Our Secret Interpreting Weapon

 Our secret weapons on vacation in Mexico.
You might think: is it a special note-taking technique? Is it a memory-strengthening exercise? Some new and revolutionary way to excel at the dreaded long consecutive form? No, it's none of these things. Our secret weapon is simple, cheap, has nothing to do with technique and everything to do with confidence.

Interpreting is challenging, especially in high-pressure situations like court/legal and international conferences and meetings.  We love it, but we are also aware of how confident one has to be in her or his abilities to excel at this job. Portraying confidence to everyone present is also essential. After all, no one wants an intimidated interpreter.

We've heard from colleagues who have simple tricks that boost their confidence before a day of interpreting. Maybe it's eating a specific breakfast, a lucky pair of socks, the same brand of notebook every time, a favorite suit that always makes you feel great or a lucky pen. For us, it's nails. Yes, nails. It sounds trite, but we've painted our nails our trademark red for years, and having nicely polished nails makes us feel comfortable and confident. Plus, it's a very inexpensive confidence booster (about $7 a bottle, which lasts for months). Having nicely done nails is a symbol to ourselves that we are working and that this is the time to shine. We also see our hands a lot when interpreting and/or taking notes, and knowing that they look good makes us feel good. When we want to splurge, we head to a small nail salon in Vegas and get a $12 manicure (not too many nail salons in Vienna do non-acrylic nails well). Our favorite color: Vampire State Building by OPI (pictured), now unfortunately discontinued. Our second-favorites: Bogotá Blackberry, 20 Candles on my Cake, Teas-y Does It and I'm Not Really a Waitress by OPI.  

What's your secret weapon? We'd love to hear about it in the comments section. 

Giveaway: Another $100 in Google AdWords

Since we had so much fun last time and we like sharing stuff (as twins, we learned to share early on), we figured we'd give away yet another $100 Google AdWords certificate that we just received as part of a little thank-you gift from Vistaprint (we are good customers). Last time, our German colleague Anke Wiesinger won the certificate, and we hope she's putting it to good use.

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.

Some rules:
  1. You must be a freelance translator or interpreter and have a website to participate. Please include the link in your comment.
  2. Google is giving away this certificate for new customers only. If you already buying Google AdWords, the system won't let you use this new customer coupon. Sorry; Google said so.
  3. The certificate expires on March 15, 20011.
  4. We will e-mail the access code to the winning person.

Here's how to play:
  1. Identify who is who in the picture above. Is it Dagy/Judy on the left/right? We know it's a challenge, and we even dressed the same (we don't do that a lot). It was taken in Utah (Zion National Park area) in 2008.
  2. Tell us the name of Dagy's beloved cat. She lives in Vienna, but was born in Vegas (a very international cat). 
Good luck and have fun!

Keeping Track of Your Inquiries the Smart Way

When is the best – read: slowest – time of the year to go on vacation? Who is my best client in terms of translation volume? What is my proposal-to-job ratio? Do most potential clients contact me via e-mail or phone – and can I fire my fax?

To get a better idea of how many potential clients contacted us when, how, and how many times quotes turned into projects, we’d been keeping a very simple Excel spreadsheet for many years. It didn’t make us very happy and we wanted much more – actually, we were looking for an inquiry management tool/small customer relationship management tool. We also wanted the option of entering potential clients’ data and the option of exporting their e-mail addresses for sending them newsletters, special offers, etc.

The free, nifty Inquiry Wizard is exactly what we were looking for: it was created especially for freelancers (not just translators), it’s very easy to use, doesn't have functions we don't need or use and it runs entirely online. We enter the relevant data every day and the tool automatically generates insightful statistics (which become all the more meaningful the more data you add over time). In addition, it has the export function mentioned above that comes in very handy for marketing purposes. There is no need to download or install anything. All you have to do is register with your e-mail address. The FAQ section features two birds explaining the basics in a cute cartoon. Here’s one very insightful tidbit of information: 91.7% of all potential clients sent an e-mail. 

