24 November 2013

Interesting borrowed post on specialization, with fantastic info in the comments section

Corinne McKay's latest post in Thoughts On Translation, Choosing your translation specializations, derived into a very interesting discussion in the comments section, with input from some great names in the industry (and I certainly don't mean mine!). Lots of things to bear in mind when approaching specialization and more generally when thinking about growing up to be a serious, conscientious professional. Enjoy!

6 November 2013

The ultimate translation interview: Chris Durban by Katarzyna Slobodzian-Taylor

If you are planning to read only one translation-related post this month, or even this year, do make sure it is this one: Translators' Wall of Fame: Chris Durban.

I fell upon this post in the Mastermind Translations blog thanks to Catherine Christaki, and I found it hugely inspiring. The interview has a fantastic texture and feel to it. It holds every reason why I want to be a freelance translator and puts forward a sort of ideal picture of what I want to be when I grow up professionally. I can only thank Katarzyna Slobodzian-Taylor, and of course, Chris Durban herself, for reinforcing my urge to work harder, learn more and do things better. I really hope you enjoy it too!

3 November 2013

Establishing the freelance translation work you do not want to do, and standing by your decision

I was reading The Entrepreneurial Linguist, by Judy and Dagmar Jenner, a couple of days ago. And they mention one step in freelance translation that I had not consciously thought of before: defining the work you do not want to do.

When I started freelancing, I pretty much tried everything that came my way. I worked for peanuts, for agencies where I knew I would not have a long- or even medium-term future, I took jobs that I did not like, jobs where I could not possibly be competitive and jobs where it took me forever to deliver a translation just to the best of my ability, and I generally made a point of never saying no to a potential client.

The good thing about such things, of course, is that it does not take you long to realize where you have gone wrong and redress course. It is all part of the learning curve, and I think I learned a lot relatively fast. However, I like the Jenners' approach: I wish I had done things the other way around and actually sat down to define in advance a few things I did not want to get involved in.

When they are starting out, freelance translators often do not even know the going rate for their business. Even when they find out, they don't have a clue of where to find clients willing to pay them that much, how large or small the market (their market) may be, where they stand in this new world they did not even know existed, and even where their relative strengths and weaknesses may lay. And the natural thing is to try things out, gradually (though hopefully fast) learn what works for you and stick to that as a platform for growth.

However, now that I am a stretch further along that path, I wish I had devoted a couple of hours of my life to establishing what I did not want to do and developing a series of bottom-line policies.

Setting a rate below which one will not work is very hard to do right at the start of your freelance career: you usually do not have all the data necessary to make an informed decision. However, it does not take more than a couple of months, and may take much less, to find out at least a few of the things you need to know. It is important for you to have the courage to act accordingly.

No one is saying that you should not retain some flexibility, but it would be foolish not to make the most of the opportunities that are out there for you if only you look for them. No one will hire you for 15 cents a word  if you will work for 3. And it is probably even true that no one worthwhile will hire you at all if the rates you set for yourself are ridiculously low. I still accept relatively low per-word rates occasionally, but only when I am certain that the job will be fast and painless and I can draw a decent hourly rate from it, and when I know the agency in question guarantees a healthy workflow, in terms both of work load and deadlines.

After about two months in the profession, I systematically turned down technical (cars, chemicals, and the like) and medical texts. They simply took me too long to research and left me seriously wondering whether I had actually done a good job rather than just a job. And, above all, I found I had no interest in pursuing them further so I might overcome my limitations and turn them into an area of specialization. It was never going to happen, and such translations and I were both better off without each other.

The Jenners talk about this as "non-specialization," and I find that, while freelance translators talk a lot about specialization, they do not give much attention to the opposite concept. For beginning freelance translators, non-specialization is in fact probably more important: specialization takes a long time, many years, but realizing what areas are out of bounds can probably be established within a few hours and save you many headaches.

By the way... the Jenners' book (for a taste, here is their blog, Translation Times) is explicitly written for people wishing to attract direct clients, which I am hoping to do. However, I would recommend portions of it for freelancers who work with agencies too: it provides some good insights on how to approach the business aspects of translation, particularly the assets that many of us hopefully have but are not consciously aware of.

29 October 2013

Two borrowed posts on rates that you probably should not miss

Rates do not just happen, as we all know (but may need reminding): you need to set them, set them well and keep pushing them up as you grow professionally. Translation agencies are surely not the best you can do when it comes to charity, so you should charge them as much as you can.

From the Patenttranslator's Blog, 10 Signs That Your Rate Per Translated Word May Be Too Low

From Thoughts On Translation, What is "the right rate" for your translation services?

And, while I am at it, here is another post I should have passed on weeks ago and did not. I thought and wrote about this at some length a few months ago, but the Patenttranslator's Blog clearly knows best: Is 50 Thousand Dollars Money Well Spent on a Translation Degree?


25 October 2013

When is the right time to become a full-time freelance translator, and how do you know it is?

Experts say that having a job to pay the bills is a great asset for a beginning freelance translator, and it is easy enough to know why they would be right. And yet you surely need to take the leap at some point, to set aside the certainty a paycheck provides and seek growth in the freelance world, where apparently there is such growth to be found.

Many questions emerge. Do you really need to take that leap? Can you not be a part-time freelance translator forever? Of course you can. I, however, do not want to: I like translating enough to want to make it my official career, and I think I am good enough at it to make it work out as my official career. I am not there yet, but if the ATA says the average freelance translator makes more than 40,000 dollars per year, I feel I should be able to make that kind of money, and thus pay the bills, just translating.

I am 37, but I approached my start in the freelancing world as humbly as I did the beginning of my career in journalism almost 20 years ago. I know that few things happen overnight, and I am happy to let things flow and find their course. Experience in other walks of life tells me that things generally do find their course, and I am sure that translation is no exception. I also know enough about the real world by now not to expect any miracles, however, and I am convinced that whatever I reap as a translator will be largely the result of my own efforts. 

If I want to grow as a freelance translator, I need to put in a lot of effort into improving both my ability to translate and my presence and availability as a freelancer. I am working hard, translating quite a bit and taking both NYU's Certificate in Translation and the DipTrans exam to convince anyone who needs it that I am qualified, so they give me the chance to prove that I am also good. 

And yet I feel that my formal job, the one that pays my bills (and currently allows me to keep my translation money for bigger and better things!), is more and more of a burden for my freelancing career.

As I said earlier, I am a 37-year-old mother-of-two: I can hardly afford to experiment as I did in my early twenties. However, I still wonder whether a fair dose of "hunger" might actually be good to grow professionally. I understand that not being able to make ends meet would get me far more stress than I want at this stage in my life. However, I also ask myself, quite often in fact, whether needing to support myself as a freelance translator might actually drive my career as a freelancer far beyond anywhere where the mere wish to translate in my spare time can ever take it, and make things happen a lot faster.

