Posted by: patenttranslator | February 2, 2016

An ATA Chronicle Issue That Is Actually Worth Reading

Most of the time I just leaf through the venerable but usually quite boring newsletter while looking for an interesting article. And most of the time I do so in vain because the majority of the articles seem to be written for indoctrination of poor translator “newbies” to turn them into even more productive bees ready to serve “the translation industry”, for instance with articles explaining how to prepare a résumé or invoice to please translation agencies. The entire frustrating exercise usually takes less than three minutes.

This time it was a little bit different. Already on page six, there was a letter from Linda Marianiello, a translator from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who took exception to what was said in an article in the last issue (November-December) of the ATA Chronicle, which was inspiringly titled “PEMT Yourself!”. The title must have been based on the popular English idiom “Go F*ck Yourself” because, what else could it be?

Unlike when articles in the ATA Chronicle are criticized by Mad Patent Translator, Linda Marianiello was very polite and respectful in her assessment of the article. But she came to the point straight away:“My colleagues in the GLD [German Language Division] stated that they had tried post-editing. In the process they found that the amount of work involved was not worthwhile for them with regard to the rates offered. This is not an example of being closed to a relatively new profession option. They tried it and found that the negatives outweighed the positive.”

To my knowledge, this is the first time that the self-described Voice of Translators and Interpreters has published an opinion of a translator rejecting post-editing of machine translation as a viable “new professional option”, which happens to be an opinion that most translators share. As I commented on my silly blog here, here and here, all the other articles published in the ATA Chronicle were written by cheerleaders with commercial interests in PEMT who were not surprisingly in favor of subjecting human translators to this cruel and unusual form of punishment, only a step above water boarding.

Then on page 10 there was an article titled “Business and Marketing Tips for Translators: Direct Clients Contact Ideas” by Jesse Tomlinson, an interpreter and translator from Canada who lives and works in Mexico. It’s not easy to give tips to translators on how they can wean themselves off dependence on translation agencies because a good strategy will depend on many variables, such as one’s personality, strengths and weaknesses, the working language or languages of the translator, where the translator lives, and also the current state of the translation market, which seems to be changing almost overnight.

But I very much agree with the main point that Jesse Tomlinson is making in a paragraph titled SHIFT YOUR FOCUS: “When you market your services as a translator, consider shifting your focus away from telling prospects about your business and services. Instead, how about learning about the companies your clients run and how they are organized”?

Most clients don’t seem to know anything about translators or translation, and why should they? Contrary to what some translators seem to be thinking, in my opinion it’s not our job “to educate clients”. They have better things to do than learn about the difference between the words “translator” and “interpreter”. You know, things like running a business and making money.

It’s our job to figure out what it is that they do and need. It is absolutely not their job to “become educated” about us.

We have to try and figure out where the direct clients might be and then go after them in order to replace low-paying translation agencies by much better paying direct clients. This can be done in many ways, but the first prerequisite is figuring out where our direct clients are hiding and what it is that they need from us. In my case it’s not very difficult to find them. Since I mostly translate patents and articles from technical journals, my most important clients are patent law firms, and the easiest way to reach them is through my website.

Different strategies will work for different translators, of course, but it’s important to realize that even if you work mostly for translation agencies, the agencies represent only one segment of translation work, a segment that many translators are able to ignore completely because from the beginning they focused their marketing efforts like a laser beam on direct clients. It’s much more difficult to find direct clients than to find translation agencies, but the effort is well worth it.

In another interesting article, Michael Farrell, a freelance technical translator and transcreator who lives in Italy, describes how to find out about our clients’ satisfaction with our work or the lack thereof in “Client Satisfaction Surveys for Freelance Translators”.

It actually never occurred to me that I could find out from my clients what they think about me and my services by simply sending them a short “Client Satisfaction Survey”, for example with a completed job, although it would be quite a simple thing to do.

