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First year of professional translating, nothing to show for it
Thread poster: Martina Fink

Martina Fink  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 03:24
Member
German to English
Aug 27, 2012

I started translating about a year ago when I decided I needed a more flexible and autonomous job. Since then, I’ve worked on a few projects (not as many as I would like), but I can’t say I’m exceptionally happy at the way things are going.

My first job was for an agency. They offered me less than I originally quoted, but told me they would revisit my rates once I had a few months of experience with the company. Needless to say, they sent me work for a week and then disappeared off the face of the earth. They seemed happy with my translations so I can only assume that the problem was the prospect of paying me a higher rate.

My second job was translating a software user manual. This is right up my alley as I am a bit of a nerd and have taught myself how to use a wide variety of software. Unfortunately, it was a rush job split between 8 translators (most of them students!!), and the end result was awful. Out of 8 translators, only 2 or 3 of us bothered to use the terminology lists. Even basic things were mistranslated, like “call up window” instead of “open window” as a translation for “Fenster aufrufen”. The end client was so horrified that they refused to buy our work as a whole. We were still paid by the intermediary project manager, but there was no more work from him after that!

Somewhere around this time I was offered a job translating a website for a medical clinic. The pay was good, the project enjoyable, and I looked forward to adding this one to my CV. After I completed the work, a clinic staff member/receptionist/team of idiots took it upon themselves to make “corrections”, so now “sensitivity test” reads “sense test”, etc. Additionally, every time the source text changes slightly, some over-confident German with brilliant English skills updates the English text. In the beginning, I was emailing them to correct their corrections, but I soon gave up because they keep doing it and I no longer care. I just don’t see the point in hiring a translator if you think you can do it better yourself...

Now to my current project. I’m ashamed to say that I took on some work from an agency at an absolute dumping price – something like 0,03 a word. I’m well aware of what these types of rates are doing to the translation industry, and I’m not proud, but I have no other work coming in at the moment and I do need to eat. I’m doing a passable job (pretty much what is expected of me for the rate I’m being paid) but I usually have high standards for myself and I don’t want this to be where I end up as a translator.

I have no degrees or formal education, but I have had all kinds of professions in my short life: online administrator at a national newspaper (business section), hotel receptionist in two different countries, admin assistant at a finance company, lens tinter at an optics laboratory, customer service rep for a toy company, probably more that I don’t recall. I want to make a career out of translating rather than just adding it to this list.

I recently started the WLS Professional Certificate in Translation to further my skills and hopefully find an area that I wish to specialise in. I tend to enjoy dry, informative texts. I was thinking about medical translating, but obviously I’d need further education in that area first. The only thing know about is mental health problems including depression, anxiety and psychosomatic disorders.

Anyway, this is more of a vent than anything else! Still, I would be happy to hear other people's thoughts.


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 11:24
Member (2008)
French to English
Marketing? Aug 28, 2012

My only question is how much marketing are you doing? There are thousands of potential clients out there, do they know you exist?

As a freelance professional, you are in business, and one of the most essential parts of any business endeavour is marketing.

There is plenty of advice on this and other similar sites on how to market your services.


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Alex Hughes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:24
Spanish to English
+ ...
Resume Aug 28, 2012

How many resumes have you sent out?

I am in a similar situation as far as a formal degree, but after a year in the business I am satisfied with what I have achieved up to this point. I attribute this partially to having worked as an interpreter prior to becoming a translator, but mainly to resumes. I think in this first year I have sent out around 2000 resumes. The result has been about 6 regular agency clients, occasional work from a few other agencies, and a few more that send me work but I haven't been able to collaborate yet. I don't think that's too bad for someone with no education in translation.

I hope that you are able to persevere and that things keep improving for you.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:24
Hebrew to English
Some suggestions Aug 28, 2012

Sorry to hear about your difficulties. I do agree with John that Marketing is important, but I see that you have a relatively full ProZ profile and your own website - so you clearly already know this. I'd only add that maybe you need to find more/alternative ways to stand out from the crowd, in a rather competitive language pair especially.

