Category: For Businesses

Old translator – young entrepreneur, or how I launched my independent translation business

Happy first birthday to edIT Translations!

A year ago, I took the plunge, took French leave 😉, jumped ship [insert your favourite image here] and became an independent business owner in translation, proofreading, editing and language coaching services. And what a journey it has been!

This time last year I was leaving a permanent job, which I was quite good at, but which also sucked all the energy and creativity out of me. Although my first freelance translation adventure had started back in 1994, I had to interrupt it and move to the UK for personal reasons. Luckily, I continued to use my language skills in my IT and educational roles. My inhouse roles included translation, software localisation, or proofreading of millions of words. Now back in France I run my own business again.

If, like me, you are a self-driven, self-motivated hustler, or you are frustrated with working for someone else, here are some thoughts on how I prepared and what I have learned before I launched my business and in the first year of its existence.

Stage 1: the side-hustle

Whilst still employed full-time, I spent every free moment at weekends or holidays to work on my future business and this is what I learned:

edITTranslations-branding-exercise
edITTranslations-branding-brainstoriming-exercise
  1. Branding and specialisation. You cannot be a jack of all trades. In order to be really professional, you need to narrow down what you know about and what you like and read, read, read. Although in my career I learned a lot about say, financial software and banking regulations or compliance issues, my inbox fills up every day with Fintech, EdTech, and business news and subscriptions. Branding involved spending several weekends brainstorming themes and keywords derived from the areas of knowledge, priorities, things I like doing. Then I converted them into the definition of who I am and what I have to offer. 
  2. Learning CAT tools. Since I left the corridors of the ITIRI in 1994 (Institut de Traducteurs, d’Interprètes et des Relations Internationales de l’Université de Strasbourg), with the master’s degree in my pocket, the world of translation has changed enormously. One of the biggest changes is the widespread use of Computer-Aided Software, especially if you want to work with agencies. I invested time to learn and money to purchase a licence of a CAT tool. Today this tool makes my translation deliverables faster, more consistent, more professional, and more accurate.
  3. Membership of community groups, essentially on social media. Translation can be a lonely profession. Luckily, modern social media are full of supportive groups and forums, where translators share their thoughts, tricks and tips, or even do business together. I feel I’m not alone.
  4. A ProZ profile. This was actually my first investment. I paid an annual fee to feature on the platform and noted names of agencies every time they posted a job on ProZ in my specialisation. The platform’s Blue Board is a particularly useful feature, worth paying the annual fee for. It provides practical information about payment and communication practices of clients offering jobs on the platform. The opinions about this platform vary hugely in the freelance community, but I can say that I found (and was found by) paying clients.
  5. Hire a good coach, especially if you have never run a business. Being good with words is one thing, but turning it into a profitable venture, selling and marketing your services is another. I felt I needed advice on this, and I don’t regret this investment a single day. As my mentor lives in California and helps a whole group of translator entrepreneurs, I feel part of a global family.

Yes, I have been a busy bee at this stage. One important thing to bear in mind about side-hustling: you cannot really fully commit to your clients and their needs if you have a full-time commitment elsewhere. At some point, you have to jump ship.

Stage 2: the launch

hustle
why you should hustle

A. There is no mystery here. Hustle. Hustle hard. In the first 9 months, I contacted more than 100 agencies to land 11 clients. Today 4 of them send me regular work and I could afford to say goodbye to one of them, as our ethics and price brackets were not aligned.

B. Develop productivity systems:

  • I have one spreadsheet to enter and follow up on prospects (my own alternative to a CRM tool like Pipedrive)
  • and another one to track revenue and expenses (much less fun, but hey, has to be done!)
  • Google Calendar or Remember the Milk – to maximise the time and tick off the to-do lists

C. A game-changer: be flexible and ready to accept work when others are enjoying holidays (weekends or Christmas). I started to be really busy in January 2020!

D. If you can afford, invest in a website, and update it regularly. Direct client enquiries come into my info@edittranslations.com mailbox on the website.

E. Be present on social media and be consistent with it. I tripled my LinkedIn network this year by interacting with other people and sharing my thoughts on the industry. It takes time to be read and visible, though, so patience and resilience are key!

