Transatlantic Turkey Day: Just Another Thursday

While one half of our business -- the American side -- will come to a virtual standstill during the next few days because of the Thanksgiving holiday, all the cooking and houseguests that are involved, and all the sleeping in front of the fireplace that needs to be done, for our Austrian side (Dagmar in Vienna), it's business as usual. When you live in the U.S., where even fast food outlets are closed on Thanksgiving, it's sometimes hard to believe that nothing special is happening in Europe and elsewhere.

This is, of course, good for our clients who need to get something done and don't have time to wait for Judy to come out of the kitchen. However, while we are happy to help, we are always amazed at some folks' lack of planning. We got a frantic call on Tuesday evening PST from an agency we have never heard of (which isn't saying much, as we have only done one project with one agency in six years), desperately looking for a complex legal German->English translation due in less than 24 hours. This leads us to believe that their client is also European and doesn't care that Thanksgiving in the U.S. is, well, pretty holy. We felt bad for the desperate agency, and took a look at the document, which was far too involved and complicated to get done on short notice. We graciously declined, and perhaps what we could all learn is to communicate ahead of time with our foreign customers and clients letting them know about the upcoming American holiday and what that means for business: it stops. Now, if one of our regular customers calls with an urgent request, Dagy in Vienna will handle it. After all, she's not eating turkey or watching football. It's just another Thursday in Vienna.

Enjoy the holiday!

10 Lessons from the Trade Show Floor

Many of us have been talking about working with more direct clients lately. While a substantial number of freelancers really enjoy working with agencies who take care of the business of translation, many others enjoy the higher prices and direct contact associated with end consumers. We fall in the latter category, and decided to explore some new methods for finding new clients.

One of my dear friends here in Vegas, who works in the gaming industry, offered me a free pass to roam the exhibit halls at G2E, the Global Gaming Expo, which is the largest of its kind in the world. Gulp. Not to be intimated by the more than 750 exhibitors, I went to work. Here's what I learned:

  • Do your homework. Don't aimlessly wander around the halls. Research the companies ahead of time. Pick five to 15 (depending on how many days you can be there), look into the companies' product lines, their website, read their press releases, etc. Have something to say when you get to the booth.
  • Go to a trade show for an industry that you are familiar with or have worked in before. If you have previously worked with a client in the field, ask if you can use the client's name when you talk about your services.
  • Dress the part. If you are a girl, try not to get confused with the convention hostesses, which does not take much effort. In my experience, business casual on the creative-dressy side with a cute accent (in the form of a scarf, chunky necklace, etc) works great for females. The Gaming Expo happens to have a large majority of male exhibitors, and they are usually happy to see a girl with a smile heading their way who is not wearing a Coors Light shirt.
  • Be mindful of exhibitors' time. Some convention days are busier than others, and exhibitors have traveled from afar to make sales, so they might not be in mindset to buy services, unless you play your cards right. I found the last day of the expo and the 4 p.m. hour to be a good time. Sure, on the last day people are tired, but they are also not as busy and have some down time. Next time, I am bringing donuts. It works for the pharmaceutical reps.
  • Score a free pass to the exhibitor halls (mine would have cost $125) by volunteering for the event through your local Chamber of Commerce of Convention Bureau. Many times, all you have to do is work a few hours to get access to the convention, or at least the exhibit hall.
  • If your Convention Bureau offers it, sign up for an RSS feed announcing the upcoming conventions.
  • Don't take it personally. I am no good at this either, but it happens: company representatives are busy and overworked at these events. They don't get to sleep much, they are jet-lagged and sometimes grouchy. Most people will be very friendly, but don't get discouraged if they are not.
  • Don't do a hard sales pitch. For me, this works well, as I am not a natural salesperson. At the Gaming Expo, I realized several companies from Austria were there. Here in Vegas, I don't get to speak much German, so I was all about speaking "Austrian" with whomever I could. I really wasn't trying to sell these folks anything; I just wanted to say hello. Next thing I know, I get an e-mail from one of the Austrian companies they are gladly passing on my info to the rest of their company and that they would like to work with me.
  • Find a buddy. If you are like most people, walking up to strangers trying to sell them something is a daunting task. Bring a friend, whether he or she is a translator or not. Even better, bring a friend who is in the industry, is attending the conference, and can introduce you to some folks. I was lucky enough to have two highly respected people in the industry who did just that for me.
  • Follow up. As soon as you can, jot down notes on the back of people's business cards to help you remember them and what you talked about (Did you talk about the new industry publication? Do you share an alma mater?). All this information will also help remind your counterpart who you are once you follow up. It's a good idea to do this within a week.
Good luck, everyone! We'd love to hear about your experiences and the lessons you learned, which we will include in future posts.

