In the past several years I have hired lots of translators. While many of them continue to work with us for years, a surprising number of linguists are hired only once.
Our company is heavily focused on keeping our clients happy; we don’t have a sales team, so we rely on inbound marketing and word of mouth to stay busy. I’ve seen quite a few posts from linguists in the last few weeks worried about a lack of work, and I’ve started to wonder if some translators understand that being a linguist is no different than being an entrepreneur, and that for linguists the same client retention principles apply.
After some thinking about who I hire (and who I don’t) I came up with a list of things that translators and linguists can do to set themselves apart and earn a client’s ongoing business. Just being excellent in one of the items on the list won’t make much difference, but applying them all as part of your daily process as a linguist can work magic.
10 things exceptional linguists do:
1. Deliver good quality work
No question. Linguists that are not able to deliver good quality work can scratch all other items off the list. Good quality of work is not only about the accuracy of the translation and a good writing style. It is everything you do when it comes to interacting with clients: the way you write your emails, ask questions, report problems, the degree to which you read instructions etc. Signs of sloppiness and lack of attention are details that make it questionable whether a candidate is able to deliver consistent quality.
2. Learn how to research
Now it’s easier than ever to confirm the accuracy of translations for products and brand names. Are you not sure whether a brand name should be translated? Check the company’s official website and change the locale to your language. In addition to exercising common sense, I advice linguists to spend some time learning how to search the internet effectively. This is a basic skill that unfortunately too many people lack.
3. Be an expert in your field
Excellent linguists are problem solvers and not problem reporters. Who doesn’t love to work with people who add value to their projects and teams? When you have questions for your project manager, don’t be shy about providing suggestions. It only shows that you thought the project through and did your own research.
4. Be a partner, not a vendor
Once you enter the sphere where your client considers you as a partner, you have found your sweet spot. There are many ways for linguists to achieve partner status and most of the steps in this list are part of that. One that is worth emphasizing is creating stronger relationships through feedback – it really shows that you care. I love being around people who can teach me something new. Who can tell me when our systems are not working or our instructions are not clear enough if not our linguists?
5. Show that you are thinking
Unfortunately for all of us, often the source text is not perfect, making it harder for linguists to do their job. If you notice any problems with the source text, make a note and notify your PM. In a multilingual project, there is always one linguist who will compile a list of problems they notice in a source text. These are the linguists who stand out from the crowd. Are they worth extra? Definitely yes!
6. Be open to feedback
No work is perfect and we know that every new editor will most likely mark at least one sentence they would like to write differently. When we send edited files back to the translator, it’s not to show them how poor a job they did. It’s because we believe that with cooperation between an editor and a translator, we can achieve the best possible quality. If you get feedback on your work, don’t be defensive and reject every single edit hoping it will prove that your translation is flawless. If a translator rejects every edit we know there is a problem either with the translator or with the editor, and we have to investigate the problem by hiring a third linguists.
7. Know the tools you are working with
I feel like this particular item on the list is a good candidate for its own separate post. It is a controversial and sensitive subject as there are many opponents of translation tools. But just for our purposes, let’s assume that CAT tools are a basic necessity for those who do translations, the same as a brush is for a painter. As a translator you should really take time to get yourself familiar with your translation tools. And if this requires additional training, consider it an investment in your career development. Working with CAT tools and not being able to use them properly will only frustrate you and will make you inefficient.
8. Follow the instructions
It is surprising how many linguists fail to follow instructions. And the blame often belongs with project managers who write lengthy instructions that are not clear or incomplete, making it impossible for any human being to follow. But as a linguist who relies on instructions from a PM, your responsibility should be to make sure the instructions make sense to you and if not, ask questions until they do.
9. Be responsive to emails
A quick “thanks, files received” will give peace of mind to your project manager. More than once I’ve checked my email at midnight to see if my linguists in Asia confirmed their availability and have everything they need to deliver my files in the morning.
10. Stay positive
Everyone likes being around happy people and your job will be much easier if you keep cheerful and optimistic.
With competition in the translation marketplace being more intense than ever, linguists need a good plan to make sure they get enough work from their clients. And I am not talking about just any kind of clients, but quality clients that keep coming back. Knowing that a linguist is going the extra mile gives me extra incentive to keep them happy in return, and the result is always rewarding for everyone.
What are some other things a linguist can do to set themselves apart from others and get more ongoing business?
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