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Today's post is a continuation of our series of interviews with some of the top professional freelance translators in the industry. Hopefully by hearing their stories and advice you will gain some valuable insight that will help propel you forward on your own freelance career path.
Catherine Christaki has been a full-time English-Greek translator since 2001 and co-owner of Athens-based Lingua Greca Translations since 2012. Her specializations include IT, medical and technical texts. She is a proud member of the American Translators Association, the Chartered Institute of Linguists and GALA. She is active on social media, especially Twitter @LinguaGreca, which has been voted among the Top 25 Twitterers 3 years in a row (2011-2013) in the Language Lovers competition. In 2013, she translated the popular guide for translation buyers, Translation: Getting It Right, into Greek. She writes a translation blog called Adventures in Freelance Translation and regularly talks about social media and blogging for translators in interviews and conferences.
How do you think your social media presence has influenced your business? How would your business be different today if you had never started using social media?
Social media has influenced my business in many ways, all of them very good. Most people care about the ROI (Return On Investment), so I’ll mention that first. Yes, several clients have found me through social media or connected with me there and when the timing was right (they needed English-Greek translation services), they thought of me. I used to call that good timing, but it’s actually not timing nor luck. It’s the (fun) hours I’ve put into social media that have started to pay dividends. Most importantly, social media has hugely improved my networking. I’ve met numerous colleagues, some of whom have become dear friends, and connected with many companies and professionals (like you Kevin!). All in all, social media has benefited both my business and my life.
If I had never started using social media, I guess my life would be like before: 12-14 hours work, translating and proofreading. My only conversations would be via email with project managers and my translator hubby. I think work would be less as well. It’s much more complicated to network and find new clients through email only (I’m not really a phone person).
Do you do any paid advertising for your business? For freelance translators who want to build more direct clients, do you think it is necessary to have some type of marketing budget, or should they focus on organic, free channels?
At the moment, I don’t use paid advertising and I haven’t monetized my blog either (ads by other companies). I am considering ads in print magazines in the fields I specialize in, like IT or technical communication. I think freelance translators should definitely have a marketing budget, at the top of which should be a site and/or a blog. Business cards are important as well (even in this digital age) and good-quality leaflets give a nice first impression. To get started though, nothing beats the free channels, like social media, to learn the ropes, to see how their colleagues are doing it and learn from them.
For new translators, do you have any advice if they are dealing with LSPs for the first time?
It’s very different today than it was when I started my career 13 years ago. Back then (2001), there were no translation blogs, no books with practical business advice for freelance translators, no forums to read and participate in discussions about agencies (good and bad). I think new translators should either work in-house at an LSP for a while (few months-1 year) or find a mentor to help them with their first translation projects. After they build their confidence as to the quality of their translations, my advice is to contact LSPs in bulk. BUT, and that's important, they should spend a few minutes to research the LSPs first. Let me explain. When I first contacted LSPs, all I had to do was find an online list (I used Proz.com) with company names and emails. I sorted them by country depending on my language pairs (UK, US, France and Germany), I checked their Blue Board ranking (if it’s low it means they are no good in terms of payment, communication and so on) and then sent them an email.
Today, things are different again. If you don’t have a contact name for the LSP and send a “Dear Sir/Madam" email, it will go straight to their spam folders or they will ignore you. Most agencies have online forms that you can use to apply. So, whatever list or resource you use to find prospective LSP clients, the first step is always research. Check out their website. Get a feel of the company before you click on Jobs, Careers, Translators or something similar. There you will probably find an online form to complete or an email with details on how they like to be contacted by freelance translators.
A few things to have in mind when dealing with LSPs:
Deadlines and instructions are as important as the quality of your translation work. If you are an amazing translator, but you are always late in your deliveries, people will eventually stop working with you. Communication skills are also very important. It doesn’t matter where you are, what you wear or how you look, if you are a freelance translator working from home. It’s all about what you say in your emails and how you handle yourself. You should be polite and professional at all times. Don’t write 10 emails to ask 1 question, don’t complain about other clients or your family.
You have a deep knowledge of social media. What are the most high impact channels? For new freelance translators, should they have an account on every social media site or are there a few specific sites they should focus on?
I think Twitter is the best channel for linguists to network with colleagues. Read interesting tweets, learn from seasoned translators and connect with them. LinkedIn is the best channel for prospecting, i.e. finding, researching and contacting potential clients. It’s also good for networking, but the translation community in Twitter is much bigger and more active. I’ve never been a huge fan of Facebook, for business or personal purposes. My translator friends on Facebook are very active there as well (sharing useful resources, photos from translation conferences, interesting conversations and groups about our industry), but it comes in 3rd in my list of social media channels. G+ and Pinterest are also popular with translators, but not as much as Twitter.
Social media can be great fun and very effective for business, but it’s also time-consuming. My advice is to find the one or two social channels that match each translator’s personality and focus on them. You can’t be good at everything, there’s just not enough time in the day.
What is the most challenging part of being a translator?
Trying to be good at many different roles! Freelance translators are one-person businesses. Apart from good translation, organization and time-management skills, you have to be a good writer, bookkeeper, project manager, networker, marketer and the list goes on. And of course, you always try to achieve the ever elusive ‘work-life balance’.
What is a typical day for you? Where do you spend your time?
Usually, translation work takes up at least half of my day (5-8 hours). The remaining 4-5 hours of my day usually go to replying to emails (quotes for new clients, questions from new translators or blog readers, etc.), blogging (we publish 3-4 posts per week incl. guest posts), reading my RSS feeds (a long list of translation blogs and blogs in other industries from where I choose the articles I like best and then share them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and our own Weekly Favorites), invoicing, prospecting (looking for local non-translation events, researching for new clients on LinkedIn), catching up with colleagues (in LinkedIn groups and Twitter), chatting with my ATA mentee and so many more. No wonder I’m always at the office…
Out of the current software tools you use in your translation process, is there any feature or functionality that is missing or is there a feature/functionality that you wished worked better or more smoothly?
I would love better interoperability between TEnTs (Translation Environment Tools). Every translator has their preferred tool and every LSP has their own. It’s time-consuming to have to learn and use 3-5 different tools. If I could focus on just one that would be able to manage files from any other tool, it would save me tons of time.
I don’t like the fact that there are no CAT tools suitable for Macs. There are a few online-based TEnTs but no desktop tools. I am starting to like online-based TEnTs. I used an online TEnT the other day that offered live context. For example, if you are translating a website, you can see live where your translations will go, if they will fit and what is the context of the sentence you are translating. Context is king in the world of translation!
What is the next goal for your business?
My business goal for 2014 was reaching out to new clients in Greece. This has been going well and I’ll continue to concentrate my efforts there (lots of local conferences to attend by the end of the year and new clients to acquire). In 2015, I’ll try to single out a few international direct clients in my fields of specialization that I‘d love to work with. Then, I’ll research them thoroughly and ‘stalk’ them online in order to find the best opportunity to tell them how mutually beneficial a cooperation between us would be. Attending international non-translation conferences is another goal for 2015, along with presenting at translation conferences (I avoided presenting this year to focus on other business activities).
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