The Curse of the Freelance Translator: lack of self-esteem?
In our continuing series of guest posts by eminent bloggers on translation, we are thrilled to publish this post by Claire Cox, whose blog Lines from a Linguist is a favourite for us. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Cox16.
I can’t help noticing that a good many freelance translators seem to suffer from a lack of self-esteem. Forgive me generalising, as I know this doesn’t apply across the board, but it crops up time and time again in my dealings with other translators and I can’t help wondering why this should be. Perhaps it’s a translator’s innate tendency to be more on the introverted end of the spectrum, as I’ve written before, on a number of occasions, or perhaps it’s just the fact that we tend to work in isolation and thus get out of the habit of promoting ourselves… Either way, it does us no favours when you consider that we are all, each and every one of us, trying to run a business.
I’ve come across a number of examples of this problem only recently. A couple of weeks ago I had cause to contact a number of colleagues about their rates for a contract to be outsourced for a direct client and was amazed how many people simply left their rates the same as they had been before, and the time before that, and so on – some of these rates haven’t changed for getting on for 8 years! If you look back over an 8-year period, to what you were paying for electricity bills, or haircuts, or even food or petrol, I can guarantee that there will most definitely have been an increase! I don’t understand why a freelance professional should not feel sufficiently confident in their abilities to moot a price rise!
Then again, I was contacted only last week by a colleague of a colleague who I’d helped out with some specialist terminology, seeking contacts in the opposite language direction to my own. I duly passed on the names of a couple of translators, some of whom I’ve worked with, but others who I merely know by reputation. In thanking me, the colleague once-removed (!) commented that he didn’t understand how these particular translators made a living, charging half of what he regarded as a going rate… I don’t either, especially as I’ve seen samples of some of their work and I know it’s quality stuff!
Then again, many translators are reluctant to take up new technology, such as CAT tools, or speech recognition software, hiding behind the excuse that they’re not tech-savvy and will get into all sorts of problems. As for going out into the real world and meeting other translators, or even clients, that’s also often perceived as a step too far.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not intending to be patronising or arrogant or über-critical. I too wouldn’t have said boo to a goose in my younger days, but with age comes experience, and it’s only by doing things and believing in yourself that you can start to change how you perceive yourself, and how others perceive you.
I think it’s so important to recognise that we have a really useful skill, one that increasingly few people have, and that we really need to value ourselves, so that we can ensure others value what we have to offer. I recall saying to a friend once that, whilst I knew I was a good translator, it was hard to persuade other people to value what we do. She looked askance, as though I shouldn’t have had the temerity to blow my own trumpet – yet she is a medical consultant and would automatically expect me to accept that she is good at what she does!
I personally have been able to change my level of confidence in my abilities by getting out there and meeting other translators, whether virtually or in the flesh. Twitter and Facebook offer great opportunities for keeping your finger on the pulse of the world of translation and finding out what fellow professionals are up to. There are a number of excellent groups on Facebook where translators discuss all matters under the sun, from client problems to what to charge for an urgent job to how to deal with new challenges. Standing Out and Watercooler are two that come to mind, but there are plenty of others, supportive communities of like-minded professionals facing the same day-to-day issues as each of us and offering support and morale-boosting words of encouragement. Sometimes you just need someone to say that they’ve experienced the same thing; sometimes, those words of encouragement can give you the impetus you need to stand your ground and insist on a higher rate for an urgent job, or for working over the weekend; and suddenly, you find that you feel better about yourself and what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.
Attending translation events or conferences is another brilliant way of boosting your confidence. It’s an ideal opportunity to discuss your world with other people who really understand the issues at stake, and who may well suggest solutions you hadn’t thought of. I love it when people tell me that they’ve invested in speech recognition software after reading my blog or chatting to me at a workshop, just as I know I’ve learnt so much from attending industry events and learning from fellow professionals. Online offerings such as webinars or ITI’s SUFT course can be a great way to dip your toe into the external translation market too – less daunting than leaving your comfort zone and putting yourself out there, they can nonetheless keep you up-to-date with a whole range of business, technical and specialist areas of interest that might otherwise have passed you by.
I’m sure, deep-down, that we all believe that we are good at what we do and take pride in our work. What we need to do is to gain the confidence to show that to the world, and boost the image of the profession as a whole.