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?

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?

Interpreting: Keeping Calm Under Fire

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Court interpreters oftentimes have to deal with attorneys who can be quite aggressive (part of the job!) not only with the other party, but also with the interpreter if the latter does something that counsel doesn't like, even if it's correct. In her frequent assignments as a court interpreter, Judy occasionally runs into that challenge, and she tries to stay calm and collected while explaining the issue. However, let's face it: some attorneys can behave like playground bullies, especially when the stakes are high (full disclosure: Judy is married to an attorney, albeit a very mild-mannered one). Here's a report on how Judy recently handled a tricky situation that was resolved very quickly to everyone's satisfaction.

Judy was interpreting a relatively informal proceedings via video conference, which can be challenging, as the audio tends to be subpar. The defendant and his attorney were in one location, while Judy and a government official were at another location.

Defendant to attorney: ¿Tengo que contestar eso?
Judy: Do I have to answer that?
Attorney to Judy: Don't translate [sic] that.
Judy to attorney: I am sorry, counsel, but my code of ethics dictates that I interpret everything that's being said so everyone has the same access to the language as if everyone were fully bilingual. 
Government official: I agree. I need to hear what the defendant said.
Attorney: OK, no problem. Let me mute the sound on my end, talk to my client in private, and unmute the sound when I am ready.
Government official: That works!
Judy: Fantastic. Thank you, counsel.
Attorney: My pleasure.

Sometimes, it's really that easy. You speak up, calmly state your concern, and hope that everyone is reasonable. In this case, it worked out. What about you, dear colleagues? Have you had good experiences with resolving potentially difficult situations with attorneys or other parties?

The Standing Desk Experiment

We are very aware that sitting is widely considered the new smoking, and we are always looking for ways to reduce the amount of sitting that we do. We already take frequent breaks and work out every day, but it's hard to get around sitting while translating. Well, turns out it's not. While Dagy has had a custom-built (and relatively pricey) standing desk for many years that she uses relatively frequently (it's a separate structure next to her desk), Judy had never had one. Here's her report on her recent purchase.

Until I discovered Varidesk, I didn't like the prices we were seeing on standings desks (usually $2,500), and also didn't like the fact that I would have to replace my L-shaped desk that I like so much. We recently learned about Varidesk on Twitter (yay for Twitter!), and I finally pulled the trigger some 10 days ago. The desk cost $350, and the package arrived in a huge box in around 5 days. It only took 5 minutes to get things going. Basically, you plop it down on your desk, activate the lever (there are several settings for standing) to raise the desk, and you are all set. It couldn't be easier. The box was heavy (some 40 pounds, I think), but I managed to do set everything up myself.

I have now used the desk for just under a week, and have  actually never sat down during that entire time. I also picked up a $50 mat from Varidesk that makes standing for long periods of time very comfortable. The Varidesk app keeps track of how many calories you are burning and lets you pre-programmed standing and sitting times. You then get a pop-up telling you to sit down or stand. The calorie counter seems a bit off, as the app claims that I have burned 564 calorie in four hours of standing today (seems high to me). I feel healthier, although it does take some getting used to at times, as I'm just not used to standing for long periods of time.

In summary: I am very happy with my purchase and would definitely recommend it to all colleagues, especially at the very attractive price point of $350 -- and that's the most expensive model. I purchased the PRO Plus model, which fits two screens (I have two screens, but also have neck problems, so I usually use just one). The cheapest model is $275, and the entire thing is high-quality, sturdy and very well made.

We don't think we will ever go back to regular desks, and we believe our health will thank us. With my new standing desk, it's really easy to switch between standing and sitting, and we will probably do some combination thereof. For now, my new standing desk is so exciting that I have yet to sit down, but I will also admit to working a bit less during the holiday season. I have yet to test standing for a 10-hour workday.

I'd be delighted to answer any questions you might have about my standing desk. And we would also love to hear about your experiences with a standing desk!

Meet TM-Town and Its Creator

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dias.
Here at Translation Times, we are always on the lookout for new technologies that might benefit us and our friends and colleagues. Every once in a while, a new idea comes up that is very, very promising. Here's one that seems quite revolutionary: TM-Town. Just like many industry professionals, we are quite convinced that translators won't be replaced by technology, but rather, that the most successful translators in the future will be the ones who embrace technology. Full disclosure: TM-Town's creator, Kevin Dias, had previously taken advantage of Judy's consulting services, but other than that, we have no other ties to the company. We just think it's a great idea. Here's a preview: it's a translation enablement platform. But rather than writing about what we think TM-Town is, we figured we'd bring you the information from the founder himself.  Here's our interview with American developer Kevin Dias, who is based in Tokyo, Japan.

Translation Times: It looks like you are not a translator. How did you get involved in a project for translators? What’s your background?

