On Doing Free Work

We frequently write about the importance of asking to get paid what you are worth and how essential it is to running a small business. After all, all small business owners in the languages industry have a very limited resource to sell (our time) and it is crucial to our (business) survival that we make enough to have a fulfilling career and life. Now, we are the first ones to give back to our profession and to donate our time to worthy charities and non-profits, especially to translation and interpreting associations. We have done so for many years and are very proud of the positive impact that work has. We recently even donated our time to a government agency, and even though we were quite torn about it, it's a great service to the community. However, we do not donate our time to for-profit businesses, nor do we quite understand why we should. Note: this is an article about services beyond translation.

Photo by Judy Jenner.
So today we'd like to address this concerning trend: the increasing amount of companies who approach us and other colleagues and who expect us to donate our time and insight to their bottom line. Essentially, we would do work for the customer who then financially benefits from it. We've gotten many requests like these throughout the years (which we usually delete immediately), but we've seen an increase in recent months. Here are some comments and thoughts on this very sensitive subject:
  • We have worked very hard to get were we are, and our insight and expertise have value. Clearly the companies who ask us for advice recognize this. It's really quite simple: Just pay us for our work and we will share our insight. It's called consulting.
  • 15 minutes. We recently received a request from a company that wanted to "pick our brain for 15 minutes" (it's never 15 minutes). In that time, the company's representative wanted us to basically explain the entire industry to her and hoped we could design her business plan since we were at it. We suggested that we send her a quote for consulting services, but not surprisingly, we never heard back. We don't get it. If we tried to start, say, a restaurant, we wouldn't go to some of the better-known restaurateurs and expect to be able to pick their brain for free. Have we, as linguists, conditioned others to think that our time and hard-earned insight have no value? That would be quite troubling, and it's food for thought indeed.
  • You will get exposure! We usually have a good laugh when companies who are trying to get free work from us promise us exposure in return. As we mentioned, we have worked very hard to get where we are and we don't need exposure, as that doesn't pay our bills. We have plenty of paying clients, but in general, we want clients and not exposure. 
  • Yes, we charge for our services, and that's how it should be. In our industry, it's (oddly) been quite common to not want to talk about money. Of course we charge for our services, as does every businessperson. But companies have now caught up to the fact that the m-word in our industry makes some feel uncomfortable, and have perhaps gotten some linguists to donate their services to they can then reap the financial benefits. Not cool. Yes, we charge for our services. Doesn't everyone?
  • It's about all of us. It's really begun to bother us that so many linguists receive these "work for us for free!" offers, but the reason they keep on coming is because linguists keep on accepting those offers. Just don't do it and perhaps this trend will stop. The "delete" button is your friend!
  • For the record, we wanted to point out that of course we also get approached by plenty of lovely companies who ask us to send them quotes for consulting services. The folks who want to take advantage are still relatively few and far between, but they leave a lasting negative impression.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on this, dear colleagues!

Jobs: English->German Translator, European Central Bank

We recently heard about this English->German translation position at the prestigious European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. Many thanks to our colleague who shared it. We are posting the information here in case you are interested. The application deadline is February 11, 2014, so don't delay!

We oftentimes spread the word about job postings here on this blog, but please note that we do not have any additional information on this position nor do we have any connection to the European Central Bank. It's a pleasure to share this information with our colleagues, especially since in-house translation positions are relatively rare.

Here is a direct link to the posting. You can also go to the European Central Bank's main website, choose "job opportunities" and search for the translator posting, but that would take significantly longer. 

A True Gem: Translator Scammers Website

Scammers have been around for a long, long time, and it's nothing new that they have been targeting translators by using a variety of methods, including posing as clients and requesting your bank information only to wire you too much money and asking you to wire part of it back. Then, of course, you find out that the original money that had been sent to you was drawn on a closed account. This is a very well-documented scam and a disturbing one indeed. 

The second main scam revolves around stealing actual translators' information and trying to "sell" fictitious translation services to unsuspecting clients using the real translator's information and credentials, etc. We even heard from a translator colleague who received an e-mail from a scammer who was offering his translation services, and turns out he had attached our colleague's CV to the e-mail! The way that particular scam works is that "translators" request work from unsuspecting clients, ask for payment in advance, and either take off with the money and don't perform any work or deliver a Google translation, etc. And of course the real translator's information is being used and abused, which is quite terrible. One way to prevent scammers from stealing your CV is to always make it available in PDF format rather than Word or any other editable format.
You get the idea, right? Photo by Chris Floros.

