We Will Miss You, 2010! Will You?

As we put the finishing touches on our last projects of 2010, we realized that we haven't really had much time to  reflect on our year, and that's because we've been buried in work (which is a good thing). It certainly didn't feel like the recession (or end of the recession) to us, and we had the opportunity to sign a good number of repeat customers this year, for whom we do projects on a weekly -- and sometimes even daily -- basis. In addition, we were able to capitalize on our business development efforts and established business relationships with several dozen new clients on both sides of the Atlantic. We will definitely miss 2010: our book was released to excellent reviews, we were able to work together in person for almost three months, we attended and spoke at many outstanding conferences around the world, we won several awards, we worked on the boards of directors of our regional and national associations, and we had the chance to spend time with our wonderful friends and colleagues. That said, we would like to improve on taking time off: we really are not very good at fully leaving work behind and are constantly lugging our laptops around.

We are sad to see 2010 go, but we look forward to another prosperous, rewarding, healthy and fun 2011! We would love to hear how you feel about 2010: was business good? Was it a struggle? Are you happy that 2010 is finally coming to a close? We have heard mixed reviews from our colleagues -- some had fantastic years, while for others it was just a slow recovery from 2009. 

Happy 2011 to our dear friends and colleagues around the world!

Last-Minute Holiday Gifts (No Shipping)

Time flies -- and now Christmas is right around the corner. Did you forget a special someone on your list who happens to be a linguist, and now it's too late to mail anything? Not to worry: here is a short list of great gifts that recipients can receive via e-mail. They might not have anything to unwrap, but these gifts sure will get some use!

  1. The Translator's Toolbox: A Computer Primer for Translators  is the perfect guide for anything you need to know about technology (PDf files, operating systems, translation environment tools, terminology tools, online security, and much much more) by ATA technology guru, working translator, prolific writer and all-around great guy Jost Zetzsche. This 400-page, password protected PDF can be purchased via PayPal and is $50 ($30 for ATA members). In addition, there's the premium edition of Jost's incredibly popular newsletter (The Tool Kit), which you can send to your favorite translator for $15. 
  2. Give the gift of good research by purchasing an annual subscription to the invaluable Payment Practices database. Expertly run by our wonderful colleague Ted Wozniak, there's no better tool than to research an LSP before you take a job than Payment Practices (PP). This might be the best $19.99 gift you could give a translator. 
  3. While we haven't had the chance to read it yet, we hear great things about Alex Eames' Business Success for Translators. It's an e-book that you can download immediately for $33. This price includes a 20% holiday discount that Alex is offering at the moment. If the name sounds familiar: Alex is the editor of tranfree
  4. Is the linguist on your list starting out in the business? Then give the gift of Getting Started as a Freelance Translator, a tailored online course offered by one of the most knowledgeable linguists in the business: Corinne McKay. Her new online class starts on January 10 and is $350 ($300 for ATA members).
  5. Purchase a subscription to the Watercooler Network, which is perhaps the best new private forum for linguists that we have seen. Expertly run by Andy Bell, who lives in Australia, Watercooler is a members-only, advertising-free forum for linguists around the world. Since there's a small barrier to entry in the form of a $25 every six months, you will not have to share the forum with folks who are not serious about the profession. 
  6. And, last but not least, if you'd like to get our Entrepreneurial Linguist book -- the PDF version -- you can download it immediately for $17. 
Happy holidays and merry Christmas to all our colleagues, clients and friends around the world! 

Scam Alert: Omarion Desmond

It's quite a troubling trend that online scams are increasingly targeting our industry, as scammers (mostly incorrectly) assume that linguists work in a vacuum or are not very tech-savvy (another incorrect assumption). Luckily, we have forums like these, in addition to outstanding payment practices lists and black lists, to share information and to educate each other. This month's scam alert comes from our dear colleague and fellow author Cora Bastiaansen of the Netherlands, whom we had the pleasure of meeting at a conference in Utrecht earlier this year. Here's her story in her own words. It is a scam that has been making the rounds in the U.S. and that was the subject of an article in the ATA Chronicle earlier this year:

On November 26, I received an inquiry regarding a large translation job through www.gotranslators.com. Since the gentleman who needed the translation service did not seem to work for a properly registered company, I asked him for some kind of guarantee. He understood my reservations and suggested sending me a check as a deposit.  In addition, he promised me a second assignment at a later point. I was happy and reassured and I waited for part of the 1600 euros, the amount of the first job. His confidence in me must have been enormous, for he sent me a check of 5000 euros, which was, according to him, payment for both jobs, including the costs for cashing the check. Such a decent fellow!
When the check arrived, I was somewhat surprised: so much money, a check from a German bank, an envelope sent from Russia, and no note or letter accompanying it.
I was reluctant to cash the check -- it's almost like I knew something was up. However, keeping it in the house did not feel good either, so I deposited the money into my bank account a few days later.
I received e-mails from the client every day, pushing me to cash the check and asking me about the progress of the translation, which I had not yet started (was that my gut feeling?).
On December 14, I received a message from www.gotranslators.com warning its members of scams. I checked out the black list on their website and found my client's name among the swindlers, most of whom were from Russia (the stamp!).
Then I received another e-mail: the "client" claimed he had acted too fast and his boss had vetoed the second part of the translation. He asked me to send back part of the money via Western Union as soon as possible.
However, the money in my account is not quite mine yet: it is an advance payment from the bank while they wait for the funds to clear.  But I could have accessed the funds, and I would have been able to withdraw the money that my "client" was asking for and send it to him through Western Union. And later, when it would appear that the check that my "client" gave me was a fake, I'd lose a significant amount of money because the bank would immediately reverse the whole 5,000 that they had tentatively authorized. Thanks to GoTranslators' moderators, I made no such Western Union transfer and I did not lose any money. What a relief!  I just contacted my bank, told them about the scam, and I am now waiting for their advice. To be continued...

