Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Websites I Liked This Week

No, not for their utility. For the design.

First look at Dragone. I love, love the colours. The blue is otherwordly. The brown, the orange, the purple and the sepia green match it like few things I've seen. The typography is top-notch, although sparing and nothing too fancy (really). I didn't even know you could write blue on blue like that. Yes, you can do things like that with green (more than with any other colour — e.g. look at a dollar bill), brown maybe, but blue I didn't know.

I love the rain (I've seen something similar on one or two other sites recently), and I love the way the slideshow doesn't move. See, slideshows are one of the staple trends in web design these days and have been for a long time. Somewhat recently, with more and more print designers joining the game and client and server bandwidths improving, full-page background pictures have started becoming another. Here, the designer combined both — and removed the most annoying feature of slideshows, i.e. the way they move forward to the next slide. At the same time, he (or she) retained a slideshow's most crucial feature — which is, well, the way they move forward to the next slide.

What else? Look at the 'discover the show' link. Those are called 'ghost buttons'. On the technical side, it simply is a textual link with a border around in, in the appropriate colour. And that's it.

White title text over photos is another popular motif – with or without subtle black shading to make it stand out better (and perhaps blur the edges a little to avoid standing out too hard).

I also like the drodpown menu, the way they managed to make it unobtrusive and elegant, avoiding typical clichés.

Some links retain the old, most classic 'hover' effect (graphical change when you move the mouse cursor over them) — the underline, otherwise switched off. (Yes, by default links are underlined in browsers. Web designers started to play with turning that off the moment it became possible. But it still made for a good navigation effect.)

Look, there is a footer below. The page actually scrolls, in spite of the layout covering all of it. Look what happens at the top. I may be getting paranoid, but I suspect the designer was conscious of how the image would clip if you scrolled to the bottom (at least in the most popular desktop resolution, 1920 * 1080, a.k.a. 'full HD'). Still — text falls on text. The blue gets under the white, or the white gets above the blue. Which is great, because it shows the site was not overdesigned. It doesn't actually look that great when designers assume too much control, it creates a sort of OCD effect.

Individual pages, too, are beautiful. They make use of a certain type noise filter and blur maybe, creating a sort of smoky and a sort of oil-paint-like effect, unique in the scale of teh Interwebz.

Now it's time for LeaderBe — a North Scotland consultancy website made by a South England design studio with a lot of talent.

The design is extra simple, though without crossing the line of austerity or minimalism. If there's any design that's both simple and eloborate, this is it.

I like the retro feel, which is actually a popular motif, even a cliché, but on this site it's only light and certainly isn't overdone.

Part of the reason it just simply looks good (and wonderful even) is how they combined the cool ocean blue in the header pic with the overall peach background. Down at the very bottom there's more of the blue. The red accents (tomato/red brick, if I can tell, though it may be India red) are crucial in avoiding boredom and rounding it all out. The compass contour drawing just simply is pretty.

Now, watch the beautiful contrast between the bold italic off-black font on the testimonial (yup, just one, no overdoing it) against the background.

Another important technique used here is the way this widescreen-fitting site will still look good on narrower screens. This is because only the graphical content extends beyond the limits of a certain fixed width (in this case just shy of 1000 pixels, which is also the width I have used on a vaguely similar design).

Navigation bar uses probably the most standard solution these days on minimalistic classy websites and among designers and creatives: the black bar with white font. Except the black is a grungy off shade, so is the 'white', and the font is Impact — which produces a no-nonsense homely (in the good, BrE sense) feel. This is somewhat similar to what LatAm-themed websites do, which fits the travel-related overall visual theme along with an implicit association with tough, seasoned sea dogs.

And look at the pretty text on text pages. The text is important because it actually gets read. When designing a website you need to make sure that your text is pleasant to read. You can become associated with nice, clean text that reads well and is beautiful or with a site on which the content is a pain to read, and which some of the users probably press the back button on.

On a different note, take a look at their What, Why and How. This is similar to the Golden Circle strategy (the one Marta loves talking about), but it doesn't follow the innovative sequence of why, how and what. Instead, it goes for a blend by retaining a feature basis — it introduces and explains the service briefly before moving on to the ideology etc. Still, the 'What' does actually start from a benefit anyway, the first couple of words.

Since we're already talking about the text, content and message — it's so wonderfully concise. In no way is the website content-poor, but at the same time the quantity is perfectly non-tiring. A reader (visitor) is probably in a better, more positive mood if he's not leaving your website tired. This probably affects the visitor's attitude towards the site owner and ultimately willingness to enter into a transaction or business relationship.

As a bonus, look at the same designers' website made for 11 New Square, a London chamber of tax barristers.

You can probably recognize the navbar, the midsection may ring a bell, and look at how the large eleven stands out out of the footer as a unobtrusive antiboredom device. The design is still somewhat courageous in employing double slashes (//) as separators in the horizontal list of links.

The patterned background removes the glam factor but also relative austerity of solid whitespace. Still, solid colour gets used as background a lot — something probably quite courageous of a professional designer, where the expectation may be to come up with creative textures rather. Colour palette is simple overall, too. Still, the effect is completely professional, you won't mistake it for a quick and wobbly Wordpress job (though I suppose the site uses some form of a content management system).

The source code is very rigorous — XHTML Strict is not a forgiving standard. It's a pain to validate the code sometimes. The coder did a great job under the bonnet.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Becoming More Persuasive?

The essence of persuation is brevity.
 (Some guy somewhere. I forgot.)

Persuasion is a tricky sort of thing. So much hinges on your specific targets but also on your own personality, the way you talk, the way you move, the way you think, the way you are. It's not that something can't be persuasive in general, far from it, but whether it works or not in a specific case is always largely an individual matter.

If you want to appeal to a specific audience, you need to dissect it a bit, get the parameters, then proceed accordingly. Marta Stelmaszak loves to talk about this, but she also brings up the part that's about you, not about them.

Anyway, this lengthy introduction aside (the point of it being that you can't make it more persuasive without doing some persuading), I put my hands today on a short infomercial-style piece of advice intended for lawyers, titled Make Your Marketing More Persuasive (over at Attorney at Work), which made me think about something.

Before me move on, another boring introduction. I believe that translation marketing is mostly ugly, unbecoming and — often — unpersuasive, but persuasion is the least of its problems, actually. A great problem in that area is whom it persuades and what to, what of. (And it certainly doesn't lack pitch.)

In short, translation copywriting brings tears to my eyes. It's all gaudy and empty, the same old stale line about 'our 2000 linguists around the globe' from every single mum-and-pup sole-proprietary translation broker, where 'our network' in client correspondence = 'our database' in translator correspondence. The same plaintive eyes and manifestations of submissiveness from translators ('pick me! pick me!' and pyjama photo). The same 'cutting edge technology' that requires Visual Basic runtimes to work from everybody. And carpet-selling pitch and often errors. We clearly need external sources of inspiration. We need discipline and we need purpose. But I'm rambling.

The main theme of their advice is teams. Translators aren't pack animals (they are packing animals, beasts of burden), but every now and then something like that happens. It is sometimes proffered as an alternative to agencies, or rather to working with them or through them. In this context — yeah, it makes perfect sense to present a team bio, so to say, to offer some sort of team presentation.

Translation agencies should also do that — in lieu of the more common pretence that translators don't exist, which is backfiring, and which was a shot in the foot to begin with. If you don't have translators, you have MT — 'nuff said (anyway, this means that if you don't have highly qualified professionals doing the work for you, or if they are totally replaceable and individually meaningless gears in your machine, then perhaps you should charge cents, not dollars, for your factory output).

Translation agencies already pretend that there are teams. This is because clients like teams. As far as I know, sometimes translators co-ordinate terminology, double-check one another and divide work on the fly in a joint assignment, but 'joining our team' generally means the same as having your e-mail added to their database. I guess teams sell.

Next, show not tell is a marketing/advertising tradition that goes back to the old adage that a picture says more than a thousand words. Translators generally shy away from this because they are led to believe — who by, I wonder, or cui bono? — that their work is uninteresting. That the clients had better not be exposed to it lest their be offended by the smell. Yeah, right. Hogwash.

(It's uninteresting to zombie factory line operators and their clients, and even in their case possibly because nobody has shown them yet. The problem is obviously that the more unremarkable translators are, the less you can get away with paying them. Figure out the rest.)

It shouldn't be taken too literally: you can show something by telling about something else. And in the act of telling you sometimes show your expertise, such as when you tell your client about aspects of your work. You leave the mental connections for the client to figure out.