Now, hundreds of blog posts and articles in every corner of the world have been written about the variety of ways that translators get ripped off by scammers. The American Translators Association has published detailed information about this important topic, which you can read here and here. However, we recently heard about a colleague who fell for one of the oldests scams (the overpayment scam). With every business transaction, you need to use your common sense and your business skills to get a feel for the potential customer. Issue a formal price quote and have the customer sign it. Don't let anyone rush you. Ask for pre-payment via PayPal (or other secure method) if you have any doubt that the person is a legitimate customer. Of course it's difficult to know if anything is a scam until after you get scammed, but translators are smart people, so at the danger of repeating what's already been said many times, here are some red flags:

  • The potential client writes from a Gmail address, yet claims to be a professor or other distinguished person. We personally don't do business with folks who have free e-mail addresses, unless they want a birth certificate or similar document translated, in which case we ask for payment in advance.
  • The "client" seems very eager to get started with the project and is quite pushy and even insists on providing payment ahead of time, as long as you give him/her your bank information. Now, for anyone who's been in the industry for more than a week, it should be surprising that a client is so eager to pay. And handing out your bank information to strangers is just a no-no: that's what PayPal (or similar services) are for. Of course, in Europe, bank transfers are very common, and you could protect yourself by waiting a week or two to see if they payment has indeed cleared. Of course, no real client would overpay you and ask you to wire money back, so you should be on high alert if that ever happens.
  • Many times, the writer will claim that he or she is going to a conference in ________ and is giving a workshop, so that's why they need a translation of their original article (attached) into ______. Of course, the obvious question is: If the sender doesn't speak the language he/she wants the translation in, how will he/she present at the conference in a foreign language? In addition, if you take the first four lines of the attached article (be careful with opening attachments from unknown sources!), you quickly realize that the article is from Wikipedia or some other source. It's usually verbatim.
  • These scammer messages are riddled with grammatical and spelling errors and the sender oftentimes resides in Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria, etc. 
We don't want to sound unsympathetic, but any translator who gets scammed at this point perhaps did not do enough due diligence. Information about translator scams is widely available, and information is power. Add common sense and some business skills, and no translator should get scammed. 

Finally, one translator colleague, J. Roque Dias, a Portuguese translator, has gone to the trouble of putting together an entire website dedicated to this. Thank you so much, J. Roque! What a great service to the community. Please have a look at the very complete Translator Scammers website. J. Roque focuses only on the very disturbing scam trend of stealing real translators' information, and he's providing a tremendous public service here.

Voice Training for Interpreters

A few months ago, we went to see superstar voice coach Roger Love, who had come to Vegas to give a presentation for the Downtown Speaker Series. We asked some of our interpreter friends to join us, and we learned  a great many things. Roger is an entertaining and accomplished speaker, and we loved his point about taking some time to improve your voice. After all, if you hate hearing yourself on voicemail, other people will probably feel the same way. Of course voice is important for everuone, but even more so for interpreters, who work with their voice for a living. However, relatively little is written about this subject beyond avoiding very hot beverages, coffee, alcohol, etc.
Roger Love in Vegas. Photo by Judy.

Roger mentioned that most people fall into one of a few so-called voice categories, and the one that we've heard very often -- and the one that makes speakers sound the most insecure -- is the "Valley girl" voice, where your voice goes UP the beginning of a sentence rather than down, which makes everything sound like a question. We are sure you have heard this one before, and many women unconsciously do it. We actively try to avoid it, but we fall into plenty of other voice traps. Roger likes to do a bit of show-and-tell in his presentations, and he takes question from the audience, which mainly consist of queries about what to do if my voice sounds XYZ (too high, too low, etc.) and he guarantees 30-second fixes. They usually work, too! (Roger has done this before; once or twice.)

We figured we'd let Roger speak for himself, so you can have a look at his voice tips here. He also has some nifty free videos. However, rather than full-sized videos, they are just very short video clips with one or two tips. The are useful enough, though.
We do have the same voice! Photo by Judy

One thing that caught our attention was Roger's mentioning of the fact that no two people have the same voice; that voice is almost like fingerprint. Being twins, we beg to differ, so we went up to talk to him after, and yes, we did prove him wrong indeed. One  voice tip that he had for us (we got a bit self-conscious around him voice-wise, as did others, too) was the following: unclench your jaw. Who knew we were talking with our jaws clenched all this time? Of course, Roger exaggerates a bit to make his points, but his advice is excellent: we need to open up our jaws indeed (this also happens to be the first tip on Roger's vocal tips page).

There are also a few interesting-looking voice books and CDs that you could buy, but we have not yet done so.

Do you have any other great tips for your voice, dear fellow interpreters? 

A Worthwhile Volunteer Translation Project

The road ahead. Photo by Chris Floros.
Last year, the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association (NITA) was hoping the state legislature would approve the so-called Driver Authorization Cards (DAC) in Nevada, and they are now a reality. These cards will be issued to undocumented immigrants so they can drive without being fined and so they can obtain insurance, thus making Nevada roads safer for everyone. This is something that should have happened a long time ago, as we don't quite see the connection between immigration status and driving privileges, but we digress. Now that DAC have been implemented (there was some opposition, as is to be expected), undocumented immigrants can finally drive with some peace of mind. Now, in order to get these cards, applicants must have some documents translated, and NITA lobbied to have qualified translators do this work (which succeeded only to some extent). Since a significant percentage of applicants do not speak English, the question that arose very quickly was: How will applicants pass the written driving test? The driver's manual had been pseudo-translated into Spanish, but it was so bad few Spanish speakers could comprehend it, and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles was very aware of what happens when you let non-professional translators do the work. One DMV representative told us that even he could tell that the handbook was terribly translated, and he only speaks rudimentary Spanish. 

