Category: For Language Lovers

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!

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.

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.