This is the scammer's original posting:
Sender : Omarion Desmond (omoode1@gmail.com)

Subject : GoTranslators - TRANSLATOR SERVICE NEEDED.
Dear Translator,

I have a 20,000 words on to be translated from English to Dutch. Let me know if you are available and how much it is going to cost.

Omarion Desmond.

The lesson: if it's too good to be true, it probably is. We don't get a lot of fraudulent-sounding inquiries, but when we do, we do a quick online search of the text to be translated and usually quickly find out that it's a Wikipedia entry or some other publicly available text. Such as the case for Cora's "translation" -- she found it online. Thanks to Cora for sharing her experience, and beware of advance payments! Depending on your bank, it might take up to a week or two to verify that the funds do really exist, so even if the money is showing on your account, it's not yours yet. Now: why do banks make the funds available pending verification? Seems to us like they shouldn't, but that's another story. 

If you have another scam report, please share it by leaving a comment or e-mailing us so we can share it with our colleagues around the world. 

Pro Bono Work: Kiva

We oftentimes get questions about how to overcome the typical chicken/egg dilemma: clients want translators to have experience, but they won't hire newcomers to the world of translation without experience. Many times, newcomers make the (poor) choice to take lower rates to get started. The effect is that it destroys the market for the rest of us (think macroeconomics!), and that it's very challenging to raise your rates once you have gained more experience. Thus, starting low is not the way to go. However, how do you get experience?

As many of our readers now, we are strong supporters of our communities and of fighting global poverty through activism, volunteering and by donating to international organizations. One of our favorite causes is microlending to small businesses, many times women-owned, around the world. Several non-profits run these remarkable programs, and Kiva is perhaps the most visible one (although one we haven't donated to). In November, we ran into Naomi Baer, a translator and member of the ATA and NCTA (Northern California Translators Association)  in Denver after the ATA conference. She mentioned a volunteer translator program at Kiva. We think that's a fantastic way to get started in the industry while making our planet a better place to live.

Kiva has millions of words that it needs translated on a continuous basis, especially in languages of lesser diffusion. As is to be expected, there's no budget for paying translators. However, this is a fantastic opportunity for both newcomers and for established translators who want to give back.

Although Kiva's volunteer translation team is currently full (go volunteers!), they are accepting applications for languages that they will need in the future, which include Arabic, Armenian, Bahasa Indonesia, Dari, French, Khmer, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, Vietnamese. Visit the Kiva Translation Program page for more information. All translations are from the foreign language into English. Kiva also needs volunteers for its Editing Program. 

In-House Translator Position in the Chicago Area

As our dear readers know, we write mainly about linguists who are also entrepreneurs and run their own businesses. However, running a business is difficult (if it were easy, everyone would do it). Hence, working as an in-house translator is a nice alternative (Judy is a recovering in-house translation department manager). Unfortunately, these positions are relatively rare. We just received this posting from our colleague Melissa Ramer, who is the translation manager at the agency in question, Valtera, which is located in the Chicago area.  We asked Melissa to give us a ballpark salary figure -- with the goal of minimizing time wasted for both applicant and hiring agency -- but her HR folks would only say that "salary is commensurate with experience." We are happy to make this information available to our readers, but we have no further information than what is listed below and we are in no way affiliated with the employer (nor do we know, unfortunately, whether it's a great place to work or not). Good luck!

WHO WE ARE:  For more than 30 years, Valtera has provided private and public sector employers with solutions to human resource management needs. We specialize in surveys associated with assessment and selection processes, organizational diagnostics, performance management, and service quality. As a leader in the industry, Valtera is able to attract and retain distinguished and talented professionals who address the unique business needs of each client. Visit www.valtera.com for more information.

OUR CULTURE:  Our employees work collaboratively on teams. We are personally and professionally driven to provide the highest level of service to our clients and are willing to invest personal discretionary efforts to achieve this result. We demonstrate the highest standards of ethics and integrity in every transaction. In exchange for this commitment, our employees receive a competitive salary and generous benefit package.

THE OPPORTUNITY:  We are seeking a talented individual to join our Translation Department. The translation department works with both internal and external clients on large-scale, multi-lingual projects. Tasks include translation, proofreading of translations, managing translation projects, and all associated administrative tasks.

  • Bachelor’s degree in Spanish, Translation studies, or equivalent (Master’s degree a plus)
  • Demonstrated translation experience
  • At least one year in a professional work environment
  • Working knowledge of Microsoft Office including Word, Access, and Excel (Translation software knowledge a plus)
  • Excellent reading and writing skills in English and Spanish (Additional languages a plus)

Typical success factors for this role include:
·         Managing multiple processes simultaneously and independently
·         Developing and managing project timelines
·         Creating, tracking, and analyzing project information
·         Superior customer service
·         Strong communication and interpersonal skills

This is a full-time, on-site position. No freelance or contractor responses, please. No relocation services are provided.

HOW TO APPLY:  Please submit resume and cover letter with salary expectation via email to hr@valtera.com. Please include “Translator position” in the subject line.

