06 External audit – Opportunities

19 May

IMG_3358 best cropped to 320 x 200 short(Always) remember the mission, i.e. the mission for the translation ‘profession’, not for a commercial group, or a professional practice, or individual translator.  That will come later, based on the general principles, framework and strategic plan developed for the ‘profession’ as a whole.

The translation profession’s mission is to differentiate itself from the translation ‘industry’ (agencies, brokers, intermediaries and paraprofessional translators), and establish world-wide recognition as Certified Practising/Professional Translators (CPTs), working independently or in professional practices, providing reliable, high-quality language translation services and associated professional advice.

OK, it is easier to identify problems than opportunities, because the former tend to get our attention when they cause difficulties, annoyance and frustration, whereas opportunities are not always obvious to everyone.

There is, and always will be, a role for competent, professional agencies to manage large translation projects of a basic nature, i.e. a project management role.  However, there will be a number of obvious advantages in cutting out intermediaries who do not add value, particularly for a translation between two particular languages or within a related group of languages handled by a professional translation practice specializing in these languages.

The rising number of intermediaries entering the market obviously includes opportunists that have little or no professional, language or translation skills, and are competing for business only on price, and the promise of almost instantaneous delivery.  Their claims are often misleading, and rely on the ignorance of potential clients and aspiring or unqualified free-lancers, to capture part of the rapidly expanding demand for translation services.

Any translator who has been approached  by such ‘LSPs’ will be aware of the increasingly ridiculous delivery time-lines that are specified, and paradoxically, the sharply declining rates that are offered to meet these deadlines.  They will also be aware of the effect this is having on the ability of well-established and experienced professional agencies and qualified translators, to compete with them.

I have frequently listened, at first sceptically I admit, to what is clearly the genuine lament of very professional agency clients who were formerly happy to pay my very reasonable rates, when they told me that they can no longer afford to do so because of the ‘competitive situation’ in the ‘market’.

These developments inevitably lead to the hiring of often inexperienced or unqualified translators, and as a consequence, to failures in terms of delivery and quality.  I hope and expect that this will result in a growing realization on the part of potential clients, that using intermediaries other than professional agencies to handle professional services, is increasingly fraught with considerable risk.  The situation is not helped by well-qualified colleagues lowering their rates to unsustainable levels, thus prolonging and exacerbating the problem.
I know you have to eat, but not just today.  What about next year?

Some of the main external opportunities for differentiating ourselves from the industry, therefore, are:

  1. to make potential clients aware that these risks can be reduced if not eliminated altogether, by using the advice and the skills of a properly qualified, accredited and experienced ‘professional’ translator for a specific task;
  2. to point out the advantages that can be derived from direct contact between the client and the professional handling the translation, which is likely to ensure a much better understanding of the client’s needs, leading to better outcomes;
  3. to demonstrate the potential for a substantial reduction in immediate costs by eliminating the intermediary, who has overheads, sales and marketing expenses, as well as the need to make a profit;
  4. to point to an improvement in delivery time-lines by eliminating double-handling, as well as the opportunity to deliver files as they are completed, rather than waiting until the entire project has been completed (and reassembled when using multiple translators to meet an irrational promise of an almost impossible delivery deadline).
    I rarely find that a direct client is in a great hurry, other then lawyers, of course :-);
  5. to provide a client with a direct, professional warranty in respect of quality and reliability;
  6. to get to know the client’s business and therefore to provide a style of writing that is closely aligned to the client’s corporate image; and,
  7. to develop a relationship with a professional translator who is able to assist with advice, recommendations for languages and material he or she is not qualified to handle.
    After all, entry into a foreign market is rarely a one-off event.  It takes time and effort to succeed in a foreign market, and having a professional language expert on your side is an enormous help with advice on both language and cultural issues.

Given a good bottle of red (for inspirational purposes only you understand), I am sure that I and a few close colleagues could come up with more opportunities to market the advantages of using translation professionals rather than intermediaries, and I hope some of you will contribute to the above list by responding to this post.

We need to collect and assemble these advantages in a well-prepared document, on a/our websites, and promote them at every opportunity.

However, none of this is going to be of any use whatsoever to our cause, if a potential client cannot distinguish between a properly qualified, accredited and experienced translator, and anyone else out there making a series of dubious if not downright fraudulent claims in this regard.  Particularly also, if some of our professional colleagues keep accepting work at a pauper’s wage instead of offering their services at a fee that properly reflects their education, training and experience.  It is also clear that professional translators must collaborate with colleagues or establish professional practices to handle larger projects and different languages.

Ergo, for qualified, accredited and experienced translators to succeed in this rapidly failing market, we must differentiate ourselves from the rest (i.e. when it hits the fan, we must make sure that we are in a different room :-).  Before we work on how best to do this (short-term and long-term objectives and the strategies for achieving them) we must complete our SWOT/TOWS analysis, i.e. the identification of our own (internal) weaknesses and strengths.

To be successful, we must exploit our strengths and work to reduce, if not eliminate, our weaknesses.

