Tag Archives: translation

Can you find the best translator?

25 Aug

Have you ever noticed how unpopular is the concept of “the best product ever”?

Although some marketer and manufacturers are trying to make use of this slogan, it seems odd that this concept has never gained much popularity among advertisers. What can be more natural? You claim you are the best (or you product/service is the best), and people will instantly join the queue to get it.

But there must be some sort of explanation why such an obviously brilliant idea does not get the popularity it (certainly?) deserves.

The thing is that “the best” is an adjective. Like almost any other adjective, it has descriptive nature. In other words, people can`t measure the portion of “best-ness”, otherwise they would have already employed the concept long time ago. So, when someone says that something is the best, they always compare the thing they are talking about with other similar objects/products/etc. One-of-a-kind objects can`t be the best or the worst.

In other words, people tend to compare things, and, based on their requirements, they can find the best expert for the text they are going to translate. Quite often these requirements include price (budgets are tight, which is why clients have to screen out translators whom they can`t afford. Although some may claim that the best translators are the most expensive ones, for these clients they are obviously NOT the best ones). Or, a lot of people will only search for native speakers of the target language, filtering out those who claim they can do it both ways.

Many prefer experts with strong translation skills and will never let translators per se with some knowledge of the specialization touch the source text, etc.

My point is that clients can`t find the best translators for every project. Without clear requirements and criteria identified prior to the search it is more like chasing a mirage. In other words, it is quite ineffective to try to make prospects believe that you are the best one for them. Some of them will (of course) take the bite, but the probability that this relationship will last much long is minimal. It is far better to let clients match their requirements related to their specific project your expertise and experience, or, yes, to let them pass you by in case they don`t need your profile. This is the only way to let them “stay by” you if they choose you.

BTW the same goes for the concept of “the best translation” (to be elaborated in another post of mine).

Words are just words, and it is a very bad when clients (attracted by catchy slogans) don`t see the profile they were thinking about – not because you are a bad translator, but because you are not the best for THEM. Defeated expectancy.

Part II. Selection of translators for literary/non-literary translation process

5 Nov

(based on “Translation in Practice”, a symposium edited by Gill Paul, 2009)

Both types of translation require careful selection of a person who will produce the translation. Although time spent on pre-translation and/or post-translation activities is much greater in case of literary translation, that does not mean you can bring the text to an indifferent translator, which is not rarely the case with non-literary translation. On the contrary: “those who translate literary fiction require something beyond this [an ability to convert words liter­ally from one language to another] —something much more creative, involv­ing an instinctive understanding of the way that words and phrases can work together to best effect.” Once again, literary translation of any given book will most probably be read by at least hundreds of people, which makes it vitally important to allocate much more of proper resources (both time and people) to the translation process.

The next aspect to cover is the relationship between project manager/editor and translators. It should be noted that the process of literary translation in most cases requires that editors have their favorite 3-4 translators (BTW, occasionally these editors may take on new translators). When doing so, they do not base their choice on price only. This is a very distinct characteristic of commercial (for-profit) literary translation process, in contrast to commercial non-literary translation industry, where the price is quite often the only criterion for choosing a translator.

Translators of non-literary text are not required to share the enthusiasm of an editor for this or that book. They can even say no, just because not all books can or have to “strike the necessary chord”. On the contrary, non-literary translators usually don`t mind translating different texts of absolutely different nature (provided that these belong to their specialization).

The final and the most striking difference between selection procedures for two types of translation is the amount of communication between editor/PM and translators. One is often missing if automated translation mechanisms are used by translation agencies. Literary translation process vitally requires a lot of communication and can`t be automated by definition.

Part III. Author, outside reader, sample translations.

Literary vs. non-literary translation: similarities and differences. Part I

17 Oct

Today I would like to start a series of blog posts about differences and similarities between literary and non-literary translation. A lot has been said about the subject matter, and that is exactly why I have decided to put in my two cents` worth.

