As I have been following Marta’s posts about the business of translation, I couldn’t wait to see what Marta had prepared for us this time and here it is, a thorough, practical, “Must have”, business guide for all freelance translators, written by a translator.
Because I am usually rather resistant to Economics in general, the first thing that kept me reading this book at least to start with was its structure: small, “digestible” chapters, perfect for busy people who cannot necessarily engage in long reading sessions at a time. It therefore gives you the time to reflect on, and digest even the most complex concepts exposed. It is also a perfect blend between economic and business concepts and practical information that we can actually use.
- In part 1 about economics and how freelancing works, each chapter exposes the concept or theory, then asks and explains how it applies to the languages industry, with resources at the end of each chapter.
- Part 2 about strategy starts each chapter by exposing the topic, then explaining how it applies to the languages industry, then following with an “invitation to act”, that is, an invitation to try and apply the principle in our business, for the benefit of our business as well as for our clients. For Marta never looses sight of the ultimate goal, to better serve our clients.
- Part 3 examines business management on a freelancer’s point of view, going through concepts such as goal setting, creating value, and diversification.
- Part 4 deals with business practice, and how we can make freelancing work for us, followed by extensive resources. Topics explored a vast range of skills, from visibility to quoting, invoicing, customer relationship management, negotiating skills, etc.
Among the most interesting principles or notions explored throughout the book were the ones of Strategy, Scarcity, Added value, Unique selling point, the Value chain, Negotiation “Stand your ground!”, and many more, all with practical examples, including some from the author’s personal experience.
Now the question is, am I going to use some of the information Marta shared, and try to apply it to my business? Definitely yes.
This is the advantage of having such a vast and arduous topic dealt with by a translator for translators: close to our reality, usable information that is relevant to our freelancing careers.
The book is available here:
Annabelle Vergne, October 27, 2014.
There are different options a freelance translator and linguist has, but what we most hear about indeed is how much to specialize or how much to diversify.
Unfortunately there is no magic recipe or combination, because it depends on your language pair, specialty fields, country of residence to some extent, though in our trade that is becoming less of a factor.
There is a little bit of market research to do to start with, also a bit of gambling, or trying out and see what works and what doesn't work as well. If you're afraid of uncertainty, definitely freelancing might not be a good idea for you. A possibility to balance risk taking is to have a part-time job on the side to pay the bills when downtime comes. But markets and technologies being in constant evolution, new opportunities may also present themselves, opening new horizons you hadn't thought of before.
But the bottom line is to regularly assess your situation and see what you can do to grow your freelance business in a way that serves what you're trying to accomplish. In that respect setting goals is key, then evaluating the success of each component of your business. If you have several specialty fields and one of them is not profitable you may want to drop it. It is OK to make mistakes, that's how we learn and grow. Of course one of the difficulties many freelancers encounter is to learn to do their own promotion. Many start in this profession thinking all they have to do is settle in their ivory tower and translate.
Dang. We also need to promote ourselves, preferably in a non invasive manner, and to be a business person.
- Some translators narrow it down to 1 unique specialty field, a niche. A good way to go if the specialty or the language combination is rare or in high demand.
- Others prefer to diversify and offer multiple services, but that should never be done at the expense of quality.
If you want to diversify, open an additional "aisle" to your freelancing business, the first thing I'd say is choose one you do well, and that you enjoy. Then study the competition and see what you can offer that others don't in order to stand out.
Then promote by showing what you have to offer and most importantly how it will serve your potential client.
Q : Dominique Lancastre, vous publiez votre deuxième roman, « Une Femme Chambardée » aux éditions Fortuna. Pouvez-vous brièvement nous dire de quoi il s’agit ?
Une Femme chambardée raconte l'histoire d'une femme aux prises avec de nombreux problèmes dans sa vie quotidienne. L'histoire se passe aux Antilles en Guadeloupe sur fond de l'éruption de la Soufrière 1976 qui vient chambouler une île en apparence calme.
Q : Cette histoire avec le volcan de la soufrière en toile de fond a-t-elle été inspirée par un personnage réel ?
Comme dans tout roman il y a toujours une part de vérité. Le personnage d'Héléna est inspiré d'une photo. Une femme habillée de noir marchant la tête baissée tenant à la main un sac à main noir. Cette photo m'a renvoyé quelques années en arrière et j'ai eu l'impression de voir en elle une dame de mon enfance appelée Héléna. D'ailleurs, des souvenirs très clairs me sont revenus en écrivant ce roman et j'ai pu transcrire certaines scènes de mon enfance. Mais, ce n'est qu'une infime partie du roman.
