What Interpreters Really Do

Hot off the presses from our favorite newsletter, Interpreter's Launch Pad, comes the meme that's been created by interpreters around the world. These memes have been very popular to describe other professions, and thanks to Interpreter's Launch Pad we now have our own. Thank you to everyone who collaborated on this project.

What do you really do as an interpreter? Can you describe it in a sentence or two? We'd love to hear more.

ATA Pricing Webinar Questions: Answered (Part II)

As promised, here is the second part of Judy's answers to questions that were submitted during her American Translators Association Webinar on February 29. Due to large amount of questions received, she wasn't able to answer all of them during the live session, but she answered the first part of the questions here. Read on for part two. If you'd like to purchase a recording, please visit the ATA's webinar section. The questions are unedited.

Q: I do not think it makes sense to refer a cheap customer to a colleague with lower rates. (This is in response to Judy's suggestion that you send a customer who's not in your price range to a colleague who charges a different rate than you do.)
A: Well, ideally, all translators and interpreters would charge adequate and professional rates. The reality is another, so I don't see why you wouldn't want to make both your customer and your colleague happy. If the price doesn't work for you,why not send the potential client to a linguist who does offer the requested service at the requested rate? If you can't get the business, why not give it to someone else? I think it makes sense, but I'd love to hear your perspective on it as well. The customer will only be forced to pay the adequate rate if no one is willing to work cheaper, which is not the case at the moment (nor do I think that will ever be the case).

Q: Response to request for translation test:  make it part of a paid assignment at regular rates, with the proviso that if you "fail" the test, the assignment is off -- either you then get paid for the test or not, depending on negotiation -- what do you say?
A: I knew it! My opposition to free translation tests (=free work) always generates a lot of interesting questions. While I think your proposal is interesting, it's still a risky undertaking. Evaluating the quality of translation is a highly complex and subjective matter, and you are taking a monetary risk by letting the non-linguist client determine if your work passes muster. I still think that clients should pay for work performed -- any work performed. It's not like you can ask your CPA for a sample tax return and then hire her if you, as the non-expert, deem her work correct. At some point, customers have to trust the expert they are hiring to do the job for them. There's risk inherent in any purchase, and the purchaser traditionally has to bear that risk. You, as a provider, can alleviate it by offering references and samples of previous translations (with the existing client's permission, of course).

Q: This is about free test translation: what about for an existing client=agency, trying to win a new account?
A: Good point. Providing great service to an existing client and helping them win new business is great, but it doesn't change the facts. If the agency wants to win a new client, they might have to invest something (hiring you to do sample translations). You, as the freelancer who has no say in that business relationship, should not have to make that investment. This is an investment that the entity trying to win the customer should make -- in my opinion. You are not responsible for your customers' business relationships, nor should you be. After all, you are not an employee. You are a contractor.

Q: A particular agency in my area charges truly peanuts for its work and they are driving all business in the city down. How do I reach out to them so they stop doing that?
A: Ah, that's a good one. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Put them on your black list and don't work with them. The best thing you can do is to stay clear of that agency and let the chips fall where they may. I wouldn't necessarily reach out to them to ask them to stop their behavior. My guess is that they won't, but if you are not afraid of confrontation, it's certainly worth a phone call. Let's hope that the market forces will, at some point, eliminate bottom feeders. But you know how bottom feeders can really, truly be eliminated? If no one works for them. So rather than convincing the agency to change its ways, the real job is to convince colleagues to stop working for them. It's a tall order, but we can start now.

Q: How do you feel about giving commission to people who refer you other jobs and vice versa? For instance, 10% of contract price?
A: Excellent question. We don't actively look for work we cannot handle ourselves, but we do get so much work that we outsource to others on a regular basis. Many times, we will just send on the project to the superstar colleague we have selected. Other times, if the client asks us to coordinate the translation, we will take on the role of mini-agency and make a little bit of money off the top. More often than not, we just refer projects out. We don't charge commission nor do others charge us if they send work our way (which happens a lot). It's only Wednesday, but this week I've already sent work to three colleagues. I don't expect anything in return, but they can always buy me coffee if they want!

Q: Can you give webinar for pricing strategy for Translation Agencies working with direct clients...like my biz? That would be great, Judy!
A: Thanks so much for the suggestion. Unfortunately, as we are not an agency ourselves, I don't think I am the right person to give such a webinar. Be sure to contact the American Translators Association to see if they have an agency owner who could give this webinar.

Q: How do you suggest dealing with clients who send your work for review - to non-translators who get nit-picky (and the problems lie with the source documents)?
A: That's a difficult one, and it happens more often than you think -- because everyone is a translator, right? (Insert sigh here). I suggest gently educating the client on the process, sending them one of the great ATA brochures (Translation: Getting it Right) and to point out that you have been hired as the outside expert to do the work. Ultimately, after the client has paid for the translation, they own it, so they may modify it as they please, but it would be reasonable to request that your name not appear on a translation that's been tinkered with. We have a long way to go before our services are truly respected in the larger marketplace, but we are on our way. Whatever you do: try not to take it personally and resist the urge to engage in finger-wagging. It's  annoying to have your work challenged, but it happens to other professionals as well. Stay calm and collected and show a willingness to cooperate -- up to a certain point.

