62 Short Pieces of Advice

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Time flies! We've been writing this blog for almost six years, and we have published almost 500 posts. Not bad, huh? In 2010, we published a book (The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation), which has sold more than 3,500 copies around the world (thank you!) and contains pretty much everything we know. However, we are delighted to keep on writing and sharing, as we get so much positive feedback and we really enjoy it. Even though we publish a lot of free information for beginning and advanced linguists, oftentimes new colleagues ask us at conferences: "What do I have to do to be successful?" There is no easy answer, so we usually say that it would take us the rest of the evening to even attempt to answer that question. However, we also like to come prepared with some memorable (or not) short pieces of advice that might be helpful for those who want some quick nuggets of information. We finally decided to compile some of these pieces of advice here after a new colleague approached Judy at a workshop a few weeks ago. She was frustrated that she wasn't getting the results that she wanted, yet she hadn't invested in herself or her professional presence. A lot of our advice has to do with exactly that: personal growth, outreach, marketing, and customer service.

We have no idea how we ended up with a list of 62 pieces of advice, and these are not ranked in order of importance, nor is this list (obviously) exhaustive. We simply wanted to compile some of the things we think are essential for every translator and/or interpreter and, of course, for entrepreneurial linguists. There are all things you've heard us say before or have seen us write about before, but here they are, for the first time, in one handy-dandy list: 62 pieces of advice on translation, interpretation, and business.

Please read at your own risk and take this with a grain of salt. Yes, we've included some tough love and straightforward advice. 

1.     Running a small business is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
2.     You are not entitled to be successful.
3.     There are no real secrets to success, but start by working hard and by making smart decisions. 
4.     Don't compete on price. Find your competitive advantage instead. Don't become a commodity.
5.     Get a website and a professional e-mail address. If you want to be taken seriously as a   professional, you need a professional presence.
6.     Your success will depend on the quality of relationships you form.
7.     Translators are writers. Are you a top-notch writer? 
8.     The internet is your friend. Online marketing is mostly free and easy. Use it to your advantage.
9.     No translator or interpreter is an island.
10. Have a positive attitude.
11. Avoid making the same mistake twice.
12. One missed deadline might very well have a negative impact on your career.
13. Don't start work on a project until you have written confirmation from the client.
14. Play nicely with others.
15. Set realistic goals and make a plan as to how you will achieve them.
16. Take an honest look at your skills and improve them. You can always become a better interpreter/translator.
17. No one lands high-paying clients by mistake.
18. Translation and interpretation require completely different sets of skills.
19. Take feedback for what it is: a valuable gift.
20. Without clients, you have nothing.
21. Be reasonable, even when others are not.
22. Think before you send an angry e-mail.
23. Learn to be self-sufficient in terms of IT and software.
24. Invest in your business by purchasing the best tools, dictionaries and gadgets you can afford.
25. Keep your personal and business finances separate.
26. Improve your typing speed.
27. Take very good care of your voice if you are an interpreter.
28. When asking others for advice, be respectful of their time and offer to take them to dinner. 
29. Translators: read, read, read. There really is no substitute.
30. Don't complain about your clients publicly. Ever.
31. Don't complain about your colleagues publicly. Ever.
32. Your reputation is the most important thing you have.
33. Your time is the only resource you have. Spend it wisely.
34. Stop talking about yourself. Ask questions instead.
35. Learn how to really, truly listen.
36. Educate your clients about what you do without wagging your finger. No one wants an arrogant translator or interpreter.
37. Tread lightly when correcting source texts. Be respectful with your comments.
38. You earn others' respect by providing high-quality work and by being helpful, friendly and kind.
39. Join your local T&I association, a national association, and at least one association in your specialization.
40. Get out of your comfort zone.
41. Work on your weaknesses.
42. If a client corrects you during an interpreting assignment, stay calm and be professional.
43. Surround yourself with positive and good people.
44. Invest in your professional development by attending conferences, workshops and webinars.
45. Volunteer your time. Learn to give before you expect others to give things to you.
46. Take care of your eyes and look away from the computer for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
47. Exceed your clients' expectations. Go the extra mile.
48. Send holiday cards and/or gifts.
49. Keep a list of customer preferences. Become a customer concierge.
50. If you don't know a word during an interpreting assignment, say so. It's no fun, but you must be honest.
51. Work on your memory so you remember people's names.
52. Keep all your client files organized and back up your computer every day.
53. Contribute to a retirement fund.
54. Take care of your health and get exercise.
55. You can be in your bunny slippers, but there's no reason your client should know that.
56. Don't use your client as a sounding board. 
57. Have a plan B if your internet is down at home.
58. Keep confidential things confidential. Buy a good shredder. 
59. Consider joining a co-working space.
60. Go to at least one networking event a week, even if you don't feel like it.
61. Your business will grow when you do great work and more people know that you exist. How will you accomplish that?
62. Be humble. Every great translator and interpreter can learn from others. If you think you can't, you are wrong.

