Recommended Reading: Marketing Cookbook for Translators

Perhaps the best cookbook we own?
This post marks the return of our recommended reading series, and this is the first book we recommend for 2015. As we've done for many years, we like to recommend good books to our readers. Our rules for reviewing books are simple: we receive quite a few unsolicited books, and even solicited books don't guarantee a review. In general, we see no point in writing unflattering reviews, so we generally don't review books we would not recommend. We did receive a (very welcome) copy of The Marketing Cookbook for Translators by our colleague Tess Whitty (English<->Swedish translator), who lives in Utah, and here's the short version: we like it. Go read it, especially if you are a beginning translator.

Now, here's the longer review. In general, we think the market for self-published books in the T&I industry is getting a bit saturated. Some of the books that have hit the market lately aren't particularly useful, but Tess' book sure is, because it focuses on a very specific area that's particularly challenging and scary to many newcomers (and even advanced translators): marketing. It can all seem a bit daunting when you go out into the big world of translation and try to leave your mark, acquire clients, and earn a living. While there already is a lot of information out there on how to market your services, as far as we know, there previously hadn't been an entire handy-dandy book that focused just on marketing. Now we have one. Reading this book is infinitely easier and more convenient than trying to compile the information from multiple sources such as blogs, newsletters, etc.

We really liked the clever idea of structuring the book like a cookbook, and the entire theme is quite cute and well executed. The book is divided into eight chapters with witty names such as Your Pantry, Appetizers, Side Dishes, etc. Then the individual sections are aptly called Recipes (of which there are 25). Tess' style is clear, easy to read, and direct and insightful. We particularly like Recipe 8, which focuses on the ever-important topic of the website, and includes solid SEO (search engine optimization) advice. We also like the easy-to-locate resources sections that are included for additional reading throughout the book. 

Many readers might recognize Tess from her very active involvement in the ATA and her fantastic podcast called Marketing Tips for Translators (for which Judy has been interviewed). With this book, she's given our industry newcomers a solid guide to marketing their services. No recipe is ever truly foolproof, but with this book, Tess has given you all the right ingredients and plenty of good tips to set you on the right path. However, the hard work is still up to you.

Here's some purchasing information for the book. It will make a great addition to any translator's collection. And for the record, Judy's copy lives in her office, but was only posing on the cookbook shelf for the picture. 


The Voice of Love: Interpreting Compassion

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The Voice of Love, led by highly respected industry veteran Marjory Bancroft, is the only non-profit that we know of that offers interpreting training specifically for linguists who wish to work in social services environments to help survivors of extremely challenging life situations. The rules of court or conference interpreting, or even medical interpreting, simply don't apply here, and interpreters need very specific skills to deal with these delicate interpreting situations. We haven't had any training in how to handle these situations, and neither have most of our colleagues, which is why this training (Voices of Love) is so important. Many well-known interpreting experts from around the country have contributed to the training material that this course is based on, among them our dear colleague Nataly Kelly (co-author of Found in Translation). 

This year's weeklong training session will be held Columbia, Maryland, from May 4 through May 8. We wish it would be closer to the West Coast so we can attend, but our travel schedule is already quite packed this year. However, we hope to attend another time. We have heard great things about this training session and wanted to share the information with you here. Please have a look at the flyer, the Voices of Love website or their informative blog


5 Things We Love About Our Subcontractors

We've had the pleasure of working with a small group of highly trusted contractors for many years, and our success depends on the quality of their work -- and their work is always stellar. For today's post, we wanted to list the top five things we love about them (you know who you are!). We are not talking about translation quality here, but about things that go beyond the actual high quality of their work. Unfortunately, we are not accepting résumés -- if we want to work with you, we know where to find you!

1.) Easy and efficient communication. We both get a lot of e-mails and a lot of phone calls every day, so we value the fact that our contractors are quick and precise, and that they answer all our questions the first time. We are very unlikely to work with someone who takes five e-mails and much back-and-forth to answer our questions. Our group of superstar translators is just as busy as we are, and we try to keep our e-mails short and to the point as well.

2.) Quick invoicing. We are quite known for paying invoices very fast, and sometimes do so within minutes if we can pay a contractor via PayPal or Chase QuickPay. We also appreciate getting less e-mail rather than more (see point above), so we like receiving the invoice in the same e-mail as the translated document. It does us know good if the invoice materializes months after the fact. It just messes up our accounting and makes our CPAs unhappy. 