Q : Qu’est-ce qui vous a initialement poussé à commencer à écrire ?
Je suis passionné d'histoire et en particulier l'histoire des Antilles. La façon dont ces îles se sont crées, donnant naissance à un phénomène de multiculturalité sans précédent, est tout à fait remarquable. En se plongeant dans cette histoire on se rend compte que c'est un vivier culturel impressionnant, voire une sorte de mine ou l'on découvre chaque jour des informations ou des bouts d'histoire inconnus. Pour un écrivain c'est fabuleux. Puis, je me suis intéressé aux auteurs antillais. Il faut dire qu'il faut vraiment faire cet effort. La littérature antillaise est classée en littérature francophone, ce qui est d'une stupidité abrutissante. Car peut-on vraiment dire qu'Aimé Césaire est un poète, écrivain francophone ? Cela n'a aucun sens. Ce classement ridicule a pendant longtemps porté préjudice aux auteurs. Car, il faut vraiment aller chercher ces auteurs et s'y intéresser. Cette littérature ne se limite pas à cinq ou six auteurs connus comme on veut bien le faire croire. Il y a une multitude d'auteurs aux Antilles et plus je les lis plus cela me donne envie d'écrire.
Q : Quelle place la culture créole tient-elle dans votre vie par rapport à la culture de la métropole ?
La culture créole n'occupe aucune place, je suis la culture créole, je me déplace avec, je la transporte avec moi, je vis avec elle selon les circonstances. En résumé ma créolité est en moi. Je n'ai pas de besoin de la souligner ni de la comparer. C’est ma créolité bien ancrée qui me permet d'absorber la culture des autres et de la digérer.
Q : Comment gardez-vous un contact vivant avec votre terre et votre culture d’origine ?
C'est une question intéressante mais je ne me la pose pas. Car, comme je l'ai dit ma culture d'origine (créolité) est en moi. Je crois que le fait de voyager de part le monde a développé encore plus ce sentiment d'appartenance à une terre. Sachant d'ou je viens je sais exactement où je vais. Je sais que tôt ou tard je retournerai au pays. Je n'ai pas la nostalgie du pays car je suis toujours avec le pays. C'est très important pour moi. Car la nostalgie correspond souvent pour moi à un non-développement. On reste bloqué sur une période qu'on idéalise et qu'on aimerait bien retrouver quelque part. Le passé reste le passé et bien qu'il soit important de ne pas oublier le passé il est important de regarder vers l'avenir. Je parcourais le net l'autre jour et je suis tombé sur cette citation :
John Cage : "I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." Il a parfaitement raison en quelque sorte. L'innovation, je ne vois que par cela.
Q : Un de vos romans, La Véranda, est étudié dans les collèges et lycées et vous avez même organisé un concours de collégiens en Martinique avec Ernest Pépin et José Lemoine, pour trouver une « suite » à La Véranda. Est-ce là votre façon de rendre à votre terre d’origine ce qu’elle vous a donné ?
C'est tout à fait dans mon optique. Transmettre à la génération future mes propres expériences sans la bombarder de préceptes inutiles me semble très important. Cette nouvelle génération vit déjà dans un monde multiculturel. Il est très important de leur apporter des connaissances sur leur propre culture dont ils doivent être fiers. Nous ne sommes plus dans les combats de reconnaissance. Ces jeunes gens ont Internet, des réseaux sociaux, les échanges se font à une vitesse impressionnante. Ce qui manque je pense c'est de susciter l'intérêt pour cette culture enrichissante qui est la leur. La littérature doit rester un plaisir. Le plaisir de lire, de se retrouver dans des personnages, de s'identifier à l'environnement dans lequel l'auteur nous plonge. Elle ne doit pas être en permanence un instrument de combat ni un instrument du pouvoir. Ce n'est pas non plus raconter une histoire pour raconter une histoire.
Q : Diriez-vous que Une Femme Chambardée est aussi un roman féministe ?
