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Check out my guest blog post at Naked Translations March 5, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Marketing ideas, Random musings.
1 comment so far

I’d like to invite you all over to Céline’s blog, Naked Translations, where I’ve written a guest blog post on e-mail marketing. I have been reading Céline’s blog since before I started blogging myself (she’s been blogging since November 2003). If you aren’t already familiar with it, be sure to give it a look! It’s got some great stuff. A little while ago Céline approached me about writing a guest blog post for her blog. I had mentioned my e-mail marketing campaign in one of my blog posts, and she wanted me to go into more detail about it for her blog. I have talked about this numerous times in Corinne and my preconference seminar at ATA conferences, but I was able to go into more detail on Céline’s blog. Thank you so much for inviting me, Céline. It is truly an honor.


Tightening the belt February 26, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.


It’s hard not to escape the fact that our global economy is in serious trouble. We are bombarded with bad news every day, both in the media and in professional forums. Even Microsoft is laying off employees. And yet we are also hearing about all the corporate and government waste that is going on even while times are supposedly tough. Every day I read a new report in the newspaper about how a bank that received bailout funds spent millions on a corporate event, this corporation gave its CEO several billion dollars in bonuses despite having laid off a ton of workers, or how FEMA has a $2 billion surplus that it isn’t distributing to those who need it.

Many translators have also been increasingly getting e-mails from clients asking us to reduce our already low prices. I have been doing this for at least 15 years and am amazed that the average word price really hasn’t increased with inflation. Freelance translators are constantly asked to reduce their rates “for this job” or “for this client” “because the margin is tight” – this was happening even BEFORE the economy tanked! I realize agencies have to make a profit, and one of the ways is to pay less for the translations they are selling to the end clients, but it’s hard to get blood out of an already anemic stone.

One way to combat this is to stop working with low-paying agencies and concentrate on finding more direct clients. I love working with translation agencies, because it allows me to not have to do all the hand-holding and hoop-jumping working with direct clients entails. However, if one more agency sends me an e-mail asking me to lower my rates “because of the economy” I’m going to scream. They aren’t doing it because of the economy; they are doing it because it makes fiscal sense to take advantage of the bad economy.

Translations cost money, and good translators cost money. Having seen the results of translations by lower-paid “translators” I realize they get what they pay for. Most of the translators I know are no longer willing to proofread, because agencies are also trying to save money by farming the translation to a machine or a cheap translator and then hiring a more expensive translator to try to save the translation through proofreading (at $0.02 or $0.03 a word). This practice is useless, because it is often easier to retranslate the document than try to correct all the errors and still have a halfway decent translation in the end. And those accepting a per-word rate for proofreading certainly don’t earn a decent wage from the hours of hair pulling proofreading a bad translation entails. This is why an hourly proofreading rate is always advisable. I went to school and got a Master’s degree, which obviously doesn’t mean beans to less reputable translation agencies, and have invested thousands of dollars in dictionaries and equipment over the years. Doing your job well costs money. I wish some agencies would stand up to their clients and do a little client education and explain why paying peanuts is not necessarily a good thing.

In the meantime, we need to follow Adam@Home’s lead and tighten our belts. If you haven’t read Corinne’s post on freelance frugality I suggest you head over there right now and check it out. We may be earning less for a little while until the economy improves again, so it pays to practice frugality and perhaps tap into the cushion you hopefully have been setting aside for times like these.

I’m sticking to my rates and if the agency doesn’t like it they can find someone else and I will do the same. Despite all the doom and gloom out there right now, there still are plenty of good agencies that value their independent contractors out there. You just need to look for them.

Separating the personal and the professional January 5, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas, Tech tips.

As a freelancer it is sometimes hard to separate the personal and professional aspects of your life. A large majority of my clients and/or jobs are due to personal contact or word of mouth from colleagues who have seen my posts on professional listservs and recommend me to their clients when they cannot accept a job. I found a new client sitting next to me at a murder mystery dinner theater show and a good contact and potential future job source (you never know…) on the boat from Alcatraz. I think it is crucial for the marketing of our services to never go anywhere without business cards. There is no doubt in my mind that being a social person plays a huge role in my success as a translator.

