Sébastien Adhikari on creating a portfolio for his T&I website (T&I Website Talks series)

In this interview Sébastien Adhikari talks about working with a copywriter and a web designer to create a website just in time for an ATA conference, why he could not imagine not having a portfolio of his work on his website, how he chose portfolio pieces, and why his English and French website versions are different.

Interview Transcript

Sébastien Adhikari:         All right.

Ekaterina Howard:           So it all works.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yes.

Ekaterina Howard:           Alright, let's just jump right in then.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Alright. Let's see, okay.

Ekaterina Howard:           Your turn, tell us a little more about yourself.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yes, yes. So I've been translating for ... well, since 2000. So almost, 19 years now. So yeah, so I started off for the first 5 years translating for a big insurance company here in Canada, and it was mostly medical reports. It was interesting, but not completely my cup of tea. About 2 years after I started that work, I started moonlighting as a freelancer on evenings and weekends. So that's what got me started in dealing with the advertising industry, because it was an ad agency that was my first client. So they sent me a lot of very interesting stuff. Tended to be kind of small, like they were dealing a lot with magazines and newspapers, so it was like one-page ads in magazines, or stuff like that, for a very wide variety of clients.

                                So I had fashion stuff, makeup, cars, air conditioners. But yeah, I really liked it. Then after my stint at the insurance company, I was hired by a very large grocery chain here in Canada called Loblaws. But not for their food division or their grocery division. 'Cause Loblaws is a little bit like Walmart, so they have a very wide array of products and services. So they have home goods, and in the rest of Canada, they actually had a bank. So you could open a checking account, you could get a mortgage, and they were just starting to get into insurance. So yeah, so I went to work for that division of that grocery chain. Mainly because they were launching the insurance product in Quebec, so they needed someone that was familiar with insurance terminology and also with the Quebec market.

                                So yeah, so I was their first translator for that division. I was their first translator. They had never used a translator before, so I was able to set up basically what tools I wanted to use, how I wanted to work, and it was a great, great time in my career. Even though it was a very large company, the division, because it was a bank, had to have a separate budget and a separate administration and board. So it was like a small startup. In all, I think we were about maybe 150, 200 people. So yeah, so you had the small startup mentality, but with the financial means of a large national retailer. So it was really the best of both worlds, and I really flourished there. I absolutely loved it. I was part of the marketing department, so that was exactly the line of work I was very comfortable with.

                                So yeah, so I learned a lot working there. Unfortunately, the financial crisis in 2008, the CEO at the time kinda got scared about what was happening in the US and he was worried that the Canadian banks would get contaminated by the turmoil in the US market. So he decided to make drastic cuts across the business. So he laid off the whole marketing department, like, rather suddenly. So I was based in Montreal at that time and the rest of the division was in Toronto. So I actually learned about the layoffs after the fact, because I was calling my team leader one morning, and I couldn't reach her, and finally the reception desk called me back about an hour later and said, "Oh, something's happened. Please stand by, the VP will contact you in about an hour."

                                That's when he told me that the whole marketing team had been laid off but I still had the job, so I think they probably forgot that I was part of the marketing department, because I wasn't on location. So they kinda forgot about me. So yeah, so they didn't know exactly what to do with me. Because they just outsourced all the translation, or most of the translation, so they put me with the legal department. Basically, reviewing and coordinating the translation projects that they had going. So yeah, that wasn't very interesting to me. It was kind of a step down from what I was doing before. So after about a month or two, I left. I said, "Okay, well, this is no longer the workplace that I knew." Everyone that I knew, everyone I was in contact with on a regular basis, they were all gone. So I felt a little bit orphaned.

                                So I got another job. First, I worked as a maternity leave replacement for one year for a university here in Montreal. But after the year was up, they didn't renew my contract. The translator that I was replacing, she came back to work, so yeah, they didn't have a place for me. So then I started working for about a year and a half for a small advertising agency here in Montreal. That was really also very interesting, 'cause now I could see the other side of what I was doing. So first, I was from like, the clients' side, if you will. Now, I was on the agency and executing side. So yeah, that was very interesting. I made a lot of contacts within the ad industry, and about a year after I started working there, I got three freelance projects. 'Cause all throughout that time, I was still continuing to freelance on the side.

