A Day in the Life of a Busy Translator/Interpreter: Part 2

As promised, here is an account of a day in Dagy's busy life. We blogged about Judy's day here. Read on for what she's been up to!

My home office in Vienna, Austria.
Early morning. I check if Judy is still online, and I’m happy to see that she is! We chat about projects, translation questions and personal stuff. Judy might still be online when I get back from breakfast if she’s working late (she’s 9 hours behind). I feed my bilingual cat Junia (born and raised in Las Vegas, now living in Vienna) and read the German-language newspaper (the actual physical paper!) for an hour. For my English-language news fix, I listen to NPR during the day, alternating with Spanish and French radio stations. I also read magazines and books in all my languages, which sometimes feels like having too many balls up in the air, since I have four working languages (and struggling to add a fifth).

I come across an interesting newspaper article about chess academies in Armenia and decide to use that information for an interpreting training speech that I will record and upload to www.speechpool.net, which is a great resource for student interpreters and anybody wishing to keep their interpreting tools sharp. I try to hit a level of difficulty similar to EU accreditation tests, which I have taken and passed myself.

Back at my desk, I read my Twitter stream, post a thing or two and authorize a few comments that readers have left on my German-language blog on orthography (www.neue-rechtschreibung.net).

I start working on a large translation project for UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, headquartered here in Vienna. It’s a large and interesting project about biomass-based energy generation in the Dominican Republic. This translation job was not posted anywhere and I am happy to have an awesome translator friend who works for UNIDO on a regular basis and recommend me. This business is all about relationships, both with your peers and your clients.

The phone rings quite a few times. Some are potential clients (a few people still use the phone, which I like), but it’s mostly the office calling. You might think: which offfice? Well, it’s the office of UNIVERSITAS Austria, the Austrian interpreters’ and translators’ association. Since I am the Secretary General and our two-person administrative team is new, I trained them last week and am always happy to answer their questions. Our office is conveniently located at the school of interpreting and translating at the University of Vienna. I’ve been encouraged to apply for an open teaching position (interpreting Spanish->German), and I might give it a shot.
With the UNIVERSITAS president.

I’ve been trying to pitch a workshop to a private organization that offers training opportunities for unemployed people who are planning to start a business. I realized that the presentation I frequently give at the university (as a guest speaker) isn’t limited to our industry because the messages are universal: hard work, professional/entrepreneurial mind-set, passion. I finally get the person in charge on the phone and deliver my well-prepared elevator pitch. He seems interested enough and asks me to send him some information via e-mail, which I do immediately. I also include a link to my latest webinar.

I’m down to 13 e-mails, but new ones keep flying in and it’s hard to keep up. I answer a few e-mails from potential clients and issue a quote for an interpreting assignment on September 12. I add that I might not be able to take care of that job personally because I might be on vacation. Good thing there are always lovely fellow interpreters that could fill in for me if need be – provided that the client approves my quote.

My to-do list is still pretty long for the day, and I realize that some things just won’t happen today, including the guest post I promised a friend of mine who runs the Slovak interpreters’ and translators’ association. I still have time, so I’ll try to do that tomorrow. I grab a quick bite to eat, delighted to find yummy leftovers from the weekend, which means no cooking and more time for business.

Only two hours to go before my private Greek class, so I unfortunately won’t have time to work out today. I translate another two pages (rough draft only) and get ready for my class, which conveniently takes place at my dining room table. It’s 4 p.m. and the timing isn’t great for me because I’ve been focusing on biomass-related terminology, but is there ever a right time? As soon as my awesome and always cheerful teacher walks in, saying hi in Greek, I am totally focused on learning. Can’t wait to make progress! My cat Junia loves the Greek teacher, which is why she’s sitting at the dining room table waiting (see picture).
Junia waiting for the Greek teacher.

After two intense hours, I can barely think straight and try to relax for a few minutes before I get into business mode, put on my favorite jacket with the EU pin on it and get ready to head to a networking event. Again, the timing is not great, the biomass project is begging me to stay, but I’ve signed up for this event organized by the Chamber of Commerce, so I’m definitely going. It’s a presentation called “Selling is like running,” and since I love running and enjoy self-marketing, I can’t wait to hear more.

After that, it’s networking time! This being Austria, not everybody is as approachable as you would expect them to be at such an event, so I use my icebreaker strategy, which always works like a charm: I simply ask people if they know the difference between interpreting and translating. Nobody ever does, but everybody gets a company-branded chocolate for trying – and voilà, I’m talking to people about the industry and the company that made my chocolates. If these fellow entrepreneurs ever need a translation, they might remember the lady with the chocolates (who will connect with them on LinkedIn and Xing right after she gets home with her stack of business cards). I resist the wine at the networking event because I’m planning on putting in another hour of work afterwards.