I'd also suggest:

1) Giving it a bit more time, a year is a bit too soon to judge the success/failure of a business venture. I've been operating for about the same amount of time as you too - I'm giving it 2 more years before I make up my mind. Many other people claim that a new business needs 5+ years to grow into its own.

2) Considering additional (part-time) employment to supplement translation just for now while you are finding your feet. It will plug the (financial and temporal) gaps inbetween translation projects and will allow you to turn down those soul-destroying offers instead of accepting them and feeling grubby about it.

These are my thoughts, hope they help.


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:24
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Marketing - yes, Aug 28, 2012

Fink wrote:

I have no degrees or formal education, but I have had all kinds of professions in my short life: online administrator at a national newspaper (business section), hotel receptionist in two different countries, admin assistant at a finance company, lens tinter at an optics laboratory, customer service rep for a toy company, probably more that I don’t recall. I want to make a career out of translating rather than just adding it to this list.



but I would also recommend that, because of your experience, you forget about tourism and market yourself as a business and finance translator.

I would also add a niche - the optical field! How many translators out there specialise in it?

And give it time and yes, get a part-time/weekend job until you get on your feet.


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Roy OConnor
Local time: 17:24
Member (2009)
German to English
More meat on the bone Aug 28, 2012

Hi, Martina,

The information you provide looks a bit thin, both on Proz and your own web site. It needs to be beefed up a bit. You have to work on your shop window. Where are the examples of material that you have translated or could translate? What software manuals do you translate? For games, accounting software, etc.? You have to think why would anyone choose you rather than loads of others on the market. Show your specialities with examples or possibilities, otherwise the potential customer has nothing to go on.

I personally wouldn't mention how new I was to the game. You can give that information maybe, but not right up front. Also why mention that you are punctual and accurate? That should be taken for granted (unless of course you have to mention it!). Have you contacted companies directly, visited exhibitions where there may be potential customers? It's hard work, but at least you have the time, if not the money.

If you have little or no work, then your availability is high. How about a "panic button" on your web site for customers under stress who need a quick turnaround? I had one once on my first web site, but had to take it off when business built up.

This isn't a get-rich-quick business. It's a long hard job building up a customer base, but it's quite possible if you stick at it.

Good luck!
Roy


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Olly Pekelharing  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:24
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
Tip Aug 28, 2012

Hi Fink,

There a couple of wee things on your profile page that you maybe should fix:
'I am a native English speaker born in Germany and raised bilingually in New Zealand.' I would add a comma between speaker and born; to me it now reads 'I am (...) born in Germany'.

'pride myself in my research skills': should be 'on my research skills'.

Not to say that this is why you aren't getting enough work, but your translator's profile page ain't the place to let mistakes slip through...

Otherwise agree with Alex; email all the agencies that could plausibly have work for you (easiest to start with the Germany-based ones).

Regards,

Olly

[Edited at 2012-08-28 16:01 GMT]


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Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 11:24
Member (2008)
English to French
Marketing... Aug 28, 2012

To add my voice to what the others said... marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing (it's the location, location, location of translation )

I'm the first to call out bad language skills in a target language and yours (from your post) are just fine so I don't think ability is the issue at hand here, however I think your profile doesn't live up to your 'informal' use of English in this forum - perhaps you over think it when it's official?

You should rewrite your intro and beef up the profile - don't try to think of all the negative things someone might say and preempt them (I have never missed a deadline), rather don't even mention negatives at all.

ie.

I am a native English speaker, born in Germany and raised in New Zealand (you say you have no degrees... perhaps a 1-year degree as a mature student would be the leg up you need to separate yourself from the herd). [Since I have 1 year experience doesn't cut it, I would just ignore the whole point - they can see where you live on the map...]

I work well under pressure, am extremely accurate and punctual and pride myself in my research skills and quality. [being translators we understand what you mean but someone else might wonder why you pride yourself on the quality of your research rather than your translation and what exactly you are accurate at - flesh this out so that each thought is clear]

With a background in website content management, media design and customer service, I specialize in informative texts and presentations aimed at end consumers. [Again - flesh it out with company names, examples, etc.]