Q: How do you handle customer-initiated revisions after the project has been started?
A: I would solve this off the bat by having a strong translation contract that specifies exactly what your services will include and what they will not include. Professional translation typically does not include customer revision, but you have to play it by ear: if a client just wants your input into why you selected a few specific terms, then that's certainly a reasonable request. However, if the customer wants to challenge every sentence, then you may gently point out that revisions are beyond the scope of the contracted services. You could offer to do revisions at an additional charge. I think it's paramount for the customer to know which services are included before translation commences. It's important for both sides to know what the expectations are. This will help prevent a lot of headaches, so be sure to have a solid translation contract.

Thanks for all the great questions! Any other questions or comments? We'd love to hear from you.

Food for Thought: People Don't Respect....

Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas.
Photo by Tom Gruber
Thanks to our tech guru for letting us know about this fabulous article by Forbes blogger Selena Rezvani. In a short, but very to-the-point article, she tells us why we should charge for work: because people don't respect free work. This is very, very true for any line of work, and it directly applies to our business (think free translation tests!).

Here's an excerpt:
Whatever the reason, if you are asked to pitch in your research, skills, or accumulated experience without some type of compensation now or in the future, I hope you will consider the request very carefully, with a bent toward saying “no.”  Better yet, why not use the opportunity as a chance to negotiate better, more favorable terms?   Sketching out new terms and conditions opens up the possibility that you’ll find options where there were none and that you’ll get more than you even ask for.  Your compensation requirement, whatever you negotiate that it be, adds some teeth to the deal. 

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Read the full Forbes article here.

Yes, Spanish is Difficult (Video)

After a long and busy week, it's time for some Friday laughs! We hope you enjoy this hilarious Spanish-language video that's been making the rounds for a few weeks now. It succinctly highlights some of the regional differences, and thus difficulties, of the Spanish language. Sure, it's widely spoken around the world, but that doesn't mean we all understand each other. We can attest to this: during last year's trip to Chile and Argentina, we struggled quite a bit, especially with food items. Among many, many things, we learned that if you are looking for an avocado, you better say palta in Chile (it would be aguacate for us). Enjoy!

ATA Pricing Webinar Questions: Answered (Part I)

Thanks to all the colleagues around the world who attended Judy's American Translators Association webinar on "Pricing Strategies for Interpreters and Translators" on February 29, 2012. As promised, she will answer the questions we didn't get to right here. To purchase a recording of the webinar, please visit the ATA's website. There were so many great questions that Judy will answer them in two batches -- stay tuned for part II!

Q: What are the strategies to set minimum rates?
A: Clearly communicate to the client what your minimum rate is. You might add that information on your website if you feel comfortable with that. Then stick to the minimum rate, unless it's a repeat customer who sends you lots of work and who just happens to need one sentence translated.

Q: What is the best strategy to inform customers of an inflation rate adjustment?
A: Clearly state that you have adjusted your rates for inflation on the price quotes that you issue during the first months of the year. It can be as simple as "Please note that my rates have been adjusted for inflation by XYZ." We update our rate sheet, which is publicly available, at the beginning of each year, and post the adjusted rates there.

Q: How do you deal with being undercut by less qualified interpreters when agencies just want to go with the cheapest?
A: That is of, course, always a problem. Unfortunately, you cannot control what others do -- you can only control what you do (trite, but true). Move on to the next client and make sure you communicate the value of your services to the potential client. The goal is to get them to see your value and your abilities, not your price. That said, there will always be clients who just want the cheapest price. We don't work with those clients and neither should you.

Q: Nowadays, the US economy is not the same as 10 years ago. Are you aware that we don't get to make many choices with reference to accepting or rejecting a client's offer?
A: I am well aware of the state of the American economy. However, regardless of the economy, you always have a choice whether or not to accept a certain rate.  As a business owner, you have to make some tough decisions, and they include walking away from work that doesn't pay what you charge. Independently of the economic climate, there will always be clients who look for world-class quality and who are not very price-sensitive. Of course the economic downturn has, in general, made customers more price-sensitive in all areas. But if you demand and receive adequate rates, you don't need hundreds of clients. You just need a few good repeat customers, and trust us: they are out there.  You have a choice regarding the clients you work with. Let's not take the "free" out of "freelancer." You might enjoy the tough love and brilliant advice regarding pricing in Chris Durban's book "The Prosperous Translator." Down with the poverty cult (Chris's words)!

Q: Do you charge late fees, if payments are not made on time?
A: That's a good one, and it's a tricky issue. We rarely encounter late payers as we clearly define our payment policies up front. However, when people have paid late, we have sent them updated invoices with a late fee. Most folks have provided prompt payment, but conveniently exclude the late fee from the payment. Collecting on the late fee can be frustrating and time-consuming, so depending on the amount owed and how much time you want to put into it, you have to decide whether to pursue it or to just let it go. Your time is the only resource you have, so use it wisely.