(This goes against the silly modern notion of spoonfeeding conclusions to your clients and telling them what to think, turning them into brainless but content little consumers. The ideal spenders for... never mind. I gotta watch my rambling today.)

Describe your work. But do it with a picture. Paint that picture with words.

(Probably the fewer the better, but let's not be too literal about this. Verbosity and precision have their uses, and it all has to do with your style. I remember reading about an old famous copywriter who'd describe everything in painful detail... wait, I was gonna watch it. On second thought: it ties in with explaining the process, another idea mentioned later on in the article. People who know what the process will look like and feel like are less scared when the process is taking place.)

Or, well, just use pictures. Many websites do that, and with modern design styles and modern server bandwidth this is not as much of a problem as it used to be.

Marta does a bit of that on her pricing page. She is quite sparing about it and for good reason — if you keep itemizing defining beyond reason and using factory-line sort of jargon, you'll just come out funny or arrogant or both. In any case, it will likely drive your rates into the ground. (Again, the exact outcome depends also on your audience.)

For a larger project you could prepare a more detail and verbose write-up, detailing any hours you're going to spend on something else than actually translating, any analytical steps you're going to take before you actually start, any checks during, anything else like that, any things you do before signoff.

(While at it, knowing translators and LSPs, you're probably going to mention 'client feedback' like a good ISO fanboy or fangirl should. Keep that in check. Clients are important, and what they have to say also is, but for once remember that they aren't experts on your work. They are not your proofreaders or editors. Unless they are. But do you really want a dentist to edit your legalese? Be somewhat mindful of what words you use or you'll end up achieving the standard impression that translators are office gophers who need to have their work supervised and reviewed by more senior professionals from more senior job lines.)

Do be careful with 'affordable', 'responsive' and stuff like that. It all has its legitimate applications, but if you don't do it in somewhat right (where somewhat leads to average results), you'll end up sounding plaintive and half-professional, about the sort of thing that a half-professional translation done by a multilingual may look like to you. This is the danger inherent in DIY marketing. If you don't know what exactly to do, you probably want to keep it simple. Either by making it short and concise or by just making it natural.

But when you're making it natural — which is very difficult to be when you're writing, especially in this type of context — you still need to watch it, to keep it professional. This mostly means no threadbare buzzwords like 'responsive' or 'affordable' unless you really mean them, or unless you just need them for a header under which you're telling things how they are (in a reasonably formal register, not too much and not too little).

Finally, don't think that asking very pretty — pretty please — to be hired is going to work. There are clients who like to be asked to allow you to work for them, but I'm not sure you want that type of clients unless they have some good reason to act like that. Personally, I believe that translators need to stop or reduce the 'pick me, pick me!' behaviour because it harms the prestige of the profession.

Not begging for the jobs is not inconsistent with taking proper care of your clients and appreciating them and their business. And clients — reasonable clients, at least — look for different qualities than obedience, pliability, submissiveness and a general willingness to run errands. Translators who enter into that mode and fail to get out of it will forever be treated like everybody's junior assistants. Translators are probably a cross between professional advisors and designers/writers, but in any case this is not a concierge job*.

(* A professional concierge is different from a submissive guy who's eager to run errands for fear of not getting whatever is his proper work, acting like a cheap and expendable non-professional personal assistant. I'm pretty sure professional concierges actually make more than professional translators, on average, and they have a knack for combining self-denial with personal dignity. Something I don't really see in a qualified and credential translator hiring himself out for oddoffice jobs on a very entry level. This is also the message some translators' online presentation sends right away without need to read into actual business correspondence and negotiation.)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

On Free Tests

I'm hardly being original in bringing up this subject, but it's popped up a lot in recent Facebook discussions I've been part of. In short, everybody's being asked for free samples, and feelings are polarized with a marked tendency towards the negative.

My own position in this matter is complicated, and you could hardly call it consistent. I definitely won't be speaking in favour of free tests here, but I'm going to give you some thoughts to consider in making your decision whether to accept free tests or not.

First, let's perhaps state the obvious by noting that the problem is essentially twofold:

  1. The notion of your work or time going uncompensated (given out or expected to be free of charge).
  2. The notion of getting tested per se.
It seems to me that #1 invokes more emotions, while it feels more natural to me to focus on #2 and maybe from there move on to the added concern of unpaid nature of such tests and the burdens of the testing being imposed on the translator. However, this is clearly a cultural and individual, subjective difference.

Perhaps in both cases the common denominator in feelings evoked by free tests is the underlying humiliation or disrespect.

Because if it were about money alone or just simply the economic balance without any serious feelings involved, then we could redefine free tests as a form of investment rather than cost and get it out of the way. Even where an agency you've worked with for a longer while asks you to complete a test for a new client, it can be that the client requests the agency to provide that test free of charge and the agency looks to you for that as a partner in a joint venture of sorts. I would actually support the notion of establishing and cherishing ties like that, regardless of the outcome of cooler, more balanced analysis. After all, the outcome will always be subjective, no matter what, and you just can't say whose point of view is more correct in some sort of objective sense, if that even matters.

Emotionally, the problem here is that:

  1. Almost everybody and his dog expects to tests professional translators before placing an order.
  2. For some reason almost everybody thinks the testing should be free of charge to the tester.

Let's delve into the why of it and dissect the surrounding circumstances for a while for a better view of the problem.

Generally, nobody tests doctors, lawyers or accountants free of charge before retaining them. I'm pretty sure you'll find a firm or clinic that offers a money-back guarantee with its subscriptions, probably mostly as a risk-elimination-based inducement to drive conversions with, perhaps only available for a short period of time, so there you have it. And I'm pretty sure you'll find exceptions anyway, but the point is that's not normally done.

And there's no such thing as, let's say, going to a car workshop or calling out a plumber and running a free test. See what happens if you try. (It's okay if you stop reading for a couple of minutes here while your belly shakes with laughter. You can resume when it stops. This post will be here.)

Free testing implies some extreme level of buyer focus, a completely client-centric perspective. No matter what marketers keep saying about the importance of adopting and showing such an attitude, it doesn't sit too well with some of us — and rightly so. We all have our limits, and there must be moderation in everything.

An important issue that comes into play here is how unreasonable some of those requests appear. For example:

  1. If they've worked with us for a longer while, how come they can't assess the quality? And how come they can't just take any random piece of work already done, they need a new piece?
  2. Whatever makes them think they can test us better than university professors, state boards (DipTrans, Polish sworn translator exam, German staatsexamen etc.), even existing clients and other referrals?
Re: 1, it's probably not 'they', rather a new client who comes with a lot of red tape, and they're somewhat intimidated to begin with. If it's literally the same company, then maybe some higher-ups have changed or management has decreed some new insightful policy into place. Either way, it probably comes down to red tape — and perhaps ease of use. We'll get back to ease of use later.

Re: 2, it's probably either red tape or ease of use, too. Red tape means someone somewhere has given orders, and the people who work with you are powerless to argue, resist etc. Or they could do it, maybe, but it would cost too much time or energy or risk.

Chances are rather than getting confrontational inside their organization or supply chain, they hope the matter could be resolved by you being reasonable or helpful or understanding or whatever they see it as being. I'd normally have compassion for them because I know what life is like in corporations with management's brilliant ideas and policies versus the real life that goes on in the trenches. Whether you agree with me on this or not, consider that these are the people you work with (not the management), and your relationship with them is important. A helpful question here is whether this counterbalances any points of principle involved in the request.

Points of principle include generally relate to how unreasonable and preposterous the demand is. For example a half-botched test piece being graded by a semi-competent reviewer to assess a well-reputed translator with a proven track record just because a small private buyer has an attitude like that (meaning the very idea is ludicrous). Or because, 'it is not our policy to make exceptions,' (meaning they're playing high and mighty and telling you to love it or leave it).

Ease of use, on the other hand, means the convenience of moving forward with a standard, familiar procedure instead of having to think about something different. For example processing the standard sample they're used to as opposed to evaluating some samples provided by you or making a risk assessment on the basis of your testimonials. This factor may be more prominent in cross-border relationships, where, for example, your sworn translator/traductor jurado/público/vereidigten Übersetzer just doesn't ring a bell, or rings only faintly.

They are usually unreasonable in thinking that their little inhouse procedure can test you better than a respected government exam, but perhaps they're just being overprotective of themselves rather than disrespectful of you and your credentials.

In some cases you'll have to stand up for your credentials and demand that they be respected, pretty much because of being a member of some respected association or narrower professional circle you have an obligation to uphold the dignity of that smaller profession-within-profession.