                                So yeah, so I got contacted ... within like a one month period, I got contacted by an ad agency in Toronto specializing in marketing for Quebec. Also, my former team leader at the grocery chain, she had moved to a rival grocery chain, and were working well together. She was heading a new division for that grocery chain operating mostly in Ontario, but also a little bit in Quebec. So she needed a translator for that. Finally, McGill University, which was probably the largest university in ... well, the largest English university in Montreal. The student society, the postgraduate student society, wanted to reach a greater proportion of francophone students, so they needed a part-time translator to translate all their communications. So when I had these three long term contracts, all within like a month's span, I said, "Okay, well I don't really need to work full-time any more. I can go freelance full-time."

                                So that's when I started working freelance full-time. So I've been freelancing since 2012. So it's gonna be seven years. Yeah. So during that time, I'm still continuing to work with the agency from Toronto, the McGill contract, that's lasted about two years. The grocery chain division, that lasted until last year. So yeah, so I continued working for them, and also I expanded my contacts within the ad industry here in Montreal, so I have a few ad agencies that use my services. Not super regularly, but you know, like once every few months I get a request from them, they have a new campaign, and yeah. That's my background as a translator.

Ekaterina Howard:           Sounds really cool.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yeah.

Ekaterina Howard:           So at which point did you get a website? Was it way, way back, or is it recent?

Sébastien Adhikari:         It's fairly recent. I started about ... I launched it four years ago? Yeah, four years ago. It was right about the time when I discovered the existence of the ATA, because yeah, here in Canada, or especially in Quebec, I would say the vast majority of translators don't even know the ATA exists. So there's a whole pool of translators. So we're very insular, I mean most of the translation work done in Canada is done in Quebec, obviously, for obvious reasons. So we tend to stay together, and they don't look outside very much. I mean, they talk about what's happening in Ontario a little bit, once in a while we hear about something happening in BC or in New Brunswick, but yeah. So it's a very tight-knit world.

                                So yeah, in 2007 I actually did a certificate in localization at the University of Montreal. So the head of that program was an American living in Montreal, and she was great. So she knew a whole lot about translation, she had been a translator in the US, in Europe, and now she was living in Montreal. Basically, we became friends, so she recommended ... you know, "There's an ATA conference every year in November, you really should go. This year it's in Boston, you should go. It's like an hour's flight from Montreal. You won't have anything to lose, and I think you're going to have a great time." And she was right. I mean, it really opened my eyes, I absolutely loved the atmosphere, the diversity of language, of viewpoints, of backgrounds. So my first ATA conference was in Boston, in 2009 I think it was? Anyways.

                                Then I went back for Chicago, and I said to myself, "Okay, well, I need to have a website ready before the conference, so that when I meet with recruiters and agencies I can present my business card and my website. It's gonna be more professional and more attractive, I think, to them." So yeah, so that was my decision. It was kind of a little bit rushed, because I didn't do the website myself. I contacted a freelance designer for the actual technical setup, and the content was actually a copywriter that I knew at the ad agency I worked at for one and a half years. So she did the French copywriting, I translated it into English, and then it was all put up on the web by the freelance designer. So it went online the Wednesday, just in time for the start of the conference in Chicago.

Ekaterina Howard:           Right. Last possible minute: boom!

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yeah, exactly. It was very frantic, at the last minute I was on the plane and calling the freelance designers, so it's you know, "Do you have everything?" And it's "Oh no, I'm still missing this", or "I still have to resolve this", "Okay, well try to do what you can and then I'll call you back once I land in Toronto", and all that stuff. So that was ... yeah. Adventures in translation and web design. So that's when I put it up, and yeah, I didn't have any comments about it during the conference, but I did hear from some potential clients afterwards, clients that were following up. So I made a few adjustments based on their feedback, and that's the way it's been pretty much ever since. Now I would say it's a little bit long in the tooth.

                                I mean, the case studies are many years old by now, so yeah, they need an update. In general, I think I would like to refresh a little bit, the website. Put that little bit more current content. So that's my planning for the end of the year, and beginning of next year. To do a small overhaul of the website.

