In my post about the translation market (Translation Market: Where It is and Why This is a Good Time to Be a Translator), we examined the structure of the online translation market. We looked at how the final consumer, agency, and translator were meeting each other in overlapping ways, and I explained why such a structure was formed. In this post, we will be looking at what such an online translation market structure means for you – a freelance translator.
Overlapping clients in the online translation market
As you may have realized from the last post, a translator has two types of clients: the final consumer and the agency. To be precise, I think it’d be better to call it an overlapping of clients rather than two different kinds of clients.
This presents a unique difficulty for translators because there are two kinds of clients rather than just one. It’s difficult because you have to satisfy both.
As a translator, since you won’t meet the final consumers anyway and you won’t even be receiving payment from them, you might be questioning whether you really have to care about satisfying them. However, if you think for just a moment longer, you will realize that this is the wrong attitude to have, because the cost of translation doesn’t come from the agency but ultimately from the final consumer. If the final consumer isn’t satisfied, the agency won’t be satisfied either (although there will be a time difference for that). As such, a translator should satisfy the agency that he/she deals with directly, but must also work while keeping in mind what the final consumer (company, individual, government, institution, etc.) needs.
There is one more thing to think about here. You must think about why the final consumer commissioned the translation work. Actually, the final consumer has a client to please, too. If the final consumer is an individual, they are commissioning the translation for their own needs, but governments, companies and hospitals, for example, will have specific people, customers, and patients (readers of translation) for whom they created their source document in the first place.
Overlapping needs of a freelance translator
Now, if we organize everything we’ve learned here, we can see that a translator has the following overlapping needs:
• Must satisfy the agency.
• Must satisfy the final consumer (and the client of the final consumer, the reader).
The needs of an agency and the needs of the final consumer are connected, yet a little different. The question of how to satisfy the needs of the final consumer can be answered easily. The way to do it is to provide an accurate translation (target document) so that the final consumer can provide what the readers want them to provide. This is what they want. This is something that can be realized with a little bit of thought.
So then, what do agencies need? Aside from the above-mentioned good and accurate translation, agencies have a need of their own. This need can be understood once we put ourselves in their shoes.
Let’s take one more look at the chart from the previous post.
If you look at the chart, you can see that agencies have to persuade their final consumers to receive work, gain their trust by providing a good final product, and then gain loyalty. They must compete amongst each other. For this reason, they all have diverse strategies to compete with each other. Each of these agencies also occupies a different position in the market. An agency establishes itself in the high price market, low price market, or market for a specific field (IT, finance, engineering, marketing, medical, legal, etc.) and informs their clients, the final consumers, of their strengths and competitive edge, which can be quality, price, speed, and/or consistency of terminology and concepts.
Therefore, a translator must understand this position of the agency and think about growing with that agency at least to a certain extent. (Of course this is all “to a certain extent.” You don’t have to be overly loyal to them, and they aren’t overly loyal to you, either.) I mean, grow together not as an employee but as a partner. You remember what I told you in my previous posts, right? If a translator doesn’t know the structure of the market or doesn’t keep it in mind and thinks all they have to do is simply do the work they are assigned and hand it over in time, they will never grow. Furthermore, the agency that works with such translators will die out as well because they won’t be able to grow either. This is all because an agency is but a translation business broker that doesn’t know how to translate.
Therefore, a translator must start thinking of agencies as his or her marketing department and work with the goal of satisfying the needs of the final consumer as well as cooperating with the agency to help satisfy the final client.
A translator must start thinking of agencies as his or her marketing department. Click To Tweet
Of course, a translator’s doing this doesn’t guarantee that an agency will prosper. You should not anticipate that kind of thing too much and there is absolutely no need to get hung up on it. All I am saying is that it is necessary to understand the position of the agency.
Needs of a PM
Now, let’s go one step further from here and think about the needs of the PM (project manager) who works at the agency. One thing you must remember is that while a translator is not an employee of the agency, a PM is an employee of the agency through and through (refer to Translation Market: Where It is and Why This is a Good Time to Be a Translator for the difference between ‘hire’ and ’employ’). Those of you with some experience working at an office will probably know what exactly this means. No matter how much an agency’s sales go up, profits increase, and the agency flourishes, a PM’s salary does not increase proportionally. (However, it is not rare for an owner of an agency to work as a PM. Also, these small agencies don’t always have a low standard and aren’t bad agencies. So, this sentence can’t be considered absolute.)
What a PM as an employee would want from a translator is a little different from what an agency owner would want and even more different from what the final consumer would want.
I’m sure the quality of translation is important to the PM as well, but I’m guessing it’s only secondary. As an employee that clocks in at the agency every day, what the PM wants is to be able to take care of work effectively, quickly, and without missing the deadline. Now, what things must a translator provide in order to satisfy this need of the PM? Putting myself in their shoes, I think PMs would want the following things.
1. If there is translation work to be taken care of, the PM wants to assign it to a translator as soon as possible.
To satisfy this need of a PM, translators can quickly respond to a PM’s translation request or availability check. If you can do it, tell them clearly that you can do it. If you can’t, make it clear that you can’t. Or maybe you can do it but will give them a final answer after checking a few things you’re unsure of. Or maybe you’re busy with projects or are on vacation so you can’t take on this project. Whatever the case may be, say it clearly and give them an answer as soon as possible.
2. The PM wants to make sure the translation project he/she is in charge of doesn’t unexpectedly miss a deadline.
Delivering translation to the final consumer on time is the core task of the PM. The PM’s capabilities are assessed ultimately by this. To satisfy this need of a PM, you must complete your work before the deadline. Therefore, if you, as a translator, encounter some unexpected circumstance or difficulty, you must immediately contact the PM and ask for an extension or take steps to have the project sent over to another translator. For their own safety and convenience, many PMs will give you a tighter deadline than is absolutely necessary. For example, if an agency promised to send a final consumer the finished product (translation) by Friday noon, the PM will tell the translator that the deadline is Thursday noon. This kind of thing is understandable when you think about it from the PM’s perspective. In this reality, a translator must try to keep the deadline that the PM has set and that the translator has agreed upon, and must renegotiate in unavoidable cases.
3. The PM wants to effectively take care of the work he/she is in charge of.
There are no PMs in charge of only one project at one time. They are usually taking on multiple projects at once and there can be anywhere from three to four to dozens of translators involved in a single project. If you add in the proofreading or linguistic validation or DTP processing on top of this, the number of people a PM has to deal with from the beginning of the day until the end is really quite high. Because of this, some of them make a lot of mistakes (in my opinion). They might accidentally send Chinese or Japanese translation projects to a Korean translator, send the wrong file, mix up the versions of the file, mix up the names of the translators, etc. PMs make these varied kinds of mistakes not because they are dumb but because they’re so busy.
To understand this position of the PM and to satisfy the PM’s needs, a translator must communicate as concisely and clearly as possible. We must help them take care of business accurately and simply. Of course, if the timing is right, you can exchange pleasantries and even joke around. However, ultimately, they are employees a little distant from the fate of the agency, and we must deal with them while keeping in mind their position of wanting to take care of business simply and effectively.
As you saw above, translators are in a unique situation created by the structure of the translation market in the age of the Internet. The clients are dual and might even have to be called triple (if you see the PM as another client). A translator must understand this situation well and conduct himself/herself as the most active player in this market structure.