A fuller range of emotions concepts or needs involved will look like this:

  • Safety
  • Convenience
  • Compliance (regulatory requirements)
  • Inaertia
  • Distrust
  • Fear of the boss/client
  • Corporate ego, or a small company's attempt at looking serious
  • Device intended to soften translators
  • Simple cheapskating with no ego involved
  • Entitlement
  • Knowing no other way

Your tolerance levels may differ for each of these.

Your contact's willingness or ability to drop the idea of a free test will also differ. For example, if it's a regulatory requirement, they probably can't do a thing. In many companies, the frontline PM in the trenches probably just doesn't have the authority to waive it or the contacts to go higher up the ladder. This is diametrical different when you talk to the owner of a small agency who writes the rules. With a young intern or someone in a temp position or the average secretary this will be a coin flip.

It will be pretty much the same whether the proposition is that they waive the test altogether or keep it but pay for it — there is always red tape and the need for approval unless you're talking to a proper decisionmaker, which is probably true only in a minority of cases.

From a humanitarian point of view, it might be less than advisable to force a scared but pliable person to abandon a safety device and make a leap of faith. The person may cave in this time but remember the painful experience and go elsewhere when you're no longer desperately needed. On the other hand, if you give in too easily more and more unreasonable requests may follow that such a person makes in order to feel safer.

As far as convenience goes, I sometimes make friends with PMs and secretaries while not having or desiring much contact with their boss, and it works out fine. Besides, simple favours between translators and PMs, translators and agencies, translators and the small people in big organizations, do work.

What else? Sometimes people are just counting their pennies without seriously meaning to make you work without getting paid — they just don't stop to think about it. Likewise, those suffering from egos too large for their suits don't always mean to snub you, Lazy or passive ones are not always hopeless cases when more serious things are concerned that a free test that takes half an hour to do but multiple hours to waive or get a budget approved for.

Finally, this may be a cultural thing, but it doesn't immediately occur to everybody that any sample or test during the negotiation phase before a transaction should be remunerable. Or that any test whatsoever should be remunerable — because it's a test. I'm not really convinced myself, for example. It can be seen as a sort of investment in negotiation leading to a potential deal, basically, or an extension of your application. Just like with all negotiation time and expense, the gain is uncertain here, and it's rather the chance of receiving gainful employment that serves as consideration (remuneration, compensation, payment etc.) for your efforts rather than any direct form of payment. From a different perspective, perhaps, in human terms, you could say it's just a client that needs more convincing, largely in accordance with the Show, don't tell principle. (Telling is speculative. People in business are more likely to have a practical, hands-on mind instead.)

Okay, one more thing (okay, more than one; this post will drag on for a while yet): A sample of good work is probably the best advertising ever made. It even beats word of mouth — again, Show, don't tell at play. And it's a better show when the sample is something the prospect can relate to more easily. And what could the prospect relate to more easily than whatever text he himself chose, took from you, saw, analysed and compared? Plus, it's cheaper than any sort of advertising ever, because it takes no more than you doing your own job for a short amount of time. No copywriter or agency is going to charge you as little as the bill for ~300 words of your translation. Getting a leaflet or a piece of website copy for some 30 dollars/euros/pounds (if)? Keep dreaming. It may be even cheaper than word of mouth, in the sense that it requires less effort. And you can always do a sample while you don't always have available or applicable word of mouth.

I'm a little pickier about free samples these days, largely due to having passed a rigorous and reputable examination that agencies' little tests can't light a candle to — and I don't feel like reinforcing them in that misimpression or allowing them to engage themselves and me in a pointless exercise or run a show for the benefit of their corporate ego at the expense of the sworn translator's traditional prestige — but some years ago I'd have planted them wherever I could.

Those free samples I did happily whenever asked were what got me jobs and the best rates agencies in Poland would pay despite the fact I'd had zero experience in translation. But those samples sufficed to put me on a level above people who had more experience, more relevant degrees, more or better referrals, but did not translate as well as I did. In so doing, the samples were an egalitarian device that levelled the playing field. If they took a sample from me before even negotiating the rates, then all the better because having had a bite and a sniff they knew what they'd be missing. They'd also know who to come to when a looming screw-up made the budget more flexible. I'm not sure I'm not making things up right now, but it's possible I'd even avoid talking about rates before getting the chance to land a sample.

If you're a young or new translator, I wholeheartedly recommend that you make use of this. Beat the competition (your colleagues to wit) where you can as opposed to playing their game on their own terms, where you can't beat them. But I mean genuine free tests here, not proper freebies with economic value.

Here's another idea:

  • If you know they're going to request it anyway, volunteer it. This will allow you to do it on your own terms, and you can choose a presentation method that will do the least damage to your profile or the entire profession's profile, or even raise it a bit. To avoid looking desperate or producing some other undesirable impression, you can offer a non-obvious alternative, e.g. indicate your readiness to accept the first one or two pages out of twenty as a separate small order without a minimum fee or for a minimum fee creditable against the price of the entire job if they confirm it after analysing the first small portion.
  • Knowing what emotions and needs are at play here, you can use your copy to wrap that free sample as something to show to your boss, a proof of your thrift for your CFO (when the first 1-2 pages are ordered and analysed separately before the whole job is confirmed), a limited guarantee of safety or satisfaction, a convenient 'solution' and more.

Just to be clear: I'm not making a sleazy suggestion that you should do free tests for opportunistic reasons and effectively lie about your true motivation in your copy; that would be wrong.

On the other hand, as you progress in age, years of experience, degrees and diplomas, accreditations and memberships, the need to test you in advance of giving you an assignment should diminish, especially the need to do so without paying you for your time. Still, you may want to consider the pros and cons of enabling or not enabling a short free sample using a text of the client's own choosing. It becomes important to ask who should be able to test you, for what reasons and purposes, and on what terms. And to look for alternative solutions, such as preemptively displaying your credentials, testimonials and existing samples for prospective clients to see and stop asking silly questions and making silly proposals.

You can also include test translation as an explicit position in your rate sheet, which will make it more difficult for at least some people to ask for it, or even 'require' it, free of charge.

Or you can refuse any tests altogether and have a canned response prepared for the occasion, for example to the effect that there is enough evidence available to prove your track record, that there already are samples available to get a hands-on feel of it (just not on a text of one's own choosing), and that you don't need to resort to providing free samples in order to find work, so they are of no benefit to you. No discussions, no follow-ups, just ending the conversation politely there and then.

Okay, one last point: A free sample of your translation for them is a free sample of their QA/QC process, communication style and efficiency and overall competence for you. And that is some really valuable business intelligence that you'd never get for the nominal price of 200-500 words of your translation. Another factor for you to consider in your decision.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Put Tech In Perspective

Reading, against my good anti-procrastination sense, some comments far down under Lord Lossner's blog post from 2013, and among them Kevin Hendzel's in particular, has reminded me about something I used speak more about: the prominence of technology in translator and translation agency profiles.

Before we move on I want to say one thing: CAT tools have legitimate uses. I'm probably addicted to tabular layout myself and use a CAT tool for almost every job that doesn't involve a PDF file the source original text arriving in a PDF file, I even charge direct clients less when they recycle the same old contractual clauses. I'm not a CAT opponent, nor a tech opponent. I grew up coding. I was the fat nerd kid in glasses. Not sure the past tense is justified. Anyway.

I do realize, and do not deny, that achieving mastery and certification in a CAT tool can open the door to gainful employment for many individual translators, more so in some paths than the others inside the profession, and especially those who aren't too heavy into marketing. In such cases even a CAT developer's logo displayed as a badge on a translator's website makes sense, adding some authority and credibility, and forging a cognitive link to a well-known name in the 'industry'. The translator may not be an artist, nor an artisan, but at least the CAT maker or trainer lends its credit to the translator's claim of being a qualified worker.

On the other hand, just like Kevin says, the translation world seems to suffer from a 'hysterical obsession over technology'. I'm just not sure whether it's really an obsession or despair and not knowing what else to do, as the tech does seem to me to be a desperate attempt at value proposal.

The tech may be the single last thread on which the marketing hangs for some companies and freelancers. The impression of a concrete and almost tangible something, which can justify the price.

The exaggerated claim to 'state-of-the-art technology' (running on Visual Basic runtimes) helps drive at least some enthusiasm and perhaps, for a while, create the illusion that the given translator or agency is the only place you can find that, a unique entity, a thought leader. Until you've cycled through most of them and know better.

