Last February I attended the Elia Together 2017 conference in Berlin to participate in a panel presentation about the working relationship between freelance translators and project managers. Our aim was to share some experiences and ideas from the perspective of both groups. After the conference, all panel members joined forces again to summarise the main takeaways in a single post. I hope you find it useful!
Seeing the other side: make it work for you
Freelance translators and project managers interact daily, but often never meet. They frequently share the same frustrations, but rarely have the time and space to solve these problems together. So we created some time and space to do just that. We conducted a survey of translators and project managers, and discussed the issues that came out of it at Elia Together 2017 in Berlin. This is what we learned:
Andrew Godfrey (translator, DE -> EN) www.agodfreytranslations.com
Translators value polite, friendly and above all prompt communication. Impersonal forms of address (“Dear translator”) are a big no-no: they want to be treated like human beings. In addition, translators also like project managers who respect their professionalism and understand what is needed to produce good-quality translations. Concretely, that means not automatically taking the client’s side in cases of disputes, being willing to forward questions asked by the translator, providing feedback and setting sensible deadlines (especially for translators who have consistently shown they deliver work on time).
The ideal project manager will understand that freelance translators have multiple clients and need to maintain a good work-life balance. Aggressive pressuring and nagging can damage the working relationship and even be counterproductive (for example, when there’s a tight deadline, it can slow the translator down to receive constant emails from a project manager urging them to hurry up). Other things translators find irritating include impersonal, complex admin systems and project managers who ignore information about their availability/specialisations.
The main takeaway: translators will be more willing to go the extra mile for project managers who are easy to work with and do not cause them more stress!
Anka Leskovšek (project manager, Alamma translation agency) www.alamma.eu
The main criterion that PMs feel influences the working relationship is the quality of the translator’s work, punctuality and proper business communication. In most cases, PMs also look for other skills apart from translation. However, there is a great discrepancy in what those are. For example, “QA” is interpreted in very different ways: rereading; proofreading; using QA software; or continuous improvement of skills. So determining mutually suitable terms of cooperation even before actually starting the work is of great importance.
The majority of PMs want to work with translators who are reasonable and forthcoming with information (e.g. fields they specialise in, potential hiccups in the process, notifications of any potential delays), so that all issues are resolved as soon as they appear.
When it comes to soft skills, PMs seek to work with language lovers who are respectful, reasonable and friendly. Nevertheless, some PMs seemed to have unrealistic expectations, expecting a freelancer to be an all-round machine specialised in any task requested from them; however, that is not a representation of an actual working freelancer. One thing is clear: solution-oriented communication is greatly appreciated.
Victoria Principi (translator, EN -> ES) www.homingwordstranslations.com
Handling expectations and negotiating. Project managers and freelance translators expect a lot more support from each other. Naturally, the definition of what is extra to translation and project management will depend on each person and specific situation. But by exercising our ability to see things from the other group’s perspective, while considering the bigger picture, we may bring some sense of fair play and respect to our interactions and thus develop better working relationships. Also, by trying to put ourselves in the other group’s shoes, we may learn and gain information, and as they say “information is power,” so being on the other side can help us all negotiate better.
Make a deal. Survey replies showed that there is no agreement regarding what is and is not included in the translation fee. So it may be helpful if freelance translators agree beforehand whether the following tasks (which are only an example based on the surveys) will be included as part of the translation fee: proofreading, running QA controls, providing rationale for translation choices, learning from feedback, acquiring knowledge in the use of new CAT tools and converting files.
Small may be big. One survey question regarding what other skills or tasks besides translation are expected from freelance translators and whether these are included in the translation fee suggests that sometimes translators working regularly for an agency may be asked to do small tasks for free. But is “small” still small after considering that for a translator to complete a small task in just a few minutes and do it well they need to have academic qualifications, practical experience and specialised knowledge? Is “small” still small after adding up several of those small tasks? Where is the dividing line between these “giveaways” and going the extra mile for our client? Are “giveaways” a good practice for our profession in the long run?
The most important thought would be that having the other group’s perspective in mind, agreeing on terms in advance and developing more open and honest communications can improve our professional relationships and maybe help us achieve more win-win situations.
Kate Sotejeff-Wilson (translator, DE/PL/FI -> EN) www.foundintranslation.me
A personal approach can really improve your business communication.
One translator commented after our presentation that “everything you say could apply to working with direct clients too”, but another said, “if the PMs want to work like this, it’s great, but that isn’t always the reality.”
Small is beautiful. Boutique agencies are much more willing and able to develop a personal relationship with translators, which builds loyalty and trust, resulting in better quality translations. Very large agencies rely more on automated workflows, which can build frustration. Interestingly, a representative of one of the largest LSPs was keen to show how they try to personalise their relationship with “vendors”.
Communication is human to human. You can bridge the gap – pick up the phone, add some personal news to your emails and get to know your PM or your translator. You might be surprised at the results, both in your professional relationships, and the quality of the work you create together.