As Michael Farrell put it in a paragraph called GOALS: “What I really wanted to accomplish by sending out this survey was to discover if my clients were still my clients, to find out if they had gone out of business, and to provide them with a reminder that I was still on the market. It was also a way of giving my working day a purpose, rather than just twiddling my thumbs until work arrived”.

It indeed seems like a much better idea than sending an e-mail saying: “Hey, why is it that you stopped sending me work?” Doesn’t it? And yet, one can obtain information in this manner, without losing face, by communicating to our clients that we care about them and their needs, instead of stupidly asking them why they seem to have stopped caring about us.

I just may do that and send a “Client Satisfaction Survey” to a couple of clients who used to be important suppliers of translation projects for many years but suddenly fell silent for some reason last year.

Another interesting article that gave me some food for thought, called “Do You Have an Emergency Business Plan?”, was written by Sarah Lindholm, a freelance translator from Japanese specializing in anime and films. It lists nine possible disasters that can unexpectedly strike our business, from natural disasters, fire and sickness, to loss of power and Internet, hardware failure, or to subjects such as “what if something goes wrong while I am traveling” and “knowing where to turn for legal and financial advice”.

I am a great believer in having several plans, at least a Plan B and Plan C, for situations that hopefully will not occur, because I’ve learned through painful experience that disaster sometimes does strike when you least expect it.

My own solutions are somewhat different from those proposed by Sarah Lindholm, because we all live under different conditions.

In these uncertain times, it’s definitely good to have a plan for example for how to keep your business afloat if you get sick, or if a constant stream of work from well established customers suddenly becomes a tiny trickle or dries up completely.

To go and “PEMT Yourself”, as William Cassemiro so eloquently put it in the November-December issue of the ATA Chronicle, does not sound like much of a plan to me, except perhaps a plan to delay inevitable bankruptcy by maybe a year or two.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to add that I know two of the writers of the articles that were mentioned in my post today.

I’ve never met Jesse Tomlinson, the Canadian translator who lives in Mexico, but she has been commenting on my blog for a year or two and is presently editing my blog posts and putting together a book from these posts which will be hopefully published this year.

And I did meet Michael Farrell, the British translator and transcreator who lives in Italy a few months ago at the Third IAPTI (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters) Conference in Bordeaux, France, where we had an interesting discussion about the political system in the Venetian Republic during the Middle Ages and its possible parallels in modern world.


  1. What a crisp dispatch of what is off-base and outright counterproductive in so many of the publications allegedly serving translators today. . .Not to mention that this wonderfully written post gives credit where credit is due, all the while giving voice to unpleasant truths that so many of us are too timid to utter aloud. . .You’ve done it again, Patenttranslator, but I can no longer be surprised (:^)…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much, Lucille!

    The check is in the mail, as promised!


  3. Hi Steve,

    May I say I enjoy reading your posts- you have helped me see what a profesional translator should do and charge and your comments mainly tally with my own experience.

    Regarding post editing, an agency here in Spain did give me a proofreading to do a while ago- it was very short, but it seemed to take me ages because it was so clumsily written so I it was either clumsily written by some Spaniard or machine translated.However, I asked to see the original in Spanish and was told there was no such document, so presumibly it was drafted by a person.

    The other point I would like to make is that I have found that direct clients are not always good-payers, although logically they should be charged more tan agencies- I´ve had my fair share of cheapskates in the past- local universities and businesses wanting work for rock bottom rates.


  4. Thanks for your comment, Toby.

    It says in the Bible “Ask and ye shall receive”.

    I think it means ask for higher rates. Why waste time with cheapskates?


  5. […] Most of the time I just leaf through the venerable but usually quite boring newsletter while looking for an interesting article.  […]


  6. […] "It actually never occurred to me that I could find out from my clients what they think about me and my services by simply sending them a short “Client Satisfaction Survey”, for example with a completed job, although it would be quite a simple thing to do." – A "Mad Patent Translator" reviews "Client Satisfaction Surveys for Freelance Translators" and other articles in the Jan/Feb 2016 edition of the ATA Chronicle.  […]


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