A Freelance Translator, Are You a Professional Service Provider or a Businessperson?
Thread poster: Tae Kim
Tae Kim  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:42
Member (2007)
English to Korean
+ ...
Dec 8, 2009

I don't know about agencies that only distribute translation jobs, in which case they are categorized as business people, but being a freelance translator requires you to be both a businessman and a special service provider. In fact, speaking from my experiences, actually, I think, only about 60% of time or so is spent on translating, and the rest is spent on supplemental and administrative issues like invoice creation, talking to customers and agencies, and other related tasks. So if that's the case, a freelance translator shouldn't really be called just a translator, but he or she is actually a business entrepreneur who runs a business out of his or her home. Unless you are working in a large translation firm with in house translators, and go to work in the morning and come home at night as any other regular office worker, a home based freelance translator is more like a businessperson.

Does posessing excellent translation skills help you be a good translator? Of course, but the more important skill, I think, as I speak from my experiences, is actually your skills in customer management, business administration, and bringing in new businesses, as in forms of advertisements. Sometimes a translation is done badly and it was sent back by a customer who wants a re-done. And in these cases, you are more likely to lose the customer due to your bad job. But, if you provide good service, truly excellent customer service, the customer may not just stop doing business with you, and perhaps the experience may even make your relationship with your customer better. Why am I writing this? Well, I just think it's important to serve a customer in a very personal, professional, and courteous way, rather than just serving a good translation, and this probably would apply to any other industry, whether it's translation, DTP, logo design, accounting, or any other home based business.



[Edited at 2009-12-08 04:00 GMT]


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Eleftherios Kritikakis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:42
Member (2003)
Greek to English
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You are absolutely right Dec 8, 2009

You are absolutely right. This is actually the best summary I ever read.

I will add something else: It's good for translators to have previous ork experience in another free-lance field. For obvious reasons.


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Salman Rostami  Identity Verified
Iran
Local time: 15:12
Member (2009)
English to Persian (Farsi)
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Completely right Dec 8, 2009

You are right. Negotiations and supplimental issues for small projects sometimes take more than 50% of the whole time of the project handling.

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Ata Arif  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:42
Member (2009)
Kurdish to English
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More than just translation Dec 8, 2009

I do agree with you, but I also want to add the fact that we spend a lot of time making charts, tables, fitting words and sentences into tables and graphs, which is most of the time very time consuming and could easily be done by a monolingual person in that language.

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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:42
Member (2004)
English to Italian
thank you... Dec 8, 2009

for reminding us of this important aspect of our profession, but are you sure you only spend 40% of the time on translation? Seems awfully low to me... I would say a correct ratio would be 70%/30%... otherwise you either charge a very high rate or don't make enough money...

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xxxNMR
France
Local time: 13:42
French to Dutch
+ ...
Agree Dec 8, 2009

Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL wrote:

for reminding us of this important aspect of our profession, but are you sure you only spend 40% of the time on translation? Seems awfully low to me... I would say a correct ratio would be 70%/30%... otherwise you either charge a very high rate or don't make enough money...

Even less than 30%, or one morning per week (invoicing, bookkeeping, contact with the bank, small computer problems). The rest of the time should be devoted to translation-related tasks. But as soon as you are subcontracting, the administrative tasks grow exponentially: selecting a translator, preparing files, receiving files, checking translations, security issues, client complaints... (that's why I don't subcontract).


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Tae Kim  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:42
Member (2007)
English to Korean
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for positive remarks Dec 8, 2009

Thank you all for positive remarks and agreeing with me. My figures of 60/40% was a rough estimate so yours may be right too.

I wrote this because I found that many of the issues in translation industry can be solved by focusing on the basic principle of business, which is serving your customer. Many issues like what translation version is right - the very core of the problems between translators and agencies/clients - can really be solved if translators acknowledge that the issue at hands is not really the translation quality itself at the moment, but rather the human relationship involved in the dispute. The agencies/clients simply want to establish client-customer relationship, and they often do this by asking about translation quality, how they think it should be done in this way or that way, and often times, translators would accept this as a form of clients criticizing and questioning their job abilities. Well, we are all humans so it can be really easy to get angry, irritated, and distracted. But to be successful in this industry, or any other industry, this is one obstacle we all must overcome. Many times it's the politics that get in the way of doing a good translation. To be successful in this industry for a long run, translation abilities are important too, but it's your attitude about serving the customer and solving the problems along the way - not just translation problems but business/human related probjems - that really counts, and that probably is what the agnecies want us to have too as well. Anyone with descent knowledge in his or her language pair can start out in this business. Language skills will develop naturally as you get more experience in writing, but somehow it seems this important basic principle of serving your customer as in any other industry is quite often overlooked, so that's why I wrote it.


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Eleftherios Kritikakis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:42
Member (2003)
Greek to English
+ ...
Nope Dec 10, 2009

"...the basic principle of business, which is serving your customer."

No. The basic principle of business is to earn money by doing business.
"Serving your customer" is just one of the business necessities. Necessary, but you weren't born to serve others. Serving others for a fee, now that's called business. Increasing your earnings every year, that's called "good business". Climbing to the upper middle class, that's called "very good business". And so forth and so on. "Serving customers" is marketing and "business maintenance and care". In some business it's not even needed (for example "government business").

If the basic principle was to serve customers, then all business people would be selling their services at the same price.





[Edited at 2009-12-10 04:04 GMT]


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Anne Koth  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:42
German to English
Service provider and businessperson Dec 11, 2009

It's good to make this distinction to prove your point: that being a translator is not just about translating. But I wouldn't separate these two aspects in real life.

My mother-in-law is a doctor with her own practice. She has to hire and fire staff, sort out her taxes, pay her rent and ensure the building is in good order, buy magazines for the waiting room - or get people to do these jobs for her, but in the end it's all her responsibility. However, she still "just" calls herself a doctor. Being a doctor doesn't just involve taking people's temperatures, and being a translator doesn't just involve translating words and phrases.

Some people starting out in this business aren't fully aware of that, so your reminder is very helpful. But to me, asking whether I provide a service OR carry out administrative work makes no sense, as of course I do both. No-one would ask my mother-in-law if she is a doctor or a businessperson, would they?

Here in Germany I'd say the business side of translating is well-advertised - would others here agree? There are lots of books and websites here about the business of translation; when I started out I got a very good book explaining how to set out bills, how taxation works, how to attract customers, etc. I felt quite well-informed about that. How is it elsewhere?


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