Archive | April, 2013

7 things most translation agencies won`t tell you

26 Apr

Let me be frank: I don’t believe that all agencies employ the practice I will describe. There are a lot of LSPs who are decent, straight and trustworthy. Project managers will provide you with as much feedback as possible (or needed). Sometimes you will be given contact details of translators who work directly with your material (an ideal situation is when a company has enough resources and will to protect both clients and itself from unfair competition).

But there are also a lot of companies which (unconsciously or consciously) don’t want to stay there for a long time. Every time these agencies send their translations back to clients, PMs of such agencies pray to God that the client is too busy to thoroughly analyze submitted translation. There are about 5000 translation agencies in the world which actively operate on the market; only a tiny fraction of this number will stay with you for years.

The rest won’t tell you these seven basic things (and will eventually lose you):

1. They are always trying to find translators who offer the most “reasonable”, “competitive” or “best” rates. These are synonyms of one simple English adjective – cheap. When you compare websites of these companies with their job posts on different online portals, you will be astonished at this mismatch. On their website they claim that they hire the most reliable professionals. Few days later they are trying to find the cheapest amateurs who have no work and thus are forced to accept any price offered.

2. They won’t tell you either names or contact details of translators. But it is their problem if they hire people who are trying to circumvent them. They have to have a system in place which will ensure that this won’t happen. It’s not your problem. You must have access to people who actually do the job, because this is the only way you can ensure the highest quality possible.

3. They compete on price. This very notion is a red flag for a lot of businesses since we all know very well that this rat race is the very reason why the two situations above arise. There will always be people or agencies who will be able to offer two cents less, that`s why there is no way out. Once again, Google does it free of charge.

4. They don’t proofread or edit translations. Once again, this price competition does not allow them to hire people who will ensure quality of translations they produce. Multiply this by the fact that they hire the cheapest translators available.

5. They hire non-natives. Your text can be translated into Spanish by a Russian student. In Russia or Ukraine, for example, you can frequently find people who do it both ways – from English into Russian and from Russian into English. Why do they do this? The answer is simple: they desperately need work. And in case there is supply, there will be demand. Why bother searching for natives who charge 10 times more, when you have dozens of applications from less-demanding translators? Certain companies don’t even hide this information from clients and post it on-line.

6. At least half of the price will go to their pockets. Even if you pay high rates, this fact sometimes doesn’t ensure that they hire professionals (that is another reason to work directly with freelancers). You really don’t know how much they pay their subcontractors, do you?

7. They will split your project between several translators if needed. This is not as bad as they think it is, but this information is usually kept in secret, if you like. They won`t tell you this if you don’t ask. Surely, certain projects must be completed quickly, when several translators are commissioned. But in this case there should be an editor who will literally stitch these pieces together. See par. 4.

It is you who will make the choice. By asking respective questions, you can always tell agencies apart. But once again –  it’s sometimes far wiser to hire a freelancer you can contact any time.

Have a nice day!


Constant growth of translation business: is it possible?

25 Apr

Let’s agree: what we do here is pure business. We sell our expertise, skills and experience, at a price comfortable for both parties.

Although certain translators volunteer for non-governmental organisations, most of us prefer to work for money. It all means that we run our business. In most cases our company is only one employee, i.e. a freelance translator. Although certain translators sometimes hire accountants, SEO specialists and even marketers, basic form of running this business is to do everything by yourself.

There is nothing wrong with this model. Yet some people decide to go further on. They found translation agencies. This is yet another step in a career of any freelancer, although it is not necessary a freelancer who is going to establish a new agency. Still, almost all small-scale and medium-scale language companies were once founded by people who had something in common with the industry, freelance translators in particular.

There is a false belief a lot of businessmen accept blindly: you have to constantly expand your business, hire new people, buy new equipment, invest a lot of money. Although these actions are generally considered to be good indicators that you business develops, I would strongly recommend you to stay away from companies who believe in this Great Expansion myth when you need a translation. You can get healthy income while being small. A lot of companies and businesses instead apply a bit different principle. If there is no way you can go on without 2 or 3 new employees, hire them. But don’t hire them for the simple cause of expansion. Use your current resources instead.

Moreover, this great expansion principle is harmful if applied in certain industries. Any industry where something uniquely crafted is being sold can’t expand too fast for too long. Take for example legal consultancy: you can’t hire 100 lawyers within an hour. Okay, you can, but because there are not too many of them, you will have to pick every graduate in your area to fill the void. I hate these comparisons, but you can’t find 100 car mechanics within an hour to start repairing business class cars in your state or province at a given level of quality.