“Translation in Practice” (a symposium edited by Gill Paul) (2009) (available at http://www.llvs.lt/img/File/Translation_in_Practice_book.pdf) is perhaps one of the best and most comprehensive guidelines on the process of literary translation, from choosing a translator to the editing process and the translator’s role after the editing is complete. The information in this publication will be compared to the experience I have as a non-literary translator.

Let`s start with the next statement: the main difference between literary and non-literary translation is the time spent on pre-translation, translation and editing of a given document. Often it takes months to publish a best-seller, which is a very rare occasion in the realm of non-literary translation process (manuals, data sheets, etc.)

Who are the key figures in both cases? Literary translation requires involvement of the following key figures: author, translator, editor and publisher. Each of them has a certain set of functions. Exclusion of one of these key figures will inevitably result in getting a poor translation (=less readership).

Since the time allowed for the translation of non-fiction is usually much shorter, the number of people involved is reduced to an absolute minimum (translator, sometimes proofreader (who is an editor at the same time), and project manager. It is not infrequent when the text translated by a translator is sent directly to the client (no one says it is bad, because there are situations when one needs a gist translation ASAP).

In other words, those editors who process literary translations have to consider more factors and circumstances – e.g., they should feel “the vibrations and spirit of the original”, as well as considering the “balance between producing a commer­cially viable book and one that stays true to the author’s vision and literary genius.” The role of editors of non-literary translations is usually reduced to one of finding typos and ensuring that style and terms accord with the nature of document.

The role of a project manager is similar to the functions of a publisher. Both ensure that the client (=readership) receives a good translation. They both have a direct interest in ensuring high profit margins of the company they represent (wider readership in case of literary translation, or better understanding of the information in case of non-literary translation).

It is not uncommon for editors of literary translations to commission an outside reader in case the editor does not read well enough in the language of translation. An outside reader will not edit the text. The only function of this key figure is to provide an editor with a report “providing a summary of the book’s plot, and commenting on its literary merit and mak­ing a personal recommendation about whether or not it should be published in English.” This person may also be asked to look at the test translations sent by new translators. Well, it seems that the standard procedure for non-literary translation does not provide for such a position. Instead, the functions of an outside reader are evenly distributed among other key figures – the translator, editor, and (sometimes) project manager). This distribution does not help get a better translation either.

Part II: choosing your translator for literary/non-literary translation process.

Listening to voices of experts: yes or no?

7 Oct

I once met a translator who was (and probably is now) a great opponent of marketing. He was a freelance translator, and, of course, while being an active opponent of marketing activities, he had to “resort” to the most simple forms of marketing a lot – both unwillingly and unwittingly. The thing is that his viewpoint on translation and marketing was a mixture of arrogance, unwillingness to learn from others and fear of the unknown. Instead of proactively searching for new clients, this translator bought membership of a well-known web platform for translators in the hope that clients with decent rates would sooner or later show up. Wow.

A year before I had been on the same path considering marketing blah, blah, blah to be a trap for people (marketing-related books, CDs, etc. cost a lot of money). But being more open-minded about business development in general than the mentioned freelancer, I was lucky to notice there was a lot of hype about marketing among translators (I created my Twitter account that time). Soon I realized that marketing was much more than just registering at PROZ and sending occasional quotes to job posts in my language pair. Among other things, marketing was (and is now) about spending money on training – yes, books, СDs, etc. I have now a robust library of business and marketing materials I use to compile my marketing plan for the next year, or to fine-tune my marketing strategy here and there.

Buying marketing-related training materials is not the only option though. Translators have to apply the info they find there. Another great marketing tool is your on-line image you create using (for example) social media or direct mail. This is another step a lot of freelancers try not to take – by any means possible.

These two steps (spending money on marketing materials and becoming visible on-line) helped me find new clients of absolutely another type – direct ones, or those fellow translators who own boutique TAs and, thus, are willing to pay generous rates. I don`t use my smartphone now – I simply don`t have to be the first to send a quote or answer an email from a pathetic TA. This is the reward people get when they start to communicate and spend money on professional development.

