Language never ceases to amaze

December 20, 2009

I was walking past a branch of a well-known supermarket chain yesterday, and saw this sign (not replicated word for word) “By the year XXXX, none of our packaging needs go to landfill”. Maybe I misread it, will check again next time I’m passing. But the fact remains: why does it have to be “none of our packaging need go to landfill”, while “none of our packaging needs to go to landfill” is fine? Is the first one a subjunctive? New Year’s Resolution must be to investigate.

Why does “to sanction” mean “to approve”, while  “to impose sanctions” is to penalise by restrictions? Is any reason needed or do we just need to resign ourselves?

Why has the phrase “that begs the question”, which used to mean “that evades the question” suddenly come to mean “that calls for/raises the question” within a few short years?

Yours enriched but confused by linguistic twists, Helen

Flying visit to Edinburgh

November 2, 2009

As always, a great visit to the Scottish group and a lot of enterprising ideas coming from the audience.

The drive to get more direct clients did make me think, though. Not about anything desperately new: it just seems such a pity that a profession most people in it love is being ruined by some players’ low prices. And it is a spiral, because the good payers may then feel they are being mugs by paying good rates, whereas in fact they should be proud of acknowledging value for money.

No one doubts that the work providers themselves are under pressure. In an industry with a few large suppliers rather than a multitude of little ones they would also be in a better position to “open their books” and reveal exactly what they need from us in order to do their work – and would also be in a better position to offer a quid pro quo. The organisational difficulties in our industry are immense.

But one thing is for sure: few people (if any) can run a classy business and offer high class to the end customer if they operate a low-cost policy.

Promoting yourself to direct clients

October 23, 2009

“I’d like to look for direct clients but I can see how
sending a CV wouldn’t be appropriate. What kind of
“promotional material” should I send? In what format? How
should I follow up on it?”

There’s no reason not to send a CV, provided you feel the client will understand it. Agencies will know what the letters after your name mean, direct clients might not; on the other hand ex-employers may be recognisable names to direct clients. I wouldn’t name clients without their permission.

The answer, as so often, is “it depends” – depends on the type of customer and how you want to come across. If you are dealing with small manufacturing businesses you have identified as exporters, the kind of postcard or flyer you get through the door from small tradesmen may work. When accountants or solicitors promote themselves, on the other hand, they often write fairly long letters, so you can do the same thing with them – the “must” I think is heavy, expensive notepaper so that you look like a serious professional.

In other words, use whatever you think will make your target client feel you are “their kind of people”: some people like to read the details, others are happy just to register the basic facts.

I would recommend a high-end language style, though, including with smaller businesses. But if you have, say, 20 small businesses to contact it might be a good idea to test what works best, and send a flashy “Are you in despair talking to foreign customers? Don’t know where to turn? I am the solution to all your problems” to ten of them and a more “professional” “I have X to offer and wondered if you ever had need of such services; I have been working successfully in field Y for Z years” communication to the other ten.

A properly produced leaflet is also possible, and not that expensive these days.

How about a simple letter or email with a reference to your website?

Last 2 questions

October 16, 2009

Two questions remained about direct clients:

What prices could I realistically charge?

What are the other benefits?

As to the first, it should probably be dealt with in detail at the meeting in Edinburgh, but my rule of thumb is this: if I reckon my rate to agencies is about standard, then I would double that rate and deduct a bit (according to gut feel) for direct clients. Rationale: you are delivering most of what an agency does, but not quite all because you are not a one-stop shop, the agency may (should) proof read your work normally etc. etc. An agency that is doing all the typesetting and layout will charge a lot more than double for the end product, I should think.

Other benefits – everyone will have his or her own list. However, you have more likelihood of being able to ask questions properly and get real feedback and discussion, which means you know more, feel more competent and probably contribute more to the client as well as getting more back. It depends on whether you are working for a smallish business and are their non-resident expert, or whether you are one of several freelancers working with their translation department, of course.
It’s the same old story: the benefits are basically the same as with a good translation company, I suppose, but maybe the ratio of good ‘uns to bad ‘uns is higher with the direct clients? Discuss!