3.) Good questions for the client *before* the deadline. It's rare that a project requires no questions of the client. We are quick to ask them of the client once the contractor sends them to us (preferably several questions compiled in one e-mail rather than one e-mail per question), and we need to receive them before the delivery deadline. All our contractors do that, and we love it.

4.) Answering requests quickly. We don't expect anyone to work around the clock, but we do appreciate quick answers to requests for proposals and availability, as it helps us plan. We love the fact that our contractors are always quick to respond when we ping them about an upcoming project.

5.) Formatting skills. Some of our projects require advanced formatting skills, which we are more than happy to pay extra for. We love contractors who go the extra mile to solve tricky formatting skills rather than just saying they couldn't figure it out and leaving it to us at the last minute (that obviously doesn't work). We also appreciate contractors who thoroughly review the project before they accept it so we can talk about whether extra charges for formatting shall apply. We also like honest evaluations. SOme lovely contractors tell us that a particular project is not for them because they don't have the skills to recreate complicated workflow graphics. That's just fine -- honesty is always the best policy!

So that was it, dear readers -- five things that make us, the oftentimes client, happy. Of course there are more, and these are in no particular order of importance. Do you have others to add? We'd love to hear from you. þþ

Linguee: New Functionalities

Most of our dear colleagues have used Linguee for years, and it's a great tool. We always make sure to emphasize to our lovely students that Linguee is not  to be used as a substitute for high-level dictionaries, but rather a complementary tool.  There are some very powerful web tools that make translators' lives better, and Linguee is one of them (and one of the best, too, the other being the terminology databank IATE). 

If you are not yet familiar with Linguee, it's essentially a web tool that searches published translations for the term that you are looking for. There's no guarantee that what you find has been translated correctly and there is no review of the results, but you get to see the terms translated by others, complete with a link and a source, and you  see the term(s) in context, which is highly useful. It's an invaluable research tool, and oftentimes, the results are from very high-level sites, such as publications from the European Union and the United Nations. Linguee is available in many languages. It's particularly useful for partial phrases. To test it, try it with something like "court is now adjourned."

Image courtesy of Linguee.
A few days ago, we heard from our friends at Linguee who told us about their most recent launch, which took place on February 9th and which featured some upgrades to make it even better. Here's what they had to say:

Linguee is a multilingual online dictionary and search engine for translations, available in more than 200 language combinations. Our search engine offers access to over one billion translated texts and has answered more than 4 billion queries so far, helping 25 million different people in November 2014 alone.

The upcoming launch will take place on the Monday 9th February and will debut Linguee's groundbreaking autocompletion and autocorrection technology (not the ordinary run-of-the-mill autocompletion - Linguee doesn't just show the word you're looking for before you finish typing but also the translations). Thanks to this new technology users are now provided with the requested translation after typing in just the first few letters of the word. 


Other significant developments include drastically improved content, an enhanced audio pronunciation feature and a brand new dynamic mobile version. During the last year, Linguee collaborated with over 400 professional translators, lexicographers and linguists in order to provide users with the best possible content available on the web. 

Should You Work From Home?

Partial view of Judy's home office.
Many newcomers to the profession are attracted to the flexibility that translation and interpreting afford: you get to work from home, and you make your own schedule. Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? But not so quick: working from home isn't for everyone. Read on if you are a beginning linguist or are thinking about making the move from in-house to at-home.

There are a few questions you should probably ask yourself before you decide that working sans a boss (as you will work for yourself) AND from home is a good idea. Here are a few questions to give you some food for thought.

Do you like being by yourself all day? In previous jobs, your co-workers may have bugged you and office politics may have driven you crazy, but working all by yourself can get lonely. It personally works for us, but Judy also works from a co-working space at least once a week.

Can you work with all the home distractions? Many people just can't work from home because they'd be too tempted to mop the floors, do the dishes, do the laundry, run errands, or anything else that needs to be done around the house. Others can't work from home because they don't have the discipline and would be watching sitcoms all day or viewing cute internet cat videos. There's nothing wrong with that, but obviously you need to be able to resist all these temptations if you want to get work done and make a living. We will occasionally do some chores around the house during our breaks, but most of the time, we put our head down and we work. And we watch no cat videos, as cute as they are.

