In this fast and competitive world it isn’t easy being a freelancer, and it isn’t easy to get your foot in the door as a translator, especially when you are young and inexperienced.
I was very lucky in that I got to “learn on the job” when Berlin’s alternative magazine culture was exploding in the mid-90s and you could still count the number of English native speakers on one hand. I soon became the “go-to” girl in my network of friends and literally learned where to put apostrophes as I went…No, my local comprehensive school education didn’t even stretch to explaining what a relative clause or a collective noun is.
When asked to take on the translations for a new fashion magazine back in 2006, I was told that the workload would be split 50/50 (which was fine with me, as it was always deadline-life-on-hold kind of work, racing to that all important print date) and they added, by the by, that all my work would be proofed by another translator, based in Cologne, Paula Hedley. My blood ran cold as I envisaged an older dame, with scraped-back hair and commas for eyebrows slashing away at my flawed work with her lethal red pen.
Every translator is fearful of having their work criticised (I imagine), and let’s face it, no one is perfect. And we translators are not exactly a bunch of team players either, very much used to working alone, and relying on no one: we often work without backup; if the schedule is tight, we often toil late into the night, with no one to offload on. If we’re lucky, we might have understanding partners who bring us cups of tea, or older children who pat us on the back on their way out, saying “Oh mum, don’t worry, you’ll get it done in time.”
So I was overjoyed to find out that my new compulsory partner in crime was a svelte but cheeky Newcastle lass with a great sense of humour and an ability to give and take criticism or corrections in the loveliest way possible. It was a match made in heaven. She has the down-to-earth language of a true Northerner, with the humour to go with it, and is a dab hand at creating catchy, punchy headlines that make us a hit in the corporate/commercial world when it comes to selling or making an impact, while I sometimes have the la-di-dah vocab of a professor emeritus and can dissect the most slithery of nested German sentences with the exactitude and grace of a skilled chef wielding a sharp knife. She talks me down per WhatsApp if I want to use the word “excoriate” too often, and I adjust her “made of’s” and “made from’s” with a motherly stroke.
In 2011 we founded Trend Translations together, with the aim of appealing to a wider commercial spectrum, enabling us to take on larger contracts and expand our business as well as giving our fruitful cooperation a face and a professional corporate design. We are now in a position to turn down jobs, or pass them on to others. One key to our success, I am sure, is the fact that we both proof pretty much all of each other’s work. Instead of translating, it is easy to transmogrify instead, producing a babbling stream of verbiage, losing perspective with complex academic sentences (do you see where I am going with this…?) or overcomplicating what should be a punchy title for a watch ad or fashion article. And that’s when it is worth its weight in gold to have an honest supportive business partner on hand via Skype, email or WhatsApp to let you know when you are overthinking something, or using jargon no one but Stephen Hawking will understand.
It is probably the savviest decision both of us made, reciprocally proofing each other’s work (whenever possible) and finding someone to confide in when a particular project is proving difficult, or some nightmare client hits you with some negative feedback. (Yes, this happens to us all at some stage!) Not only is it nice to be able to send someone your evening’s efforts and exchange a few words over your morning coffee, but it will improve your work immeasurably.
So here are my tips on how and where to find that person and how to deal with translation partnerships:
Online platforms like proz.com, or Facebook groups like Standing Out and Parents Who Are Freelance Translators, or Watercooler are a great way to meet people online and exchange thoughts. It’s nice to have some business banter, and an excellent source of information for CAT tools, but often these people are based far away in other countries and time zones.
- TRANSLATION EVENTS/BUSINESS NETWORKING MEET-UPS
Ideally it’s nice to meet people IRL, especially if you are looking for a long- term working partnership. Somehow it is always easier to get a feel for someone and their working methods face to face. Having said that, I only met Paula after we’d been working well together for a few years. She lives in Cologne and I live in Berlin. The old-school Translators’ Stammtisch (based in Berlin), or groups aimed at expat writers and translators like those organised by The Reader or Transfiction, or bookstores like Curious Fox or Another Country, are all great places to find like-minded folk if you can pluck up the courage to get out from behind your screen and go out into the big, wide world. (I know, I know, it’s really hard…)
- SIMILAR WORK ETHIC
It’s no good trying to team up with someone who loves to sleep in till eleven and thinks deadlines are for fun rather than a must, if you are at your desk by eight every morning and like to hand work in a day early. Someone who translates only part time and spends most of their day out dog sledding somewhere without phone reception or Wi-Fi is not going to make a good emergency backup. If you are a bit of a workaholic, then find someone equally committed. I know with Paula, that in a pinch we can see things through over a tough weekend, powered by nothing but caffeine and amusing comments on each other’s proofed documents, and she won’t leave me in the lurch. And we can always cover for each other when we’re on holiday.
is a must. Especially when you are earning money together or sharing clients. You need to know that you are on the same page when it comes to pricing and make decisions about how to divvy up work if too much comes in. We both have our own personal clients, people we were recommended to directly, but when our agency is approached in a more general way, we share the work, or figure out who is the best fit. Luckily, we tend more toward the “No, you do it if you want to, no you, no YOU!!” style of cooperation than being greedy about it.
- AREAS OF EXPERTISE
It’s probably advisable to find someone with similar or at least overlapping areas of expertise. Beware those who say they can work across the board! We have a good network of people specialising in areas we don’t have a clue about (legal or medical texts) and Paula and I overlap on fashion, our main focus, with me specialising more in the direction of textiles, architecture and history, and her veering more toward marketing, tourism and lifestyle.
It’s important to communicate clearly, especially when business is on the line. Telling someone exactly when you expect a piece of work back is so much better for all concerned instead of saying “Some time next week would be good,” and assuming they have the same “I’ll-do-it-right-now” work ethic as you, and then getting pissed off when they send it to you Friday night at 9pm. Paula usually writes something like “Please send back by 2pm” in the header so that I can keep track of her requests during a busy day doing other work. I am often quite random in my “desk time” being a mother of two and fond of heading out to the country, so I try to check in with her regularly and let her know roughly when she can expect me to be around.
Sometimes you have to be nudged into being a little more assertive on the market. I was toddling along quite nicely on our tiny prices, living in Berlin with cheap rent and low expectations, so it took Paula’s cool business nous to suggest (gently) that we could start charging more. I almost fell off my chair when she suggested the new pricing, but now I am enthusiastically charging healthy prices that make me even happier to be working in such a fun job, and our clients still get a good deal because being a small agency we don’t have high overheads or a large bureaucracy to feed.
- CARE PACKAGES
It’s important to appreciate the person you are working with, even if you don’t see them. Being Brits a long way from home, we share a love of British food, a good pie and chips, or a chicken jalfrezi (living in Berlin that counts as British food!) and so on our birthdays or after a particularly hard slog Paula sends me little care packages filled with goodies from Marks & Sparks like biscuits and tea bags. Just another reason why having a partner makes working more fun.Now, who could ask for more from a business partner?! What are you waiting for?
Parents who are Freelancers
Another Country Berlin