I do not work at McDonald's: I actually like my job as a journalist quite a bit, particularly when it is busy and I have lots of work to do. I spent three weeks in Brazil to cover the Confederations Cup in June and I loved the assignment... but it meant that I did virtually no translation work for three weeks. If I make it to the World Cup in June, the same will happen again, and last about a month-and-a-half. 

I do not want to whine about pleasant things, of course: I could say no to these assignments but would not want to say no in my current circumstances. If I am a journalist at all, it is clearly for things like these. The point is, however, that I feel such events, and having a full-time job more generally, affect my commitment and my results as a freelance translator.

I monitor ProZ.com and TranslatorsCafé.com for jobs quite closely and regularly bid on the ones that I think might suit me, I take almost any translation jobs that come my way from agencies I have worked for in the past and I feel I can do well, and I always push myself a bit beyond what might be reasonable: if you look at my translation figures, I am almost a full-time translator despite having a full-time job as a journalist and a family. 

Marketing to direct clients is what I never find time to do, and I feel that that would be essential for me to take things a step further: can you become a full-time freelance translator, with no jobs on the side, and earn a decent living without devoting 2-3 hours per day to looking for new, better-paying clients, for a few months at least?

The truth is that it is a mouthful to handle a full-time job, freelance translation on the side and the marketing tasks that are essential to any freelance effort, along with the family life and other daily tasks that make life really special and enjoyable for some of us. 

When I started out as a freelancer, I thought the move away from moonlighting would be natural enough: a day would come when I could make more money from the translation jobs I actually do and those I have to turn down because... well, because I have a job that pays the bills. At that point, I would be better off without a day job and could walk away from it comfortably enough. Now, I am not so sure that that day will come on its own. 

A friend once told me that moonlighting is in fact addictive. According to her, one gets hooked on the rush, and the money, that come from working two jobs, and it is hard to go back to having just one. I definitely see my friend's point and to some extent I am enjoying that position at the moment.

However, I am also quite certain that the major leap in my freelancing career will come only when I finally dare to drop my regular job. 

At the risk of sounding too much like a teenager wondering what love is and how can you ever know when you have found it, I hope the day will come when I muster the courage, or the will, or the drive, or whatever combination of factors it takes, to take the leap and become "just" a freelance translator. I am not there yet. But I hope to be sometime, sooner rather than later.

26 August 2013

Doing vs. blogging: a translator with writer's block in the Internet age

It's been a very long time, and there is an explanation for that: I may be a journalist, but I do occasionally get stung by writer's block, particularly when I'm not working to a deadline!

At one point in recent weeks, I even felt somewhat guilty about not posting anything in my blog. I wanted to write, could not come up with anything mildly interesting to say... and before I knew it my mind had twisted all that into, "Oh, I'm not doing anything!"

I once heard or read somewhere that people who keep a diary occasionally get so caught up in writing about their lives and analyzing them that they forget to actually live them to the full. And I think I experienced a reverse case of that! I took "I can't think of anything to write that my readers might be interested in" to mean that I wasn't doing anything of interest to myself. That, of course, triggered a couple of alarms, fortunately enough to prove that it simply was not true.

I sat back and counted. Over the past two-odd months, the period over which I have not written a proper blog post, I have actually done quite a few things to advance my translation career.

I have for one thing completed my Introduction to Translation course at NYU, the first of what I hope will become my online Certificate in Translation. I did well at it, and I have signed up for a second course in the fall.

I have also registered to sit the DipTrans exam in late January, which I hope will be a crucial milestone in my budding second career.

Further, I have finally made the decision to drop French from my CV! I am now formally a bilingual translator with English and Spanish as my target languages and with those two plus German as my source languages. This may look easy, but the decision has taken me many months, and I am quite proud of it. I started freelancing a year ago with eight language pairs and a broad background. Based on my experience over this year, on lots of reading and research and on the helpful comments of several veteran colleagues, I am now down to four language pairs, with a clear focus on financial translation. The whole process feels somewhat like growing up professionally, and despite the inevitable growing pains it is something I am very happy about.

Also, largely as a consequence of my first NYU course, I finally got my act together with glossary-building. I have been translating forever, but I never developed a consistent habit of actually writing down for future reference and use the words I had to look up as I worked. Now it is finally happening. That is probably yet another aspect of growing up professionally, and it is definitely something else to be very happy about.

In recent weeks I have read 1.5 books on translation (nothing good enough to recommend it here, I'm afraid, but interesting reading nonetheless). I have updated my website and drafted a classy brochure (about to go to print as we speak!) to hand out to potential clients. I have built the foundations of a couple of very interesting working relationships with colleagues that I hope to work with again in the future.

And I even took a great holiday... and did a few translations!

Being a freelance professional in the Internet age is quite a handful. It is exciting and fun but... wait... you have to blog, tweet and post about it! That is usually also exciting and fun, but sometimes it is just too much. Please bear with me when that happens!

3 July 2013

An interesting, borrowed discussion on rates...

A very good article from The Translation Journal: Rosetta Stone and Translation Rates, by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini. Enjoy, think, and work out where you stand!

21 June 2013

Juggling two jobs: when you are not quite ready to be "just" a freelance translator

I have not written a post for over three weeks, and there is a reason for that: sometimes it is hard to juggle two jobs, or more precisely two jobs, an online course in translation and a life.

In my capacity as a journalist, I get to spend three weeks in Brazil this month to cover the Confederations Cup. I love football, I like reporting and I find such assignments quite good fun. However, I don't quite know what I am supposed to do with my side job as a freelance translator while I am in Brazil. It is probably inevitable that I should set it aside for a few weeks, at least until my day job goes back to normal, but that is actually easier said than done. 

Indeed, I have not been able to do a lot of freelance translation this month, and yet I think of myself more as a translator than as a reporter by now, so I find that quite hard. I have the feeling that I cannot afford to put my budding career on hold just like that, and above all I miss the work of actually sitting down to translate. So the experience has made me think.

It is good to have a job to pay the bills, and most experienced freelancers advise that beginners should have something else until they establish themselves in the world of translation. On the other hand, it is also good to be able to focus full-time on your career of choice, and juggling two jobs often conspires against that.

If I had more time to focus on translation, I would certainly do more marketing. I would also translate more, though there is no way I would be able to fill all my working hours with translation jobs right now: I am simply not there yet. It is tricky to opt between the financial safety of keeping a full-time job on the side and the determination and drive that would inevitably come under the additional pressure of being "just" a freelance translator. 

I sometimes get the feeling that a little uncertainty would be good for my career as a freelancer, and occasionally even that I will never make the leap I need to make next if I keep my regular job. I hope I will know when the time is right to opt out of my job as a journalist in such a way that I take on some additional pressure to fuel professional growth without jeopardising the well-being of my family as well as myself by resigning the extra income.