I’m back at my desk by 10 p.m. and work some more, with a little tweeting thrown in (if you’d like to follow me, my Twitter handle is @deutsch_profi). Since I’m still feeling talkative, I take my early-morning notes and record a new speech for Speechpool. I hope people find it useful.

That’s it for today! Can’t wait to finish reading my book, “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. It’s a great combination of feminist manifesto and career advice. I’m already thinking about the review I’ll write about it for my German-language book review website (www.buchrezension.eu), which I’ve been neglecting a little lately. There goes another fun thing for my to-do list!


Top Language Lovers: Voting Phase

It's that time of year again: the voting phase of the Top Language Lovers 2013 has officially begun. We don't know who nominated us, but we do know that we were once again nominated for this competition, so we are very, very grateful. There's no money to be won -- only bragging rights and some fabulous charity donations in the name of the winners, which we earned in 2011. Great stuff indeed! While we would love to repeat our win from 2011, we realize that it's quite improbable. This year's nominees are all fantastic, and include blogs by many of our friends and colleagues. 
Vote the Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2013
The official voting button. 

This blog was nominated in the Languages professionals category and if you so choose, you may vote for us here. The list is alphabetical, so you will have to scroll down to find "Translation Times." Of course, there are so many fantastic blogs out there, so it's hard to choose just one!

In addition, Judy was nominated in the Twitter category. Last year, she got eighth place in that category,  so it would be wonderful to be among an elite group of language tweeters/twitterers again. You can vote for @language_news here. Dagy was also nominated, and you can vote for her feed, @deutsch_profi here as well. You can only vote for one, unfortunately. 

Voting is from May 22nd until June 9th, and results will be announced on June 12th. Best of luck to all our wonderful fellow bloggers!


The 50% Success Rate

A few days ago, we saw some very insightful posts on Twitter about a translation-related presentation. The speaker mentioned (unfortunately, we did not write down his or her name) that if your clients are accepting all your price quotes, it might mean that your quotes are too low. We think the speaker put it in these terms: if your customers don't decline at least 25% of your price quotes, then your rates might be too low. We could not agree more and would like to shed some light on our own experiences when it comes to pricing. Please keep in mind that we work exclusively with direct clients, and we know that language service providers (LSPs) work quite differently. Update: we just heard from some fabulous colleagues that the quote we had seen actually came from the The Freelancery, which is always full of good advice (some is tongue-in-cheek).

Cute, huh? And yes, we paid for this image. 
It's a pretty well-known fact that we are not the cheapest provider around -- quite the contrary. We have worked hard to be in the lucky position to have many repeat customers, who make up at least 70% of our business. Our repeat customers feel very comfortable with our prices and the quality that they are getting, so they never haggle. Most of them don't even want a price quote, and we are happy to waive this formality for clients who have a stellar payment record, which includes all our repeat customers.

For new clients, we get about 50% of the business we bid on, and we are very happy with that. Let us elaborate: right off the bat, we know that there is a segment of the market that will never purchase services from us, because they are looking for the cheapest rate and we are not it. That's perfectly fine. We try to develop a good radar for who these people are and usually send them our rate sheet (which is also easily available online) to see if they agree with our rates before spending the 10 minutes it usually takes to make a formal price quote (we use TranslationOffice 3000 to do this). Many times, clients are surprised by our rates, and we thank them for their interest, recommend a colleague if possible, and move on. You know the story: many clients think that translation should be priced at the same rate of say, housecleaning services.  

Other customers initially feel comfortable with the rate, perhaps because a per-word rate is a bit of an abstract. However, once they see how many words need to be translated and they see the total of what it is going to cost, they back down and might say: "I thought it was going to cost $200 or so!" when we sent a quote for $2,000. Obviously, that's too far of a gap to start negotiating, so we wrap things up. 

Of course it is always disappointing when you don't get a project for which you have submitted a quote. We all like getting business, but we are quite content with our 50% success rate for new clients. On the other hand, it can be a hassle and quite time-consuming to draft complicated quotes (say, for multi-day interpreting assignments) only to have the client choose another provider. A few months ago, we spent more than three weeks going back and forth with a potential client ( a conference organizer who always had to confer with her client) about a large-scale interpreting assignment for several languages. We probably put at least 10 hours of work into this, only to have the client decide that "their international delegates would translate" -- yes, they meant "interpret." Of course, that was a bit disappointing, but that's the way business sometimes works. 

We realize that our rates are set at a professional (read: relatively high) standard, and we don't need to get all of the business we quote on to make a good living. Ideally, 100% of new clients would accept our quotes, but then we wouldn't get any sleep!

What about you, dear colleagues? Do you always get all the work that you bid on?

The First Three Months: Co-Working

The second floor.
Earlier this year, our dear friend and colleague Corinne McKay wrote about her experience at her new co-working space, and a few days after reading that post, Judy heard about a brand-new co-working space in downtown Las Vegas, which opened in February. Read on for her experience.

