This is not a news blog or an advice blog or any sort of company blog. It's more of an opinion blog.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Limits of Flexibility

(Flexibility is not a goal unto itself)

First off, I don't want to discuss this from the perspective of flexibility as a value in itself, or a goal unto itself etc. That's just silly buzzword nonsense. I'm taking flexibility as a concept here, a thing of life, neither good nor bad, save perhaps in subjective, situation-driven judgement.

(People use the 'flexibility' as a cudgel to get what they want)

We don't have to be flexible, and especially not because an agency or client says that we aren't, as if we should be ashamed of ourselves or feel guilty and, more importantly, give them what they want. Let's make no mistake: they sometimes ask you to be flexible by… accepting they own inflexible demands, for example refusing to sign a non-editable 10-page contract written by their lawyer and full of language that benefits them over you. But it's you who are inflexible and making problems when you won't sign. Seriously?

(All the time, we all do, one just needs to understand this and react properly)

Obviously, we tend to already know something's off in cases like the above, but there are also a lot of cases that, while not with such extreme results, still follow similar basic logic. People stick labels on you when they aren't getting what they want. We all do. This is simply the inherent human subjectivity, the proverbial eye of the beholder. And one more potential accusation that you need to not accept as objective truth the moment a client or agency throws it at you.

  • What is that about? What do they want you to be flexible about?
  • Do you have any valid obligation to actually be 'flexible about that'?
  • What would be reasonable in the circumstances? 
  • Is their own conduct reasonable?
  • Are they flexible to or just want you to accept all their demands unchanged, with zero room for compromise or negotiation?

After answering these questions to oneself, the decision should be much easier — and look much different too than the initial impression or the other party's perspective. (Where the other party's perspective is something that's both morally right and useful to consider, but it simply isn't automatically binding on you.)

(But it's still useful to be flexible)

In my experience it's useful to remain open-minded, suspend judgement and not make one's individual initial preference into an absolute. Frankly, sometimes other people's suggestions are better. Sometimes it doesn't really matter to you, whereas it matters to 'them', hence it would actually be unreasonable not to go out of one's way a bit for a fellow human being. And in some cases you could lose a prospective contract over some minutiae that aren't worth making a stand for.

(The point)

… The point is to approach this all with a level head and work out an informed decision based on a healthy appreciation of the circumstances and not pressure (intimidation, manipulation, guilt trips, crocodile tears etc.) from the counterparty.

(The point again)

It's perhaps quite worth spelling it out that flexibility certainly does not mean meeting the other party's requests, let alone demands, let alone onerous on unreasonable demands, in full. There is nothing so all-out in flexibility. Flexibility is more about meeting them halfway.

Speaking of which, halfway is a good, reasonable, fast tie-breaker — you split the difference (or the bargain) and cut time losses on the squabbling. It should be employed in business dispute resolution far more often. But, it doesn't work in ethical matters, such as when you're asked to introduce an error to your translation (or legal work, if you're a lawyer, but lawyers generally know this better) and isn't so simple when it's just poor practice either (e.g. sloppy style but preferred by someone who just wants to impress a personal mark on your translation).

(But, …)

But it's perfectly okay to not be completely rigid about fees and deadlines, and payment deadlines, and the way stuff is calculated, for example. Never budging on willingly introducing error into your work is not quite on the same level as never budging on the application of standard billing methods to non-standard situations, now is it? ;) So see, this is the difference.

(Final notes)

If you accepted a number of mistranslations and grammatical errors simply to please an agency's proofreader, you'd be doing it the wrong way, and it would be outright silly if you did it while knowing you could be liable but thinking you still owed it to them somehow to expose yourself to that risk just to please them.

On the other hand if you accepted such a request coming from a client who knew the rules but chose to depart from prescriptive correctness for the sake of his target demographic or his own natural experience, that would be the sort of situation where there are pros and cons, all outcomes are subjective, and there are hardly cookie-cutter solutions.

Finally, if you turned down an otherwise highly attractive contract just to avoid departing from your usual billing rules, such as zero discounts for numbers in accounting documents, then chances are you just might be harming your income stream for no good reason.

Okay, one last thing: If there is just one part of this post I'd like everyone to remember, it's that flexibility is on the one hand not capitulating to the other party's inflexible demands just because asked, dared, strongarmed or guilt-tripped to, and on the other hand it can be a good thing for you when it allows you to avoid taking unnecessary losses because of undue attachment to things that aren't really important. Common sense, basically.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Don't Immediately Concede a Discount Just Because the Client Complains (and Seems to Expect One)

Sorry for the lousy title, but I need to focus on the contents.

