Hooray, I’m still alive!
The 25th February 2015 marked my last day of full-time employment before I made the leap of going it alone as a freelance translator, and on the 10th March 2015 I got my first ever paid translation job – a marriage certificate. One year, 96 projects, and over 253,000 words later, I’m feeling a little more established as a freelance translator, and I’m excited to see what the next year will bring.
So, even though it’s a little later than the traditional time, I thought now would be a good opportunity to reflect back, and share with you the three most important things I’ve learned over the past year, and my 3 “New Year’s Resolutions” for my second year.
Lesson 1: Competing on value, not price.
One thing that immediately became apparent to me was that translators love bemoaning the fact that translation jobs posted online tend to become a kind of reverse-auction, where the job would go to the lowest bidder rather than the person best suited for the job, or that agencies would constantly try and push prices down, and no-one seemed to respect the profession and everybody seems to hate translators (okay, I made that last bit up).
In any case, the advice was always the same: don’t feed the bottom-feeders, if you don’t want to. I’ve already had a couple of situations where people have tried to push my prices to lower than average (or indeed, lower than the National Minimum Wage!), and I have had to stick to my guns and say “I’m sorry, but I can’t go lower than x.” And sometimes, I’d still end up getting the work. And now, when I meet new people, I have much more confidence when I explain that of course there are cheap (or free!) translation services, but what I offer is expertise and quality – and that’s why my translations are not of the bargain-basement variety.
Lesson 2: Acting professionally on the internet.
The issue of how one should act online within the translation community (or any professional community, for that matter) has been hotly debated recently, but this lesson is based on my own personal experience and observations from lurking around various websites and forums.
While the internet is a great place to network and connect with other translators or freelancers, it’s also really easy to go off on a rant about work or clients, and I’ve seen a lot of rudeness and elitism between people we should be calling our colleagues. While I remain the biggest moaner and sulker in the South-West of England, I know from my own previous experiences how certain language or behaviour can negatively impact you in the eyes of potential clients, and so I don’t want to be one of those people who call you “stupid” for posting a simple question, or publicly besmirch a client or colleague without giving them a chance to resolve the issue. And one of the joys of freelancing is that if you really don’t like who/what you’re working with, for whatever reason, then you can say no to it! Speaking of which…
Lesson 3: Being able to say “No.”
When you’re just starting out in translation and you haven’t had a project in weeks, it’s really tempting to take a project at an insultingly low rate, or have a bash at translating that medical report…because it’s better than nothing, right? One thing that I learnt early on is that it’s better to say “No, I can’t do this project, because I have no experience in this subject” than to spend many an evening panicking and trying to learn a degree’s worth of nuclear physics (this didn’t actually happen, by the way).
Lots of clients have replied saying that they appreciated my honesty, and that they’d come back to me when they have a project in a subject that I’m comfortable with, and I get to sleep soundly at night, knowing that I’m not about to be sued by a French power plant (again…I’m making this story up. Promise.).
So, my New Year’s Resolutions are:
1. “Give back” to my local business community.
I mentioned in a recent blog post that if you don’t work in the translation industry, then you may have no idea where to start if you need to get something translated, which I why I wrote that post in the first place. I live in the South West of England, which is currently really striving for international tourism growth – unfortunately, since I only translate into English, I can’t directly help people with translation work.
What I would like to do, however, is become a local “mine of information,” and give talks to local tourism services and businesses on why they should consider getting their content professionally translated (as opposed to machine translated), and point them in the right direction. This may lead to my trying my hand at outsourcing, or may just lead to me referring other translators in my reverse language combination, and hopefully building a great local translation team. In any case, I think it’ll be important and useful, both for myself and for local businesses.
2. Keep building my skills.
Although I live quite far away from the bigger cities that host language and translation events, the good thing about where I live is that there are a lot of tourism and business conferences, which I can pop along to and always learn something interesting. I believe that one should never stop learning, so this year I plan to learn even more about translation, business, finance and economics – both to improve my translation specialisms and, hopefully, to be able to apply my new-found knowledge to my business. I’ve always hated numbers and would always shy away if confronted with anything remotely mathematical – but I know deep down that I must face my fears, and that I will find it hugely beneficial in the future.
3. Work with a direct client.
So far I’ve only been working with translation agencies, which I think is a great thing if you’re just starting out, as you can focus more on just doing the translating rather than the other admin and client communication that goes with it. I always assumed that to really make it as a successful translator, you should end up working solely with direct clients, but the more I’ve spoken to fellow translators, the more I’ve realised that this isn’t necessarily the case – lots of translators have admitted that you need to invest a lot more time in communicating with direct clients, especially if that client does not know anything about translation, and many translators prefer to receive work from a mixture of sources, rather than exclusively one type. I remain very new to the world of sales and marketing, but I’d still like to make it one of my business goals to build up my knowledge so that I have more courage to approach potential clients directly.
So now what?
You see, now that I’ve written all of this on the internet…it is set in stone. I have to do it. So be sure to check back in a year’s time to see how I got on!
And by the way, I’d like to thank everyone who has helped me in my first year, both translators and non-translators alike. You reassured me that I was on the right track, and made this scary time in my life a little easier to bear. You guys are the best!
Edit: 6 months after I posted this, I wrote a little review of how the goals were coming along. You can read about my progress here.