Is a good translator automatically a successful translator?

Throughout education we have it drilled into us that the better marks we get the more successful we will be and this is the mind-set that most people have when they enter working life. But does this principle continue to hold true? Is success in the real world all about knowledge, skills and ability or is it in fact a careful blend of these ingredients together with a large amount of willingness to apply them? The article below (which has been translated from German with the kind permission of German marketing coach, Axel Schaumann) illustrates this point:

Does knowledge = power?

I wish I could have 10 cents for every time I’ve heard the phrase “knowledge is power”. Then I’d have it made.

Unfortunately knowledge is, in fact, completely worthless. If knowledge were power then librarians would be extremely powerful because they have a vast wealth of knowledge directly at their fingertips.

You can learn five languages, complete four different apprenticeships and do one course after the next. But if you don’t actually apply this knowledge, then it’s no use to you.

Every morning hundreds of people get out of bed with genuinely good ideas. But only a small minority of them allow themselves to put their ideas into practice and to act on them. Instead, most people revise their ideas over and over again because they are not yet perfect or because it is not yet “the right time”.

Stop worrying about the details! Act now! Put your plans into action as soon as possible! Simply by doing this you will catapult yourself into the top 5% of your market.

I’m sure you’ve heard reports about people who have achieved enormous success overnight and are now living a life of wealth and prosperity. Forget these reports. These cases don’t exist. All of the months and years during which these people continually improved their products, services, technologies and skills took place away from the public eye. Only when they had great success, did a wide audience sit up and take notice.

If you want to be successful with your customer acquisition, start working on it today. Put strategies in place, test them on the market, learn from the results and take further action. Always remember: “Repetition is the key to success”.

Choose one or two strategies, set a schedule and get to work. As soon as you have reached your goal with one strategy choose another strategy and keep going. In this way you will have implemented a lot in a relatively short space of time and have achieved success.”


If you read German and are interested in further marketing tips do visit Axel’s website at

Writing information products – 4 tips

In previous posts I have talked about ways in which you can add value to your website by including information products. In this post I want to share 4 tips for writing these products

Tip 1 – Things to consider when choosing your topic

What problems do your target customers face? What are their frustrations? Could you write an information product which addresses these issues and offers solutions? These kinds of information product are very effective because they are useful to your target customers. Make the information in your product so indispensable that potential customers and even current customers have a reason to keep coming back to your website.

Tip 2 – Don’t be a perfectionist

Don’t be a perfectionist. Perfect is rarely attainable and if you aim for perfect you are unlikely to ever actually get anything finished and off the ground. Write it, use it, improve it.

Tip 3 – Monolingual will suffice

Don’t fall into the translator trap of thinking that you have to provide every information product in every language you speak – or at least use professionally. The key is to focus on your target customers. In my case, my target customers are German lawyers. It is therefore absolutely sufficient for my information products to be written in German. There is nothing stopping you producing different language versions at a later point in time – if you decide to start targeting a different type of customer for instance – but don’t let the fact that you only have the information product available in one language stop you putting the product up on your website and reaping the benefits of what you have created.

Tip 4 – Include your contact details

Even though information products should be designed to inform, don’t forget that they are extremely valuable  marketing tools: if the information is useful, your target customers will bookmark the page or print out the relevant file. Make sure you therefore include a bit of information about yourself and your services along with contact details so that they can contact you easily and quickly should they have a translation requirement at some point in the future.

Your website is your chance to position yourself as an expert in your field. In addition to information products, don’t forget to include links to any articles you have published and any research projects you have undertaken. Not every prospective customer will want to read everything but if the links are there, they have the option, and it is the cumulative effect of the different types of information on your website that will make prospective customers see you as a credible expert in your field.

How can we add value with our websites?

In my last post I talked about the fact that, in my mind, a website is essential for every freelance translator because it is our opportunity to set ourselves apart from other translators and to provide information to potential customers. Today I want to look at how we can get the most out of our websites, how we can add value with them and make them work to our advantage.