How do you prospect the freelance market?

September 16, 2009

How do you prospect the freelance market for interpreting? How do you survive without AIIC’s closed shop? Is the market that saturated?

Sorry, I don’t know much about the interpreting market. To find out what life is like outside AIIC you need to identify other people who are not in it, of course, which becomes more difficult because they are presumably not in a group so not easy to spot. Why not identify some new or candidate members of AIIC and ask what life was like before? Or get in touch with specialist interpreters’ agencies and ask whether they employ non-AIIC members, what percentage of their work goes to them etc.? I am sure such agencies exist, there is one (used to be one?) in Leeds.

As far as market saturation is concerned – people say the same thing about translation, i.e. it is an overcrowded field, hard to break in etc. – but new translators still get established, each one has a different story involving skill, persistence and luck, not necessarily in that order. I’d appreciate interpreters’ views on this question, please.

How about repeat work?

September 7, 2009

Which companies will offer repeat work?

It depends on your field/language pairs, of course, but here are some suggestions:
– Large, established international businesses that develop new products for the international market/correspond with people abroad on a regular basis
– Companies that publish newsletters in several languages, could be once a month or every two months
– Companies with multilingual websites – check how often they are updated, the owner companies could be candidates for regular work
My guess would be that regular work equates to large companies – a solution could be to look for those with translation departments and address a request (in your chosen form, see previous post) to the department head. Such companies often use freelancers to smooth peaks or to do either the urgent work or the long pieces the in-house staff can’t cope with.

Are direct clients worth the extra hassle?

September 7, 2009

Are direct clients worth the extra hassle?

I was going to save this question for last, but it is a crucial point so I’ll bring it forward, here goes:

Yes, definitely. Apart from anything else, some direct clients are very easy to work for, just as some translation agencies/companies are more trouble than they are worth. So if you can make sure you get the right direct clients with all their advantages (which I’ll talk about a bit more on 24 October), you should have closer working relationships and more money without any extra grief.

On the other hand, I have to stress – and this is also a topic for 24 October – that there are some (many?) good translation companies/agencies out there and the range from bad agencies to good direct clients is a graduated spectrum – who you work for is not an either/or choice.

Is cold calling permissible?

September 3, 2009

Just to get me started on the topic of client-hunting, I was recently asked a question:  “I was wondering whether Helen could
clarify the line between establishing first contact with a potential
direct customer and cold-calling; because I have a list of potential
direct customers (from former employments), but was advised against
contacting them directly since it would be cold-calling.”

My take on it:

Hm, good question – there are other ways to make first contact, like attending business breakfasts and various other events, but if you can’t “engineer chance meetings” I don’t see any reason not to cold-call, it ain’t illegal. Surely if you go about it politely it isn’t a problem – one method would be to write to your target contacts first, explain who you are etc. and tell them you would like to call them in a day or two/in the next week, if convenient, and discuss possibilities with them. I like that because it doesn’t take people aback, and if your CV/portfolio is enclosed they at least can prepare and think about your cause.

But if you have a list of named individuals and even possibly know them in person, there is no real problem with cold-calling. If done the right way it isn’t “wrong” and is only perceived as such if your contact really doesn’t want the product, I think. And in the latter case it doesn’t matter if they don’t like it, you won’t hear from them again anyway! Hard selling is the “no-no” for long-term professional relationships in my view.

As long as you aren’t using information from confidential sources and genuinely feel your contact may find your service useful, why not?

Hello world!

September 3, 2009

Not too long ago, I uttered the words “Blogging? If I ever feel tempted to start pouring my heart out in writing I’ll buy a diary and make a fool of myself in private instead.”

Famous last words.