Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Identifying what differentiates you

The recent CTA marketing seminar emphasized the importance of differentiating yourself. But how you do that? Working your workflow, a new long post at Tobias Rinche at Point Blank blog, stresses the importance of analyzing one's workflows - both to determine if they can be improved, but also to identifying things that make you stand apart from your competition.

Tobias' post seems aimed mostly at small companies, but what he says may work well also for individual freelancers, and certainly for formal or ad hoc partnerships.

Another fairly interesting link I found on differentiation is Differentiation: A Smart Small Business Marketing Strategy. It is clearly the kind of site that tries to sell you their coaching o marketing services, yet their articles seem genuinely useful - at least to a marketing beginner like me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Terminology search and confirmation with Google

Last week, my partner had to find a good translation into Spanish for "wireless hot spot". A first search in the Microsoft language portal suggested "zona interactiva inalámbrica" (2 hits), while a search in the KudoZ glossaries gave "zona local de cobertura" (1 hit only), although, of course, we found plenty of results for "hot spot" and for "wireless" not combined in the same string.

We turned to Google, searching for "hot spot" and "inalámbrico". Among the 9,640 hits we found "hot spot inalámbrico" and "punto de acceso inalámbrico hot spot" (besides many pages with "inalámbrico" and "hot spot", but not in the same string). This suggested "punto de acceso" as part of the solution.

Now we searched for the exact string "hot spot inalámbrico", limiting the search to pages written in Spanish. This gave us 501 hits. "Hot spot inalámbrico" was a possible candidate, then, although not the best: it sounded too colloquial and it had far too few hits for such a widespread technology.

We tried again, still restricting the search to pages written in Spanish. This time we searched for the exact string "punto de acceso inalámbrico". Result: 155,000 hits, an excellent candidate translation.

For confirmation, we tried the translations suggested by Microsoft and by KudoZ, searching only pages in Spanish. "Zona interactiva inalámbrica" yielded 10 results in Google; "zona local de cobertura" only two hits, and both of them about cell phones, rather than wireless Internet hot spots.

So we finally chose "punto de acceso inalámbrico".

This search strategy gives excellent results and can easily be adapted to other languages and fields. An experienced translator, however, should develop a feeling for the number of hits given by a candidate term. Too few hits mean that you are on the wrong track (especially if there is a large difference between the number of hits for the source string and for the candidate term). But "too few hits" is relative: 500 hits could have been a good candidate term for some less widespread technology.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Marketing for translators: a report from the CTA seminar


Last Saturday, during the last heavy snowfall of the season, about 20 members of the Colorado Translators Association gathered for a one-day marketing seminar, graciously hosted by Beatriz Bonnet of Syntes Language Group, and ably organized by Corinne McKay

The seminar was divided in two parts. The morning was devoted to a detailed and very informative presentation by Judy Jenner of Twin Translations. The afternoon to a panel discussion with Judy Jenner, Beatriz Bonnet, Adam Asnes of Lingoport, and Japanese to English translator Chris Blakeslee.

Although the seminar was primarily aimed at translators wishing to market to direct customers, most of what was said is also useful for those of us who wish to market to translation companies.

I took some detailed notes, but the following outline and comments are my interpretation of what, as translators, we should do to market our services, so I'm responsible for any error and for my opinions in this material.

In particular, I've rearranged much of the material, and added links to other sites.

Knowledge of languages, of translation techniques, and of our subject areas is a prerequisite for our profession, but, alone, is not enough: whether we like it or not, we have to act as a business, just like other professionals.

As translators, we are selling our services and running a business.

1 - Marketing

Marketing, in a broad sense, at least, is any communication we have with a client or prospect: any e-mail, any phone call, any post that we make public on line, if we have a website or a blog. Marketing is also the communication we have with our customers when we send them an invoice or a payment reminder.

Golden rule: put yourself in your customer's shoes: What would you like or dislike about the service you offer? What could you do to make your customer's life easier? If your direct contact with your customer is an overworked and underpaid PM who has to deal with the translation she sent you and with the same translation sent to translators for 11 other language pairs, plus another five multilingual projects at the same time, what could you do to help her?

Examples (given at the seminar): pdf invoicing, accepting payment using the means of payment preferred by your customer (even if it may cost you some in transaction fees - PayPal)

1.1 - Communications with your customers and prospects

  • Use a contact management system (even just Google gmail, or the contacts in Outlook)

    • Write good out-of-office autoresponder messages
    • Send reminders of availability to all your customers and prospects at the beginning of the month
    • Write personal handwritten and hand-addressed notes: they stand out (a good suggestion by Beatriz)
    • Gather information on your prospects. For example, read what your prospects are doing to see what their needs may be (a good tool for use is Google alerts)
    • Network with prospects
      Not so much at networking events (where everybody is trying to sell and nobody wants to buy), but on other occasions as well: through LinkedIn groups or other on-line social networks, maybe, or by targeting a specific market, and then trying to see which of your friends or acquaintances could introduce you to it.