When a potential customer arrives at your website whether this is via a search engine or via a link from a translation association directory or other list, the potential customer will first look for information to ascertain whether or not you are a good fit for his needs. One of his first questions will be whether your language combination and subject field match his requirements? Once he has ascertained that this is indeed the case, the next thing he is going to want to try to determine – and still just by looking at your website – is whether or not you are credible.


At this point in the sales cycle a potential customer knows what you do but still doesn’t know whether he can trust you. Are you really that great translator you say you are? Do you really deliver the accurate and reliable translations you say you do? In order to convince himself, the potential customer is going to start looking around your website for evidence that these statements are true.


There are many ways in which you can provide this evidence to potential customers:

You can include testimonials – the word of others, particularly happy customers, is much more effective than your own subjective statements.

You can write a blog – not for translators but a subject-field-specific blog (perhaps with a focus on translation) for your customers and use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and to position yourself as an expert in your field.

You can write information products containing interesting and useful information which potential customers can download and use.

All of these methods are opportunities for you to show that you know what you are talking about and know what you are doing and this is ultimately what will convince a potential customer that you are the right person for the job.

Podcast – Information products and added client value with your website

I recently had the opportunity to talk about this subject in a 30 minute interview with Tess Whitty for the podcast series Marketing Tips for Translators. If you would like to listen to this interview (episode 022) and many more interesting interviews with other freelance translators go to

Why every freelance translator should have a website

Websites are absolutely essential to modern-day business and since they no longer have to cost a lot of money or require specialist IT skills to build, there’s no excuse for not having one.

Marketing is all about visibility and for freelance translators with a potential market spanning most of the face of the earth and doing the vast majority of work via email, the internet is the best place to find customers and, perhaps more importantly, for customers to find you.

How do customers go about finding translators?

Let’s be honest, how to most of us go about finding all kinds of products and services these days? We use the internet. We put key words into a search engine and browse through the top 10, perhaps 20 results. And when we look through these search results, what it is we are looking for? We’re looking for information. We want to find out as much information as possible about the potential product or service provider to see whether it is or they are a good fit. In fast-paced modern life nobody has the time or the patience anymore to call even 10 names on a list in the yellow pages or even in a translation association directory to ascertain which of these people can provide the service they require.

Your website is your opportunity

Your website is your opportunity to provide that initial information a potential customer will use to decide whether you are what he is looking for and whether he will contact you. Without a website you are just another name on a list. These lists (particularly translation association lists) may give you the opportunity to mention your specialist field and language combinations but that is all. Your website is the place where you can distinguish yourself from other translators and tell potential customers why they should work with you.

Alternatives to a website

There are, of course, alternatives to a website such as having a LinkedIn, Xing or Facebook profile but in my mind these should be extras which you use in conjunction with your website. They can work as great tools to funnel potential customers to your website too.

Contract Law for Translators – Course in London

Anyone interested in specialising in legal translation or translating contracts and has German and English as their working languages (either direction) might be interested in the following two-day course by Delaneytranslations Ltd. to be held in London on 19 and 20 July 2014:

Contract Law for Translators, 19/20 July 2014 – German – English, English – German


Contracts are the legal documents most frequently encountered by translators. This seminar provides an overview over the English legal framework governing contract law, enabling participants not simply to recognise some standard phrases used, but also to understand the underlying logic of contracts.


The seminar will take the format of lectures on English contract law in the morning, followed by a lunch break and practical workshops in the afternoon.

The workshops will be bi-directional; while this will be unusual for most translators who might only translate in one direction professionally, it is a useful training exercise.

The following will be covered amongst others:

  • Employment contracts
  • Contracts of sale
  • Confidentiality Agreements
  • Agency Agreements

Further information is available on Delaneytranslations Ltd.’s website.

Specialisation series: How I got where I am today: Fay Abernethy

Today’s post on specialisation takes the form of an interview with Fay Abernethy, a German to English technical translator based in Germany:

What are your specialist areas?

My specialist areas are mechanical engineering in general, automotive, machine building, manufacturing engineering and fluid dynamics. I’ll take on pretty much any technical text, as long as it doesn’t involve civil engineering, IT or too much electronics/electrical engineering.