In these days of social media it can sometimes be hard to separate the personal and professional personas. I am enjoying exploring the various benefits of social networking and am also researching for a presentation on social networking tools at the ATA conference. In addition to this blog, I joined social networking tools Twitter and LinkedIn last year. However, I sometimes find it hard to separate my personal life from my professional life. A lot of my friends are fellow translators. I enjoy chatting with them on Skype, talking on the phone, exchanging e-mails in a smaller listserv, meeting locally for lunch or coffee, cheerleading them in their efforts to make important changes in their lives, and even going so far as meeting some of them in Vegas for a “spring conference” a few years ago to just hang out. As a result, it can be hard to draw the line sometimes.

I made a conscious decision when I joined Facebook to keep Facebook strictly personal, although I have lots of translators and former students among my “friends” there. I also have lots of friends from high school and college. Those two sections of my life don’t necessarily blend real well. One of my colleagues recently “friended” me on Facebook. After checking out his profile I realized that a lot (if not most) of his friends were professional contacts (and a couple of my clients) and I felt uncomfortable having my personal status posts broadcast to them. I decided to remove him as a friend, and luckily he understood when I explained it to him. I had looked into limiting access, but decided I simply needed to stick to my guns. After all, separating the two aspects is extremely important to me. For those of you who are already on Facebook and do not want to remove friends or want to limit certain friends’ access, these posts might help:

I may just have to give these tips a try…

In these days of Internet access and 24/7 availability, it is becoming harder and harder to keep the personal and the professional separate. Clients and some translators I know think nothing of working over the weekend. In the past I have had agencies call in the evening or even on a Saturday or Sunday trying to place a translation. I always decline those jobs. I need a couple days off to recharge just like everyone else and not working on the weekend is the easiest solution. I am finally going to buy a new phone with e-mail capabilities, but I am extremely hesitant to do so because it will once again blur the line between when I am available to my clients and when I am not. I won’t give up though and will continue to fight the Good Fight against the encroachment on my personal time. I look forward to hearing how all of you deal with this issue in the comments below.

Surviving the holiday lull December 29, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.

This is always the toughest few weeks for me, because most of my agency clients are closed between Christmas and New Year’s and checks simply don’t get sent out promptly in January (I think because companies are closing up their books). The only way to survive the holiday lull is to have a financial cushion you can use to pay your bills while your invoices are still outstanding. Most personal finance experts suggest setting aside a cushion of three months’ pay. I have worked my way up to one. I hope to achieve the three months’ cushion some time this year. At this point I have $2,300 in unpaid and overdue invoices.

I woke up early this morning from a dead sleep worrying about paying my bills, but realized that I had forgotten that I had the financial cushion to rely on and rolled over and went back to sleep. It doesn’t help that this is the month the expenses from the ATA conference come due on the credit card. It is so nice to no longer have trouble sleeping because you are worrying about paying your bills and buying groceries. I was in that situation six years ago, when my sister bought me a gift certificate at a grocery store so I could “treat [myself] to some meat.” I hadn’t had any work come in for the entire month of October back in 2002 and money was really tight. Once I realized that clients needed to know I was there in order to send me work, I started an e-mail marketing campaign and have been busy and overworked ever since.

But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t slow around the holidays for me either. I have been relaxing and allowing my tendonitis to heal, but I am now starting to get antsy and can’t wait until the work starts flooding in again. I hope you all had a relaxing holiday. Hopefully some of you newbies took advantage of the fact that most seasoned translators were on holiday and were swamped with potential new clients. I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2009. See you in the New Year!

Holiday greetings to clients December 18, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.

I’m updating my Christmas card database in Access and thought it would be interesting to share how I thank my clients with whom I have worked in the last year. I made a list of all the clients I have worked with this year. There were 32 of them, many of them returning or long-term clients. I think it is important to send out a Christmas card thanking your clients, even if you only worked for them once or twice or decided to part ways during the year for one reason or another. They still played a role in your success and should be thanked. I then do a mail merge and print out address labels, sign the cards and seal up the envelopes. I always make sure to thank them for playing a role in my business and wish them a happy and prosperous new year.

I also had my favorite Cleveland chocolatier mail-order a big holiday gift of chocolate and peppermint-covered Oreos and assorted chocolates to my favorite client. I know it arrived today, because I got a lot of fun thank you messages from the company owner and several employees via e-mail and Skype. I earned $35,000.00 from that client alone this year, so a little Christmas basket is the least I can do to show my gratitude for their continued business.

