc. I told him, I would do my best, but the deadline was tight and it would be difficult. In the end, I managed to do the job to a high standard, but was late ten minutes. He discounted 30% of my pay because the agency’s policy was to penalize translators for delays. I was furious, of course! I only took the job to “help him”, I busted my ass trying to get it done to the quality expected of me, and I was only late 10 minutes. The result was that I lost 30% of my fee, ended up arguing with the PM and it did not make any difference. I had signed an agreement and, ultimately, he was entitled to enforce their policy. My relationship with this agency was dented. The incident left a bitter taste in everybody’s mouth. Until then, I had worked with this agency for at least 3 years and had never had a late job. The result of me trying to “help them” was that I lost some of my earnings, my reputation with them suffered and our working relationship as a whole was made worse, not better. Even when a client is aware that the quality of a job may suffer due to a tight deadline, no client will ever be happy to find mistakes, or to have a delayed delivery on a job that they are paying for. Hence, you do yourself no favours by accepting such jobs. The upside of being a freelancer is being able to pick and choose, so do just that and let someone else take the fall for a poor job, or let your client juggle things around to find you a better deadline.

  • We work in a global industry, working from home over the Internet – as many of us do – means that we have clients everywhere in the world and our competition is also global. Hence, becoming known and reputable takes time, but losing a client and potentially your reputation only takes one bad job. Finding clients in a global arena broadens our scope, but also creates some challenges. It is not easy for clients to background check us, it is not easy for us to stand out in a pile of CVs from all over the world and building relationships takes longer.  In practice, this means two things 1) we do not want to have to find new clients every week, we want those who take a chance on us to stays with us for all their translation needs in our language pair and 2) we want to be able to develop a reputation that is verifiable. Having these two things is gold in our business and we should value them above immediate earnings, because our clients will value and reward us for it. Hence, resist the temptation of accepting any jobs that might jeopardize your reputation. If you want to be in this business for the long run, be humble and accept when something is beyond your scope of knowledge. Clients will not think less of you for it, they will respect your for being professional.

  • You do not have time to run your business. Again, it is easy to fall into the trap of “at least I am translating” and overlook the fact that for you to be able to continue translating in the long-term your business needs to thrive as a business. Sometimes, the small fee that you will make from a job, however tempting it may be, may be preventing you from finding a new client who could award you a much bigger job. In addition, your administrative tasks must be handled. When I used to manage a team of translators working for me, we had a policy that by a certain date they had to submit their invoices for a particular month in order to ensure timely payment. Month after month, I was astonished at how many of them simply forgot to invoice me. You have already done the work; you need to be paid for it! Your business should run in a way that you are paid for every job you complete. You make zero money if you take a small new job instead of taking the time to invoice a job that you have already completed, you may actually lose money, which is stupid, for lack of a better word.

  • You have no time to study and learn. Researching, reading, building your pool of resources are all part of developing yourself as a translator. These things should be incorporated into your routine and regarded as just as important as translating itself. There are computer-assisted technologies being launched all the time, new resources available online and offline, classes, books, etc. These are all things that you need to keep up with in order to continue offering high quality services to your clients and to continue developing professionally. Furthermore, sometimes your mind needs a break and some inspiration that does not come from frantically translating. These activities are not to be left for your free time; they are essential to your business and should be regarded and prioritized as such.

In short, make a list of things that are worth saying no for and stick to them. You can also make a list of things that are worth saying yes to and stick to them. If you have set parameters for how you operate, it is easier to make these decisions when situations present themselves and your business can only grow from having a clear direction. Good luck!

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This week I was asked by a fellow translator if I think she should become a paid member of one of these job boards online, such as Proz and Translator’s café. In this post, I discuss my experience and why I think it depends on your strategy.

I have been an unpaid member of ProZ for over 6 years, and I have profiles created in most of the major job boards for translators online. I have already discussed why I think you should take the time to create a profile in a previous post. In short, these websites’ ratings improve your visibility, because it is easier than boosting your own website’s ratings or even creating one to begin one.

Creating hundreds of profiles is a time-consuming task, but I think it is worth it. There is a cheat though: I actually hired a virtual assistant, provided her with copy of the general text, my CV information, login and password to be used and she created the accounts for me. Now, I have a spreadsheet, where I have all the websites where I have profiles, login and password, and latest updates. Hence, it is easy for me to track where my information is and update it every so often (for which I also use my virtual assistant).