My desk for the day.
Both Dagy and I love working at home. It's nice and quiet, we have lovely pets, we have all our stuff, and it's a very short commute. I worked as an in-house translation department manager for years, and from my noisy (yet lovely) cubicle I occasionally yearned for peace and quiet. Now I have it, and while I do miss some of my awesome co-workers, I have a lot of contact with others during the day -- interpreting assignments, business and friend lunches, networking events, etc. Still, when I heard about the opening of Work In Progress, I had to check it out.

Zoe, the office dog.
I feel in love the first time I went -- think big, open spaces in a minimalist design with lots of light, nice amenities and cool people. I joined the very first week. The space is occupied mostly by techies, and after working in e-commerce for years (where I managed the Spanish-language website), I actually needed a big dose of tech in my life. I really "get" programmers and other high tech folks and enjoy working and hanging out with them. I was pretty sure I was going to be the only translator and only person without a Mac in the space, and that's very certainly turned out to be true.

In general, I am a huge supporter of the revitalization of downtown Vegas, which needs a lot of help, but is getting there with the help and financial prowess of a small, but very powerful and dedicated group of people led by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (who might one day remember my name). I used to hang out in downtown Vegas years before any of the Downtown Project folks even registered Vegas on their mental map, and trust me, in the 90s, it wasn't cool. Nor safe. And it's still not safe in many places, but I digress. I had heard about another co-working space in the suburbs, where I live, but I feel very connected to downtown, so it wasn't a hard choice.

Ideas welcome.
Technically, I don't need an office. Our translation clients live all over the world, and all work is done electronically. If we meet, it's for lunches and dinners or for meetings at their offices. For my interpreting work, I also go to the clients' offices. However, I was just so drawn to being part of a downtown community and I really wanted to support Work In Progress (WIP), so I became one of its earliest members. In addition, I have to admit that I'd become somewhat complacent on my networking, and in January of this year, I made  a promise to make more of an effort to meet people outside my circle who do not yet know we exist and thus wouldn't think of us for a project. I am happy to report that WIP has been a great networking opportunity, and that I've met plenty of lovely people I wouldn't otherwise meet. And the set-up -- having to walk up to people to say hello -- really forces me out of my comfort zone, which is a great thing. My laptop sticker with my company name has also come in quite handy, as several folks have pointed it out and we've started a conversation that way.
The first floor, a bit dark for me.

Even though it's much easier to work from my well-appointed home office, I've made a commitment to drive to downtown every Friday and work from there, and I've had a ton of fun. I've met fantastic people full of great entrepreneurial ideas from all walks of life, and in just a few months, we've really started building a great community. WIP has done a great job at organizing all kinds of cool events, including a speaker series, mentor hours, happy hours and other events. I've been talking to the WIP folks to give a presentation to my fellow entrepreneurs about how to market to non-English speakers, so that should be fun. Even though I don't have a Mac and don't speak any programming languages, I feel that I belong.
Our new outdoor area.

In terms of cost, I chose the lowest level of membership at $50/month (a bargain!), which gives me access to the office's lower level, which is not nearly as cool as the upper level (and much darker, which I don't like). Thus, I pay $15 every time I go to upgrade to the second floor, which features a full kitchen with all kinds of free stuff. All this is a very good deal, as it's roughly equivalent to my monthly smartphone bill, yet this is significantly more useful. I consider this fee my monthly membership fee to get access to a fun and influential group of people whose company I am really enjoying. For $250/month, I could have permanent access to the second floor, and for $450/month, I would get a permanent desk, which I don't need. However, I might consider changing my membership at some point in the future. 

What about you, dear translation and interpreting colleagues? Have you thought about getting a co-working space or some other type of office? We'd love to hear from you.

Free SDL Webinar: May 9

Happy Friday, dear readers! We wanted to let you know about a free webinar that Judy will be presenting next week, courtesy of software giant SDL. There is no catch and nothing to buy -- simply sign up and attend. The topic will be "5 habits of highly successful translators: Customer service edition."

The webinar will begin at 5 p.m. BST, London time (GMT +1 hour) and will last an hour. That's 9 a.m. Pacific and 12 p.m. Eastern here in the U.S. The presentation will last roughly 45 minutes and Judy will take questions at the end. We will be using WebEx technology for this -- very easy and user-friendly, so if this is your first webinar, you will find it very simply to use. 

Please use this link to register and feel free to tell your friends!

Here is a short summary of the webinar's content:


Running a successful freelance translation business requires many skills, but we also must have good habits, especially when it comes to interacting with our customers and making them happy. After all, without clients, we don’t have a business. This webinar will be presented by Judy Jenner and will focus on 5 habits of highly successful translators and will specifically address customer interaction skills and habits.  You will learn:
  • That it’s fine to work in your Snoopy pajamas as long as your online presence, communication and interaction are professional
  • Why an e-mail message with a price does not constitute a price quote
  • Why you should honor odd-sounding customer requests

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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