A column with practical tips for practicing translators.
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I've been in business for three years and recently had my first bad payer. The amount was under €1,000, but the incident was maddening and made me aware that I must get a system in place for checking out new agencies. I belong to a translator elist where participants occasionally swap information about the good guys and bad guys, but I'm looking for a one-stop shop. I've heard of specialized lists. Can you suggest one?
On Their Case
Bad payers are nothing neweven in 1950, who was going to travel from Paris to Los Angeles and back to collect USD 1,000?but with a large percentage of all translation business now being commissioned and delivered online, client references are more essential than ever.
You'll be happy to know that a number of translators have set up structures to pool payment information, starting with the visionary Karin Adamczyk in the 90s. As you read through the list below, keep in mind:
- Size is importanta 190-member list will, by definition, generate less information than one with over 1,000 members/contributors.
- Traffic is another indicator. Some lists are very active, averaging 10-15 messages a day. While most of these messages will not be of interest to any particular individual, that goes with the territory when you are on an international list, so don't complain. (Although volume alone means that is worth setting up a special email account to keep these messages separate from your regular email.)
- Most lists forbid recycling of information to outside readers: you get it from the horse's mouth or not at all. More power to them. Ultimately, a list is only as good as its moderators' attention to detail and scrupulous checking including a willingness to axe hearsay ("I've never worked for them, but I recall somebody telling a guy I used to work with that...).
With those rules of thumb out of the way, here goes:
- The Black and White List
- Online database searchable by name, country, email address, or URL. Contained 140 reports as of June 03, 2004; free. Provides client contact data and narrative responses about dealings with clients, including respondent's name, email address, and report date. Respondents "certify" that the information provided is accurate.
- Payment Practices Tools In The Translation World
Free list of websites/lists concerning payment practices
- Blue Board - Proz:
- Available to Platinum members (USD 120), but non-Platinum members can use BrowniZ points or pay USD 0.50 to view one report. Searchable by country or name. 3,729 agencies listed as of June 03, 2004. NB: not all listings have reviews.
- Hall of Fame&Shame - TranslatorsCafe,
http://www.translatorscafe.com/cafe/default.asp. Consultation is included in the Master Membership (USD 70).
Newsletters and Mailing Lists
- Untrustworthy Translation Agencies
(http://www.translationdirectory.com/non-payers.htm ) A free newsletter that periodically sends out a Black List of bad payers. Agencies are included in the list based on submitted reports, provided the respondent did not break the translation agreement. NB: no details, just a list of names.
- The TCR List (Translator Client Review List)
A private list service and website. On the list, translators discuss payment experiences with agencies and companies they've worked with, plus related topics. Annual subscription: USD 12, with a one-month free trial subscription for new subscribers, plus free memberships and scholarships for those who need them. (Figures on membership and traffic are not available.)
- Payment Practices
(http://www.trwenterprises.com/Subscribe_PP.htm) Started in 1999, this is a strictly moderated mailing list that focuses solely on the payment practices of clients in the translation and interpretation sector. Inquiries and replies follow a set form that also allows them to be cross-referenced and put into a database. Except on rare occasions when the moderator opens the forum for discussion of important singular issues, there is no discussion. Membership is open to all members of the translation and interpretation profession. Currently has 2,000 members and 7,000 enquires/responses in the Yahoo archives. Average monthly traffic, Jan.-May 2004: 336 messages.
But don't forget other sources of information: BBB, Dun & Bradstreet, credit agency reports, court records and company registries.
Information in this list was forwarded by Ted Wozniak (thanks!), who took over Karin Adamczyk's Payment Practices list two years ago. Note that he will be making a presentation on "Getting paidwhat to do before, during and after the job" at the ATA's next annual conference in Toronto, from October 13-16, 2004.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I am Colombian-Australian. I am going to finish high school by the end of this year, if everything goes all right. I intend to become a translator and wonder if you could advise me on a university in the USA, where I could study, as I tried in Australia, and they seem to focus on Asian languages rather than Spanish.
Sounds like you need Park's Guide to Translating and Interpreting Programs in North America, published by the American Translators Association and touted as "the best source of comprehensive information on translating and interpreting education in the United States, Mexico, and Canada." You can order it online at http://www.atanet.org/bin/view.fpl/13761.html.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I agree wholeheartedly with your advice to Hard to Just Say No. These days I do no subcontracting at all. Instead I refer clients to other translators when I am unable to do a job. Yet on more than one occasion, the client has complained, not about the quality of the work, but about the translator's customer relationship skills. It seems that some translators demand that referrals pay up front, on delivery or within two weeks. As if that weren't bad enough, they hound the client if the check is a day late, or call me to complain about the client! Is there some way, other than going back to subcontracting, that I can nip this one in the bud?