In better times this is perhaps a rare oddity, if not unheard of, but these days whimsical and borderline incompetent checking and correcting of translations by clients and agencies is something we keep hearing about all the time. I've come to the conclusion it can't be just the coincidental subjective experience of a couple of people, there must be more of it, as in a trend, hence this post.

This is going to be a controversial statement, but in my opinion there is a general decline in competence, morality and manner (as in class act) worldwide, so no wonder professional ethics and courtesy also are slackening and people don't seen an ethical problem in biased adversarial examination of and complaints about goods and services they procure, in the hope of saving some money.

In our so-called translation industry (how I hate the term!), this is compounded by how agencies end up with cheap proofreaders due to all their cost-cutting, which means that senior external translators end up having their work checked and graded by junior inhouse staff. The same happens in corporations when, out of the same desire to cut costs, someone decides to DYI it. If not the translation, then the checking.

In either case it may be compounded by how the choice of expression is largely subjective, as are outlooks on equivalence, as are skill levels and judgements thereof. Egos are involved. Face-saving is involved, sometimes real cover-ups and damage control after someone botches the job, the project, notably by already having procedured translation on the cheap before, which not only backfired but also drained the budget.

Or, like in the old Indian tale of two wolves, there's not only good and evil in every single one of us but also intelligence and stupidity, controlled behaviour and freaking out, class act and poor manner. The one wolf that wins is the one we feed. Our clients and their staff, and brokers, also have wolves to feed and make their choices. Translation procurement tends to be inexplicably conducive to making just the wrong, stupid choices. And let's not forget about people who just don't know how bad they are, or at least not as highly qualified as they think, especially for work they haven't studied and trained for, or at least learned the language.

(This notably includes a great deal of native speakers of the target language in translation, retained by clients and brokers often for little merit beyond their native origin, who so often just don't know all the rules or just plain can't write. But it also includes a great deal of 'proficient' non-natives who think they're good enough to doubtless be the innocent party in a dispute with a qualified native writer or translator. And then loads of people who aren't particularly familiar with the field but go ahead and edit other people's writing anyway.)

The point? Stop overthinking. You won't likely find out which is the case, let alone find the comfort of certainty. What you need to realize is that shit happens — every day. Yes, it happens. Today, a fellow translator wrote about how an agency explicitly asked her to look for errors, find some, grade it down, help them save some buck. When confronted with this reality, you need to avoid compulsively looking for fault within yourself and taking the blame just to avoid having to acknowledge that the world is a bad place and people can be jerks.

Fend it off, cast off the fog, keep your mind clear. Check twice if you they don't have a point, but if you can't find legit errors, and serious enough, then you need to confront the reality that no, the client is not always right in general, and that your client is not right, right here and now, in particular.

If you still grant a discount, for example to avoid non-payment because you realistically need the money and have no other way to see at least some of it, or you just won't the client to go away without going out of his way to damage your reputation (you already damage it by making it look like you're admitting errors that just aren't there!), then I won't judge you, but it should be your decision, not an automatism.

Automatic discounts on every complaint — which is nb. sometimes the way things work with translation agencies — only encourage frivolous complaints. Remember, a lot of people are amoral in some degree in business. They just see numbers, cash flows, equations, impersonal operations to manage, they don't really think or feel much beyond that it makes sense to save money where you can. Which includes where a weaker 'vendor' will let you. So don't.

This said, I certainly don't encourage dismissing legitimate complaints, especially not as a matter of policy. And yes, this too is a policy companies have long discovered and tested in practice by now. Just consider how clients and brokers use the broken-record strategy to deflect your overdue payment requests, piling on outlandish excuses one after one, avoiding you or outright stalling. I certainly am not saying this is what we should do to our clients when they have cause to worry or outright complain or even demand a discount, a deserved one.

But simply wanting a discount covers exactly zero distance toward deserving it or proving that they do. Again, I'm not saying the burden of proof should by sky-high, but a nude demand or some sort of faux proofreading doesn't rise to the level. It doesn't rise much above floor level, and it rather goes quite lower than that. It's quite low indeed, and has no place from respected companies — as soon as you can establish it wasn't just an accident at work (you need to probe gently before they get defensive and start opposing you on principle), you need to let them know it won't fly and in fact it's quite bad of them to even have tried.

We need to send the message that changing times have not made the practice acceptable.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Why It Is OK to Limit Liability (12 Pointers)

Wait? What? Limited liability? Isn't that avoiding responsibility for your own actions?