Internships for Spanish & French Translators

Through one of our e-mail lists, we just received a note that the U.S. Department of Justice/INTERPOL has a few openings for Spanish and French translator-interns. Unfortunately, as is the case with most internships, there is no payment offered, which is a bit disheartening. Thus, the DOJ can certainly expect to exclusively attract recent graduates or newcomers to the profession, which might not be the best solution for translations of sensitive materials, but we digress. That said, we are sure the experience would be fantastic. We wanted to share the details of the posting with our colleagues here. Unfortunately, we have no further information -- if you are interested, please contact the person listed below.

Internship Opportunity – INTERPOL Washington

The U.S. National Central Bureau (USNCB) of INTERPOL is offering a limited number of non-paid internship opportunities to Spanish- and French-speaking translators with U.S. government agencies at its headquarters in downtown Washington, DC.

The work, which involves translating written requests for international police assistance, will provide participants with a first-hand understanding of the nature and impact of transnational crime; the legal mechanisms that facilitate and/or impact international law enforcement cooperation, and the issues that affect international criminal investigations and humanitarian assistance efforts.

Certified translators are preferred. Applicants must be proficient in the use of Microsoft Word. Applicants must also be a United States citizen and successfully complete a drug test and security investigation prior to reporting.

To apply, please submit a resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV) with cover letter indicating prospective dates of availability to:

Translator Internship Program
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530

Applicants should specify whether or not they have an active U.S. Government security clearance, and at what level. Applications must be postmarked by midnight, Thursday, December 30, 2010. Requests for additional information regarding this opportunity may be directed to Edwin.Quall@usdoj.gov

Adventures in Pricing

A few weeks ago, a dear friend who is also an entrepreneur in another line of business referred a new direct client to us.

The client, who had never worked with a translator, contacted us and asked for more information, which we gladly provided. Then they mentioned that the rate that they had in mind for translators was roughly seven times lower than our rate. We took the opportunity to do some gentle client education, explained the process, how time-intensive it is, how much in-depth knowledge is required, etc. We also added that unfortunately our rates were simply not in line with what they were willing to pay, and that we understood if they did not want to move forward. We carefully pointed out that high-quality services are usually not available at very low prices, and mentioned that we'd be happy to recommend qualified colleagues who charge slightly less than we do.

A few days later, the client got back to us and accepted our original rate, which was seven times higher than what they were originally willing to pay. They said that they appreciated the fact that we took the time to explain the process and that they would prefer to work with us than with a colleague because we came highly recommended. We are still quite stunned at this outcome, as we didn't think we could reach an agreement with this particular client: we thought their ideas of pricing simply differed too much from ours. The lesson: take the time to educate your client, stand your ground, and good things might happen. 

The Ethical Dilemma: What Would You Do?

After many a client request, the European side of our business, for which we also hold a license as an advertising agency, recently started offering Facebook advertising services (via our German-language site www.facebook-werbung.com). It includes purchasing ad space, copywriting and, if applicable, translating the ad, reporting on the success of the ad, etc. One of our clients is a charming swim instructor with whom we have great rapport. However, she seems to have fallen for one of the many obscure “get rich on the internet” schemes. While there are many respectable affiliate programs out there (e.g. Amazon), the personalized horoscopes she tries to sell are not among them. (It took us a while to realize who is behind this specific scheme.) It works like this: some shady self-proclaimed internet gurus promise easy wealth on the internet by becoming a reseller of their products. They then urge people to purchase overpriced websites, databases, accounting software etc. from them. It’s the same old story: the ones digging for gold are not getting rich, but the one selling the shovels are.

As an affiliate partner, you “just” have to attract people to your new website selling these personalized horoscopes. So the swim instructor turned to us. Obviously, she has a limited budget for Facebook ads. Right now she’s attracting about 50 persons a week to her external website (to which the Facebook ad is linked). Problem is: the conversion rate for purchases on the internet is no more than 5 percent. To date, she has sold nothing. To increase her sales, she would have to spend a substantially higher amount of money in advertising, but she would end up not making any profit.

She wants to continue placing the ads, but we know it’s useless. During an hour-long (!) conversation last Friday, Dagy tried to diplomatically phrase her reservations. However, the client didn’t seem too receptive. She seemed indoctrinated by this business idea. She would like to continue placing her ad in December, but we strongly believe it is time for her to quit. Not just Facebook, but this whole horoscope thing altogether. While we do not want to tell clients what to do, we do feel the ethical urge to keep clients from getting exploited.  The client is very happy with our copywriting work and with the ad placement and advice we have given her thus far. However, her desire to get rich fast might be keeping her from seeing through this rip-off scheme.

What would you do? And if you refused to continue the Facebook ads, how would you explain that to the client? We appreciate your thoughts on this tricky matter.

On another note: happy Thanksgiving to all our colleagues, friends, clients, and family in the US! We know it's just another Thursday in Europe, so Dagy will be working while Judy will work on increasing the amount of food on her plate without looking like a glutton.

Wanted: Translation Instructors at UC San Diego Extension

We recently received a note from the friendly folks at the UC San Diego Extension Spanish/English translation program, where Judy serves on the advisory board. We are happy to help them spread the word about their openings for part-time instructors, both online and offline. Unfortunately, there is no online listing for this, but the gist is: must have M.A. in translation studies and relevant work experience, and teaching experience is preferred. The on-campus courses meet for three hours once a week for ten weeks in a row (Saturday morning courses are also available). Online courses require instructors to post weekly lesson plans. Applications will be accepted until positions are filled.