Ekaterina Howard:           So I find this very interesting, 'cause a lot of conversations of sites focus on SEO and how you've really supposed to update it every day, ideally. Right? But in your experience, in the years you've had it, have people been finding you through search engines? Or is it mostly people who met you personally, or have heard of you?

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yes. Mostly the latter. I think I've had ... like in the four years I've had it, had maybe four or five clients that found me through the website. Yeah, one of the things that I've realized fairly recently is that my website is definitely not optimized for search engines. So that was part of the reason for the site to do an overhaul, trying to maybe fit a little bit better the whole SEO business. Which is a little bit arcane to me. I don't quite understand how it works. I know there's a whole thing with key words and all that stuff. I actually even contacted a specialized web agency for SEO about two months ago, and I asked them, "Okay, so what would I need to do to fit the whole SEO paradigm?" And they said, "Oh, we can do it for about $2000." So I said, "Okay." Well, you know, the website initially cost me about $1500.

                                So I said, "Okay, well basically, you're asking me to redo the whole site." Well, yes, they told me that's what I need to do. So I'm not exactly sure ... I said, "Okay, well, I'll think about it but I don't think I will pay." It seems expensive to me, and I don't know the results. There's no guarantee for the results, so I don't know if it's really worth it that much. I'd prefer to go gradually, just trying to update a little bit, the website, maybe try to contract a copywriter who knows about SEO and see what they recommend to do to improve SEO results. But yeah, so that's where I am right now. Most of my clients, I get either through colleagues that I know of, or either current clients or former clients that refer my name.

Ekaterina Howard:           Right. So do you know if those people check out your website before they get in touch with you?

Sébastien Adhikari:         I believe so. Like one of the clients is another advertising agency in Ottawa. They looked at my website, they commented on it and said they really liked it. They liked the clean design, and the fact that I put case studies and the portfolio, basically. They were very impressed by that. They said most translators don't even think about doing that, and they think it was a shame, and I completely agreed with that. I mean, the main reason I put them there is ... I mean, I consider myself a creative professional, and all the other creative professionals, they all use portfolios as part of getting work. And so I said, "Okay, well, if they're doing that, I should do that too."

                                I think it makes a lot of sense, because I know the standard in the translation industry is going through tests, and I hate those tests.

Ekaterina Howard:           Oh really? You hate those tests?

Sébastien Adhikari:         It's just that to me, it doesn't tell you anything. I mean, it fits you into a box, but it doesn't really relay your knowledge, your experience, your point of view, your approach. Particularly, it's trying to fit the translator into the box of the translation agency rather than trying to see if there's an actual connection and long-term potential relationship that can be done. Trying to see if you're dealing with similar clients, or similar industries. So okay, well, okay I think there's a future for you so let's try you out with a small sample project and go from there. I think it's a much more organic and durable way of dealing with language providers.

Ekaterina Howard:           So you created a portfolio.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yes.

Ekaterina Howard:           Can you tell me more about how you went about getting client permissions, and how you chose the pieces?

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yeah. Well, first thing, as you noticed probably on the website, I have different categories for the services that I do. So I want to have at least one example for each category. That was the point number one. Point number two, I wanted something where I had a meaningful contribution to the work. So I see, well, here is something where I was the lead or I did extensive work or it was a long-term campaign, not just like a one-shot kind of project. Also, I wanted different media, so I had a video, I had print, I had a website, just to show the breadth of services and knowledge that I have. Also, again, I was especially focused on having a video because I know that's very attractive to people.

                                Most people, if you present them with a long PDF, they won't read it. They'll maybe just look at the header and the first two paragraphs and that's it. But video, that's engaging. So I was really happy I had a small video to include, so I made sure to have it prominently in my examples so that it would attract people and hopefully incite them to look at the rest of the stuff after that.

                                For getting permission, I tried to use fairly recent campaigns, but not current campaigns. So all the campaigns that I selected that were at least a year old when I contacted the clients, so yeah. I knew there weren't any conf ... confident ... sorry. Confidentiality.

