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Advice Needed. Quit Translation? Buy Trados?
Thread poster: JSommer
JSommer
Local time: 23:44
Jun 21, 2010

I have been translating French to English for 1 year. I work for an agent that pays me 4 cents CDN a word. Most of my work is done at short notice, in the evenings and on the weekend. I have to spend long hours near my computer waiting for the work to come in or someone else will take it. I have had to invest in a variety of software (OCR, PDF conversion, Word 2007, etc) as well as a new computer in order to deal with customer documents.

I take pride in doing a good job. 95% of the material I am expected to translate is highly specialized (medical, legal, technical). I have to spend long periods of time searching the internet for translations of specialized terms. The texts are generally under a 1000 words and the terms rarely recur.

What this means is that I am working evenings / nights and weekends for around half-minimum wage. I have contacted a variety of agents (30) in North America and Europe. My goal was to double my rate to 8 cents a word in order to reach minimum wage. The 5 agents that did answer asked me my rate (8 cents) and then did not answer.

So my question is this: Should I quit translation? I have so far been unable to earn minimum wage. This is very skilled and taxing work and I feel I am am being exploited. Would purchasing SDL Trados guarantee a significant rate increase? I cannot afford to purchase it otherwise.

I am new to this work and I like it, but not on these terms. I would appreciate honest advice. No need to sugar the pill. There are other opportunities in the world, and I wish to make an informed decision as to whether it is worth continuing to translate. Thanks in advance.


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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 07:44
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Raise your rates to attract better-paying clients Jun 21, 2010

I know it's easier said than done, but if your quality is up to par, this strategy will succeed. Eventually.

[Edited at 2010-06-21 15:13 GMT]


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xxxDesdemone
Local time: 00:44
French to English
You live in Canada.... Jun 21, 2010

so what you're accepting as payment is much, much too low. What translation education / experience / certification do you have?

As far as I can tell from reading the hundreds of posts / complaints / queries about CAT, these tools appear NOT to bring higher prices, in fact, quite the opposite.



[Edited at 2010-06-21 15:23 GMT]


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Krzysztof Kajetanowicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 05:44
English to Polish
+ ...
please explain Jun 21, 2010

Half the minimum wage in Canada would be around CAD 4 to CAD 5 per hour. Are you saying you can only manage 100 words an hour, admin work included?

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Brian Young  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:44
Danish to English
raise your rates! Jun 21, 2010

I agree with Mikhail. If your so called clients wont pay 8 cents per word, then just don't worry about it. And don't spend a lot of money on software that will just drive you crazy. Look at the posts on this forum. Most of them are by people with questions about "Trados".
If you are good, eventually you will be recognized. Every single translation is like a calling card. Make each one as good as you can, be on time, work on your profile, answer questions posted on the forums. Be patient.


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:44
Spanish to English
+ ...
Trados is no guarantee Jun 21, 2010

In my experience, agencies that demand Trados are invariably the worst and slowest payers. My direct clients never ask what software I use and they are all happy to pay better rates then the most generous agencies. Break free from the brokers and agencies!

PS. Wow! Four Canadian cents a word is an extraordinary rate. If it is possible to find good translators working for that rate then I may have consider abandoning translation and becoming another broker myself. So... perhaps you should forget the advice I gave above.





[Edited at 2010-06-21 15:47 GMT]


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Karen Stokes  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:44
Member (2003)
French to English
Practical tips Jun 21, 2010

Some tips if you decide you want to make a go of it:

- You don't need to sit by your computer all day waiting for work to come in. Invest in a phone you can pick up your e-mail on.

- Narrow the fields you work in: any one of legal, medical or technical would be huge. If you're trying to cover all of them then you're bound to spend hours doing research. Concentrate on a sub-set of one of them until you have real expertise and you'll find it easier to market yourself effectively. (I don't outsource, but to be honest if I did I'd be wary of anyone who appeared to offer such a wide range of subject areas). If you really (really) know your subjects it'll also be easier to raise your rates.

