NWTN BOOST YOUR SKILLS DAY – 8th February 2014, YHA Manchester

The downside: Manchester is a bit too far to get to from Hexham and Newcastle for a 9:30 start. The upside: that’s an excuse for the NERG contingent to make a weekend of it and stay overnight…

I certainly didn’t want to miss the varied selection of speakers on offer at this year’s ‘Boost…’ day hosted by the North West Translators’ Network. I had attended a previous event at the YHA so I suspected the company and refreshments would be good. What I didn’t know was quite how wide a spectrum of approaches would be represented and discussed: the day proved even more eye-opening than anticipated.

The other attendees seemed similarly enthusiastic, so there was a real buzz as the day began with Chris Durban’s presentation on ‘Working the Room’. She held our attention as she challenged some commonly-held attitudes and advocated her alternative approach.

The main challenge was to cut our ties with the ‘poverty cult’ which ultimately gives translators an inferiority complex. (Chris describes this in a recent ITI blog post:http://www.iti.org.uk/news-media-industry-jobs/the-pillar-box/list-by-date/566-the-frugal-translator). One simple message was that not investing in your business may prevent you from reaping rewards later on. Another positive spin-off of the confident approach Chris advocated is that prospective clients find you personable. This is necessary if you are to attract ‘good clients’ who are passionate about their work, have comfortable budgets, and deal directly with you. You will need to persuade them to trust you in an area where the cost of failure (of the translation) may be high. Conversely, the wages of success can also be high! If you are to produce convincing solutions for your customers, you will need to specialise and keep your knowledge up to date. Could you make subject-specific small talk with people who work in that field? If you first mingle with your potential customers and establish yourself, your expertise and brand/personality, it will then seem more natural when you begin to pitch your services to them.

The second speaker, Graham Cross, provided some fascinating insights into a way of working which was also specialised but very different. He described how texts could be broadly divided into ‘persuasive’ and ‘informative’ categories. Technical texts fell into the ‘informative’ camp and therefore had to make sense in real terms. A technical translation could only make sense if the translator understood what it described and reproduced this understanding in the target language; hence the absolute requirement for specialist knowledge of the relevant technical area. Graham described how his career had progressed in terms of new subject and language specialisms. Knowledge could be expanded, but boundaries must only be pushed slowly. This meant there were no leaps in the dark, and you didn’t come unstuck by taking on a language combination or subject matter you couldn’t cope with. Graham’s career progression could be seen as he described how he developed his preferred way of working. At school, he had been asked to sight translate from Latin to English in front of the class. As a professional translator, he found it quick and useful to dictate his work to a typist. The typist could often add value to the target text. This way of working involved producing a first draft which needed relatively little revision.

The third speaker was former ITI Chair Nick Rosenthal. He also advocated ‘getting it right first time’ as the first rule of quality assurance. His presentation represented a third angle on the profession: that of running a translation company. Nick pointed out that sales, management and production all contribute to a business. He made a major distinction between production- and sales-led companies. Some companies produce first, then sell their product; others sell first, then work out how they will make the product they’ve promised! Sales could come in both soft and hard varieties: some business people were more comfortable with soft sales. Soft sales in particular would certainly require patience, as lead times could be long. You might need to bid for work repeatedly, or repeat the same reasonable proposition to a potential client several times before they were in the right frame of mind or position to accept it. Although long-term relationships might be time-consuming to build, once established they would also reduce the need for overt sales input. Nick emphasised that commercial acumen was important, and questions such as whether or not to register for VAT must be addressed. Some clients took translators more seriously if they were registered, so it might harm your business if you weren’t.

To round off the ‘training’ part of the day, the speakers formed a panel for a wide-ranging discussion. Tips from the panel included:

  • Get hold of the ’industry bible’ and specialist journal for your chosen specialist area
  • You could present a ‘free trial offer’, for example by translating a CEO’s biographical paragraph into English for use in corporate publicity materials
  • Update your rates to allow for inflation
  • Outsource some functions, such as bookkeeping
  • Make sure you have and use your own set of terms and conditions
  • Retain full copyright over translated material until you receive payment in full
  • Have standard reply emails at the ready, from which you can copy and paste to save time

A busy day was rounded off nicely, with some attendees moving on to the Dog Bowl. Here was a chance to enjoy food and drink with friendly fellow translators and interpreters, and boost our bowling skills.

By Kim Sanderson (http://www.sandersontranslations.com)