We hope you have enjoyed this (relatively) short list, dear friends and colleagues! Which pieces of advice would you add? We'd love to hear your thoughts to add to this endless list.

Fabulous Free Design Tool: Canva

We are so delighted that we've finally found a design tool that lets even design-challenged people like us create very nice images and  graphics for use on the web, in presentations, on flyers, etc. We don't have Photoshop, and we have often been impressed with some of the lovely graphics we have seen on others' presentations and websites. While we have hired several graphic designers to create design elements for us, we'd been on the lookout to create simple and powerful graphics, mostly for use on this blog and during our presentations. The problem was that we aren't very savvy when it comes to design. Well, enter Canva, a free (some exceptions) design tool that seems to have solved all our problems.

We recently took the software out for a spin, and here is one of the first graphics we produced in 10 minutes (just as a sample). We might use a similar version of this in an upcoming presentation.

Then Judy created this one, which will be part of the PowerPoint presentation (7 Essential Elements of a Language Services Price Quote) that she is giving at the NAJIT annual conference in May in a few weeks.

The system is easy to use, beautifully designed (of course!), and comes pre-loaded with many gorgeous fonts. We've long struggled with combining fonts that look good together (yes, we know, there are people who write books just on fonts!), and Canva gives you nice templates with fonts that just look good, and we love them! While Canva is essentially free, there are a few elements you have to pay for, and that's clearly indicated when you look at all the images/backgrounds options. The images presented here where entirely free and you can download them to your computer as an image or make PDFs. 

Nice and easy! What do you think, dear colleagues? Have you used Canva or can you recommend another design tool?

Keep Calm and Interpret

While "Keep calm and carry on" might be a bit overused these days, it's still a powerful message, and it especially applies to interpreting. Whether you are a conference, court, community, medical, diplomatic o especially military interpreter, keeping cool under pressure is very much an essential part of the job. This usually isn't a problem for experienced interpreters, but if you are a relatively new interpreter, how do you go about controlling your nerves? 
Photo credit: Wikipedia.com 

  • Be prepared. The best way to control your nerves is to prepare for the assignment as much as you can. In theory, at university and in workshops we learn that we always have to request material ahead of time, but the reality of our profession is another: you might request materials and only get them half of the time, which can be quite frustrating. However, the internet and all the lovely resources at our fingertips have really changed the way we can do research. For instance, Judy was recently hired to interpret at a high-level court hearing, but the attorney never gave her any detailed information. He did, however, give her the name of the plaintiff, and Judy used that information to look up his case in the public court records system. Those records don't include a copy of the actual complaint, but at least Judy knew what the charges were. It's a start, and unfortunately, in this profession, you have to learn to work with incomplete information. Dagy recently had a difficult conference interpreting assignment, and never received the PowerPoint presentations, even though she requested them repeatedly. She decided to make the best of it and used the basic agenda that she had to read up on the legislation that would be discussed.
  • Put on your power suit. This might go without saying, but we still see plenty of interpreters who are not dressed as professionally as everyone else in the room. In addition to the fact that professional dress is mostly required, wearing a good suit (your lucky suit, perhaps) also usually does wonders for your self-esteem. We both have a few suits that we know fit well and that will make us feel strong and confident. We'd feel less confident in yoga pants. What you wear really can change your attitude. When in doubt, wear a suit. It's always better to be overdressed than underdressed, and first impressions go a long way. You can put everyone else in the room at ease by walking in with confidence and well dressed.
  • Fake it if you must. We are not suggesting that you should fake interpreting skills that you don't have. Please be sure to only accept assignments for which you are fully qualified, but sometimes nerves can still play a huge part (they certainly do for us once in a while). Even if you are nervous, it's important to not show it. Take a deep breath, sit with a straight back (or stand up straight if you are in front of an audience), focus on positive body language, and trust your abilities. The first few minutes might be challenging, but things usually do get easier with time. Be sure to warm up your voice beforehand. Naturally, your assignment shouldn't be the first thing you interpret that day, so do a few short interpreting exercises just before you start or before you leave home.
  • Put others at ease. You probably interpret all the time, but remember that some of the people in the room might never have worked with an interpreter before, so the situation might be stressful for them, too. If it's appropriate, take a few minutes to assure them that you are there to bridge the linguistic barriers, and if there's time, briefly explain how it all works. Judy recently went to an administrative hearing that included an in-person committee, committee members on the phone, a plaintiff on the phone, and an attorney on yet another phone. It was a formidable challenge for all parties, and early on, one of the committee members asked Judy if she could interpret in the following format: "He said.... she said..." Judy explained to the committee member that best practices in our profession dictate interpreting in the first person, and that put him at ease.  We think educating both clients and the public about how interpreting works is very much part of our work.