Can you work without any direct pressure from anyone? Sure, your clients will put pressure on you, but the pressure will come in the form of mutually agreed-upon deadlines. Will you be able to work without someone checking on you? Have you done it before? This question really goes beyond the working-from-home question and is more about working for yourself in general. As much as many don't like being micromanaged and/or having any boss in general, he or she usually does hold employees accountable. Can you hold yourself accountable? Think about this for a bit before you take the plunge into self-employment.

Can you solve your own computer problems? We've been there, done that: we've worked in organizations that had entire IT departments to solve any challenge, and we got a bit lazy. After we started working for ourselves, we had to figure out how to solve IT-related problems, and we did so by hiring outside help and by being more resourceful ourselves (this involves a lot of time on Google, looking for tutorials). This topic also goes beyond working from home, and it's an important one. Your clients don't care that you can't open a Mac file; you just have to figure it out. And yes, sometimes it's painful. 

Do you need a lot of feedback and guidance? No translator or interpreter is an island, and you will need to build your network to get advice and feedback from more experienced colleagues (and you might have to pay for this). Until you do build a network, how will you get feedback? Do you have people in your life who are willing to guide you both on the T&I competencies side and the business side? This is much easier now than it was years ago when we started (we just had each other), but it's still a challenge. If you need assistance every step of the way, you need to get used to the idea that you might not able to get it and that you will need to make many decisions using incomplete information. And that many decisions will be wrong (ours were). BTW: we try to share our mistakes on this blog so you don't have to make the same ones.

So that's it, dear colleagues and future colleagues! Of course, this list isn't exhaustive, but we hope it gets you thinking a bit more about whether working from home is for you.

We'd love to hear your thoughts -- simply leave a comment below.




Keeping the "Free" in "Freelance"

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For today's quick post, we'd like to address an important topic: the fact that as freelancers, we are free to work or not work with any client. Oftentimes, we hear from colleagues that they feel locked into certain relationships, and while it's certainly difficult to walk away from established business relationships, we need to do so if they don't work for us -- or at least try to negotiate better terms. Let's keep the "free" in "freelance"!

Judy has been on the other side of this: she's worked as an in-house translator for a big e-commerce site. And while that was a lot of fun, she loved leading a team of translators, learned a lot about technology and made many lifelong friends, she wasn't free to choose what to work on. Her internal customers (=other departments) would request translations, sometimes with unreasonable expectations and unreasonable deadlines, and it was her and her team's job to get it done. She didn't have the option to say: "Thanks, but no thanks, this deadline is too tight." Everything always got done, but it required many all-nighters and many months of 80-hour weeks.

As freelancers, we have the choice and the luxury to select which projects we work on. Of course, we also need to make sure we make a living, so we need to choose wisely and make our customers happy while balancing that with the need to have a normal life, including time for friends, family, exercises, travel, and vacation.

We very rarely turn down projects from our fantastic long-term repeat customers, many of whom have worked with us for more than a decade, but we've negotiated good terms and reasonable deadlines. Oftentimes, we hear lovely colleagues complaining about their client's unreasonable expectations and deadlines. Without giving out too much tough love, we have this thought: a business agreement always takes two parties. If you say yes to something, then you must do it, preferably without complaining too much. If it doesn't work for you, tell the client rather than complaining to colleagues who can't do anything about it. Don't be afraid to negotiate better terms. It works like a charm if you say: "Unfortunately, we will not be able to complete this translation by Monday because we are completely booked. However, we can gladly complete it by Wednesday if your timeline allows or we can refer a trusted colleague." Needless to say, most clients will think that this is quite reasonable, as most clients understand that all of us have multiple clients and don't just work for one party. If they don't understand that and are continuously putting lots of pressure on you, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate that business relationship. Just because you've worked with someone once or twice doesn't mean you have to accept work from them for all eternity if the terms don't work for you. It's perfectly fine to say "no," as long as you do so nicely and offer alternatives if at all possible.

What do you think, dear colleagues? We would love to hear from you. Simply leave a comment below. 

Blind Translators: Making Their Lives Better

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Happy Friday, dear colleagues! This morning, Judy received an e-mail from her friend and colleague Jamey Cook, who is a trailblazing blind interpreter and translator. Yes, you read that correctly: she's blind, yet she's a certified medical interpreter and a translator. Judy had the honor of profiling her for the ITI Bulletin magazine in 2013, and her story even made the cover. Life in the translation world is very challenging for blind translators, as much of the software (and hardware) just isn't accessible to them because manufacturers have not made the necessary adjustments. Jamey has been at the forefront of campaigning for change. Will you help? It doesn't cost anything, and alll you have to do is go to a website and add a comment, which should take you no more than 30 seconds. What do you say? Let's come together as a community to support an important cause. The idea here is to ask Microsoft to add a fully functional screen reader to Windows 10.

