GETTING STARTED IN TRANSLATION
On Saturday March 5, about twenty new and confirmed translators gathered for the Getting Started in Translation workshop at the SFSU Downtown Campus. The presents were Michael Schubert, a successful freelancer, and Melissa Wheeler, a Senior Project Manager at Medialocate. Both emphasized the professionalism and common sense necessary to grow any business, adding refreshing, encouraging specifics with respect to our profession.
Raise Your Expectations
Michael’s main message, backed-up by Melissa, was that translators should raise their expectations! Acquiring the language skills necessary to be a good translator—perfect comprehension of the source language and excellent writing skills in the target language—require an investment on a par with becoming a doctor or lawyer, and the industry is thriving. So don’t be afraid to set a minimum rate—we don’t dicker with the dentist, do we? Michael also stressed that a translator’s computer skills are as important as language skills, and include internet research skills and mastery of at least one translation memory (or Computer Assisted Translation) tool. In fact, Melissa says her agency requires translators to use CAT tools, though not necessarily own them—you can often work in the environment through the agency. The main thing is to be willing to learn. Try the free versions available on the Web and/or subscribe to Jost Zetzsche’s Translator’s Tool Kit & Tool Box. Whichever tool you choose (Trados is the standard, Wordfast is the only Mac-friendly one), invest in technology early and stay up to date: it’s easier to build your translation memory before you have several years’ worth of glossaries to convert, and you can advertise yourself as tech savvy and willing to invest in state-of-the-art tools to provide more consistent translations.
Some of Michael’s other tips include (too numerous to mention them all): find agencies through ATA/NCTA corporate-member lists, trade journals and translation portals; for direct clients, target companies in your specialty and attend industry conventions. Better yet, help them find you. Colleagues often provide referrals, so become active in the ATA, NCTA, and any translators associations in the country of your foreign language. Keep up-to-date profiles (including a picture) in their databases and on translation portals (such as ProZ.com, the largest, where Michael says there’s wheat to be had amidst the chaff). Join e-mail discussion groups and create your own (short and simple) website. In short, since translators tend to be isolated working at home, we should join virtual communities.
While waiting for work, read the ATA, NCTA, and translation portal websites, professional journals, blogs, and books. Attend ATA/NCTA events and workshops, volunteer, practice your skills, and learn to use your software proficiently to save time when you have work. As for payment/pricing: never work for an agency without checking payment practices; and be honest and transparent in your pricing policies.
Be Willing to Learn
Melissa was encouraging on this point, saying it’s important to have standard fees and not negotiate every job, and that she expects translators to have minimum rates (that will increase gently but steadily). She’s happy to pay them to have someone available when she just needs 3 words translated—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally grant her a freebie if she’s giving you 10,000 words/week. With respect to marketing, Melissa said if you have a rare language combination, it’s acceptable to send resumes outside your area of expertise. You may not be called right away, but that doesn’t mean you never will. To increase your chances, consider offering other services, such as editing, proofreading, project management, DTP, or quality assurance. And in addition to CAT tools, you should have Acrobat to annotate PDF files and be willing to learn how to transfer files through an online server rather than by email.
Beyond that, basic business and communication skills are necessary: don’t start work without a P.O., read its payment terms, and follow instructions when invoicing. Keep your contact details updated. Emails must have helpful subject lines and project numbers, and be sent to the right people. You should answer everything even if to decline a job, always confirm receipt and delivery dates, and negotiate deadlines immediately. Use the provided reference materials, send queries promptly (but no questions before at least googling), keep track of your deliveries, and deliver with any relevant notes. Be prepared to explain/defend your translation, but accept client review changes. If a project is taking too much research time, ask for more money and/or reference materials—maybe the project manager forgot to send the glossary.
In short, value your skills, invest in them, and expect to be duly compensated. NN