Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!
This month’s interviewee is the great Nicole Y. Adams, who was nominated by Sarah.
1. Your website describes you as an “award-winning German to English language professional”. Do you think that being granted an award or being a certified professional makes a great difference to the client when choosing a translator?
Being certified – absolutely. Having won an award is merely the icing on the cake. If I’m looking for a service provider, or even just a new restaurant to try out, I tend to feel reassured and be more confident that I’ll have a good experience with a business if it has won awards in the past. Although it’s certainly not the only criteria, I’ll be more likely to choose them. After all, they must be doing something right to have been awarded them!
Most of my business awards were based on votes and/or detailed feedback from my clients. It was very satisfying to learn that they were so delighted with my services, and winning the awards certainly motivated me to keep going and do even better. I’m also very proud of my nomination for the 2013 AUSIT Excellence Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Translation & Interpreting Industry’, although I didn’t win. To be recognised by peers was a truly humbling experience.
Back to certification: Although there are, of course, examples of highly successful colleagues who deliver excellent work without being certified, I believe that a professional should ideally have some accreditation or certification in the service they’re offering. In my case, I’d already translated part-time for a couple of years when I decided to become a certified translator to make it ‘official’ (which meant flying to Germany to take the state exam as an external candidate – I wanted to obtain a German qualification first, as all my clients are based in Germany and Switzerland). I wouldn’t have felt comfortable offering professional translation services without having a piece of paper showing I’m qualified to do so. In an unregulated profession such as ours, I feel that’s the least we can do to reassure clients and demonstrate professionalism.
2. You have quite a wide list of remarkable marketing and business qualifications! How important do you think it is for a translator to take courses in order to specialize in a certain area?
To be honest, I just love learning. The courses and qualifications I’ve listed on my website are only a small fraction of what I’ve completed and obtained. I also have a number of qualifications in subjects unrelated to my areas of specialisation, taken purely out of personal interest and ranging from airport operations to nutrition. ☺ In terms of my areas of specialisation, I like to know what my clients are talking about and stay on top of the latest jargon, which is why I regularly participate in relevant courses. With the range of free and low-cost online courses out there these days (just think MOOC!), there’s no excuse for anyone not to take courses to keep abreast of current developments in their specialist fields, or simply to brush up their general knowledge. A couple of years ago, I completed ‘An Introduction to Marketing’ by the Wharton School of Business via Coursera, and although it was classed as an introduction, I found it very interesting and certainly learned a new thing or two. It’s probably not ideal to complete a degree in a certain subject area and then work as a specialist translator in that area for the next 30 years without ever engaging in any further professional development in that field.
3. You are a member of incredibly 12 associations! Well, I’m guessing you are an advocate of professional associations. Why do you think it is important to be a member of professional associations? And in which grounds should a translator choose the associations they can be a member of?
Is it really that many? I must admit, I’ve never counted them! ☺ Call me crazy, but I’m actually just about to join another one that I’ve been considering for a while.
For me, there are a number of criteria for deciding to join a professional association. First of all,
it’s a given to join the translators’ association in your country of residence to meet and network with local colleagues and stay informed about the state of the industry on your home turf.
In my case, this is purely out of interest, as I don’t work in the Australian market at all.
Next, I like to be a member of translator associations in the countries of both my source and target languages. It is amazing how different these associations are, and what different advantages they offer translators (or not, as it may be). Being a member of the BDÜ, CIOL and ATA, for example, gives me insights into the different approaches to the profession in each country, which is extremely interesting. I also subscribe to the paper versions of all associations’ magazines, and I love reading them to relax at the end of a working day – although, being in Australia, I usually only get them about a month after they’re published! 😉
Thirdly, it’s a must for me to be a member of at least one association in my areas of specialisation, where I can network with (potential) clients and stay informed about what’s going on in my clients’ industries. These associations also usually offer courses or webinars with discounts for members. I particularly enjoy the courses offered by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, where the prices for members and non-members differ hugely.
Finally, there’s being listed in professional member directories. I see being listed in such directories as a pleasant side effect, but by no means the main criteria for joining an association. Yes, I am sometimes contacted by potential clients who found me in an association directory, but the frequency of these enquiries is not the main reason I’d join or leave an association.
4. You have a great deal of positive testimonials on your website, but one quality in particular called my attention: reliability. It is probably the most mentioned one. Why do you think is this such a key skill to have as a translator today?
This is a great question, and I’m glad you are asking it! I’ve always considered it a given that reliability is non-negotiable. Informing the client you’ll deliver late at the last minute or not responding to enquiries promptly are just not an option. To most professional translators, these things are a matter of course – at least that’s what I had always thought until more and more clients told me how pleased they were that I’m ‘so reliable’ as that wasn’t the experience they had had with other translators.
I still couldn’t quite believe it, until a small (two-person) agency I used to work with regularly many years ago asked me to become their preferred translator for a certain end client. I knew that their regular translator always delivered outstanding quality work, so I was more than a little surprised why he wasn’t working for the client any longer. When I enquired, they told me that although he delivered superb quality, they could never be 100% sure whether he’d deliver on time, and often they couldn’t reach him when they needed to follow up on something. So a lack of reliability was his downfall. That was a real wake-up call for me and clearly demonstrated how highly clients value reliability.
We’re not ‘just translating’. We need to offer a full package, and that includes customer service and, of course, reliability.
Clients need to know they will get a text when we say they’ll get it. They have enough on their plate and need to be able to relax without having to worry about the reliability of their translation partner. Reliability is also a sign of respect in a successful business partnership. (By the same token, I expect to be able to rely on timely payments!)
5. One of the questions you ask on your A to Z of Freelance Translation course is “Do you have what it takes right now to be self-employed?” What does it take to be self-employed? Can’t simply anyone work as a freelancer?
