SENSE letterhead 2020

5 June 2020

SENSE Online Conference Day 2 Highlights The six sessions on today’s programme dovetailed and complemented one another wonderfully – themes such as networking, fair rates for quality (fit-for-purpose) work, trust transfer and being transparent with clients all came shining through the shared experience and wisdom of our presenters.

Sally Hill – Networking to obtain new work opportunities

Sally began her talk by emphasizing that, as a starting-out freelancer, you should not rely on just one or two clients for work; this simply increases your vulnerability. Rather, put your eggs in a number of baskets by diversifying your business. This may mean using or developing other skills in addition to editing or translating. So consider your innate talents or interests: copywriting, web design, SEO work. To diversify, you need two key things in place: transferable skills plus what is known as ‘trust transfer’. This latter term entails developing in others a trust in your knowledge, ability or expertise, or simply in you as a person. Then, word of mouth tends to kick in and you might receive a request through a totally non-work-related connection – typically from a friend of a friend – for editing or translation services.

Sally both joins groups (‘tribes’, as she labels them) and has even created her own tribe – the ScienceMed Writers Network – to help her to obtain and pass on work through trust transfer.

To illustrate how both volunteering and skills transfer can help us to move (unwittingly) into new fields, Sally shared three case studies – all of SENSE members. Through volunteering for the Society and/or learning technical or management skills, or both, they prepared themselves either for full-time positions or a completely new field of expertise and services, with great success.

Her concluding points were:

  1. Market yourself not only to potential clients but also to your network (so it’s important to develop that network).
  2. Identify your ‘tribe’ and gain their trust, so that they feel safe to use your expertise or recommend you to others.
  3. Use voluntary work or downtime to develop new skills.
  4. Both voluntary work and networking can be regarded as free marketing of yourself.

Nigel Saych – Fair Trade in an unfair world At the outset of his presentation – a real breath of fresh air, especially in these post-Covid times – Nigel quoted the World Free Trade Association’s statement that Free Trade is ‘a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equality’. This formed the golden thread through his talk, the key words of which he returned to in his concluding remarks.

To Nigel, Fair Trade means three things: being fair to his company’s clients, to his cohort of translators and to the Fair Trade team itself. This involves clients choosing either an hourly or a per-word rate, not levying surcharges for urgent work and no minimum charge, charging the same rate for all language combinations, a maximum price guarantee and full GDPR compliance.

For his translators, Fair Trade means paying everyone the same rate and expecting the same quality from them, not looking for the cheapest service provider and providing prompt payment (they even have an Advance Payment Scheme for those who are used only infrequently). There’s also a no first-come-first-served policy in his business model, and every freelancer signs a clear, concise and honest working agreement up front.

Being fair to the company itself means having no hierarchical structure, having linguists as decision-makers, being successful without making excessive profits, encouraging (positive) feedback from clients and translators, as well as being socially responsible by supporting charitable and NGO causes or campaigns.

Unfair trade, on the other hand, means carrying out discriminatory practices (whether based on race, gender or disability), and paying unacceptably low wages or rates that are not commensurate with practitioners’ worth.

One concern raised about the post-Covid environment is that some translations businesses are either forcing translators to cut rates or to accept delayed payment – which flies in the face of Fair Trade principles.

Tiina Kinunnen – From whining to shining

A teacher and translator (primarily of film scripts), Tiina shared her professional thoughts on how to portray a professional image (publicly versus privately) and how productivity lies in your comfort zone (find the types of text you are either best at or enjoy most). She also made the point that practitioners should make informed decisions on matters such as rates (don’t make a habit of offering clients discounts and know implicitly what you need to earn to pay the bills) and on matters such as the quality of our deliverables: should we be aiming at perfection or fit-for-purpose end products? In all these, she advocates transparency in dealing with clients. This sometimes entails explaining to (sometimes difficult or demanding) clients that for rate A you can deliver certain products or services, but for rate B you can offer more. That way, the client gets to choose the service they require based on information.

Her take-home message was twofold. Firstly, make yourself the go-to person for your client, having made yourself part of their solution, not part of the problem. Secondly, find trusted colleagues with whom you are able to network, network, network.

