The following are the “givens” that are required to become a successful translator. If you are not strong in one or more of these areas, further study will be necessary to succeed.
thorough knowledge of source and target languages
cultural fluency in each language
excellent writing and editing skills
extensive background in chosen areas of specialization
solid computer skills
access to reference materials
good Internet research skills
Going beyond the “givens,” this questionnaire will help you review many specific aspects of our profession. No newcomer is expected to be able to answer “yes” to everything on this list. It should be useful, however, in assessing your personal readiness to embark on this career, and in setting the goals that will lead you to success.
What I need to know before the phone rings
Am I willing to invest time, money, and physical and emotional energy to build a career?
Do I know what I am getting into? Do I have business skills in addition to translating and writing skills?
Am I detail-oriented?
Do I know and understand the ethical standards of translation and interpreting?
Do I know the difference between an employee and an independent contractor in terms of tax law?
Do I know what licenses I need to be in business?
Is my résumé up to date and appropriate?
Have I designed business cards and letterhead?
Is my sample portfolio compiled and ready to go?
Do I know how to market my skills? Am I willing to do so persistently?
Before bidding on a job, do I know what my particular skills are worth in today’s marketplace? Did I remember to include a certain percentage to cover my overhead?
Am I aware of extra charges that might be incurred over and above my basic rate (for handwritten documents, special formatting requirements, etc.)?
Do I have an idea of what kinds of translation jobs or terms I will politely refuse (due to unreasonable expectations regarding remuneration or turnaround time, insufficient skills, personal bias, etc.)?
Am I prepared to negotiate terms (high-volume projects, rush jobs, projects for non-profit groups, etc.)?
Am I able to give a reasonably accurate word count (in source and/or target languages) and turnaround estimate relatively quickly after I have seen the document? (How do I make “ballpark” estimates on documents I haven’t seen in their entirety–high enough to cover unknown costs, but low enough to keep the client interested?)
Do I respect my obligation to honor a cost quotation unless I have cleared a change with my client well in advance of invoicing? (Do I understand that even in extraordinary circumstances an increase in fee may not be possible?)
Have I prearranged quality control measures to guarantee a top-notch product (such as time to mull over my draft, proofing tools, time to proofread, a third reading by a colleague with source- or target-language background, a subject area expert to consult, etc.)?
Professional Product and Services
What I need to know after the phone rings
Do I discuss fees and terms with potential clients confidently, without hesitation, or cumbersome excuses and apologies?
Do I secure a written agreement for the work before I start the job? (If not, am I aware of the risks? Which risks am I willing to accept?)
Do I remember to request necessary background information (concerning the audience, end-use of the target document, notarization requirements, etc.)? To ensure consistency, do I ask to review previous translations or competitor’s materials?
Do I confirm receipt of materials sent by the client?
Am I aware of my limitations? (Do I decline projects that I cannot do well?)
While revising my translated document, do I read from the perspective of the target audience’s cultural and linguistic background?
Do I proofread for linguistic, cultural, and technical accuracy as well as for style and omissions?
Do I have convenient access to translation tools, state-of-the-art software, and high-speed Internet service?
Do I honor deadlines without fail? (In an emergency, do I notify the client immediately?)
Do I deliver in the format and platform requested by the client?
Are my invoices professional looking and complete? Are individual charges explained and expenses noted (only those agreed upon in advance)? Are my payment terms clearly stated?
Do I keep an electronic copy for potential future corrections, revisions, or additions? For how long? (Do I inquire about returning background materials to the client upon completion of the job?)
Do I know how long I can afford to wait for payment (for example, as long as 30-90 days?)
Am I knowledgeable about how to collect payment from slow-paying clients?
Am I willing, able, and ready to invest time, effort, and funds to expand my range of skills and methods (learning new software, reading professional journals and reference materials, nurturing a translation partner relationship, etc.)?
How to keep the phone ringing
Do I return phone calls promptly?
Are my marketing strategies honed daily, weekly, or at least monthly depending on the amount of business I want?
Do I maintain a positive, cooperative attitude? (Are my requests and specific working requirements reasonable?)
Am I flexible? Am I open to change? (Can I readily admit mistakes and offer to correct them?)
Can I accept the fact that my client does not know all about my profession or its problems, nor my personal difficulties, and that it is not his or her responsibility to learn about them?
Am I able to put myself in my client’s shoes? (Can I foresee possible misunderstandings and initiate immediate open discussion or mediation if need be, instead of silently jumping to conclusions?)
Do I honor confidentiality agreements and the “non-compete” principle whether or not a signed statement is required? Do I ask permission to include client material as samples in my portfolio?
Do I maintain loyalty and know what that means with regard to clients and colleagues? (Am I alert to potential conflicts of interest?)
Do I realize that translators do not all request nor receive the same rates and that there are significant reasons for variations (the specific language/field, professional and educational background, years of experience, areas of expertise, overhead, etc.)?
Is the quality of my work consistent?
Do I follow through with what I say I will do in a professional and timely fashion?
Do I refrain from saying: “I’m translating just for the fun of it; it’s a hobby;” “It’s not my real job, but it helps me to keep up with my languages;” “It’s something to keep me busy.”
Have I honed my “client education skills?” (For instance, what would I say to politely refuse a request for a job with an unreasonable deadline or fee?)
Do I request constructive feedback on my work and services? (Do I accept criticism graciously, and consider it seriously with the intent to learn and improve my skills and services?)
Am I aware that the professional world of translation is small and, as a freelancer, I may be called on to do the same job by several different avenues (potential clients and bureaus “shopping around”)? Do I keep ethical concerns in mind at all times? Do I clarify these matters as soon as possible?
Do I refrain from casual discussion about an assignment or a client/bureau/colleague, realizing that such casual talk could be problematic and detrimental to everyone – the client and the translation profession as well as my colleagues?
Do I acknowledge those who refer clients to me with a thank you note or call, a reciprocal action, an agreed-upon finder’s fee, or some other mutually understood recognition?
When possible, do I take advantage of opportunities to obtain appropriate credentials (American Translators Association certification, federal or state certification, or university courses/programs)?
Do I consider joining local and national professional associations? (Do I take advantage of meetings, conferences, and workshops whenever possible?)
Promoter of the Profession
When asked to do volunteer translating or interpreting, do I ask why the client is seeking volunteers? When considering offering my services as a volunteer, do I ask myself if I will be taking work away from my colleagues? Do I consider providing free translating services only when other professionals involved in a project are also donating their time?
In conversation, whenever appropriate, do I bring up the words “translation,” “translator,” and “interpreter” to further the public’s awareness of the profession and its significance?
If a critic’s review of a translated literary work does not acknowledge the contribution of the translator, do I consider informing the critic or the publication of this omission?
Would I consider being a volunteer contributor to translation publications (on practical subjects, personal views or experiences, etc.) or a speaker/workshop leader at a translation or business conference?
Would I consider doing outreach work for the profession by talking to high schools, participating in college career days, submitting articles about the translation field to general-interest publications, writing letters to the editor, speaking at business community networking meetings, or informing new translators about professional associations and conferences, etc.?
Am I interested in serving as an active volunteer or officer of a professional translator or interpreter organization?
If a translation organization does not meet in my area do I provide moral support and financial assistance by membership in a regional group and/or national association?
If there is no such group, am I interested in starting a local translators group?
Would I consider being a mentor for a newcomer to the field, or working in tandem with another translator to provide proofing services, reference material, cultural or subject matter consultation, etc.?
Do I continue to be alert to what it is I do not yet know?