Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Axe the Tools! (No, Just Trim Them To Size.)

No, don't literally. I have something else in mind.

I'm reading Luke Spear's The translation sales handbook. A roadmap to higher rates, better clients almost as I'm writing this, so it'll be quick.

Essentially, at some point in the introduction Luke says:

I plainly could not have earned the figures that now offer me a degree of stability without raising my rates and using tools.

And he's not alone. Many people will say the same. You could even say social proof is there.

On the other hand, I look at the phrase and I want something different. Tools are important, but tools don't make a translator. To be sure, they can speed up our work and make it more consistent, more reliable, easier to manage. Imagine life without online dictionaries and other resources (e-books, articles, forums and groups) which allow you to get away with just spending some bucks from your credit card and avoid the trip to a physical library with a paper notepad (which you possibly still do from time to time anyway, just not as often as it would be necessary otherwise).

But I always want to emphasize the translator and deemphasize the tech. There is nothing wrong with the tech, but think where we are positioning ourselves if our core sales/marketing proposition is the fact that we work with a certain CAT tool. Meaning we're available for work with TMs (translation memories) and, more importantly, for fuzzy discounts (reduced rates on the basis of some parts of the text being e.g. 80% similar to a record in the TM or even to some other part of the same text).

CAT logos are a prominent graphical element on many translator websites, you'll see them everywhere (personally, I have a CAT licence, but I refuse to put up such a sticker). CAT trainings are often emphasized as prime CPD (Continued Professional Development). Where does that put us? Right on the assembly line! We're turning into CAT operators. Not being turned, turning. We do it to ourselves.

It is pretty much compulsory to have CATs right now (although there are some translators who don't have any and do fine, even prosper), but there is no compulsion to define ourselves through them.

What about other tools? Does one really need a specific tool to keep track of your billable time? If you do, does it have to be anything else than pen and paper? Does one definitely need a piece of software to save notes? (Cork board! Post-it notes!) Accounting tools... seriously? It's possible to churn invoices fast enough without even having a template (guess how I know). Less convenient but still doable.

(For the record, a law blogger I've read recently gives this kind of advice: if you're a low-tech person befriend a gadgeteer. If you're a gadgeteer, befriend a low-tech person who relies on pen and paper. Either way you can learn useful things. That's good advice.)

Anyway. Draw your authority from your translation and subject-matter education and experience, not from your tech tools. Tools are just tools. They have their uses, but we need to emphasize the translator, not the tools.

So I'm not saying we should totally remove CATs and other tools from our presentation but rather put them in perspective and proportion. Specific feature, concrete benefit. Something to the tune of:

I use [insert CAT name], which helps me keep my translations consistent and charge less for repeating parts.

rather than:

I have [insert CAT name], which validates me as a professional translator.

Okay, so how does this relate to earnings, as per the quotation in the beginning?

The challenge is to position ourselves and present ourselves so that we don't have to rely on tech, as an argument or otherwise, in achieving or justifying decent rates.

A while ago, I read the description of a philological degree course at my old university, where I had studied something else, and I was hooked. If I was hooked, why would a client not be?

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