Wendy Baldwin – Honing skills through near-peer exchange

This session introduced us to an innovative way of online co-working: a kind of hybrid between conventional co-working and a writing retreat. In it, the participants – usually paired language practitioners and academic writers – set aside a time and space in which to work on agreed-upon chunks of current work in blocks. It can, of course, take time to build such a co-working relationship, but as a practitioner herself Wendy recommends starting with academics you know, agreeing on a session structure and boundaries, and being flexible when engaging with potential co-workers.

At the start of each session, the partners in such a Language Practitioner and Academic Co-working (LPAC) partnership set (writing or editing) goals. They then set a time (usually 75 minutes) for achieving those goals, checking in to assess progress and plan their next steps. The overlaps and complementarity between co-workers include discipline, language, locality and skills, which means that a diversity of co-workers can engage in LPAC sessions. One of the major benefits of such sessions is that they provide a safe, social space in which to work productively.

Marieke Krijnen – Editing in the era of digital nomadism COVID-19: How I look after my mental and physical health

For her presentation today, Marieke adeptly adapted her title to cater to the conditions we’re all having to live under since the outbreak of COVID-19. In accordance with her title, she divided her presentation into ‘physical health’ and ‘mental health’ issues and solutions. And each topic was further subdivided into ‘at home’ and ‘other’ suggestions for coping under the present acute conditions.

So far as promoting our physical health is concerned, she suggested that, failing gyms and swimming pools, some exercise and ergonomic solutions are necessary substitutes. These could include exercising while working (with a treadmill or a desk-cycle) and changing your position during a day – for instance, moving from your desk to a sofa and then to the garden or a park as a routine practice. This movement and postural variety is considered very important when you’re restricted to your home environment.

So far as mental health is concerned, as homebound digital nomad we have to introduce a work–life balance and also tap into communities of some sort, including virtual/digital meetings, to break down our isolation. Other disciplines include blocking access to your laptop and mobile phone when you really do need to switch off from work, taking regular breaks during the day, taking a shower (!) and taking weekends off to give your brain some relief. Marieke’s sound advice, based on her personal experience, had many a head nodding in agreement. C’est la vie.

Panel discussion – Setting up shop: newcomer perspectives on the translation industry

Relative newcomers to freelance translation Jasper Pauwels, Branco van der Werf and Louise Wetzels were joined by more seasoned translators Lloyd Bingham and Nigel Saych in raising a number of questions relevant to those starting out as freelance translators. How and where to get started? How to market yourself and make contacts with clients or agencies (and what are both good and bad strategies to do so)? Is it better to specialize or to be a generalist in the translation services and the disciplines or areas you offer? And, inevitably, the question of rates: which model to adopt, hourly, per word or per page? Another question that arose was whether membership of a professional association improved one’s chances of making contact with clients and obtaining work (not so, they thought).

Considering that in their audience was a large contingent of students of translation, the points they made back and forth, positive and negative, were likely to be keenly received. But there were no hard and fast solutions on offer, largely because the panellists agreed that providing translation services is such a personal thing (for both translator and client) and the permutations of genre, subject and discipline so great that each case has more or less to be judged by its own merits. For instance, Jasper specializes in legal translation and marketing materials: Branco has a wider range, including film scripts and educational texts. And while some clients are happy to pay by the hour for certain services, others tend to stick to the good old per-word rate. But one thing they agreed on: when approaching clients or agencies, online is the best way to go to get the greatest reach, but it means you’ll have to have to differentiate yourself from the rest (to stand out from the thousands of other hopefuls) and be specific about the translation service niche you have to offer. And, as Branco reminded us, there’s no harm in calling a potential client or agency so that they actually hear your voice and can interact with you in a more personal way: that’s precisely what helped to get him a foot in the door!

Also, Jasper pointed out that as a starting translator, you should learn to say no when jobs you’re offered are either beyond your capability or when the rate is ridiculously low – in the latter instance, you’ll find it hard to charge a higher rate with the same client. Is there a right way when it comes to choosing between specialist or generalist? Not according to the panel; largely because each individual will have an offering that might be dead right for them or their client, or not. In the result, it’s possibly best to specialize in something you’re really passionate about, whether it’s marketing materials, video games or contracts.