If you don’t want to send out Christmas cards, you should pick a holiday to send out cards to your client. One of my clients sends a Thanksgiving card every year. I think that is a great idea, because that way the cards don’t get lost in the Christmas rush of holiday letters and cards. In my case, I am already sending out cards to friends and family, so an extra 30 cards isn’t that big a deal. They just don’t get my holiday letter 🙂

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have address labels to print and cards to stuff. I chose a multi-holiday card this year with a Christmas tree, menorah, etc. to cover all my bases. Happy Holidays!

Sharing PowerPoint presentations on LinkedIn November 12, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Marketing ideas, Tools.
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One of my goals from the ATA conference is to learn more about social networking tools. Corinne McKay’s post this morning, New and Noteworthy, about a sundry of topics, including feeding your WordPress blog to your LinkedIn profile, was a revelation and sparked a flurry of investigative work on my part. Luckily I only have about 800 words to translate today. So I’ve now finally updated my web site this morning (another one of my goals) in addition to playing around in LinkedIn, which I have woefully neglected for a while now.

Feeding the WordPress blog to your LinkedIn profile based on freelance journalist Michelle Rafter’s instructions was a breeze, but I also discovered you can upload PowerPoint presentations as well. All you have to do is click on Applications, choose either Google Presentation or SlideShare Presentations, and upload your PowerPoint presentations (be sure to fill out a brief explanation and choose some tags). I chose SlideShare Presentations, but Google Presentation looks like it would work similarly.

I have had my PowerPoint presentations on my web site for years, but this is a great way to bundle all your PowerPoint presentations in one spot and free up some web space on your domain. Plus they were pretty hidden on the site. I now have four of my PowerPoint presentations online, and they have already had some hits. It’s a great way to show potential clients and fellow translators what you can do.

LinkedIn also has some other cool applications like Huddle, which gives you private, secure online workspaces packed with simple yet powerful project, collaboration and sharing tools for working with your connections. I could see this being very valuable when working together with other translators on large translation projects.

How not to market yourself August 18, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.

I just received the following e-mail (the details have been removed to protect the clueless):

Subject: English>Arabic / Italian>Arabic freelance translator
Dear sir or Mm,

I am a freelance translator, proofreader and editor based in Egypt. I am very interested to develop long-term cooperation with your esteemed agency. Please find enclosed my cv. All related certificates are available upon your request.
Looking forward to hearing from you.

[Name deleted]

Really? Did you even look at my web site? First of all, I am not an agency, but rather a fellow freelancer. Secondly, I don’t work in Arabic or Italian. I only translate German to English. Thirdly, you couldn’t even take the time to spell out “madam” or “best” in “Best regards,” which is just lazy. On the plus side, there was some grammatical awkwardness, but at least there were no typos (if you don’t count the non-capitalized “cv”). And you attached a PDF of your resume instead of a huge, multi-megabyte file or a Word document that could possibly contain a macro virus. Anyways, thanks for the spam, jack! Better luck next time.

Busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger August 13, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas, Random musings.
1 comment so far

Man, I don’t know about you, but business here has been exploding lately. I am translating two large projects for one of my favorite clients (5,000 words due Wednesday and 11,000 words due Thursday – both easy surveys, so doable in that time frame). I had to turn down a rush job today for one of my other favorite clients who was willing to pay double my normal word rate if I could have 3700 words done by tomorrow (he’s asked me to clear my calendar for Friday just in case he can’t find anyone). The client forgot the document and needed it today (Tuesday), so they are a little desperate to get it translated. I was hoping to take it easy today after turning in a really technical legal/telecommunications contract yesterday, but my plans quickly went awry and it snowballed from there. And it sure isn’t easy working with a sinus headache that makes you nauseous…

I’ve been trying to fight the onslaught of work off as best I can so that I can at least enjoy a little bit of the summer, but it is hard to say no to some of my clients, especially when everyone else is off enjoying themselves on vacation. It’s tough being single with no one to travel with. I just signed up for a singles cruise group on Meetup.com, so hopefully that will change and I’ll be asea soon.

I know I’ve complained about it before, but it isn’t easy saying no to your two best clients. And it’s tough when they both come to you with work at the same time. That’s why you haven’t heard from me much in the last few days. Hopefully things will start calming down again once school starts and no one is on vacation anymore. If you are a newcomer, now is definitely the time to send your resume to new agencies. Strike while the iron is hot!

