“They’ve trained me to have high expectations for the translation industry”: Anna Livermore on working with freelance translators

There are many articles highlighting the importance of talking to your customers. But sometimes it is just as important to talk to your colleagues. In this article, Anna Livermore is talking about her experience of buying marketing translations as a marketing executive in the UK. We are not implying that all translation agencies are evil (or do not have glossaries). But I do think that Anna’s story is going to be useful to both translators and agencies.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

EH: Thank you for joining me today, Anna. Can you tell me a little more about your background as a translations buyer?

AL: I spent a few years working as a marketing executive looking after marketing collateral for a global B2B electronics company. We primarily needed translations for trade shows, product brochures, website sales pages. My predecessor was working with a translation agency, and I was not happy with it, primarily because the output was inconsistent.

Not just language to language, but within the same language. That made me think of changing an agency. That didn’t work out; I had the same issues again.

I even thought of creating a glossary of my own volition and providing it to the agency. The agency did not prompt me to do that, which would have been a good practice, really.

After about a year of working with agencies, I tried a different route: contacting an ATA equivalent in the UK and looking through their database. I looked for people working in electronics field in the language pairs I needed, and I started contacting them. And, to be honest, I never looked back. Because the quality was always consistent. And because when you create a personal relationship, it is much easier to change something for the target audience or a target market. This is not strictly a translation, edging into transcreation, but it made things a lot easier.

EH: Can you walk us through your process of choosing a translator? Did you go through the database to contact just one person, or did you get in touch with many people?

AL: I chose three from each language pair and sent them a short test translation, just a paragraph, with terms that usually were translated awkwardly by the agency. I chose translators based on that and their background. I did take the rates into account: when quality was about the same, the decision was made on price. We didn’t have a lot of material for every language pair, but we’d have four to five projects over a year for each pair, so availability was also important.

Once I narrowed it down to one translator I wanted to work with, I contacted their references by email or by phone, asked them a few questions about the quality of work, adherence to deadlines, and work ethics. That is also important. That was pretty much it.

One thing I found out later, while working with translators, was that they used glossaries as instructed, and also helped me build them up for future use. That was adding huge value – not having to take care of that in several languages.

They asked the right questions in the beginning, such as who the recipient of the materials was, they asked for style guides, looked through the company websites and even looked at the websites of the competitors. One even came to a trade fair to look at the product and play around with it.

EH: Could you tell us more about the QA for the projects? Did you expect the translators to work with the reviewers or did you do the QA internally?

AL: We always did QA internally. One reason was that I’m proficient in four languages. My predecessor only spoke one language, so there was an internal network built to take care of all the translations. In that sense I was not very experienced, although now I understand the benefits of working with an editor. But the quality of translation usually came back pretty good. And we always gave feedback in the most structured way possible. Whenever I gave feedback to the agencies and asked them to use specific terms in translation, it was always hit and miss. Working with one person who relies on the glossary as much as I did was great.

EH: So over time you’ve trained translators?

AL: No, they were already trained. In fact, they trained me in many ways. They’ve trained me to have high expectations for the translation industry.

 Anna Livermore on working with freelance translators as a client and on working as a freelance translator herself: "I always try to emulate the qualities that I appreciated in my translators ... the constant use of glossary, the excellent communications, the willingness to do research or ask questions without trying to second-guess. And, of course, never missing a deadline"

EH: Anything else?

AL: Not second-guessing. This I learned from one of them who’d say “I thought this was it, but it wasn’t.” So we were going through a process where I’d ask that translator to give me a call whenever there was something he wasn’t sure about. And the whole process of handling queries – I had to learn how to handle that, because the agency would just send you one email or one spreadsheet asking several questions, whereas with translators I’d usually give them my Skype name, so that they could ask questions as they went through the text, or they could send me the whole text later, depending on their work style.

EH: Now that you’re a freelance translator, do feel like your experience has had any influence over how you approach working with your clients?

AL: I would like to think so. I always try to emulate the qualities that I appreciated in my translators, including giving advice in localization issues or something that wouldn’t work in the target market. I always try not to incorporate the things that annoyed me about working with agencies into my workflow and include the things that delighted me about working with freelance translators. I’d call that “finishing touches”: the constant use of glossary, the excellent communications, the willingness to do research or ask questions without trying to second-guess. And, of course, never missing a deadline. There’s nothing more frustrating than a creative agency waiting for the copy, and they are waiting for the copy, and you can’t deliver it because the agency is late or the freelancer is late.

 You can get in touch with Anna via email or find her on LinkedIn. You can also read her blog post about feedback in translation (Part 1 published and Part 2 coming soon at the time of publication) on SLD's Blog.

P.S. As we were wrapping up the call, Anna told me more about what kind of translator she is aspiring to be, using an example of buying place mats.

“I ordered three place mats for my family: one for the elder daughter, one for the youngest, and two for us, the parents. The first place mat arrived in a plain envelope, it looked OK, but there was nothing noteworthy about it or about the packaging. The second place mat arrived in a messy envelope, it was clearly of a lower quality and did not look so good. The place mats for adults were securely packaged in a tube, each of them was wrapped in pretty tissue paper that made it look like a giant piece of candy. Needless to say, I’m trying to be providing a service like that.”

 Ekaterina Howard  Translator and copywriter, helping translators show their value and nail their copy

Ekaterina Howard

Translator and copywriter, helping translators show their value and nail their copy

Struggling with figuring out just how to position yourself like a translator who teaches clients to have high expectations for the industry?

Need some help with finding your secret sauce and the magical “superior place mat” moment?

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 Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations. En/De>Ru marketing translations, localization, copywriting in Russian

Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations

En/De>Ru marketing translations, localization, copywriting in Russian. Wants to know more about experiences and career paths of other translators. Share your stories in the comments!