In my next blog, I will try and list what I regard as our greatest weaknesses (get the bad news out of the way first!).  (07)

For more details about my professional profile, go to: www.doubledutch.com.au

5 Responses to “06 External audit – Opportunities”

  1. José Carlos G. Ribeiro May 20, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    I’ve seen some performers that present a ‘one-man-band’ show, in which one person plays a guitar, drums, harmonica and other instruments, and also sing, all at the same time.

    Freelance Translators would be ‘one-man-organizations’ if they had the skills of translators, IT experts, Finance Managers, Marketing wizards, DTP experts and some others, besides the ability to multitask different projects and manage them successfully.

    There are lots of weaknesses to choose from…

    • Dirk Bayer May 21, 2013 at 12:54 am #

      Just a few thoughts:

      1.) Undercharging is a big problem. OTOH, it can be hard to figure out what an average rate would be for one’s service, especially when you are new to the industry. We probably can’t publicize rate ranges for different language pairs, content types, deadline and quality requirements often enough.

      2.) Accreditation sounds reasonable at the surface, but I feel that the quality of a translator’s work should speak for itself as opposed to a stamp of approval obtained by paying off some self proclaimed national association which demands a tithe and regular participation in its fee-based seminars. This is where work samples and long standing relationships come in, something which publishing houses and translation agencies are usually better equipped to handle than, say, a medical equipment manufacturer who wants to sell internationally.

      3.) The cheapening of the market is an old problem related to there just being too many ignorantly tightfisted customers out there who need to be constantly educated about the value of good vs bad translation and how highly skilled (and therefore costly) good translation and cultural consultation as well as professionally done DTP and tech support really are. Things get worse when he economy tanks or when there is a sudden flood of more or less professional new translators into the market as when East Germany and West Germany reunited or when the Internet connects us globally so that cheap labor countries suddenly appear on the scene. The latter case is related to a far larger problem, that of the nature of global capitalism which favors such inequalities. Thus it is outside the scope of what members of the translation industry can do. OTOH, translators can move to cheap parts of the world, some of which are truly idyllic. So, there is opportunity here, as well. 😉

      • louisvr May 21, 2013 at 9:29 am #

        Thank you for your input, Dirk, but I don’t think that moving to a pacific island and living under a palm tree is an option for everybody (I’ve lived and worked in Papua New Guinea for 11 years 🙂
        Think of the mosquitoes, the sand flies and the rising ocean levels!

        Accreditation by associations (without the global promotion of such accreditations), is indeed of little value. I have been accredited by NAATI, but it’s of little value other than when locally handling certified documents for Government.

        I am working on a strategy of differentiation that can be established and promoted by everybody in the profession, world-wide.

        When you say ‘new to the industry’, can I beg you call it ‘new to the profession’ in the future. The industry (agencies/brokers/middlemen/intermediaries and sundry shysters) is what is destroying us, we need to distance ourselves from them.

        A profession stands on its own and is very protective of it image. Professionals do not work for agencies, they deal directly with the client for very good reasons like quality of service delivery, confidentiality, acceptance of responsibility for outcomes, etc. If we are to succeed, we must establish a clear and convincing professional image, which is the opposite of the ‘industry’ is doing for us.

        Thanks again for your interest.

  2. Halina July 15, 2013 at 4:30 am #

    It is also clear that professional translators must collaborate (in order to?) establish professional practices to handle larger projects and different languages.

    Louis, I found the above difficult to follow. Is there a small typo there? I put my suggestion in bracket.

    Now, this comment refers to your writings I’ve read thus far. I agree with what you propose in principle i.e. that we should raise the status of our profession and eradicate the intermediaries. It is fine calling ourselves professionals and avoiding the commercial terms used by the intermediaries, but how can we improve the way we are perceived by the general public, who are indoctrinated by the former? Also, this in itself will not alter the choices made by the purchasers of translating services, whose main motivating criterion is cost savings. They need to realise they’re not getting any extra value by using those operators. In fact, at least as with translations from English into the minor languages, the value in a longer supply chain is diminished. From my experience I know that the go-betweens hamper communications, which in turn causes delays and adversely affects the quality. Therefore I would go further and recommend the change to the whole culture, so that our potential clients come to realise that in order to reduce costs as well as misunderstandings caused by the longer communications chains, it is necessary to deal directly with the service providers. As with changing any culture, this would be a formidable challenge and I wonder how effective your proposals would be towards achieving this end.

    • louisvr July 15, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

      ‘with professional colleagues or’ establish….
      A senior’s moment 🙂
      Yes, Halina, you are quite right, after looking at ourselves and deciding what we are and want to be as, changing the nomenclature is the first step in changing the prevailing culture. Yes, it is a formidable challenge, and it will take some time, but I believe I have a simple, elegant answer that will help all those who are professionally qualified, and by extension, will make life more difficult for those that are not.

      I don’t want to go out on a limb with half a solution and have it shot down by those with a vested interest in the status quo.

      Please be patient.

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