Posted by: patenttranslator | January 13, 2016

Seven Unique Selling Points (USPs) Distinguishing Translators from the Translation Industry

In one of my silly posts in which I was complaining about how sick and tired I am of being surrounded by marketing everywhere I go and everywhere I look, I said that after World War III, only two things will remain on this earth virtually intact: cockroaches and marketing. That’s how I feel about marketing. There’s just too much of it in this world. When my children told me that several of their friends majored in marketing after graduating from high school, I thought to myself: such a nice kid, what a waste of life. Almost as tragic as joining the army. Why didn’t he decide instead to do something useful with the rest of his life?

But the fact is that although there is too much marketing everywhere, we all have to market ourselves and do it well if we want to be able to pay our bills. The only other alternative that I can see is to go completely off the grid, say goodbye to our current existence and live off the land somewhere in a little log cabin in the wilderness. But I don’t have the survival skills to pull off something like that. I need my high-speed Wi-Fi, and anyway, I’m too old for that stuff now. So instead of offering a few tips on how to “go off the grid” and live happily ever after, I’ll offer a few thoughts on how translators can market themselves based on the currently popular marketing term “USP”, which means Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Selling Point.

Whenever I watch something on TV, for example “breaking news” about yet another scandal or mass shooting on one of the alphabet cable news channels here in United States, I automatically hit the mute button or switch to something else the moment they hit me with another ton of loud, obnoxious commercials. Most people probably do it too. But I do have a few exceptions to this rule.

A few advertisements are actually so funny that I don’t want to miss them. I don’t mute Geico commercials because I find the British accent of that green cartoon creature that Geico uses for its ads absolutely fascinating (is it Cockney)? And they are usually funny too. In one of the Geico commercials, a pig driving a car is stopped by a stern looking cop who says to the pig “Do you know why I stopped you?” And the pig deadpans without missing a beat: “Because I’m a pig driving a car?”

If we do have to advertise, let’s use humor instead of loud and bombastic claims. Humor generally works much better.

Small translation agencies and individual translators also have one major advantage over large translation agencies. “The translation industry” uses (on the Internet) mostly fake photoshopped images of sexy, smiling young people along with descriptions of an awesome working process. According to claims the industry makes, everything is translated, proofread, checked and rechecked by at least three translators, preferably four or five translators, all of them eminently qualified professionals. This is complete fiction because the basic premise on which “the translation industry’s” business concept is built is: buy low and sell high. Since four eminently qualified professional translators would cost four times as much as one eminently qualified professional translator, the descriptions of such a working process are not compatible with the basic facts of the real workflow in “the translation industry”.

I think that individual translators and small translation companies should stress on their websites and blogs that we are not really a part of the “translation industry”. A good way to distinguish ourselves from “the translation industry” is to tell the truth about what it is that we do and how we do it, which is to say how translation really works. Truth in advertising creates an expected effect, similar to the effect created by the pig who gave the cop the obvious, most likely reason why a cop would stop a pig driving a car (if such a thing should happen).

Here is a short list of seven truths about the way translators really work:

1. We do not translate everything and anything from and into any language

We know that it is possible to translate anything from and into everything, but unlike “the translation industry”, we also know that it’s not possible to do something like that well. That is why we specialize, and unlike “the translation industry” which “specializes in everything”, we only specialize in languages that we actually understand and subjects that we have been translating for a long time. We are not just middlemen whose main expertise is in how to buy low and sell high.

2. We use only one proofreader because we can trust our translators

Unlike “the translation industry”, we understand that two, three, four or more proofreaders are not going to improve a bad translation. On the contrary, just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many proofreaders are likely to ruin a perfectly good translation. We understand that a proofreader is like a person who turns the pages for a concert pianist, a nurse handing the right scalpel to a surgeon, or a boxer’s trainer giving advice to a tired boxer during a break.

If you pick the wrong pianist, boxer, or translator for the job, the concerto will have a lot of false notes, the boxer will lose the fight, and the translation will be full of mistakes. If you need a really good translation, you need a really good translator because that is where the magic happens, not during the proofreading part. The proofreader can help, but unless his or her job is mostly to look for typos, that means that the wrong translator was picked for the job. A new translation would make much more sense than when several people are supposed to correct a poor translation.