Ekaterina Howard:           Tongue twister.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yeah. It's easier in French. Confidentialité. But anyway, so yeah, so there are no privacy issues. So yeah, they all said, "Yeah, no, that's fine. Thank you very much for asking permission, but you have it, so feel free to use whatever you have." In some cases, I didn't have the final version, so I asked for the final output, whatever it is, and they all provided to me within a few weeks.

Ekaterina Howard:           That's so cool. I also wanted to ask about the length. You said that you specifically wanted to keep it short because people won't read a long PDF anyway?

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yes. So yeah, I mean, especially people on the web. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and people don't focus on ... and especially, I'm putting myself in the shoes of someone trying to find a translator. What are they interested in knowing? What language combination? What's their previous experience, and yeah. So all the big details. I don't think price is super important in most clients' eyes, they just want someone that knows their stuff and that can deliver on time and is easy to deal with. So that's what I tried to convey with my website. So I kept it simple, so that it's easy to read, easy to see exactly the highlights, the important points to describe myself and the services that I offer. Yeah, and hopefully that would engage with them and incite them to contact me.

Ekaterina Howard:           Thank you. I really like your website.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Thank you very much.

Ekaterina Howard:           Especially because it's so clean.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yeah. Well, that was actually ... 'cause initially I said, "Okay, maybe we need like a central homepage and then separate pages for each of the different services", but the web designer that I contacted said, "Oh, yeah, you could do that but that's a little bit old-fashioned. Nowadays, especially for mobile, you tend to keep everything on one page." So I said, "Okay. Okay, well I can do that, as long as it's easy to parse and we can present the case studies cleanly." He said, "I'm fine with that. I'm sure I can create something that can easily fit within those parameters." So yeah, basically it was his input that kind of influenced me.

                                Said, "Okay, well, yeah, that makes a lot of sense." So I adapted my writing process, copywriting process, along those lines.

Ekaterina Howard:           Talk about the copywriter.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yes. Well, like I said, the website was a French copywriter, she was very good. She was no longer working at the agency when I contacted her, so I didn't feel too much like I was poaching. So basically it was a collaboration between both of us. She would lay out a few paragraphs, and I'd say, "Okay, well I like this, I like this. I don't really like this, and I don't think that's relevant." So we kind of shaped it together. Once that was done in French, then I did the translation into English. Made a few small modifications also, because my French and English websites are slightly different. Like the case studies are slightly different, the services that I offer are all slightly different.

                                So yeah, I made those little adjustments. But basically it was pretty much a straightforward adaptation of the French version.

Ekaterina Howard:           Then why the differences?

Sébastien Adhikari:         Well, because my mother tongue is French, but I am certified into English and into French. I'm one of the few translators out of Quebec that's actually certified in both language pairs. So yeah, so I said "Okay, well I need to" ... that's one of the, how do you call it, distinguishing features for me. So I said, "Okay, well, it's important that I present that, especially in English, so that" ... 'cause I'm aiming at slightly different markets for either into French, or into English. So basically, that's the main reason for why there's those slight differences.

Ekaterina Howard:           Okay. Thank you so much for your time. Can I ask you one last question?

Sébastien Adhikari:         Yeah, absolutely.

Ekaterina Howard:           Okay. So if you were to give a piece of advice to somebody who's only thinking of getting a website, what would you advise?

Sébastien Adhikari:         Try to make it personal, as much as possible. To reflect your personality. And also, keep it simple, 'cause like I said, people are ... especially clients, they're in a hurry. They don't want to slog through tons of ... I mean, that's the main reason why agencies, they use standardized tests. Basically, it enables them to go to what they find important, even though I disagree about the nature of that. But still, in their eyes the important thing is okay, well, can they read instructions, follow instructions, and deliver something [inaudible 00:34:51]. So yeah, keep it simple, but also keep it personal. 'Cause you're one of thousands, possibly millions of translators, so what's unique about you? What makes you different than anyone else? So I think that's my main piece of advice for translators or interpreters that want to create a website.

Ekaterina Howard:           Thank you.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Alright, no problem! That's fine. So yeah, is that it, or ...

Ekaterina Howard:           Yup. That's it.

Sébastien Adhikari:         Okay. Excellent. So okay, I think we can ...