Stuck in the Middle
Are we correct in assuming that your translator contacts do provide good quality and that the clients are generally pleasant? Good, that makes it simpler.
- Send translators to whom you might refer clients a short memo summarizing your view of useful people skills, including acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and who does what in referrals. Writing things down does help. Really.
- Eccentric as some translators may be, your own reputation will suffer if you point their oddities out to clients too frequently or vehemently. So our second piece of advice is to avoid pigeonholing people as misfits from the git-go: keep "She's got a terrible temper, but her work is fine" and "Don't mind his bizarre telephone manner, he's a damn good translator" up your sleeve for extreme cases.
- Try the arm's-length-with-feedback ploy: "I've heard quite good things about Gloria Mucklewitt; here are her contact details. Oh, and I'd be very interested in hearing how your project goes; I want to be sure I can refer clients to her in the future. Could you let me know? Thanks!"
You say this even ifhey, especially ifGloria has been on the phone for the past ten days yapping about hopeless clients or tearing down fellow translators. (We're assuming her work is good and that she is stepping into the breach because you are swamped).
By taking this approach, you will have passed on essential contact information and ensured you will get a report, distancing yourself from the job and translator without voicing any particular opinion except that their work has been said to be good.
If Gloria does go twitchy on this customer, too, proper behavior is to chuckle about it with the client the first time, directing their attention back to the good work produced. The second time you are free to revert to the Extreme Case phrasebook above. By the third time you may well have decided to do what many translators do from the start and refer clients politely to the directory of your national or regional translators' association.
With Gloria's help, they will in any case be all the happier when your backlog clears and they can return to your congenial fold.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I would be extremely appreciative if you could help me evaluate whether my current plan makes sense and deserves investment of time.
I am in a serious financial bind right now, and I need to increase my family's income by $400 US per month. I can devote about 20 hours per week to this project, but if this will take months to start then I need to do something else.
To give you some background, I am from the United States and presently living in Mexico. My Spanish is fairly good but I do not yet understand the culture or the economy here. I have almost finished a Master's degree in Community Counseling back in the US. I have worked as an interpreter but have no training in translation.
My plan is to do literary, legal, or business translations. I prefer to translate from Spanish to English, but for less than US $4.00/hour I can employ good writers of Spanish to help me produce high quality translations from English to Spanish.
My immediate problem is that I have no customers.
I would also like to do editing of academic writing here, if I can attract customers. I am leaving flyers at local universities for proofreading or editing of English language academic writings.
I have been trying to find customers through personal contacts. Now I am working to enhance my website (www.geocities.nuevomundots.index.html). My next step may be to do some unsolicited literary translations and give them to the authors in hopes of getting some attention.
Another option is to go to the United States for a week to try to drum up some business among attorneys and professors I know. I don't have any international business leads, but suppose I could visit companies in hopes of connecting with a need.
The advantage I have to offer is a much lower price than other high-quality internet translation services-and my service can also be customized to the client's needs.
Can you give any suggestions to help me evaluate what aspects of my plan might be most realistic for helping my family out of our immediate financial crisis? Do you know about the market for thesis editing in Mexico?
By the way, I respect good translators and their work, and while the urgency of my situation makes me bold to presume I am one, I intend to keep learning and to become increasingly worthy of the profession!
South of the Border
Fire Ant rasps:
Do something else.
Worker Bee buzzes:
Better invest your time and effort elsewhere, South, for this is a dead one. There are simply too many competitors trying to do something along the lines of what you've got in mind, but with a huge head start on you. E.g., they already understand the local culture and the economy, and already speak and write excellent Spanish. Many are under less financial pressure, and can invest the time needed to build their business (unless you are extremely well connected and have a portfolio of successful projects to show prospects, "going to the US for a week" ain't gonna secure you a client base there).
Many of your competitors will also be able to judge the quality of what the $4.00-an-hour "good writers" are handing in (from your letter, we're not sure how you were planning to cover that one, whichadmit itis essential). Which is why many of them will have given this supplier group a miss.
In short, your perceived advantage"a much lower price than other high-quality internet translation services, and my service can also be customized to the client's needs" may look good on paper to people who know nothing about how translation is performed and sold, but is desperately hollow in real life.
Moving right along, do you know anything about law and legal translation? Bare-bones minimal market research will show you that academics are notorious skinflints (and yes, many of our best friends are academics) and that literary translators all have day jobs.
Finally, even if you plan to work through translation agencies, your pricing is wrong: a translation company owner comments that he might be tempted to try out a translator out if he or she is 10 to 20% cheaper than the going rate, but says that if the rate is way below that, "it betrays the novice who doesn't know how much to charge or is insecure regarding his or her competence." Just like being offered a car for less than half of its fair market value leaves the impression that either it's stolen or there is something fundamentally wrong with it.
Nope, back to the drawing board.