But we will let Jamey speak -- here's her e-mail from earlier this morning:


Would you please consider voting on this? http://tinyurl.com/nohl5by


The low down on why this matters: Macs are considerably more expensive than PC's, yet Apple long ago built in their VoiceOver screen reader for free. Now, Window Eyes is free for those who use Office 2013 or above, but Narrator, which comes with Windows, is only a functional
screen reader for the most basic of tasks. NVDA is a free screen reader, but needs more development. So that leaves JAWS for Windows, which is close to $2000 for starters, then there is the Software
Maintenance Agreement to maintain for $200 every two years. Bottom line: this could allow blind users to just pick up a computer and use it, as any sighted person can.


Thank you so much, in advance, for your help. Can you also help us spread the word about this important cause?

Here is the link again. Have a great weekend!

The Power of Price Quotes + Contracts

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We have oftentimes lectured on the importance of price quotes and contracts in our industry, including Judy's recent session at the 55th Annual American Translators Association Conference in Chicago in November 2014 (Quote This!), but haven't blogged about this topic in a while, so here we go (warning: it's long). Please remember that this is merely our point of view, and that we very much welcome others' opinions as well (just leave a comment). As always, for legal advice, please make sure you talk to a lawyer. 

In general, during most business transactions, the vendor sets the price and the buyer agrees to it, usually in writing if it's a service. This is even the case for something as simple as plumbing services, or agreeing to a monthly pool cleaning service. The customer calls and asks for an estimate, and the vendor issues it, states the terms, and has the client sign off on them. Very few professionals in any profession would consider working without such an agreement. Remember that our experience is limited almost exclusively to direct clients, but there's no reason we cannot get agencies into the habit of signing contracts as well (we gladly sign our subcontractors' terms/contracts, but few send them). The law is usually a good thing, and contracts are great. They spell things out and make them official. They also come in handy during disputes.

The few times a year we work with interpreting agencies, we are happy to sign their purchase orders, but don't ever enter into a working agreement without our own signed contract as well. Oral contracts are worth the paper they are written on, and back-and-forth e-mails are a poor substitute for a proper contract. Not that our direct clients would want us to skip the written agreement: they want a document where all the pertinent details are spelled out so there are no surprises. This even applies to customers who want something as simple as a birth certificate translated. The issuance of price quotes is so widespread in any business transaction that pretty much every potential client we come in contact with expects one. A contract is the cornerstone of a professional business agreement, Sadly, in our industry, the vast majority of translators and interpreters skip this step, which can be detrimental for their businesses. We think that most non-payment situations can be made much easier if a signed document exists -- it also strengthens any legal case if it comes to that.

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Now, when we work with interpreting agencies for conference interpreting assignments, we issue a very straightforward price quote that neatly summarizes all the details (which we copy and paste from e-mail conversations; it's also great to have all the information in one place). Our contract was drafted by an attorney and is routinely reviewed and updated, but it's very standard. It specifies the details, the time, the date, the booth partner, the location, the equipment to be used, preparation material, overtime, breaks, our payment terms, etc. The idea here is to agree to everything in writing so both parties know what to expect. We will post more on the actual essential elements of a quote in a future post, we promise! In the meantime, here's the ATA's great model contract. In general, the document should be concise, easy to read, and thorough without being an undue burden to the client (no one wants to read 1o pages). And of course the agreement has to work for both parties, so there can certainly be some back-and-forth negotiating until everyone is happy. There is a signature section where we have the client sign first and then we counter-sign. Once signed, that document becomes a binding contract. We really don't see a downside to it.  In 99% of cases, the client signs and we move on. We recently had an agency refusing to sign, but they could not come up with a reason, so we wished them best of luck on the project and amicably parted ways. We took the refusal as what it was: a red flag.

Freelancers really must get into the habit of issuing legally binding documents to protect themselves, and agencies will get used to it once it becomes standard practice. Perhaps some clients don't want to sign contracts and want to convince us to waive it, but basic business skills include knowing that working without a contract is usually a risky endeavor at best, and a disastrous decision at worst. For the record: for repeat customers we oftentimes have long-term contracts and/or don't make them sign each price quote for each project (we oftentimes accept an e-mail reply telling us to proceed). Of course you also have to be reasonable and make things convenient for your client -- all while protecting your business interest.

