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Do Freelance Translators Lack Self-Esteem?
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:41
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sep 7, 2015

A great blog article by Claire Cox: https://www.ecpdwebinars.co.uk/the-curse-of-the-freelance-translator-lack-of-self-esteem/

 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
No Sep 7, 2015



I suffered for many years from a lack of self-esteem but it had nothing to do with my work as a translator. Working as a freelance translator now actually enhances my self-esteem more and more every time I deliver yet another job well done.


With reference to Claire Cox's article: self-esteem has nothing to do with how much money you make.

[Edited at 2015-09-07 16:01 GMT]


 

Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:41
French to English
+ ...
Thanks Sep 7, 2015

Thanks for the link, Jeff! I still had all my notifications switched off after last week's spam e-mail episode - is it safe to switch them all on again, I wonder?!

I beg to differ, Tom - as I point out in my article, I know of so many translators who both under-value and so under-sell themselves. I agree that you can suffer low self-esteem and charge a lot, but it's very rare in my experience. Feeling good about what you do is, in my view, extremely empowering and much more likely to make clients think you're worth the prices you're asking - assuming you're good at what you do in the first place, that is!

Thanks again to ECPD Webinars for giving me the opportunity to write a guest post on their blog series.


 

TechStyle  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:41
Putting a price on self esteem Sep 7, 2015

I'm not sure the link is as strong as you assume between self esteem and pricing.

Fortunately, I've almost always been salaried so far; for the freelance things I've done (not translation, but building/hosting websites - so the client provided the multilingual bits, give or take me pointing out the odd typo), the question I most dread is price. I almost always either take the first offer, or low-ball it badly if I have to name the number myself. Want a Wordpress site built and hosted? Easy, I talk my students through two dozen of those in a few hours each year. Want a price for me doing that? Erm ... I'll have to think about it.

I don't think it's a self esteem issue - I'm good at what I do, that's why I get paid to teach it now - I'm just a lousy negotiator, coupled with what I suspect is a fairly common aversion to discussing money. I don't get validation from getting paid a lot (some of the work I'm most proud of is software I give away for free) - I get it from doing a good job and knowing I've helped someone.


 

Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:41
French to English
+ ...
Interesting Sep 7, 2015

I see your point, James, and I certainly don't think it all boils down to rates. Satisfaction and enjoyment of a job well done are part and parcel of it for me too, and inextricably linked with self-esteem, or self-confidence, for that matter. However, most freelance translators are running a business and therefore have to sell themselves to the client - rates are the most obvious manifestation of that, although quality, customer service and a myriad other little things make up the package too. Admitting that you're a lousy negotiator and don't like talking about price are symptomatic of many translators' attitude to businesses, yet at first glance that is often the only way prospective clients can judge us. If you value yourself at a low price, the client is going to inevitably think less of you as a result - if you had quotes for building work, would you take the cheapest?

Aversion to talking about money is probably a fairly common academic attitude too, furthering the ivory tower image that translators often convey. I just think that if we value ourselves more (whether in terms of our rates, or by simply talking up our profession and skills), we can improve the status of translation as a profession and improve the lot of new translators starting out, plus encourage talented people into the profession in the first place.


 

David Hayes  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:41
Member (2009)
French to English
Rates Sep 8, 2015

depend on many, many factors: who you are working with and where; type of material you are translating; deadline; level of repetition; whether the client is a one-off contact or regular work provider; whether or not a detailed glossary is provided, etc., etc.
My rate varies according to all these factors. I do think it important to have a lower limit below which any prospect of accepting a job is excluded (which would, incidentally, exclude a fair number of offers we see on ProZ.com these days). Apart from that, I don't see why we have to be too pedantic about this matter.
Having increased my rates several times over the past five years, I can say that the reaction from clients varies enormously (from "No problem, that's fine" to "Under no circumstances can we accept an increase in your rates at this time").
My hunch is that most of us are quite lazy rather than lacking in self-esteem: we prefer keeping the same small group of regular clients (even if it means being trapped in situations that become very hard to change) rather than thanking them and moving on in search of better offers.
My highest payers have actually been universities with spare grant money. They don't really seem to care about the cost as long as the work is well done.


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:11
English to Hindi
+ ...
No 2 Sep 8, 2015

I don't think lacking self esteem has anything to do with freelance translation. If you are really good at what you do, then it automatically boosts your self confidence, whether you flourish in your profession or not. If you know that you are a good translator, it instills in you an inner strength, which I think, mainly arises from your ability to do something that others probably can't. This, in fact, will generate a superiority complex, rather than a deflated self-esteem.