For more information, please contact:

Mary Anderson
Program Representative
Foreign Languages Program
Arts, Humanities and Languages Department

UCSD Extension, 0170A
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093
Phone: (858) 534-6660
Fax: (858) 534-6630
Website: extension.ucsd.edu/languages
Website: extension.ucsd.edu/translation

Think of Yourself as a Customer

Like all entrepreneurs, we make mistakes, but we try not to make the same one twice. Our loyal readers will know that customer service is very important to us, and our long-term customers keep on coming back because they like our service. We'd like to keep it that way. However, earlier this year, Judy failed to see an important customer service issue. Luckily, Dagmar stepped in and resolved the issue. Basically, as service providers, we need to think: if I were the customer, what would I want?

A potential client from South America contacted Judy in the spring. They were looking for a two-day escort interpreter at a tradeshow. Judy promptly submitted a bid (copied Dagmar on the message), and, because she was unable to find any detailed client information online (even their website was down), she asked for a 50% deposit, to which the potential client readily agreed. That's where things got interesting.

Potential client: We'd be happy to pay the deposit. My boss would like to pay via PayPal. Can you give me your account information so I can process the payment today?

Judy (early in the morning in Vegas): Thank you so much for your message. Unfortunately, we do not accept PayPal, but I will gladly give you account information for both our American and European accounts so you can go ahead and make the deposit.

No answer from the client.

Dagmar (working evening shift in Vienna) to Judy via instant message: Good morning, business partner! Quick question: did the customer service portion of your brain not yet get up? :)

Judy (yawning): Hi my dear twin! What do you mean? I am confused. I just woke up.

Dagmar: I can tell. I am referring to your e-mail to the potential customer in South America. You told her we don't take PayPal. What's wrong with you? ;)

Judy: Well, hm, we don't take PayPal last time I checked. Too many fees.

Dagmar: That's true, but remember that we own this company. We can make exceptions when needed! Think about it: we made a reasonable business request by asking for a deposit and the client was kind enough to agree. And now they make a reasonable request, and you tell them that won't work. That's not very good customer service there, girl! It's not like they want to pay us in seal fur or something like that -- PayPal is a reasonable business request.

Judy: Hm, OK, I feel silly now. I think I blew that. I am sure I have managed to annoy the customer.

Dagmar: Yep, if I were the customer, I wouldn't want to work with us. They are offering us payment and you tell them "no, we don't want your money?" Even if we have to pay some fees with PayPal, it's so worth it.  Let's make this transaction easy for our potential customer. E-mail them right now and tell them you are sorry, etc.

Judy to customer: Please accept my apologies for my temporary confusion regarding PayPal. We will certainly process your deposit (thank you!) via this trusty international payment method. My account information is XYZ. Again, I am sorry for any inconvenience my previous e-mail may have caused. We'd love to work with you and hope you will still entrust us with your project.

Client to Judy (5 minutes later): Great! I was indeed a bit confused, but I figured you'd find a way to take our money. :) Payment is on the way; see you in a few months.

The lesson: find a way to make your customer happy, even if it might not be the ideal solution for you, as the provider, on all fronts. In this case, if the transaction costs us $20, so what? It's a business expense, and if $20 is the price you have to pay for two days' worth of work, that seems reasonable. If you make a mistake, admit it and fix it promptly.

Update: the project went very well, the customers were charming, and everyone was happy. The client has just contacted Judy again for the same escort interpretation service during the same tradeshow that is coming up in early 2011. No deposit is necessary this time!

Google Adwords: $100 Up For Grabs

We just received a coupon for $100 to be used to buy Google Adwords ($100 Google AdWords Gift  card). It can only be used by new users of this advertising service, so we don't qualify. We earned this coupon by making rather large purchases on Vistaprint, and instead of tossing the coupon, we wanted to share and are making the $100 coupon available to one lucky blog reader. 

A quick overview of Google Adwords: after signing up for a free Google account or using an existing one, you can register for the adwords service. Detailed online tutorials show you how to buy keywords that you can use to help promote your website via the sponsored links on the margins of the Google search results pages. You will select a few terms related to your business, then determine what you want your daily budget to be (you can easily cap it $100 and not spend a cent beyond that) and the amount you would like to pay every time someone clicks. Once customers search for one of the terms you have purchased, such as "Farsi translator Brisbane," your ads may appear next to the search results. Read more about Google AdWords here. Getting started is quite simple and straightforward. 

In order to win the $100, please leave a comment and tell us why we should pick you. You'll also have to tell us what Judy's dog's name is and correctly identify who is who in the picture on the left (taken during our 30th birthday trip to the Riviera Maya, Mexico). Good luck!

The coupon has to be used before December 15, 2010, so the cut-off date to leave a comment and win the prize is November 25. Here's some legalese: we will be giving the $100 to a freelance translator or interpreter (no language service providers, please) who already have a website.  Once we choose a winner, we will e-mail him or her the access code to get started.

Business Risk, Reallocated

A dear colleague just shared this gem of a business risk story with us. The following is an excerpt of an e-mail that our colleague received from an agency (which shall remain anonymous):

As I'm sure you are aware, the global economic situation is still very problematic and we have experienced the following effect:

- The majority of our clients have extended their payment terms from 30-45 days to 60-90 days. 
- Clients have been requesting big discounts in rates.

All language service providers are experiencing similar difficulties.