- It's not instant. Like any business, it takes time, (some) money and a lot (and I mean a lot) of hard work to get it off the ground.

Good luck.

Best,

Karen


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JSommer
Local time: 23:44
TOPIC STARTER
Certification Jun 21, 2010

Paula Rennie wrote:

so what you're accepting as payment is much, much too low. What translation education / experience / certification do you have?

As far as I can tell from reading the hundreds of posts / complaints / queries about CAT, these tools appear NOT to bring higher prices, in fact, quite the opposite.



[Edited at 2010-06-21 15:23 GMT]


Yes, I thought it was very low, and I expected it to be easy to raise my rate to 8 cents. This has so far not proved to be the case.

I have no translation education / certification. Is it possible to do it online and reasonably cheaply? Would it really make a difference? I have read posts from people with translation degrees who cannot get work.


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JSommer
Local time: 23:44
TOPIC STARTER
Trados and rate Jun 21, 2010

Brian Young wrote:

I agree with Mikhail. If your so called clients wont pay 8 cents per word, then just don't worry about it. And don't spend a lot of money on software that will just drive you crazy. Look at the posts on this forum. Most of them are by people with questions about "Trados".
If you are good, eventually you will be recognized. Every single translation is like a calling card. Make each one as good as you can, be on time, work on your profile, answer questions posted on the forums. Be patient.


I've been trying. I am wondering why I cannot make more. I didn't think 8 cents was so much. I wondered if the problem was international competition from cheaper countries lowering the rate, or the general economic situation.

I appreciate that Trados has a reputation for being less than intuitive. I wondered if having it was a passport for getting paid more. It seems so prevalent. Certainly, I don't want to spend the money on it.


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Jenn Mercer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:44
Member (2009)
French to English
30 Agencies are barely even a start Jun 21, 2010

You need to contact at least 100 agencies to consider that you have given this a good start. I agree that you do not need to be sitting by your computer to get paid such low rates, but as long as you are there, you might as well be sending out queries. It may take a good six months to see any results from this, but it will happen.

Buying Trados couldn't hurt, but it is best to first get a free trial and spend some time learning how to use the software and see if it will work for you. I waited to purchase the full version until I had a steady client who preferred that I use Trados. By that time, it was easier to have the full program than try to do workarounds and the client has more than paid for my investment in the software.

And oh yes, raise your rates already. You may see *more* business because agencies and direct clients will not take you seriously at such low rates.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 21:44
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree with Brian Jun 21, 2010

Assuming you have the qualifications and considering 95% of the translations you do for this agency are medical, legal or technical, you should be getting 3 times the rate you are getting now. I would suggest giving that agency 1 month's notice that you will double your rates. But there are better agencies out there - you need to market yourself. Flesh out your Proz profile and become active in answering Kudoz questions. Join your provincial translators organization. Look up the websites of other agencies and write to them. The question is not whether you should stop translating but whether you should stop working for this agency.

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JSommer
Local time: 23:44
TOPIC STARTER
phone and speciliazation etc Jun 21, 2010

Karen Stokes wrote:

Some tips if you decide you want to make a go of it:

- You don't need to sit by your computer all day waiting for work to come in. Invest in a phone you can pick up your e-mail on.

- Narrow the fields you work in: any one of legal, medical or technical would be huge. If you're trying to cover all of them then you're bound to spend hours doing research. Concentrate on a sub-set of one of them until you have real expertise and you'll find it easier to market yourself effectively. (I don't outsource, but to be honest if I did I'd be wary of anyone who appeared to offer such a wide range of subject areas). If you really (really) know your subjects it'll also be easier to raise your rates.

- It's not instant. Like any business, it takes time, (some) money and a lot (and I mean a lot) of hard work to get it off the ground.

Good luck.

