Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chief Cook and Bottlewasher

As I sat down to another round of bill paying and client invoicing on Monday, then spent more than an hour inputting contacts into my database, generating cover letters and stuffing envelopes to mail brochures, I thought about how much time I spend on the mundane tasks that go with running a business. It being a holiday in most of Europe, there were no client requests to deal with, but I still could have spent that time more productively: finally take that Trados certification test, read the latest ATA journal or write new text for my website. None of these activities would be billable, either, but at least they would move my skills and business forward.

So today I picked up a few more books at the Brooklyn Public Library's business library, including Jeffrey A. Landers' The Home Office From Hell Cure. Landers advocates outsourcing many of these mundane tasks, including hiring a virtual assistant -- basically an off-site secretary/data input person/mail room clerk. I'm not sure how that would technically work with the client database that resides on my hard drive or how I would then sign the cover letters generated off-site, but I suppose these details could be worked out. The larger question is actually two-fold, I think: a. do I really want to manage someone else? and b. do I need to wait until I generate a higher income or will hiring a virtual assistant generate that income?

About a.: I was a middle manager once (in IT) and I hated it. On the other hand, here there is no boss above me telling me to push my assistant. So maybe it would be okay.

On b.: Hiring a virtual assistant would only generate higher income if I spent the time so gained by marketing myself. Since I'm not particularly good at marketing (and don't like it, either), I'm not sure such outsourcing would, in fact, generate more income.

So maybe the answer is not to hire a virtual assistant, but to outsource the marketing -- or at least parts thereof. The problem here is that marketing consultants tend to be expensive. Also, telling from the marketing books I've read, the industry doesn't seem particularly attuned to the special characteristics of marketing a one-person, relatively low-cost service internationally -- which is essentially what would be needed to market a translator. So where would I find someone who doesn't just give me cookie-cutter advice, but really understands how the translation industry works -- both here and in German-speaking Europe?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Catching Up on My Reading

I found out today that the main Brooklyn Public Library's foreign language section just closed for renovations until mid-June. I guess that gives me time to catch up on the books I did take out, but didn't have time to read yet. So here are some books I recently read and found helpful (not all were from the library):

Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know-How for Cash, Clients, and Career Success by Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon. Not all of their advice is applicable to one-person businesses selling a business-to-business service, such as translators, but there is useful advice, including how to best network at conferences and how to plan for networking events.

Los Mejores Narradores Jóvenes en Español from Granta. A collection of Spanish-language short stories, not necessarily easy, but good for brushing up my Spanish. As with all short story collections, some are more my taste than others (and a couple I just didn't finish).

The New Media Monopoly by Ben Bagdikian. I read a (much) earlier edition of this book back in college when I majored in Media Studies. It's quite interesting to see what has (and -- even more interesting -- what hasn't) changed since then.

I also enjoy reading Wired magazine -- as does the rest of my family, so we have to negotiate who gets to read it first. The May issue is devoted to exploring humor -- what makes us laugh and why. Did you know there is actually an academic field of "humor studies", complete with an International Society for Humor Studies? Now, I think that is funny in itself.

So what are you reading?

PS: The Science and Technology Division of the American Translators Association just published a post I wrote for the the divison's blog. It's about The Society for Technical Communication (STC).

Happy holidays to those of you who celebrate Easter or Passover!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Translation Bloggers Community

During my further reading on marketing strategies I came across the advice to create a two-tiered website: one section would be aimed at potential clients, the other would be for peers.That seems to me makes a lot of sense. On the one hand, we want to attract potential clients, on the other hand, we are also looking for referrals from other translators. Besides, working by ourselves in our home offices, we need the cross-fertilization that comes with talking to others in the same profession.

This blog is already mostly about working as a translator and seems to be mostly read by others in the profession, or entering the field. So it will become the "peer section" of my website. To that end, I've added on the right-hand side a list of links to other translators' blogs and compilations of blogs. My website, then, while retaining a link to this blog (and vice versa) will become even more of a(n attempted) client-acquisition vehicle.

There are, of course, any number of translators' blogs out there. The American Translators' Association lists some of these in its "Blog Trekker" section, but that is only a small number of the available blogs. To turn all of these individual blogs into a conversation we need a common platform on which to exchange our ideas. Sure, we can read and comment on some of the posts, maybe subscribe to several better-known blogs, but none of us has the time to read everything that's being posted by colleagues.

I'm not talking about Watercooler or some of the other fee-based groups that exist. I also don't think creating yet another proprietary platform would be helpful. Instead, we need to find a way to connect all our existing blogs into some sort of network-- preferably one that can be searched by topic, in combination with posting language(s). So, if I'm interested in how other translators have handled non-payment issues from agencies in Eastern Europe, for example, I can check one location rather than having to search various forums and blogs. Since by definition we all speak more than one language -- but none of us speak all the languages in which such information may be available -- it would be helpful if such a search could then be limited to certain languages.

Is this a pipe dream? Would it be helpful? Could it be done? What do you think?

Maybe this is not feasible.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

English Only Threatens Our Livelihood

Reading the review of "You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity" in last weekend's New York Times book review section and Steve Nunez article Language Law Requires Lawmakers to Speak English-Only on, the Tucson, AZ, ABC affiliate, brought to mind a couple of incidents I encountered a number of years ago both in Austria and the U.S. Both times I was chastised by people not involved in the conversation for speaking the "wrong" language with my children -- English in Vienna and German in New York. Spanish-speaking friends have encountered such boorishness much more frequently.

Besides the obvious moral issues with English-only legislation, such attempts at reigning in the U.S.'s overall multilingualism and multiculturalism should be cause for concern to us language professionals. What does it mean for court interpreters if court proceedings are only conducted in English? How many translators make government documents and forms understandable for Spanish or Chinese speakers? This is not only a political issue, it is also an economic issue for an entire profession.

Professional organizations, such as the American Translators Association, as well as language professionals outside these organizations, should therefore vigorously protest Arizona's and other states' attempts to, in effect, outlaw foreign languages. Maybe it's time to take this issue out of states' hands and once and for all declare the U.S. a country of many languages, many cultures and many religions -- at least on the federal level, if not as an amendment to the constitution.