Due to all this, we have been forced to take some measures to remain competitive in this market, but do not believe that reducing vendor rates is an appropriate action to take. So, we have decided to adjust our providers' payment terms to more closely match our clients' payment terms. 

Effective immediately, our vendor payment term is changed from 30 days to 60 days. 

This is a measure we very much regret to take, but we hope that you can understand our situation and why we have taken this decision. 
What's wrong with this picture? It's simple: the language service provider (or agency) has a payment obligation to the contractor. That payment obligation is independent of the agency's contractual payment agreement with the end client. Language service providers need to have funds available to pay contractors what they are owed on the day of the agreed-upon payment. It's possible that the language service provider's situation might have changed between the time when the project was delivered and when payment is due (usually 30 days), but the payment obligation remains.  Running a business comes with some risks. Passing that business risk on to the weakest link -- in this case, the freelance linguist -- is unacceptable. 

If a freelance linguist enters into a contractual agreement to provide a translation of a contract with XYZ agency and the linguist delivers in accordance with the terms, she is legally entitled to payment. XYZ agency can't come back and say "Sorry, the dog ate our client," "The client went out of business," "We are so poor, we are barely covering our costs and the client hasn't paid" or similar non-sense lines. Even if these lines are true, the payment obligation doesn't magically disappear.

We do not work with agencies, but our response to this would be the same as our colleague's: request to be removed from that particular agency's database. We'd love to hear your thoughts. While these are certainly tough economic times, language service providers need to find ways to prosper without alienating their most important asset: their people. 

Virtual Watercooler

As many of our readers know, we have mixed feelings about large, catch-all, welcome-all translation sites as Proz.com. While we applaud their efforts to put on virtual and in-person conferences (and are happy to donate to their raffles) and think they have solid terminology databases (with many not-so-stellar entries), the site tends to attract a lot of newbies and folks who translate "on the side" or "as a hobby," which is not good for the professional linguists in our profession. The problem is a basic one of economics: lack of barrier to entry. We rarely participate in online discussion groups and forums because there are so many folks who are just looking for basic advice (that they should consider paying for, or taking a class, or buying a book). Don't get us wrong: hundreds of our top-notch colleagues are on Proz as well, but the true professionals seem to be outnumbered by the folks who are willing to work for peanuts and ask for advice on whether they should use Google Translate instead of Wordfast (really). Thus, we've shifted our focus to the listservs of professional associations, which are limited to paying members (ATA, UNIVERSITAS, NITA) and to Watercooler. Many times, you get what you pay for, right?

Judy discovered the Watercooler Network, run by affable Brit Andrew Bell out of Australia, when he invited her to join earlier this year. Back then, the well-designed site was still free of charge. Since then, Andy has had to shift to a modest fee-based model, which has yielded, in his words "mixed results." What Judy likes about the site is that it creates a real barrier to entry (read: $24.99 every six months) to keep out the folks who are not serious about our profession. It's the same idea as the one behind listservs: they are only open to members of the particular professional associations. Judy is a regular paying member of Watercooler, and has recently started contributing content to the site. The layout is simple, easy to navigate, and the site is equivalent to a listserv on steroids: you have your own Facebook-like profile page, can post video, comments, articles, participate in contests, etc. At the moment, the site has roughly 100 members, and many are coming around and realizing that this is a site worth re-joining (unfortunately, many left once they had to open their wallets). So consider supporting a fellow linguist in his quest to continue building a private network that will benefit us all. Try the free 30-day trial. See you at the Watercooler? 

Photos and Links: ATA Conference

After the opening session. 
This year marked the first year that Dagmar was able to join Judy and all her friends and colleagues at the ATA Conference! We had a fantastic time in Denver spending time with our favorite people, making new friends, mixing and mingling, doing a book signing at the exhibit hall at InTrans Book Service's booth, attending many fantastic sessions, going to the Spanish division dinner, all official ATA sessions, and Judy enjoyed giving her "Entrepreneurial Linguist" pre-conference seminar. Dagmar, in her function as the assistant secretary general of UNIVERSITAS Austria, had many representative duties to take care of -- and delicious Austrian chocolates to distribute. The ATA had graciously invited her to Denver to strengthen ties between the Austrian and American associations.

At our book signing.
Our fellow bloggers had many interesting posts about the conference, so as to not reinvent the wheel, please have a look at our friends' Corinne McKay's and JiIll Sommer's posts. Jill has a great report of  of the bloggers' lunch, which we were unfortunately unable to make because of a previous commitment, and fellow author Fabio Said's wrote a detailed and informative conference review (part 1 and part 2). We had the pleasure of finally meeting him this year after running each other in the virtual world for several years. Also have a look at the official ATA pictures, artfully taken by Jeff Sanfacon. Thanks to our dear friends and to our inner circle (you know who you are), for making this another fantastic event. And yes, we will both be in Boston next year. See you there! 

Court Interpreter Accused of Fraud

Thanks to our friend Álvaro Degives-Más of Reno Languages for digging up this troubling story and video. Many times, interpreters and translators fall prey to those trying to take advantage of their services (scams, non-payments), but court interpreter Milagros Rosa of Florida is actually the one who is guilty of illegal activities. Read and watch her story -- it's an egregious breach of, well, everything, and we certainly hope that there are very few Rosas in the world. 

Business Cards: Free is Bad

This past week, Judy attended a local conference of interpreters and translators in Vegas (a great one that featured court interpretation guru Holly Mikkelson). During most conferences and linguist get-togethers (even virtual events), we like to raffle off a few copies of our book, because we like raffles, like seeing people win, and like giving away stuff (it's also for sale here).

