Look both ways – Managing risks in translation

Look both Ways-001
Do you ever get that overwhelming feeling that you are a survivor? The realisation that in a world full of risks, having managed to get this far is quite an achievement?

I often do. And even if you are like me, fairly risk adverse, and make sure you always “look both ways before crossing the road” risks can and will strike when you least expect it in the form of an inconveniently erupting volcano, financial chaos or even, as it recently happened to my daughter, as a prickly conquer plunging right into your iris happily walking down a quite Sydney suburb.

It is practically implausible to spend your life identifying and assessing threats and concocting strategies to exterminate risks. But in certain controlled environments you can and, in fact, you should, apply a number of risk management principles to minimise your exposure to hazards.

Managing risks in translation

What aspects of translation can be threatened by external or internal vulnerabiilities and can be neutralised through preemptive actions?. Most importantly, the risk of not fulfilling the ultimate task of the translator, which is to meaningfully reassemble the fragments of communication from the source language to the target language and present it to the client according to a set of pre-established conditions.

Daniel Gouadec (2002), French translation theorist,  has long suggested that translation problems, and therefore, potential risks, are best solved by getting as much information as possible prior to a translation job.  Gouadec’s general message is that risks are minimised by having foresight and therefore, investing in the various pre-translation phases is a more efficient way of managing risk than having to solve problems as they arise. Translators and their clients should clearly set out the ultimate goals in “job descriptions” , addressing technical and terminological issues in a pre-translation analysis and firming up  a whole host of areas ranging from appendices, specialised glossaries, parallel texts, previous translations, the audience profile, publication the text is to appear in, CAT tools to be used, tone of voice and forms of address, spelling, cultural adaptation, omissions and additions.

It goes without saying that Gouadec’s proposal is a given in most translation projects today. In fact, in many environments, a great deal of time and effort is invested in creating sufficient and explicit documentation about the actual translation process before the translation even takes place.

But if you are just starting as a freelancer and don’t know how to approach customers and establish a trusting relationship that minimises unpleasant eventualities, particularly in a virtual market as the one we work in these days, the following suggestions, put together by Proz.com‘s members are quite useful and comprehensive and will help you face the uncertainties in the translation industry:

Week 15 — The Girl who Fell
1. Identify the customer: email addresses won’t do. You need to ask potential customers for further details including their website, full company name, address, and telephone. If you are receiving their emails via a Gmail, Yahoo (not via their domain), you can ring your alarm bells (although some scammers use the name of a legitimate agency but use a Gmail or Yahoo account). Make sure you verify all details yourself on the Internet and call them at least once to the number you found in the web (not the one you were given) and try to get in touch with the person who emailed you. Use the call to ask for some missing detail. Use Google Maps’ Streetview (or other maps website) to check the place. A supposedly important agency will rarely operate from an old shotgun house somewhere, or from a vacant field, or a street that does not exist.

2. Assess the outsourcer’s reliability as a business partner: Try to find out about the reliability of the customer in terms of clear and responsive communications, correct specifications, and payments. For instance, if you are a Proz.com member, you can look for the company in the Blue Board. Even if you really need the work, do not underestimate the negative comments if you find any about an outsourcer. Translators rarely give a bad opinion about an outsourcer unless there are important reasons to do so. On the other hand, read good comments carefully, since some people write a good comment after a first job and regret it later. The good comments that have a real face value are those from people who have done a number of jobs for the outsourcer over a long time including payment dates.

3. Identify the job: Ask your customer for the files to be translated, examine them, count the words, and identify any other tasks to be done on them: potentially lengthy preparations before translation, formatting after translations… Calculate the wordcount, as well as the time for the ancillary tasks if they will take a lot of time.

4. Identify the time of delivery: Ask for a clear statement from the customer as to the delivery date and delivery time of that day, including the time zone. If no delivery time is given, do make sure you make a statement that you will deliver by the end of the delivery day (i.e. by “EOB”, end of business).

5. Establish the cost: Make sure the exact rate to be paid (not just for new words, but also for matches in the case of CAT jobs) is made clear before accepting the job.

6. Ask for a purchase order: Once the customer and job have been established, ask for a proper purchase order (all companies and agencies have this format) or an email from your prospect stating their full company details (full physical address, phone, website, contact email), exact extent of the job (wordcount, files to be translated, any other tasks expected from you), exact total cost (ideally also your rate, rate breakdown in CAT-based jobs, price per hour if work per hour is involved…), delivery date and time, including the time zone (or a statement that the time is EOB), and exact payment terms (how many days after your invoice you will be paid and by which method).

Some customers get impatient about all this and sometimes ask you whether they can send you the PO later on because they are busy. You must explain to them that it is in the interest of both parties to clarify the job fully before going ahead, and that as a professional you cannot start a job for a new customer without a proper order stating all details.

Hold other translators’ hands and look both ways

I have also found communication with other freelance translators to be extremely useful. There are very interesting exchanges in social media platforms like LinkedIn where groups like Guerrilla Marketing for translators continually debate the areas that can be “toxic” for your translation business and ways to minimise vulnerabilities. In particular, I found Alain Marsol’s General Terms of Business for translators a very useful and professional document to present clients before starting a job. So, join the many communities out there, and make sure you hold each other’s hand and look both ways before crossing. 🙂


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