Next, irresponsible and short-sighted use of CATs by people who don't know or care much about translation — perhaps due to a lack of emotional investment resulting from a lack of connection, resulting from not actually being a translator — leads to situations in which 'consistency', client-approved settings and QA routines override common sense. For a different but ultimately related reason the same may be taking place in connection with the could-care-less attitude of those disillusioned to the point of embracing the GIGO principle, as is the case with quite some small agencies and freelancers who know how to make good stuff but no longer even try to argue with their clients. Some of whose ideas challenge all laws of reason.

Not only the foregoing, but in some cases the monolingual underlying nature of CATs and related QA tools shows through, and their inability to take account of conventions applicable to languages other than a version of English, e.g. in match calculating algorithms, QA checks etc. So then you end up receiving a massive complaint about 'inconsistencies', which are essentially inflectional suffixes, punctuation rules and such like. 'There is an issue with your translation,' and they expect a 50% discount, and you should, 'respond to the client's feedback,' overnight.

I want to stress that this is not necessarily something CAT designers had in mind. In fact, at least one CAT manufacturer has noted publicly that agencies are putting too much of the technological burden on translators' shoulders. It is also possible that in introducing certain now-institutions such as matches, QA routines etc., the IT companies did not actually intend to redefine translation. (In fact, I find it hard to imagine anyone would have conceived of a quest like that, without the benefit of foreknowledge.)

Rather, it's about the attitudes with which people reach for technology and use it. An attitude which needs fixing.

A notable example I'd like to bring up is how some companies insist on OCR-ing and CAT processing even hard-copy documents complete with signatures, logos etc. So not only is the translation effectively being delivered on the company stationery of someone who doesn't even know about its being used, people's signatures are actually scanned, copied and pasted over.

Why? What for? Possibly to give the client the brain-killing comfort of imagining that he received his correspondence in that exact form in the first place (radically eliminating any hint of foreignness other than such inevitables as postal addresses in foreign countries), or perhaps to satisfy a 'client requirement', as in a client requirement to OCR the heck out of everything and lose nothing in translation — but in the sense of formatting rather than the meaning.

Speaking of which, there is no concrete reason not only why the details of formatting should need to be handled personally by highly trained specialists with degrees and accreditations in translation, which is a different field from printing, typography and copy-shop services, in which an entry level qualification would often have sufficed. Putting translators on entry-level technical tasks is the translation equivalent of overlawyering, use of overqualified personnel and multiplication of trivial tasks taken to absurd levels of importance. Let's revisit the Bitter Lawyer clip from three posts ago:

Simply put, OCR with manual connections, and manual reconstruction of formatting from PDF files in general by white-collar workforce can't replace a professional typesetting/publishing process that should be used for real publications. Not much more than Paint-edited graphs and charts could hope to replace the real thing in a glossy brochure, as much as we do that sometimes for the client's convenience and to spare the graphics guy the need to go through a wall of text to figure out what goes where.

Essentially, this seems to be pointless work, generated to just have some work to do, to give or receive some semblance of value. Or to cater to some sort of non-rational (or outright irrational) requirement somewhere, in a hope that such unconditional and full obedience would please the client (Stockholm syndrome?). Or perhaps there really is so much corner-cutting these days even in publishing that this is actually done for a real purpose, especially if translators can be tricked into free gophering.

And, for the record, the general fasctination with PDF files and OCR-ing them is ridiculous. There is almost no real need these days (barring some niche applications) to use non-editable formats in normal textual translation, and the use of PDF files no longer should impress anybody because these days literally anybody can save his own PDF files using free software.

Note how all those .doc files that have been lost (really?) are found miraculously when you quote a PDF surcharge.

It almost seems like there's a morbid appeal in sculpting the exact same format in a .doc as there was in a (sometimes even non-editable) PDF file.

Or, in other words, there is played a pointless game of creating obstacles and overcoming them. To achieve what? To prove one's dedication to the client? To mark territory and show the supplier who's the boss? To project status? Meh to all three.

Well, unless it's an effort to put everything in a large TM and never pay for the full word count any more on similar segments, but there just seems to be too much accompanying focus on formatting preservation and sculpting for this alone to be the case.

In short, excessive reliance on technology, especially connected with a lack of due reflection, dumbs our work down, piles up red tape and shuts down rational thinking, creativity and everything else that marks human translation as human. It also dehumanizes our work and makes its conditions sometimes dreadful and depressogenic.

Obviously, reducing translators to gears in a world wide word mill whose job is not to think or create, who are vendors with numbers and 'dear translators/dear linguists' rather than people with names, can't be good for the profile and respect enjoyed by the profession. If there is any enjoyment of anything left in it.

I should probably mention, at least in passing, custom CATs and custom online translation management systems. In short, they're unwieldy, worse than the alternative, and compound the unhuman nature of translation these days. Will you stay logged into 20 different agencies' dedicated systems, keep a tab on things all the time, jump at jobs and click your way through auctions and confirmations all day long... ugh.

If you, Dear Reader, by chance, are a translation agency owner or employee, know that it does not make you unique and remarkable from a translator's perspective, at least in a sense other than unique and remarkable pain to work with. Which — I still hope — is something you actually give a dime (or shilling) about.

Next, technology is not what defines you as a translator or 'professional translator'. In connection with what I said earlier on, I understand that it may be a sound idea to focus on it much on your presentation, but still perhaps exercise some care and do not let it get out of hand. Technology is a huge aid and in many cases the be or not be of a professional translator, but not in the sense that owning a CAT-tool licence makes you 1) a translator, 2) a professional translator, or 3) a great translator. Your intelligence, knowledge, creativity, imagination, intuition, research aptitude and work ethic do that.

So perhaps don't emphasize it more than necessary in your profile — unless you can confirm that it works for you.

I can imagine and accept that in some specific situations it does work and it turns out well for the translator. Probably more so in the localization subsector than elsewhere, though I wouldn't like to judge by appearances here. Or in those long-term assignments where large volumes of text are translated for a utilitarian purpose.

But for that you need a working environment in which the translator is respected as a fully valuable professional and not regarded as a low-ranking menial member of the workforce several grades below a technician or engineer with real, useful skills. Or at least where the knowledge of all those substantive tools and all the attendant gadgetry at least finds appreciation and validates you. And where the processes are not degrading and soul-destroying, at least in the subjective experience of the translator involved.

If you can help it, please do not be indifferent to the tech madness, and try to guide your clients and agencies back onto the track of common sense when they steer off it.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Nominalization Leads To Commoditization

One of the causes of the huge problem with rates in translation is the commoditization of our work.

We are no longer authors, we are more akin to factory-line workers in word mills. Credit is rescinded, rates are reduced, contracts get uglier by the minute, as does the manner of address in ads and inquiries.

... And yet translators embrace commodity-market routine willingly, as if following construction industry's habit and custom validated them and infused with new vigor.

Even freelancers pose as 'Doe Translations', as though they were each a small agency, ever ready to outsource, to let a million-page deal across twenty languages in and parcel it out.

LSP, Vendor, TEP, what the heck?

But even the word 'translation' is commoditizing when used as a noun unnecessarily. I'm no fan of 'Peggy Translates' kind of wacky verb use, but nominalization breeds commoditization. Because you stop talking about translating and you start talking about translations. Or marketing translation, legal translation, business translation and more of the same noun with a qualifying adjective. Nouns make products, and nouns make commodities.

A product stylization might actually be better to your PR/marketing/branding than pure service-sector placement, but it's relatively hard to build a satisfactory brand on them when they're sold by the kilogram, or by the container ex factory.

(There is a chance you don't get commoditized when your product is a commodity — unlike with commoditized services.)

You still need to tell clients what you do, but load up a couple of law websites and you'll see practice areas, client industries and more, but not Services => Title Checking, Document Review, Will Writing and other things lawyers with higher aspirations hate to do.

For a translation agency such a method of presentation makes perfect sense. They do offer defined services and products like that, generally removed and cut off from the identity of their authors. But you won't win against agencies if you compete in their field.

For a translator it may be a better idea to quit designing packages that compete sometimes on features and usually on price and instead use the translator's personality to win clients and find work.

In any case, it's easier to use a translator's existing personality than to give personality to generic products or services.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Once More Unto The Breach: About Rates Again

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. For Harry, for IAPTI and for fair trade. I'm come here straight from reading a post at Audra's about setting your rates and about why that's important, on a quest to add my own two farthings as I'm always wont to do. Without further ado, here's some maths (and some facts) and some reassurance. First the numbers:

With an average salary of $53,410 per year, interpreters and translators earn less money than other social services professionals, such as clinical social workers ($51,460), middle school teachers ($56,280) and school psychologists ($72,220). However, the average salary of interpreters and translators is higher than that of exterminators ($32,190) and garbage collectors ($35,230).