28 May 2013

Focus, focus, focus: keeping one's eyes on the ball as a freelance translator

I am pretty sure I am doing (at least most of) the right things en route to being a successful freelance translator, and yet some things do not quite feel right at the moment. My conclusion is that, while I am doing lots of things that should help my career in the future, I may not be doing enough to push it along right now: focus is definitely the word of the week!

I've got a website and a blog. I'll be starting the NYU Certificate in Translation next week and sitting the DipTrans exam in January. I have joined the ATA and I am in the process of joining my local translators association (which is actually a lot more complicated). And yet... I am clearly not doing enough in terms of short-term client search, good old-fashioned client canvassing.

It is hard to stay focused on your everyday life as a freelance translator while you also deal with a day job, think about your long-term freelance career and closely follow several LinkedIn groups! In my case, the simpler marketing tasks appear to have fallen through the cracks. I have kept monitoring ProZ.com and bidding on jobs there, but I have not been actively looking for new clients beyond that, either agencies or direct clients. And I should have.

So it is time to go back to basics. I have drawn up a new informal business plan (the old one is more than six months old and has a Stone Age feel to it by now), and I have set myself the goal of writing off to five new agencies per week, just to tell them that I exist. I am starting out with ATA corporate members in Spain and Argentina and hope to take it from there.

More generally, however, I need to consciously devote more effort from now on to just staying focused. There is a good chance that in translation, as in so many other walks of life, things do not just "happen." You need to make them happen, and it is no good putting the cart before the horse: long-term growth is good, but it should not come at the expense of short-term development. Qualifications are great for the future, but I also need to grow my client base now.

Blogs and social networks are fun and they actually teach you a zillion things, but they unfortunately do not increase short-term income. If there was a financial reward for research into translation as an industry, how it works and how I can fit into it, I would be really well off by now. But that is of course not true. What I need to be better off than I currently am is more clients, and the only way to get those is to really focus and to implement a solid marketing strategy.

17 May 2013

Credibility as a crucial asset for freelance translators

As I become more and more engaged in discussions with fellow translators in forums like LinkedIn, it strikes me how much veterans play down the importance of credibility. It is like so many other things in life: they have it, so they do not value it much. They say things like, "If you're good, you're good" and "You cannot learn to be a translator, you need to have a gift for this profession."

While it is probably true that translating takes some form of a natural talent that one cannot learn, it is at least as true that beginning translators, even if they are fantastic at their job, start out without an asset that is crucial to the exercise of their chosen profession: credibility. And that is definitely something they should work on.

In fact, as an aspiring translator, an aptitude for translation itself is a given. We all assume that you are at least good at the core task of the job, that you know your source and target languages well enough and know the dynamics of both to transfer meaning from one to the other. The problem, of course, is that there are thousands of people for whom we assume the same, and you need to differentiate yourself to show that you are better than the next person. That is the only way you can actually get paid to translate and earn enough doing it to make a reasonable living, and there is clearly nothing innate in that.

It seems to me that there are two ways to acquire professional credibility. The first and most reliable is experience. That is second to none: you work for a client, you do things well, your client is pleased and comes back for more or tells her friends and acquaintances who may need a translator's services. In fact, it can also work out more informally, with a friend who has never worked with you and does not actually know how good you are at translating (that is, after all, a given) triggering the same process in the assumption that, since you are a serious, reliable person with sensible conversation and a common-sense attitude to life, you must also be all those things in your professional capacity.

The second path to acquire credibility is your educational background. Certification works this way, and so does training, which appears to be particularly important as you specialize. It gets harder to make assumptions about a translator when subject matter becomes more specific. And while you may indeed be familiar with a lot of terminology from, say, reading the Financial Times and The Economist since the age of 10, it will most likely be tough to use that to your advantage in convincing a potential client that you are just right for a project on economic policy. This task will be easier if you have a degree or have taken a set of courses in this particular field, of course.

Small details will also contribute to building up your credibility. A website is one of them, but of course not just any website will do. You need to think long and hard about the kind of translator you want to be, and about how your website, and your brand more generally, can contribute to positioning you as such a professional. The same goes for a blog, and for any participation you may have in social networks. Anything you say there will probably be readily available to any potential clients - in fact, that may be a large part of the reason why you write it in the first place - so you need to be sensible and make sure it reflects well on you as a professional.

In a globalized online world, professional credibility is a 24-hour issue and draws on your personal life too. When a potential client googles you, they will see your website, but they may also find your personal Facebook page the photos in which a friend tagged you and so on. You cannot really control everything they have access to, so you should at least really look after the things you can give a direction to. Your professional online presence has to be, well... very professional.

This week I dropped Italian from the source languages I mention in my profiles. One veteran translator suggested that I drop my multilingual professional identity altogether, arguing that, while I may be good at all those things, they could lead people to think that I am spreading myself too thin or that I am in fact not good enough at any of them. I think she is right. The sensible thing to do would probably be to also drop French, for the sake of credibility: it looks like I am not very credible as a French translator, since I don't have any specific qualifications, and according to one observer at least it actually detracts from my overall credibility as a translator. I resist dropping it, because I love French and I am very good at it, but the truth is I find it hard to convince clients that I am as good as I say I am and it may well be that it is probably not doing me any favours.

As a freelance translator, you can acquire credibility over time, of course, perhaps even fairly easily if you do the right things. However, you most certainly were not born with it and you did not learn it in your French, German or English lessons. It will take conscientious work over years and years, on- and offline, and a lot of finetuning. Veteran translators who already have it may not remember how hard it was to attain that status, or perhaps they just went about their business diligently and gained credibility without actually seeking it. For those of us who are starting out, however, the strategy to become a credible professional is worth at least as much thought as the allegedly innate aspects of a translator's profession.

10 May 2013

Finding out where you stand as a freelance translator

This has been a fantastic week: I may have been a little slow to write, but I have done lots of research and come upon some great stuff I am now ready to share with you!

I have given a lot of thought to where I stand as a freelance translator. I have been doing this for eight months now, and while I hugely surpassed my own expectations from the start, I appear to have stabilized since then.

I did not actually set out to assess my position. It all started quite indirectly. I came across New York University's online M.S. in Translation and thought that might be a good medium-term plan. So I emailed NYU, looked at the brochure and then emailed them again to clarify exactly how much the programme cost. It seemed ridiculously expensive, but I got lost in per course fees and thought I might as well ask for the real figure. And NYU staff told me it cost 57,000 dollars! Yes, no typos: 57,000 dollars!!!

The good thing about such a staggering amount, of course, is that I couldn't even feel tempted! Once I got over the shock, however, I went about finding out two things.

The first thing I wanted to know was how much a decent translator can hope to make per year. I mean, if there are people willing to spend $57,000 on a two-year Masters programme, there must surely be translators (hopefully those who did the NYU masters at the very least!) who are making very serious money from the profession!

My research (actually the ATA's) showed that the average US-based freelance translator makes about $60,000 per year in pre-tax income. A non-US-based frelancer makes around $56,000 per year, the ATA says.

