Refuse work? Oh yes you can. Whether you are relatively new in the translation industry, or planning to become a translator, you may want to ponder on the possibility to refuse work. Even early in your career. Yes, the temptation can be strong when you start as a freelancer, to accept almost anything that comes your way, thinking it will help you build up a customer base.
- Wrong: Accepting projects with unreasonable deadlines or poor rates for example, will only attract the bottom feeders to your business. Then further down the line when you finally decide to start increasing your rates you will lose those clients who are not willing to pay for the value you bring them anyway.
But let’s get to the 5 reasons you may refuse a project:
1. The project is beyond your capacity, skills or specialty fields.First, do not ever accept work sight unseen. This, is an important factor in building a reputation as a professional translator. It would be very unprofessional to accept a project that is beyond your scope or in a specialty that you do not master. This would end up being detrimental to your reputation as a business. So be honest with the client, and tell them you cannot accept the project because it is beyond your skills, or too specialized, etc. Even better, refer them to another translator you know who may have the right specialization, and do not forget to let them know they are free to contact you for future projects more within your scope. The client will thank you for that and will trust you as a result.
2. The deadline is unreasonable
This usually happens with the ‘bottom feeders’’ we mentioned earlier. Some are translation agencies, some are individuals who have no idea of what it takes. If it is a translation agency, chances are they are one of those huge outfits who think only in terms of profit, and subcontract a huge pool of translators so when they have a project on their desk they’ll send it over to a bunch of them and will give the project to the first to accept their deadline, no matter how tight. I’m not saying all large agencies function this way, but some do.
-If it is an individual person, there comes your job to educate the public, explain why it takes time to do a translation, and walk them through the process.
3. The rate is ridiculously low
Here come our bottom feeders again. If it’s a translation agency, just state your rates and stand your ground if they try to get you to accept a lower rate. Yes, they will walk away, but all the better for you.
- It would be much more profitable for you to spend the time you would have dedicated to that rush low paid project on marketing your business to more valuable potential clients. It’s all a win-win for you: you may end up with less clients, but more interesting projects with people who respect and value your work and do not discuss your rates. Often times those bottom feeders will try to negotiate a lower rate because of a ‘large volume’ of work.
-Let’s say it here: Discounts for large volumes is not a rule in the industry, it is entirely at the discretion of the translator to occasionally offer such discounts to a customer they value if they wish. Not the reverse. And if you do offer an discount, carefully choose who you give it to: some clients may then expect you to do so for each of their projects, so that is not always a good thing to do. Remember you are a business, not a charity.
-If it is an individual person, chances are they’ll ask you your rate first, and then say it’s ‘too expensive’ for them, or that ‘they had no idea’ it was that expensive, and there comes your job to educate again, explain why translation is not cheap, and explain why it is in their best interest to hire a professional. Explain to them what value, and what guarantees you bring them.
4. The agency is known as a bad payer.
Here’s the good news: If it’s an agency, often times they are already known in the industry as bad payers. So do your research, there are resources online where bad payers are listed, or you can ask fellow translators in forums if they have worked for that agency if you can’t find it listed. Sometimes it can also be useful to go check their website, are staff members listed on the website? Do they have a profile online, etc.
5. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!
This is where scammers come in. There are quite a few of those who try to trick inexperienced translators. Most of the time, they are easily recognizable for one or several of the following signs:
6. You are already booked up
Good for you! Beware however, especially for newcomers, do not accept more than you can chew. It can be very tempting early in your career, especially if the project is interesting, but this would only be detrimental to your reputation as it may end up in missed deadlines, or poor quality translation. One can only do so much in a day. So try to figure out your maximum daily output (not your colleagues, yours), and do not stray from it. Always try to include a bit of leeway in your turnaround time estimate, that way if any issues occur during the process you can still meet your deadline.
As a professional translator, MS Office is one of those tools I use constantly. Not only Word, but also PowerPoint, Excel, and occasionally Publisher. Since I also inevitably need to buy new computers and laptops every now and then, and want to have the latest versions of MS Office, instead of buying the software that will inevitably become outdated, I chose to purchase the annual subscription for Office 365, so the software and applications are always up to date, with OneDrive storage for up to 5 users, for your PC’s, laptops, tablets and phones, and it is still a business expense. And support is free via chat or phone. I am personally very satisfied with this solution.
This piece of advice never gets old. It's a wild world out there. Don't go cheap, hire a professional with verifiable credentials.
A quick note today about my primary tool: my old Azerty French keyboard is too faded to use now, I purchased it a while back online, and instead of buying a new one, I just ordered from Amazon the stickers to replace the faded letters, since there is nothing wrong with the keyboard itself, just some letters faded.
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.