This is a question that relatively recent translators often ask each other in online discussion groups.
There are many portals promising best results to translators interested in joining, and of course also to “job requesters”, mostly translation agencies, in spite of the apparent cognitive dissonance embedded in these two clashing promises.
And new ones keep popping up, seemingly at the rate of about one portal per week. Last week, a group of German translators announced a new portal that is supposed to be financed by “sponsors”, i.e. translators willing to send them money to build a revolutionary new portal in exchange for some kind of unspecified, or at any rate not clearly specified, preferential treatment in the future. This morning I received another e-mail urging me to join some kind of a network, this one seems to be designed for interpreters, but not only interpreters. Would they take exotic escorts and professional dog walkers too, I wonder?
The answer to the question in the title of my post today is: Hell, No!
There isn’t a really good online portal for translators. And for good reason. All of these portals are based on the same principle: a bunch of translators must be feverishly bidding down the price while competing for a single job so that in the end, the early bird who bids the least will get the job.
That is why the rates paid for translation on all of these portals are low, so low that it only makes sense to look for work on them if you live in one of the countries, mentioned in a previous blog post, where the minimum hourly wage is no more than 2 US dollars. In most states in US, it is $7.50, in Japan about $8, in France about $12, and in Australia almost $17. So what would be a livable rate in Brazil, or in Czech Republic, where the minimum wage is also just about $2, is a really horrible rate for a translator who lives in Canada or Australia.
There could be a really good portal online, a portal that would be really good for you rather than for anonymous buyers of translations in blind bidding auctions …. but only if and when you build it yourself and for yourself.
The only portal that is likely to eventually work really well for you is your own website.
You don’t have to be an expert website designer yourself. It is not very expensive to hire somebody to design your website, although you will need to spend some money on creating and maintaining your website, because it should be more than just a freebie page that ISPs are giving away if you sign up with them.
It is important that you plan your website very carefully.
My own website at this point looks like something from the nineties because it is in fact something from the nineties. It was in 1999 when I asked a neighbor to put up something together for me: a guy who like me worked at home, but instead of translating Japanese and German patents, was designing websites.
I never got around to changing the design much, partly because I am a cheap guy and I don’t want to spend a lot of money on it, but also because I believe that the design of your site is not nearly as important as people might think.
The two things that are more important than the design of your website in order of importance, at least initially, are: 1. the URL of your site, and 2. its content.
When I was trying to pick a good web address for my new website in 1999 and 2000, there were still many good options for a URL for my service with the .com extension, the only extension that I was really interested in (because that is basically what search engines are most interested in), although not nearly as many as there were in 1989 or 1990.
My first step was registering about a dozen domain names as I was not sure at first which ones would be most advantageous for my business. Since my business is mostly about translation of patents from foreign languages, I picked several domains based on that job description and eventually I dropped some of the domains and kept about half of them, although all of these domains are now ancillary to my main domain: patenttranslators.com.
There was no response to my new website for about the first three years. I remember how excited I was when some headhunter sent me a message that she found my website thanks to its distinctive web address.
But although it did not generate new business, the website was still very important for me because it gave my old clients my new coordinates after I moved in June of 2001 from California to Virginia with a wife, two kids, three dogs:Lena, Buddy and Molly, and an Australian bearded dragon lizard named Spiky. All of our four-legged friends who bravely accompanied us on that particular adventure are gone now. Spiky, who is resting in a little animal cemetery in the garden behind our house, is remembered most mornings because most mornings when I walk our pit bull Lucy, she sniffs inquisitively in the exact spot where Spiky is buried, probably wondering what kind of animal is buried there.
From about 2003, I started receiving requests to quote a price for translating patents from Japanese, German, French and other languages from the Free Quote Request page on my website quite regularly, generally several times a week. And my quotes were often accepted, in fact so often that I still remember that in 2004, new customers who found me thanks to my website accounted for 40% of my income for that year (easy to remember based on number 4).
I keep track of this figure, have been since 2003, and although the amount of income generated from projects from new direct clients who found me through my website fluctuates from about 10% to about 40% depending on the year, I still receive requests to quote a price for translating patents just about every week. Last week and this week I have been working on a project involving 7 patent documents, the result of one such a quote to a brand new client from last week.
Some people think that a website for a professional service is not really that important these days when you can use a blog and social media instead to generate business for yourself, generally at no cost. But I disagree. It may work like this for some people, but I use my blog and social media mostly to share ideas and have some fun, not as a marketing platform.
I think that it makes more sense to use a professional website instead as a marketing platform.
I also use my own website daily for practical purposes, such as for links to sites from which I often download patents in foreign languages, mostly from the Japan Patent Office Website and European Patent Office Website. I think that some of my clients, mostly paralegals at patent law firms, also use in the same manner the same links from my website, as well as some other patent translators, although I am not sure about how many people do that.
The important thing, after the item 1 mentioned above (a self-descriptive URL that works well for the type of professional services that you are offering so that it will be picked up by search engines and new potential clients), is the above-mentioned item 2: the content of your website should be such that your site would also serve a practical purpose for your existing and potential clients, instead of being just another web page that says: Hey, here I am, please send me some work!
A website that is useful for practical purposes, instead of being just a collection of commercial propaganda about the wonderful services being provided by whoever operates the site, is also much more likely to be found by search engines and new clients.
And if you also have an e-mail that is linked to your website for professional services, your e-mail is also likely to be much more impressive than the typical freebie e-mail (email@example.com) that so many translators are using.
As far as I am concerned, it is OK to use a free e-mail services as a backup (and I have a couple of those), but not as your main point of contact if you want to be taken seriously as a professional translator.
To sum up what I am trying to say in my post today: It is not very expensive to create and maintain a website that will be a portal for your own translation services, and it makes much more sense to do that rather than joining one of the many portals where translators must compete with each other.
Maybe there are some really good translation portals that I don’t know about. But as far as I can tell, the main effect of all of the translation portals that I do know about was to drive down rates that are being paid by clients to translators, drive them down quite significantly.
And maybe there are some really good translation agencies eager to take you under their wings and pay you really good rates. But a translation agency by definition must be looking primarily at the bottom line if it wants to survive, and the biggest hit to an agency’s bottom line is generally the amount that it pays to the translators who do the actual translating work.
So instead of joining the big crowd of translators and would-be translators who sign up for a translation portal, why not joining a smaller crowd of translators who create their own portals for their own services?
I believe that this is the only way how translators can start shifting the balance of power away from the ignorant Shylocks and generic merchants who see translation simply as a commodity that must be bought low in order to be sold high, and start moving some of the power back to translators who see translation not only as a means to generate income, but also as their small contribution to a noble, rewarding and fascinating profession that has been very important for this world for so many centuries, and hopefully will continue to be important for many centuries to come.