We would love to hear your thoughts, dear colleagues. Simply leave a comment below.


No More Sisyphus: Shifting Our Focus

We hope all our lovely friends and colleagues had a great start into 2015! Time sure does fly, doesn't it? It seems like yesterday that many were worried about Y2K and now here we are 15 years into this decade. 

We wanted to start the new year's posts off with a trend that is neither new but surprising,  but one that seems to be gaining momentum: complaining about things we cannot change in our industry. Our industry is wonderful, but it's not perfect, and even though most clients are outstanding, some are not. Yes, there's significant downward pressure on prices, and we are all responsible because someone is usually willing to offer a cheaper rate, hoping to get the short-term benefit of a particular assignment. Sure, bad translations abound, the public oftentimes doesn't care about translation, and the internet is full of terrible, terrible translations. However, what if we spent the same amount of time complaining about things we cannot change on improving things we can actually change? Wouldn't that be a much better use of our time?

What it comes down to is this: it's very difficult to change others' behavior, and while venting about things once in a while can be useful and cathartic, we've seen that sometimes in our industry the complaining can get a bit out of control. Wouldn't you agree?

We are no different than doctors who tell their patients to lose weight and they won't do it. Sometimes a potential client or even any company choose to use a sub-par translation that it shouldn't use because it's so terrible and makes their product or service look bad. After giving our qualified professional opinion (if we are asked to do so), it is up to them to take that advice or not. We are also like the personal stylist who tells you that you don't look good in red with black hair and that you should go back to your natural blond and wear neutral colors, and you won't do it. We are similar to interior designers who tell us that the floral vinyl couch doesn't match the rest of the house, but we don't want to get rid of it. Our point is: we cannot make people do things we want them to do (even if we are right), so perhaps it's time to focus on the things we can change. That would be our attitude, our prices, our clients. etc. If a client is truly terrible, don't work with him or her anymore. If you are not liking the rates you are achieving, raise them. Of course, this comes with some risk, but we all must take risks to succeed, and the level of risk we want to have depends on our personal situation.

So how about it, dear colleagues?. Let's educate our clients without being pedantic, and let's analyze our own behavior and business practices, as those can easily be changed by the only people whose behavior we can truly influence: ourselves.

Being Kind to Each Other

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As yet another great year comes to an end -- both in terms of business and personal lives -- we are grateful, as always, for all the lovely clients, friends, and colleagues in our lives. 

Unfortunately, we've noticed that oftentimes in our industry we can be quite harsh with one another, for no particular reason and without any apparent goal. You know what we are talking about: the unnecessary, oftentimes nasty exchanges on listservs, the snarky Twitter posts, the blog posts mocking new software that someone doesn't agree with and therefore chooses to ridicule. We think that this behavior, although it is thankfully relatively rare, is damaging to our industry as a whole. 

So we'd like to propose the following: for 2015, let's all make a New Year's resolution to simply be kind(er) to each other. We are all colleagues and friends, and we are infinitely stronger together than we are when we are divided. Let's honor the bond we all share: languages, and hopefully the respect we have for each other, even when we disagree. We think disagreeing is healthy and necessary, and it is an essential part of intellectual discourse, but there's no reason we can't do so nicely without offending anyone. We've both served on the boards of directors of T&I organizations long enough to know that all the disputes we have helped settle should probably never have happened in the first place -- and could probably have been resolved over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

So are you ready to join us? Next time you want to post something snarky about something a colleague has written, ask yourself: does this serve a purpose? Does this comment advance our industry? Or am I picking a fight just because? Is this comment valuable in the sense that it will spark good debate or is it hurtful and could potentially even be considered libel (we've seen lots of that)? Would I want to see what I wrote on the cover of a national newspaper tomorrow? Would I say this to the other party in person? 

Of course, we are very well aware that this is a wonderful industry, but it could benefit from more kindness. Let's make a commitment to be kind to every single colleague we deal with, especially in a public forum. If there's ever any conflict, we highly recommend resolving the situation one-on-one.

Will you join us? Here's to a happy, successful, and very kind 2015! Have we mentioned we heart all our friends and colleagues?
Join the discussion! Commenting is a great way of becoming part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media are all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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

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