Avenues for Medical Translators in Brazil

12 04 2013

“Not many sectors of the Brazilian economy have grown as rapidly and consistently as the medicine market. Since 2005, expansion rates in this sector have been well into double digits. In 2011, the market grew by 19 %, with a turnover of USD 26 billion and 2.3 billion medicine packs”, according to the pharmaceutical giant, boehringer-ingelheim’s website.

Such a large market is a natural magnet for global pharmaceutical giants and, needless to say, a great opportunity for medical and pharmaceutical translators. In addition to the drug and pharmaceutical markets, there is medical and market research, which in some ways complement the first, but also have their own established markets.

There are several avenues available to medical translators who wish to initiate or expand their careers in this market. We’ll discuss a few of them briefly below.

Firstly, there is medical and pharmaceutical research. Medical research in Brazil is conducted mainly at universities or research centres and is funded by sponsoring agencies or by pharmaceutical companies. The first consideration here is whether you translate into English or into Brazilian Portuguese.  Generally, we tend to prefer native speakers to translate only into their native languages.

Based on that assumption, if you are Brazilian, researchers in Brazil are not a good bet, because they will need to translate their work into English- they have very little demand for translations into Portuguese, because they usually need their research translated for international publishing. However, due to the fluid nature of Brazilian Portuguese and how hard it is for foreigners to master its nuances, the fact that these researchers often write part of the work in English (which usually means you have to interpret how they thought in Portuguese to be able to review the content in English) and Brazilian regulations that make it very hard for them to hire services abroad (taxation and funding issues), researchers hardly ever hire foreign translators. Hence, they are not a market to be overlooked if you are able to translate well into English. Researchers are also usually demanding clients (because they speak English), but loyal and often refer you to their peers.

Pharmaceutical companies are the biggest buyers of Brazilian Portuguese translations in this market. They need the research that they sponsor abroad (clinical trials, etc.), patent documentation, prospects, marketing materials, etc. all translated and localized for the Brazilian market. Hence they are great clients and a constant source of demand. However, due to the sensitive nature of their research and products they often prefer to hire companies to provide translation services. The reasons behind this are many, but to pinpoint a couple, they can hold translation agencies more easily accountable for errors and confidentiality breaches. Plus, translation agencies will implement processes involving a series of translators and reviewers to ensure accuracy. If you do not own an agency, you are more likely to get to these clients through a specialist medical agency. Serious medical translation agencies are excellent to work for, because they are aware of the responsibility involved and pay accordingly for your expertise. In addition, they will strive to keep working with you when you demonstrate quality. You are able to work closely with their project managers, but they will require serious qualifications and experience.

Another avenue is pharmaceutical and medical market research, which is arguably the easiest to enter, but also the most price sensitive. This is driven by pharmaceutical companies and other medical product manufacturers that hire specialist market research companies to gain insight into their consumer markets. The market research companies will procure the translation services and are price sensitive, because they often work on tighter budgets and need to cover costs of travel, interviewing etc. Nonetheless, they can be an excellent avenue into the medical market and have the most dynamic demand – i.e. they’ll need documents, audio and several different other types of documents translated.

These are key features of the medical translation market in Brazil. Naturally, there a number of nuances that affect how much work you receive and how much you can earn, but as a general rule you should aim to have a mixture of clients from each of these avenues, i.e. market research companies, translation agencies and researchers. This will ensure you are both in demand and able to specialize in an area (e.g. patents), which provides an effective compensation structure for your services.

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10 Things freelance translators could do everyday

1 04 2013

Today I have come across a post by J.T. O’Donnell on LinkedIn, 10 things to do every workday, which inspired me to think about 10 things that freelance translators could do every day.