ESLETRA Conference in New York City

It's not often that a language-specific conference (a language other than English, that is) comes to the United States, so we are delighted to share the following information that we have received from the organizers of ESLETRA. Suffice it today that medical translation superstar Dr. Fernando Navarro will be one of the keynote speakers. Unfortunately, we have other engagements that weekend (Judy will be attending an event in LA), so we won't be able to make it -- we wish we'd heard about this sooner so we could have made plans!
ESLETRA is putting on a fantastic all-Spanish conference in New York City April 25 and 26 (right around the corner) with world-class speakers, many of whom don't come to the US on a regular basis. For more information about the ESLETRA 5th International Conference, please visit their website

This is the first time that this conference, which is projected to attract roughly 130 attendees, is held in the US. It's been a few years since the last ESLETRA conference, which was held in Toledo, Spain, in 2008. This year's event is co-sponsored by the Spanish Language Division of the American Translators Association, and our friend and SPD administrator Francesa Samuels will be one of the speakers. As of the time of this writing, there are still a few seats up for grabs, so don't delay!

Here is some additional information about ESLETRA, which the organization sent us:

Who we are
ESLETRA, acronym of El Español, Lengua de Traducción (Spanish – Language of Translation), is the name of an association founded in Brussels in 2002 by a group of translators working in the  European Union institutions.  The mission of ESLETRA is the organization of international conferences on translation and related disciplines to promote awareness of the profession.
ESLETRA firmly believes that international relations are inconceivable without translation, as translators are, by definition, facilitators of dialog and understanding. The contribution of translation to an integrated and consistent society is also an undisputable factor, specially in labor and welfare environments.
TREMÉDICA has been a traditional partner of ESLETRA, supporting and promoting by different means its activities  from the very beginning. It has also been one of the cornerstones of the organization’s conferences by providing a highly qualified group of speakers, well known in the world of medical translation. Among them, Fernando Navarro, the author of the Diccionario crítico de dudas inglés-español de medicina
With the support of public and private organizations, ESLETRA has already organized four conferences, one in Almagro (Spain), two in Toledo (Spain) and one in Puebla (Mexico).  The events focused on different aspects of Spanish as a language for translation: Spanish, an International Language, The Words of the Translator, Translation: Contact and Pollination, and Spanish: -- a Translation language for Dialog and Cooperation.
The proceeds of those conferences, published at the Centro Virtual Cervantes  (http://cvc.cervantes.es/lengua/esletra/default.htm), show the wide range of topics and issues discussed at the events. They also highlight the network of professionals working in non-linguistic fields that supports the actual work of translators, both institutional and freelancers.
Considering that the city of New York is currently one of the main centers of international relations, ESLETRA has requested the collaboration of TREMÉDICA, a professional translators association registered in New York State, to celebrate their 5th Conference in the City, which will focus on Spanish translation within international organizations.

With the participation of translators and interpreters from the United Nations, the European Union, the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions, a distinguished group of participants will reflect on the current status of the profession at these institutions. Some of the topics to be covered are listed in the last page of this document.
ESLETRA, a non-profit, tax exempt association has requested the collaboration of TREMÉDICA regarding the administrative and financial management of the proposed 5th Conference, and TREMÉDICA, an  income tax exempt association under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, has agreed to act as Fiscal Sponsor of such Conference, given it considers it is consistent with its purpose and mission.