During the last few months, we have observed a troubling trend among linguists: many don't have cards with them, have run out, or hand us a free Vistaprint business card with the line "Free business cards at Vistaprint!" on the back. The reason we ask for business cards is because we put them in a bag and have an innocent person with no vested interest draw the winners for the raffle. We've already realized that many people won't have business cards on them, so we just tell them to use ours (we always bring hundreds) and put their name on the back. But that brings up the question: why would you leave your house to go anywhere, especially a conference, without cards? How can you promote your businesss if you are out of business cards? And: why would you get the free Vistaprint cards that announce to the whole world you can't even pay for your own business cards? If we were customers, we'd feel uncomfortable -- what else is the provider skimping on?

For the uninitiated, Vistaprint makes a lot of great, affordable promotional items (we shop there, too, and we get no special discounts). We especially like their high-quality business cards. The company also makes a wide array of completely free products, which seems too good to be true. The "catch": Vistaprint woulnd't just give away their products for free and get no return on their investment, would they? After all, they are running a business. Hence, the Vistaprint promotional slogan is on the back of all their free products, which makes sense. As a professional linguist, you should stay away from the free cards. Wait for a sales special on Vistaprint or your favorite online or local printer, and buy some real business cards.

By handing out business cards with "free" on the back, you might be sending the following messages:
  • I am not a professional business
  • I don't care about my business
  • I don't take my customers seriously enough to spend $20 on real business cards
  • I am not very business-savvy
  • I can't afford business cards (in which case you should reconsider running a business, because computers and software are much pricer than business cards, and you need those, too).
None of the above might be true, but that will be the impression that people get. And to be perfectly honest, when we meet a fellow professional with either no business cards or free business cards, we are taken aback a bit. Having a solid business card is your entry ticket into the business world (and many conversations), and it's just as important as showing up with clean shoes and no cilantro stuck on your teeth.

We are looking forward to meeting you at the ATA conference in Denver this week. And if you don't have business cards, you can have ours for the raffles -- for now. 

Advice for Beginners

Bill Clinton meeting new people
at a Las Vegas charity event
on October 12. Photo by J.Jenner.
After years of receiving long lists of questions, both personally and through our associations, and after  answering hundreds of e-mails, we've decided to compile typical beginners'  concerns into a few posts about how to enter the profession. Remember that building a business in the languages industry is a lot of work.

We'd like to start the series off with this exercise. If you don't like to do at least five out of the following, you should reconsider running your own business. While in-house positions are rare, they do exist, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to be an entrepreneur. 

  • Writing. If you don't enjoy writing, you probably shouldn't be a translator either in-house or freelance. Essentially, you are a writer. Since you will be writing for a living, you better love it.
  • Marketing. If you don't like selling and promoting your services, then running a business is not for you. Sure, you can outsource some of that, but this will all cut into your profit. There are a variety of ways for introverts to market their services, but essentially, as a small business owner, you need to be comfortable with being in a sales position.
  • Self-confidence. If you don't think you are good and that your services are valuable, then no one else will, either. No one wants an insecure linguist. You don't have to know everything, but you need to come across as competent and sure of yourself to customers. If you don't have that skill, work on it: take a public speaking course, an improv class, or head to the library for some reading materials....these skills can be acquired.
  • IT/computer skills. Do you break out in nervous hives when you have to install new software? Are you generally uncomfortable with computer tasks? If you are used to calling the help desk when Outlook crashes and never learned how to map your own drives, it's time to pick up some of these skills before you start your own business. Again, you could outsource some tasks, but in order to make a living, especially in the beginning, you need to be as self-sufficient as possible.
  • Organization. There are different levels of organization, and different things work for different people, but in general, if you spend more than a few minutes looking for what you need, you are not using your time effectively. This applies to both paper and electronic documents. Your time is the only resource you have, so use it smartly. 
  • Basic math and taxation. There's no need to do three-dimensional calculus, but you should have basic math proficiency (yes, even as a liberal arts person). Chances are that you are not familiar with taxation issues, so go to the library, get a book, or meet with the Small Business Administration. If you don't like number-related paperwork, you might need to rethink your strategy.
  • Meeting new people. Growing a business, in essence, comes down to one thing: increasing the amount of people who know about you and your services. There are many ways to do this, but basically, you need to meet more people, either in person or online. Get your 30-second elevator speech ready, dress nicely, be ready to network, and don't be pushy. You don't have to perfect the art of meeting people like Bill Clinton has done (see picture), but if meeting new people makes you nervous, then perhaps you are better off working in-house.
  • Procrastination and determination. You won't have a boss to check on your deadlines. No one will be telling you what to do -- except your clients. Hence, you have to be very disciplined and determined to run a business. If you are not, you will fail. The same is true for procrastination: we have yet to meet a successful entrepreneur who regularly procrastinates. Take an honest look at your personality: perhaps you need to work in a hierarchical structure to get motivated -- and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
This is just a short exercise to get us started. Experienced translators: is there anything you'd like to add to this list? Beginning linguists: we would love to know if this introduction was helpful to you.

Lessons From a Chilean Mine

Photo: CNN 
¡Viva Chile! This story has captivated us more than any other positive news in the last 20 years -- the last time we were that moved, we were in middle school in Mexico City and watched the Berlin Wall come down on a grainy TV. This time, it's different: thanks to the BBC's excellent live online coverage and underground cameras, we've been able to closely follow this incredible story -- a true triumph of the human spirit. 

