On portals for language professionals (and other resources) Reply

There are frequent questions and discussions about whether to use one translation portal or another, or this portal vs. that portal. A translator looking to invest in his or her business or seeking to gain new clients is presented with various sites and resources in general to this end. The same is true for any resource, be it in risk management, terminology, discussion groups, software, etc. Here are some pointers on evaluating and using these portals and other resources to your advantage.

But I want something for nothing!

If this is the case, it may be a good moment to reflect on your freelance career. As a freelancer, you are also running your own business, whether you call it that or not. It is difficult, if not impossible, to operate any successful business without investment of some kind (and it will usually take investments of various kinds– a time investment, a monetary investment, etc.). Don’t expect opportunity to come your way on its own. If there are tools and resources which help improve your business, invest in them. Sometimes this investment involves simply taking the time to evaluate and learn how to use the resource.

Other investments require your credit card! Hardware and software are an example. Training or other kinds of education can be another. And memberships, whether they are in professional associations in translation or in your field of expertise, or in portals or for services designed to enhance your business somehow, are another. If we can’t agree that you cannot operate successfully on a something-for-nothing basis, go no further! If we can agree, read on!

How can I know it’s a good investment before I make it?

Spinning head can be one side effect of trying to decide on where to start with all of the tools and resources available online to translators.

Spinning head can be one side effect of trying to decide on where to start with all of the tools and resources available online to translators.

This is the real problem. It’s less about “How much?” and more about “How much can I get in return?” In comparison with ten or twenty years ago, the tools and resources now available to almost anyone can be overwhelming. How can you know you’ll see some kind of return on your investment before you make it?

  • Do your homework. This is the time investment that should precede a potential monetary investment. Fortunately, as resources have grown and become more readily available to all, so have the means to investigate them. Take your time and really look into what each resource has to offer before pulling out your credit card.
  • Be wary of resources which promise much but do not allow you to see what you are missing by not investing. It would be reasonable to assume that a resource which can deliver on its purpose or promise can show you that it can do so before you have to commit.
  • Find out what other professionals are saying about the resource. Have they had experience with it? What do they think of their experience? Everyone’s needs and how they make use of a resource will vary, and so will their feedback, but this is a good indicator of where to dig further and when to look elsewhere.
  • Is there a free version or trial of the resource that will let you test drive it? Try it out. Don’t expect the free version to have all the whistles and bells (see the section above on something for nothing). But it will give you an idea if it is something that might work for you.

How much do you stand to lose? How much do you stand to gain?

Don’t limit yourself. There are a multitude of resources out there. You can pick one and depend on that, or you can pick and choose what works best for you and your freelance business from various sources. You set the limits.

Your colleagues are probably your best resource (and you are theirs). Other industries may have a different dynamic, but in translation one benefit is that most of your fellow professionals are more than happy to help out with advice, recommendations, work, and mentoring. Don’t be afraid to network and to get to know these people, they can help you. And help others whenever you can. Even the most experienced professional can learn something new from another experienced professional. And experienced translators who help newcomers are actively shaping and protecting the profession.

Be ready to invest, but be smart about what’s free, too

If you are working or getting started in translation now, you have a huge advantage over those who were getting started just five or ten years ago. Online resources have grown tremendously, and, if you are ready to do a bit of legwork, you will find that there is a wealth of free resources out there. Some of the best tools or services will still be paid, but why not compliment them with the free stuff? Be sure to do your homework before committing to a free tool or service too.

The power of networking

As I mention above, colleagues are a powerful resource. In last year’s State of the industry report for freelance translators, we saw that many experienced translators found networking to be an important source of new client contact and work (it can also be fun and educational at the same time). You can network at in-person or online events, in terminology help and discussion/help forums, through social media and blogs… this is another activity where you set the limit. Translation portals are ideal places to network without even leaving your home or office, or home office as the case may be. Remember that how you present yourself online is just as important as how you present yourself in person, with the added benefit that most of these interactions will be public and live on forever thanks to the Internet. This benefit turns into a curse if you handle yourself unprofessionally or in a way which turns off potential collaborators or clients, so take care.

Translation portals are driving down rates and adversely affecting translators’ livelihoods!

This is an oft-voiced opinion. Those who are already firmly in possession of this opinion won’t find that changed by anything I say here. Any community, large or small, online or in flesh and blood, will probably tend to reflect the larger society or larger market from which it comes. Much as you would if you went shopping for anything in person, online you will see there is a “low end” of the market in
any community. There is a high end and a middle, too. Oddly enough, the high end can at times be more difficult to perceive at first glance.

Over the past few years, translators have reported downward pressure on rates; however, 2012 saw a higher percentage of translators reporting an increase in volume, productivity, and in their rates than in the previous two years. Those who seem to be doing best are those who understand that no one sets a rate for you if you are freelance translator– it is your responsibility (and some would argue your duty to the profession) to know your rate, know that you are the one who sets it, and to charge accordingly for your work. No one person or entity has the power to “drive down rates”–  fortunately!

I saw a job posted on portal X and look at what they were offering to pay translators!

Remember when I wrote above that the high end of the market can be more difficult to see? A job offer wherein the client or outsourcer offers what many consider to be a low rate often gets free and widespread publicity. There are relatively few (if any?) posts or threads regarding the well-paying projects from great clients, and not because there is a lack of those projects and clients. On
ProZ.com, as probably happens elsewhere, most of the work is being passed out of the public eye, so to speak, with clients contacting providers directly through their profiles and the directory. If a project offered anywhere is below the rate you are willing to accept, the best thing to do is either negotiate to your rate, or simply move on, and spend your efforts where they will be more fruitful. Keep in mind that posted jobs can be good new client contact, but they are probably not “where it’s at” for many; if you are using your resources well and marketing yourself intelligently, clients should be approaching you, not the other way around.

Some resources won’t be a direct source of clients, but you should still use them

There are sites and other resources out there which are more limited in scope. Some are professional discussion forums only, for example. Don’t turn a blind eye to these, even if your main focus at the moment is getting new clients. A discussion group/forum of trusted professionals can be a powerful learning and networking resource. If there are translator organizations you can join, join them. If there are professional organizations in your field of expertise you can join, join them. A translator who is specialized in agriculture who is also an active member in a farming organization may have more draw to a potential client than one who is not.

Don't limit yourself when deciding what resources to use for your business. You can pick and choose what will work best for you.

Don’t limit yourself when deciding what resources to use for your business. You can pick and choose what will work best for you.

How else do you evaluate new potential resources? What other considerations should a translator have in mind when looking at these resources?

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