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:

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  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

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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?

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?

How do I choose a financial translator?

And why do translators specialise anyway? These are just words, aren’t they? Well, not exactly. Financial and economic translations require a great degree of understanding.  Translators who understand the concepts will be able to translate much more accurately than those who don’t.

Within the world of finance there are many complex terms and concepts

On the asset management side, if you are looking for accurate translations, then it is important to choose a translator who can deal effectively with the content.  Do they know the difference between cyclical and defensive stocks? Is the term “bond proxy” translated or is the English version used in other languages? When the translation team understands such concepts and can combine their financial knowledge with their linguistic expertise, then you are certain to have a great financial translation.

The importance of accuracy

Apart from the sound technical knowledge required in translating financial statements or portfolio analyses, the accuracy and attention to detail matter as well.  This is not just about getting the language right, but about representing the numbers accurately as well. The translation may be perfect in terms of written fluency, but it will be no good to the client if they have not taken the required care to transcribe or transfer the numbers, symbols or abbreviations. What if assets of $1,000,000 become assets of $100,000 in the translated document? Correct localised conventions must be used, such as a digital point and comma.  A million (1,000,000) in the UK and US may in other countries look as follows: 1 000 000.  Simple details, obvious to many, but important to get them right.

You can get on with your core business

Using a competent translator will allow you to focus on your core business instead, on the activities that generate revenue for your company or organisation. You will avoid the gigantic headaches associated with the incorrect translation of documents and with re-working them so that they are acceptable.

The answer: work with an expert

At EdIT Translations we are experts in financial translation.  Before starting the company, its founder, Elzbieta Dubois, enjoyed a successful career in software houses building solutions for financial services, including major European banks in Paris and London, building societies, investment corporations and lenders. As a Business and Test Analyst she translated specifications and user guides and performed localisation testing, and so she is well-placed to deliver very high-quality translations of technical financial documents.  She combines this experience with solid linguistic skills. A master’s degree in Professional Translation at the University of Strasburg and 30+ years of residence in the UK and France allow her to address and convey each country’s specific locale and culture. With this background, she can produce translations that are true to their audience and culture. So, the next time you are looking for an expert financial translator with a focus on your specific needs as a client, look no further, we are here to help!