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.

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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).





Quotes

13 08 2012

Today I am translating an educational manual for a large Brazilian mining company and it begins with a George Bernard Shaw Quote.

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”

This is one of the beauties of translating, you are exposed to all these topics and ideas that you may have not sought otherwise, but once you have to work with them, they inspire you. Anyway, that is a topic for a different post (hopefully!).

This post is about quotes and this is a topic I find quite crucial in translation. The manual I am translating into English is currently in Brazilian Portuguese. As such, the quote has been translated into Portuguese and I am translating it back into English.

I believe that in such cases  there should be a note in the Brazilian manual to say that the quote has been translated, because there is always the potential for the message to be lost in translation and that is the translator’s not the author’s fault. However, this does not seem to be a consensus among translators.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to coordinate a group of translators working on a large book project. One section of the book contained articles from several different authors and most of them, at one point or another, would quote other people. There were two approaches to these translations in my group of translators -the ones who translated everything as regular text and the ones who looked up references and tried to find the original quotes or original translations for the quotes.

My personal approach to this, which is what I ask of my translators as well, is to always try to find the original quote. However, whenever using Internet sources, I try to be really careful about copying a quote, because there are cases when these are not accurate as well. If I cannot find a reliable source with the original quote or an official translation, within reasonable time, I always include a note to say that the quote is a translation or back translation of an original quote by such and such.

This seems to be a simple thing, but as professional translators we must be aware of the importance of authorship; as well as of how easy it is to mistranslate or misunderstand what someone has said, and we must take responsibility for that. A good translator is aware of the limitations of translation and, instead of covering them, provides subsidy for readers to seek and judge for themselves.





Welcome Everyone!

7 01 2012

Welcome everyone! You can read a little bit more about me and my company on the “About” page and several other posts under “My Journey” and “EAP“.

This is just a quick message to help you navigate through this blog. If you are a translator, you might be interested in the section “Translation Tools & Resources“. If you are a Brazilian Portuguese <> English Translator or a Linguist also check out the section “Language Matters“, where I intend to discuss my findings and research on terminology and etc.

If you are not a translator, perhaps the most interesting parts of this blog for you will be “Cultural Affairs” and “Off-topic“.

Regardless of where you go on this blog, I hope it inspires and encourages you whether you are a translator, linguist, language/culture enthusiast, translation client or just a “passer-by”.

Please feel free to send me your comments, feedback, suggestions and etc. I am on a journey to learn too and your feedback is welcome!

Happy Reading!

Karen