Still, certain agencies make you believe that they can meet any deadline while literally digesting your project of any size. They impress clients with the number of offices opened almost on every continent. Their general tone is that this is a train you can’t stop, and this is exactly why you have to jump on it – or lose.

That’s why it’s much easier to cooperate with freelancers and/or timid agencies whose values don’t include rapid expansion at all costs. They have an opportunity to pick translators from a crowd, because really big ones can’t suddenly stop the train and start careful selection of people  they will cooperate with.

And yes, it is extremely difficult to expand in this industry, mainly due to general shortage of experienced translators at any given time. And don’t you be deceived by this large number of translators you see in online directories – most of these people cannot handle your material.

Have a nice day!

Can my bilingual secretary/spouse/nephew do this translation?

23 Apr

This post is going to be about a rather controversial question. During the last weekend I read a lot about translation industry, blogs of well-known translators who literally rock the industry.

It seems a lot of translators have been contacted recently by certain direct clients who right from the start said that they didn’t need a translator at all. The only reason why they didn’t give the file to their bilingual secretaries or relatives was because he or she is too busy to take this assignment. That`s exactly why they just have to outsource it. Otherwise they would happily tell their personal assistants to do the translation. Why not? She speaks French fluently, her English is seems to be impeccable.

Logical consequences of this situation are twofold. You (as a contractor) feel that you have to talk them into hiring a translator. I’m not speaking about any person in particular but language professionals in general. You have to find certain words to persuade them that in case they have serious material to be translated, they have to deal with serious people. This is sometimes quite difficult to do. CEOs, CFOs, different heads of departments, etc.  feel that no one is going to teach them how to do business. Now that’s the stance!

Second consequence (a logical one as well) is that price in this case becomes a very sensitive issue, due to general (sometimes absolute) lack of understanding what it takes to produce a translation of a highly technical document.

Why is it so? One of the reasons is that the market is inundated with the exact type of translators – expatriates who suddenly decided that they were translators, people who spent two years in Mexico and then suddenly thought they were able now to translate INTO Spanish, people who studied a foreign language in school. As they have nothing in terms of experience, it is natural that they use price as the main differentiator in order to enter the market. Vast majority of those amateurs will leave the industry very fast, but this little time they were there would influence the industry a bit. One more client will fall into this trap of perceiving translation as a mere leisure activity.

A few years ago I was contacted by a friend of mine who then worked in a company trying to import agricultural equipment here in Ukraine. The reason he contacted me was that they had a pile of manuals (in English) they had to translate into Russian/Ukrainian. These manuals were full of highly technical information, diagrams and graphs, tables, etc. I don’t want to mention this rate they offered me. It took me five seconds to see the first page of this manual to tell him that they would fail unless they multiply their budget by 10.

During the next three months I heard the same story from my colleagues in the city – they all were contacted by the same person (employee of the company responsible for “getting it done” – another buzz phrase such clients would use when talking to employees). I’m really sorry for this person because he was told to do something that people could not do for centuries.

This company still operates. I think they bought the equipment and had all documents translated. Sometimes I dream about seeing the face of this CEO when he eventually contacted right people and was told the price. Cognitive dissonance in its earnest form.

Recommendations: hire professionals. Don’t let your success in business overshadow the way the nature puts things right. People use wheels for centuries in order to transport things, so why do we sometimes try to invent a square wheel? There is nothing wrong to haggle a little. You can have a discount when the amount of words you have to translate is a six digit number. But like any discount, this should be a tiny fraction of a translator`s per-word rate.

As usual – have a nice day!

Quality of translation: one thing to always look at

19 Apr

Everybody today is concerned with quality. People are talking about quality constantly. Every day numerous meetings are held in various parts of the world in order to discuss quality issues. It seems that some people are literally obsessed with quality.

This demand results in the respective supply. If the world is asking for quality, there will always be people claiming they supply this quality. You can spend a lot of time trying to find people who do not claim they provide high-quality. Try for 20 minutes for instance.

But what is quality in translation? Can people measure this sometimes ephemeral characteristic?

Some claim you can. Not of course measure, but describe, compare, criticise, outline. This is the exactly what we did when studied translation at the university. There are a lot of theories that try to define translation quality as precisely as possible. Scientists develop certain scales and then judge a translation on a scale of, say, 1 to 10. Although this method is sometimes acceptable, it cannot be utilised in real life frequently, since you have to take into account far more factors than you have in a classroom – for instance, lack of time, poorly translated source documents translated by non-native speakers, etc. In a classroom you have plenty of time, you have perfect material to translate, and your teacher is here to help you.