Nope. Not necessarily anyway. And certainly there's more to it. We could argue the details to no end, so let's just state some general pointers. Food for thought:

  • Don't presume that it's natural or obvious for malpractice liability to meet the full extent of the first quantifiable value of some sort of damages that comes to your mind or someone else brings up. Things aren't so simple. The first quantifiable value someone intuitively comes up with is not likely to coincide with what the outcome of full, objective and exhaustive analysis would be after properly gathering and processing all the information available. For example it may occur to you — or someone else — that if a translation agency loses a client because of a translator's mistake, then the responsible translator should pay damages to the value of the entire turnover with that client. However, that seems reasonable only superficially. It doesn't account for the possibility of replacing that lost client with a new one after a couple of cold calls or just having spare capacity that will soon get all used up by other existing clients. So should the agency get the compensation and get to sell the freed capacity anyway, for double the money? Or should the agency be allowed to call it a day and send the sales rep home early because the translator is paying? This is the kind of nonsense that results from coming up with and too easily accepting arbitrary values based on emotional notions, as opposed to proper analysis.
  • By contrast, it's natural to expect businesses to take precautions (forward looking) and act (react) to avoid or mitigate damage. If they don't, notably because they want to save the cost, then why should the increased risk be yours and not theirs? It would be like a general partnership in which you get 0% share in the profits but only a worker's wage, plus 100% share in any hypothetical loss. Who in his right mind would agree to that? There is no rational or ethical reason for a client's recklessness, carelessness or risk appetite (gambling) to allocate gains to the client and losses to the professional service provider.
  • Some risk-creating or risk-increasing choices by clients are legitimate because they respond to a reasonable need or pursue a reasonable objective. However, should the risk so created or increased — for example because of restricted access to information — be borne by someone who doesn't even know about it? Someone who doesn't even get the opportunity to reject the deal based upon the knowledge of the risks involved, which is withheld from him by the other party? Should companies be allowed to have their cake and eat it too like that? Should professional service providers be doomed to not even know the risks they assume against their will?
  • The last point holds true about the value and kind of the transaction in general, but it is all the more true in respect of any special risk factors, notably ones that may lead to special or consequential damages or anything else you wouldn't normally presume or foresee or prepare against anyway. The business client should be acting to prevent them, not outsource them to someone who isn't even aware of effectively becoming the client's insurer for the client's gainful transaction with some other entity. Again, should the client have the cake and eat it too?
  • Professional service providers are not insurance companies. Insurance per se is not even an explicit added value included in the transaction. It's just a convenient by-product that companies sometimes seek. And if they are allowed complete secrecy and zero disclosure, then they might as well seek professional services specifically to get free insurance, not even to get the service per se
  • Insurance companies are the first to want to know about all the risks involved — type, size, probability, impact etc. They spend their precious time doing proper, mathematical calculations for all of those things. Does the though of having to do such calculations feel over the top to you? Would it feel the same if you knew $20M was at stake? Which is probably more money than you'll make or at least save in your life but which a single contract in international trade may be worth more than — just to give you perspective.
  • Are you actually paid for guaranteeing the safety of your clients' transactions? This is essentially what we're talking about: the justice and the price of such a guarantee of safety being included in your fee. This is still true even if the safety would be from the consequences of your own mistakes. Why, you may ask: Because the probability and especially the impact of bad consequences of your mistakes still depends on factors that are beyond even your knowledge, whereas they are usually in your client's control, such as withholding information from you. Or are you only being paid for labour, i.e. the actual time and toil you expend on your client's behalf regardless of the value of the client's business transaction involved? If you're only paid what is essentially a labourer's wage and not an agent's commission corresponding to the value of the transaction, then you aren't being paid for being an insurer against all sorts of stuff that isn't communicated to you — precisely because you would likely refuse if you only knew.
  • Remember that people who are professionals in assuming liability — insurers namely — always require full disclosure and disclaim liability, or increased liability, for anything you fail to disclose.
  • They also give their clients instructions to follow. Taking more risks or more lightly, more haphazardly than your insurance policy allows voids it. You don't get any compensation if you forget to fix a broken alarm or replace your lock after losing your keys, or divulge your passwords. Ironically, some of these client-generated risks we're talking about are precisely precautions dictated by insurance companies (notably your restricted access to information about whatever you're helping them achieve).
  • The premium you have to pay for an insurance policy depends on the type and size (probability and impact) of the risk covered, as well as the precautions you as the insured or beneficiary agree to take in order to avoid or reduce that risk. How much would a policy have to cost to cover all the property in your house, with no limits on value, and still allow you to not even lock your door and still claim compensation? Just simply because you have a policy? Why should such insurance effectively be provided by professional service providers and within a labourer's wage rather than an agent's commission? Should business companies get more insurance — with no restrictions or obligations — from their service providers simply because they pay for a service than they get under insurance policies when they pay so much more money to their insurers specifically for insurance coverage?
  • Remember: For business clients and brokers, agencies etc. this whole issue isn't about ethics or morality as they may claim when trying to silence your objections with an inapplicable, logically flawed appeal to justice such as 'you should be resposible for your actions'. Nope. It's about changing the owner of the risk involved in the whole thing. Risk which they themselves create or increase for example to save some money or protect their secrets or otherwise benefit. Ordering the service from you conveniently places you as the new owner of the risk they want to get rid of on the cheap, i.e. without taking proper precautions themselves and without paying someone else to take them or just assume the liability in case something happens.
  • Ethically, however, their argument is still fundamentally flawed: Why should you be expected to automatically and with no additional pay assume greater risks because your client elects to create or increase a risk or skip sensible precautions? Why should the client be entitled to the savings but free of the risks created by them? — So that someone who didn't create the risk gets 0% share in the gain and 100% share in the loss? How is any of the foregoing fair or ethical or reasonable?