I have taken the liberty to adapt her list to the reality of freelance translators. First of all, my two basic assumptions for this list are 1) every freelance translator is also an entrepreneur wishing to develop his/her translation business; 2) Freelance translators have understood the need to be visible online for their business and  make time for that on a daily basis. If you are a freelance translator and assumptions 1 and 2 do not apply to you, I suggest you consider them seriously, but on to the list…

1. Read Something related to the translation industry – There are many interesting blogs about translation, such as Corinne Mckay’s Thoughts on translation and Speaking of translation; there are interesting discussions on LinkedIn groups for translators or about translation, such as the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters and others. You may also read the news about new CAT tools on their respective websites. Feel free to ask for more suggestions if you are struggling to find interesting reads!

2. Read something related to business development – Again, some of these translation blogs and groups will have articles on business development for translators, but do not limit yourself to those. Make sure you also read other blogs and articles related to business development, as they may have invaluable insight for your business. I personally like following famous entrepreneurs on LinkedIn, like Richard Branson, and reading what they have to say about developing businesses.

3. Send two e-mails to touch base with former colleagues or clients – If you endeavor to have a positive relationship with your clients and colleagues, you’ll always be able to find something to send them that may be of interest to them or just a general e-mail to ask how things are going.

4. Empty client inbox list – This is business 1o1; enough said.

5. Have three quick non-work related conversations (in person or IM) with people in your contact lists everyday. Obviously, this is an arbitrary number, you need to work out how many of these you can have a day without disrupting your work. This is important because it is not all about work, sometimes the opportunities are in developing good relationships and focusing on the people, rather then on what business they can bring you. In my experience, a lot of my business has come from friends and people who knew in passing what I did, but were not necessarily in the industry or clients in any way. Even if they never bring you any business, having these spots of unrelated conversation everyday will keep you sane (specially if you work for hours at home and alone), so treasure them!

6. Review your top three goals for your translation business. We must keep these goals in focus. It is very easy to forget about them when we are on a working spree with enough translations to works 10-12 hours a day, but it is no good only thinking about them when work dries up. As translators, we love reading and translating, and it is easy to forget about all other aspects of our business when we can do just what we like, but the dry periods will come (less often the more established you are) and it is much harder dealing with those, if you have to start from scratch.

7. Identify and execute one task to support each of the top three goals that you’ve identified. These do not need to be massive tasks or incredibly relevant. If you make sure you do at least a little something everyday, in the long term you will be doing something major. For example, my current goals are 1) delivering high quality translations; 2) developing a solid and loyal client base and 3) promoting my business online consistently. So, today,  my three tasks are learning about a new CAT tool provided by a client to support goal 1; in addition to steps 3-5, I’ll be joining some new LinkedIn groups related to areas in which I specialize (not translation related groups, but subject matter related groups) to support goal 2; and, finally, I’ll be updating some of my social network profiles, which have not been updated in a long time to support goal 3.

8. Post five valuable pieces of content on all my major social media accounts. This blog post is one of my five valuable pieces of content for today, but I have also tweeted a couple of other interesting articles that I read when doing items 1-2. When posting valuable content, make sure you always think about whether they reflect your professional image.

9. Read articles and post at least five comments to non-translation related topics that I am interested in. This is not related to items 1 and 2, this is to be more like item 5. Not everything has to be related directly to our industry or our business. If you have other interests make sure you read about them and develop relationships with people who like them too. This is important for your sanity and because you never know where business may come from. Also, we are in the business of language, so no topic is really off-topic for us.

10. Take a full minute (or more) to appreciate what you have and how far you’ve come. Even if you are fresh out of school, obtaining your education is a milestone, and you should allow yourself to feel good about that. Forgetting about giving ourselves due credit is easy, particularly during those dry periods I mentioned in item 6, but a healthy business requires healthy leadership. You will never develop a solid business, if you don’t think of yourself as a worthy entrepreneur. Acknowledge your mistakes, but acknowledge your what do right as well.

Good luck!





Driving quality up in the translation industry

14 12 2012

I have just read the comments to an interesting post about translation buyers’ expectations in terms of quality. The issue is approached by many of the translators commenting on the topic as if the quality of translations depended solely on clients and on what they were are willing to pay for it. They make a valid point that if clients are looking for the cheapest job in the quickest time frame possible, a serious translator cannot help but “swim or sink” and that means compromising on quality.