I can safely say that I have had potential clients contact me at one point or another through most of these websites, but still I would not recommend them as a marketing strategy. These profiles are nice to have, but do not expect them to generate a lot of spontaneous business for you, most of your business will come from active marketing. You can read some of my tips on that as well here and here.

However, I digress…these are unpaid profiles, but what about paid membership? Is it worth it?

Over one year ago, I wondered that myself, and after being a member of ProZ for over five years, I decided to make the investment and pay for a year of membership. I read several testimonials by other translators on the ProZ website saying that they got the return on their investment, so my goal was to at least get my money back in jobs won.

Hence, I bid for all suitable projects in my language pair, which I had not been doing as a free member, and made an effort to tailor all my bids to the job offers. As a result, I won quite a few jobs in my first six months of membership, and made some contacts that did not award me the particular job I bid for, but came back to me later for other jobs. The bottom line is that, like the testimonials that I read, I did get my money back.

The fact that I had paid, made me more diligent in bidding and tailoring my bids, which could have accounted for the positive results. Nonetheless, I did find that, as a member, I was allowed to bid first, so my bids were noticed more often than when I bid as a free member. This is the true value of the paid membership. I believe that a job poster will not read more than 10-20 bids, so by the time you bid as a free member, they will potentially have already selected their provider.

Another interesting aspect of the membership was having access to the Blue Board, which is a board where translators rate job posters. I could check whether a poster paid on time, was serious and ethical, etc. This obviously made me feel a lot more confident when accepting jobs.

Bottom line is that you should definitely pay for membership, at least with ProZ, right? Well, I have not renewed my membership this year.

Despite the “success”, the jobs posted there usually offered lower rates than I expect to earn. The “clients” on the ProZ website are not my target market, because I target a more specialist type of agency and end client, who usually have longer selection processes and testing, so they will rarely post a job on a job board. My clients usually pre-emptively recruit and create lists of approved suppliers so that they can easily outsource jobs to trusted partners.

Hence, I found that the time I spent tailoring bids and looking for suitable projects was better spent sending my CV and marketing information to potential clients in my target segment. I spent the last six months of my membership with ProZ sending CVs and marketing information, and taking tests. The result was that I got fewer responses and fewer replies, but the companies that became my clients in that period paid me at least three times more than my Proz clients did. In other words, in the second half of my membership year, I was able to earn a lot more, doing what I specialize in.

The lesson I learned is that both of these approaches are valid ways of finding clients and winning jobs. However, your choice of one or the other depends on your strategy. In fact, you do not even have to choose, you could do both and maximize your earnings by choosing the highest paying jobs by order of request. I find that doing both takes more than my allotted marketing time and I need to translate as well, so it is not feasible in my business, but it all depends on your demand.

A paid membership is certainly something to consider when you are going through a low demand period or building your business. When you reach a more stable level, you can then make a choice about whether this is helping you get to your target market or consuming more time than it is worth.

My main take away from this experience was that we should be open to trying new approaches and assessing them pragmatically. Sometimes, a return on investment does not make an approach attractive in the long term. As translators, we need to think as business owners and make these decisions. However, we will only be able to focus on the best approach for us, once we have tried a few different strategies and tailored our choices to our business.

Now over to you, have you had any experience with paid memberships in other job boards? How did it go?

 

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Machine translations (MT) is a hot topic now. I have seen and participated in several discussions in online translators’ forums on the topic recently. Translators and the industry as a whole are somewhat divided.

Many translators fear that the quality of machine translations is inferior to that of human translations and will ultimately drive down the overall quality and prices across the industry. Translation agencies feel increasing pressure to use machine translations to meet deadlines and constant budgetary constraints. Clients, who are aware of what machine translations are, feel that if MTs are being used in their projects without their knowledge, they are being ripped off. On the other hand, if machine translations are not being used at all, they are missing out on cost savings and faster turnaround times.