My opinion: Yes, your mistake is yours. But the size of the damage and the probability of the damage occurring is mostly controlled by the client. Don't be a hostage. Don't be a scapegoat. Don't be set up like that. Get professional insurance. Double-check your work. But demand sufficient information about all risk factors affecting anything that your client wants you to be potentially liable for, and sufficient budget to take all the precautions you need. If the client won't give you the information or the budget, you just don't give your client free insurance against unknown risks generated and increased by the client at will without so much as notifying you so you could prepare.

You also need to take additional precautions with any intermediaries involved, as risks relating to restricted or distorted information grow exponentially the more people or companies are in the chain. So does the risk of your mistake — let's say a small mistake that's undeniable and undeniably yours — leading to huge consequences because of someone else's risk-taking attitude. And it's simply not fair for you to incur something to the tune of $20M liability because the agency wouldn't spend $200 on a proofreader or editor — of which the client may not even be aware, or, if aware of it, then not aware of the consequences.

You just don't get enough infomation to promise unlimited liability. You don't even know what exactly you would be liable for and what sums would be involved. You certainly don't know what risks they are taking and what else they're not telling you. You aren't told quite possibly because you would refuse the job if you knew. Or you could want a higher budget or longer deadline. Remember this.

Also, look up information asymmetry.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Should You Deliver Early?

This wouldn't be a blog post if the answer was a straightforward yes or no, right? ;)

Still, while this is going to be a long post, the initial answer is going to be a clear no, for which I will give you ample reasons in a minute.

On the other hand, the initial answer is just the starting point for working out the final answer that's going to be completely different.

So here we go. Suppose, like my friend, that you've just put in extra hours and finished, late tonight, something that's due tomorrow evening. The negatives of sending it right away are plenty and usually overwhelming.

But before we discuss those I want you to realize one very important underlying fact:

Your clients have limited information — and don't really know what to make of whatever information they actually have. Don't expect their opinions to be accurate. Accurate or not, don't expect them to be favourable or beneficial to you — they look from the perspective of their own businesses and interests, not yours.

The extent to which they care also may be quite limited, and in any case, just like the extent of their knowledge or 'sophistication', it varies from client to client. You don't always immediately know what 'type' of client you're dealing with, and sometimes you don't even know your old clients inside out. So don't presume.

The most obvious complication is that a semi-savvy client may think you rushed it.

By semi-savvy (or somewhat of a sophisticated buyer) I mean savvy enough to have the basic idea of how freelance translation works but not enough to know the ins and outs of it. That can be someone who knows that the length of the originally directly affects the length of the translation process but is not intimately familiar with the whole freelance lifestyle thing that makes our non-schedules crazy.

Remember that not all clients — or even agencies — approach you with the thought of buying n hundred or thousand words as a product. The product of your work is not necessarily all think think about. They're also paying you for the work itself. Hence, to them, it looks like you're working for them.

A less commodity- and more relationship-driven scenario — one in which you practice as a translator, as opposed to selling weighted words by the thousand, which is probably better for you unless relationships really really aren't your thing — is not as simple as putting commodity goods in the cart and proceeding to checkout with limited to nonexistent interaction with a human being.

