08 Internal audit – our strengths

22 May

IMG_3358 best cropped to 320 x 200 shortWe are now into the home straight, the place where we start dealing with solutions and strategies.  But before we get to that, we need to complete the internal audit and identify our strengths.  When it comes to languages and translation, there are none so confident as translators!  However, when it comes to talking about being successful commercially, many among us start looking uneasy, nervous and confused.

Let’s hope we can change that.  One of the problems I encountered when running workshops on technical commercial issues associated with being a free-lance or independent professional, is that there is great variation in the levels of knowledge and understanding between individual translators.  Some are way up there and even do their own accounting, whereas others have only the vaguest of ideas about the basics.

Whilst a major drawback for the latter on an individual level; and probably one reason why some qualified professional translators continue to work for agencies offering a pittance; the enormous variety of backgrounds, knowledge and experience available within the profession as a whole, can be an enormous resource.  Having said that, I have also noticed that we are not very good at marshalling this resource.  Long periods of working alone, seems to reduce confidence of many who could make an enormous contribution to the profession.

Perhaps the fear of criticism, as opposed to the confidence born of the ignorance on the part of those who are less than properly qualified, may discourage those who have a positive contribution to make.  Be that as it may, I know from experience that there is a great deal of knowledge and talent among professional translators.  Here are some of the positives that I am aware of an may be able to be used to our common advantage:

  1. Most professional translators have (and must have in my view) at least a Bachelor degree or equivalent from a reputable university, either in translating or any other discipline, together with more than 5 years of experience.  Many, like myself, have a Master’s degree , and I know there are quite a number among us who have a PhD.
    So we are not going to be short of intelligence or knowledge if we are prepared to work together to achieve our objectives;
  2. Having a tertiary education is not the ‘be all and end all’, of course, but it will draw a clear line in the sand that every lay person (read: potential client) understands, and it will clearly differentiate us from a great many dubious entrants into the sector, attracted by agencies and auction sites like ProZ et al;
  3. Also like myself, many of us have come to the translation profession later in life, after a career in either a different or a related field, and can contribute practical knowledge of experience where required;
  4. Almost all of us are very comfortable with computers, software and the internet, and we are very connected with all parts of the world and each other.  I would be surprised if we cannot do most of what needs to be done to restore our profession to a place that fulfils our professional aspirations without much outside help;
  5. We are competent communicators and know how to put together a promotional page or brochure when we need one.  We understand and know how to research and explain concepts;
  6. Since we are self-employed, we have the freedom to conduct our professional life as we see fit, at least within the boundaries of what is ethically acceptable and professionally responsible.  We do not have to sell it to any superiors, we can just go ahead and do it;

Now, I did not say that it is going to be easy, so when we start working on objectives and strategies, we must bear all the foregoing in mind

Moreover, few of us, myself included, are going to make an enormous effort for the ‘greater good’ if every Dick, Tom and Harry is going to be able to just walk in and take advantage of it; or worse, attack it because of ignorance or because of a vested interest in seeing us fail.
We cannot and must not allow any infiltration by those outside the profession.  The reasons will be discussed in confidence later.

It is clear therefore, that before we start developing short and long-term objectives and the strategies for achieving them, we must close the doors, post a bouncer, and only admit those who qualify.  This is where the rubber hits the road.

My suggestion is that we start simply, with an internet site exclusively for the listing of qualified (later certified), experienced professional translators, who are able to handle projects competently and professionally by themselves.  It must not be used for any other purpose than to provide a platform for potential clients to find and choose a suitable professional in the knowledge that he or she will be in good hands.  The site should have no commercial purpose, and given enough participants, individual costs should be minimal.

Each page should be uniform and simple, providing basic information such as a head shot (photograph rather than a bullet) to make it more personal, and the bare essentials to determine whether the professional concerned specialises in the languages and specialisations that fit a potential client’s needs.  As I have said elsewhere, there should be no e-mail address or other contact details, because they will be stripped out and used by agencies and advertisers to bulk mail.
That would put us back to square one, blind auctions of agency jobs!