In my opinion, both clients and translators have to admit that you can only say when translation is absolutely unacceptable. This happens all the time – she hired a translator who then fed the text to Google. Yes, that happens. Not so rare as you may think. Of course, even non-translators can see the “quality” of such translations.

But what about files which are not absolutely bad? What about translations into languages you don’t speak? The only way to verify quality in this case is to hire someone who can compare source language with the target one. In the latter case you will also have to hire someone who speaks this language. It all means you have to pay extra money.

But the truth is that this is an inevitable procedure if you want your text to be flawless. Having done this, you can publish your marketing materials right away. You can launch a new product because you have now its specification or manual in different languages adapted to different cultures and countries. This is what Samsung or LG do. If you want this kind of quality, I fear freelancers won’t help you. This time you have to go to an agency, to a big one actually.

So as you see now, you have to ensure quality BEFORE it’s too late, BEFORE you start the translation process. You have to choose someone who will ensure quality of your translation. The only way to stop trembling or trying to pick mistakes in a ready translation is to hire professionals with a lot of positive references, true experts in the field your text deals with. In the end, you will have your document translated correctly, accordingly and flawlessly.

In other words, price can be used as an indicator of quality. Low price is a red flag while high price (exorbitant price, if you like) is almost always a strong indicator that you are heading the right way. People usually don’t ask too much when they can’t prove they deserve this.

Too simple? Maybe, but you have to remember that translation cannot be commoditised. It’s not wheat, oil, or steel. That’s exactly why you can’t measure quality of translation in terms of physics or maths. That’s exactly why I suggest that clients use price as one of the main indicators of high quality. Like low price as an indicator of low quality or even lack of it.

As usual, have a nice day!

How much time does it take to do a translation?

18 Apr

Although the question is quite simple (you just have to count words or characters), the answer is not so simple and obvious. Several factors should be taken into account. What are these factors?

Before we start discussing these factors, I would like you to accept certain assumptions. I’m going to actually impose some of them on you. I think that my experience in the industry allows me to help you understand underlying principles and norms that regulate the translation process.

When you browse jobs and profiles of translators, you can sometimes find people promise you to translate 10,000 words per day without subcontracting your project to another translator. Although this is not a blatant lie, a very tiny percentage of documents can be translated at such a speed. This has to be really monotonous list of spare parts, standards,norms, etc. In other words, when cleverly using a computer assisted translation tool, you can achieve amazing efficiency, i.e. translate “at speed of light”. But these types of texts are quite rare. A short film marketing brochure does not have a lot of repetitions and has to be translated “as a book”, when a computer-assisted translation tool is almost useless. The speed then drops to 3,000 words.

In case you have a highly specialized material with a lot of terms, you have to Google a lot to find right expressions or words. That means that you have to spend time, your working time. Moreover, almost always the text you are translating will include fields that have nothing to do with the subject your client told you about. A couple of days ago I saw a job at that one of the online portals where the job poster tried to find a translator capable of dealing with equines and pipelines at the same time. And there is nothing wrong with job ads like that. Frequently you see the complexity of the text only when you have started translation. It all means that your normal speed of 3,000 words per day is reduced to 1.5 thousand words per day “thanks” to extensive research of terms.

What other factors can affect the speed of translation? These include situations when several projects are processed by one translator, which means she has to switch between different texts. This is an obvious impediment to increasing your speed. Although your speed will not drop drastically, it distracts your attention. It’s better to have a translator fully concentrated on one single task.

Poorly written texts (usually translated into your source language by non-professionals) usually require more time to decipher. You start losing your time. That’s why it is so important for translator to have a look at the file before he says his final “yes”.

Poor project management can also cause delays in the project completion process. A translator has to have easy access to her project manager, who is there to answer questions about the project or file.

Recommendations: 1) show your translator the file or files you want to translate. She will tell you time frames required for this project. You can then discuss and change (if necessary) the project timeframes. 2) it is always better to have one translator working on the project. Quality comes first. it’s better to allocate extra time than to hire a bunch of translators and then combine stylistically different pieces. Plan you translation project. 3) if you want your translation back as soon as possible, do the homework. Prepare files for translation, OCR them, etc. Let the translator concentrate on the translation process per se. Or just give her extra time to do this homework.

As usual – have a nice day!

Market of translation services, or clients to avoid.

17 Apr

What is the market of translation services? A lot of people believe that this is a solid, easy to recognise number of people and clients. Many think that you can always count people who want to buy this service at any given time, as well as people who can provide this service.