And obviously you certainly don't want to skip any of your usual editing and revising or even additional rounds if you have the time. After all, the quality determines your reputation to a greater extent than the speed.

Next, clients learn. And what do they learn from this? 

The message you're potentially sending by turning projects in early is that:
  • the deadline could have been shorter to begin with — and next time it might well be (future deadlines could shorten to match your historical delivery patterns, at no benefit to you)
  • no point paying you rush fees for rush deadlines if you do all your work ASAP at standard rates anyway
  • nights, weekends and long hours are either fair game or at least apparently not off-limits — expect some pressure on that front
  • your tempo is apparently faster than average — so why not nibble at your per-word rates, since you'll come out even?
This doesn't mean you should absolutely never deliver early (other than that a little ahead of time is always better than just on time), but you need to make some adjustments first!

It's better to underpromise and overdeliver than vice versa. But underpromise is key here. You have to underpromise first. And even before, you need to enable yourself to underpromise. Here's how:

  1. Take your current non-rush deadline.
  2. If it forces you to rush things or is already hit-or-miss, revise.
  3. Now add a generous margin for any contingencies and emergencies you can think about.
  4. Then add a little extra to give you breathing space and insure you against whatever contingencies you couldn't think about.
  5. And then add a little extra to enable you to underpromise.
The goal is not to make you race against yourself but to create a setting in which your quoted deadlines comfortably and consistently allow you to finish ahead of the agreed time.

Bonus tip: As long as you are the party proposing the deadline, call it something like ETA or 'expected delivery' rather than literally 'deadline'. The goal of this adaptation is to give you a little bit more respectability as someone who gives estimates rather than works to deadlines, and to avoid some of the pressure from the ubiquitous sweatshop mentality by not setting your clients in that sort of mood in the first place. This will prevent them from feeling wronged, offended or entitled simply because of a missed timing.

But in real life clients dictate the deadlines! Or do they?

Let's get this some structure. They certainly propose deadlines a lot of the time. How far their first proposal is from the final agreement, however, is largely in the individual translator's head. A lot of people simply feel bound by their client's first idea, like it's a military order that you can't argue — in fact, in real military you should at least try to politely dissuade your commander from potentially harmful orders. We aren't talking dog training here, and yet that's how some translators behave, unfortunately. Resist that. You can do better.

But, of course, there are the realities of life that limit how far you can go, and you still have to eat.

You will still need to do some expectation management

You need to, because none of the points from the bullet list go away. They aren't directly negated by following the steps from the numbered list, as they don't directly affect how your clients think.

First off, expect clients to try to 'optimize' official deadlines in the light of having seen you consistently deliver early. You need to hold the line and preferably think ahead and script your conversations. (Just don't be too obvious about it — you don't want them to feel like they're talking to a bot. It's almost always easier (and faster!) to deliver a planned response than to come up with a good one on the stop.) Offer them one of the following things or both, depending on the situation:

  • alternative quotation for expedited service (be prepared to justify the price difference) — who knows, they might even accept it, so make sure it's viable in case they do
  • a brief sermon about the importance of structure and proper planning — which makes you look professional, disciplined and organized and would make them look the opposite for disagreeing

Be all smiles when politely deflecting their last half-hearted attempts. It's a bit easier for them to relent if you're polite and perhaps a little apologetic about it, allow them to save face and avoid the appearance of outright capitulation. You may have to make the judgment call whether it's ultimately better to give them a small victory to save face or to get your point fully across the first time and for good. Personally, I find the latter approach more efficient, though I don't always have the stomach to consistently implement it in practice. People generally do let go after they meet with determined resistance, where there is nothing to make the challenge a personal one.


Don't deliver early unless:

  • your deadlines are cut for early deliveries
  • you are prepared to resist the pressure to shorten your official deadlines to match your de facto delivery times
  • if you charge extra for expedited service, overtime etc. — your early deliveries don't make the extra charge easier to avoid than you want it to be.
Otherwise you probably want to pad your deadlines a bit precisely so you can deliver early.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Quick No-Nonsense QA/QC for Legal Translation

This will be one of the apparently very few posts here that do not involve the 'politics' of the translation 'industry'.