But the main idea of this post is a much more important conclusion: don’t be too arrogant when it comes to your development. There are people who can tell you something of value. There are people who can help you get more – both financially and personally. There are people who know more than you. And they are ready to share the knowledge.

What are the most/the least effective ways to market your translation business?

2 Oct

We all blog about marketing. We talk about marketing a lot. But what is marketing? To put it simply, it is a list of steps people (such as translators) take to attract new clients. As any action, an action taken to get new prospects has its own performance factor score (in other words, a ratio of money/time invested to money received). Certain marketers thus provide people with various grids of marketing-related actions grouped by time required to take them as well as their effectiveness when taken. I would like to take one of these grids provided by Steve Slaunwhite in his book (“The Wealthy Freelancer”).


So, according to Steve, the least effective (or wasteful) ways to market your business are “unfocused networking, unfocused cold calling, unfocused direct mail, unfocused/unproven social media, and targeting organization that don`t get it”. In terms of translation industry this means contacting fellow translators working with absolutely different language pairs that do not include either your target or your source language, contacting people and/or organizations that simply do not need your translation services (it is absolutely wrong to think that any business in any industry needs them FOR YOUR language pair), and broadcasting your personal social media messages on your business channel.


Why these marketing methods are the least effective? They can of course someday bring you a client or two, but their performance factor is very low – you simply spend too much time (=money) while getting too little results, that is all.


Let`s now see what are the most effective marketing techniques you can apply. Once again, according to Steve Slaunwhite, these are “ tapping your network, going deeper with existing clients, direct mail”. It means that your existing clients should be your priority, because it is much easier to keep your existing clients happy than to search for new leads. Moreover, word of mouth is also a very powerful instrument letting you spread the word about your business easily. You can contact you friends (designers, DTP specialists, programmers, etc.) who potentially can have clients who may need translation services.


Less effective yet powerful methods include “smart networking, social media, public speaking, article writing, blogging, cold calling”. Why are these methods less effective? The answer is simple: they require too much of your time.


On-line directories, AdWords, on-line job boards and SEO do not require too much time (few clicks here and there), but they also won`t bring you many clients either. These instruments can be used only as a small contribution to your other marketing efforts mentioned above. Why? Because it is obvious enough that too many people “resort” to using these instruments, making it hard for clients to find potential contractors (too much noise making it difficult to hear the signal).

Non-payers: when clients vanish into thin air

12 Aug

Have you ever faced non-payment? Not a delay of several days, but a real nightmare, when your client vanishes into thin air?


Well, I have. Several times during 10 years in the industry. Sooner or later this happens to almost any translator: you can`t reach your client, whether a translation agency or a direct customer. Emails are left unanswered, SMS messages do not help you, phone calls don`t help either. That`s why I would like to share several examples of my actions I took to get paid.


1. The most simple method to make your PM instantly contact you in this case is to somehow find e-mail of her immediate superior. In most translation agencies this will be the general manager of the company. Once you find it on their web-site, you can send a short and polite message about the situation. I used this technique twice, saying something like “it may be that you (as the general manager) are simply not aware of the fact that your PM does not want to answer emails of translators”. This usually helps, since general managers are usually much more interested in protecting the image of their companies. In the first case it was clear that the PM was called on the carpet by her boss, because I received her reply on the same day. In the second case the president of the company openly told me they had cash problems. I asked if they could pay 70% right now, with 30% to be paid when an opportunity arrives (not a very good solution, but that`s how people negotiate. The Blue Boars score of the company was perfect). The problem was solved. It`s better to get something than to get nothing.


Well, if we take the first case, one may ask: don`t you understand that this PM will never contact you for new projects? My answer is: do you want this type of clients? I don`t. They have already showed their attitude. In the second case I was polite and sincere. We reached a mutually acceptable agreement with the head of the company. I was lucky to get my payment. The rest has been transferred in a month or two (I don`t remember actually).