My knowledge of various design software (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator) means I can translate and format your texts all in one step. [muh, might appeal to end clients but agencies, not so much, do you use any CAT tools? if not grab some and learn to use them, whether freeware, demo, cracked or full-licenced and learn how to use them - some of them have a steep learning curve and you don't want to deal with that on a deadline]

At the moment there are over a dozen agencies actively recruiting at http://www.proz.com/blueboard/?sp_mode=applications - even now, I make it a point to send out feelers about once a year - I've discovered some great long term clients through that feature though in some cases it's taken a few years.

After that don't limit yourself to answering ads on Proz asking for "your best offer"... do an outsourcer search, identify those who work in the domain you specialize in and have a BB rating of over 4.5 and then start sending out well-crafted cold e-mails; maybe a dozen to two dozen a week. With any luck you'll get one or two answers and get the ball rolling...

Speaking from having worked for a short time in a translation agency, good German to English translators are hard to find... show off : put some ridiculously wonderful translation samples in your profile and market yourself to the US and the UK - you're in luck since PMs are native speakers and can make informed choices as to quality. Don't undersell yourself - at 0.10USD/word you would be on the low end of the professional market for Eng-Ger - I would suggest you use this as your absolute minimum cutoff rate - remember German has less words per thought/sentence than English.

After re-reading your post - if you like dry, informative texts... do technical! I just translated a 1000+page bid project from En-Fre for a German company in the field of public transit... Every sentence was subject, verb, object! Clear & precise You might enjoy it - automotive, railway, transit, power plants, heavy machinery, etc.


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Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 11:24
Member (2008)
English to French
Forgot to add Aug 28, 2012

You should change your handle...

dictionary.com defines fink as :

1. a strikebreaker
2. a labor spy
3. an informer; stool pigeon
4. a contemptible or thoroughly unattractive person.

it's just... not inviting

Though from the picture of the bird... were you thinking of a finch?


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:24
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Don't give up yet! Aug 28, 2012

Fink wrote:
they sent me work for a week and then disappeared off the face of the earth. They seemed happy with my translations so I can only assume that the problem was the prospect of paying me a higher rate.

I doubt that was the reason - they probably forgot about that within 5 minutes (they didn't really mean it anyway). It's much more likely that the translator who they had a good working relationship with came back from holiday (or similar). A PM often feels more comfortable with people s/he has been dealing with for a while. You may well get another job from them sometime.

The end client was so horrified that they refused to buy our work as a whole. We were still paid by the intermediary project manager, but there was no more work from him after that!

That sounds like a most annoying experience - I've heard a lot about this type of work but fortunately haven't fallen foul of it yet. Just be glad you got paid!

every time the source text changes slightly, some over-confident German with brilliant English skills updates the English text.

That one I have loads of experience of!!! In the end though, you can't do anything about it. Just keep your own files. You know what you did. If it's a published website then give clients a chunk of bilingual text rather than the link (they'll be able to find it and see the damage if they really want to).

I’m ashamed to say that I took on some work from an agency at an absolute dumping price – something like 0,03 a word. I’m well aware of what these types of rates are doing to the translation industry, and I’m not proud, but I have no other work coming in at the moment and I do need to eat. I’m doing a passable job (pretty much what is expected of me for the rate I’m being paid) but I usually have high standards for myself and I don’t want this to be where I end up as a translator.

Yes, well, that's just for now. Tomorrow, when that job has finished, will be for better things.

I recently started the WLS Professional Certificate in Translation to further my skills and hopefully find an area that I wish to specialise in.

I think that having a qualification might help a lot in your case. It's a way of saying "Look! I'm credible!".