J'ai toujours eu un grand souci avec le mot féministe. L'histoire du féminisme avait un sens dans le temps. De nos jours, même s'il existe encore des disparités entre hommes et femmes surtout au niveau des salaires, on ne peut parler vraiment de féminisme. Héléna a autant d'aversion pour les hommes quand ils se comportent de façon outrageante (Monsieur de Malmaison) que pour les femmes qui se laissent faire (les caissières) dans le monde du travail. J'ai fait d'elle une sociologue. Elle est là elle observe et ne dit rien. Mes propos pourraient sûrement porter à confusion. Je ne dis pas que c'est l'avènement du féminisme parce que des femmes sont aux commandes de Boeing et d'Airbus de nos jours. Mais, je dis simplement que les temps ont changé. Héléna est une combattante. Elle combat tout, de l'ignominie des hommes à l'ineptie des conceptions religieuses. Elle, en tant que femme, ne voit pas ce que tout ceci va lui apporter et dans quelle mesure cela va améliorer sa condition. Sa révolte à elle ne concerne qu'elle, une sorte de révolution intérieure. A vrai dire c'est une femme sous pression qui pourrait exploser à n'importe quel moment. On me demande beaucoup, et surtout les lectrices, s'il y a une suite à ce moment. Peut être que les lectrices s'attendent à plus de révolte.
Q: Dominique Lancastre, you have recently published your second novel, « Une Femme Chambardée » (A woman in turmoil) with éditions Fortuna. Could you briefly tell us what it is about?
Une Femme chambardée tells the story of a woman facing the best she can numerous problems she has to deal with in her daily life. The story is set in the Caribbean in Guadeloupe with the eruption of the Soufrière volcano as a background setting, eruption which comes to turn everything upside down in 1976 on a seemingly quiet island.
Q : Was this story, with the Soufrière as a background setting, inspired by an actual character?
As in any novel there’s always some truth. Helena’s character was inspired by a photograph. A woman dressed in black walking with her head bent down and holding a black purse. That photo sent me a few years back and I had the impression I was seeing a woman from my childhood called Héléna. Incidentally, some very vivid memories came back to me while writing this novel and I was able to transcribe some scenes from my childhood. But that’s only a small part of the novel.
Q: What initially drove you to start writing?
I’m a fan of History, particularly the history of the Caribbean. The way those islands were created, giving birth to a remarkable, unprecedented phenomenon of multiculturalism. While getting into this history one discovers that it’s an impressive cultural breeding ground, if not a kind of mine where one discovers each day unknown pieces of information or history. For a writer it’s fabulous. Then I got interested in authors from the Caribbean. One has to really put the effort in though. Caribbean literature is categorized in francophone literature, which is the most stupid thing. For can we really say that Aimé Césaire is a francophone writer and poet? It doesn’t make sense. This ridiculous categorization has been detrimental to the authors for a long time. One has to really look for these authors and get interested in them. That literature is not limited to five or six famous authors as they’d like you to believe. There’s a multitude of authors in the Caribbean and the more I read them the more I feel like writing.
Q: What place does Creole culture hold in your life as compared to the mainland culture?
Creole culture does not occupy any place according to me and my own experience, I am Creole culture and I go about with it, I transport it with me, I live with Creoleness, which allows me to absorb and digest other cultures.
Q: How do stay in touch with your native land and culture?
It’s an interesting question but it’s not a question to me. For as I said, my native (Creole) culture is within me. I think that traveling around the world has further developed this sense of belonging to a land. Knowing where I’m from, I know exactly where I’m going. I know that sooner or later I’ll go back home. I don’t miss home because I always have home within me. It’s very important to me. Homesickness for me often corresponds to a non-development. One remains stuck on a period they idealize and want to go back to somewhere. The past remains the past and though it’s important not to forget the past it’s equally important to look towards the future. I was browsing the web the other day and I stumbled upon this quote from John Cage: "I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." He’s perfectly right in a way. Innovation is all I see.
Q: One of your novels, La Véranda, is being studied in high schools and you even have organized a high school competition in Martinique with Ernest Pépin and José Lemoine, to find a « sequel » to La Véranda. Is that for you a way to give back to your native land?
Absolutely. Pass on my own experience to the next generation seems very important to me. This new generation already lives in a multicultural world. It’s very important to bring them knowledge of their own culture they must be proud of. We’re not anymore in a battle for recognition. These youngsters have internet, social networks, sharing is done at an amazing speed. What’s missing I guess is to generate interest for this enriching culture that is theirs. Literature needs to remain a pleasure. The pleasure of reading, of finding oneself in the characters, of identifying with the environment in which the author is immersing us. It shouldn’t always be an instrument of power or an instrument of combat. It’s not either telling a story just for the sake of telling a story.
Q: Would you say that Une Femme Chambardée is also a feminist novel?