2. A somewhat more serious issue I faced was when I made a translation for another translator in another country. I was contacted by her with a rush assignment to be done within the next few hours (translator who had had to deliver the project vanished). Ok, no problem. All in all, the client was generous. She also accepted the translation and promised to pay within a week. Needless to say, I never heard anything from her since then. Nothing helped: although I had her phone number, her email address, my SMS messages and emails were left unanswered. What made the issue worse was that she had no Blueboard account at proz.


What I did was to find her LinkedIn profile and browse her contacts there. Quite accidentally I came across the profile of her husband there (well, at least he had the same surname). Having written a very polite e-mail about my concern that something bad could have happened to her, I finally received both his and her apologies (with a phony excuse for this delay) and 25% compensation for this inconvenience. BTW, I still don`t think I will have the courage to work for her later on.


3. Another (similar) unpleasant thing happened to me with one Italian agency. They also were very reluctant to both pay and talk to me about the situation (although I had been working for them for 2 years). I had to first post negative entries on Blueboard. Then I had to contact one of my friends in Italy to ask him to make a call to this company. This pressure helped me get the money. Needless to say, I stopped taking assignments from this agency.


What is the moral of the post? If, after careful consideration and checking, you still come across a client who turns out to be a non-payer (well, this sometimes happens; 2-3 times during my 10-year career, for instance ), don`t be driven to despair. Use a pen and a sheet of paper to brainstorm any ideas about the ways of getting your payment. Do you have friends there? Ask them to make a serious call. Do you have e-mails of managers? Use them. Do you have access to the Internet (I believe you have?) Use it to find as much contact details as possible. Don`t be too concerned about possible consequences for your relationships – they have already shown you that they don`t take you seriously. Don`t be afraid to let this client go.

My interview given to lingo.io about translation and translation industry

28 Jul

Today I would like to share some passages from my interview which I gave to lingo.io portal several days ago (it is not published yet). Frankly speaking, I was quite pleased when I was contacted by their marketing manager Michael Eckl, who asked me to answer several questions about my translation career and prospects of the translation industry.

I hope that the info mentioned below will find its readers.

P.S. Although it is a bit lengthy for a blog post, I believe that both newbies and seasoned freelancers will find new ideas to apply.


Q. In self-marketing, which factors have helped out the most so far?

А. Marketing is the basic activity any freelancer should master. You simply can`t go without marketing. Without one you will have to accept any work you come across – just because you don`t have much of it. While a lot of freelancers tend to use their rates as the main differentiator (in other words, they try to offer the lowest or “most competitive” rates), smarter freelancers try to work less and get more. They find clients which don`t ask about the price right from the start, if you like. Here comes marketing. These freelancers learn ways how to get such clients, how to make them accept the conditions.

You have to show that you are an expert. Not THE BEST translator in the world, but the one who is an expert (who is the best NHL player? No one knows. There are some 100 of them – they all are THE BEST players). Your name should be heard. Your business card should touch hands of proper people. Your direct e-mails should land proper people. You also have to tap your network and go deeper with existing clients. They should be happy with the work you provide.

A very helpful technique is to brainstorm marketing ideas with a pen and a sheet of paper.

Q. Which of the social networks do you use most successfully for customer acquisition, which ones more for interaction with others in your industry?

A. Well, social networks have profoundly changed the way people sell things and services. First, these are very time-consuming things (you can end up spending a lot of time on-line). That`s why I don`t use Facebook (which is too complex compared to Twitter, for example). I use Twitter as the main “megaphone” of things I “broadcast”. You can choose any other social media, but there are two things to remember. First, you have to find people who will be interested in what you are talking about. Second, you have to have something to say to people who are the same as you. If you don`t have right people (in my case – translators, translation agencies, direct clients who are interested in my areas of specialization) around you, or in case you don`t have anything to say, you will waste your time there.