Some tips for using ProZ.com:
- I was going to say "use your own name" but I saw from your website that it IS your surname. It might be a good idea to make that clear to clients here, perhaps just by giving it in the "about me". Don't get rid of the birdie, though.
- Beef up your "about me" section a little. Clients need to know why they should choose you. Keep everything brief and factual, but try to find answers to all the questions they might have: how good IS your German; was most/all of your education in English, why do you say you can translate user manuals...
- Uploading your CV might be a good idea. Time is so short and the next person on the list may have their CV immediately available
- Samples, too, are very important to show that you really can do the job
- KudoZ points are important here for visibility. I'm intrigued at yours. That's an incredibly high acceptance rate!

Hopefully, you're approaching clients in all sorts of ways apart from via ProZ.com job postings. You certainly need to be taking every opportunity to become visible to potential clients.


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Martina Fink  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 03:24
Member
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Aug 28, 2012

Thanks everyone for your responses so far, and cheers to Olly for pointing out my mistakes!

Arianne, I think you're right that I over think it when it's official. I've never been very good at talking myself up, which is probably why I have issues selling myself. Thanks for taking the time to poke through my profile

You say 0.10 is quite low (it's actually in Euro) but then I talk to some agencies and they feel it is much too high for them. I'm not even sure what a "going rate" is, as I've been offered 0.20 for something incredibly easy and 0.02 for a technical user manual. I even got some abuse for offering 0.08 for a project, as if I were the greediest cow on the planet. Not great for the confidence...

As for "Fink", it really is my last name! I never thought about the meaning in English because it simply means "Finch" in German. Thanks to stringent German rules, I had to use my real name in my business name and now I'm stuck with it!

4. a contemptible or thoroughly unattractive person.


Hahahaha



[Edited at 2012-08-28 17:28 GMT]


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finnword1
United States
Local time: 11:24
English to Finnish
+ ...
translation tool? Aug 28, 2012

Your profile does not list any tool. I am not going to endorse any particular product, except to say that I am not using the one that agencies ask for. I could not function without one. My tool now does most of the work. I use one that can assemble the translation from separate words and fragments in my terminology database. When I have spare time, I add more contents to it.
And no, don't call yourself a fink! Anything but that.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:24
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Various what? Aug 28, 2012

Arianne Farah wrote (quoting the OP):

My knowledge of various design software (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator) means I can translate and format your texts all in one step.


You can't say "various design software" in English. It doesn't mean anything.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 23:24
Chinese to English
Don't be too sensitive Aug 29, 2012

Top tip: never worry about what happens to your texts after you submit them. Clients will always mess them up. Unless it's a publication with your name on it, it doesn't matter to you.

And don't think that you've got nothing to show for the year. In your software project, the agency might not have been happy, but they will have recognised that your part of the translation was decent. You have begun to build up a reputation, even if you can't feel it yet.

Fink wrote:

I've never been very good at talking myself up, which is probably why I have issues selling myself.


Don't think about marketing this way. Think about it as just another mechanical part of the job that you have to do.
1) Complete your Proz profile. Just the facts - but all of the facts.
2) Write a factual blurb about yourself. Don't talk yourself up, just write down the truth about yourself as a translator. Then - crucially - edit out all the negative or unnecessary bits. You'll probably only be left with a few sentences, but that's enough.
3) Write a cover letter and a good CV and send them out on a regular basis.


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Carolin Krüger
Germany
Local time: 17:24
English to German
+ ...
Take the yellow pages and set to work! Aug 29, 2012

I have not been in business for long either but I am doing rather well. One thing worked for me in the beginning: I e-mailed every single translation agency I could find in France (where I was living at the time) to offer my services. It is tedious work to copy and paste all the e-mail addresses from the yellow pages but it's worth it!

I did a few translation test, filled out numerous forms that led to nothing but finally found about 10 agencies I still work with on a regular basis. And I often have to turn down work now. I was even able to raise my rates after a few months. When it comes to rates, do not hesitate to negotiate. They will tell you when they think that you are too expensive. Then you can still go down a bit or just say no.

I have very few direct clients but that will come sooner or later. Meanwhile, my fridge is rather full!

Good luck to you!


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