This put the NYU figure into perspective, but it showed I am light years away from that average! So I made the most of a LinkedIn debate to ask ATA colleagues when I, or any other newcomer, might hope to reach that level. I got a reply from no less than ATA director Corinne McKay, so let me quote her here because I found her answer hugely interesting:

"I think that everyone probably has their own metric, but I normally say to expect an intense startup phase of 6-12 months, meaning that you're marketing most of the time without a lot of work necessarily coming in. After that, I think that it takes most people 1 1/2 to 3 years before they're fully established, meaning that they have a good base of regular clients and are earning at least what they would be earning from a 'regular' job."

I am so thankful to Corinne for those numbers! It really helps to know where you stand.

The second thing I wanted to know was whether there were any reasonable alternatives to the NYU Masters programme. By reasonable, of course, I mean cheaper! Or, to put it more elegantly, I mean real value for money.

I set out to look for an online Masters that I could afford and which gave me a good specialization in finance and a title from a reputable university that people would acknowledge anywhere in the world. I asked around and heard about the University of Texas at Brownsville and the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, among others, but nothing really suited my needs. These were cheaper, of course (eg. 4,200 euros at the UAB), but they were not what I was looking for.

So I switched to looking for specialized non-degree courses rather than Masters. And, to make a long story short, I wound up back at NYU. It turns out that they have a Certificate in Translation that is much more affordable (6 courses, at $695 each) and that would allow me to focus entirely on financial translation. So it is cheap (anything looks cheap after you read $57,000!), I can do it online at my own pace, it is from NYU and so is recognizable around the world, and it allows me to really focus on what I want to specialize in. Bingo! I am hoping to start within a few weeks.

In line with this, I want to mention the most exciting piece of advice I got this week, courtesy of Marta Stelmaszak. The post is actually a few weeks old but I only read it now. Marta blogged on specialization, and wrote something I found simply brilliant:

"There's something I do for money (legal), something I'm skilled in (business), and something I really enjoy (IT). That's a good starting point, and I have the balance I need."

For me, this was a real eye-opener, a fantastic wake up call to really focus. So I filled in the brackets for myself and thought that, when I grow up, I will translate financial documents for money, business because I'm skilled in it and Social Science because I love that.

I told you I was in a position to pack this post with food for thought for an aspiting translator! Enjoy!

4 May 2013

Mental switch: a translator's sales pitch

When I got started as a freelance translator I was just aiming to find translation jobs - any jobs. My goal was just to get the ball rolling, and that proved to be easier than I had originally anticipated. When that happened, however, I needed to look beyond that: it became hugely important to get translation jobs of the right kind.

In this as in so many other things, freelance translation is like many other professions. Any job will get you some money and pay at least some bills, but only jobs of the right kind allow you to grow both professionally  and, yes, financially. Serving burgers is probably good for a wannabe professional to pay his or her way through school or college, but lacking the will to move beyond that will effectively kill his or her professional aspirations.

In translation, cheap jobs are good to get going, to boost one's self-confidence in an unknown market, to learn key dos and don'ts and to realize that one can, and should, move on. Moving on, however, takes more than just translation skills, and in particular, it takes a lot of marketing. You need to move from the translation work you get to the translation work you seek, and that takes a different mindset as well as different tools.

I knew nothing about marketing when I embarked on this, so I just had to build my own crash course. And it was a real eye-opener, probably of the kind I will use my whole life, whatever I get to do in the future.

The best marketing advice I found on the Internet was simple enough: if you are looking for clients, tell everyone you know about what you are doing! I was amazed!!!

I am fairly self-assured in writing, but I am a perfectionist and I find it hard to talk about a work in progress. My career change was a work in progress, and so I continued to talk of myself as a journalist. That straightforward marketing advice brought home the obvious: I don't need to find any journalism "clients," since my employer pays me every month and I am trying to move out of that career anyway. If I want to find more translation clients, on the other hand, it is definitely a good start to tell people that is what I do for a living.

So I started telling anyone I knew that I am a translator, a full-time translator. That was what I was even if I was also a full-time journalist. It was a key first step for me to realize that my job on the side was actually the focus of most of my motivation, overtime or extra efforts, since I wanted it to grow, and therefore that I should present it as such: as MY JOB.

At the same time, I needed to define myself as a translator. It was then that I set myself the goal of reaching a point, sooner rather than later, at which this really does become my only job. So I developed a vision of myself as a serious, client-oriented multilingual translator who specializes in Business, Finance and the Social Sciences. Those are the areas in which I feel most comfortable, and I also have the qualifications to convince clients about that. The same goes for anything to do with communications, particularly corporate communications: as a journalist, I know my way around that and clients will generally take my word for it.

I stopped thinking that any translation project would do the trick, and I devoted serious thought to the path I should follow to get where I wanted to get as a translator. I thought of seeking certification, I came up with some ideas about where I might find some direct clients in my areas of specialization and I even looked long-term at courses that might brace my credentials in those.

The point of all this is that, once you realize you want to be a serious translator, you need to take another step forward. What exactly would you like to translate? Can you live off the work you get down that path? Where can you look for clients of the right kind? And how can you convince those potential clients you have found that you are the person they need for the job?

It is of course hard to get one's thoughts straight regarding issues like this, and it is even harder to, well, translate those thoughts into real-life options. Building a career takes time and effort, but knowing that much, and having a sense of direction, is critical.

Until that future date in which everything clicks and your email and phone are on fire with the right sort of clients on the other end, however, do keep in mind the best marketing advice I ever got: tell everyone you know (your friends, your neighbours, the parents of your children's friends...) that you are a devoted translator, the best they or their friends can ever hope to work with!

28 April 2013

Priorities to save the day when things get tough

I had been worrying about making everything sound too easy, because it obviously is not. Being a freelance translator is hard work, and it takes a reliance on a long list of factors, many of which are beyond one's control. So it can be quite nerve-wracking at times.

Let my past 10 days serve as a case in point! Yes, it has been one of those weeks: all Murphy's Law, all about how things that are usually good can turn bad, all at the same time.

I am usually a driven, highly motivated and generally quite successful woman who juggles two full-time jobs, a happy family life around a toddler and an eight-year-old and recently also a popular blog. This week, however, I have been a struggling wimp who felt ill and had a zillion things to do no matter what. It was daunting!

Yes, being a freelancer has that sometimes. And by Sunday night I can say I did very well in the circumstances, which is I guess what one should aspire to when things get rough!

I had a flu that kept me in bed with a temperature for two days, I had an 18-month-old with a middle ear infection who made sleep a brief luxury for four nights, I had a meeting with a chamber of commerce to present my services to potential clients, I had a major translation to do for a direct client that I absolutely wanted to impress, I had little jobs to top that off, I had lots of work in my capacity as a journalist, I had the most painful throat infection I can remember.

Being a freelancer can be tough: you don't really get to call in sick, or if you do it is all your loss. However, you do get ill sometimes, just like anyone else, and you have to deal with your share of everyday problems as well as you can.