F. Continue to learn. CPD has a reserved place in my planning and budget. Over the course of last year, I attended several webinars, masterminds, and courses about a variety of topics, including marketing, sales and branding, business planning, SDL Trados Studio, Leveraging LinkedIn, SEO, software and website localisation.

What next?

I could never have imagined that I would celebrate this first business anniversary in a world of almost total lockdown, the epidemiological emergency state, and a looming economic crisis. But in spite of these challenges, I remain optimistic.

Here is why.

Recently I attended a very good online conference about the language industry by Smartcat.ai (you can see the videos of this event here: https://bit.ly/2yAjmY5). My most important takeaways were these:

  1. The world will rebound. Most economic models in our industry show a “Nike” kind of curve, that is a sharp contraction followed by a longer but steady rebound by 2024.
  2. Language Service Providers solve pretty complex problems, and this will not allow us to die anytime soon. No MT or AI can kill us, and by the way, the machine translation hype that every human translator was trembling about, is slowing down and its perceived benefits have plateaued (Renato Beninatto, Nimzi, https://bit.ly/3bjpnp6).
  3. Humanity has lived through worse, so keep a balanced mental approach. Most importantly, “make good lemonade”, because marketing is not everything (Martin Klinger, Language Transactions, https://bit.ly/2zmHD3R). If you provide quality in everything you do, then with time your reputation will follow, even if it means having to work harder and smarter to achieve the same results.

Do you want to share your journey, or do you have questions about any points in this article?

Feel free to reach out!

Does your translator ask questions?

Why should a good translation provider ask you questions? From very generic ones before the project starts, such as asking you about the purpose and audience of your content, to more technical ones, such as preferred terminology or style, questions are a sign of a professional approach. This is the equivalent of the gathering of requirements in business analysis speak.

Have you ever sent a file to translate and you felt that it disappeared in a big black hole? This is indeed a dangerous situation. This may mean that your translation provider is making assumptions.

“Yes, but”, I hear some say, “you are asking your clients to do your job for you.”

“Isn’t searching for information part and parcel of translators’ or translation project managers’ job?”

Absolutely yes.

If reference material exists and is easily available, translators should refrain from sending the client every single question that might come to mind. They should also read the WHOLE text you sent before asking about that ambiguous term on page 1.

But if your software is still WiP and it only exists in a demo version, a manual, a specification or access to that demo will provide invaluable insight to your internal terminology.

 The questions that your translator asks can reveal errors or inconsistencies in your source files, and consequently help improve these documents.

Questions can save you legal issues in the target market. For instance, a translator may ask you whether you considered including relevant allergen information when they adapt a marketing copy for your food product.

Dealing with questions can be time-consuming. It can be frustrating, especially if you are swamped with them every hour. A good translator will batch them for you and communicate regularly.

Pertinent questions, transferred to a qualified person in your organisation, answered willingly, are crucial for a good end result. This communication flow will ensure that everyone gets the right information without wasting time and can meet the expected quality level.

 What is your experience? Have you been frustrated by lack of communication or, on the contrary, lack of autonomy of your translation provider?

Fellow translators, what pertinent questions have made a real difference to your client and their project? Have you solved their pain points?

Too much “thank you” in France puts you in the position of inferiority

When I lived in the UK, I often heard a judgement about French businesses, restaurants or commerce that the customer service is rude and unhelpful.

It is true to say that phrases such as “I’m afraid we don’t…” or “I am really sorry, but” are not really part of the French language. The excessive use of sorry, please and thank-you is unnatural. We simply follow other codes to express the same tone and message. (Hint: try to start your conversation in a bar or a café in Paris with a “Bonjour” instead of “Excuse me” and see the difference.) There are actually business coaches in France who actively discourage salespeople from starting a pitch with a “thank you for receiving me today”, because, they argue, this puts them in a position of inferiority. And this is in a country where selling in just one meeting with a prospective client is notoriously difficult! You don’t want to look like you are asking a favour when you want to affirm yourself as a potential business partner. When you sell, you actually solve somebody’s problem, so who should thank whom in the end?