Our industry is full of clutter. Translation is a service that can often be provided remotely from anywhere in the world to clients anywhere in the world. The initial investment is a household connection to the Internet and a computer. Hence, there are thousands (if not millions) of translation agencies and freelancers, who provide translation services independently worldwide, without qualifications, experience or even adequate knowledge of the language pairs they provided services for. Competition may sometimes look fierce, because translators in developed countries compete against providers in developing countries that can offer much cheaper services. Also, there aren’t regulations applicable to all countries that can help translators put a cap on their prices.

I can understand why many dedicated translators are frustrated with their position and the unfair sort of competition they find themselves in, but I would like to approach the topic from a different perspective.

Naturally, a demand on the buyer side for quality will drive the overall quality of the industry up. This is a very straightforward concept, but can the seller side of the industry drive quality up too without compromising its revenue? I think so.

I have read it somewhere (it may not be true, but still a valid point) that Apple does not invest on market research. Their philosophy is to “create amazing” and they firmly believe that if they can do that, customers will find it amazing too and pay a fair price for their products. In fact, we are so much in awe of what they create that some people are willing to pay for products before they are even launched, because they know they’ll be the first owners of something amazing.

In every industry there is room for quality and innovation. We don’t create technology or innovation in its strict sense as translators, but we too can create amazing. If instead of thinking what our clients’ expectations in terms of quality are, we think long and hard about what our expectations are, we have a chance of creating something better than they ever expected.  We are the experts in translation and in our language pair, hence who better than us to set the bar high for the job that we’ll deliver?

Right, easy to say, but what to do about the competition? There are several markets within a market. There is the market for cheap translations, and let’s face it, sometimes speed is more important than price, it doesn’t matter if the document produced doesn’t say exactly what the original text said (in which case I would argue against the need for a translation in the first place,  but that is an entirely different topic), or although the client would love to pay more they just can’t afford it. There is a market and there are providers who cater for it. There will always be.

However, there is also a high-end market; this is not as price sensitive and will put quality over price and speed. This is the market we should aim for if we want to drive quality up. I am not suggesting that we become inflexible, but as service providers we must decide where we are prepared to compromise and where we aren’t. For example,  I am prepared to compromise a few nights sleep to complete a job within a tight deadline for a client with whom I have a good relationship, i.e. who is willing to pay a rate we both find fair and is loyal to my services. I am not compromising my sleep over a low paying overnight job from an agency that is charging their client an urgency rate, but is unwilling to pay me for the urgency.

Naturally, I can do this now because I have been building a client base for many years. My clients have selected me as their provider over the years and I have selected them too. However, when I started I wasn’t known in my field and couldn’t be as choosy about the jobs I  took. My approach then was compromising on everything, but quality. Even if an agency would ask me to do a ridiculous amount of words overnight for a much better rate (fully aware that there was no way anyone could deliver a good job in that sort of time frame), if I didn’t think I could deliver a quality job I would say no. Many people said I was crazy: “It will take you weeks now to make what you could have made in a day!” and it did feel crazy and a bit masochistic many times, but to me it was about the long term and it has payed off! If all serious translators did that, we would force agencies and even clients to challenge the quality of translations more often and become more aware of the importance of quality- i.e. we could drive quality up. The only reason not to do that is if we believe that we cannot rise to the challenge. I certainly can.





Words to a new translator

8 11 2012

One of the WordPress prompts for writing on your blog has inspired me to write today’s post. It made me realize that, although writing a letter to myself personally is out of the scope of this blog, there is a lot that I could say to myself in hindsight when I started up in the translation profession. I hope this is useful for new and experienced translators alike.

Dear Karen,

You are taking the first steps in a profession filled with advantages – you’ll be able to work from home, you’ll be your own boss, you’ll be able to travel and live anywhere in the world (all you’ll need is your laptop and Internet connection)… You’ll determine how much you charge for what you do, how many hours you work a day and how often, etc.