Well, certainly anyone can work as a freelancer, but not everyone will be successful. ☺
As most of us know, working as a self-employed freelance translator requires a certain mindset. It’s essential to be versatile, flexible, adaptable and to never stop learning. Freelance life is not predictable and we need a huge amount of self-discipline and, most of all, resourcefulness to deal with unexpected issues (from power cuts to hard disk failures to clients going bankrupt).
I’d also say it’s important to never be afraid to ask questions of peers and more experienced colleagues. Many people shy away from this, which can hold them back.
So, being able to produce great-sounding translations is wonderful (and should be a given), but by no means all that is needed to be successfully self-employed. At the start of The A to Z of Freelance Translation course, which you mention, participants take a test to ascertain whether or not they’re in the right place to commence self-employment, or whether they should consider another path.
If you don’t have the right resources and mindset, no amount of training will help you succeed – it has to come from within you.
My own freelance journey has certainly been a crazy ride, and I’m pretty sure this career path is not for everyone. When I first started out (or rather, when I happened to stumble upon translation as a professional career by chance ;-)), I was a complete novice and had to learn everything from scratch without any help, from pricing to what a CAT tool was. I needed to be very resourceful and did a lot of research, and I even joined a large London-based language services provider as a project manager for a few months to learn how things work from the other side of the table. Fast forward a few years, things were going well and I had the glorious idea of starting my own agency, with a new company name and website. But I quickly realised that outsourcing and being on the administrative side really wasn’t my thing, so the idea was swiftly shot down again. Today I only ever outsource work to a trusted couple of colleagues when my working hours are limited due to school holidays or my children being sick.
Speaking of children, when my boys were born, my husband turned stay-at-home-dad for almost four years, making me the only breadwinner. In hindsight, this created quite a lot of pressure, which many freelancers may not expect or may not enjoy. You should be prepared for this kind of financial pressure, in case your partner, for example, can’t work for a while, or your children get sick and you have to cut down your own working hours.
Next in my freelance lifecycle came what I call my experimental phase. I’d started mentoring new colleagues a few years before and thought I’d venture into coaching – and even completed a certificate in business coaching and mentoring! However, I only ever coached one client for exactly one session before realising that it’s not my cup of tea and that I wasn’t comfortable charging people for sharing my experiences in one-on-one relationships. I generally prefer to work alone and from the comfort of my home office – one reason why freelance translation suits me down to a T. So I’d say as a freelancer
it’s also key not to get sidetracked but to remain focused on what you enjoy doing.
Today, I still work solely as a freelance translator, and I couldn’t be happier. Putting together Diversification in the Language Industry – a snapshot of how colleagues have chosen to diversify and offer additional services beyond translation proper – in 2013 made me realise that I enjoy translating more than anything else, and that I personally have no desire to diversify into other areas. I’m glad I got all those distractions out of my system and can focus 100% on my clients. My final advice to fellow freelancers is:
do what feels right to you and don’t ever go down a path you’re not comfortable with because others think it’s a good idea or simply because the opportunity arises – just say no! 😉
6. You are one of the few translators who state the prices you charge on your website. Why do you prefer to do so? Do you think that makes a difference to the client?
Interesting question, Caroline. First of all, I should say that I’m quite lucky that most of my clients are either personal contacts I’ve made in-house or through networking, or direct referrals by existing customers, so most of my business comes from word-of-mouth and I don’t primarily rely on my website to attract new clients.
In general, I usually charge a flat rate per project and don’t give clients a per-word price in either quote or invoice. I also state this on my website, but give them a rough guide as to the price range they can expect (which is based on per-word ranges for information only). This is mainly because I hate wasting time, both as a consumer and as a service provider. Clients with price expectations that are wildly different from mine are kept at bay (except for the ones who fail to check the prices before getting in touch!), saving everyone a lot of time wasted on fruitless negotiations and multiple email exchanges. Serious clients obviously still ask for a custom offer, but at least they already have an idea of what to expect.
Putting my consumer hat on for a minute, I can safely say that if I want to hire a professional service provider, say, a web designer or typesetter, I always look for a pricing page on their website. Often, I’ll choose to contact a provider who displays prices (or at least a rough price guideline) over one who doesn’t, simply because it saves me the hassle of having to contact them especially to enquire about prices. Keeping it simple and providing as much information as possible works best for me! On my website, I also refer to the Australian Society of Authors’ (of which I’m a member) price guidelines, which reassures more sceptical clients that I’m not just pulling numbers out of thin air, but that there’s some justification behind them. It also reminds them that they’re hiring a certified professional who is backed by a professional association (which brings us back to your earlier question).
7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next interviewee!
First of all, thanks to Sarah for nominating me, and to you Caroline, for hosting this interesting series! ☺ (And I second Sarah’s invitation to come and visit us in sunny Queensland!)
I’d like to nominate our lovely colleague Giselle Chaumien on the other side of the world in Germany. Giselle is always more than happy to share her wealth of experience with peers, both on social media and through her blog (in German), and is a great role model for new and experienced translators alike. And her office companion, Filou, is just too cute ! 😉
Wow! I loved your answers, Nicole! Even though I handed the questions last minute and you were not working as usual the last few weeks, as it seems, you managed to answer my questions in a very thorough and thoughtful manner. I really really appreciate that! 😀
I especially loved some parts so much that I took the liberty to highlight them on the text.
You can reach Nicole via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or her website.
I’ve already reached Giselle, and she has kindly and promptly accepted Nicole’s nomination. Stay tuned, because Giselle’s interview will also be amazing! 😉 I already have interesting and thought-provoking questions coming up my mind.