Here is what the French professionals say

For the past year, I have been teaching business English to many professionals in Normandy. They are all business owners or sales staff, with many years of successful careers in industry, retail or e-commerce under their belts. Some already work with international clients or suppliers, e.g. in Germany or Italy. They are all stunned when I show them British or American business writing or play telephone conversations. Their typical reaction is: “Why do I have to thank people at the start AND at the end of the letter (conversation)? I have already done it!”

Yep, you got it: helpful, but proud.

Less is more

So, do we not thank people for their business, or for queries or enquiries?

Yes, we do, but… whilst we would say it once, it’s not going to happen more than that in a phone call or a letter. In France, we serve customers for sure, but we do not grovel.

If you complain to a French company, do not expect a response starting with “Dear Mrs Dubois, thank you for your letter about your compensation claim”. A customer is being difficult? We respond to their query or complaint, but we do not thank them for being a pain in the backside.

Status vs. money

The priorities are somewhat different. In the so-called Anglo-Saxon countries, the customer is the king. Not so much in France. Status and dignity are more important than money. A professional you do business with (or a Parisian waiter, for that matter!) wants to be treated as an individual in an equal-playing field, not like a serf. Salespeople will not bend over backwards to you to get a sale.

High vs. low context culture

The French culture is also more “high context” than say, British or American. The meaning is more understated. We don’t tend to repeat information or summarise action points at the end of a business meeting. The cues in communication tend to be more implicit (the famous sous-entendus). If you repeat the same information or recap constantly, you may run a risk of offending your audience. They may think that you patronise them, or worse: that you don’t trust them.

The other meaning of “thank you”

If you have ever travelled around France, have you noticed how often in French we say “thank you” where an English speaker would say “please”?  It makes an instruction sound more assertive. So, where an English sign would say “Please do not park here”, in French it will say “Merci de ne pas stationner”. The same rule applies in business writing. An English email would say: “Please confirm your availability.” In French, we thank instead: “Merci de confirmer”. “Thank you” is an assertive “please”

(Here comes a side note, but I can’t help it: You can see in France poor, but alas frequent translations like this one: “Thank you for not parking here”. I have seen many of these in Normandy and even in a well-known museum in Paris😮. It is high time that tourist boards or local authorities stopped using machine translation for tourist information, but that is another topic altogether. Rant over.)

Too much “thank you” in France puts you in the position of inferiority. How not to translate the affirmative "merci" into English or Spanish.

Working in multicultural contexts

I must say that even after 22 years of living in an English-speaking country I have remained French in many ways. My translation business coach, Jenae Spry, invariably starts every webinar or Q&A session with: “Thank you guys so much for hanging out with me, I know you guys are so busy”. And every time I cannot help thinking: “Why are you thanking me again? I am paying you for this service, so of course, I am tuning in!” 😊

Straightaway though, my little culture-awareness voice answers: “Yes, but she is American, and this is the way she manages business communication with her clients. She sells me a coaching service and she thanks me for the business”.

If like me, you like the topic of cultural differences, I highly recommend the fabulous book by Erin Meyer: “The Culture Map” ( https://www.erinmeyer.com/book ). That map is very complex, but the most important lesson I have learned from her book is this: try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand their perspective. What may seem rude or cold in one culture may be a sign of respect and self-respect in the other.

My clients

The clients of edIT Translations. The clients of Elzbieta Dubois

Here is just a small selection of the wonderful translation clients I have had the pleasure of working with. I am proud I could support their export strategies with well-considered and impactful translation and localisation services.

Why should you hire a professional translator if you have bilingual staff?

I’ll be the first to admit: I have built my industry knowledge and maintained my translation skills in my in-house software development jobs. In other words, I was part of the in-house staff who spoke languages and so a lot of translation work landed on my desk. However, in many cases, especially in development and testing projects, the localisation of software was actually part of my job and of the project plan. And I am fully qualified to do the job. Not all testers happen to have a master’s degree in professional translation…😊. In short, I am more of an exception that confirms the rule.

So why exactly should you hire a professional to do your translation or localisation work?