Machine translation is different from simply using a translation memory tool. Professional translators have been using computer-assisted translation tools (CAT tools) for decades to help them increase consistency and performance. The fundamental difference between the two is that in MT, a software will actually perform the translation and a human reviewer will then go over the translation editing it to ensure it is accurate and of good quality; this process is called post-editing of machine translation (PEMT). In human translations aided by CAT tools – which is the current norm across the industry -, memories and glossaries are created and available as reference to the translator. A software interface allows the translator to view the source document, similar segments already translated in the translation memory and other reference materials at the same time, while he/she types in translations for each segment. Despite all this “help”, ultimately, the translator carries out the actual translation of each segment of the source text. In both cases, each segment translated is stored in a translation memory (TM) and, in future translations, if the segment reappears, it is automatically input into the file being translated.

Hence, in the first process, there are usually two people involved, a post-editor and a proofreader, who will have the final responsibility for ensuring the quality of the translation. In the second process, there will be 2-3 people involved as well, the translator, a reviewer and sometimes a proofreader to ensure the quality of the translation.

Both of these processes sound great in theory. Ultimately, the translation will be reviewed and read by at least two qualified people, who will then ensure that the quality of the final product is the highest possible.

However, it is not that simple. Translation agencies are under a lot of pressure from clients to reduce prices. Hence, what happens is that these translation memories are used to “reduce the work” and the “cost” of the human assets involved. Translation agencies sometimes have grids for how much they pay for memory matches, for example, if there is a 100% match to a segment in a translation memory, the translation agency will not pay the translator for that segment. Therefore, the translator is not to touch that segment, even if its style, tone of voice, etc. are different from the rest of the translation, or worse, even if there are errors. If there is an 80-95% similarity between a new segment and a segment already in the memory, the translator may be paid 30% or 40% of his/her usual rate, etc. In other words, the translator will still have to read and edit that segment, but will not be paid in full for that service.

When CAT Tools and machine translations first came out, most clients were completely unaware of this, so often they would pay the full rate for all segments in a file, while translation agencies would profit from underpaying their translators. As clients caught on to this, they began pressuring translation agencies to reduce prices. This means that many translation agencies passed this pressure on to their translators, who were paid even less. No wonder translators are sceptical of new computer-assisted technologies!

Good translators eventually decided not accept this and would refuse to work with a grid or even with CAT tools. In response, translation agencies were forced to hire “cheaper” translator and the quality of translations across the industry spiralled down.

This is still an issue today, the middle and bottom of the translation industry are full of translators who work for a very low rate editing machine translations or translating 10-20% of a document without even looking at the rest to ensure consistency.

For the reasons above, I had been very sceptical of MT until recently. I only decided to try it, because I was asked by a client, happened to have the time and was curious about it. I completed three large projects for the same client, i.e. same terminology, same glossary, same style guide, etc. The first issue was that my client, a translation agency, was doing this at the request of their end client and not even they understood exactly how the rates were calculated.  In other words, their clients had complete control over what they would charge and, hence, of what I would get paid (which was much less than my usual rate).

After my first project, I was actually excited about it. I did complete several words in a very short space of time. Therefore, I thought, maybe, I would eventually be able to earn as much per hour as I earn regularly. Hence, the lower rate would not be an issue.

It felt a bit like using a CAT tool, only all non-100% matches were like 70-90% matches and my job was to go over them editing. Now, 100% match segments all came locked, which means I could not amend them even if I did spot a mistake.

Nonetheless, there was still the quality issue. As translators are not paid for 100% matches, the client has to assume that we will not even read those. Therefore, they have to provide an extensive style guide and glossary to ensure that terms are translated consistently and the overall style of the translation is somewhat preserved. However, learning an extensive style guide takes time and even if you are really careful, when you are earning more than 50% less than you normally would for a job, you do not want to double the time it will take you to do that job by going over and over the style guide and glossary.

My first project was a short one, so it was relatively easy to ensure the quality of the segments I translated. It is very important to note here that I found several errors in the 100% matches, but I was told by my client (the translation agency) to simply ignore those. No one was getting paid for those so they were to remain unchanged.

In my next two projects, which were very large, I found myself under a lot of pressure and very confused! For example, I was supposed to be strictly faithful to the glossary, but sometimes I would be translating a segment and the term in the glossary would be different from how the same term had been translated in the 100% match segment just above. If I followed the glossary, as instructed, the text would be inconsistent. Why would you have two words to designate the same part of a machine in subsequent paragraphs? It is confusing!

