What translators can learn from PR people
Part 2: better business skills

While I haven’t done the maths, I’d bet that the average freelance translator earns significantly less than the average PR professional, despite probably having more qualifications. PR people might work a bit harder sometimes, but as I mentioned in Part 1, they also tend to get a lot of free food, drinks and other random stuff. Because this all seems a little unfair, I wanted to share some of the business lessons that I think translators could learn from our brothers and sisters in the reputation game and acquire better business skills:

Your insights are valuable…

As many others have said, charging by the word means that translators don’t get paid for all the value they provide to clients. Some of the most lucrative work in PR (particularly on the marketing side of the industry) involves providing clients with insights into demographics, trends, attitudes and cultural nuances. Translators are brilliantly placed to do this and thereby earn their place as less of a supplier and more of a trusted advisor. At the very least, we’re better placed to ask for higher per word rates if our clients come to rely on our useful insights – even when it’s as simple as one I shared earlier this year with one retail client who nearly ran a Mother’s Day campaign two months late, not realising that the UK celebrates in March, not May.

… as is your time

PR agencies make money by charging clients an hourly rate for their employees’ time. Depending on each person’s seniority, the agency aims to bill between 60%-90% of their time each month, but to make a profit, it’s not enough for them just to be busy. Instead, everyone must be doing work that’s appropriate to their hourly rate – so no photocopying if you’re an Account Director. Although in reality this system usually descends into greed, chaos and overwork, I’ve found it a good grounding for profitable freelancing. It’s useful to ask, Am I doing work that’s appropriate to my level of experience? Could I outsource work or charge more for it? Have I planned to maximise my billable hours, while keeping some in reserve for admin, marketing and CPD?

Win friends and influence people

It’s no surprise that PR people are portrayed as ruthless and amoral when you look at 2017’s roll call of villains (take a bow, Sean Spicer and Bell Pottinger). However, I met some of the nicest people of my life working in PR. Perhaps because the job involves performing Herculean tasks for others and receiving little thanks or credit, being charming to people who are rude to you, and never, ever moaning on social media. Sometimes infuriatingly, the most successful PR people are always those who understand that likeability and confidence can get you further than technical know-how.

Because PR moves so quickly, I think it teaches you to be a little more resilient and kinder to yourself when things go wrong. PR people mess up, apologise fast, learn fast and move on, because there’s simply no time to dwell (remember those billable hours!). So next time you make a mistake, why not imagine your inner PR maven – sharply dressed and brimming with confidence – and ask what they would do.

If you’re interested in working more closely with PR agencies or improving your work on PR projects for clients, I’d love to see you on my course starting on Tuesday.