 

1. My employees are fully bilingual so they can translate competently and professionally

Ask yourself this question: You learned to count at school. Does this make you an accountant? Like arithmetic, language is a tool. In translation language is also a tool, but we don’t just speak languages. Native speakers, even if they manage to resist the influence of their host country’s culture and language, stay within the boundaries and limitations of their language. A high level of bilingualism is the most basic of the qualifications of a competent translator. Add to that mental dexterity, bicultural competence, industry expertise and strategies required to transfer meaning successfully across those boundaries.

 

2. Being a native speaker makes you fully competent in the language

Have you ever read something written by a native speaker and it didn’t make sense? Or asked them about a rule in their language and they just answered: “I don’t know, that’s just how it is.” We speak our native tongue organically, without studying the grammar, syntax or structure. Think of all the risks you take if you rely on a non-professional. The ability to write clearly and accurately is a prerequisite for a professional translation.

 

3. Do you really need to be certified to do a translation job?

You need a certification to be a plumber, electrician or carpenter. So why are you ready to accept a non-professional service in translation?  Like in other trades, translators complete courses, diplomas, and university degrees during which they learn about tools, technologies, methodologies and resources necessary to perform their duties. It is doubtful that your in-house staff understand how to use some of the tools that professionals use for productivity, such as translation memory and glossaries. As a result, you will end up with a subpar product.

 

4. My bilingual staff can translate that marketing flyer “real fast” and won’t cost me anything

When you take your bilingual staff away from their primary responsibilities and ask them to translate, you’re distracting them from their actual job. According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, employees can experience 50-60 interruptions each day. That’s an interruption every 8 minutes. After each interruption, it can take an employee 23 minutes to return to his or her original task, according to a study by the University of California, Irvine. The financial cost to these distractions is $10,375 per person, per year, according to Harmon.ie. Distractions also take their toll on your employees’ engagement and effectiveness. Harmon.ie’s research shows that 33% of employees had difficulty working and producing because of workplace distractions, and 25% had no time to think deeply or creatively as a result. One in five workers found that distractions caused information overload and 1 in 10 missed deadlines because of them. So, before you ask a bilingual employee to “just” translate that flyer “real fast,” ask yourself what unaccounted costs you may be incurring.

 

5. How about a quick review?

Sometimes, in-house staff are asked to review a translation completed by a professional. While your bilingual employees may have grown up speaking a language at home, that doesn’t mean they have the same linguistic expertise to understand specific grammar or cultural conventions. Therefore, their edits or suggestions may actually hurt the accuracy of the translation created by a professional linguist. Once again, you are wasting resources on something that’s neither their job, nor their priority.

 

6. Equal opportunities for all?

Additionally, you may be creating equal opportunity and equal pay issues in your organisation. You may have more than one employee with the same level of education, experience, base pay and performance, but only one receives a small bonus each month for translating documents. The other may feel treated unfairly if they didn’t receive the same opportunity.

 

So, what is stopping you from assigning the job to a professional translator? 

 

We are under pressure to keep the costs down

Because of financial constraints, some businesses or non-profits try to save money, often by asking bilingual employees to help translate various documents. By using bilingual employees to complete translation work, you expose your organisation to costly mistakes. Is it really worth the risk? I know this may sound biased, coming from someone who is a professional translator, but the data speaks for itself.

Cost of translation can vary, but on average it is between 0.07-0.15 euros per word. This means that a standard, 350-word page will cost around 50 euros.

Some translators charge a minimum rate, others will offer you a more comprehensive solution that can include translation, proofreading, and testing. It is always best to ask for a free quote, which they will be happy to offer.

 

Outsourcers don’t understand our tech business

This is a common complaint, especially with large translation agencies. Their vendors can be scattered around the world and will not take time or have an opportunity to get to know your business. However, if you hire an independent translator directly, they should and will ask you for background information, existing documentation and glossaries. You can ask them directly for their credentials, quality processes and turnaround times. (Read about the essential questions to consider when hiring a professional translator here: https://edittranslations.com/what-makes-an-excellent-translator-5-traits-you-should-look-for/ .) Look for a specialist in your industry: e.g. I worked in software development teams, so I’m already up to speed with or can quickly grasp complex technical explanations of your products.