Best,

Karen


Such a phone costs monthly payments and a long-term contract (where I live). I am wary of taking on new costs when I am making so little. I would also add that it is not enough to see that a job has come in. I have to check the document to be certain that it is what the agent describes it to be, and that I can do it. Is it possible to run Microsoft Office 2007 on a phone and view Word documents and spreadsheets?

As far as possible, I have targeted work which allows me to advertise myself as specializing in technical areas. I have promoted myself as such. So far, it has not worked.

I appreciate it will take some time and work, I am just not sure if it will ultimately be worth it. I am aware of globalization issues and the dropping of translator rates, and I am wondering if my difficulty in achieving a living wage is related to this situation. I can't continue working for 4 cents.

[Edited at 2010-06-21 17:07 GMT]


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JSommer
Local time: 23:44
TOPIC STARTER
Good advice Jun 21, 2010

Jenn Mercer wrote:

You need to contact at least 100 agencies to consider that you have given this a good start. I agree that you do not need to be sitting by your computer to get paid such low rates, but as long as you are there, you might as well be sending out queries. It may take a good six months to see any results from this, but it will happen.

Buying Trados couldn't hurt, but it is best to first get a free trial and spend some time learning how to use the software and see if it will work for you. I waited to purchase the full version until I had a steady client who preferred that I use Trados. By that time, it was easier to have the full program than try to do workarounds and the client has more than paid for my investment in the software.

And oh yes, raise your rates already. You may see *more* business because agencies and direct clients will not take you seriously at such low rates.


Re: trying more agencies, you are right and I will try that.

However, I cannot invest in Trados. I don't have the cash and there is no guaranteed return. I will try without.

I have raised my rate. The 5 agents that replied to me did not respond.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:44
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Some comments Jun 21, 2010

JSommer wrote:
I work for an agent that pays me 4 cents CDN a word.

Only one client? That's extremely dangerous - what if they stop giving you work? You need to find more clients
Most of my work is done at short notice, in the evenings and on the weekend.

Yes, that is an unfortunate part of our job. When you are experienced and sought-after you can say "No", but you probably need to be prepared to work unsocial hours to start with.
I have to spend long hours near my computer waiting for the work to come in or someone else will take it.

Put this time to good use. There's plenty you can do on that computer while you're waiting (and I'm not talking of solitaire)
I have to spend long periods of time searching the internet for translations of specialized terms. The texts are generally under a 1000 words and the terms rarely recur.

Someone has already mentioned that you appear to be assuming a lot of "specialisation" and that must take a lot of research. Bear in mind that however much research you do, if you don't know the subject matter then you won't provide a top-quality translation. Set your specialisations to what you can really do and refuse work you can't do.
I have contacted a variety of agents (30) in North America and Europe.

That's really a very low figure. I don't recommend mass mailings, but if you're desperate for work you should be putting those idle hours to good use by contacting at least 30 targetted agencies per week

Some other ideas for all those idle moments:
Complete your profile here at ProZ and upload your CV - we'll be better able to help you then
Become active networking here or on other translators' sites (using KudoZ can be a very useful 2-way activity)
Research your specialisations in both source and target languages
Set up your own glossaries
Work pro bono (for charities, of course) for experience, interest and feedback
Train yourself on a free CAT tool (Wordfast is free until you have used it a lot)
Contact potential direct clients both through the internet and locally

Remember, you'll only get back what you put in.


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JSommer
Local time: 23:44
TOPIC STARTER
Qualifications Jun 21, 2010

Tina Vonhof wrote:

Assuming you have the qualifications and considering 95% of the translations you do for this agency are medical, legal or technical, you should be getting 3 times the rate you are getting now. I would suggest giving that agency 1 month's notice that you will double your rates. But there are better agencies out there - you need to market yourself. Flesh out your Proz profile and become active in answering Kudoz questions. Join your provincial translators organization. Look up the websites of other agencies and write to them. The question is not whether you should stop translating but whether you should stop working for this agency.


I am not qualified. Could you advise on an online course / certification etc that would help me successfully increase my rate?


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