The Business of Referrals

As the vast majority of translators and language professionals are self-employed, we all know the value of referrals. We have many other friends who are entrepreneurs in different fields -- lawyers, dentists, HR consultants, auto mechanics, owners of small restaurants -- and we gladly refer them, as we love their services. We are delighted to say that several fellow ATA members have referred us this week. On the other hand, we also referred several small projects to our translator friends for languages we don't translate into. It is wonderful to know that there is such a great, large group of highly talented people in the ATA -- and UNIVERSITAS in Austria -- and that we can all work together.

A very special thank you to our friend and fellow honorary Austrian (30 years in Austria makes you Austrian, doesn't it?) Nina Gettler from Seattle, who referred a large English->German legal translation to us this week. Thanks to fabulous international time differences, we were able to do this translation on short notice.

This week as proven to us, one more time, that we are all stronger when we work together. There's more than enough worldwide translation work for all of us, and it's fantastic to be part of a network of translators who are on top of their field. It's true, the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.

We Heart Our Direct Clients

It's time for an ode to our wonderful clients, which have been made up by 100% direct clients for six years minus a first-time agency experience last week. Here is why we like and enjoy working with you so much:

  • You really value our services as professionals
  • You pay us our regular rate and know that you shouldn't haggle as if you were at a Turkish spice market or Mexican tianguis
  • You don't send out mass e-mails looking for the cheapest translation rate
  • You understand the source text, as it's about your business, and you are happy to give us a quick overview of the project's background
  • You are responsive, easy to reach, and happy to hear from us when we call for clarification
  • You value your time and ours, and understand that quick turnaround comes at a premium
  • You are prompt at paying invoices
  • In the rare case of a dispute, you are fair and straightforward
  • You send us adorable thank-you notes
  • You know that we are providing a service you really need, and treat us accordingly
  • You are delighted to see that we have handed in a project ahead of time
  • You recommend us to your friends and business associates
  • You give us happy-customer quotes, references, and let us list your companies on our advertising materials
You get the idea: you are fantastic. We are truly lucky and happy to have long-time business relationships with many top companies in travel and tourism, marketing, management training, government services, iron and steel, IT, software, hardware, logistics, emerging technologies, etc. Without you, our company would not exist. So here's a heartfelt thank you to all our clients on both sides of the Atlantic who know we will go the extra mile for them. We are already thinking about good holiday presents for all of know who you are, dear clients!

Unexpensive Translation?

As seen this morning on the Las Vegas edition of Craigs List under writing/editing/translations, this is another sad example of what the lack of barriers to entry has done to our profession. There are several things that are quite disturbing about this ad. First and foremost is the point that being bilingual does not make you a translator. Being bilingual is the minimum qualification; the lowest common denominator. Clearly, this person is not bilingual. There's a dictionary to look up terms, but no self-respecting translator needs one to look up "inexpensive".

Also, competing on price and offering the lowest possible rate is not a winning strategy for this person or anyone in our profession. Yes, translations can be expensive, because they are a professional service. Most good lawyers and doctors don't compete on price, and neither do qualified translators. We are also quite disturbed by the poster's insinuation that others overcharge for their services.

The good news is that, as professional translators, it is not difficult to differentiate ourselves from the folks who are posing as translators.

Of course, if you pay peanuts...

las vegas craigslist > write/edit/trans

Unexpensive Translations (English & Spanish)

Reply to: XYZ (removed to protect poster's privacy)
Date: 2008-11-16, 9:46PM PST

I am a bilingual Spanish and English speaker, I can do English- Spanish and Spanish- English Translations. I can send you work samples.

Reasonable rates! I know translation can be extremely expensive, I am not trying to take advantage, that's why I don't overcharge for my services.

If you are interested please email details on the material you need translated, so I can give you an accurate quote.

Proz Search Box for iGoogle

Just like many fellow translators, we love iGoogle. Now Dagy's boyfriend, Tom Gruber, our resident IT guru, website designer, go-to-techie-anything and one of the driving forces behind our company, programmed this nifty box that integrates the Proz search box into your iGoogle for easy searching. We use Proz pretty much exclusively for term searching, and it comes in very handy. Get the link on your iGoogle here or use the +iGoogle below.

ATA Bloggers' Lunch: Where's Masked Translator?

One of the many highlights of this year's ATA conference in Orlando, FL, was the bloggers' lunch that Jill Sommer and Corinne McKay organized. There are a few very active bloggers in the ATA, and as blogging for the translation world is a somewhat recent phenomenon, we wanted to meet other bloggers in person (although many of us had already met) and exchange ideas. In addition, blogging guru Corinne also presented a very well-attended session titled "Blogging: How and Why" during the conference.