Naturally, NITA saw this as an opportunity to do some client education and outreach and met with DMV about the importance of hiring professional translators. After all, non-English speakers have a right to access public services. Unfortunately, we ran into an all-too-familiar problem: there was no budget, not even $10,000 or so, to have the 75-page document translated into Spanish. So NITA volunteered to translate the document as a pro bono project. Here at Twin Translations we donate 10% of our yearly work hours to non-profits (we made an exception for this one, as DMV is a public agency), and we thought this would be a crucial public service. Judy is the immediate past president of NITA, and she went to work with NITA's current president, Lorena Pike, and board member Cristina Sánchez as well as NITA member Maria Peralta de Gomez. Lorena Pike did all the heavy lifting, project management, and client communication, and the result is something that we can be quite proud of. Have a look at the translated manual here.
Photo by Chris Floros.

NITA just issued a press release about this important pro bono project, which you can read here.

While her portion of the work took Judy at least 40 hours to complete, this is a very worthwhile endeavor indeed. We are huge believers in volunteer work, and we hope that many Spanish-speaking drivers can finally get their driver's licenses. 

What about you, dear colleagues? Is there any particular pro bono project that you are very proud of? We'd love to hear about it!

Truly Mortifying Marketing Materials

Not very professional. Photo by Judy.
Happy 2014 to all our wonderful readers, friends and colleagues! Time flies, doesn't it? We figured we'd start 2014 off with a post on marketing materials and on how you should NOT do it. We usually refrain from making fun of errors and mistakes on this blog, but sometimes a picture speaks a thousand words. We think the marketing materials we are about to show you pretty much make every error in the book, so let's use them for illustrative purposes. Of course, the name of the company that sent this to us shall remain anonymous, but we would like to thank them for giving us this gem. It does seem amazing that this company, let's call them Amazing Vegas Real Estate, would think that the card they sent us would create a business opportunity for them. 

So what's wrong with this picture? With the two pictures, actually? Let us count the ways.

They shall remain anonymous. Photo by Judy.

  1. Opinions on this might differ slightly, but cards with a snapshot and somone's child or pet on them are not cute, but unprofessional and shouldn't be used unless you are sending a card to a good friend or trusted business associate whom you know well. We just cringed when we saw this image and wondered why there was a kid with a $100-dollar bill on a card that a business sent us. Under some circumstances, this could have been funny, perhaps for a store that sells children's clothes or some other cute connection. However, for a very traditional and quite serious business like real estate, this doesn't work at all. The card feels like a bit of a joke and certainly doesn't get across an important message that marketing materials should generally communicate: that the sender is a trustworthy and serious business professional. We truly believe any images on professional marketing materials should be taken by an expert -- no snapshots and selfies, but that goes without saying, we thought.
  2. You open this gem and out falls a small hand-cut piece of paper that's been folded several times. It feels like a fortune cookie, except fortune cookies are not annoying because you expect the piece of paper to be there. At this point, we just felt terrible for the sender. There's a great Spanish-language term for this: pena ajena.  This looks like a fifth grader made it, and it's not appropriate to send to potential clients. Incredibly, these guys are trying to get business from us! Are they just trying to stand out in a crowded marketplace by being different? That's certainly laudable, but this doesn't work.
  3. We did not include a picture of the envelope because we couldn't hide the company's identity on it, but it is addressed to "Dear neighbor," which is a sure way not to get our attention. The only reason we opened it is because it was too thick to fit in our shredder inside the envelope. A basic marketing tip is that it's essential to address people by name.
  4. Brrr, we are cold. As you might imagine, we have no idea who Awesome Vegas Real Estate is. While Judy and her husband do own a house in Vegas, they have no intention of selling it, and if they ever did, they will be very sure to stay away from someone who can't even figure out how to send a professional card. Could you imagine trusting these folks with complicated real estate contracts and hundreds of thousands of dollars? Yep, we can't imagine that, either. And cold calling/e-mailing/sending flyers rarely works, so we think it's a waste of time.
  5. Low quality. We understand that budgets are stretched to the max these days, but sending low-quality paper is not a good idea. What else is the company saving money on? If you cannot (yet) afford to invest in high-level paper goods for your marketing materials, perhaps it's best to wait a bit until you have the funds to send a professional product. Sending cards made on your home computer on very thin paper just doesn't work.
  6. Inside the card, the company manages to thank us for our business, but we've never done business with this company, nor would we. Do they not have updated databases of customers? Do they think it's funny to send this to everyone, thanking them for business when they haven't given them any? Do they have too much money to burn? We don't know, but we do know that this is not a good approach to getting business. There are thousands of real estate agents in Vegas trying to get their hands on real estate listings, and if we ever list the Vegas house, we will be sure to stay away from Awesome Vegas Real Estate.
Of course, we've exaggerated our outrage a tiny bit to make the point that these marketing materials are the opposite of what you should be doing, so take it with a grain of salt. In general, try to create professional and serious-looking (but not boring, which is a challenge) cards and flyers that are personalized and customized to the client. And stay away from cute pictures. Safe those for your personal holiday cards.

What do you think, dear friends and colleagues?
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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