Photo: AP/Roberto Candia
While we've been teary-eyed for the last 24 hours, it's wonderful to see that there is still something that can move us, as a nation or people, that's beyond bad news and reality TV. Even though at first we didn't think there was a connection between this story or survival and business, there really is. Tonight, we will celebrate with Chilean wine. As we write this, only three miners are still underground.

  • Put things in perspective. Having a bad day? Was a customer rude? Did your computer crash? Is everything going wrong, and not even the doggie you volunteered to walk at the Humane Society is happy to see you? It happens, but put it in perspective. Sometimes, the best thing that happens in a day is that you still have your sanity, and sometimes that's enough. It could be worse: you could be 700 meters below ground, buried alive. 
  • Surround yourself with good people. We are impatiently waiting for more details on how the miners organized their forced cohabitation underground: how did they ration food? How did they prevent riots? How did they stay sane? While we are certain that your survival will never depend on it, you should surround yourself with  professionals you trust. Your business' survival might depend on it.
  • Stay strong. Running a business is hard, but not nearly as hard as surviving in a mine. You can do it! If you don't believe you can, then no one else will believe it, either.
  • Think long-term. This can be challenging if you are stuck in a rut, not earning as much income as you would like, working too many hours, or dissatisfied with your work conditions. However, ultimately, you are in control, and you can always make changes to your business model. 
  • Focus on the small things. Videos from the mine showed the miners treasuring the few items and things they had to comfort them: letters, pictures, and a few mementos. Sometimes it takes little things to make your day, and there is always something that can make you happy, even if it's just a bird chirping outside your window. Look for the small moments of happiness to get you through any tough times.
Our hats are off to these hard-working men who risk their lives to feed their families. Here's to the true heroes of our society, their amazing rescuers, and to the world coming together to make this engineering miracle a reality.

Software for Linguists: Free Online Task Manager

Our ITI guru and web guardian angel, Thomas Gruber, recently found a nifty little task management tool that you can use to track projects and tasks. It's web-based and free, so there's nothing to install. The site promises "10-second sign-up" and we just tested and verified that -- true! The interface is clean and simple, and the program easily integrates with Gmail. We are not sure it would replace a few other programs we already use, such as Translation Office (TO) 3000 and just our good old Outlook, but it's a nice free piece of software that's portable and can be accessed from any computer. We like the clear functionalities such as tagging, assigning categories, due dates (integrated calendar), and the ability to sort projects into sub-projects. Yes, we love organizational tools, and perhaps this one could make your life easier -- for free.
Get started on the TODOIST website and watch the informational video here

ATA Webinar Questions: Answered

Thanks to the almost 100 colleagues who attended the American Translators Association's first webinar on September 23. Judy was delighted to present a short version of her "Entrepreneurial Linguist" workshop. During the session, a lot of questions came in (which Judy couldn't see), and they were reviewed by moderators. She was able to answer a few questions during the webinar, but could not get to all of them (60 minutes go by very quickly). Hence, as promised, we are compiling and answering further questions for you right here.

Q: This question is about not co-mingling accounts (having personal and business accounts and keeping them separate). Do I need a separate business credit card?
Judy: Excellent question. I do think you need a separate business credit card. This will make it infinitely easier for you to keep your expenses organized, and you will know that all charges on that credit card are business-related. Most of the cards are free, and I got mine with my free business checking account from Chase Manhattan. You could also try your local community bank or credit union. Try to get a card that gives you points that you can redeem (I prefer cash). I put every business-related expense on that card, and I usually get a $25 credit at the end of the month. I like perks!

Q: Some translators feed their Twitter updates (=tweets) directly into their ProZ (or LinkedIn) profile. That feels unprofessional to me. What do you think?
Judy: It depends. It is a great idea to update two sites with one update (less work, more impact), but you should not feed your Twitter updates into LinkedIn (or Proz) unless they are all very professional. In my case, since I also tweet about things such as politics, food, and literature, I choose not to feed my Twitter stream into LinkedIn, where the status update appears on the very top of the page. Rather, I update LinkedIn every few days. I do, however, feed my Twitter updates into Proz (where I spend very little time, as most clients find me through my personal website).

Q: This question is about your advice not to take free translation tests. What if the translation test were the same for every translator; sort of like a standardized test? Would you still refuse to take it?
Judy: Ah, one of my favorite topics!

In general, I am happy to take translation tests (I receive very few requests for that). They are billed at my regular rate, as I do not work for free (well, I do, by being on the board of two non-profits). There are a variety of opinions on this, but mine is that giving away your product for free without any hope of immediate return on that investment (because you are investing your time; the only resource you have) devalues your product. Sure, the person requesting the translation test wants to make sure you are qualified, which is reasonable. However, we all hire people without getting free work first: you can't request a free haircut to see if you like it or a free taco at the taco stand. The risk is with the purchaser, and it can't simply be passed on to the provider. As an analogy: other service providers, such as accountants or lawyers, don't give away their products for free. They might give you a free 15-minute consultation (with boilerplate information and no specific advice), but they won't give you a free contract (=product). Neither should we -- we'd be happy to give a brief consultation, but we don't do free work (as in products = translation). On the other hand, the potential client can verify the quality of our work by samples and references that we make readily available. I think it's important that, as an industry, we set the standard that free work is not available. The restaurant industry, for example, as set the standard: how do you know a restaurant is good before you eat there? You ask your friends, you read food reviews, etc. However, you don't request a free meal to see if the quality is to your liking. You know why? Because restaurant owners have not been in the habit of giving away free food.
Hence, consumers don't expect free food to verify quality.  They've stuck to this, and so should linguists. 

