Sooner or later, a hardworking and capable translator in an in-demand language pair is ready to take the business to the next level. Let’s say you’re someone who has been in the industry for 5+ years, you consistently have enough or more than enough work and you’d like to transition from working for Your Average Agency (we’ll call them YAA) to working for High-Quality Clients (we’ll call them HQCs) who may be agencies or direct clients. Despite the generally gloomy economic mood in the U.S., recent information from sources such as Common Sense Advisory shows that the translation industry isn’t feeling the recession pinch as of yet, so now is a good time to move on up! How are you going to do it?
Take a course in one of your areas of specialization. The majority of YAA’s translators are probably self-taught in their specialization areas; you’ll stand out when you contact HQCs and let them know that you recently took a course in medical terminology, contract law, php programming or stock trading. Look at your local community college, or online/correspondence offerings by the USDA Grad School or similar organizations.
Go see the stuff you translate about in action. Make some phone calls and see if you can spend a few hours with a patent agent, at a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility or a coffee roasting plant. Go look at how that gizmo you translated the manual for actually works. Sit in court for a day or watch a local legislative body in session.
Write an article and send a copy to the HQCs you’d like to work for. Most of YAA’s translators are too busy working at moderate rates to do this. Write for a translation industry publication such as the ATA Chronicle or your local translators association’s newsletter, or better yet, for a trade publication that your prospective HQCs might be reading. Give them a little introduction to how the translation process works, how to find a high-quality translation provider and some pitfalls and best practices for having their materials translated.
Proofread on paper. I’ve done editing work for some YAAs, and I would estimate (and other translators I’ve talked to have agreed with this) that probably 70% of YAA’s translators aren’t proofing their work at all. Evidence: the “finished” document arrives with errors that have already been marked by the spell-checker. Maybe 20% of translators are proofing on the screen. Evidence: errors that the spell-checker didn’t catch, but an “on paper” reader would have. Then there’s the final 10%, who do the full three-step process of doing the translation, proofing the draft on paper, inputting the changes and then reading the finished target document. Be one of those 10% and HQCs will be impressed.
Become a better writer in your target language. I think that English-language writing and editing courses are some of the best money I’ve ever spent on professional development, and good writing skills are something that sets HQC translators apart from YAA translators.
Give excellent customer service. When an HCQ calls, be pleasant and easy to work with. Bail them out of a bind, iron out their nightmare documents, fix what the cheap translator broke and…charge what your time is worth! To me, this is one of the key points of working for HQCs; you go the extra mile for them, because when you ask yourself, “Am I really getting paid enough to deal with this?” the answer is “Yes!”