Q: A translation agency told me I had to charge them one third of the price they charged their client. Do you know if that is standard practice? 
A: I am not sure. Twin Translations works exclusively with direct clients, so we don't know much about how agencies break down their rates. It's surprising that the agency shared that information with you. Perhaps one of our readers can answer this question by leaving a comment below.

Q: What about reductions for repetitions?
A: I presume you are talking about repeated words/segments in translation environment tools. We don't give discounts for those, unless the client wants to pay us for the investment in these tools that we've made and the hundreds of hours we've spent dealing with the software. Also, repetitions still need to be reviewed to make sure the context is correct. For instance, in many legal documents you will find both the word claim as a verb and claim as a noun. The system would recognize this as a repetition, but you still have to review the sentence. We also don't give discounts because we use a computer and not a typewriter -- after all, we paid for the computer. However, we recently did a a project that was a series of handouts which had the exact same information on each page four times. In that case, we certainly only charged once. There was still some formatting involved to make sure the layout was correct, but charging only once was the right thing to do. There's always some room for flexibility.

Comments? We'd love to hear from you.

Spanish-Language Interview: Radio

First time doing live radio with co-host Lorena Pike.
A few days ago, Judy was asked to give a one-hour radio interview for a local Spanish-language radio station in Las Vegas: KRLV 1340 AM. It was a huge pleasure to share a bit of information about our profession with the Hispanic community in Las Vegas. The program is called "Cultura Comunitaria" and airs on Fridays at 5 p.m. Co-host Lorena Pike is a fellow translator and court-certified interpreter. We also discussed the recent significant reduction in pay for certified court interpreters in Nevada. More about that in a future blog post. We hope that you enjoy the recording, even though Judy clearly doesn't have a trained radio voice (and live radio is a bit scary!)-- but can you tell that Lorena does? Click here to listen.

How to Lose a Client in 10 Easy Steps

Most of the time, we are the individuals who provide translation and interpreting services to our clients.  Many times, we are also the client because we frequently outsource work to our fabulous colleagues around the world. Throughout the years, through our own mistakes, others’ mistakes and clients' praise and criticism, we have learned a thing or two. We would like to introduce you to our (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) lists of how to lose a client in 10 easy steps. Take it with a grain of salt, but it’s (probably) all happened before.

  1. Consider the deadline a mere suggestion
Deadlines are for suckers! You don’t even know what time 5 PM Pacific Daylight Savings Time is in your time zone (hint: try www.timeanddate.com). You don’t care that your client’s career depends on her getting this contract translated. Surely she can wait an hour or two for you to finish. It was a tight deadline, so she’s lucky that you finish the thing in the first place.

  1. Complain about the client on the internet
The internet is a fantastic place to share your frustration about your client, whether you choose to name them (why not?) or just refer to them as “client from hell.” Surely your Twitter followers will back you up on this: your client is a jerk and you hope she loses her job.

  1. Never apologize for your mistakes
Your customer requested American English and you delivered the project in British English, because it sounds more sophisticated. After the client points this out, be sure to start your e-mail with ‘’Let me explain…” and do not take any responsibility. After all, it’s always the customer’s fault.

  1. Make excuses
The reason you did not read up on domestic violence legislation in your state for a temporary protection order hearing or the reason you didn’t research airbag technology for an automotive translation include: the dog attacked your computer, the cat peed on your dictionaries, you locked yourself in your garage or you ate bad sushi. Try the excuse about not being able to attach a file to e-mail because your computer had a virus.

  1. Don’t follow directions
Why bother reading all the instructions? It doesn’t matter that your client is legally obligated to publish forms that are no smaller than 12-point font or that she wanted to save some money by not translating the text highlighted in red. It’s perfectly fine to deliver a PowerPoint translation in OpenOffice format, because you hate Microsoft.

  1. Don’t turn in tax forms
It’s not important that your client has to have certain information about their providers. You will get around to turning in those annoying tax forms when you have a minute. It really doesn’t matter that your client will get in trouble with the accounting department. Let them sort it out.

  1. Show up late
Judges are always running late, so you have plenty of time for a venti mocha latte with almond milk. Conventioneers are typically asleep for the first half hour of presentations, so if needed, your booth partner can cover for you.

  1. Don’t respond in a timely manner
E-mail and phone calls are annoying. You need your mid-afternoon beauty sleep, so it’s perfectly acceptable not to return a customer’s frantic calls until 48 hours later. It probably wasn’t that important anyway.

  1. Get defensive
You don’t understand why the customer insists on using “happy” when you think the term “content” is highly superior. Tell the customer that he’s just some little cubicle slave who should leave the big language questions to you, the brilliant linguist.

  1. Have your customer solve your technical problems
Your translation environment tools just let you down, so call up your customer and tell her about your terminology memory troubles. Since you are at it, perhaps she can help you format those pesky text boxes, because the translation doesn’t fit.

Dear readers: are there any other ways of losing a client that come to mind? We'd love to hear them. Happy Friday and here's to keeping your customers happy!

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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