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self-employed people like me is that sometimes we create innovation, because we put two and two together, but we are outdated for our own ideas. That is, we come up with something innovative, but because we live by outdated rules we reject it.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)!





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)





Mind Your Language

10 09 2012

I have just come across this really funny British sitcom from the 70s. It is about teaching English as a foreign language and the cultural clashes between the students from different nationalities and the very British teacher. Brilliant!

The first part of the first episode, which you can watch on YouTube here, is hilarious. I am sure anyone who has learned a second language, particularly English will relate in some way to it. Enjoy!

 

 





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.





Trados Studio 2009

3 09 2012

I acquired Trados Studio as a requirement of one of the agencies I work with. In fact, they awarded me a license in exchange for the quality services provided to them.

I had already been using Trados 2007 before, and one of the things that really annoyed me was the fact that there was no spell check for tag editor. So I had to do the spell check in the clean file at the end and implement the changes in the tag editor, to make sure that the memory wasn’t full of spelling mistakes.

Trados Studio has that tool and that is great. However, if you are a novice with it, make sure you run the spell check in the clean file anyway, because unfortunately the trados spell check is not brilliant. Not even for English.

I still love tag editor. I think it is the most effective in terms of tag use and many of the agencies I work with prefer it if I used tag editor to studio. Studio can be a bit annoying with tag insertion and etc.

One advantage of Studio 2009 is that it opens PDF files into editable bilingual formats. This is great when the pdf file is selectable and has certainly made many assignments easier, but beware that sometimes, due to features of pdf files, it jams and doesn’t save your work. So what I usually do to minimize that is save the bilingual and target files after every 10% complete. At least I know that if it jams and doesn’t save at some point, I won’t have lost all my work (Believe me, it has happened a few times!).

One thing I love about it is that at the bottom of the interface (see image below) it shows the percentage of not translated segments, translated but not confirmed and confirmed segments. This really helps me organize my time. I usually do the first 10% of the text and time it, so then I know how long it will take me to do the lot. I try to organize my time based on that and plan how much I need to do a day to meet my deadline. This is more accurate than having to estimate the word count all the time and has somehow really sped up my translations.

Overall, I use a combination of studio 2009 and tag editor 2007 and other CAT tools. I recommend always using a CAT tool with a pinch of salt. Unfortunately there are still no single effective CAT solutions for translators (at least not amongst the many I have tried).

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Working with Glossaries

29 08 2012

Well, I have been fortunate enough to manage terminology and consistency in group translations into Portuguese and English and I find working with glossaries very handy, both for harmonization and revision.

I usually provide my translators with a bilingual glossary created in Excel format, very simple…In addition to implementing all the terms in the glossary, I ask them to add the terms they research to it as well. However, they don’t just add terms; the latter must be approved by myself or whoever is revising the translation. So, they highlight the new terms with a specific color, usually yellow, and deliver it with every partial delivery of the translation.

The reviser goes over the terms, and approves or changes the translation, highlighting all of the new terms (amended or not) in a new colour, usually blue.

The reviser does that for all translators and consolidates all of the new terms highlighted in blue in a single version of the glossary.

Also, if any changes have been made to the translation of terms since the last version of the glossary, the reviser highlights those in a different color as well, usually red.

This version is then resent to all translators and they are asked to read through the new terms and implement the changes or new terms as appropriate.

After delivering that file to all translators, the reviser removes the highlights from all the terms and saves the official final version of the glossary. This is done every time translators deliver a new partial version of the translation, so that the glossary is enhanced and approved throughout the process and each time only the relevant terms are highlighted.

I find this really useful to help translators align the translation during the process of translation. This simplifies the work of the reviser and really helps translators in their terminology research.