But if you have come into translation as a last resort, after having failed in every other profession you have tried, or if you are not good at translation, of if you are ill-equipped to be a translator, either skill-wise or talent-wise, then you will hate every day you spent translating, and this could give you a deflated self-esteem. The reasons for this are not inherent on your being a translator, freelancer or otherwise, but in your not liking translation or not being good at it.

I have come across many other professionals with poor self-esteem - doctors, lawyers, engineers, you name it and if you probe into them, you generally find that they were not meant to be doing what they were doing, and circumstances have forced them into doing what they have ended up doing. The best cure for them is to find their proper profession at the earliest.

So this is a general human condition and is not specific to translation.


 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 17:41
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
No! Sep 8, 2015

Tom in London wrote:



I suffered for many years from a lack of self-esteem but it had nothing to do with my work as a translator. Working as a freelance translator now actually enhances my self-esteem more and more every time I deliver yet another job well done.


With reference to Claire Cox's article: self-esteem has nothing to do with how much money you make.

[Edited at 2015-09-07 16:01 GMT]


First of all, I hate generalizations, so my answer is based solely on my own experience. Like Tom I suffered for many years from a lack of self-esteem, which had to do with my upbringing in a very dysfunctional family and with everything that life threw my way (I widowed at the age most dream of getting married)… In fact, translation has helped me gain self-esteem and self confidence, mainly when some 30 years ago I entered an EU translator competition and got through! We were circa 10,000 at the very beginning and to my great surprise my name was on the final shortlist and I was offered a job. My self-esteem went to the roof and hasn’t left me since!


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:41
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
The correlation is relevant to my own professional satisfaction Sep 8, 2015

I for one feel a high degree of satisfaction when I earn what I consider to be very good rates for my work. This is also why I tend to refuse offers that I know will not allow me to earn at those levels.

And there are instances where "grim necessity" (or simple miscalculation) leads me to work for rates that I don't consider "very good"--but never for much less.

In taking the approach that I do, I certainly lose out on a number of opportunities that would allow me to earn "decent" money--but that would also leave me feeling like more of a clerk with bilingual skills than a professional translator.

So there's a trade-off here, but on the balance this approach is one that has worked for me.

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't find most of the documents that I translate to be of compelling intrinsic interest. Therefore, whatever satisfaction I get from such work comes from doing my job well and getting paid what I consider a dignified fee for my efforts.

I would, however, reinforce Claire's point that not every translator is highly accomplished (or even competent), and therefore in given cases insecurity may be well founded, and lowballing a sensible strategy.

[Edited at 2015-09-08 16:02 GMT]


 

Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:41
French to English
+ ...
Thanks Sep 8, 2015

Thanks, Robert

I did say in my article that I appreciated that my comments were generalisations, but I certainly have the impression that many colleagues are lacking in self-esteem - or business confidence, as James described it - or even a willingness to get down from their ivory towers and find out what's happening in the real world. While it's each individual's own concern what rates they charge (and what they are happy with), I find it incredible that anyone could be offered the opportunity to increase their rates and choose not to do so. Or, for that matter, when I've been unable to accept work myself and have passed work onto colleagues, recommending a ballpark rate that the client in question will accept, that anyone should deliberately decline to use that ballpark figure and go in much lower. Not only is that disrespectful in the extreme to the recommending colleague (undercutting?), but also plain silly from their own point of view - why accept less than you have been told is possible? Now whether that's lack of self-esteem, no business sense, or just plain ignorance, I really don't think it's a very professional way to behave.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
So it IS all about money Sep 8, 2015

Claire Cox wrote:

Thanks, Robert

I did say in my article that I appreciated that my comments were generalisations, but I certainly have the impression that many colleagues are lacking in self-esteem - or business confidence, as James described it - or even a willingness to get down from their ivory towers and find out what's happening in the real world. While it's each individual's own concern what rates they charge (and what they are happy with), I find it incredible that anyone could be offered the opportunity to increase their rates and choose not to do so. Or, for that matter, when I've been unable to accept work myself and have passed work onto colleagues, recommending a ballpark rate that the client in question will accept, that anyone should deliberately decline to use that ballpark figure and go in much lower. Not only is that disrespectful in the extreme to the recommending colleague (undercutting?), but also plain silly from their own point of view - why accept less than you have been told is possible? Now whether that's lack of self-esteem, no business sense, or just plain ignorance, I really don't think it's a very professional way to behave.


So it *is* all about money. Just another discussion about how scandalous it is that some translators work for rates that other translators consider low. This topic is potentially a story that has no ending !


 

Robert Rietvelt  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:41
Member (2006)
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
It is NOT all about money, it is ALL about you! Sep 8, 2015

(Un)fortunately (still don't know which one is better in daily life) I don't have a lack of self esteem, because MY philosophy is that it is MY life and I take MY decisions (in whatever).