The bloggers were represented by the technically very savy Michael Wahlster from Translate This!, the very specialized niche translator Abigail Dahlman from Environmental Translation, Jill Sommer from Musings from an overworked translator, Corinne McKay from Thoughts on Translation and yours truly, Judy Jenner, from Translation Times (my twin, Dagy, couldn't make it all the way from Vienna). Our lunch was also attended by non-blogging translators -- we don't discriminate. One of our colleagues, Susanne Aldridge, came to our lunch, and as of last weekend (we inspired her?), she also joined our blogging world with In-House Translators: A Dying Breed. Yes, you are a dying breed indeed: I was an in-house translator for five years, and I was definitely the exception, not the rule. Welcome Susanne! I would have loved to meet the author of one of my favorite blogs, Sarah Dillon from There's Something About Translation, but it's a far way from Brisbane, Australia.

We chatted about our blogs (Blogger vs. Wordpress), commenting etiquette (pet peeve: people promoting their services by leaving comments on our blogs) and microblogging (Twitter -- Michael is the expert). Good suggestions came up, and we briefly talked about the topics that we feature in our blogs and the time commitments required to maintain a blog. In general, we all post on translation and self-employment topics, with the occasional hilarious translation mistake or other fun stuff that's too good not to share.

We also talked about one of our favorite blogs by the anonymous Masked Translator. Of course, we have no idea who he/she is (we suspect it is a guy), but we want to tell you that we really like your blog. MT's unfiltered insight into our industry is priceless and very entertaining. As our own blogs are not anonymous, we mostly resist the temptation to vent and voice our frustrations. We are glad that MT has found a safe forum to do so, and we applaud his efforts. While we really want to know who he is (there was a lot of speculation going on), we understand that his blog would come to a crashing halt if MT's identity were revealed. So, MT, you are probably reading this, so thanks for your blog! Just tell us one thing: were you at the ATA conference or not? The curiosity is killing us.

Kennedy Space Center: Linguists Needed?

This Sunday, as a fantastic ending to the 49th annual ATA conference in Orlando (more to come on that), I headed to Kennedy Space Center, about one hour's drive from Orlando.

At KSC, it is all about the history of space exploration, its proudest moments, and, most importantly, about the people who pioneered the race for the stars. I had the chance to meet one of those human stars: a real, true astronaut. John Blaha flew several missions for NASA in the 90s and lived on Mir for several months.

I was starstruck and completely in awe. There are only a few hundred people on the face of this planet (or any planet, as far as we know) who have been in space, and there was one of them, as friendly and approachable as they come, just smarter than the rest of us. The odds of becoming an astronaut are so infinitely low that it's amazing to meet someone who has actually achieved this seemingly unreachable childhood dream. In order to get there, John Blaha flew 300 missions in Vietnam and obtained a graduate degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue. Impressive, indeed. NASA doesn't send slackers into space.

Since I was there, I just could not resist taking a few pictures of grammar and translation atrocities at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (where of course, my new astronaut friend John Blaha was featured). Sure, NASA employs the most talented scientists in the world, but they appear to be a bit short on linguists. The use of the possessive pronoun in the third person seems to be as much of a mystery to NASA as growing artificial livers in space is a mystery to me.

There's also a fantastic German-language mistake revolving around the usage of the strange German letter "ß". What the heck, they couldn't find one, so they just used a capital B. I never thought I would feel smarter than an astronaut, or at least a NASA employee.

Thunderbird Auto-Responder Woes

As mentioned here and on all translator blogs in the last few weeks, the American Translators Association (ATA) Annual Conference starts tomorrow, November 4 (yes, election day) in Orlando, Florida. I will be leaving tomorrow morning to attend two very interesting pre-conference seminars and will attend all days of the regular conference through Saturday, November 8.

On my endless to-do list before tomorrow's bright and early departure, I noted that I needed to program an out-of-office message, which I have done hundreds of times before using Outlook. I now use Thunderbird, which I really like for its customization and security, but I never thought I would actually miss an Outlook feature.

After some research on the well-organized Mozilla help pages, I programed my auto-reply message by going through some cumbersome steps: creating a message filter, setting parameters, etc. Sure, it's easy enough, but it's a process with more than five steps. It's all set now, but the Mozilla folks reminded me on their help pages that the computer has to be left on for the entire time, otherwise the auto-responder message will not go out. There has to be a better way to do this! Now I have no choice but to leave the computer on, which isn't exactly in sync with my philosophy of saving the planet. I am not taking the time to further research it, as the instructions did the trick, but I am really surprised that Thunderbird has not made this process more user-friendly. If anyone has a better idea, I'd love to hear it!
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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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