    • Network with people who could link us with prospects
      • Other translators
      • Satisfied customers
      • The power of word of mouth
      • Friends and acquaintances
      • Social media (for example, LinkedIn or Facebook)

1.2 - Where and how?

  • Blogging, writing and giving presentations to make yourself known and to raise your visibility on the net (but NOT as a means to directly attract sales)... even twittering (maybe?)
  • Press releases. There are sites, such as and where you can publish your press releases at no charge (but press releases should be about something newsworthy, at least in a specialized sense)
  • Google adwords. If you use Google adwords (expensive!), they should lead to a landing page (form), not to your home page

1.3 - When?

  • Frequency of marketing. Do not send a message just once, or twice and then give up, but eight, ten, or more times before getting a chance.

1.4 - What?

  • Collect written testimonials and organize them by similarity (to prospect)
  • Give references: 10 references from very satisfied customers to establish yourself as "the got-to person" in your niche (this was a good example given by Adam Asnes)
  • Post informational material on the Internet (blogs, white papers, wikis)
  • In your web material, don't advertise: try to help solve a problem. By providing information you show you expertise.

1.5 - Marketing materials

  • Should be:
    • Short and to the point
    • Easy to read even on mobile devices such as a Blackberry
    • Targeted and customized (no "Dear Sir or madam", no offers of Chinese translations to a company that specializes only in English to Italian and Spanish)
  • Should answer the questions:
    • Why would I hire you? (Important!)
    • How do you make your customer successful?
    • What is your value proposition? (What value do you add for your customer?)
    • What's the cost of not doing this? (That is, what's the cost, for your customer, or not giving the job to you, or of not translating some material?)
  • Should tell:
    • Who you are
    • What you do
    • Your competitive advantages, such as availability round the clock for people who have partners in different time zones (as we do for example, with one of our partners in Thailand), or the fact that partnering with other experienced professionals allows us to offer as a package translation + editing, or, for those that do use them, QA tools such as XBench)
    • Your specializations
    • Also the fields in which you do not specialize (as important as saying those in which you do specialize)
    • You should have a professional web site (with your own domain) and an e-mail address from your own domain. All your e-mails should use a good signature block
      • Example of signature block:

        John Doe, English to Italian translator
        Specialized in IT and legal translation
        Tel. +1 (303) 555-4444, Cell +1 (303) 555-1111

        (By the way, I would say that while including phone numbers and e-mail contact information is a must, a fax number is no longer so: I don't think we have received more than a couple of faxes in the past year)

    • You should get good and professional-looking marketing materials, including a good photo (mostly for your web site)

    • Should build your brand: logo (everywhere), design, business cards
      • A good piece of advice from Judy was to barter for services, if necessary. For example, provide your services in exchange for good DTP or for a professional photo, or (for those of us who need marketing materials in a language which is not our native tongue) for professionally written copy.

2 - Economics

3 - Pricing

  • Supply and demand. While there is much supply of cheap translators, the supply of good professionals is limited
  • Benchmark prices (see what the competition is doing), BUT:
    • Competing on price means becoming a commodity: There is always going to be someone cheaper. Solution: differenTiation (closely related to marketing)
  • Price vs. peripherals (give something extra, some lagniappe)
  • Start high (easier than trying to raising your rates later)
  • Stress value added
  • Direct clients are, as a rule, less price-sensitive than translation companies (but there are translation companies that do accept to pay high rates)

4 - Accounting

  • Income vs expenses (for tax purposes, and to know how you are doing)
  • Accounts Payable, invoicing
  • Tax deductions (for example, the price of a marketing seminar, or deducting all miles driven for business)
  • No co-mingling allowed. (Co-mingling means using business resources for personal purposes, or personal resources for business)

5 - Negotiating basics

  • Seller sets price, no haggling like fishmongers
  • Be firm
  • Don't justify yourself (no "my price is high because...")
  • The power of silence
  • Client education
  • Know your bottom line when you start negotiating
    • Know what you want out of the negotiation: the lowest rate you can live with, the shortest deadline, the longest payment terms. Put this in writing before you start negotiating.
  • Walk away (from bad customers)
  • NEVER sound desperate (especially when you are)

6 - Miscellaneous

  • Tests: To do or not to do free tests. Judy, and others, are against them, but please see: Myth and legends about translation tests (from About Translation)
    • Alternative to tests: provide good sample of your previous translations (after ensuring you have your customer's permission to do so!)

  • One way to differentiate yourself is guaranteeing availability when most others are not available (the "4th of July approach" according to Judy's definition)

7 - Recap: Judy's six main points

  1. Differentiate yourself
  2. Make yourself known and build a brand
  3. Build relationships with customers and colleagues
  4. Keep good records
  5. Don't compete on price
  6. Negotiate well

Friday, April 24, 2009

How not to market your services

Just received, an excellent example of how not to market your services:
Subject: CV

Attachment: CVeng.doc

Dear Aliquantum,

please find here attached my CV and please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any opportunity for me.