Of course, you need to be flexible, and no situation is black and white. There are always exception to every internal rule that you might have, but not doing free work is quite essential to our professional survival -- individually and as an industry. 

Standing Your Ground: A Short Case Study

If running a small business were easy, we'd all be our own bosses.  Running a small business is challenging and we have to make many difficult decisions on an everyday basis. Perhaps the hardest part is managing customer (and potential customer) relationships. While it's impossible to make everyone happy, we need to strive to attract and retain customers and turn them into repeat customers. However, sometimes there are potential clients with whom you should choose not to work. We don't really believe in the term "firing clients," but you do need to choose your customers very carefully.

This is the first in a series of short examples meant to illustrate one particular point and what we can learn from them.

Today, we received a phone call from a potential customer saying that he had several documents to be translated. They were, according to the caller, "simple, informal, not hard, do not need to be certified." We informed the customer that we'd be happy to look at them electronically and then issue a free, non-binding quote. 

Customer: "That's really not necessary. Just tell me how much it costs. It's six, of seven, or eight pages, and they are only half-full. If you have been doing this for more than a month, you should know how much this costs."

Judy: "Actually, in order to give you an accurate price quote, we will need to get a word count, as translation is charged by the word. I am unable to issue a quote on a document I haven't seen.  We need to evaluate the document, look at the subject matter, consider the format (PDF? handwritten?) and confirm that we are the right providers for your project. If not, we would be happy to recommend a colleague."

Customer: "Ah, forget it, you can't help me here." Click.

Why we feel we did the right thing:

  • Quoting on a project sight unseen always sets you up for failure, unless you are working with a trusted repeat customer whose projects are very similar. A page could be 800 words or 50 words. 
  • Working with a customer who does not want to follow the proper procedure to ensure an accurate product is probably not ideal. Just imagine: if he can't even send us the document he wants translated, will he pay us?
  • We don't like to be bullied. Perhaps the customer's tone was not the one he wanted to choose, but our request was reasonable, is standard in the industry, and is also meant to protect the customer by providing accurate estimates. 
  • We protected our business interests. We'd set ourselves up to fail by providing a legally binding quote on something we haven't seen. 
Although it's  disappointing to have an uncomfortable conversation with a potential customer and to not be able to help him, in this case, it all worked out for the better.With that, we are off to translate documents from another customer who had the same inquiry and promptly scanned and e-mailed the document for our evaluation.

Dear fellow linguists: what would you have done in this situation? We'd love to hear your input in the comments section. 

Early-Bird Deadline for ATA Conference is Today!

Just like every year, the ATA conference, which will be held in gorgeous Denver, Colorado, this year, is going to be a fantastic event with several thousand linguists in attendance (can you tell we love this conference?). We also love saving money, so if you sign up for the full conference today, it's $325 for ATA members instead of $390. Sounds like a great deal to us! Register on the ATA website

Proz Virtual Conference

As self-employed linguists, we are always looking for professional development opportunities, as it's important to keep our skills sharp. We regularly attend in-person seminars, conferences,and educational sessions -- and there's really no substitute for meeting colleagues in person -- but we have also been very impressed with the recent online offerings. Best of all, Proz.com's all-virtual conference is entirely free! You have to sign up for it, and the event will be held on September 30, 2010. By attending all or part of the events, you will have free access to all materials after the event as well (for a limited time). We also like that the event is offering prizes -- who doesn't love prizes? -- and we were happy to donate a copy of our book to it. Register for the conference and let the virtual learning begin!

Faculty Position at National Hispanic University in San Jose

Ah, the power of Web 2.0. Through LinkedIn, we were contacted by the National Hispanic University in San Jose, California, about a faculty position. We don't live in the area, but we told the university folks that we'd be happy to post this on our blog for our colleagues in northern California. Here are the details:

Part Time Faculty—Translation and Interpretation Class 306---National Hispanic University in San Jose, CA

Established 28 years ago, National Hispanic University provides accessible and affordable quality education for underserved students. Through innovation, engagement and student-centered learning, National Hispanic University, a fully accredited, four-year university is fostering successful academic and economic futures of its students.

Part-time faculty members serve in a part-time capacity to educate National Hispanic University students by effectively and proficiently delivering information, feedback, and critique in thoughtful, carefully formulated, well written, and timely communications. This is accomplished in an environment that is respectful of student, the Faculty Member, National Hispanic University, and the discipline in which the Faculty Member is involved. Faculty Members are expected to adhere to all National Hispanic University expectations, which are set forth to the Faculty Member at the start of his/her employment with the University.

*Earned Doctoral degree, preferred. Masters Degree required in Education or English and Spanish from an accredited university
*Practical experience as a translator and interpreter
*5-10 years teaching experience in interpretation/translation, linguistics, Spanish, English, ESL, Composition and Grammar at the University Level
*Strong background in Translation & Interpretation theory and techniques, and linguistics
*Bilingual in English and Spanish
*Experience working in multicultural settings
*Certified by the State of California in Translation/Interpretation and United States courts, preferred.

For more information, please visit the university's website. Per the university, the requisition number is 00005694.

If you apply for and/or obtain this position, we'd love to hear from you!
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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