In addition, there was the extensive style guide to follow, which I did not have time to learn fully, because I was supposed to turn the translation around quickly – after all, it had already been done by the machine, right? Well, the result and bitter lesson from this experienced was that these projects failed the “quality” evaluation during the proofreading stage due to consistency issues with glossary and style guide. I had not failed a quality assessment in at least 10 years! As a result, I had to amend and amend the translations until they were completely consistent with the glossary and style guide, which ultimately took me a lot longer than if I had translated the project for my full rate as I usually do. In other words, I lost money.

It was a bitter lesson, because having been in this industry for so long, I should have known that I could not have learned such a lengthy style guide so quickly, and should have factored this into my price and deadline. However, it has taught me a few things about machine translations.

Now, when I see articles like the one I read today, praising the “high quality, speed and cost savings of machine translations”.  I take them with a pinch of salt.

My recent experience has not made me against machine translations. I do believe that there is value in them, because they can indeed speed up the process, but it has made me very aware that the way they are being done now, purely as a money saving exercise, is very detrimental to the overall quality of translations.

Ideally, for a machine translation to be of really good quality, the PEMT should review the entire text, not just non-100% matches. The reason for that is that a full revision will ensure that mistakes in previous translations are not perpetuated, and the tone of voice, style and terminology of the translation are consistent. Furthermore, the proofreader should be someone highly experienced with the style guide and glossary. Clients should treasure these professionals and the time investment they had to put into learning these style guide and glossaries, because they are the main quality element of the translation. These professionals should be paid more, not less, because they are “experts”.

The bottom line is that machine translations are excellent tools, like CAT tools, but they do not stand alone. Languages are living things that change and adapt, and no software today is able to adjust and account for that. It takes an experienced human eye to turn a machine translation into a good translation. The whole industry should be aware of this and properly reward these professionals, value their expertise and set procedures in place that allow them to do their job to the best of their ability. Only then will machine translations be “high quality, speedier and less expensive”.

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Determining your rates is often a common and controversial issue among translators. The answer that I will provide today is by no means the only one. You may come up with other pricing strategies that work for you, your target market and current clientele. I hope this provides a starting point, based upon which you can devise your own strategy.

Firstly, your rate must:

  • Be competitive – in theory, you can charge whatever you want, but that will only work if people pay what you are asking for. Most clients will get quotes from more than one translator or service, so if you are too far off the mark they will either think that you are not professional enough (hence why your rate is so low) or that you are out of touch with the market (hence why your rate is so high). That does not mean that you cannot be the cheapest or the most expensive translator that money can hire; it just means that your rate should show that you are aware of what the market pays for your service and your pricing strategy is deliberate. Hence, you are either “in the middle” or “just above” or “just below” the going rate.
  •  Make a statement – our CV is not our only means of making a statement about our work. What and how we charge for our services also affect how we are viewed by prospect clients. Companies choose what strategy is more in line with their value proposition and adjust their pricing strategy based on that. For example, a company may set its prices low and dare you to find a cheaper provider. This shows you that they are aware of what the going rate is for similar products, but deliberately want to be the cheapest and attract as many customers as possible. We all know what to expect from this company, as the popular saying goes: “You get what you pay for.” Sometimes, the lowest price is exactly what you want and need; we are not always looking for the highest quality. For example, you may have just received a letter from your boyfriend in Spain. The letter is in Spanish, but you do not speak Spanish. Hence, you need a translation service. You will not be looking for the highest quality translation that money can buy, you will probably want speed (because you cannot wait to know what he said) and to get the general idea for the lowest price, because you cannot invest lots of money on reading letters from your boyfriend. Sometimes quality is not the top concern, i.e. speed and budget are more important and a low pricing strategy may be more appealing to this customer.

Conversely, at the high-end market, companies will set their prices above the going rate to convey to you that their product is more expensive because it is the best available. As a translator, your pricing strategy can do that too, you may set your price to reflect the quality of the services you provide, your experience, credentials, specialization, etc. It is as if you are trying to convey that you are the “Ferrari” equivalent in translation. If you choose this strategy, remember that not everyone can afford a Ferrari, not matter how much they want it, so your services will not be accessible to most clients.