How did you choose your specialist areas?

I studied mechanical engineering at University, and worked in the automotive industry as an engineer for many years.

What is your experience in these areas? Are there sufficient customers? Do you have sufficient work?

I am drowning in work! My language pair is German to English and I am a native speaker of English. As Germany exports so many technical products which need a lot of documentation, the translation market potential is huge, particularly into English. My customers are mostly direct customers – small to medium-size enterprises are the best customers, rather than global conglomerates – who usually come to me via my industry contacts or referrals from other customers. It gets difficult when I go on holiday, because there are very few into “mother tongue English” technical translators with sufficient technical knowledge to support my customers. There was a wave of British engineers who came to Germany in the 1970s, many of whom are now working as translators. But these guys are mostly heading towards retirement now, and will leave a big gap in the market when they go.

In your opinion, what are the advantages of specialising? How has it helped you? How has it helped your business?

When I first started out, I did a lot of work for agencies – basically anything that came in. Although I always had my specialism in mind, and technical translations were the ones I felt most comfortable doing, I wasn’t in a position to be picky. But as time went on and more work started coming in, I was able to be a bit more selective. This has a cumulative effect. If you only work on translations of one or a few types, you get much faster at them, which pushes up your hourly rate and generally makes the work more pleasant. A subject which you find interesting is also important. One of the things I love about my job, which is an improvement on being the automotive design engineer I was, is that I learn about the latest developments in very different branches of industry – before anyone else – and I’m not just always working on one single product. There’s some cool stuff out there!

Just the very act of specialising in a few types of translations will focus your skills and you will gather expertise that way too. Yes, you might have to look up every other word to start with, but the next time you won’t have to look up quite as many!

After a while, you start to build your reputation, and that’s when the referrals from your existing customers start to trickle in. A good balance is about 50% agency work and 50% direct customers. This gives you the flexibility to turn down the agencies without feeling you’re letting anyone down, and help out your direct customers. Direct customers require a lot more support from your side, but it is much more lucrative and, to a certain extent, less stressful to work for them, since you have an ongoing relationship. But if you don’t want to lose them, you have to be there for them when they need you. You can build up a nice big translation memory of work you have done for a particular customer, which will save you a lot of time and effort.

I appreciate that most translators start out directly after having studied translating and do not have a particular specialism they can draw on straightaway. I can only suggest further education in your chosen specialism – if you can get an extra qualification in your specialism, this will give you credibility with your target customers. Read industry journals, go to industry events and talk to the people working in the field you want to specialise in. Even do a work placement. You could join a temping agency and e.g. work on a production line for a few weeks in the summer, or as office admin. The point is to somehow get some experience of the industry you are targeting.

If you are thinking of taking up a career in translating but haven’t started yet, I would encourage you to get some work experience in some other kind of industry first for a couple of years. Just working for a company will help you better understand how your customers think and the pressures they are under. This will give you a big advantage over other new translators who only have experience of academia.

Do you have any other tips/advice/anecdotes for beginner translators?

We are in a service industry. When you are dealing with customers, you must put yourself in their position –  always. They want you to solve their problem/take work off their hands with the minimum of fuss and the optimum result. You must not cause them extra work, rather the opposite. They have to be able to trust absolutely that you are going to do a good job and deliver on time, or preferably early. Never deliver a translation late, even if it means you have to work through the night three nights in a row! Always build some buffer into your quote, so you are still able to meet the deadline even if something unexpected happens.

The customer is usually not able to evaluate your product, so when they give you a job they are effectively buying you, or their perception of you. So you need to come across as absolutely professional at all times. Even when the phone rings early in the morning and you are still in your pyjamas. Answer any customer query quickly and accurately.

When it comes to agency work, I have found that if you respond within the hour to any job enquiries, they will quite often come to you first next time – before working their way down their list of translators – because they know you can give a yes or no answer very quickly.

Don’t send out late payment notices unless you absolutely have to. I messed up one of my first ever jobs for direct customer because I was too impatient (and admittedly broke and waiting for the money!) I have a “pay within 30 days” term on my invoices, and I sent them a late payment notice about a week after the 30 days had expired. Needless to say, I lost the customer permanently.

