Too often has it occurred to me that certain agencies have had the tendency to prioritize profit over quality...
Between initially accepting the project and delivering it soon after, there is very little interaction between the contractor and the end client, as we know that questions are directed most often to the de facto interlocuteur of the translation, namely the project manager. We very seldom have any face time with the client at all. You, the freelancer, were generally selected from a multitude of other colleagues based on three things: your reliability to deliver on time, your availability to accept the project, and - often most importantly - your willingness to work under pressure at a less-than ideal rate. Our livelihood depends on accepting as many projects that we can fit within as short amount of time as possible, and for neophytes to the profession, the ability to negotiate our rates oftentimes goes overlooked. Agencies are notorious even for pigeonholing their contractors at their previously agreed-upon price, although the volume, complexity, and deadlines all vary. And we, chained to our desks and vendor agreements, feel too powerless, too exasperated, or even too naive to haggle for pennies. So we carry on in our own little bubbles and perform as we are asked, hopefully with very few problems along the way. It is my request, now, for my colleagues within the translating world to challenge that pattern and to alter how we navigate our profession by seeking three things in particular from ourselves, as well as the agencies and the clients for which we do work: feedback, flexibility, and freedom.
Feedback: Adding insult to injury?
Feedback, in my opinion, is one of the strongest tools a translator can use to improve his or her craft, and in a world that is constantly seeking quicker and quicker turnaround, a request for more work on the already-stressed project managers' plate could fall on deaf ears. However, I feel it is crucial to our progression as well-respected professionals not just to ask for criticism on your work, but to embrace it, as well. Translators, I know, are generally (hyper-) sensitive when it comes to pointing out their mistakes or when discussing stylistic differences; however, as a global profession, we can benefit tremendously from assimilating as many varying perspectives as possible. After all, we might actually learn a thing or two about our own writing that we might not have realized before. While not all feedback may be constructive, most often it allows us to reflect upon our process which then hopefully prevents us from making similar mistakes again or improves our writing style. Sometimes I think translators feel timid or reluctant asking a company to review their work, but trust me, if the agency is worth anything, they should be doing this, anyway. It can only be in our own best interest, then, to request that the edited or proofread end product - or at the very least, the editor or proofreader's remarks - be returned to us because, as we all know, one small mistake can lead to severe repercussions for our clients, our agencies, and even worse yet, for ourselves. It is my opinion that translators who shy away from improving their craft only serve to impede their own career progression, and I believe asking for feedback is one concrete way to avoid falling into that trap.
A flexible agency is a healthy agency
Flexibility is a double-edged sword in our business. We freelancers typically enjoy the ability to negotiate our pay and accept which projects we like, yet sometimes those decisions wind up biting us in the ass. Declining several projects one after another tends to signal to agencies that a translator might be unreliable, when sometimes it just means that he or she is unavailable or has previous commitments. Delays in delivery can mean the same thing. We cannot ask that we receive special treatment because of higher-paying competitors or personal circumstances, but we can ask that project managers do not simply write us off because of it. When we demand higher rates for rush or higher-complexity projects, it's often taken as a sign by project managers to move onto the next lowest bidder. The quality of our work should speak for itself in our world, but sometimes agencies ignore the fact that a company's bottom line is not the most important. Large corporations often have the most pressing deadlines and the most at stake when a project falls through, but it should also be the agencies and their project managers' duty to advocate against the "time-crunch agenda" and to inform clients of the complexities involved in the translation process. Less stress tends to lead to better results in all aspects in life, and in translation, this holds especially true. This is not to say that good translations cannot be produced in extremely time-sensitive or even low-paid situations, but as translators, we need to work together to reframe the mindset that "If Google Translate can do it for free in the blink of an eye, then so can you."
Breaking the chains
Lastly, when I use the word "freedom," I do not just mean it in a "freedom to work as we'd like" sense. Rather, I use it to mean, quite simply, "freedom from the computer screen." If other translators are like me, once I receive a project, I am likely to spend more than half my waking day in front of the screen until I can no longer keep my eyes open and then pick back up at the crack of dawn. As anyone with a penchant for caffeine can guess, this is not the healthiest of decisions. We damage our wrists by laying them flat on our keyboards and we strain our eyes by staring at our bright computer screens for hours on end. Of course, we can combat some of that by utilizing ergonomic keyboards or tinted glasses, but it does not address the root of the problem: in order to make a living, we must be slaves to our computers. I, myself, find it hard sometimes to peel myself away, even if I have no projects lined up for the day. We have a constant need to feel productive in our profession, which, in my opinion, could actually create more problems for us than solve them. As mentioned before, things like improper hand placement or eye fatigue may lead to health concerns somewhere down the line, but other unhealthy habits can have a similar effect, as well. Lack of sleep, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet are all precursors to serious health issues; however, there is one thing I believe we ignore to our own detriment, and that is taking a break from time to time. I would recommend halfway through your workday to stand up and stretch for five to ten minutes. Go take a walk down the block and come back. Run some errands that you've been putting off since accepting this job. Anything to get you away from your desk and outside. You'll find that coming back to your work with a fresh set of eyes will help prevent burnout and, even better, allow you to catch mistakes that you would be too exhausted to do just minutes before an important deadline. Sometimes I feel that we like to believe that to be a translator is to be a hermit, but that is not true in the least. In our case, as a parallel to agencies prioritizing profit over quality, we as translators sometimes prioritize profit over a quality lifestyle. This is a habit I would like to break for myself and would implore others to take up the same cause, as well.
These three aspects are critical, I feel, to ensure that we are successful as businesspeople, as well as to guarantee long and prosperous lives. They should act as a stepping stone toward a more robust and comprehensive discussion between contractors, agencies, and our clients. It’s our responsibility as professionals to ensure that clients become more aware of what we face as translators in the midst of a constantly evolving global economy. It is my desire that other translators and agencies seek to improve their work by implementing these into their respective processes so that translation may continue to be seen as a profession, and not just a hobby.