It has been a long week. At times, I felt like curling up in bed. But of course I didn't. Well, I did while I had a temperature, and I did when I desperately felt I needed some sleep. I postponed the meeting at the chamber of commerce and did not bid on some jobs I would normally have taken. I did most of my regular journalistic work. I went to the doctor's and wound up on antibiotics. I wrote one blog post when I should have written two, and I did not even translate it into Spanish as I normally would have.

However, I certainly delivered what I think is a spotless translation to my direct client - I was so glad to have told him I needed more than double the time I actually did need!

When things go wrong and when your energy is running low, you absolutely need to set yourself priorities. Some things can wait while some cannot, some can get by with less input than you would usually devote to them, and some take all the energy that you can possibly muster.

As a freelancer, it is essential that you learn to set these priorities right, because that can save the day when you get stuck. The crucial thing in such circumstances is to take care of the personal issues that are troubling you, hopefully without losing any translation clients in the process. Other things can probably wait, and you can play catch-up when you are actually fit to do it.

Now the rough patch appears to be over: I am healthy again and so is my daughter, so hopefully I can go back to business as usual, take care of my blog in English and Spanish, meet with the chamber of commerce and bid normally on jobs in the coming days. And hopefully the one translation job that I tried to do as if it had been a regular week will lead to more such jobs in the future.

23 April 2013

Rates and productivity

I promise I will stop talking about freelance translation in business terms some time soon... but I really feel compelled to write about just one more thing: productivity.

Productivity is of course crucial for any business, but it is somewhat obscure and underrated in an activity where pricing takes the form of cents per word. Particularly as I started out, I took these things at face value: a job that paid me 10 cents per word was better than one that paid 5 cents per word, say. Now I know better.

Well, obviously a job that pays 10 cents per word is better than one that pays 5 cents per word ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL. But real life hardly ever works like that. In fact, other things are usually very far from equal, and it is precisely those different details that tell you exactly which is the better job.

We all have to quote our rates in dollars or euros per word, since that is how the system works. However, in order to determine our particular rates or decide whether a particular job is well paid or not we need to do a lot of thinking of our own, with the specific job in mind.

How many words of that text can we translate per hour? How demanding, tiring or otherwise the particular translation will be? How long a break will we need by the end of it??? And, of course, what is the going rate for that project? These are just some of the questions we need to ask ourselves.

With a very easy text in my top language pairs I can translate about 1,000 words per hour. At 0.05 dollars per word that is 50 dollars per hour. In my weaker language pairs and with more difficult material I will not translate much more than 500 words per hour, so I will need 0.10 dollars per word to make 50 dollars per hour. I'll need a long break at the end, and if anything goes even mildly wrong I may have to burn some midnight oil.

When you make pricing decisions, be it by setting your own rate or accepting that imposed by potential clients, you need to take this whole process into account. It is not about how much you are charging your client but about how much you are earning yourself, and that is all about your own productivity for the job in question.

I have one client that I highly value. I would actually go as far as to say say they are one of my best clients, even though they only pay 0.05 dollars per word for regular assignments. Now that rate is obviously not one reason why I value them as a client, and in fact most of my other clients pay me at least double that. However, this particular client guarantees around 70,000 words per year of translation work, which is at least 3,500 dollars (they occasionally pay higher rates for more difficult texts).

With this client, I don't have to worry about tight deadlines, late nights or anything like that: they have mostly small projects to take or leave on the spur of the moment which do not compete at all with anything else I may have to do. Assignments are usually incredibly easy, and therefore quick. My productivity with them is extremely high. And I wouldn't dream of bidding on a project I don't feel like doing. To my mind, this particular client is basically paying me 3,500 dollars per year for effortless translation. So yes, I like them.

I have also done plenty of jobs for much higher rates that I have had to slog over. There is no question in my opinion as to which is the better job. I usually take both kinds, since they are not in direct competition with each other and since, well, more money is generally better than less. But this situation is a good case in point.

Productivity also provides a crucial way to increase your earnings as a freelance translator. You should certainly increase your nominal rates as far as you possibly can: you are providing a service and your clients should expect to pay what it is worth.

However, you should also aim to increase your productivity, to increase that crucial output per hour and with it your real rate for any nominal rate. You can do that among other things by finetuning your portfolio and specializing in the language pairs and the fields of expertise that your are really best at. You can do other types of work too, but since the client just wants to get back a good translation and does not really care how long it took you to do it, you will need to bear the cost of that.

19 April 2013

The importance of investment

I put a lot of emphasis on the need to understand freelance translation as a small business. You can be a fantastic translator, but it will be impossible for you to earn a living as a freelancer with those skills alone. Indeed, there are probably lots of companies out there ready to hire you as an in-house tranlator, but if you are going to go freelance you really need to learn to think of yourself in business terms.

As is the case with most small businesses, the importance of investment for the success of a budding translator's career can hardly be overstated.

You are finally your own boss, but you are also just a tiny speck in a massive global market. Growth is essential in such a scenario, and you need to bring about that growth one step at a time, slowly but surely, to differentiate yourself from others as much and as fast as possible en route to building your own client base.

I started out as someone who could translate well, but nobody knew me, and, perhaps more importantly, I didn't know anyone who might possibly ever need my services. When I set out to become a professional freelance translator, I had just done some overtime translation work for the news agency I work for, so I decided to re-invest at least part of that money in building up my new career.

The first thing I came across was ProZ membership. I could bid for jobs for 1 dollar a go, at best 12 hours after members bid... or I could subscribe for one year for 133 dollars and stand a real chance of finding a job there.

I was not sure it was worth the money at the time, because my online research delivered conflicting stories. But I worked out that bidding on jobs as a non-member was as good as nothing and thought I might as well take a chance: I had to start somewhere and I did not have that much to lose. I had paid off that initial membership fee in work assignments within 10 days. Literally. And I can say my returns on that investment have been very generous.

I quickly saw that I could further increase my chances if I purchased Trados, so I did that - not immediately, but a month later. Again, it paid off fast enough, even though counting the webinar I needed to do to be able to use it the programme set me back more than 800 dollars.

I found plenty of things to do with my money. I was lucky enough that my sister is a fantastic brand designer and gave me an amazing pro look for free! Business cards and a website were also crucial in my marketing efforts, although I needed to pay for those. Further, I expanded my technical resources with a Microsoft Office  licence and a hard drive to back up my files, and I paid for membership of several organizations including the ATA in the hope that they would provide good chances for networking.

As I already mentioned in my post on CAT tools, there is a limit to how much you should invest, at least at any one point in time. You will get great returns on buying one CAT tool, but I think the margin on buying more than one would be considerably smaller. The same goes for translation portals: I remained a non-paying member of Translators Cafe, for example, because I find fewer jobs there that interest me, and they let me at least bid on those for free once they are open to non-members.