3. We do not promise to save our clients money by using “language tools” instead of human translators

The term language tools mean in the industry newspeak mostly CATs (Computer-Assisted Translation) and machine translation. Some translators, good and not so good, use CATs, and some don’t. But it’s important to remember that when CATs are used by “the translation industry” to “save money their clients”, the money savings are realized by refusing to pay the translator for what the industry calls “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”, which means repeated words, or “fuzzily” repeated words. Most translators willing to accept such an arrangement, even though they make less money in this manner, are often desperate for work, any work, often because they are not very good.

Machine translation is another “language tool” that some translators use for an initial introduction to the text they are about to translate. But to use machine translation that is edited by human translators as a substitute for a real translation can only result in a robotic and inaccurate translation that is likely full of mistranslations that the tired human assistants of machines working for incredibly low wages are quite probably going to miss.

4. We are not “ISO-certified” because we understand that industrial standards of ISO certification are not compatible with intellectual activities

According to Wikipedia, everybody’s favorite resource because it’s free, “The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. Founded on 23 February 1947, the organization promotes worldwide proprietary, industrial and commercial standards.”

While the concept of the application of industrial and commercial standards makes very good sense for example with industrial production of duffel bags, dog food and diapers, the application of the same concept of industrial and commercial standards to the intellectual activity called translation is something that only a translation agency advertising manager could come up with. ISO certification is just a marketing gimmick because it says absolutely nothing about the education, qualifications and experience of the actual translator.  An ISO-certified translation is simply a big lie. But it’s a useful lie for marketing purposes, which is why quite a few translation agencies have jumped on the ISO-certified bandwagon.

5. We are not just clueless coordinators and sales people – we are the actual translators working on your project

Contrary to what the marketing propaganda of large translation agencies says, proofreading of translations is most of the time done in “the translation industry” by a coordinator who works with the client and the translator. Based on my experience of three decades, this coordinator is almost never really qualified to proofread the translation because in order to do that well, he or she would need to speak both languages. In some cases the translation is in fact sent out for proofreading to another translator to have some safeguard against mistranslations (since the coordinators may have no idea what’s in the translation). But this takes time and costs money, and it can also cause a whole host of other problems – see the proverb about too many cooks spoiling the broth, which exists in many languages. To avoid potential problems, it makes sense to work directly with translators and proofreaders who understand the language and the subject rather than with sales persons and coordinators who don’t really know what is in the translation.

6. We make it possible for our customers to avoid the typically high overhead of “the translation industry”

The dirty secret in the translation industry is that most of the cost of the translation is often not due to the remuneration of the translator, but the result of high overhead costs. Large translation agencies sometime maintain offices in several locations, they must pay salaries to their sales managers, accountants, lawyers and people who profit from the business model of the industry. As a result, some translation agencies are using new, innovative techniques to save money on payment to translators to preserve a healthy profit margin. They are outsourcing translations to third world countries where wages are low, even though the translators may not know either the source or the target language very well, let alone understand the subject in question. Other translation agencies are sending machine translations to human translators while pretending that these are real translations of real human translators and that all that is needed is some minor editing by another human translator at this point. These and other industry’s innovative cost saving techniques do indeed result in considerably savings so that more money is thus left for the industry’s overhead. But they also usually result in inaccurate translations and mistranslations that often remain undetected.

7. We are not cheap – but neither are we expensive

Translations of educated, competent and highly experienced translators may not be as inexpensive as translations that can be obtained from hundreds of fly-by-night agency operators who compete mostly on cost. Human translators have bills just like everybody else, and those of us living in the developed world must pay high prices for just about everything, on top of high taxes.

Fortunately, our business model structure allows us to offer our services at a lower cost than a large translation agency because most of the inefficiencies causing the high overhead of a typical translation agency in “the translation industry” don’t exist in our model. Because we do the work ourselves, those of us who can figure out how to find direct clients without a middleman do not need to pay a middleman.

The business model for translators who work also as small, specialized translation agencies also has less overhead for their model. Because more money is left in this model for the actual translator, better and more experienced translators are much more likely to be willing to work for a specialized agency that pays a good rate.

Although the so-called translation industry is trying to envelope the entire world in its marketing tentacles and acts as if it were the entire world, the industry represents only one option for customers dealing with an important translation project.

In my opinion, “the translation industry” option is not a very good option for most customers and most projects.



  1. I was about to write something about ha-ha-ha imagine an ISO standard for law offices – who’d go to a lawyer who is interchangeable with all the others? – and then I saw that ISO has gone and made such a standard.

    ::shakes head::

    ::gets back to hand-crafted translation::

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ” …and then I saw that ISO has gone and made such a standard.”

    What do you mean? I find it hard to believe.


