Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2 Blogs: 1 for Colleagues, 1 for Clients

In Everything You've Been Told is Wrong - The Truth about Marketing Your Freelance Business with a Blog Michael Martine writes about freelance bloggers who achieve a decent number of followers for their blog, but no actual business from it. That is so because advice about business blogging is usually not geared towards freelance service providers such as translators. This results in blogs being written for peers, not customers. His assessment certainly rings true for this blog.

I've been pondering how to change this. Mr. Martine's advice to simply change the targeting and content of blog posts to attract customers instead of colleagues leaves these colleagues behind. Based on comments I have received on this blog and the associated Twitter account, Language and Translation does appear to be useful for fellow translators. I don't just want to cut off my colleagues.

The obvious answer would be to start a separate blog aimed at potential clients. This is an attractive idea, but I don't really have time to write two blog posts each week - one for translators, the other for translation buyers. So here is what I will do: set up a separate client-focused blog and continue this blog less frequently. I will still be blogging once a week, but one week it will be this blog and the next week the client blog.

Next on the agenda is to pre-write several client-focused blog posts before actually setting up that second blog and going to the bi-weekly schedule on each blog. Given my other commitments, this may take a few weeks, but I'm trying to have the client blog up and running before I head to the STC Summit in late May.

Speaking of the STC Summit: As a presenter there I have been asked to add the Summit logo and a link to their website to my own online presence: see image above, therefore.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Techno-Marketing Hybrid

Back in February I promised to write about the relationship between technical information and marketing tactics (Will Controlled English Take Over Technical Communication?). I just translated a technical text that was clearly intended as a marketing tool. Documents like this one often include "purely technical" information, such as tables with specifications and parts lists, but the bulk of the text is intended to convince potential buyers of the superiority of the particular product.

There is an inherent tension between technical and marketing speak: Technical information is highly specific and full of terms with very precise meanings in the field in question. Marketing text, on the other hand, tends to be much more vaguely worded, including phrases aimed at emotions and devoid of actual meaning. Combining these two very dissimilar writing styles is an art, but can leave a technically minded translator scratching her head.

I must confess, when I read that someone's ball bearings are superior, I immediately think: "Says who? Why or how are they better than anyone else's?" Sometimes technical-marketing hybrids will actually answer that question, but more often than not, they will simply assert that this is so. The accompanying table will then add some numbers, but without offering corresponding numbers for other, similar products.

Presumably the intended audience for these documents does have an idea what these numbers mean and whether higher or lower values are better for a particular feature. But I doubt procurement managers memorize the standard specifications for all -- or even most -- items they order. So how do they decide which ball bearing to order?

Many of these hybrid texts land in a technical translator's inbox, rather than being translated by someone specializing in marketing. Even though I much prefer straightforward technical information, I have had to learn marketing speak in order to handle these types of texts. Living in New York City surrounded by advertising does help me come up with appropriately "salesy" terms. Superior ball bearings? - ah, yeah, that's what that sign in the hardware superstore said. So I guess it's a common term...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Interruptions -- Our Daily Lot

The other day I received an e-mail from a current client requesting a reply ASAP on whether I could take this project. The catch? It was 4:30 am in New York. Since I am usually in bed at that time, I didn't reply until several hours later. By then the project had been assigned to another translator.

Later that day, another called client asking why I hadn't yet replied to their e-mail about a potential project. Turns out the e-mail had been sent 5 minutes before the call and hadn't even arrived in my inbox yet. I was in the middle of working on another project, but my train of thought had already been interrupted. So I checked that e-mail immediately, negotiated the project, received and checked the files, etc. Only to find out an hour later that this new project had been double assigned and I shouldn't work on it after all.

Next, a Skype message popped up on my computer, from yet another client, wanting me to turn a small project around within a few hours. When I replied that I couldn't accommodate that time frame because I was already working on other projects, the answer was "But it's only 300 words, so it shouldn't take long, and I need it right away." By the way, no rush fee was offered.

Books on time management suggest sending phone calls to voice mail, turning off Skype and checking e-mail at set times to minimize distractions. That may work for corporate managers with secretaries, but we freelance translators cannot simply be unreachable for lengthy periods of time. As the first example shows, we lose out on work that way (I am still not getting up at 4 am to check my e-mail, though).

So what can we do to deal with these interruptions? I generally limit my e-mail checking to once an hour or so, unless I am expecting a file or response from a client. When I remember to do so, I set Skype to "do not disturb" before working on a project. And I usually decline same-day projects, even if they are short, unless additional compensation is offered.

The real answer, of course, is better scheduling on the end client and/or agency's part, so enough time for translation is included in the project plan. Unless you are a medical interpreter in an emergency room or work in disaster management, there is really no good reason why translation projects have to be so urgent.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ergonomics and My Home Office

With more projects come more hours at the computer, which translates into aching shoulders and back pain. I do have a pull-out keyboard and mouse tray, height-adjustable monitors, an adjustable high-backed office chair and a separate pair of glasses for computer use. That doesn't seem to be enough, though, so at my husband's suggestion I started looking for an ergonomics consultant. It seems that most such consultants work with large companies to assess various workstations and hold workshops on working ergonomically.

Since I don't need -- and probably can't afford -- that level of consultation I started tinkering with the existing set-up, adjusting the keyboard height and playing with the (limited) settings on my chair. Next on my to-do list when I get a little free time is checking out books on ergonomics in the home office.

Given the layout of the room, the options for moving furniture around are very limited. In the long term the answer is probably to wean myself from paper copies and hand-written to-do lists, calendars, etc. Tracking everything only electronically would reduce the need for desktop space. That, in turn, would mean smaller/less furniture. And that would mean more flexibility in arranging it in the space available.

How ergonomic is your workspace and how did it get that way?

A happy Easter/Passover to those of you who celebrate these holidays!