Of course it would depend on what the client wants, right?
But to a large extent it will also depend on how the translator sees himself. I believe that many translators define their job too narrowly, as was argued for example in this guest post on my blog last year. I have been on occasion guilty of having blinders on too. When I started my translation business, I was basically interested only in Japanese, because that was my major in college and also because I thought that I would probably be able to make more money with Japanese than with other languages that I know almost as well as Japanese, and now sometime even better, depending on the technical subject.
But eventually I started to translate also other languages that I know, and later I also started accepting translations from languages that I subcontract to other translators from languages that I don’t translate myself – only jobs from direct clients, of course, the numbers would not work otherwise for me.
I can definitely do a much better job than your typically clueless and often monolingual project manager who works for your average translation agency that “translate every subject from and into any language” (because it has “thousands of translators in its database”).
Instead of saying no to a customer, I got used to finding the right translator for the job, regardless of what language it is.
Never say no to a customer was my motto for quite a while, especially since I found out that it is in fact often much easier to make more money when most of the work is done for you by other people than when you have to do the translation yourself. Incidentally, once I match a good translator with a given technical subject, I generally make about 3 times as much per hour for fairly light-duty proofreading as I make when I translate (and I am doing very well when I translate too).
But a few months ago I did say no to a customer and I am still wondering whether it was the right thing to do.
The customer in question is a multinational corporation. I have been translating patents and articles from technical journals for them from a number of languages for about 8 years now. Initially they were sending me only Japanese, but once I told them that I do other language as well, they started sending me German, Russian, French, Chinese, Korean, etc. For a long time they would only send me the number of the patent with the understanding that I would find the patent myself online and translate it for them. I had no problem with that. If it is a patent publications that has been already published, it is available for free on the Internet and I can find it within a couple of minutes.
A few months ago they asked me whether I would be able to find technical articles for them in various languages that they need to have translated. They said I could just charge them for the time and put it on my invoice.
But I politely declined their request. I told them that I would not be a suitable person for something like this because I have no idea how things like that are done and since there are many companies providing precisely this kind of specialized service, they would do a much better job. That is of course true, but was that the main reason why I said no?
Probably not. It is also true that I did not want to have to learn something new because I see myself mostly as a translator. Yes, the typical translator with blinders on, who sees only what he wants to see and a who knows nothing of the real world, just like the frog in a dark well in a Chinese fable.
One could also say that the main reason why I said no was laziness.
After I turned down their request, all of a sudden translation requests from this particular source of work stopped coming. Since this client accounts for about 15% of my income, panic set in. Maybe they dumped you because you said now, I was thinking to myself, and I fired off an e-mail to the secretary who was my main contact at the company to find out what was going on.
“Many people are on vacation”, was her reply. And indeed, after a lull of about two months, the work from this source picked up and to my great relief, it is now back to normal again.
Should translators say “yes” to requests for services that don’t really have anything to do with their own work, if this is something that the client absolutely needs, as well as something that translators can learn, probably quite easily?
I am still kind of torn about this issue. A part of me wants to say, yes, of course, this is precisely what we should do to enhance our competitive edge.
But my alter ego, the little translator in me who is oh so happy when all he has to do is simply to translate stuff without having to bother about anything else, the guy with limited experience and limited vision, given that I was doing little else beside translating for the last 27 years, keeps saying to me that what I did was precisely the right thing to do.
I kept the client, and the client got what they wanted from a specialized source that can presumably do a better job than this translator.
What do you think, if a client asks me next time for something like this, (if there is a next time), should I say “yes”, or should I say “no” again?