Source: Check out median hourly wage too. Buried somewhere in the archives of this blog is a post with more such data, including how translators in Western Europe make far less than the average for their education level, perhaps another referencing how translators earn less and less despite how demand for their work keeps increasing, and more. (Unless I forgot to write them. That sometimes happens.)

See, translators are already being impoverished as a result of the constant pressure on rates and a couple of other factors, such as the specific structure of our sector, and the way so many jobs get reverse-auctioned off by dominant buyers (even despite suppliers being in high demand, despite the good ones). This is what happens when a whole group of people massively gives in to nibbling demands and sometimes outright frog's leap bluff offers, which seemingly succeed through sheer insolence.

Whatever may seem okay right now — to survive as a graduate, to survive a job change, to do whatever — will it suffice to feed and clothe a family, send the children to college, keep some savings in the bank, do all sorts of things middle-class people are supposed to be able to do?

If you take $0.04 a word, you'll need to translate 1,335,250 words to make $53,410 p.a. That means 121,386 words a month if we take one month off due to holidays and sick leave (21-23 business days on both accounts is actually not that much). Supposing you don't work on weekends, let's divide this figure by 22 (the number of business days in a month). This results in 5518 words per day. How do you feel about translating that, every day? Supposing you work traditional 8-hour days, this also means 690 words an hour, consistently over 8 hours. A figure quite unrealistic in the case of most translators.

Things get better at six cents, but obviously still firmly in the unspectacular range as you can guess by now.

Bottom line: do some maths.

Now regarding the reassurance I promised you. I want to be crystal clear on one thing: While it's admirable to be the best at what you do, or try to get there, and always strive to improve, you still shouldn't need to be the best-in-class sort of  overachiever only in order to hope for reasonable, fair, sustainable wage commensurate with your education, experience and the value of your work.

Just because silver is not gold and gold is not platinum it doesn't stop being valuable and commanding a good price. On the other hand, if you really are there, you shouldn't have to struggle in the six-cent pool. Not six, not twelve, not thirty. Gold and platinum aren't priced in pennies.

A lot will be said about how market value does not coincide with emotions and feelings, and how market value should supposedly guide all things. Also about how translation needs to bring money on the table in order to justify serious money being paid for it.

The thing is, though, that translators are not actually being paid the real market value of their work, and that translation does bring money to translation buyers and users, and to resellers and intermediaries, it's only that at this day and age people don't see it fit to attribute that value to the translator's effort — for example because some other translator could produce the same value — or at least reward the translation financially in due proportion, because translation is supposedly an inherently low-value task. Both of which are silly propositions.

In truth interchangeability applies to everyone in business: plumbers, car mechanics, lawyers, accountants, marketers, consultants, executives, MBAs and everyone else, including the same people who use interchangeability as an argument to pay you peanuts. Plus, interchangeability does not cancel the value of your work, anyway, precisely because someone else would still have to do it.

Neither is a client or intermediary's perception of translation as a low-value sort of thing the sort of solid economic justification that they would demand of you (figuratively) in order to justify your pay.

The perception of translation deserving any more that pittance pay regardless of the whatever value it brings — that is something which goes against healthy principles of economy and even logic. That is a nonsense wish grounded in emotions rather than facts or principles.

The only thing about it which is consistent with the laws of economy is that in a buyer-controlled market buyers will be able to pull off that sort thing despite the irrationality of it. And especially in a market like the modern translation market, where the roles are reversed and translators are effectively buying their jobs rather than selling their services.

Not reassuring much, perhaps, but let's get the pseudoeconomic nonsense out of the way and be clear on who's trying to defy the laws of physics (economy, but anyway).

And just for the record, just in case, if someone claims that piecemeal work is to far removed from the final product or service to be priced in direct reference to it, then in such a case your costs of living, remuneration consistent with your education and the level of your contribution to the final product or service — those should all serve as referene in determining your pay, as long as the business sustains itself and brings profit. Not however little someone thinks he should be able to pay you. That's more like laws of the jungle than healthy laws of economy.

(And this even before we consider the damage done by low rates to the quality of translation and the resulting damage to clients, and all the promises made and broken on which the clients relied in paying for the service, which prevent supply-demand mechanics from working properly due to the misinformation.)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Third Way: Increase Awareness

Some minutes ago I read an article from Jim's Marketing Blog from two months ago, linked by Frau Newell somewhere on Facebook. It's worth reading in whole, but without further ado, according to the author's powerful opening statement (sort of):

To get that price / value balance right, we have 2 options:
  1. We can pump more value into the product or service.
  2. We can lower the price.

In the context of translation, I immediately thought of the third way, probably as a result of thoughts crossing my mind of late, perhaps since April or May:

Increase awareness.

Strictly speaking there is no contradiction here, as the value needs to be in before you can raise awareness about it. But it's worth noting that:

  1. Once you put the premium value in, you'll need to communicate it or chances are it won't catch, which the author notes in saying: we are fooling ourselves if we expect prospective clients or customers to pay a premium, for something that’s average or close to average.
  2. Chances are the premium value is already in, so you need not to add it but to communicate it, right now. Which is also in the text but requires some reading into it, preferably with an open mind.

My proposition is that translation does not need any more value pumped into it, it needs better communication of its existing value. Any communication of its value would be a good start.

Actually, it would be false to say that no value communication exists, but it rests on the wrong premises:

  1. Added services of a kind which is really copy-shop services, or office assistance or entry-level technical assistance, which puts the profile of the profession below what translators' education and credentials would suggest.

    A lawyer will naturally end up gophering quite a lot in his initial years at the firm, even brew a couple of cuppas while at it, but no firm ever advertises lawyer-made coffee and lawyer-made copies as the added value that sweatens the deal, let alone its unique sales position. And this even though some lawyers are really conscious about courtesy, hospitality and warm and cosy client care. Plus, if a lawyer drove a truck, it would still be pilled at the same hourly rate as legal advice.

    (Or real consulting but without real qualifications. I recall a European translation agency contract where one of the attachments, an ethical code actually, required translators to check the correctness of source code while localizing software. I also recall a smart client who ordered legal advice 'localized', with a translation price tag and not legal advice price tag. Many translators probably have tales of expectations of typesetting, DTP, graphical editing and all sorts of checks in addition to just translating well.)

  2. Making translators look like that cleaning person with hidden talents, who is probably inreality a good fairy and who will quietly fix and polish a corporate manager's reports, filings and sales mail while sweeping and mopping his office at night. That, and Captain-Obvious-style consulting, telling clients things any twelve year old should know.
  3. Silly, unnecessary, outright dumb kinds of forcibly peddled added value such as preserving the intact layout of... incoming mail, down to copying the sender's signatures and logos over to the translation. I would question the soundness of mind of any client who really wanted to have his incoming mail translated like that as opposed to having it inadvertently peddled to himself by a translation agency or even translator anxious to furnish something, anything remunerable.
  4. Distasteful manifestations of ready obedience, submission and flattery, comparable to falling prostrate before the client and begging for scraps that fall from his table. 'Your wish is my command' is a real translation tag line I've seen, but by far not the only one in the same vein. You don't win respect that way. And you get scraps, bones, not serious compensation for your services.
Much of it is probably due to the situation translators and agencies currently live in, having their self-esteem constantly undermined and even sometimes functioning in circumstances in which self-esteem is a luxury some just can't afford.

The one thing is, if you don't have faith in yourself, it's hard to expect that others will. I'm not encouraging you to embrace the vice of pride but rather to take honest inventory of your skills and qualifications, their worth, their value, the path that led you to achieving them, the effort, the emotional reward. See the good things, the valuable, the unique. If translation represents no real value to you, then something is going wrong.

The other thing is that unlike what many (but not all!) marketing writers and speakers currently preach, it's not exclusively about defined benefits, or wants, or exclusively things that pertain to your client's business and not you. And it certainly is not about worshipping the ground the client walks on and wagging your tail hoping he'll throw a bone, which is as poor a strategy for winning clients as it is for winning girlfriends. To get a client hooked — and turning clients into hardcore fans is an idea I first heard from a law blogger — you need to tell story. It always is about a story. There are places in this world where stories are currency and the sum of $1, $10 and $100 is 3 colourful paper trinkets, not 111 dolars.

Tell a personal story. There is a reason lawyers use bios on their websites. About 60% of their traffic goes to the bios. Personal does not mean TMI, so skip the laundry of your multilingual home (unless you really are a good writer), but do tell a story about your academic studies and your professional path and the work you do these days. Don't be daft and presume that it would be of no interest to your client, like many people say. How do they know? Besides, I believe I've already covered the nonsense of treating your client like an alcoholic father (who must not be upset in the slightest, not made to listen to even a hint of something that's of no immediate relevance to him and his current situation).