Best Regards,
No indication of language pair (or any other information) in the subject line, in the name of the résumé file, or in the text of the message. Plus a CV in a format that may easily be infected by viruses. Result: Recycle Bin.

How it should have been done:

Subject: ENG>ITA Translator

JDoe_EN-IT_CV.pdf; JDoe_rates2009.pdf

Dear Mr. Schiaffino,

I saw from your web site that your company specializes in English to Italian and English to Spanish translations.

I'm a native speaker of Italian, with a master in translation and five years of experience. I specialize in the translation of plant engineering and legal texts. Attached, please find my CV and rates.

Let me know if you need any further information.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,
Jane Doe

Monday, April 13, 2009

Deadline for renewing Trados licenses

A reminder to all those who are still on various flavors of Trados 7: it is still possible to upgrade to Trados 2007 (I think the deadline is April 15, the end of the current SDL upgrade offer), but soon it will no longer be possible to upgrade a Trados 7 license, and those wishing to do so will need to pay the full price for a new license.

Many complained about this SDL policy when the same happened for Trados 6.5 (and SDLX 2004): I wrote about that last year in this post.

I remain of the opinion that the SDL upgrade policy is overly restrictive, but since it is what it is, people who think to upgrade should do it soon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Book Review: Booher's Rules of Business Grammar

Shortly after posting my review of Luca Serianni's "Prima lezione di grammatica", I received a message asking whether I would like to get a copy of a new grammar self-help book: Dianna Booher's "Booher's Rules of Business Grammar: 101 Fast and Easy Ways to Correct the Most Common Errors". I said I was interested; a few days later I received the book. After several weeks, here is my review.

I admit I have not read the book from the first to the last page, but only looked at the issues that most interested me. I believe it is designed to be skimmed until you find one or more sections that deal with your linguistic doubts.

The books briefly explains the underlying grammar, suggests the correct way to write something, says what is wrong with the alternatives, and provides mnemonic help to remember the correct solution for each error.

The target audience is not clear: some of the errors corrected are the kind that normally only native speakers of English make (such as the contraction "it's" wrongly used for the possessive "its": a blunder sometimes committed by native speakers but which I have never seen in the writing of educated foreigners). Other errors only foreigners - without an instinctive ear for English as their native tongue - would make (such as "They had went to the office earlier in the day").

Some of the chapters are certainly useful. For example, one doubt I sometimes have is the difference in usage between "may" and "might". The book's explanation is clear

May means that things are possible, even likely. Might means that there's less likelihood of something happening. [...] Might is also the past tense of may. In those situations, the degree of possibility is not the criterion for using might. If the other verbs in the sentence are past tense, may becomes might (past tense).

although in this case at least, the mnemonic suggested is obscure:

Link the may-might dilemma to Dusty Springfield's hit ["just wishin' and hopin'"], and you'll be humming the criterion for choosing the correct word: What's the likelihood? May implies that things are more likely than might does.

Not useful to those who don't know Dusty Springfield is or was, and have no idea what's the tune we are supposed to be humming to remember the mnemonic by.

Other chapters fare less well. For example, the section on the difference between "lie" and "lay" tries to give a useful table to clarify the differences, but then botches the grammatical terminology in the table:

Verb: to tell a falsehood [...]

Past lied Mortimer lied yesterday

Present participle lied Mortimer has lied on numerous

Verb: to recline [...]

Past lay The unsigned check lay on his
desk for a week

Present participle lying Eldora is lying down for a nap
every day after her chemo treatments

"Has lied", is not a present participle, but a present perfect. An example with a present participle could have been "Mortimer told the truth yesterday, but he is lying now".

The lack of parallelism in the examples ends up confusing the issue: "lie" in the sense of "to tell a falsehood" has examples for the present tense, the past, the present perfect (wrongly called present participle), and the past participle, but no example for the present participle; in the sense of "to recline" it has examples for the present tense, the past, the present participle, and the past participle, but no example for the present perfect. A few lines further on, "laid" is also called the present participle of the verb "to lay" ("They have laid walkways around the building this week"). Again, "have laid" is not the present participle, but the present perfect.

The book is inexpensive (the cover price is $ 16.95), and could be useful for foreigners (for example professionals) who need to write English as their second or third language. For translators whose native tongue is English the book will probably be of little help, since they should already know their own tongue much better than this. I also think it won't be very useful for translators who habitually write in English, even when English is not their native tongue, if they have a good grounding in English grammar.

Many of the mnemonics will be useful for part of the book's audience (at least for the readers who rely more on aural than on visual memory).

In the companion web site you can answer 25 questions to "test your grammar IQ". It's a nice touch, and can help you see whether reading the book has helped you any (by taking the test before and after). The test gives a score but it does not suggest which answers were wrong, nor what the correct answers should have been. I think this omission should be corrected in a way that could entice more readers: something like "you answered x to question 24, but the correct answer is y. To see why this is the correct answer and x was wrong, and to find more help for your linguistic doubts, please see our book".

To sum up: a book that may be helpful to some, especially to foreigners writing in English, but not to most translators.