Posted by: patenttranslator | June 23, 2015

Is There a Really Good Online Portal for Translators That I Could Join?

 
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 (joeblow@hotmail.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.

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Responses

  1. Your last paragraph completely validated your entire thesis! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “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”
    I absolutely love that line! We’re doing one of the most important jobs out there – building the bridge between the worlds, the minds, and the nations. Alas, not so many people undesrtand that.
    I’m very concerned about the image of our profession. The portals like Proz, Gengo, VerbalizeIt, etc. where anyone can be a translator are simply destroying our image. And it’s great that there are professionals who understand the need of having your own website. I certainly choose my own website as the only platform I use. And it works pretty great for me.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Steve, I fear your advice to create your own website is just the first step. The total number of websites in existence reached the magic number of 1 billion in September 2014, and continues to increase exponentially. And apparently there are 2 million blog posts published every day. Getting noticed amongst all that noise and traffic is the difficulty these days. You can’t expect to just create a website and automatically receive traffic. Those days are long gone. Getting Google to rank you and your content above the myriads of other sites with similar content and so include you in its search results is the trick, and no easy task any more. Creating a new site without systematic and effective SEO is probably doomed to failure unfortunately. And designers are generally not skilled at SEO, although they often claim to be.

    The SEO industry has identified over 200 ranking factors they say Google uses, of which the words used in your domain name/url is but one. I fear you overstate its importance these days.

    Totally agree with your comments about having useful, practical content on your site though. And of course your assessment of the value of translation portals.

    Like

  4. “Creating a new site without systematic and effective SEO is probably doomed to failure unfortunately. And designers are generally not skilled at SEO, although they often claim to be.”

    Thanks for you comment, Dennis, but I don’t agree with the statement above.

    If you have relevant content, it may take a while, but Google will eventually rank you right on top. Otherwise, it will eventually go out of business if people realize that they can no longer find on Google the things that they are looking for.

    Submitting your site to search engines only works when you have a new site, or when you change the content. If you keep submitting the same thing over and over, Google and other search engines will ignore you because they are only looking for what is relevant and new.

    That is what my web expert told me, and I believe her because my site is among the first ones listed when you look for certain key words, has been for many years, and I don’t pay any SEO experts.

    You mustn’t believe the propaganda that the SEO industry is feeding potential clients.

    But yes, you do need to have relevant content on your website. And even when you have that, you have to keep learning about things that you need to do to get noticed. Writing a relevant blog is one thing that translators can do …. or they can instead pay a lot of money for advertising and to SEO experts who may or may not deliver the goodies.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The reality is that with the sheer volume of websites out there today there will always be lots of sites with equally relevant content that you’re competing with. For any search term there could potentially be hundreds or thousands of sites Google could display in the search results. Even for rather specific translation-related terms like we’d have in mind here. They can’t all be ranked right on top. It’s a reality that many sites that we would think of as having high quality, relevant content can languish in the rankings and have minimal traffic. They must be doing something Google doesn’t like.

    I’m suggesting having some knowledge of how Google decides who it ranks highest and tailoring your content accordingly, or at least avoiding the recognised pitfalls, raises the chances of success. If your competitors do that and you don’t, the sheer weight of numbers could see you buried and unnoticed.

    That’s what I meant by SEO – doing your best to tailor your content to what Google favours. Nothing about re-submitting your site over and over, or duplicating essentially the same content. Whether you use a SEO expert to help with that or do your own research is up to you. I totally agree an SEO expert may not deliver the goods – they have more competing theories than economists!

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  6. There are thousands of translation agencies saying almost exactly the same thing on their websites, that’s for sure.

    But not that many websites of patent translators saying what I am saying on my website.

    The magic word is: specialize (but try not to specialize in everything).

    Creating a new website to attract attention of clients who are looking for the type of specialized services that individual translators are offering is in my opinion exactly what translators should be doing.

    Like

  7. Well said, Steve. My own website is from the mid-2000s, which I suppose gives me the jump on you 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for your comment, Rob, but how can I evaluate your site properly with a URL to it.

    Like

  9. I like it. One comment I would have is that the font could be bigger. The two comments, one in French and one in English, were completely illegible on my screen.

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback, Steve. In all honesty, it desperately needs a complete revamp. It’s the only website I’ve ever had as a freelancer, and I’ve been going nine years now…

      Like

  10. Well, my website could use a revamp too in order to bring it into the 21st century. If you find a good and inexpensive resource, please let me know.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “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.”

    I could not agree more 😉

    Like

  12. […] 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, an…  […]

    Like

  13. Interestingly (or not), I’ve been wondering about this very point since about the start of the year. My consideration was mainly along the lines of where do people go for intelligent discussion these days that isn’t moderated to insipidity or mainly an exercise in ego-boosting for the founder(s), but one assumes such a place would or could also satisfy your portal requirements in terms of job postings too.

    Least said about old-fashioned websites by me the better – and at least Rob’s has tabs across the top 🙂 But yes, even my medieval website brings in queries.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. “My consideration was mainly along the lines of where do people go for intelligent discussion these days that isn’t moderated to insipidity or mainly an exercise in ego-boosting for the founder(s)”.

    I can’t find any venue that I could go to for intelligent discussion (free of ego-boosting exercises) either.

    Any suggestion from anybody would be welcome.

    Like

  15. […] Deceptive Language’ Speaking your Customers’ Language: How Uber and Tinder Build Trust Is There a Really Good Online Portal for Translators That I Could Join? I Don’t Offer Machine Translation Post-Editing Services, Here Is Why 10 Factors That Help […]

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