I’ve always had trouble with the word feminist. The history of feminism used to be meaningful. Nowadays, even though there are still differences between men and women for salaries, we can’t really speak of feminism. As far as Héléna is concerned, she has just as much dislike for men when they behave in an outrageous manner (Monsieur de Malmaison) as for the women who allow them to do so (the cashiers) in the workplace. I turned her into a sociologist. She’s there, observing and saying nothing. Let me make this clear: I’m not saying we’re at the advent of feminism because women are nowadays piloting Boeings and Airbuses. I’m just saying times have changed. Héléna is a fighter. She fights everything, from the ignominy of men to the ineptness of religious conceptions. She, as a woman, doesn’t see what all of this may bring her and to what extend it’s going to improve her condition. Her revolt is only hers, a kind of internal revolution. To tell the truth she’s a woman under pressure who could burst at any moment. I’m often asked, especially by female readers, if there is a sequel to that moment. Maybe they expect more revolt.
In a previous post (“Have you overlooked something from your professional experience that may reveal to be useful to your career as a translator?”) I approached the question of specialty fields as a translator, and shared part of my experience on how I developed my first specialty, medical translation.
I now have 3 specialties and two working areas in development. The reason for this post is that I wanted to share something with aspiring translators or newcomers in the translation business.
Developing a specialty, besides training, research and experience in a particular field, requires the acceptance of the fact that things may not always work the way you expected. Part of the process is a trial and error one, and whether a specialty you’re trying to develop isn’t really working because of a lack of previous research (Is there a market for it? Highly demanded? Rare specialty? Already too many competitors in your language combination? Doesn’t pay well?) or simply because you discover you don’t really enjoy it, or that it’s not profitable –don’t forget that as a business, you need to make some profit- you may need to drop it and focus on other areas that work better and bring you more projects.
But first if you’re still looking for a niche to develop, or are developing one, remember that you need to give it enough time – and work- to reach cruise speed.
However there may also come a time, when you’re starting to realize that this one is not working for you, and it’s OK to quit something that isn’t really working for you. Better do that than stubbornly stick to something which consumes your time and doesn’t pay. Now understand, I’m not talking about changing your course according to your mood, yes, consistency is important for your business image and your brand. I’m talking about adapting to circumstances and do the necessary adjustments. It actually recently happened to me, so I switched the specialty that I enjoyed but wasn’t working really well (not profitable) back to a simple “working field”, and upgraded a working field for which I do get more steady traffic, and that is more profitable, to the status of specialty field, as I acquired enough experience in this latter now to do so.
It’s like moving furniture around in your house, to make room, or render it more functional. Or, you know, when a store you go to, quits carrying an item because it doesn’t sell well or there is not enough demand for it.
This is about making the right decisions for your business. So focus on what works for you.
* Get certified or accredited: Yes, it makes a difference. It certainly did for me when I got certified; being listed in a professional online directory did bring me more clients.
* Adhere to professional associations, (including outside your country or geographic area). Being on a professional directory is a must for potential clients to be able to find you.
* Create a website and a blog, preferably integrated to your website, update them regularly, and share content on your social media networks. Monitor which posts gain the most visibility, which are the most popular, which days of the week, and timing; don’t forget that your readers can be anywhere in the world. You’ll eventually find out which are the best days of the week to publish and share your posts to have the maximum visibility. The statistics on your Facebook page for example can be useful for that purpose.
- Don’t neglect the human factor, be personable, but remain professional.
* Have a LinkedIn profile regularly updated, a Facebook page exclusively for your business
* Your social media pages shouldn’t be only about you: share interesting content from colleagues, comment on their posts.
* Participate in online forums, interactive discussions on LinkedIn groups, etc.
* Train, train, train! You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune on travel for that, check classes at your local university or community college, and there are lots of training sessions and webinars online, some of them are even free (another advantage of belonging to professional associations).
* Start developing a specialty field/niche. And use all means available to get there: training, internships, reading about the specialty field in source and target languages – start with your local library- you’ll find there not only books but many professional magazines. Many of those resources are also available online.
* Be proactive, be curious, don’t isolate, this is computer and cyberspace age. But! Don’t neglect the traditional ways (Phone book, business card, personal face to face contact whenever you can)
* Once you start getting some experience, start contributing to publications. Scary? Start a blog, that’s excellent training, and some of your blog posts may end up developing into articles for professional reviews. Don’t forget to share your blog posts on social media.