The graph above was taken from the FAQ page on Inquiry Wizard and compares the number of inquiries received in 2009 to 2010 for a demo account. You also have the option of playing with this demo account before registering. Get started here

The Amazing Story of the Tripling Budget

A few days ago, a client for whom Dagy had done a few small projects requested a quote for a legal translation. He wrote that his budget was XYZ euros. Dagy did the math and it turned out that the actual price was three times as much, plus 20% tax. She sent a friendly e-mail, explaining to the client that it is not the client’s budget that determines the price, but the length of the source text. We’ve said this before, but here we go again: you are the service provider, and you determine the price. Don’t panic when potential clients claim they have a budget of XYZ: it may just be a random number. And don’t take it personally (we chose long ago not to). For many people, haggling is a sport. We understand, because we do it all the time when buying Mexican handicrafts on the street. But then, we are not street vendors, but a professional business. Since Dagy was having a good day, she offered a 7% discount in exchange for payment up front, pointing out to the client that she was giving him an exceptional discount usually reserved for long-time clients with large translation volumes.  She didn’t hear from the client for a few days and since it was supposed to be an urgent translation, she concluded that the client had decided to forego the translation

To her surprise, a few days later, she received an e-mail from the client’s accountant, along with proof that the money had been transferred to her account. No, not XYZ euros, but three times that amount less the 7% discount (precisely the amount that Dagy quoted). Apparently, budgets can triple in no time. Here’s how to do it: be professional, explain the process, be patient – and most of all, stand your ground. It’s not just us who need clients –the clients need our services, too. 

Free Translation Advice and an Umbrella

Here is a story about how pointing out less-than-stellar translations can result in a win-win situation, make everybody happy and even make the lousy Austrian weather less frustrating.

Our Austrian company, Texterei, is a member of KSV1870 (Kreditschutzverband, a collection/business protection service). For a membership fee, they conveniently track the creditworthiness and financial standing of companies in Austria. They are a large credit rating and risk management company, and they also do collections if it comes to that (it rarely does, as a stern letter from them is usually followed by prompt payment).

Dagy has always thought that KSV1870 is a highly professional operation: their website is great, their services and processes are excellent, they have outstanding customer service and they keep in touch with their members by sending vouchers for services and give-aways every once in a while. They also send out very handy stickers that can be used on payment reminders. They are bright red, which makes them hard to miss, and they have a powerful message printed on them, in one of those famous passive wordings in German: "Bei Nichtbezahlung erfolgt Inkasso durch den KSV." Unfortunately, KSV1870 decided to add the same information in English. They clearly translated it themselves (they probably thought: come on, it’s just a few words, and we all speak English). They put their heads together and came up with: "In case of non-payment debt collection is made through KSV1870."

While we have certainly seen much, much worse, this translation sounds like a German sentence with English words stuck into it. Dagy has been reluctant to use these stickers for that very same reason. When she recently received yet another batch of those stickers, she decided to complain effectively and sent an e-mail to KSV1870. She recommended using a professional translator, and since she was at it, suggested a new translation. After a brief consultation with our pro bono American attorney (yes, we are related to him), who excels at writing succinct legalese, we suggested using "Failure to pay this invoice will result in a debt collection action by KSV." The very next day, she received both an e-mail and a phone call from a very friendly marketing lady who thanked her profusely and also told her that she had passed on her contact information to several departments in the company. As a token of their appreciation, KSV sent her one of those very handy folding mini-umbrellas (Knirps in German), which is a great thing to have in this lousy weather. 

Blogging Lesson Learned

Some of our wonderful readers noticed and contacted us because our blog was offline for roughly a day earlier this week. Thanks to our IT guru and guardian angel Thomas Gruber, it's now back online, and we couldn't be more grateful. This is a Blogger blog (part of Google), and here's what happened and what we learned:

  • Google found some suspicious activity in the Gmail account that's associated with the Blogger account, which is Judy's (she rarely uses it). Google promptly shut the account down, which is a good thing.
  • When Judy logged in to Blogger to publish some comments, the system informed her that she had no access. A quick Google (yes, always) search informed her of the Gmail security issue.
  • She logged into her Gmail account, verified her identity by receiving an activation code via text message, and Google quickly restored access to all associated services (Picasa, Google profile, etc.) That is: everything but the blog.
  • While we had backup files, that didn't do us any good, as Google was not giving anyone access to the blog -- neither to the owner nor to readers. 
  • After Thomas communicated with the Google folks via the online forums and asked them to restore access to the blog, it was done within a day -- sometimes it just takes a while for all the information to be re-linked to your account.
Here's what we learned:
  • Add a second user to the blog. We've now added Thomas as an administrator to our blog. If the Gmail account gets hacked again, Thomas will have access and the blog won't be owner-less in cyberspace.
  • This all happened because Judy's Gmail password was weak. Bad Judy: she uses the highly sophisticated password database Keepass (we wrote about it here), but her old Gmail password was too easy to guess. Easy lesson: use difficult passwords with special characters and numbers. Keepass automatically generates complex passwords.
We are generally very happy with Blogger, but also use Wordpress for other blogs and websites. For now, the issue was user mistake (weak password) combined with a smart hacker with a smartphone in Brasil (who sent out some drug-related e-mails on Judy's behalf). We are incredibly grateful it's been resolved. We wanted to share what we learned so it doesn't happen to 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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