The last thing: don`t expect miracles. Social media alone won`t bring you too many clients. Your marketing strategy should be comprehensive. Direct contact with people at shows, fairs, direct mail campaigns, etc. should be accompanied (not replaced by) social media.

Q. In your work with clients and partners, what are you doing differently today in comparison to the early phase of your career?

A. Well, CAT tools are a must now. We also did not count repetitions back in 2004. These are the most noticeable changes.

A lot of translators now use Google Translate to pre-translate files. This was unimaginable back in 2004. Now with Google Translate the speed of translation is much higher. MT engines I saw in 2004 in my language pair (English-Russian) were pathetic compared to Google now. “Thanks” to MT you now can see a lot of ads in the Internet where translation agencies are looking for MT post-editors (BTW, this has nothing to do with direct clients; another plus of working with them).

Third, Google search engine is now a very helpful tool used for searching different terms. In 2004 search engines were far less intelligent.

Q. Where do you find inspiration for your blog?

A. Well, although I don`t blog too frequently, I try to stick to a certain schedule. Frankly speaking, it is quite difficult for me to produce words on paper, first because English is not my native language (it is quite natural, I believe. You write much quicker in your native language). Anyway, I believe that marketing is one of the most important areas freelance translators have to master, and that is the exact reason why almost all my blog posts are about marketing. Where do I find inspiration? Well, the source is everyday life. The thing is that every day you encounter people and businesses who either employ or don`t employ various marketing approaches. Sometimes you wonder how on Earth they make money! That`s when I switch on my computer and tell people how things shouldn’t be done.

I write a lot about the relationships between outsourcers and translators as well. Sometimes I am shocked to see how some translation agencies treat people who make money for these translation agencies. That is another subject I cover.

I also give a lot of valuable recommendations to my colleagues. Once again, this is my experience, and I believe that translators can and should make their contribution in order to change the industry.

Q. Which online and offline resources do you read on a regular basis?

A. First, Twitter posts of other translators and marketing gurus. Every day I read through dozens of blog posts. Some of them contain absolutely obvious information, but some reveal facts and opinions which are sound and useful.

I also buy books regularly, if I see that they are worth buying. They are not always about translation or marketing. I read a lot about physics, electronics, engineering, construction, etc. as well. These are my core specializations.

Third source of information is Internet. Every day I try to read several editorials about economy of my country, news, etc. This also helps to sharpen my language skills and stay fit. It is a must for any translator to literally devour tons of information regularly.

These are most important sources of information I use.

Q. What are CAT tools missing today, how would you envision the CAT tool of your dreams?

A. This is my favorite question. Well, CAT tools are expensive. That`s OK, but the number of glitches you come across is annoying. Why on Earth do you have to pay 900 EUR for an application which crashes frequently? I am sure that this is acceptable for freeware applications, but is abnormal when we speak about things people pay for.

Even the most expensive tools can`t open certain popular file formats, although they allegedly have to.

Simplicity is another characteristic most CAT tools lack. I also believe that such complex applications which use a lot of other programs you have to install beforehand are doomed to crash frequently. Simple systems don`t crash.

Q. What would you pass on as personal advice to translators new to the industry?

A. Frequent mistake many newbies make is that they don`t choose their specialization. Jack-of-all-trades is a myth. And that is a very bad signal to your potential clients.

Another mistake people do is that they try to compete on price. Once I heard a statement that when you compete on price you have no choice but to be the cheapest. And, once you start to compete on price then you can count on there being somebody coming along who’ll beat your prices, even if doing so ultimately bankrupts them. That`s a law. BTW, people and/or translation agencies who try to find the cheapest translators won`t stay too long with them. It is another myth that you can charge superlow rates and at the same time count on long-term cooperation with this outsourcer. Marketing is there to stop getting low rates.

But who said that it would be easy?