If someone doesn’t pay up on time, normally a polite e-mail saying something like “I’ve just been doing my accounts, and I noticed that the invoice xxxxx I sent you on xxxx has not yet been paid. Could you please have a look and see if it hasn’t been accidentally overlooked?” Normally, they have just forgotten with no malice intended and will transfer the money speedily.

The other big tip I have for anyone who will listen (however long they’ve been working as a translator) is to use voice recognition software. I particularly recommend Dragon NaturallySpeaking  with a USB headset microphone.

This will increase your productivity by at least 10 to 15%. It is also much more comfortable to dictate your text rather than type it. You will find you don’t get so tired and can work for longer. It’s the one piece of software I couldn’t live without.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me using the details below.


Fay Abernethy MEngL CEng MIMechE

Technische Übersetzungen
Deutsch > Englisch

Zeitblomstr. 33
D-89073 Ulm

Tel: +49 (0)731 420 9005

Specialisation series: How I got where I am today: Regina Seelos

Today I’d like to welcome Regina Seelos, an experienced English<->German translator, who has kindly agreed to write a short post about specialising in the translation industry. Here’s what she has to say:

“Speaking with newbies in the translation industry, I’ve often had the impression that they are rather discouraged and don’t know where to start. This is why I think that Karen’s blog here is a great idea and opportunity to show that often all it takes is some courage to be successful: You have the expertise after going through training and examinations – all you lack is experience and specialisation which comes along by working.

How do you find your specialist areas?

Feedback from customers is a great way of finding your specialisation. In my case it was often lawyers who really liked my contracts. So I figured: Well, I seem to be good at it so I will specialise in this field. If you get brilliant feedback for jobs you’ve done you should consider making the field your specialist area. (And yes, there will of course be negative feedback too – nobody’s perfect – but you can learn from it.) It also helps if you have plenty of experience in a field – from former jobs, hobbies, or the like. For example, I completed a 3-year training in business administration at a car manufacturer before I became a translator. The more you know about a field the better your translations. You can achieve good results with excellent research skills too but this is time-consuming and will only pay off after a while. An option is to consider this time as an investment in building specialist areas. In my opinion, this time factor is one of the strongest arguments in favour of specialisation – except for quality. After all, we all work to make a living and it will help if you can reduce the time needed for research after a while.”

Regina Seelos * Translator specialising in the legal, marketing and technical field *

Please feel free to leave any comments for Regina or for myself below.

Specialisation series: Hard work, not magic – How I got where I am today

This post is the first in a new series of posts about specialisation. I’ve posted tips on specialising and why it is a good idea to specialise (here) and how to go about it before (here) but what has become clear to me recently is that many freelance translators who are just starting out look at translators with many years of experience, a broad customer base and expertise in one or more than one specialist field and feel both overwhelmed and, although they know that that’s where want to get to, have no idea how, when or even whether they will get there. From my perspective they seem to be focusing on the end product without realising that these experienced translators have taken many many tiny little steps over many years and that it is the culmination of these steps and a lot of hard work which has got them where they are today.

To take a more practical approach to this issue and to give you all a break from my advice for a change, I’ve asked some experienced translators to share their stories and their career paths. I will be posting the first two posts in this series by two Germany-based translators Regina Seelos and Fay Abernethy over the course of this week and plan to post more at a later date. I look forward to reading your comments.

Time and Self-Management – Three Top Tips

A couple of months ago I attended a time and self-management seminar in connection with my local translation association’s mentoring programme. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect since I already felt like I had time management down to a T: as a busy full-time legal translator with two primary school aged children I’m always managing my time, of which I don’t have nearly enough, but I seem to get everything done, have never missed a deadline for delivering a translation to a client and haven’t even needed to pull an all-nighter due to mismanagement for a very long time. However, I’m always open to new ideas, tips and approaches and went along with an open mind.