 

We need to focus on innovation

It’s good to keep everyone up to date in a fast-changing technology world, but do not neglect your brand. A professional translator will help you spread the word about your technology to foreign audiences and this in turn will help you increase your customer base and sales.

 

Long-term gains

If you hire the same translator repeatedly, they will with time become more productive and knowledgeable of your business. We use technologies, such as terminology databases, translation memories and glossaries, which speed up our work and make it consistent by recycling previous relevant content. Meanwhile, your employees can get on with their own work!

#HireaPro

 

“Can’t read: won’t buy”: why you should localise your website

Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: 2014,” is a catchy title of a report published in April 2014 by an independent research firm Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research). The report contained findings of a survey of more than 3,000 global consumers in 10 non-Anglophone countries in Europe, Asia, and South America. Specifically, the research assessed online language preferences and their subsequent impact on purchasing decisions.

The key findings can be summarised as follows:
  • 75% of consumers say that they want the products in their native language.
  • 30% never buy at English-language sites, and another 29% rarely do.
  • Across the 10-country sample, 56% either spend more time on sites in their own language than they do in English, or boycott English-language URLs altogether.
  • Automotive and financial services are the products that consumers are least likely to buy if the website is not in their native language.
  • Exactly half would prefer that at least the navigation elements and some content appear in their language, and another 17% strongly share that preference. This finding contradicts the conventional industry wisdom that you should localize everything or nothing.

Considering these findings, Common Sense Advisory Chief Strategy Officer and founder Don DePalma concluded that “there should be no question about localizing your website and product information if you want to sell more goods or services to global customers. Localisation improves customer experience and increases engagement in the brand dialogue. It should be a rigorously planned and executed business strategy for any company looking to grow internationally.” (https://csa-research.com/More/Media/Press-Releases/ArticleID/31/Survey-of-3-000-Online-Shoppers-Across-10-Countries-Finds-that-60-Rarely-or-Never-Buy-from-English-only-Websites)

So why should you translate your website and into which languages?
1. Do you want to increase your customer base?

Clearly the statistics presented above support the need to localise your content and products. If your online presence is only in English, you are missing on over 50% of potential buyers who will never purchase from you.

2. Do you do business abroad already?

If you provide your customers with product descriptions, shipping and payment options and transact in their language, they will feel more comfortable. As a result, they will come back to you for more business because they trust you. When a site is in a language that people don’t understand, they are more likely not to trust it.

3. What is your competition doing?

If they are not doing the same (yet) you can set the standards that others will have to follow, differentiate your brand and gain precious market share before everyone else.

4. Have you examined your website analytics?

Where does the traffic come from? Have you had global visitors who did not stop and buy?

The answer to these questions will also help you establish which languages you should select for your localisation project.

5. Do you attach importance to strong SEO?

You will multiply its rich benefits if you translate your content and carefully choose SEO-rich keywords that greatly helps when global users search in their preferred languages.

6. Tempted by a free solution such as Google Translate?

A penny-pinching attitude really does not pay off here. If you read Google’s own quality guidelines (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2721306?hl=en&ref_topic=6001971 ) you will see that they penalise the search engine rankings of websites that use automated content. This includes “text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing”.

Conclusion

The best way to translate a website that converts and boosts your brand is by hiring a professional experienced translator who intimately understands the language and the local culture. You will avoid developing content that appears foolish and turns the potential buyers off. The media frequently publish the localisation horror stories where lack of cultural and linguistic understanding has led to a ridiculous result. You don’t want your customers to giggle at some stunning mistakes while you claim to deliver state-of-the-art solutions. Your great products and online flagship store deserve great translations.

Advances in technology bring people closer

On the International Translation Day, 30 September, I read the recent ProZ report by Henry Dotterer and Jared Tabor about the changing face of our industry and the human response to technological innovation. (https://www.proz.com/industry-report/2019_human_response). According to the authors of this report, the translation industry changes can be categorised into three areas: AutomationIntimacy and Scale.

 

Automation includes technological changes such as translation management systems, AI and machine translation.

 

By Scale we mean the ever-increasing size of LSPs, freelance databases, broader quality spectrum and the sheer amount of source content. It is worth noting that the increase in scale favours specialisation, a trend that most translators embrace.

