It’s obvious that we all would benefit from a real discussion about what freelancers have actually done to get their business off the ground. The collaborative project put together by Tian and Mike (we do Chinese/English interpretation and translation) has engaged with this discussion by putting up a webpage designed specifically for new interpreters. It’s a page with resources about the business of interpreting, using the internet to tell people about yourself, and how to set up a business. This article is a take on one of those aspects – interpreting resources.
Why ‘interpreter’ (not translator) resources?
The markets for translation and interpretation are different, so we think they should be discussed separately. Need some convincing?
Translation is a geographically decentralized market (translators can typically be hired to do work anywhere they have access to the internet), whereas interpreters are centralized (interpreters typically do their interpreting right where the client is – face to face). This means that interpreters and translators compete with their peers in different ways. A translator in New York, with NY costs of living, might have to compete with a translator in Bangkok. Interpreters, however, complete with a more local market – so they don’t deal with price differentials based on the cost of living.
Another major difference is ‘who’ the purchaser of services is. A person that wants to apply for university may be asked to provide English versions of any non-English transcripts, so it’s the person (not the institution) that’s purchasing the translation. However, a non-English speaking person that goes to a hospital may only be allowed to interact with doctors through an interpreter provided by the hospital. Our limited experience suggests that translators (and translator-agents) typically contract with both clients and institutions, whereas interpreters (and interpreter-agents) typically contract more with institutions.
The point is that interpreters and translators must understand the dynamics that go into making their market. Sometimes it’s difficult to piece the differences apart. And you can imagine that if it’s difficult for us to do this, then it must be super difficult for our clients! So, let’s just look at one market at a time. For now, let’s go with the interpreting market.
There are a lot of resource categories that we have dealt with. We’ll explain them below along with some anecdotes to link them all together for you.
The first couple of things on our list when we started (and probably for you as well) were to develop interpreting skills and then to get other people to believe in those skills. So, two things here: practice and certifications.
Practice, for us, involved going through a consistent training regiment. We practiced both consecutive and simultaneous modes together, and have used a variety of videos of speeches as content to be interpreted. Early on, we worked on TED videos. Once these videos started to become repetitive (great content, but they are all similarly constructed), we started to branch out into other types of speeches. As we switched over from student to professional, we focused primarily on videos from YouTube channels and FORA. Videos were selected by considering the specific market we anticipated entering as a professional interpreter. Practice is still a component of professional life, but is now mixed with actual interpreting assignments.
Certification is also helpful to help clients better understand what quality is present in the interpreter. We’ve found that clients often look for ATA certification (despite this certification officially being for translation only), and US Department of State ‘certification’. Other certifications also exist, but tend to be more limited in scope to an industry or specialization, such as state-court or IMIA (International Medical Interpreter’s Association) certification.
Next, we looked at how to ‘get the word out’ and network. An interesting article in the latest ITI Bulletin (Institute of Translation & Interpreting) finds that 65% of clients are acquired by a professional and personal network. 70% of those come from the professional networking side. Conferences work great here, so you might look into ATA’s annual conference, and events put on by your local ATA chapter. Since we live in the DC region, we got in touch with an organization called NCATA (National Capital Area Translator’s Association). You may notice that most of these organizations mention translation in their titles, but don’t lose faith! Interpreters have a place in these organizations as well. Other ways to get the word out include attending job fairs, like the one we went to at the University of Maryland last fall.
Once we developed interpreting skills, a plan for getting certifications, and began attending conferences and events, we discovered that we needed to get into the mechanics of the market. This meant that we had to understand how contracting and pricing works. The importance of contracts was probably one of the greatest unknowns as we started our business. They define all the terms of work, such as who you work with, what terms you get paid by, and so on. Both ATA and Proz offer templates of contracts that we used to learn about how contracts should look, from the point of view of these institutions. We then used this knowledge to evaluate the small print in the contracts we started receiving from agencies and clients.
And, finally, pricing (the four letter word that wasn’t). It’s certainly a touchy subject, but we found that public information exists! GSA (Governmental Services Administration) provides publicly available pricing information on the contractors they work with, which a new interpreter might consider contacting in the hopes of developing an agent/contractor relationship. We also found that some interpreters and translators put their advertised rates on their website.
This is a lot of information, and it can be overwhelming to try to put it all together. So, please feel free to check out these – and other – resources on our website. We would love to hear about your experiences in using them. We’ll be putting more up on the other two areas – developing an identity online and setting up a business – in the next few weeks.