So, this is to give you some pointers as to what and how to check for, hence a sort of checklist, for legal translation:

  • Unless you have perfect memory and consistency, write down a glossary, either general or for every larger project, to make sure that you translate the same term or meaningful expression consistently throughout the text. This includes especially making sure that, as long as it makes sense to do so, you use no more than one translation of the same term and translate no more than one term with the same translation.
  • Go through numbers, address, dates, prices etc. to make sure that they follow the correct format and always the same format (unless the original uses different date formats in different places, for example because of varying the register or quoting some other document).
  • Make sure you got them all right, e.g. no confusion between decimal separators and thousands, no zeroes (or other numbers) added or missing, that you've got the right currency or unit of measurement etc.
  • Make sure numbers written out verbally in your translation agree with the verbal numbers in the original. Note that this means the words in the translation have to agree with the original, not that the words have to agree with the numbers in the translation if they did not in the original. Use CTRL+F for this purpose and check them all one by one.
  • Do the same for anything like the names of parties to a contract, such as Buyer and Seller but especially something like Lessor and Lessee (use Tenant and Landlord if possible), Interviewer or interviewee etc. Just to be sure, CTRL+F all appearances of them in your text, by original or by source, using some sort of formula that makes sure you don't miss any location in which you could possibly have confused them.
  • It's probably worth checking specifically for any missed negations (any words such as 'not' that you may have omitted, and trust me, it happens to the best of us and more often than you think).
  • Things need much more checking and much more scrupulous checking if you are (or were) tired, sick, hurried, distracted or in other way different from, for lack of a better expression, your usual way of being (reactions, inclinations, habits etc.).
  • Actually read everything, every sentence. Make sure the syntax is correct and legible. Sometimes legible is more important than correct. Many graduates these days, including arts people and professional writers, struggle with syntax and grammar these days, largely because of how deficiently it is taught at schools, or even not at all. For legal translation it doesn't need to actually be perfect, but you need to make sure it's reliable.
  • Avoid gibberish, especially if the original is both correct and clear. Clarify if necessary. Your client won't bite, or at least shouldn't. An agency than shuns questions from translators and won't forward them to the client is not acting professionally. This can have serious ramifications.
  • Pay especial attention to subjunctives, conjunctives, conditionals, future-in-the-past sort of structures, formulaic expressions, customary formulaic expressions and anything else you don't use in everyday speech, especially if you also don't even read anything that uses that sort of language (e.g. 90% of the language you use actively and passively is modern, colloquial and not particularly strict on the rules).
  • If you can do so without altering the meaning, keep it simple, keep it real and even (gasp!) cut the crap. Don't sacrifice content for form, but do think whether you really need to keep all those words (and in that exact order) from an unrelated language.
  • Don't, however, fall into the trap of thinking — or being made to think — that an extremely challenging original, complex and convoluted, requiring a lot of education, both general and field-specific, somehow has to produce a translation that is easily understood by a child or uneducated person. That's not your job but the lawyers'.
  • Try to get familiar with modern drafting in the target language, but don't go on a crusade translate legalese into a working man's language.
  • Identify any places in which you are markedly departing from some semblance of formal equivalence (i.e. your choice of grammar, syntax and vocabulary is completely different from the original while hoping to preserve the actual sense). Make sure you aren't embarking on unwarranted interpretation or trying to fill in the gaps.
  • If you're catching yourself being afraid of intelligent literal translation and taking great pains to avoid literal translation even where it makes the most sense as compared to alternative translations, then you need to consider your choice of specialism, as in this area of translation you need to be acting rationally and pay great attention to fidelity, as well as the client's interest. Jeopardizing the fidelity of translation simply to avoid being 'accused' of literal translation puts your interest above your client's, where it should be the other way round.

Hope it helps.

For the record, this is not legal or any other sort of advice, and in any case you are not my client. To fully appraise yourself of your rights and obligations you need to get both legal and professional advice from reliable sources that take your local and otherwise specific circumstances into account. You will also need to make inevitable judgement calls that are ultimately your responsibility to figure out. You need to pay attention to any specific arrangements you have with your client.

P.S. If this kind of thorough check is too tiring or takes too long to be realistic, increase your rates and make your deadlines longer until it stops being a problem. Alternatively, stop doing legal translation (as well as medical or anything else that could do serious damage if it goes wrong).

Also, consider checking this out again in a couple of days — I might add one or two things later.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

We Have to Swim Against the Tide

Many translators charge abysmally low rates — the kind that today's market refers to as 'best' — because they sense the tendency in the market (it's hard not to) and feel compelled to give a response or think there's no other way that to react to the trend.

The thing is, the translator's reaction — just like anyone else's — reaction doesn't have to be affirmative.

Where the rates are right now is a result of agencies, and to some extent clients, not affirming but trying to change the shape of the market they encountered a decade or two (or three) ago.