In addition, you’ll be able to work with languages, which you are passionate about and working with different topics and texts will give you an unparalleled opportunity and insight into lots of industries and varied topics. You cannot anticipate how much you’ll learn!

Also, you will be able to establish your own relationships with your clients, you’ll be able to set the pace of the type of company and human interactions you want. Whatever you envisage, that will be your business (and I can let you in on a secret here, you’ll love it!).

I know this sounds great and, knowing you like I do, you’re probably already way ahead imagining a life of fulfillment and enjoyment lived from the comfort of your living room. Well, it will come, but first there is some advice that could make getting there a bit easier.

First of all, think of yourself as a business. Research prices, call translation agencies and find out how much they charge and etc. I know you’ll think of that in time, but you could seriously benefit from thinking of that sooner rather than later. You don’t want to overcharge, but you don’t want to undersell yourself as well. Sometimes charging a fair price for what you do is a way of telling prospect clients that you know your worth and they’ll respect you for that.

Do not accept unreasonable deadlines! I mean it Karen, not even if it is a first time client and you want to bring them on board! Even if you manage to deliver a quality job within the unreasonable deadline, you will have lowered the standard of your work and that is the only thing that you can NEVER do. Take my word for it, one day you will be proud of having no complaints from your clients!

Do not be afraid of contacting people to offer your services. I know you don’t want to annoy anyone, but if you do it sensibly – i.e. keep your messages short, don’t pester them and respect the ones who ask you not to be contacted -, they will thank you for bringing your services to their attention.

Get out there! I know you love your books and texts, but the more you expose yourself to the cultures and languages you work with, the better you’ll be at your job. Do not succumb to the temptation of spending day in and day out in front of the computer, language is about knowing how people construe meaning, and insight into that comes from exposure to people (that is, talking to people!). That will also make your life a lot more fun, trust me!

Many of the clients you have today will stick with you and recommend you, they’ll be the foundation of your future success. You are well aware that speaking a language that someone else doesn’t creates a gap for a wide variety of services, you can act as a translator and interpreter, but there are a lot of other things that you can do. Your approach of trying to help your clients whatever their language needs are will take you to sugar cane fields to help carbon asset sales negotiations, will take you to focus groups rooms, will have you doing SEO for websites launching in Brazil and will have you managing entire market research projects, in addition to your translation and interpretation duties. Sometimes it will feel like you are way out of your depth, but don’t panic. What you are doing intuitively now will pay dividends! You will establish life-long relationships with your clients and the skills and knowledge you’ll acquire from this will be invaluable. Eventually you’ll get to focus on translation and your company alone, but that will come naturally.

One more thing, when choosing people to work with you, treasure the people who are professional and driven, even when they are not brilliant to begin with. You can help them develop their translation skills, but you cannot teach someone to behave ethically and value your business. The most valuable people to you will be the ones who are reliable, punctual, capable of understanding and following instructions and as committed to the success of your business as yourself. NEVER hire anyone on their translation skills alone.

Finally, enjoy it. You won’t always have money, and for some time you won’t even have work everyday, but you will stick with it (with invaluable help and support from your family, friends and clients) and it will pay off. Now that you know that, just keep doing what you like, learn as much as you can and work hard. I’ll see you in five years!





Change Outpaces Learning

1 11 2012

This talk raises a very important issue that things are changing faster than we can process them. Hence we are playing catch-up with the world and often find ourselves living quite literally in the past.

One aspect of this that I  believe is relevant for small business owners and self-employed people like me is that sometimes we create innovation, because we put two and two together, but we are outdated for our own ideas. That is, we come up with something innovative, but because we live by outdated rules we reject it. Something within us tells us that we have a good idea anyway, so we develop a “love-hate” relationship with our own prospects. We spend years fighting our idea until our maturity and knowledge finally catch up with it and we “make peace” with our own projects. What I ask myself is, where could I be now had I accepted that I may not fully understand it and got on with it, instead of fighting my instincts for so long?