There are other programmes that I have felt tempted to purchase in recent months, notably the full version of Adobe's Acrobat, and I have seen countless enticing webinars and courses out there that I would love to take. However, I try to stay sensible: any investment I make at this stage needs to have the highest possible ROI, and it also needs to be convertible to cash as fast as possible.

What you actually need to invest on will naturally depend on where you stand, on where you need to brace your position to secure translation projects that will hopefully bring long-term clients. Some can probably save by building their own website, say, while for others ProZ may be useless and they will find their niche elsewhere. The point is not to stay still, even if it takes some money.

I have very often wondered what would have happened to me as a freelance translator if I had not invested those 133 dollars on ProZ membership. My answer is... probably nothing. I would most likely be one of those people who complain in online forums about how they don't seem to manage to find a single client even though they are great translators, with relevant university degrees and the like.

I was lucky to have a job that could finance the start of my career as a freelance translator. More generally, however, we are all lucky in that our chosen profession is hardly capital-intensive. We do not have to rent expensive premises in comercial areas or hire waiters who we know will have little to do in the months before business picks up. Translation is more likely to require long nights instead, and they are at least cheaper.

However, some form of investment is crucial to jumpstart a freelance translator's career as it would be for any other start-up business. You can invest a little at a time, you can think of it in terms of re-investing a portion of your earnings, but not putting in the little money necessary to grow your business is likely to cost you that essential take-off.

18 April 2013

Thank you!

This will be no regular post: I just want to say thank you! It turns out that this blog is having more than 200 visitors per day, and I am hugely flattered by your response within little more than a week of me actually making it public.

Anyone who writes anything holds the hope that people will read it. I am obviously no exception. It fills me with joy to see the number of readers go up by the day, and climb so incredibly fast far beyond anything I could possibly have imagined.

I have put a lot of effort into working out the intricacies of becoming a freelance translator for myself. I am also going out of my way to try to make my explanations straightforward, comprehensive and generally helpful to those following my footsteps along the same path. If the statistics are anything to go by, you appreciate that.

As those of your who have read my first posts or googled me will know, I am a journalist as well as a translator. So I find writing fun, and while I wouldn't dare say myself that I am good at it, I am certainly experienced.

The Word Assets blog started as a sort of experiment, something that could hopefully both improve my online presence as a translator and fill a gap I had encountered along the way. The Internet grants access to a lot of information, but attempting to find there the answers to the questions you actually have can be difficult, overwhelming and frustrating, so I thought I could make a contribution by helping direct other people's research.

The figures say I am doing well as I try to accomplish that mission, at least to the extent that many people are reading about my experience.

Personally, I am really enjoying this. Bringing together my passions for writing and languages with my constant search for ways to improve my translation business, and actually finding that people like what I write, is about as good as it can get.

For the process to be complete, however, it would be great if you as the readers could share with us more of your own experiences and doubts regarding freelance translation as a career. Please add your own thoughts! Your contributions could act as a multiplier to turn my educated thoughts on the subject of translation into a collective learning process that we could all benefit from.

I look forward to hearing more from you!

14 April 2013

The nature of freelance translation

When I first set out to become a freelance translator, I knew I was good at languages AND I was good at translation. I was already one step ahead from many wannabes, who think knowing enough of a foreign language to order pizza and a beer in some touristy place abroad will take you where you want to go as a translator.

Translation takes really knowing a foreign language and your own or any other target language, really knowing a foreign culture and your own, and above all really knowing the mechanics and the dynamics of translation in itself - actually caring about the puzzle of how to turn words in one language into words in a different language that convey the same message and sound as if they had been written like that originally.

Experience shows that languages are certainly a prerequisite to becoming a translator, but the all-important thing, what really separates the men from the boys in this trade, is being aware of that puzzle, and being passionate about it. You know you are a born translator when, whatever the text at hand, you actually care how it could be said in another language!

What I didn't know, or at least had really thought of, when I first decided to become a freelance translator was that there is a major third leg to this particular stool, which refers to business. And, just for the record, please don't get carried away when I say business. I am sure someone would! Business in this case has little to do with Microsoft or Richard Branson. You would do better to think about the corner store down the street and the tiny stall where you occasionally buy a sandwich.

Had I thought about the corner store and the sandwich stall in advance, I would have expected the kind of hard work that initially surprised me. I had always been someone else's employee. I knew self-employed people were supposed to work very hard, but I did not naturally apply that logic to being a translator. I somehow assumed that the hard work came with manual labour, with replenishing store shelves and standing all day making sandwiches while people wait in line.

As an aspiring freelance translator, a professional with a Masters degree, I expected hard work to mean, well, lots of translation. And it does not quite work like that.

As a freelance translator, particularly at the start, you will spend a massive amount of your time looking for clients, which amounts to bidding on jobs you will mostly not get. You will need to think about alien things like marketing (just don't lose sight of the corner store though, you are not about to enlist Cristiano Ronaldo to sell your products!) and how far you want to or can take your investment when potential clients request things you are not selling, which in this case may take the form of documents in CAT and other programmes you do not own. And if you ever forget to send out an invoice you will simply not get paid on time, no one else will remember for you!

The good news for me was that when I did discover the third leg to the stool - which happened the second I actually became a freelance translator - I quickly took to it.

The relatively bad news was that I knew languages and was a great translator, a born translator in fact, but I knew nothing about running a business. So suddenly I had a massive amount of work cut out for me: some of it was actually translation, but most of it was not. I needed to become a businesswoman of sorts, from scratch and on the go, when all I originally wanted was to be a freelance translator.

11 April 2013

Informal credentials

So... you would like to become a certified translator, but that moment is years, or at best many months, away. Is that an excuse to sit there twiddling your thumbs or, to use more diplomatic language, just waiting? Absolutely not.

As I wrote in my last post, the value of certification lies above all in showing that you are different, more qualified and at least in that respect better for the job, relative to the next person in line. And even if you cannot immediately achieve formal certification there are lots of things you can do to show that you are in fact a more professional translator than many.

ProZ, as a standard gate of entry into the world of freelance translation, offers a few such elements at no cost beyond your annual membership fee, including Kudoz points, WWA entries and the Certified PRO network. I managed to make all these work to my advantage, and my advice is that you look into them too.

You can earn Kudoz points by helping out fellow translators with their language problems. These points will almost certainly mean nothing to a direct client, who may not even have heard of ProZ, but they show translation agencies that you know your stuff. In my experience, moreover, they appear quite high up in Google searches, so they go a long way towards quickly identifying you as a translator who is active in his or her professional community.

Also on ProZ, you can get satisfied agency clients to give you WWA points. These simple statements of the client's willingness to work with you again help establish you as a reliable professional. I found I had to ask clients for their entries, but having a few makes me look better.

After a while, you should seek to join the Certified PRO network, to take you a step further amid the tough competition on ProZ. Again, this is most helpful with agencies rather with direct clients, but I found it led to higher rates and more job offers overall, and it costs nothing beyond standard ProZ membership and the effort to fill in the application including a brief translation.