Everybody loves to hear stories, you just need to find a way to tell them without driving people off or putting them to sleep. If you perceive yourself as a 'cultural mediator' (two individuals are also two cultures, on some level), a 'builder of bridges' or whatever else translation propaganda currently bills us as being, it would be a good test of the skills you supposedly rely on for a living.

By way of illustration, I never studied languages or translation myself at a university level because back at the time I'd thought it would teach me nothing new. (Edit: Oh wait, I did for a year in 2010-2011.) However, a couple of months ago, I was mining the faculty website for terminology and buzz words when translating a colleague's transcripts, and I got hooked on the narrative. It sucked me in and wouldn't let me go. Why oh why can't translators put similar narrative on their own websites? If it worked on a cormudgeonly skeptic like yours truly...

In short, believe in the value of what you do. Communicate that belief. Make it contagious. Show, not tell, even using words for the purpose. Give your prospective clients a chance to appreciate the value. They can't if you won't let them.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Rush Fees

Rush fees — or, more formally: urgency surcharges — are what you charge extra for an assignment that has a short deadline compared to the amount of work involved or requires overtime or work outside normal business hours.

Before we move on, the subject has, of course, already been discussed on translator message boards and by translation bloggers and is nothing new. For example, I would like to call your attention to the following articles and discussions (just three):

Also before we move on, do notice how people said — several years ago — that if we didn't insist on rush rates, they would disappear. And look what's happening now. It's not hard to notice that rush fees are growingly less popular than they used to be. In other words, they are disappearing.

There is no universal definition of rush fees and how much should be charged and in what situations. Those are largely subjective, personal matters — and it may well be the preference of certain translators not to charge such additional fees, for a number of reasons. Let's focus on the forest rather than the trees.

For starters, I want to address some arguments against.

The principal argument against rush fees is that few people or companies are charging them any more and it's hard to swim against the tide, and clients don't like it.

Well, yes, but the other side of the coin is that — contrary to what some may naively believe — the wave of no rush fees will not pushing forward once it encounters your limits.

Rather, the opposite will happen and is already happening right now all around us: more and more of 5000 words due tomorrow morning, 7500 or 10,000 a day, what's next?

And it doesn't stop at fees. Clients and agencies will also likely, eventually, expect you to accept normal liability for your work in such cases (in some cases including indemnity), including the usual 'highest quality' (because their blind penny-pinching clients won't accept any less than that) and all sorts of tiny QA issues and not just the sort of serious mistranslations that shouldn't appear even in a rush job nobody had the time to check.

The other huge argument invoked against rush fees is empathy. And that is a false argument in a vast number of circumstances. Unless you'r working for public hospitals and orphanages.

That sort of empathy is mostly a compunction against taking some sort of 'unfair advantage' of a client's tough situation.

Let's set the record straight by asking some questions:

  •  How difficult, exactly, is that situation?
  • What did the client do to bring it about or avoid it?
  • And what is required of you in result, and on what account? 


  • Are you effectively supposed to make a charitable donation to someone else's large and affluent business?

If you incline that way, chances are you're allowing yourself to be manipulated and exploited.

  • And what will your client be doing during that time, anyway — locking the office and going home at 5 p.m.? sleeping? having some family time?
  • Would it really put an economic strain on your client to compensate you adequately for your increased hardship which you take on your shoulders in order to relieve his hardship?
Because we aren't discussing only why the client needs the translation so quickly. The subject of discussion is why the client needs it so quickly and without paying for expedited service. In short, the question is:

  • Why does the client need or expect free expedited service?

These days you could also ask:

  • Is it really an unforeseen complication or...
  • is it rather a fixed item in your client's business model?
If the latter, what exactly sort of empathy should require you to become the sponsor of that model?

In summary, that sort of argument invoking your empathy is like asking you to empathize with people who can't or won't empathize with you. In some cases people who will institutionally exploit you if given the chance.

Again, let me stress this point somewhat forcefully because these days some linguists are notably lacking in reading comprehension as evidenced by the sort of comments, responses and questions you see on Facebook or message boards:

I'm not talking about a bona fide unpredicted accident happening to a person of limited means.

We all run into such situations from time to time. How frequent are they, though, compared to:

  • lack of preparation, planning and budgeting; or
  • lack of empathy for the person who eventually gets do that voluminous job, between Friday evening and Monday morning; or
  • just the fact that the particular client, in his mind, deserves to be served 'at once,sir!' (without having to pay extra for it); or
  • the fact that the job is being passed down and up the line of five different intermediaries, each of whom consumes a chunk of the time and fee?
Since I've already mentioned premium — both a premium investment of your time and effort together with a premium detriment to your health, family affairs, planning etc., and the premium service feature (expedited service) or premium benefit (getting things faster, getting a problem solved) call for premium pay and perfectly justify an expectation of it.

Just like the salaried worker who gets his overtime pay, sometimes regulated by statute, you are entitled to be paid more for the increased sacrifices you make. As a business owner, don't you deserve to be paid for the opportunities you're sacrificing (you're likely going to be half dead tomorrow)?

Empathy, here, speaks for you, not against you.

Besides, it's important to realize that while you may enjoy mingling with business types, up to and including CEO level in some cases, or politicians, artists and so on, receiving a faster-than-normal turnaround is not the birthright of a privileged class. Actually, many people belonging to a real privileged class will know better than to expect to be served by an army of underpaid peasants because they have received a demanding upbringing with a serious code of ethical values drilled into them.

It is not a privilege conferred with a business degree or company registration certificate or otherwise enjoyed by 'business customers', either — a serious business person understands that partnerships and favours are two-sided. No serious company is built on constantly asking for favours. Or constantly providing them to others, for no pay, at the expense of your time.

If you're still undecided as to whether you should apply rush fees to urgent assignments, I'll tell you how you can apply them in such a way as to make them go down more smoothly:
  • If the client questions the practice of rush fees, refer to independent authorities, both within the translation world (for maximum relevance) and without (to show that translation practice isn't idiosyncratic). Use the best authority available. Depending on the situation you may find it proper to add one or two more authorities for corroboration.
  • Be prepared to provide real reasons, though. You should have something better to say than, 'uh, because Association X said so,' or, 'we've always been doing that.'
  • Communicate your rush fees in advance: A forewarned client will find it easier to accept a 100% surcharge than someone who is surprised.
  • Similarly, an item from an official fee structure (follow the link to the PDF rate sheet) — a 'written policy' equal for everybody, as it were — will carry more authority than an improvised assessment. It should disarm or weaken any accusations of attempting an opportunistic ad-hoc act of overcharging (precisely because it's obviously not ad hoc).
  • Be brief to cut the grief. Make it a clean cut and not a festering wound. Like a good break-up. You can still smile and be corteous (naturally, you should). Don't leave openings for discussion. You must be closing the discussion, not inviting it.
  • Avoid hesitation. A client won't easily accept a proposal that even you don't seem to believe in. If you don't feel confident improvising, plan ahead and practice with a friend. (I'm serious, it's the same as practicing situational conversations before language exams.)
  • Be mindful, however, that most clients — especially business clients — are already well acquainted with the notion of overtime pay and expedited service fee, so don't feel obliged to take them seriously when they are playing stupid and pretending it's the first time they hear such outlandish nonsense. (You should show surprise at that point, ask them how that's possible etc., and if you get them twitching — you'll know why.)
  • Be prepared not only to be confident in your presentation of the issue but also to put your foot down despite a lack of consensus. Of course they will try to negotiate. Don't be surprised by that. Once you've provided the rationale for your fees, however, the onus is on your client to show what's wrong with them, why they don't or shouldn't apply in his case, or why he should receive special treatment.
  • Provide comparison for reference. Say how much it would cost with a longer deadline even if your client isn't interested in the standard deadline. You don't have to be elaborate, it will suffice to show the standard fee and apply the surcharge on top of it.
  • If appropriate, indicate how much it would have cost if they had waited longer. Since they want to make some savings, show them they have already made some. You can also reaffirm that your fees in general and rush fees in particular are reasonable and not as high as in some other places — if that's true, of course. You can mention any other fact that makes your pricing look attractive.
  • Give them choice and discuss alternatives. Any initial proposal from your client is just that, and subject to a counteroffer by you, which may very well be more attractive to your client even though it came from you. Give the client even several options to choose from, and the client will be more likely to choose something and stick with it than if you dictated only one possible arrangement. You can also point your client gently towards an alternative so that the client thinks it was his own idea.
  • Discuss the benefit of proper planning, ahead bookings and permanent reservations if relevant to your client's situation, so that your client can optimize expenses if he cares to make the effort it entails. This gives you more credibility when you ask for the surcharges.
  • However, if you don't mind rush work as long as it pays rush fees, make sure your client knows this rather than getting the wrong impression that you dislike rush jobs in general and would prefer to avoid them. (In which case the client might take his rush jobs, with or without rush fees, to a different translator as an intended favour to you.)
  • Make sure your fees don't look like penalties. Avoid phrasing such as: 'I need to levy an urgency surcharge,' unless perhaps on some sort of court or government business or unless you really are penalizing someone's chaotic ways to drive a lesson home. Otherwise restyle your rush fees (cognitive restructuring) as a neutral or positive expedited service option. (Do so without making your normal service look slow or deprioritized. Hire a copywriter if you can't find the right words.)
  • Devise a compassionate discount if relevant — that way you can show your client that you aren't indifferent to his predicament, even though you won't be making that predicament your own for no additional pay.
  • You can still develop a flexible plan for those clients to whose situation a compassionate discount is not relevant but whose need for rush service without rush fees is not as disagreeable as in most other cases — still, keep in mind that those guys should first of all be booking time slots in your calendar in advance. If they can't be bothered, it's their problem and not yours.