Where have all the good clients gone… August 7, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas, Random musings.

I just booted yet another client. Am I unreasonable to expect payment within the stipulated payment terms? It isn’t like I am hurting for clients, but if I keep booting a client a month due to their atrocious payment terms I won’t have too many clients left. Don’t get me wrong, I get contacted by new agencies just about every day, but I am leery to work with new agencies – especially if they are not listed on Payment Practices or the Zahlungspraxis listserv. I keep meaning to subscribe to the TCR (Translator Client Review) List. These are all good sources of finding reputable agencies.

What happened to agencies who pay on time and within 30 days? At this point I am beginning to think they are an urban myth. If I deliver a job on time (or even early) I would like to be paid for that job within 30-45 days. Is that such an unreasonable expectation? I honestly don’t think so. If I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments!

This particular client owes me $1,400.00 in overdue invoices (one invoice being 38 days late). They merged with another agency about 8 months ago, and their payment practices have gone straight downhill ever since. They changed their payment terms to “submit the invoice by the 7th of the month and payment will be made by the end of the month. Otherwise you will have to wait until the end of the next month” – essentially almost 60 days if you miss the 7th of the month deadline.

The e-mail I received from Accounts Payable today acknowledged that they overlooked two of my invoices, which were submitted 1-2 weeks before the submission deadline for this payment period and that they would be paying them with the next payment – in another 30 days!!! What kind of crap is that? I send monthly invoices to two clients because they are my best clients and faithfully pay within 30-45 days as promised. I am not willing to do that for every Tom, Dick and Harry agency, and that is essentially what this agency expects if they only pay invoices once a month.

And what about agencies that nickel and dime us to death with repetition discounts and lower and lower rates? Another German translator just wrote to the GLD list about an agency that went from paying 25% for 100% matches and repetitions to 10%. The Trados rule has been 30/60/90. When do we stop accepting this kind of treatment? One of my friends is seriously considering cleaning houses instead of translating, and she wouldn’t be taking a pay cut! If agencies don’t start standing up to their clients’ unreasonable deadlines and unreasonable price expectations they may find that there will be fewer translators out there to rely on. The vacation time dearth that is raging at the moment should be proof enough. I was contacted by four new agencies yesterday trying to place a translation, and two of them admitted that they were having a tough time placing it. Imagine what would happen when well-trained translators decide to become secretaries or get a full-time job instead of having to deal with the aggravation of negotiating price with every single job request. One of my fellow Kent State graduates (Class of ’95) just got offered a $90,000 a year job without the company blinking at her request or trying to negotiate her down. At this point I am still very happy being a freelance translator, but it makes you think…

In the meantime, I guess I will be going on a search for new clients that pay well at the end of the month (a Fall Kick-off as it were) and dreaming of landing my own $90,000 a year job. New agencies with a good reputation are welcome to contact me at any time.

Getting excited for the ATA Conference in Orlando July 31, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas, Random musings, Translation Sites.
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I received the preliminary program for the ATA conference in the mail today and immediately went online and registered. I have attended the conference every year since I moved back to the U.S. in 2001, but I frankly wasn’t too excited about the conference this year and had considered not attending. However, as one of the members of the GLD conference planning committee, I got excited to attend Thea Dohler’s presentations on time management (to be presented in German). Then, to top it all off, the conference organizers asked Corinne McKay and me to present our preconference seminar on “How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator” again. Plus, Jost Zetzsche’s presentation “Translation Technology’s Ring of Power: One Tool to Rule Them All…and in the Darkness Bind Them” attracts me from the name alone! Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend Corinne’s presentation “Blogging: How and Why,” because I’ll be presenting the Orientation for First-Time Conference Attendees. I had planned on enjoying a lot of downtime during the conference, but a glance at the program tells me I will indeed be attending a session during almost every time slot. I am most excited about the Independent Contractor sessions this year. There are some fabulous sessions and speakers on the schedule like Jonathan Hine, Chris Durban and Ted Wozniak. I’m also really intrigued by Orestes Martinez’s Social Networking: How to Practice One of the Most Effective Marketing Tools Today. Guess I’ll have to plan on staying an extra day to enjoy Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.