Hence, your pricing strategy may say – “I am willing to translate for a lower fee and this means that I am interested in volume” – or it may say – “I am a high-quality and experienced professional, who charges according to my credentials”. On both ends of the scale, the client will know exactly what to expect. However, you do not need to pick an end of the scale. If your rates are in the middle, you convey the message that you are in line with your competition, i.e. that you are not necessarily better or worse based on your pricing, which means you’ll need to convey your competitive advantage in some other way. This makes you more accessible to the average customer, but it means more competition because you will need to find other ways of standing out among the many providers within the same rate range.

  •  Be flexible (to an extent) – You do not need to charge the top and bottom of the scale and every amount in between. You need to have your preferred rate (ideal rate), your acceptable rate (a rate that you would consider if the job were not too specialized, etc.) and your unacceptable rate (you simply do not work for that). Corinne McKay has an interesting system for that with a green, yellow and red zone. According to her, if it were within your capabilities, you would almost never turn down work in your green zone. You would never take work in your red zone and would consider work in your yellow zone depending on your availability, the level of difficulty, etc.

 All very well, so how do you determine your rates?

Initially, you need to make some decisions about:

–          What statement you want your rates to make (high-end, low-end or on a par with competition);

–          How flexible you can be (do I need to go into my yellow zone at all? If so, what factors would make me consider doing that, e.g. availability, how interesting a project is, etc.);

–          Who your target market is (medical industry, translation agencies, law firms, etc.);

–          What types of clients you will want to attract (companies or individuals? Translation agencies, direct clients or both?); and, more importantly,

–          How much do you need and want to earn. (Ideally, you would earn what you want, and that is, ultimately, what you will aim for, but it is important to know how much you need to earn to keep your business feasible, because this will affect all your other decisions about pricing).

Next, you will need to determine what the market charges for the services that you provide. I have a very simple strategy for that.

I have a list of the translation agencies who operate in my industry (medical) in the countries were I aim to work. I have rated them based on how close to my value proposition they are. For example, I strive to provide the highest quality translations; I aim for the high-end of the market, etc. In other words, specialist medical translation agencies are my target for determining what the market is charging.

Then I hire a virtual assistant (they can be very cheap online) for a few hours, every year or two, and get my VA to call all of these agencies to get quotes. It is important for me that the VA gets quotes on all of the services that I provide, e.g. translation, revision, proofreading, etc.  I am very specific about what the VA needs to find out, because sometimes an agency will provide a quote that will include revision, proofreading, DTP, etc. If I am not offering these services in a bundle, that rate is useless to me unless it is broken down.

I usually provide my VA with a short medical document to submit to these agencies, so that she can act exactly as I client would trying to get quotes and choose a provider for their job.

My reasoning here is that I do not have the resources to pay for a market research. However, large translation agencies do, so I can use their rates as benchmark for my own.

I am aware that I do not compete with large translation agencies, because there are certain additional services that they can provide which I do not. Hence, I know that my rates need to be lower than theirs are (that is one of my competitive advantages in relation to translation agencies).

By averaging these rates out (per currency), I have a maximum benchmark, based upon which I can set my prices for translation agencies and direct clients. Hence, what I usually do is go 20-30% lower for direct clients and 50% lower for agencies (because they will need to embed their costs and profits, so they will not pay me 60-70% of their final rate to direct clients). Then I try these rates out, by offering them to new prospect customers and seeing what responses I get.

If it is really easy and everybody accepts my rate readily, this could mean that I am bang on average. So, in 2-3 months I try raising the rates slightly to determine whether the market will take it.

If it is really hard to get any clients and I am sensing that I am too expensive, after 1-2 months I lower the rates slightly (may through offers and temporary discounts) and see if I get more interest.

I do not change my rates often for regular clients, so all my trials with new rates are carried out with prospect clients. I believe this is important, because no one wants to work on a regular basis with a provider that keeps changing rates.

I am sure that there are many other approaches to this. I have developed this one over 13 years working as a translator, after a lot of trial and error, and it has been the most effective way for me. This article is too long already, so I will not go into details of having different rates for different target markets, etc. but do bear that in mind when you determine your rates.

Now over to you, do you have a better strategy? How do you determine your rates?

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