I determine MY rate, so it is MY decision to accept a job or not, and if the client is unwilling to pay MY price, he/she can look for another translator.

My father taught me, 'if you do a job, do it well, or don't do it at all', and allthough being a translator is not a 'millionaire job', I take pride in every well done delivered translation, just like Tom.

In short, I love my job.

(sorry for the exaggerated 'MY')


[Edited at 2015-09-08 21:20 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-09-08 21:21 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-09-08 21:25 GMT]


 

Francesca Collodo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:41
Member (2012)
German to English
+ ...
I often feel that those who blog, are not doing... Sep 8, 2015


I may well be the odd one out here, but I read this agog. It did at least give me a laugh! Tenuous much?! Not to mention rude, unprofessional, uninformed...I am actually shocked!

So a handful of translators who (allegedly) don't charge enough, evidences a trend of "low self-esteem" within a profession? That's an enormous leap, and founded on what? And wouldn't a quick email to these individuals to advise them they may want to think about increasing their rates have sufficed, if the author were genuinely concerned about them? Or...were we struggling for blog copy, that particular week?

Isn't this at best horribly patronising, at worst, an utterly uninformed attack?

I presume these poor individuals, struggling along, not knowing their worth, were in fact hired at their proposed rates. I also wonder, if one such individual stumbles across this outpouring of wisdom, won't he/she be easily able to identify him/herself? And if so...where might that lead?

In my experience within this industry, I have found the exact opposite to be true - rates aside, as unlike the blogger, I am not in a position to know what others offer (and therefore also unable to comment on their level of self-esteem ) - but I have noted, for many years, the multitude of indignant threads on this site around the topic of what fundamentally amounts to, "the industry is insulting me with the rates it offers me!" and "I refuse to use a CAT tool!" and, the persistent "what I believe is wrong with ProZ!" (which is always the 'insulting' rates thing again in thin disguise, and which always makes me question - so why are you here?! Don't we all vote with our feet? If you last subscription did not pay for itsef...why renew?).

For a long time now, I have felt that the industry suffers from an endemic "but I am an academic!" ego inflation. I have met this elsewhere also. Out of work colleagues contact me to see if I can pass anything their way...they haven't the skills for the work I get...but they won't say that. They prefer "that would bore me" and to remain without work, twiddling thumbs...probably, writing blogs and threads...I always conclude, that these individuals must have another source of income/are kept by a very understanding partner.

Do not always assume everything comes down to rates...you may have been turned down for a job, because your quote was not timely, did not strike the right tone, your skills did not fit...they basically found another provider they preferred. Whose rates could well be higher than yours.

Others' rates may not be quite what they are worth, not because they have "low self-esteem" (hugely sweeping and damaging assessment!) but because they do not, as yet, realise what they are worth. Who knows what such individuals are charging other customers...and did they, in the end, turn out to be available, and do the job, for these terribly low rates, which gave away their - entirely alleged - lack of self-worth?! Or...did they turn out to be 'busy'?


 

Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:41
French to English
+ ...
No offence meant... Sep 8, 2015

I'm sorry you took my remarks this way, Francesca - it certainly wasn't meant as an attack on colleagues, more as an incitement to network more and find out what other translators are doing and thinking with a view to improving one's own working practices. I don't think 30 years' experience in the profession qualifies me as uninformed and I definitely don't think my article was "rude". I have indeed encouraged colleagues to charge a market rate for their services over the years, but can only conclude, if they don't do so, that they feel they are not "worth" it. Those were my observations: you may disagree with them, but I have every right to comment on them and urge people to value themselves! I'm sure I hardly need say I have plenty of work for extremely satisfied clients and writing a blog is my attempt to try and pass on the benefits of my years of experience to colleagues - if you don't agree, that's fine, but please don't try to put down my achievements in the process.

 

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:41
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Do Freelance Translators Lack Self-Esteem? Sep 8, 2015

I have found that some people believe that you should charge the maximum amount possible for your work (why work for .05 a word for agencies in country X, when clients in country Y happily pay 0.20 a word and more?), while some others believe that you should only charge what you need to survive or what you believe your work is worth (why should I charge more than I need or charge higher rates to those who can afford them?). The former find the latter to be "ignorant", illogical, lacking in self-esteem and perhaps unaware that they are "being taken advantage of". The latter find the former to be greedy, arrogant, "difficult" and are happy as long as their basic needs are met, even if this means that others are making truckloads of money on their work.

I remember reading somewhere:
Do you know what the difference is between a translator that charges .05 a word and a translator that charges .14 a word?
Answer: She woke up one morning and decided that she was going to charge .14 a word.

[Edited at 2015-09-08 23:10 GMT]


 
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