More precisely, it is  the delayed end result of many years of going against the tide by reducing translators' rates at every step. In the short run it may have been a cent or two here or there, but the accumulated result is in hundreds of percents.

My goal is not necessarily to persuade you to become a lone gunner for change; rather it is to show you that there are other ways than going overboard and meeting and exceeding concessions that haven't even been asked.

There is no such imperative, no such requirement, no nothing.

You are no less perceptive if you identify a tendency but refrain from jumping on the bandwagon. And one doesn't become a savvy businessperson by just simply giving one's profits away.

The market is not some emperor you have to prostrate yourself before and fall on your sword for. It could be compared to a force of nature. And if a force of nature, such as flood, threatens to destroy your house, you don't start smashing your own windows and tearing down your own walls and shoot yourself in the head when you're done because that's what is 'expected'. Instead, you build a dam to contain that force or relocate to avoid it.

It's the same with the market.

Confrontation, however, requires some stamina. Not even because of the fighting that's to come but because of all the work informing and persuading people is going to take. You've already seen where laziness and inaction has taken us.

Be different, you're allowed to. Don't be like a soldier who surrenders because that's what the enemy said you have to do. What kind of soldier would do that anyway?

One of things you need to have the gall to do is allow clients to learn some things the hard way. You know the adage: 'If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.' By all means give them a fair warning; your professional ethics require that you do that. But don't save them by actually halving your fees to meet their arbitrary price point that has every chance of being part of an abstract, general desire to pay less and keep more in the bank, wherever and whenever possible.

Save your breath, don't waste work time talking too much to people who choose to be in denial or fake ignorance. But realize that on every road to take there is always a first step. The best way to make sure nothing changes is to sit back and do nothing. Sometimes most of what a journey takes is a good start — so just put a minimum of effort in it and see where that takes you. Don't give up before you even try.

I want you to realize that, while your potential to make a difference is limited, realistically speaking, a lot of it is in your head. And that is something that mostly isn't outside your own control. You can't just press a brain switch to turn yourself into next William the Conqueror if that's not your nature, but you can certainly not actively help hostile market forces control your life by simply giving them what they want and more.

I hesitated to bring up this particular comparison, but it's a bit like dating. If a stranger asks you to do something you don't want to do, do you do that and more (let alone without even being asked but simply because you anticipate the wish), or do you rather say: 'Sorry, you need to back off.'? It's the same in business.

… Even though some of the forces active in the market certainly would like you to adopt a profound slave mentality to which any notion of defiance, resistance or just simply doing things in a different way is completely unthinkable. Here's what: You don't have to do that. It's in your head whether you yield to the pressure or not.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Work & Life Balance Has Everything To Do With Your Rates

Your rates are a key factor, or even the key factor in your work-and-life balance. If a freelancer or solo practitioner complains about work-and-life balance, big chances are it's because that freelancer's rates are too low — or at least lower than they could be.

You could say: 'Oh, but life isn't all about money.' Sure, it's not. But I want you to see three very important things:

  1. If you're asking about work-and-life balance, it probably means you don't have enough life because work takes too much time. Ironclad fact: If you didn't have enough work, you'd be asking how to get more work, not how to get more balance.
  2. Work time results from workload. You can't not see how the amount of time you spend at work is the direct result of how much work you get or take.
  3. How much work you can get or have to take depends on a combination of factors, where your rates are a prominent one.
The point is: Rates go up, work goes down; you don't have to analyse ebbs and flows to know this.

By contrast, having too much work often results from charging less than you could on the basis of your qualifications, skill, experience and other factors that make your services more valued and more in demand. In other words, chances are you're underselling.

Think of your rates as a slider with which you can manage the size of your workload by adjusting demand.

You should consider having separate sliders for overtime ('rush fees') and anything else you would prefer not to be doing all the time, just some of the time, and be adequately compensated for the added inconvenience.

In other words, use your rates as incentives and disincentives until you find the right balance.

Longer version:

From basic maths at school you certainly remember that 40 * 60 produces the exact same outcome as 60 * 40. For example, whether your garden is 60 ft long and 40 wide or 40 long and 60 wide, you still have 240 square feet.

Similarly, whether you work 40 hours at $60/h or 60 hours at $40/h, your pay is the same old $2400. It will also stay at $2400 if you start putting in 80 hour weeks after agreeing to a reduced $30/h rate to even get enough orders to fill that ambitious calendar with client work. But, it will also stay at $2400 if you take a modest 30 hours of work from your best-paying clients who are ready to pay $80/h.