 

The one I find most interesting is Intimacy. In this automated and machine-embracing world “many clients are leaning towards direct contact with freelancers and knowing who is translating their content” in the interest of quality.

 

A recent example comes from the hotel guest acquisition platform Siteminder. Their Head of Localization, Matthias Borngrebe, says that he works with a pool of 15 translators and copywriters. Asked to describe their outsourcing approach, Borngrebe said that they “don’t work much with ‘anonymous’ translators from agencies. Working directly with freelance translators makes it easier for us to ensure quality.”

 

Freelancers are being called on to understand the clients and markets they are serving more intimately. As this intimacy increases, those who cultivate soft skills and who are business savvy are the ones who will come out ahead. For many freelancers, work with direct clients can prove both (mutually) satisfying and economically attractive.

 

It seems that advances in technology actually bring people closer and make us want to develop a closer relationship.

 

Is this your experience as well?

 

What makes an excellent translator? 5 traits you should look for

Many businesses and organisations find the process of hiring translators quite daunting, simply because they do not know what to expect and what to look for. Here are the 5 most important traits you should consider:

1. Quality and expertise

It goes without saying that this is the most important aspect of being a translator. Quality does not necessarily mean a degree in translation. Not everyone who has a master’s degree is necessarily a good translator. In fact, it depends a lot on the type of translation you require. There is a strong argument for hiring a lawyer-translator when you need a legal text, or for an IT expert when you need your software product or website to be translated. For marketing translation and transcreation, the most important thing will be a flair for language and creativity. In short: quality rhymes with specialisation. It is vital that the translator you choose is specialised in your industry and expert in this field.

2. Reliability

This is equally important. Even the fastest, the most competitive and highest quality translator will not be any good to you if they consistently deliver late. Part of making sure that this does not happen is to agree realistic deadlines in the first place. Beware of translation agencies who in a catchy phrase promise you fast, cheap and quality services! There are no miracles: a reliable quality service requires realistic timescales. The unexpected can happen to all: a power cut, a domestic emergency or illness. Or simply, while working on your project, the translator has uncovered that there are some hidden complexities or specialised domains outside of their usual field of expertise that will take longer to investigate and translate (e.g. legal content in the middle of a medical translation).

In these situations, another key attribute of a good translator comes in:

3. Communication

A reliable quality translator will communicate effectively and proactively with you. If they realise that “there is trouble ahead” meeting a deadline, they will get in touch with you straight away and will not wait until 1 hour before the deadline or until it is passed. They will think ahead, pre-empt problems and manage your expectations.

4. Ability to deal with feedback

Let’s face it: this is tricky. I will always remember the days when I was a software tester and I had to deliver the “bad news” to developers that their piece of software had defects and did not work. Most of the time they were not happy, taking it almost personally, as if the code was their baby. But that is kind of normal: they were simply professionals, proud of their work. Good, professional translators are proud of their work, too, but they should be able to receive and accept feedback from their customers courteously. Not only that: they should actively seek it.

5. Caring attitude.

Besides being courteous and reliable, a good translator has a positive attitude to their work and industry. As linguists, they are genuinely passionate about what they do. As industry experts and service providers, they genuinely care about your brand and product and they want it to be translated and adapted in a way that will allow you to reach out to those global markets successfully.

What are you looking for when you’re working with (or, looking for) translation providers?

Why did the world laugh at the French President’s mistake?

Last year a piece of news about the French President Macron made a lot of readers giggle. The President possibly switched between French and English a bit too fast. When talking about the Australian PM’s wife, he misused the word “delicious” — délicieuse — because in French it also means “delightful”.

Question: what if a mistake like this appeared on your professional website?

After all, “delicious” is the first automatic translation of “délicieux” that comes up on Google. And if you are a bit more curious and you click on the 8 more translations that Google offers, which one would you choose?

Not only you will lose good ranking and search traffic. Chances are that visitors won’t stay on your web page too long and errors will not add to their trust.

Your website is your business card, so careful phrasing does matter. Otherwise, it will be inauthentic and ineffective for people not speaking English.

Do you want your customers to giggle at some stunning mistakes while you claim to deliver state-of-the-art solutions?

Show them you care. Great products deserve great translations.