Monday, 31 March 2014

Be Pragmatic! (to Some Extent)

From time to time it's good to get back to the basics. Last Saturday at TLC'2014 (The Translation & Localization Conference in Warsaw) I attended Fernanda Roja's presentation (video, text), which discussed some core basics of being a professional translator (but preferably without mentioning the professional part too explicitly).

A word of explanation though, it's not like only our present day and age brings us the answers to the question of how to translate (professionally or lege artis or whatever). It has more to do with how to run your practice (professionally). Which is an issue also lawyers have been addressing for quite a while.

This, in turn, ties into the modern problem of quality, as in quality issues, and the fact that clients can't normally directly and accurately assess the quality of legal aid, or translation aid, which they receive. On the contrary, they'll rather focus on the quality of service and some superficial QA markers (which is why it's important to self-administer some good QA).

Fernanda mentioned a number of things affecting our professional image, but there are three I would like to focus on, and they connected with each other. The first two are also rather typical client-service matters, so the mental association with quality and client service, will continue throughout this little article. Namely:

  • being flexible
  • being available
  • thinking for yourself (rather than relying on presumptions or opinions heard from others)

Fernanda mentioned translators who wouldn't do work outside rigid business hours because no. Or wouldn't try a new CAT because the current one was sufficient. Or because it was bad, and it was bad because a friend said so. I believe she also said something about services that don't fully fit a standard definition.

Bottom line, some translators seemed unwilling to operate outside a set of preconceived notions and getting hurt for it.

I thought: Well, okay, there may be no substantive reason to prefer the client's CAT tool over the one the translator already has. But does there really have to be one? The translator could simply regard it as an investment in getting the client, pretty much the same as marketing expenses.

Obviously, you shouldn't buy a whole new CAT tool for a job that pays your minimum fee (if you have one). but if multiple clients keep asking, perhaps it could pay to just have it. Might as well subscribe some newsletter somewhere, keep an eye and wait for a promotional offer, or something.

Just to be clear, I'm not a CAT person. I don't buy into their charm, and I laugh when they are referred to as 'cutting-edge technology', and it grieves me to see the predominance of claims of CAT ownership and skills in translators' marketing and advertising, as if that were what made them good translators (and some actually put it that way).

Nope. Just consider making the silly expense if it can lead to getting some serious business your way, which you'd otherwise be missing out on and really missing it (if you wouldn't, then no loss, obviously).

Pretty much the same way — consider giving them their own free samples of your work, especially if they are less obnoxiously referred to as test pieces that aren't paid for as opposed to actual free samples.

Should your credentials — including exams held by state commissions and translators' associations — carry more weight than whatever some reviewer somewhere thinks about your translation? Of course they should. Should the client, especially a professional translation agency or publishing house, be able to realise this? Of course. And it's pretty silly (and rigid, unflexible) otherwise.

But would you really rather be losing jobs for it than granting their request, especially if it's framed with a modicum of respect and opens some interesting opportunities, such as impressing your client in a direct way your certificates and diplomas cannot achieve?

I said it during Fernanda's presentation, and I'll say it now again: Professionals need their boundaries. But there's a difference between having boundaries and being rigid. Where exactly the difference lies is a subjective matter, and, for example, Fernanda and I each had a markedly different opinion on that.

So, I'm not proposing that you should relativise things and especially values (for example I don't work on Sundays for religious religious, and my clients know and respect this). Rather, I'm proposing that we should avoid making absolutes out of things which really are quite relative on their own.

It also helps if we can see that our own opinions are also subjective, perhaps as subjective as the clients' ideas, and they certainly may look equally as stubborn and unreasonable to your clients as their notions and preconceptions sometimes seem to us to be.

So perhaps what I'm proposing here is a bit of an NLP-style reframe. Perhaps we could avoid the unpleasant connotations of flexible in connection with clients — as if a translator's main asset were a neck that bends easily — and rather think about adding a certain shrewd flexibility to our business.

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