To further establish your credentials as a translator, even if you are not certified, you should look into the local translators' association. It is simply good to be in their directory in case anyone looks for a translator there. It is also an asset to be able to say you are a member: you are not just another inexperienced part-time wannabe but a member of the local professional association. And if a potential direct client wants to check your credentials they may actually look there.

In Argentina, for example, the translators association gets picky if you do not actually have a degree in translation, but you can still prove your aptitude through references and examples of your previous work.

Beyond that, there is the American Translators Association. Membership of the ATA requires only that you pay an annual fee, and in return you get a place in their directory and use of their logo on your website or CV. They also grant access to plenty of professional literature, forums, webinars and an annual conference that I will probably never attend since I live outside the United States, but just being able to say I am a member (which is NOT the same as being ATA-certified) stands me in good stead in my dealings with potential clients.

In a nutshell, you know you are both a diligent translator and a reliable professional, and anything that helps you bring the point home is great to bring on board. If  you are serious about your budding career, you will do well to go for any credentials you can lay your hands on. Certification is the best option, but it certainly is not the only one, and seeking lesser badges to pin on your chest is at least a good stepping stone.

8 April 2013

Formal certification

The issue of certification sparks debate among translators. In an unregulated profession, you can work without it, but my impression is that anyone seriously thinking about being a translator should strive for some relevant formal title.

I have a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford and a Master's degree in Journalism from Madrid's Universidad Complutense. I also have a very thorough knowledge of several languages, as well as comprehensive contact with the cultures of countries where those languages are spoken. Can I work as a translator? Yes, of course. I have been doing just that - quite well, I think - for years. 

Why then would I need certification? To show to people who do not know me and need not care about my background that I am a serious professional. 

Some people refer to the example of doctors and lawyers to point out that one can only really become a professional translator with a title in the field. I disagree with that. To me, a translator is a lot more like a musician or indeed a journalist. A piece may be well played without a conservatory education, and a story may be well written without a formal degree in journalism.

I don't think anyone could be in a position to practice medicine or law just through talent or practice, but I do think that a translator can learn the trade just with a natural ability, great dedication and general exposure to languages and fields of expertise, and get to be as good as he or she can hope to be.

And yet, if I had to hire a translator myself and I did not personally know a specialist in the particular pair and field of expertise, I would only consider a certified translator. Why should I settle for less? All other things being equal, I would obviously opt for the person who looked best on paper, even in the knowledge that this is no guarantee and that I may be missing a great professional... like me!

I assume that any potential client would do the same, which is why I am seeking certification myself.

The next issue is how to go about that, because it is not always easy even if you are well prepared. 

I live in Argentina, and certification in Argentina can only be attained through a five-year university course. To me, that makes little sense. I lived in Britain for seven years, and I am a journalist who has written plenty in both Spanish and English: it is unfair to treat me like an 18-year-old who has never even set foot in an English-speaking country and has never written anything in any language beyond a school essay.

In Spain, where I am from, there are two ways to attain certification. One way is the same as in Argentina, and the other is a Foreign Ministry examination. That once sounded like the way to go, but months later I still have no idea of when the exam might actually be held next. Mmm...

Then there is ATA certification. It is expensive and becomes ridiculously so when you take into account the fact that I would need to pay for flights, hotel stays and so on. They boast a pass rate of less than 20 per cent, which I find puzzling at best and suspicious at worst, and only consider certification valid for as long as you are a paying member of the ATA.

So life once again brings me back to Britain! I hope to sit the DipTrans exam in January, not in Buenos Aires but not too far either, since I can do it in Montevideo.

I really believe a professional should strive for formal certification in translation. However, the system has to incorporate ways to allow those who think they deserve certification to prove that they actually do, without a four- or five-year university course that starts at the level of secondary school English, and secondary school life experience, for that matter. 

6 April 2013

Tools of a translator's trade, part two

This just came in from the great Mad Patent Translator: http://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/machine-translation-is-just-another-tool-in-a-translators-arsenal-of-modern-tools/
It is perfect to complement what my last post said and to bring home the point that the tools of the trade are, well, just tools for a professional to handle with care and dedication.

4 April 2013

Tools of a translator's trade

The first thing you will find you need to become a real translator is a computer...  but not just any will do the trick. You will need a reasonably good computer with a decent Internet connection - on both counts, not necessarily fast but definitely stable.

You will also need a copy of Microsoft Office. The real thing. This sounds quite straightforward, but I only learnt it the hard way myself. I had been using Open Office for everything for many years without a problem, and I thought I could continue that way as a translator.

For a while it even looked like I could indeed, since I could open documents just fine, work on them and deliver them to my client agencies. But then the odd thing would go wrong and I would need to put in lots of unexpected time to deal with annoying formatting issues. On a couple of occasions clients even sent the file back because what left my computer looking exactly like the original looked different when they opened it. I eventually realized that there were some incompatibilities, and Microsoft Office fixed them for me.

Less obscurely, you will soon come across the potential need for CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools. One of the main problems with that abstract need is that there are a zillion CAT programmes - which one should you choose? Many are expensive and complicated to use, and one may assume that a good translator can do the job the old-fashioned way in any case. In fact, many veteran translators do not use these programmes at all, but owning one of them is essential if you are starting out in the business right now.

Here is a good recent thread on CAT tools, http://www.linkedin.com/groups/How-useful-are-CAT-tools-138763.S.223599409?qid=3b18e974-a3df-4d00-befd-d63dcc018f4b&trk=group_most_popular-0-b-ttl&goback=%2Egmp_138763. This touches on just about any doubts or questions you may have on the issue.

For what it is worth, here are my own two cents.

I chose to buy a CAT tool because I realized that I would otherwise be missing out on many potential jobs - around 20 per cent of those published on ProZ, according to my own rough estimate. Many agencies will require you to use a CAT tool, and most will even tell you which one they want you to use.

Since that was my primary motivation, I opted for the particular programme that appeared to be most demanded by outsourcers, which was SDL Trados.

So... I bought Trados Studio, took a webinar on how to use it and tested it on a couple of documents that did not require the programme. When I got going, the CAT tool did indeed allow me to bid for more jobs, which was good.

But it also brought me a few advantages I had not really taken into consideration in advance. I no longer had to bother much with formatting, which was fantastic news. The documents are comfortably set side by side for me to translate, my translations become more consistent, and I work a lot faster, particularly on technical texts.

Perhaps the most important thing for an aspiring translator, however, is that CAT programmes make you look professional: you say you are a translator, and owning the tools of the trade lends weight to that claim.

I chose Trados Studio for the reasons I mentioned earlier, but I get the impression that those who work in agencies and therefore get to choose what CAT tool they use tend to prefer Wordfast or MemoQ. I did not really feel that I was in a position to opt for those when I was starting out, but when I have more money and more direct clients I will probably give them a try.