Ironically, after so many years of society putting logic and knowledge first; it seems that those who are the most sensitive and intuitive, i.e. those who are willing to take action despite not fully understanding what their instincts or ideas – or whatever you call it – are telling them to do seem to be better equipped to be successful in a world that changes faster than we can.

As small business owners, we are in charge of our processes and vision. Hence, we can implement changes more easily and tend to be more tuned to our area of expertise, so we are actually in a better position, if we believe so and follow our instincts, to compete in this fast changing world than many of the large corporations of the past. Isn’t that something to think about?





My Journey (Part III)

31 10 2012

You can read part I and part II of this My Journey by clicking on them.

Generally speaking I would not describe myself as business oriented. I am communication-oriented, it gives me more pleasure to write a sales pitch than to deliver it. Fortunately, though I didn’t think so at the time, being in bed allowed me to do just that. I literally spent three months researching and writing…I wrote and sent my CV to several agencies, created profiles on several freelancer websites, created brochures to send to prospect clients and translated.

There was no spark. I didn’t have a fantastic business idea from my bed that made me rich overnight (I am still not rich by the way). I didn’t find a client who needed 100,000 words translated a month and was sorted for life…It happened slowly, as I recovered physically my numerous cold e-mails and CVs began to show results. I  started working with a couple of large translation agencies,  through which I worked with some of the largest companies in Brazil and worldwide. These translation agencies were actually so pleased with my services that they started investing on me, awarding me with translation software licenses and courses and increasing my responsibilities as translation projects manager, editor and coordinator. Very quickly I was up-to-date with the latest technology in computer-assisted translation tools (spending virtually no money) and earning more than I had done as a teacher (not to say that that was very hard!). I was offered a couple of jobs in translation, but decided that I wanted to be able to be my own boss from now on.

In 2010, I married my British boyfriend of four years and moved to the UK. I thought that being in a different country I would not be able to earn enough through translation, so I (panicked a little) shut down my company in Brazil and went back to looking for a job… I know, all that soul searching, going through the motions of becoming self-employed and I was ready to give it up just like that. This is one thing that most successful self-employed people won’t tell you (and perhaps it is not the case of the business-oriented minds), but one of the challenging things of becoming self-employed is that you have to deal with everything. If you are in a job and you don’t have much to do one day, you are happy to skive, to chat to a colleague, to shop online…but if it is your own business, you know that means no income and that is your fault! It is hard to keep yourself from questioning your choices when things don’t go as you planned.

Well, I did get a job with an insurance company, and again I was more interested in learning all the terms related to insurance and etc. than in the actual job. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take me long to become frustrated with the job… With my husband’s support (and business acumen) I quit my job again and founded EAP.

Initially, I focused on doing what I had done in Brazil, sending CVs to translation agencies, contacting prospect clients and translating for my former clients. Only this time I was starting with a larger portfolio of clients; businesses and translation agencies, who had known my work for years were happy to give me as much work as I could take and the new leads were converting into businesses. It did not take me long this time to realize that I would need help.

I began recruiting, researching better pricing strategies and soon we were handling a large volume of translation, transcription and localization jobs with a small team of translators specialized in different areas. I realized that what had kept my customers loyal, despite my questioning of my decisions and etc. was the quality and professionalism of the work they were getting. I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times I have had to delay a job delivery in more than 10 years and I have NEVER had a complaint about the quality of my translations. So I decided that the only way I could ensure that was by focusing on what  I could control. My company would only operate with the two language pairs that I am knowledgeable about and I would keep my team small to ensure that I can keep a close eye on the work being delivered by my translators.

Today, 2 years after having launched EAP (English and Portuguese), I can gladly say that I have enough demand to work every single day of the year and to allocate work to several other translators. My company has helped many large and small global businesses with their communications. I have clients in Brazil, in the UK and worldwide and operate everything from my living room. We have also helped many translators in progressing their careers and growing as translators.