The site should only provide a link to the personal URL of the individual chosen.  The potential client can take it from there, in the knowledge that he or she will be dealing with a ‘professional’. In doing it this way, we will be building a database of professional colleagues in a closed environment, and we can build our objectives and strategies amongst ourselves as we go forward, without having others looking over our shoulders.  Moreover, we will start getting the benefits from the site whilst we build it and develop the strategies to promote it.

When, individuals wish to link up with colleagues down the road, to form partnerships, groups or other arrangements to strengthen their commercial success, there will be a ready supply of vetted colleagues to choose from.  There will also be the opportunity of selecting colleagues for ad hoc collaboration, such as proof reading or getting a second opinion, etc.

Paradoxically, the one thing that is likely to complicate things is languages.  If we do not work in cohorts of, say English speakers, Spanish speakers, and perhaps others down the track, it is going to be very difficult to create order and unity to move forward.

However, before we can do anything, we must decide the requirements for being admitted to the profession (and the group).  We cannot afford to have anyone listed who is unable to deliver a project within his or her area of expertise, in a professional manner, meeting the standards that we consider desirable.  We will be condemned immediately and ‘en masse’, if one of us lets the side down, particularly as we start to promote the site.

It seems to me therefore that we are going to need a simple code of conduct that we can start out with, simply outlining the how to respond to an enquiry, how to cost and price the service requested, how and what to deliver and how to invoice, for example.

I have been working on such a code for a while, more on that after we closed the door to outsiders.  I look forward to hearing from you whether you are happy to proceed on this basis, or whether you propose an alternative.

More in 09

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

4 Responses to “08 Internal audit – our strengths”

  1. Halina Arendt June 29, 2013 at 12:28 am #

    Hello Louis,
    Please note I’m resending this comment with one error corrected:

    I applaud you for taking up this challenge. I’ve always deplored the system that we freelance translators work under and have also thought there must be a way of improving it. However, every system is based on the level of integrity predominant in a community and is likely to deviate from the norm, if unregulated. Now, who’s going to oversee it and arbiter in cases of disputes or misunderstandings? It is difficult enough to evaluate standards in a language we understand, but virtually impossible to do so in a language we don’t. Therefore, it is much harder to evaluate translators who translate into minor languages, spoken hardly by anybody, but the natives. I’ve also written a piece or two related to the topic. You’ll find them in my blog: http://polished-translations.wordpress.com (http://wp.me/PZs8o-m; http://wp.me/PZs8o-I; http://wp.me/PZs8o-3s).

  2. Dan Topor September 14, 2013 at 12:35 am #

    Hello Louis! I am grateful that someone has finally decided and also has the skills to take the bull by the horns in this matter. I am 100% behind you in your initiative, so please feel free to contact me for any input. I am an engineer with some IT skills, translating from German and English into Romanian and I am constantly faced with the aforementioned problems in my country, especially because the wages are still very low here and it’s extremely difficult to maintain a ‘respectable’ rate with so many ‘sharks’ swirling around, although I am a certified English-Romanian Translator for the technical field. I really hope we (professional translators) can pull it together sooner than later…

    • louisvr September 14, 2013 at 10:01 am #

      Thank your for support Dan. It’s a serious challenge to change people’s thinking and behaviour, as well as their fear of change, but I cannot let it go without doing something. I am working on it in my spare time, so it will take a while. Bear with me 🙂

  3. marialoose August 3, 2017 at 10:31 pm #

    Hi Louis, thanks for taking this initiative. At the moment, I am working full time as a legal expert for the European Union, but I also have a background in translation. I would like to become an independent translation professional in a couple of years after my retirement from my permanent job. You can find out more about me on LinkedIn and Proz. I would very much like to support your initiative.

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