Speaking of flexibility:

  • You don't need to take a pay cut just because there is a disagreement about your pay structure. One of the many possible pay structures, to be precise. Change the structure, keep the fee. For example you can convince the client to make some ahead bookings or buy a service plan or just say that your base rate is higher when it is a flat rate with no increase on account of urgency.
  • Similarly, if a client is not comfortable with the extent of your particular rush fees, that doesn't mean the client disagrees with the concept of rush fees in general. Don't make it an all-or-nothing situation. See if a balance can be struck, especially by taking the base rate up a little and getting the client to give you a warning when something big is coming.

Again, look at what exactly is making your client uncomfortable and the reason why. Then try to address it or work around it.

Some clients just need you to sit down with them and explain your fee structure or the fairness of it. Others need reassurance that they aren't being overcharged, especially in an opportunistic ad-hoc improvised way. Still others need more predictability and budgeting certainty in general — or less amplitude and a flatter structure overall.

Remember that you can make it a give and take. And if you give a lot, you can ask at least some. For example if you waive rush fees, you can induce your client to give you forewarning and keep you informed about the status of potential projects to the point that there is effectively less and possibly very little rush. That's much like a booking in effect.

Or you can try and make sure that you get a decent amount of work from that client which is not rush jobs but normal jobs with a normal deadline. That way the absence of rush fees is a favour for a key client, not a semi-freebie for someone who hires other translators for non-rush work.

Don't give up too easily. Some people will reject one rationale but accept another. For example they may disagree with the notion of paying extra for more volume or faster turnaround, especially when there is a legitimate need for it, but perhaps wouldn't ask you to work 20 hours straight or lose your night's sleep if they knew that was involved and might be inclined to compensate it adequately.

Others, on the other hand, perhaps don't care about what they see as essentially 'your problem' (overtime, night work etc.) in a B2B situation, but they may understand paying for what is their benefit (e.g. getting things faster, getting a problem out of their way) or even a feature of the service they receive (e.g. expedited service).

It should be easier for you to accept a less than ideal description of your bonus pay than for them to pay you a bonus they don't believe in.

Don't presume. Ask and find out. Adapt. Don't give up all just because you can't keep all. You won't look very professional or very serious if you withdraw easily and totally from something that was like 50% of your original quotation.

And remember that being flexible or even compassionate doesn't necessarily mean being the sponsor of someone richer than you.

If you do have a charitable bone in your body, there are plenty of charities in need of translation assistance.

Last but not least, remember that if we don't charge rush fees, then many more jobs will become rush jobs than is really necessary. If we don't even as much as comment on the rush, then chances are practically all jobs will become rush jobs.

Bonus material: rush fees among graphic designers:

And copywriters:

And in the dairy goat industry:

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Ten Things Translators Are Doing Wrong

  1. Pictures. Few things have the potential to do as much good or ill to a professional's professional image as, well, images. Remember the meaning of 'code' in 'dress code' — it matters how people see you. If you prefer to keep it laid back, that's fine, too, but you can still put a real photographer behind a real camera. It will cost many times more than a simple ID picture, but it may well be one of the best investments you will ever have made. Make your picture representative of where you are or where you realistically want to be.
  2. TMI. This may be different if you translate for fellow freelancers or creatives, but lawyers and bankers who work 120 hours a week days won't be thrilled to hear about pyjamas and slippers and bath robes. Members of the general public who toil away in offices and at construction sites won't either. This connects with your image just like your picture: You won't be taken seriously if you can't make yourself look serious.
  3. Entry-level language-related imagery. We don't deal at the entry level, either. Ideally, all translators should be native or near-native in both the source and the target language.
  4. Broad references to all languages. We don't do 20 foreign languages, in most case we stick to one, two or three. We don't specialize in translation project management and traffic direction, either. In short, we are translators and not tiny translation agencies.
  5. Teaching paraphernalia. We don't teach. This is not a language school where a business exec can get from Elementary to Intermediate. This is real life.
  6. Your wish is my command. No kidding, This a direct quotation from a real translator's headline. May it stop already. This is not a concierge industry.
  7. Tech focus. Let's put things in perspective: it's your talent, study and experience that have shaped you into however good or bad translator you are, not your CAT tool. You don't want to emphasize your CAT tools any more than you want your clients to focus on them.
  8. 'You', 'me' etc. There is a trend for more personal touch in business-to-business copy, but let's keep some perspective: we aren't making Facebook friends, we're working.
  9. Errors and poor writing. As embarrassing as this is to note, translators' websites abound with errors and poor writing, which is one of the reasons it's so hard for the entire profession to be treated seriously and build a high profile.
  10. Piecemeal rates. There isn't much one can do on the agency front in this regard, but direct clients are often puzzled and sometimes put off by how typical translation pricing works, and they would be happy to pay per-project fees, recognizing that our work is more than the sum total of the words we type. 

Don't Outsource, Raise Your Fees

(The inspiration for writing this came from seeing a snapshot from Gary Smith's IAPTI presentation at Rose Newell's Twitter, but I've dealt with the subject before on this blog.)

In a limited, narrow perspective, it may seem to you that in taking jobs from clients and handing them out to your colleagues in exchange for a cut (e.g. 20%) you're helping them fill their calendars and make a living. And that's not quite wrong, actually.

On the other hand, for all the freelancing ups and downs, there is still a natural path of progress. Your job title may never change, but you gain experience levels just like your old WoW character. You move up. Others fill the place you left.

When you outsource, you don't move up, and others don't fill your place. You're stuck where you are, and others are stuck as your invisible henchmen instead of advancing their own careers.

Either do it right — and start a translation company (in which you can still translate if you want to) — or move up and free up your previous place for others.

It won't necessarily be your designated pals who get the free spot if you just simply raise your rates, but in the broader perspective the market will come to realize that the most wanted translators are an asset to compete for and reward fittingly.

The increased price and publicity will take care of the selection process on both sides: yours and the clients'. Yes, some prospects will no longer be able to afford your services. However, they can still choose from among your many colleagues who may very well be up to the task, not even necessarily being worse translators than you are but perhaps less successful economically.

With the emergence of a visible, easily distinguishable echelon of the most wanted translators, clients who have the resources but can't or don't want to gamble or experiment would know where to go and wouldn't need to burn their fingers cycling through one million seemingly identical but randomly qualified translators or rely on intermediaries to fish in a flat pool of all skill levels mixed up.

Nor will translation buyers continue to believe that for a measly six or twelve or twenty cents per word they deserve world-class quality generated by the unique combination of rare personal talent, many years of dedicated study, rich and varied or close and focused long-term experience and — in some cases — overall brilliance.

If you want to make more money, start an official agency and command fees in the proper agency range. Or change a separate management fee above the counter. Or take normal editing jobs that may well pay better than a 10% cut for editing your sidekicks. Or, well, just raise your rates already and either make more in the same time or make the same in less time.

If you want to help your sidekicks, you'll help them more by introducing them as your designated successors to the clients you leave behind than by signing their work at 50-80% of your old fees. They will be making more and building their own name.

Even the client will benefit from being directly in touch now with the person who's de facto been doing that client's jobs for a while.