Webinar: Fundamentals of Waste Management

Abigail Dahlberg.
We love spreading the word about conferences, seminars, and webinars. The latter are very convenient to fit into everyone's busy translation days, as you don't even have to leave the house!

One of our favorite new organizations to do provide high-quality webinars for translators is the LSP-run Alexandria Project. Judy was recently approached to moderate a series of three seminars on "The Fundamentals of Waste Management" by our dear friend and colleague Abigail Dahlberg. We are all about learning about other specializations, especially such an interesting niche, and "Trash Girl" (as she is lovingly known) is just the person to teach it! You can read a previous interview with her on Translation Times right here.

The three one-hour sessions will take place on July 10th, 15th and 17th and you can sign up here. See you there?

Other interesting webinars through Alexandria Project include the following:
SEO 2014: Advanced SEO tactics for translators & LSPs with Anne Diamantitis
Deconstruction a lawsuit presented by our friend Ana Iaria
Medical translation 104: Respiratory system with Pablo Müguerza

You Are Fired!

Don’t worry about the title of this blog post: this is not about the linguist getting fired, but about the linguist firing a client. In general, we are not big fans of the term firing clients, but it does make for a catchy title. Now that we've got your attention, let’s talk about a problem that every small business owner, regardless of the business sector, faces sooner or later: clients who are simply, well, not worth it. If this has never happened to you, consider yourself lucky.

It's all about business strategy. Photo by Judy.
It’s a well-known reality of the marketplace that some clients will be more difficult and will take up more of your time than others. We’d say that 99% of our clients are absolutely lovely, but some require more work and more hand-holding than others. Some have completely preventable emergencies that they expect us to solve. That’s not to say that they aren’t nice people or that we don’t like them, but as the owners of a small business, our only resource is our time, so we have to make choices about how we use that resource to benefit our bottom line. We run a business, and we need to always behave like one. For better or for worse, that includes making some difficult decisions about whom we want to work with. Since we work for ourselves, we are under no obligation to continue any working relationship that simply isn’t fruitful, and sometimes you have to walk away.

For instance, let’s say you have a client who is responsible for 2% of your annual revenue, but who is so high-maintenance that you spend hours and hours of the phone and sending e-mails about all sorts of minutiae. It doesn’t matter if the client is right or wrong, what matters is that you use your time efficiently. We ran into this situation recently, when we realized that a small customer, who happens to be quite disorganized, was taking up a lot of our time. We totaled up our earnings from this particular customer for  the previous year, and they were negligible. We treat all customers – small or large – the same, but at some point, it makes sense to allocate more time to your largest customers, and we decided to do so. 

Now, the question is: how do you break this news to the client? Remember that we are not employees, indentured servants and have no moral or ethical obligation to continue a working relationship that doesn’t work for both sides, but it’s still important to be polite. The less direct way is to simply decline work from the client in question. After a while, the client might or might not get the message, but our preferred way of communication is to be honest with the client. Be sure you write a kind message or have a frank, but friendly phone or in-person conversation and simply say that you’ve decided to focus your attention on other projects. If you want to tell the client the whole truth, we suggest wearing kid gloves and perhaps consider saying that your client’s goals and yours are not exactly aligned (or something similar).

On the other hand, you might have customers who are responsible for a good portion of your income, but who might so challenging to work with that the business relationship takes up too much energy. If your customer makes your stomach turn, you are losing sleep or can’t talk about anything else, perhaps it’s time to prioritize your mental health over your business bottom line, as your health is always more important than any client. In our case, we realized that our difficult client was taking up a lot of unnecessary mental space. Since this client is small, this relationship was neither lucrative nor healthy, and that combination sealed the deal: we walked away.  

How do you handle these tricky situations, dear colleagues? We'd love to hear your experiences!