The down side to using these programmes is that agencies usually want discounts on exact and partial word matches, so using a CAT tool is in fact most profitable when you are dealing with a client who did not ask for it in the first place.

30 March 2013

What next?

A good internship, in any walk of life, is one that teaches you lots about your trade in a short period of time and empowers you to move on, armed with (at least some of) the tools that will lead you to future professional success.

Time is of the essence. No matter how much money you earn in that learning process, it would make little sense for anyone, including a translator, to stay there. You need to test the waters, but after that surely you have to make decisions: are you going into the pool or perhaps would rather not go swimming at all?

A few months should be enough to picture one's place in the translation market. Any decision will of course be subject to future review, but after 2-3 months as a translator you should probably have worked out your strong points, including preferred language pairs and prospective fields of specialization, a sense of whether there is room in the market for you and whether you want to be there at all, and a list of things that you do not yet have and may come in handy for the future: CATs and other software, tools to market your services, certification and so on.

In translation, you can aim to make your internship a paid one and to get out of it as much money as you possibly can. However, you should not lose sight of the future, the reason you are there in the first place: it is the first step in a career, and should therefore not be an end in itself but rather just a gate of access to a hopefully very long and exciting road ahead.

If you have been a badly paid, ill-equipped and generally just reactive translator for years, you may be procrastinating on the key decision of whether you should be doing something else, or perhaps just on the option of adopting crucial improvements, including some invesment, that would allow you to move on to a higher professional plane.

28 March 2013

Where to start

Translation is like any job: you have to start somewhere. And the day you actually start you will probably find you do not have much of a clue of where you really stand. I was very confident on my language skills, had done a fair amount of Internet research and even had the leisure of knowing that I had another job to pay the bills no matter what. However, those first jobs were quite daunting, full of ad hoc decisions and lots of unknowns.

I opted to take this stage as a sort of internship, where I made little money (certainly a lot less than I had hoped for) but got to assess where I stood, map a route for what lay ahead and generally position myself with relation to a market that I knew little about and which knew even less about me.

My research showed that 0.20 dollars per word was a good rate and that 0.03 dollars per word was lousy. I chose a middle road, and when agencies got back to me asking, "How about half that?" I had to make tough choices. I intended to make a career in translation, and I decided that I was only as good as the jobs I managed to get. It would not help me to stay at home doing nothing, just waiting for a well-paid project. At the beginning, these were mostly cheap jobs, which was bad. But they brought me a bunch of interesting things beyond money.

When you are starting out, in translation as in any other freelance field, you need to make a name for yourself. On Proz, that is largely measured in Willingness to Work Again (WWA) points. My first jobs brought me a few of those: people who said I had done well and they would be happy to give me more work in the future.

Further, these jobs allowed me to assess certain market characteristics. I soon realized that there is a lot of demand for German-English technical translations, particularly cheap ones. I could get lots of work down that alley... but would not be able to make much out of it: I found it boring, was unproductive since I had to look up lots of concepts and probably did not deliver the kind of quality I would like to be known for.

I realized that, although I am fully bilingual in English and Spanish, it was not easy to convince potential clients of that. For some reason, many find where you were born more important than where you got your education, for example. I spent the most important part of my formative life in Britain - three years of secondary school and a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford - but for many I am still only a Spanish native, just like someone who got a degree in translation from Madrid or Buenos Aires. Mmm... Again, I was only as good as the work I could get.

Most importanly for the future, I realized that I would need to assess any potential project in terms of my own productivity rather than rates. I am a decent German translator, and I certainly have loads of experience at it, but I cannot translate much more than 500 words per hour from German. When I work with English, Spanish or French, my output is often close to 1,000 words per hour. So surely I would have to charge clients almost twice as much to translate from German as I could afford to charge in other languages.

The same went for fields of specialization: I was particularly good at the humanities, marketing, finance and business-related translations, and the day I got a choice I should probably stick to those.

That is the thing about internships: you usually do not make much money, but if you take them seriously you learn a lot.

27 March 2013

A newcomer, yes, but no improviser

Within a month of starting out in the world of translation, I was certain that I wanted to make that a career. So I approached it as a career. I was new in town, but I wanted to get to know the place, settle in, learn and contribute. I was standing before a profession, and I was determined to act professionally.

I believe this is a key concept. There are plenty of translators out there - good, bad and average. I am convinced that I am a good one, but there are other possible classifications where I want to do well too. There are professional translators and unreliable ones. There are those who are proactive, keep their eyes on the ball and are always keen to learn and those who treat translation as a mechanical, static job.

I knew the kind of translator I wanted to be, so I asked myself how to get there. This, I soon found out, would take a lot of hard work, plenty of reading, some investment, and generous time. It turned out that professional translation is broadly speaking about languages... but not only about that. There is technology, on-the-job training, bookkeeping and the ever-present search for clients. Fortunately, I found out all that and still felt fully prepared to do it.

26 March 2013

Professional freelance translator? Me?

Despite being a born linguist, it had never dawned on me that translation could become a full-time, "serious" job. When I started to get restless about my work as a journalist, after 13 years in the same news agency, one friend recommended that I pursue something I really love. I just shrugged and thought, "There's no money in languages, I cannot make a living out of that." Another friend said, "You don't have to look for a pre-existing job, start something of your own." I shook my head and replied, "I don't have what it takes to set up a business, I'm too scared of risks and too conservative to walk off the beaten path."

Within weeks, however, I had changed my mind. I could mitigate some of the fears by holding on to my old job. The price of that sense of security was burning some midnight oil, but it was probably a good idea. And it soon became apparent that there was room in the Market for the skills I had been keeping locked up for all these years. It turns out that not only am I a good translator - I knew that much! - but that people are actually prepared to pay for my services. Seriously!

I don't really know how it happened. I just bumped into things, put one foot in front of the other. And it all unravelled - fast. I found Proz, which I never knew existed. I opted to become a paying member, on the grounds that it was the only way to really test it. I also joined Translators Cafe, though I did not give them any money, and I signed up for just about anything I could find online. I went out into the world of translators with a very modest financial goal, just to make some pocket money. And on my first month I managed six times that amount. Add to that the fact that I was having a blast... and I was ready to keep going.

25 March 2013

The deep roots of a translation business

Word Assets is at once a dream come true and a work in process - a fantastic place to be and a magical ongoing ride. I started learning English when I was 8, French when I was 10, German when I was 14. I just loved languages as a tool and a gate to a million things I was passionate about: travelling, communication, culture in the broadest possible sense of the word.

The Spanish child who learnt languages became the teenager who travelled, and stayed a while. By age the of 25 I had spent periods of six months or more in five countries, including seven years in Britain and a year in France. I learnt a lot along the way, studied politics and economics, enjoyed writing, became a journalist, moved to Argentina... but I never stopped learning languages. I read, I listened, I translated.

Translation was a tool of my trade as a journalist, and it was also a challenging, fun hobby. I translated two books. And suddenly I was ready for more.