This is by no means the end of my journey, it is definitely the end of my wandering. I have big plans for EAP now, I want to make it renowned for being the best provider of translations in my language pair, both into  English and Portuguese. I want to establish mutually beneficial partnerships with my translators, helping them grow and evolve in their careers. I want  to provide increasingly better services to my customers and an increasingly better customer experience – i.e. in which customers feel that we are as committed as they are to conveying their message. I want to have channels, like this blog, to help improving the overall quality of the translation profession. I want to raise awareness of the importance of quality translations and quality communications for global businesses…and why stop there? Who know where this journey will lead?! I am certainly in for the ride (at last)!





Random thoughts on business

7 09 2012

I would like to start this post today with a quote from the book “The Work We Were Born to Do” by Nick Williams. I am currently reading it and have been thinking about this a lot recently:

“Another popular belief is that we have to do lousy work to get filthy lucre. When we are more focused on negative thoughts around money, we tend to believe that we have to do unpleasant things to acquire money…”

I could not count how many times I have been told that I worry too much about the work I deliver, particularly when I started my business. Initially I was tempted to believe that I had to work faster, outsource as much as people and deliver medium quality translations if I was to have a profitable business. Believe me, I have seen that over and over with large translation agencies, mostly because they get too big for their own good. The truth is that most clients who need a translation don’t necessarily speak the target language and probably do not have any means of checking whether the work done for them is of good quality or not. So it is very easy, and many translators do in this business, to get way with less than medium quality in at least 70% of the jobs.

Fortunately, I can’t do it! I actually love translating, I love the idea that I can convey a message written in one language, by someone with a different background and cultural values, in another language. I actually take pride in delivering the best translation I can do, regardless of whether my client will be able to tell the difference or not. If I don’t get any fulfillment out of my work, I am working just for money and that does not fulfill me.

Early in my business I decided to surround myself with like-minded people, both translators and clients. When I choose a translator to outsource work to, the first thing I want to know is how much pride they take in their job. From terminology research, spell checking and formating to their comments about how difficult they found a particular job, why they decided to choose a term over another and etc. I want to know that even if a translator does not deliver the most perfect of jobs, they actually did the best they could. I am willing to help this translator develop and take his/her ability to new levels, but I am not willing to work with people who don’t like what they do. Unhappy people are like rotten apples, they bring everybody else and your business down.

I seek a similar commitment in my clients, of course I don’t turn anyone down outright, but  I have a few principles I abide by. Firstly, I refuse to have more clients than I can handle –  that also factors in outsourcing, when I know I’ll need to revise the work before delivering and etc. I refuse to work for someone who thinks that what I do is worth less than peanuts. I believe in competition and fair pricing, but when I get requests to cut my rates to like 25% of what I would normally charge, I find it a little disrespectful, because it is like the client is telling me that the quality of my work is only worth 25% of what I charge. My vision for my business is to create a portfolio of customers who are happy with the services they got and are happy to come back whenever they need more translations. I have a key role in ensuring that, but so do my clients.

It may sound a little big-headed in this economy and climate to be saying that I want to choose my clients. But what I have learned from trial and error and some difficult experiences is that I don’t need to have a portfolio of 20,000 clients who pay me 25% of what I my services are worth and expect me to be a machine and translate at the speed of light. There is a market for it and there are service providers to supply it. I am not competing in that market.

I like knowing my clients by name, taking time to have a chat with them about what they want, what they need the translation for and going over their questions about the job delivered. I actually like it when they ask me about my choices for terminology and etc., because I know that they have taken an interest. Usually clients like that will pay what you are worth and will also be really demanding, but the final outcome of the job is satisfactory for you both and that is what I want my business to be about.

Ever since I set myself and my business in that path, funnily enough my revenue has gone up and my hours have gone down. I still work hard, sometimes on weekends and late hours, but I actually enjoy it. I sometimes need a holiday to rest and take my mind off things, but the holidays are not a break between periods of slaving at work and feeling miserable. My holidays now are breaks to allow me some distance to have more ideas and engage with more interesting people to come back and continue to develop my business.

What I have really come to realize is that when you are not chasing money, it finds its way to you and you get to do what you like; it just takes a bit of courage to believe in it to begin with and to keep believing it and working for it until it happens to you.