Conference Interpreting: Booth Etiquette 101 (And Beyond)

Inside the booth. Picture by Judy, 2014.
We've both had the pleasure of working at many high-level conferences, with many great booth partners. Most of our experiences have been extraordinary, but we've also learned from our own (and others' mistakes). Without further ado, here is a brief (by no means exhaustive) list of what to do to make yourself popular with your booth partner.
  • Go the extra mile. If you are the local interpreter and your booth partner is flying in from elsewhere, contact him/her and offer some advice and pointers. Traveling to a new city is stressful, and suggestions are always appreciated. We usually also ask if our booth partner has forgotten something at home that we can either easily bring (say, our own hair straightener) or pick up (think healthy food). We know what it's like to be stuck in a hotel without a car, working long days, and sometimes all you want is a carrot-ginger juice. And we can certainly grab that for our booth partner.
  • Share information and glossaries. We recently heard from a lovely colleague that she routinely has to work with fellow interpreters who cover up their spreadsheets even inside the booth as to not share their information with their booth partner. This doesn't make any sense to us, as the booth is a team and you have to work together to have a good experience. Be sure to e-mail any glossaries to your booth partner ahead of time so you can share terminology and materials. Being prepared is in everyone's interest, and not sharing can backfire: if there are two women in the booth and one doesn't want to share notes, thus affecting the performance of the other, the entire booth will look bad. Attendees simply won't be able to distinguish who is speaking when, unless, of course, the team is made up by one male and one female interpreter, which is relatively rare.
  • Share the space. Booths are small and crowded spaces, so make sure you stick to your side of the booth and leave plenty of room for your partner. If you are bringing snacks, share them with your partner. Don't wear too much perfume and be aware that everything you do in such a small space will affect your partner. 
    Choose your language. Photo by Judy, 2014.
  • No goofing off. Conference interpreters usually work 20 minutes (or 30 minutes) each and then have the other person take over. However, when you microphone is not on, that doesn't mean you can leave the booth and take a break. You are the back-up, and you should be paying attention. A few weeks ago, Judy's lovely booth partner ran out of steam and they had to switch sooner than they thought -- good thing Judy had been paying attention! Another time, Judy muted her microphone to ask her booth partner: "What did he just say?" Turns out the speaker had said, "Dallas Cowboys," which for some reason Judy hadn't caught (it was completely out of context), but luckily, her booth partner had heard it.
Again, this is just a short summary of some suggestions that we think might be helpful for (beginning) conference interpreters. What do you think, dear colleagues? We'd love to hear your suggestions. Just leave a comment and share your experiences.

NAJIT Conference: Free Vegas Advice!

NAJIT's keynote speaker. Photo: Smartling.
The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) puts on one of our favorite conferences every year, and it's always in a different city, which makes for fun travel opportunities. Compared to the annual conference of the American Translators Assocation (ATA), NAJIT's conference is relatively small (250 attendees or so), and that's part of what makes it so special. Attendees have the opportunity to spend some quality time with each other and to learn from some of the most stellar representatives of our industry, including Holly Mikkelson, Tony Rosado, Agustín de la Mora, etc. This year, the conference will be held in Vegas (technically, in Henderson, which is a suburb of Vegas) and Judy had the pleasure of serving on the conference planning committee. We've recently confirmed the keynote speaker, and it's Nataly Kelly, co-author of Found in Translation and VP of Market Development at technology company Smartling. We are quite excited to have her in Vegas and are sure that NAJIT will be a great success as always!
Neon Boneyard, Vegas. Photo by Judy, 2012.

So now, dear friends and colleagues, let's get to the free advice. We know Vegas can be a bit overwhelming, but do not worry! If you are planning on coming to Vegas for the conference and need some advice about attractions, dining, shows, etc., we'd be happy to answer them here! Judy is very much a Vegas expert (19-year resident!) and is looking forward to sharing her insight with you. She is also the immediate past president of NITA (Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association), the local ATA affiliate, which will do everything they can to make this conference a success!. She won't let you go to a bad show; really. Post away and we will be sure to answer as quickly as possible.  

Translation Cartoons: LuComics

A few days ago, one of our lovely Twitter followers (Daniela Bottazi, @Vinglish_Italia)  tweeted a hilarious cartoon that we have included here in this post. It's been a few years since we discovered a new translation cartoonist (the last one was, of course, our brilliant colleague Alejandro Moreno-Ramos of Mox fame), and we are happy to report that Lu's work is great! She has a Facebook page and a Tumblr page as well.

The author is Lu, a 23-year old future literary and technical translator from Argentina. She also creates all her cartoons in Spanish, which is fantastic! 

Cartoon by LuComics, http://lucomics.tumblr.com/
We love her distinct style and spot-on commentary about our industry and wanted to spread the word about her work. Who knows, maybe she will come out with a book of cartoons similar to Mox soon? We'd be the first ones to buy it.

What do you think, dear colleagues? Do you like the cartoons?
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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