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Top 10 tips from an overworked translator June 13, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings, Translation Sites.
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If you are just getting started (or are striving to be better), here are my top 10 tips to be efficient and successful.

1. Be organized. Develop a system that works for you. Use some kind of job tracking system. Make lists of tasks you need to do that day, week, month. Keep all open jobs in a folder and move the files somewhere else once you have delivered the job. Set up an archiving system to archive your past work using a system that allows you to quickly and easily locate a file if the client asks for it. I zip up the source file, Trados backup file, target file, and any reference materials and/or any purchase orders from the client and name it with the client name and some descriptive words about the file (title, keywords, etc.). I then save the zip file in a folder called “Archive” in My Documents that has subfolders for each month, which are then moved inside folders for each year at the end of the year. Also, keep a handle on your e-mail in box using folders and e-mail filters. Read your e-mail program’s Help to find out more.

2. Manage your time wisely. Check your e-mail and plan your day accordingly as soon as you turn the computer on. Work when you need to work. Set your e-mail program to check e-mail every half hour – not as soon as it comes in. Avoid being sucked into watching television when you should be working. One of my colleagues always recounts to new translators how she would watch soap operas for several hours a day when she first started translating. If you do take a break, set a deadline and then go back to work when that time is up.

3. Take regular breaks. Try to get up and walk away from your desk every hour for at least five minutes. Make a cup of tea or coffee or drink a glass of water. Take a lunch break. Sitting at a desk in one position can be very taxing on your shoulders and strains the eyes. Getting up and walking away allows your eyes to focus on something else for a while. Your health and your sanity will thank you.

4. Be easy to work with. Be the translator that project managers contact for assignments. If you cannot accept a job, try to recommend another translator who can. Always be pleasant and try to be as accommodating as possible. I always include a few sentences of personal greeting to my project managers or the accountant who receives my invoice. Build up a personal rapport with your clients.

5. Strive to be the best. Respond promptly to e-mails – even if it is just to say “Thank you for your inquiry; however, I’m afraid I am booked through next Thursday.” Turn in your translations on time or even early. If you are running behind, notify your clients in advance – not an hour before the deadline. Do everything you can to track down that last elusive term or abbreviation. Ask your colleagues on a listserv, call an expert, or research it on Google. One time I was translating bank statements and records and called someone at the bank in Germany to find out exactly what the abbreviations meant instead of just guessing.

6. Don’t be a generalist – specialize. By that I mean don’t accept every job that comes across your desk just because you might need the work. If you don’t know how to translate patents or have no idea what the steel pressing text is about, turn it down! You’ll be doing yourself and your client a favor. If you accept a job that is over your head you will only be stressing yourself out and may ruin your relationship with your client by turning in a sub-par translation despite all your hard work.

7. Put in the extra effort to format your documents properly. Clients really appreciate it when you format the documents to correspond to the source text. That said, they may have different margin settings or may not have your font, so your perfectly formatted document could look terrible if you don’t format in a manner that transcends margins and fonts. Learn as much as you can about formatting. Learn how to set tabs instead of hitting the tab key eight times and/or the space bar. Try to use common fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman instead of obscure fonts such as Shruti or Ravie. Learn how to use the Hanging Indent tab on the ruler instead of using the space bar to line up your text.

8. Run spell-check. This should be obvious, but you’d be surprised how many translators do not run spell-check before delivering their translations. Make sure your translation is perfect – or at least has no obvious typos. Someone once told me to proof your translation backwards so you really notice the words.

9. Try to take tech-free days. When I am really busy my apartment looks like a tornado went through it by the end of the week :-). It’s important to schedule days or afternoons off so you can run errands, do laundry, vacuum, wash dishes, and just plain relax. My biggest pet peeve is that agencies don’t seem to respect weekends. It is up to us to defend our right to have a day or two off. Everyone needs days off in order to recharge. In our case, we also need to loosen up our shoulders and give our brains a break. Translation can be stressful and requires a lot of concentration and thought.

10. Keep marketing yourself whenever you can. Even though I have plenty of work and several clients who regularly contact me at least several times a week, you never know if that client will develop liquidity problems, your favorite project manager may leave and no one else there will know you, or their client base may change and they will suddenly no longer be getting work in your field of specialization. Become active in local groups (either translation-related or in your fields of specialization) and post regularly on listservs where your fellow translators are active. Join the ATA and attend their smaller, specialized conferences (you’re more likely to make lucrative contacts). Keep your resume up to date, post your profile/resume on translator portals such as Aquarius, TranslatorsCafe, or ProZ (however, I don’t pay to use them.), and carry business cards with you wherever you go. You never know where your next job will come from.

Does anyone else have a fabulous tip they would like to share? I’d love to hear it!

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