The seminar was very interactive and it soon became clear that each and every one of us, whether mentor with many years of experience or mentee just starting out, has his or her own personal struggles with time – and for a wide variety of different reasons: motivation, other responsibilities, distractions… As such there is no one-size fits all solution to problems with time management but I would say that it is definitely worth spending some time looking into the different classic time management strategies to see if you can pick up any tips which could help you to work more efficiently so that you make the most effective use of your time. There are lots of time management books around which you could dip into and lots of information about time management on the internet.

Here are the top 3 tips which I learned and took away with me from the seminar I attended:

1) Only plan 60% of your time – leave plenty of leeway for unexpected events – these may be of a business or of a private nature but they will come…

2) If there are tasks which are important to your professional, business or even personal development which are not priority A tasks (i.e. actual paid work), it is a good idea to get used to blocking periods of time to work on these priority B tasks either every day or a few times a week – this avoids the feeling of frustration which arises when you don‘t make any progress  on something which is important to you.

3) Stopping and starting (to answer the phone, read and write a quick email) reduces productivity by up to 30%. Block working is much more effective: perhaps you could answer emails on block every couple of hours and write a whole heap of invoices once a week rather than after delivering each translation?

Do you have any time-management tips you’d like to share? Feel free to post them in the comments box below.

Working with agencies, working with direct clients

I’ve been asked a lot recently by new freelance translators about whether I think they should look for direct clients from the outset or whether they should start out by contacting agencies. I think the answer to that question is that it depends on many factors: How much experience do you have? How confident are you? Would you benefit from somebody proofreading your work or are you ready to go it alone? Do you have the time and mindset necessary to market yourself to direct clients? There are pros and cons to working with agencies just as there are to working with direct clients. Here are a few I came up with this morning:

Agencies – Pros

Easy to find and contact, always on the look-out for new translators, constant influx of work, they come to you, no need to market yourself, you can take holidays and accept and turn down work as it suits you without having to worry that they’ll never come back, gets you work and experience when you are just starting out, there are some good agencies, these are usually small specialised agencies, rather than the large impersonal ones, a good agency will give you feedback on your work and you will be able to use that feedback to hone your translation skills.

Agencies – Cons

The influx of work may be so constant and rates so low that you may have difficulty getting out of the “agency rut” and finding direct clients or even better paying agencies, you may often have to deal with inexperienced project managers and will not have an opportunity to discuss translation queries directly with the author of the text, they will expect you to use CAT tools and accept deductions for matches – even when the content of the TM leaves much to be desired and you end up having to retranslate those segments anyway, at low rates you will have to translate more words to make your target income.

Direct clients – Pros

They generally pay a lot more than agencies, you can build up a relationship or even a partnership with the client, once that relationship is in place and you have them well-trained, direct clients will often give you notice of when they will need you allowing you to plan accordingly, you will earn more in fewer hours, if you do good work for direct clients, these clients are likely to refer you to other well-paying clients. Most of my new clients now come through referrals from current clients. In my experience direct clients are very faithful and not penny-pinching, they are prepared to pay for the reliability and stability you give them and are not constantly on the look-out for cheaper providers. Working with direct clients usually means that you are working directly with the author of the text you are translating and will be able to contact him/her with any queries you may have.

Direct clients – Cons

In order to find direct clients you need a brand and a marketing strategy. This can be a time-consuming task, particularly at the outset, and is not for everyone. Once you have attracted some direct clients, you will need to find a way to look after them. For instance, if you are going away on holiday you will need to let them know, preferably recommend a colleague they can contact if they have a translation project whilst you are away and you’ll need to make sure that you are organised enough to fit their projects in if you want to keep them because chances are that if they feel they have to go elsewhere, they will stay there. Depending on the type of client, projects can be infrequent and irregular or last only for a few weeks or months. If you want to be successful working with direct clients, you need a lot of them and a good customer relationship management strategy for keeping in touch with them all.

Final note

Working with direct clients is certainly more rewarding for me – both personally and financially – but working with direct clients also brings with it much more responsibility which can be a pro or a con really depending on how you like to work. Starting out working for agencies with a view to moving towards working with direct clients in the future as you gain experience and confidence might be a good strategy. Just don’t get stuck in the agency rut and remember to reassess your objectives at regular intervals.