Sometimes scientists simplify things in order to prove a theory. When they want to measure speed at which a car is moving, they usually assume that the car is a dot moving along a trajectory. This helps them calculate speed, distance travelled, etc.

If we want to speak about translation market we sometimes have to assume that this is a solid number of people on both sides. But today I don’t want to simplify this situation. Let’s have a full picture of what is going on in the industry. People who want to see a complete picture have to tackle this issue.

First of all, there are at least three clusters of translation markets. The first one includes so-called affluent countries – the US, the UK, Sweden, Australia, etc. Companies and clients here can and are generally willing to pay decent rates to translators.I will not tell you a great secret that all contractors want to work with clients from these countries.

The second cluster includes countries which are less affluent – countries of Eastern Europe, Latin America, some Arab countries. Clients from these countries usually pay normal rates. Still some problems may occur – delayed payments, bank fees not paid by a client, etc.

The third cluster of countries includes such countries as India and China, Russia, Ukraine, ex-USSR countries. Much to my regret, clients from these countries pay flow rates, ask for too much in return, plus their project managers are less professional (in case we speak about agencies) than project managers from countries of the two above clusters.

Naturally enough, it is sometimes a nightmare to collaborate with agencies and (rarely) direct client’s from this third cluster of countries. If you want to reduce your percentage of non-payments, I would strongly recommend you to stay away from agencies in these countries. Direct clients have to be examined thoroughly before accepting any project.

Please do not understand me incorrectly: I am from one of these countries (Ukraine). That’s exactly why I can speak about this issue with confidence. I know this style of doing business from inside. I would also recommend you to thoroughly select agencies from these countries. Sometimes you just have to hire someone from a country you want to penetrate with your business products or services. You just can`t find right companies in your area. Then hire a freelancer!

As years go by, translators develop this sense of selection. We just know that this client is bad/good one. We can instantly tell you who will pay and who won`t.

I’m sure that there are a lot of agencies in India and China which treat their vendors accordingly. It may be that I just haven’t met them yet.

Have a nice day!

Marketing in the industry: best practice, worst practice.

16 Apr

Marketing is all around us. You have entire departments at universities which do nothing but produce marketers of all kinds. Thousands of books are published every year about marketing, although a good half of these books claim they are not about it.

Youtube is full of videos of people promising you a constant influx of clients in case you apply their methods of attracting clientèle.

These books, videos, training materials seem to be too generic though. You can of course pick certain methods and gimmicks, but the information they convey is too simplistic sometimes.

When a client is search for a language specialist, he/she actually starts somewhere. It is interesting enough how certain translators are more visible to clients than others.

What are these marketing methods you are expected to feel and see in action when searching for a freelancer who will provide you with linguistic support?

First, it is the pitch of a translator. The first thing you will notice is that too many translators claim they offer quality, affordability and timely delivery (synonyms are also used, but the basic meaning is clear). I am pretty sure your wish to contact this particular type of freelancer vanishes away when you read the same words on the profile of the tenth translator within 5 minutes. It is absolutely normal! When they claim these things, they are telling their potential clients they can be replaced at any time. The fact is that this is absolutely true. Common features include the fact that they claim they can take any text of any type or nature. They also (usually) compete using rates as their main differentiator (strange, as people always can find someone who will be 1-2 cents cheaper than he or she). This type of pitch also suggests that the person in question is planning (sometimes unconsciously) to find another full-time position elsewhere, since he/she is not serious enough about his marketing efforts. Why bother, if you don`t plan to strive for professionalism seriously?

A much smaller group of freelancers use different approach. First, their pitch stands out. It is either creative, or solid. They are able to attract people`s attention. Second, their rates tell their story (see other posts published here for more information about rates). They don`t want to contribute to general decline of the profession. they keep on insisting that you have to pay generously to get quality. it does not come to you just because your service providers claim they offer it.

They have a healthy portfolio which also tells the story.

Translators who belong to this group of service providers tend to attend industry-related events, or events which are in direct relation to their specializations. There they usually find their direct clients, being neither too pushy nor too timid to produce their business cards.

A lot of people will also contact potential clients using personalized emails. This is a good way to start. You choose a list of companies who are potentially in need of your expertise, and then you use it to market yourself. OF course, your cover letter should reflect your professionalism. This is by no means spam, since you contact people who can be interested in your services.

The first thing to remember: contractors must market themselves to clients. A generic pitch is not enough. Truth is that clients have to be “gelled”. You can always see the “quality’ of a particular translator by means of his marketing efforts (or lack of them). Forget about price. This is the third question to ask.

As usual – have a nice day!