Kevin: I'm a developer, and I love web development in particular. I have a friend who is a translator, and when I saw the way he was working, I began to imagine some things I could build to help him in his work. Once I got into the field I became fascinated with the possibilities for blending web development with emerging language processing technologies. It is a very interesting field.

What exactly is TM-Town? Can you give us a quick summary?

TM-Town is a place for translators to store, manage, leverage and optionally share their prior work. For those interested in establishing new relationships, it is also a place for clients and translators to be matched on the basis of that prior work. I am using the term "translation enablement platform" to describe this.

Are you a small company? Or is it just you? Who is behind TM-Town?
For now, it is just me. I received a small outside investment from a person who noticed my prior project, Transdraft. That has allowed me to work on TM-Town on a full-time basis for the past six months.

Who do you see as your competitors?
I am not aware of anyone providing a "translation enablement platform" of the sort that I have developed. One aspect of TM-Town is providing tools for translators to manage their linguistic assets. In this regard, I view TM-Town as a “Dropbox for Translators”. As many translators currently use Dropbox or Google Drive to manage their translation files, this is one form of competition. Another aspect of TM-Town is the job-matching platform. In this regard I think TM-Town is very unique in that it is the first service of this kind to match based on an analysis of the document to be translated against the prior work of translators to find the most suitable subject-matter expert for the job.

Are there any downsides to using TM-Town?
A person who is not comfortable with the idea of uploading prior work to the "cloud" may not find TM-Town suitable. Beyond that, the site is free to try so I would invite your readers to find out for themselves. If anything needs to be improved, I am ready to do it!

How many clients are currently signed up? How do you plan on continuing growing the client base?
Aside from some informal personal invitations that I sent to select people, I started promoting TM-Town just last week. I am pleased that about eighty translators have registered so far. I plan to begin promoting the site to clients in 2015.

Thanks for your time, Kevin!

Read more about the innovative ways translations are priced here. Learn more about TM-Town.

Our Top 5 Stress Busters

Business has been really, really good, and we are very grateful. However, with lots of business comes lots of work, and with that comes some stress. We admit it: one of us has been a bit overworked and grouchy (hint: it's not Dagy), and as we try to follow our own advice, we figured we'd compile a few easy stress busters here for this Friday post.

  1. Take a nap. Sure, a nap won't solve the problem about all the things you still have on your plate, but it will probably make you feel better. We come from a long line of nappers, and we can do quick naps of 30 minutes or so and feel refreshed. If you need a two-hour nap, this might not work for you as it will probably stress you out more.
  2. Go for a walk. Clearing our head always helps. We grab the doggie and go for a walk around the block, which only takes five minutes.
  3. Call a member of the complaint club. When we are frustrated and overworked, we try not to voice our frustrations online. Rather, we place a call to a trusted member of our so-called complaint club, which is comprised of dear friends and family members. We usually vent our frustrations (which largely revolve around lack of time) for 10 minutes or so, which helps put things in perspective.
  4. Have a cup of tea. We've spent enough time in England to know that having a cup of tea solves most problems, including stress, so sometimes we do that. If all else fails, we have a lovely piece of Austrian chocolate to go with our Earl Grey tea. We've also been drinking a lot of ginger tea lately. We've experienced with grating fresh ginger, which is instantly invigorating.
  5. Yoga. We are as inflexible as the next translators, but we are working on it. If we only have 10 minutes to decompress, we will do a few easy yoga poses, including laying down on our backs with our legs up a wall. Downward dog, tree, child's pose and others are also fantastic poses for a quick refresher.
What about you, dear friends and colleagues? Do you have any quick stress busters that you would like to share? We'd love to read about them in the comments section.

Same-Day Payment

This holiday season, we are grateful for our clients, and of course, we are also grateful for our lovely colleagues and friends who are our subcontractors. We didn't start out working with subcontractors, but our fantastic clients send us so much great work that we have enough to share with our colleagues, and we work in teams on many of our biggest accounts. We've worked with the same colleagues for a long time, and we've had (almost nothing but) great experiences. Unfortunately, we are not accepting applications -- we know where to find you if we want to add you to the list!

One of our favorite ways to show our appreciation is to pay our subcontractors the same day they invoice us whenever possible. Yes, you read that right: the same day, sometimes even within a few minutes if the colleague is set up to receive online payments. Here's our thinking: if a small business doesn't have enough money in the bank to hire subcontractors and to be good for the money even if the end client doesn't pay, that business probably shouldn't be hiring subcontractors, period. That's why we are so puzzled by the common complaint by others that large companies (think Fortune 500 translation agencies) are late in their payments because "the end client hasn't paid." That's truly unacceptable to us, and we never do that to our contractors. In fact, we pay each and every contractor before we've even issued the final invoice to our customers. We think it's the right thing to do. And as a small business, we want to keep the professionals who make us successful happy.

So, we'd like to conclude this post by saying that we are very, very grateful to you (you know who you are). We wouldn't be successful if it weren't for you, and you deserve every penny -- on time and early. 

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.

Translation Times