Now I know that doing all those things on a consistent basis is not always easy, we do get overworked sometimes and for a few days we may not have much time for blogging or social networking as we are too busy working. It's up to you to determine the amount of time you need to dedicate to projecting your business out there, and the amount of time you can actually do that.
- IAPTI (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters)
Profile page/professional directory, online training, professional forum, student forum, etc…
- ALTA (American Literary Translators Association)
- Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT)
- Asociación Española de Traductores, Correctores e Intérpretes (Asetrad) / Spanish Association of Translators, Copy-editors, and Interpreters
- Conseil des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes du Canada
For a more exhaustive list of associations by country:
Have you overlooked something from your professional or personal experience that may reveal to be useful to your career as a translator?
If you’re looking for answers on how to find and develop a specialty field or niche as a translator, you may have looked back at your formal training and thought you didn’t have any special training, apart from your language degree, so how do we get there?
- I remember in my early days as a freelance translator narrowing my CV for example, only to training or experience relevant to my job as a translator, partly not to end up with a resume that would have been too long. I usually included in my resume, for example, my credentials and years of experience teaching languages.
- However in this digital age, your resume is not the only area where you can showcase your skills. Your website, LinkedIn profile, or Facebook business page are also excellent media to display additional knowledge or skills you may have acquired, because it is easy, and recommended, to add content on the go, if you want to gain visibility. So all I’m going to do here is share with you an example of skills that may turn out to serve you in your current career as a translator, which you may have overlooked.
- My first specialty field (medical translation) I developed both because of my interest in it, and through circumstances. Though I didn’t receive any formal medical training in my academic years, I had a family member who worked all her life in the medical field so I had some (little) insight into the subject, combined with a genuine interest in all health matters. So when I started as a freelance translator here in the US, I just trained and got accredited as a medical interpreter. I soon found out however that in my region there wasn’t many opportunities to exercise that specialty with my main language combination, English to French. But, gradually, having that qualification mentioned on my business card, resume, and online profiles, I started receiving more and more written translation jobs in the medical field. Over the years, between my readings, continual education, and practical experience, I gained – and still do gain – better knowledge in that field. I also discovered quickly that this field is too vast and that I needed to narrow it down to a few specialties within that specialty, if I wanted to do a good job at it.
- Recently I started working on a project translating anatomy books. I soon realized this particular job turned out to be considerably facilitated for me by the fact that I received, many years ago, a formal training in Anatomy, fact which I had never mentioned in my profiles or resumes because I hadn’t thought it relevant for my translation career: In my twenties and early thirties I studied ballet and became a ballet teacher till the birth of my daughter. My formal training as a ballet teacher in Paris, which lasted 3 years, included, among other subjects, History of music, and Anatomy applied to Ballet, which I received from the respected Georgette Bordier, then Professor at the Ecole de Danse de l’Opéra de Paris, who published her “Anatomie appliquée à la danse” (Editions Amphora) which was our textbook.
- For those who may want to know practically what I’m talking about, here a short video demonstrating the importance of knowing your anatomy, whether as a dancer or as a ballet teacher:
In English, a demo of the muscles involved in the battement jeté:
In French, an excellent demo of the best way to arch the foot, or rather, to stretch it, and then on how to get the best “real” turnout of the feet in first position, which will not damage the ankles:
That theory training was of course followed and enhanced by years of teaching ballet to people of all ages, and sensitizing my students to the importance of body alignment and better understanding of how their body worked, how to make the best of it, and avoid injury.
- So when I started working on this anatomy book translation, most terms were already familiar to me, and I was very comfortable with the project.
Many translators nowadays come from extremely diverse backgrounds and have previous work experience in areas that had nothing to do with languages, let’s say, whether as engineers, chemists, flight attendants, selling solar panels, you may have worked several years for a travel agency or an airline company, etc.
* Look back at your personal experience, you may have knowledge or experience that you didn’t think you could use in your translator career, either occasionally, or to develop as a full specialty.
* Don’t neglect your hobbies: Do you have in depth knowledge and experience in Photography equipment? Boating? Boat equipment? Exotic plants? Extreme sports? Scuba diving? Organic gardening? Even if you’re only an amateur in one such thing, you can always find some classes you can take in your area or online, and get credit for. You need to start somewhere.
This is only part of my own experience, so all translators are welcome to share here their personal experience on how they developed their own specialty fields, hoping that this may help newcomers or future translators find their own niche.
Annabelle C. Vergne