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!

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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)!





My Journey (Part II)

31 10 2012

For My Journey Part I please click here

Coming back home with my new found independence, language skills and a love of nature…I was dumped back into the reality of finding a job and passing University entrance exams (again, as I’d already done it in Australia). I enrolled in a prep course and got not one, but two jobs teaching English (my first “proper” jobs).

I wanted to study biology at University to become a marine biologist, so I decided that a scuba diving course would be a good head start. My scuba diving instructor at the time was helping an American diving insurer (Diver’s Alert Network) set up in Brazil and they needed all insurance brochures, articles and etc. translated into Portuguese. My instructor, who knew I was fresh back from Oz and a teacher, offered me my first translation job.

You would think that I would have fallen in love with it there and then and been a translator since…But, no. I did love it and the fact that I could earn a lot more than teaching, but I still fancied myself a biologist. So, when I managed to get into one of the top biology courses in Brazil I put the translation career aside and focused on that.

Well, I got a new job teaching English nearer the university and thought that was the end of my brief translation career. However, my knowledge of English seemed to stand out more than my interest in biology with some of my teachers, and they started asking me to translate their academic articles into English. Before I knew it, there I was translating again…

If you thought that this would make me realize that I was supposed to be a translator. Well, not really… In my four years as an undergraduate student I realized that marine biology wasn’t for me (at least not the field work) and started working as a medical researcher in the university’s hospital.  I quit teaching, quit translations and focused solely on medical research for four years.

However, once again my knowledge of languages superseded my biology skills and other researchers and physicians in the hospital started asking for my help with translating and correcting their articles in English. When I finished my second research grant and it was time to take the plunge and go for a doctorate in medical research, it finally dawned on me that I had loved the last four years not because I loved working in a lab, but because I had the opportunity to read, translate and work with languages – i.e. learning and communicating important medical research to worldwide audiences. And that was my calling!

But how do you go from being the “weekends and spare time” translator to a full time translator? My first step was quitting the research job and taking a job as an English teacher, at least then I would be working with languages and more likely to find good contacts (or so I thought).  As good an idea as it was, teaching didn’t really leave much time for me to pursue the translation career (it is somewhat underpaid required me to work several hours) , and very quickly I got side tracked. I kept taking the odd translation job from my former teachers, professors and now from my pupils, but did not really focus on becoming a full time translator.

I continued doing that and working as a teacher for another couple of years until I decided that if I didn’t focus on creating my own business I would end up teaching English forever (which I loved, but did not fancy struggling for money forever). Again, very courageously, and perhaps very naively,  I quit my teaching job, sold my car to buy a laptop and pay the initial costs and, in two months, I had opened a company.

I thought now I was on the right track… I had a few clients for whom I’d been translating for years, particularly in the academic world and it was only a matter of time before I would be working full time again. Little did I know…That same year I was diagnosed with a malignant skin cancer and was literally confined to my bed for over 3 months (which as far as cancer timelines go, it was not long at all!).

Lying in my bed, with only my laptop to hand and no money, I was faced with the daunting reality that I couldn’t just give up. So I didn’t…

(Continues in Part III)





My Journey (Part I)

13 08 2012

Well, what can I say? I did not become a translator by choice; I truly believe that it was my calling. As I tell my story, you’ll see that I have veered away from translation time and time again, but it has always found its way back into my life.

I am Brazilian and I first decided to learn a second language when I was 7. My parents took us on a holiday to Mexico and there were kids from all nationalities in our hotel. I remember being really curious as to what they were saying and desperately wanting to interact with them. I asked my mom what language would I have to speak if I wanted to communicate with as many of them as possible and she said: “English”. There and then I decided that I would speak English.

It took my mother two years to allow me to start taking English lessons and when she finally did I was hooked for ever. I can safely say that I have been an English student since.

By the age of 13 I had gone through all levels of English classes available in my school and in my town, so the school offered me a part-time job teaching English in their computer lab to keep me interested. Indeed, that kept me very interested for a while. I loved teaching, loved the challenge of having to explain things and try to find ways for people to be motivated by language and, of course, loved having a bit of pocket-money. I also got involved with AFS, which is an NGO with a very interesting mission (I will try to write a post about that as well, because this is an organization worth talking about). With AFS I had the opportunity to meet and talk to exchange students from all over the world, and had my first experiences with translation.

Nonetheless, by the age 15 I felt there was nothing else I could learn on my own, and if I wanted to speak English properly I would have to live in an English-speaking country.

That is exactly what I did (after two years of trying to convince my parents and finally succeeding) and in January 2000 I moved to Australia for a year. Australia would deserve a whole chapter if I were to describe the amazing experience I had, but the most relevant aspect of this experience for my future career as a translator was meeting a very special teacher. Ms. McCutcheon was my English and Drama teacher. When I decided to take PES (Public Examination Subject) English – which was the hardest level of English in year 12 in  the Australian education system at the time -, she advised me strongly against it. She said it was hard even for native speakers and I would probably fail. I told her that if she was willing to help me, I was willing to put in the effort. Boy, did she make me put in the effort! Every essay that my classmates had to write once and submit to her, I would have to write at least three times. I would always have two deadlines before everyone, when she’d correct and go through my whole essays with me. Looking back, I cannot thank her enough. Between drama classes, “hardcore” English and a very intense exchange student life I managed to come second in my English class at the final exams and win a Conscientious Effort Award. More importantly, I came home from Australia with near-native English and the grammar and structural foundations for my future profession (although I did not know it then).

Another legacy of my Australian experience was my love for and awe of nature. I decided to become a marine biologist and study life in this amazing planet. And, no, I did not even consider becoming a translator!

(Read more about My Journey in Part II and Part III).