Related articles:
Freelance Outsourcing: Make it (Semi-)Official or Don't Do It (longer treatment of the same subject)
Don't Flatten the Quality Scale (we should quit pretending that only the best is ever adequate in terms of translation quality — this includes handing clients down to less established but still adequate colleagues according to what a client is ready to pay)

Friday, 22 August 2014

Use Normal Language as Your Shield Against Absurdity

Somewhat in opposition to the title, let's start from a hipster word: paradigm. The way wiki talks about it, it deals with:

  • what is to be observed and scrutinized
  • the kind of questions that are supposed to be asked and probed for answers in relation to this subject
  • how these questions are to be structured
  • how the results of scientific investigations should be interpreted
  • how is an experiment to be conducted, and what equipment is available to conduct the experiment.

Bottom line, it's a set of conventions that streamline science and confer legitimacy on research methods and results and theoretical constructs on the basis of popular consent. In plainer words, it's the rules of the game: who can play, what you play for, what you play with, what moves you can make and when, who wins etc. Same as in chess or backgammon.

No paradigm is set in stone. They are often disputed, sometimes challenged, and have their limits pushed by people. They change from time to time, sometimes naturally, sometimes in a big bang, but most of the time in nibbling small steps. This will be important here.

While science is generally credited with looking for the truth (in reality, it's more like looking for the best knowledge you can get), paradigms define the rules for making simplified judgements as to what's going to pass for truth for the time being, i.e. until someone comes up with something better, and for making sure we don't get too embarrassed when that happens.

The lingo is a very important part of any paradigm. When among the Romans you do — and talk — like the Romans do. This essentially means that you accept and follow their rules. The lingo serves as an 'us and them' kind of mechanism which sends a message of belonging to the same group and taking each other seriously. It puts you in the food chain. You and your ideas.

It can also serve to legitimize ideas which are really absurd. This is because any rules can be gamed in order to make the opposition powerless against what you are doing to them. Sun Tzu says good generals win before they start fighting.

You can end up discussing absurd things just because those silly concepts have been worded in a way which makes them look like serious subjects for discussion.

The point here is that the use of fancy words and dressing up absurd proposals and requests in what passes for acceptable language in business or in the field of translation smuggles absurdity inside the paradigm, gives legitimacy to those absurd ideas and changes the reality we work in. Unchallenged, those ideas become part of a generally accepted, received deposit of knowledge that we pass on to newbies. Or, in plain words, they get to shape our reality.

Example: You'd think that no serious person would go on to explain each and every case where a word in the text needs to be put now in the singular, now in the plural, or feminine and masculine, or a different noun case than some other time. Nowadays, however, because of what 'quality assurance' and 'quality checks' look like — and because of 'our client requires it' — serious linguists are sometimes asked to write serious reports justifying such 'inconsistencies'.

The translation 'industry' is home to ignorant people who will even ask you to please fix your errors, without bothering to ask what that was about and without the basic knowledge about language that a 10 year old should have. The magic of 'quality assurance', the new concept of translation 'quality' (mostly formatting and tags these days) and the compelling force of the invocation of their 'client' or 'client requirements' are responsible for this absurdity. And the absurdity doesn't stop there. For example you may have been asked or pressured to enter linguistic disputes with executives and managers who don't have the faintest clue what they're talking about (e.g. second-guessing your translation with a dictionary in hand, without knowing the language — or disputing your writing style when they aren't even advanced students of the language).

'Quality', 'QA', 'inconsistencies', 'feedback', 'best rates', 'our database', 'TEP' (translation + editing + proofreading), 'require', 'opportunity' are some of the magic words in our job line. They can be combined with more general management speak and marketing jargon.

First watch College Humor — Facebook Law for Idiots to see what a French-sounding word can do to people's minds. And that's not even conscious manipulation, more like naïve use by everybody involved. Typical translation business mail probably falls under this category, though I have no doubt that people closer to the sinister or outright sociopathic range are also in this 'industry'.

Go to 'What The Fuck Is My Social Media Strategy' (do it even if the f word offends you) to see how easy it is to randomly put together a piece of babble that seems to make some sense:

  • Expose new users to the brand through organic conversations
  • Target influencers with engaging assets to act as platforms for conversation
  • Encourage positive conversations to drive advocacy
  • Build loyalty & increased engagement through ongoing conversation and brand experience

Essentially, they shuffle trendy verbs like 'drive', 'leverage', 'encourage', 'target' etc. with trendy nouns like 'assets', 'platforms', 'influencers', 'advocacy'. They put them in patterns to mimic causes and effects, methods and goals.

Those sentences could theoretically have a legitimate meaning described by that sort of verbiage due to a need for precision. Except in this case they are randomly generated babble. Look at their magic at work.

The outcome resembles psychobabble or any other -babble, which is a situation when trendy jargon words are used to legitimize nonsense often by people who don't understand what they are talking about (or do, but are faking it to begin with).

Apart from cons and phoneys, probably pretty much every one of us does something like that in real life, without realizing it or without any seriously deceiptive intentions. Just like the tiny white lies and embellishments that come naturally.

Buzzwords — trendy words that already exist or hip words biz and marketing wizards make up as they go — are similar to weasel words, i.e. fuzzy language like 'some people say' or even 'it is generally believed' or 'clearly evident' which leads you to accept authority that's not even properly cited, perhaps because it's not there. Except in buzzwords mental associations are invoked instead. The 'magic' of a trendy word is used to legitimize something that doesn't normally make sense.


  1. The client is not offering any payment for this assignment.
  2. We want you to do it for free.



  1. For this particular client/assigment we are using the following schedule for fuzzy matches.
  2. Your pay will be 20% less than your normal rates for this amount of work.

  1. I am writing to offer you an exciting opportunity to work with X/become part of X team of some nouns with adjectives.
  2. We need an external translator to take over some of the workload from time to time. We have nothing special to offer but neither does anybody else, so you might just as well accept it from us as from any other guys.

In all three examples, how does #1 sound compared to #2?

Similar situations could include suddenly referring to your response to their own inquiry as an 'application' being dowgraded to the level of one of some 20 offers they are sieving through and comparing to each other.

Or their own internal procedures and request can be cited like they are public law, their own requirements as an insurmountable obstacle they can't physically remove for you.

Or instead of negotiating some changes with you, you could be referred to as a 'Doe Translations Translator', and 'Doe Translators' follow the attached ethical code, which is (as they put it) your obligation to study and follow at all times.

Obviously, 'vendor', 'subcontractor' etc. also define your role when forced on you without your outspoken opposition, which implies acceptance and may even legally constitute acceptance (making the thing binding on you in a court of law).

Bottom line: Magic words. Or, rather, magic words that are accepted without challenge.

Some buzz words are code phrases.

For example 'CAT required' without specifying which or requiring true CAT receivables simply means they'll want discounts for fuzzies. 'Best rates', 'market situation', 'permanent collaboration', 'large volume' etc. all make it so that you're supposed to use them as a pretext to give them lower prices. Of all these, 'best rates' also introduce a competitive mood.

By accepting their lingo, you accept their rules.

Don't give them the benefit of conferring easy legitimacy on their dubious or outright absurd proposals by discussing them seriously, using the language convention supplied by the agency or client. Don't accept their rules without challenge — i.e. rules that are supposed to favour them in the game. Sometimes including the power to change the rules as they go — obviously so that it's easier for them to win.

Normal language stops the madness.

... Because in normal language that sort of thing (as in #1 in the examples above) will not fly.

By using normal language you force smartasses to stop being smartasses. You can force them to get back to a normal win-win dynamic instead of gaming it so that it's win for them and loss for you. And you can put back on their shoulders the burden of persuading you to give them what they want from you.

It's also far less easy to follow a PR flow chart, i.e. scripted dialogue, in a mismatched register, e.g. more colloquial, more idiomatic, a bit more flowery or up to the point, than the register typically used in PR communications. This means they have to drop the script and start thinking on their own.

In short, normal language forces substantive communication. Personally, in some cases, I use and request 'workman's terms' for that.

(For the record, there is no shame in admitting you don't understand something. If you've really earned your degree in languages or translation, chances are something you can't understand could at least have been phrased better.)

Just talk to them in normal language, rephrase their requests and explanations and excuses into normal language and asked them if you're reading them right (as in #2) — as opposed to automatically adopting the style used in their mails, along with their perspective.

You may want to read a bit about cognitive restructuring or reframing if you're interested in this subject.

There is also plenty of connection with plain language. Things you do to your language to clear it of jargon may resemble techniques used by plain language drafters, e.g. in British civil service.

You'll need to be at least a little assertive to make this work.

If You're Overworked, Up Your Rates! (to Up Your Game)

One of the complaints we sometimes hear — and sometimes envy — on freelancers' social media is too much work and having to decline. Th...