In fact, should you for some reason completely lose control of your mental faculties and decide to work 120 out of all 168 hours in a calendar week at the cost of having to accept $20/h 'because you get so much work from us', then you'd still be making the same old $2400!

The difference lies in how much time you save — and I chose the example so that your pay always stays on the same level to show you this isn't about making more money, it's about meeting your income targets while limiting the destructive effect they may have on your non-client professional time, your family time and your personal time.

If you think you're too smart for that, analyse your past habits. You could be surprised.

Smart people still do silly things, such as cutting their rates to fill their calendars and make the same money as they did before, only working more hours. There are smart people who, right now, after reading all this, actually disagree and still think they're going to somehow make more money by doubling their work time and halving their rates.

So much time… or is it?

Now, if the perspective of 20 hours of client work a week makes you think: 'What am I going to do with all that time?,' then you might actually have a balance problem that goes beyond being overworked and underpaid in consequence of simply charging too little.

See, not only do your children, other family members and friends have a perfectly valid claim on your time, there are also a lot of professional activities that don't directly involve client work — from paperwork and marketing to continued professional development — and you need to handle them all, on your time. Not client time.

In other words, you spend more time working (as a translator, lawyer, designer, dentist, accountant or whatever else you are) than you spend working directly for your clients.

Apart from the importance of CPD and professional networking to your career, you should also consider motivation and health impact. It makes you more productive and helps you miss fewer days and avoid all sorts of incidents. Strokes, seizures and symptoms of caffeine overdose (if that's all you're taking) don't wait for deadlines. For the record, simple cramps caused by fretting over deadlines don't either.

Attitude adjustment:

No client will pay you so you can do CPD or go on a holiday. And why should one? Even if you work exclusively for big corporations, a client is not an employer or boss and has no such responsibility for you.

But a lot of clients will pay you higher rates because you've done CPD (because it makes you and your services more attractive). And a lot will pay rates that are a certain amount per hour (or word, page etc.) higher because you've decided your child needs a pony or you need a boat or your networking or pro bono activities are worth one full day a week. For the record some of these things are actually quite marketable — this means that they could be skillfully reflected on your website and in your other materials and help make you look more competent, more dedicated, more responsible or in some other way more attractive, helping you justify your fees.

Recap: your client is not your employer or career manager or anything of that sort. As a freelancer, solo practitioner, owner or co-owner, that's your role to play simply because it's part of being self-employed.

Apart from having to calculate it, this also means you need to actually ask the rate you want.

When you go to the doctor or call the plumber, you don't want to be responsible for figuring out what's fair pay. You want them to give you a quote and be done with it. It's the same when they need your services, whatever those are.

Don't go overboard — the way up doesn't always lead up

Optimizing your rates usually means increasing them. But this isn't always the case.

If you rates require a lot of talking or writing to clients who eventually decide against hiring you, then (apart from some room for improvement in your strategy) you are probably losing compared to a smoother scenario with lower rates but less hassle.

This is because not only does 40 hours at 60 per produce the same way as 60 hours at 40 per, your pay also stays the same whether you put 40 hours in actual work and 20 in getting that work or 20 in the work and 40 in getting it.

Suppose you go from (A) 60 hours a week at 40 per to (B) 40 hours at 60 per, but the transition isn't going smoothly.

Hence, out of every 20 hours saved (the pay stays at $2400) you need to give back 1, 2 or 4 because client acquisition takes more work. No big deal and pretty much a given with any price increase. You're still better off.

However, at only 1, 2 or 4 hours actually saved and the rest consumed by selling, chances are you'd better off gaining experience in your normal work, not sales.

But by chances I obviously don't mean certainty. Here are some caveats:
  • Sometimes clients haggle more because your rates are too low, not too high. This happens if your fees are low enough to position you in a highly saturated, highly competitive, bargain-obsessed segment of the market and invite time wasters who ignore anything that isn't discounted at least 33% below a realistic rate before they even start haggling.
  • The added hours in marketing and sales could be just an initial, up-front investment in perfecting your copy and adapting your approach, or a temporary setback such as delayed response.
  • There is more to experience than just the number of years — more challenging, more prestigious jobs that help put or keep your career on the right track can justify working less and selling more.
This all is why you need to monitor the changes. First get a hang of where you are right now. Take notes, analyse a little. Repeat the steps after the change. Give it some time. Compare the results. Adjust or go back as necessary. Don't give up too easily but don't hold on to ideas that don't work either.

Enjoy your new-found work-and-life balance achieved by giving yourself a raise.