  3. “Parke Lawyers has achieved certification to the requirements of ISO 9001:2008, Quality Management System by developing and implementing a Business Management System based on the principles of customer focus; leadership; involvement of people; process approach; continual improvement to document the firm’s business practices; better satisfy the requirements and expectations of its clients; and continually improve the overall management of the firm.”

    1. This is so funny! How in the hell can anybody measure “customer focus; leadership; involvement of people; process approach; and continual improvement to document the firm’s business practices”?

    It reminds of the crudest and stupidest forms of communist propaganda. Is it possible that their customers in Australia are so stupid that they don’t realize it?

    2. So you know Hašek? Did you read Svejk in English? I bought both volumes in early eighties in Czech in a second hand bookstore in San Francisco. I keep meaning to re-read it again, maybe I should finally do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In response your first question, see all the headshaking above.

      As to the the second: I read Svejk in Hebrew, back in my teens. He was considered required reading for understanding how to handle Israeli culture, as the civilian was forcefully influenced by the military.

      Some days I read the news coming out of there and imagine that Hašek is scripting reality. After a few drinks. Possibly, the morning after those drinks. It’s either him or Ionesco, wouldn’t you say?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My vote would be for Hašek, but most people never heard of him. Everybody knows Orwell, and some have even heard of Ionescu, but not of Hašek. Here are a few opening lines from Hašek’s book about the good soldier Švejk translated into English:


    “So they’ve done it to us,” said the cleaning woman to Mr. Švejk. “They’ve killed our Ferdinand.”

    Švejk had been discharged from military service years ago when a military medical commission had pronounced him to be officially an imbecile. Now, he was making his living by selling dogs, ugly mongrel mutants, that he sold as purebreds by forging their pedigrees. In addition to this demeaning vocation, Švejk also suffered from rheumatism and was just now rubbing his aching knees with camphor ice.

    “Which Ferdinand, Mrs. Müller?” he asked. “I know two Ferdinands. One is the pharmacist Průša’s delivery boy, who drank up a whole bottle of hair potion once by mistake. And then, I know one Ferdinand Kokoška, who collects dog turds. Neither one would be much of a loss.”

    “But Mr. Švejk! They killed the Archduke Ferdinand, the one from Konopiště, the fat one, the religious one.”

    “Jesusmaria!” yelled Švejk. “That’s big! And where did it befall him, the royal archduke?”

    “They killed him in Sarajevo, Mr. Švejk. They shot him with a revolver as he was riding with that archduchess of his in an automobile.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • ::grin:: ah, that brings up such memories. Thank you for that!

      Hašek had quite a way with stories, definitely. I see it was translated into English thrice. Maybe I should dive in for some comparative despair.


  5. Maybe you should. Unfortunately, the the ungrammatical, extremely funny form of Bohemian dialect that Švejk is using must be very hard to translate into another language. On the other hand, I read Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn beautifully translated into Czech when I was about nine, so anything can be probably translated into another language.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on International Language Services – Isabelle F. Brucher – Translation office specializing in Law, Finance and Marketing since 2004 and commented:
    A very interesting blog post by Steve Vitek for all freelance translators looking for selling arguments to direct clients!


  7. Very true, those magnificent 7!
    Regarding the above named point #3 I can offer this: To stop discussions about fuzzy match discounts right in the tracks, some time ago I wrote a specific FAQ entry for my website where I explain why I give a 30% discount for 100% matches and repetitions and nothing else. The arguments I use in that explanation are transferable to many languages I believe. Read it here
    where it says “Do you give discounts for fuzzy matches and repetitions?”. Your thoughts on that are most welcome. Also, feel free to use that text in whatever way you see fit for your own context. Might save you lots of time, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Here is a good, concise summary of my post in Japanese with a link to my post in English. The last sentence of the Japanese summary could be translated as follows:

    “It is self-evident that when you tell the truth, the result is effective advertising producing a good effect”.

    It’s listed on the website of a translation firm called TranslateJapan:

    ニュースソース:Patenttranslator’s Blog



  9. […] of Translator Tools includes add-in for PP with tag cleaner, unbreaker & language changer Seven Unique Selling Points (USPs) Distinguishing Translators from the Translation Industry Six Reasons Why Employees and Distributors Should NOT Double as Translators Podcast: Technology […]


  10. Reblogged this on Translator Power.


  11. […] ISO certification process, one of the modern features in the jungle of translation industry 2.0, for example this one in 2014, this one in 2015, or this one in […]


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