Why Translators Should Stop Complaining About Their Industry

How many times do you hear translators, linguists, or interpreters say things like:

         “Many clients go for cheaper, unqualified language service professionals.” or “The translation industry has been destroyed by many unqualified linguists, project managers, and agencies.” or  “Machine translation will kill the translation industry.”

Do you read or hear this every day? Maybe once or twice a week? I read this all the time on social media, especially in Facebook groups. Ironically, I found myself not complaining about these things. And, it’s not just me, as other translators say the same:

Tania Martins

“The more we complain, the less productive we are, in my humble opinion.”

Najla AbdelHameed

“I believe that the market goes up and down no matter what is your job.”

This does not mean I don’t complain ever! But, these “usual mantras” do not cross my mind when I do not win job bid, when a client sends me a post-editing job offer, or when a client does not accept my prices. Let me tell you the reasons why I don’t complain

1) Many industries have the same issues :

I am a part of many groups outside the language services market and I know that web designers, programmers, copywriters, digital marketing specialists, and other professionals have the same problems in their industries. There are always less qualified people entering all the markets. This happens for different reasons. I believe the main reason for this is the lack of entry barriers.

No one needs thousands of dollars to enter the language services market or any other online job. They think you just need to know another language besides your native one, a PC/Laptop/Mac, and an internet connection to be a translator. This led to a flood of more unqualified linguists entering the translation services market.

Also, our industry is not regulated in many countries. For example in Egypt, many translators struggle as there is no official body that regulates the industry. Even non-governmental bodies lack professional people to run them. This is and will be the case for many industries.

Pro Tip:

Accept that the language services industry will always have the same issues and never let that stop you from doing your best.

2) Competition is a part of any business:

Having competitors in business is part of the job! In fact, having many competitors means you’re in a very profitable market.

When the news websites came out, many people said the paper press would vanish, but they survived. Yes, their sales declined, but they still exist and make profits. The same happened when the TV appeared and people said radio will disappear, but it didn’t.

Do you think there will be less competition if you change the industry you work in? No! You will always have competitors who offer lower prices or are not as qualified as you are.

How can you solve this? Offer something unique to your clients. Let them know your unique selling proposition. And, always, always market your translation or interpretation business. Accept that you will lose clients to your competitors. This may not be your fault, as perhaps your client doesn’t have the budget or maybe you’re just not a good fit for their business.

Pro Tip:

Always look for better clients. Decide on your target client persona and only seek them out and leave the rest to your competition! 

3) the market is not a reason for failure

I made a huge mistake when I started out in 2004. Whenever there was a decline in my work volume, I complained that others were selling their services for cheaper prices or that the market had changed! This was not the case. After a serious brainstorming and discussions with other colleagues, I found myself making many horrible mistakes.

Some of them include not replying to clients in a timely manner, not going the extra mile while working with my clients, not building a personal relationship with my project managers, not marketing myself enough, not networking with other colleagues, and not following trends in the translation industry.

Huge list of mistakes, right?

Many freelance translators do not feel accountable for their business results. If you want to succeed in your freelance translation career, recognise you alone are responsible for your business results.

Pro Tip:

Do brainstorming sessions with a friend and have serious a look at your business. You will find many mistakes that need to be fixed. 

4) Complaining affects your success

Having a positive outlook is a solid foundation for any business success. I joined a Facebook groups a few months ago, and many of the discussions were about how rude clients are and the group members were desperate to find clients who can pay more, but they were not doing anything serious about it.

I left the group a week after joining as it really affected my mood.

If you keep complaining, you will create a negative mindset about your success possibilities and this will stop your mind from finding new ideas to solve your problems.

I am not claiming any psychological findings or theories here. I am just telling you what works for me. Be Positive! Stop complaining and start finding solutions and improving the health of your business.

Pro Tip:

Surround yourself with translators who have a positive mindset. Stay connected with successful professionals.

Now, Your Turn

Block sometime this weekend to look at what you are doing in your business. I do this type of exercise at the weekend as it is a quiet time for me as I usually have no jobs to deliver or emails to reply to.

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  1. First of all, let me express my deep respect and admiration for your article. You have summarized the main points that impact negatively on translator’s productivity and mood as well. But, please allow me to add a point I think it can be a good solution of customers and service providers problem which is categorization, when I joined the field at 2005 market was well categorized, students need economicy class regardless the quality, businessmen need fluent speaker whatever the rate is and it’s rarely to find someone seeking literature value. This categorization of output quality was associated with pricing categorization. Now, no one accept specialization. You can find a translator with 10 years experience competing to get student project that worth nothing.

    1. Sherif Abuzid says:

      You are right Abuali. Lack of specialization is a common issue. I believe this is related to pricing too. Clients who need to pay cheap prices will consider pricing the main selection criteria. They do not realize the risks this involves. It is our duty to educate more people about the quality standards clients need to follow and check for. I know this is a long road, but we all need to start at some point. Thanks for reading About Ali.

  2. That’s a great article, Sherif! Sums up what comes to my mind every time I stumbled upon yet another Facebook post from any of the groups for translators.

    It’s interesting how in many other fields, such as copywriting, digital marketing and SEO people seem to be more flexible, willing to learn and adapt, and less prone to this negative attitude, even though they also have to deal with low rates and unenlightened clients.

    And that could be depressing if it weren’t also empowering and motivating – to realize that exploring the opportunities, learning and gaining experience is fun, and being all negative just isn’t.

    1. Sherif Abuzid says:

      Thanks for reading the post, Maxim. Allow me to disagree to some extent, people in copywriting, digital marketing and SEO have the same issues, if not more. One of the main issues the low barriers in many internet-based professions, such as translation and marketing. Every day more people enter similar industries without being ready and cause lots of problems to other professional practitioners. But still, we need to consider this part of the job 🙂 Thanks again

  3. Nice article Sherif. Needs to be said…again. Unfortunately many translators come out into the commercial world with little to zero commercial training, so many are unprepared for the world of business. Complaining does nothing to improve the situation. There are a a number of experienced translators out there who provide free or affordable advice to other freelancers on the business of being a freelance translator, including how to minimise price concessions. They are ubiquitous on social media channels and should be sought after. Corrine McKay and Eve Lindemouth Bodeaux are but two examples. eCPD also offers courses on running a freelance translation business. The new differentiator is the ability to learn and learn quickly. We all have to do this, regardless of industry or role, to stay in business or keep our jobs!

    1. Sherif Abuzid says:

      Thanks Jessica. Gaining business skills will help translators get out of these situations. As you said there are many other freelance translators who can provide such training and they are familiar with the ins and outs of the industry. I am a big fan of Corrine McKay, and always listen to her podcast with Eve

  4. Thought-provoking read–thank you for sharing. I do think that more advanced practitioners should strive to adapt and change in order to carve out a more unique position in the larger industry. For instance, if you have the creative and literary chops, in addition to expertise as a translator, you might try honing and promoting your skills in transcreation and localization, rather than straight-up translation…

    1. Sherif Abuzid says:

      Totaly agree with you HJ. Experienced translators should try to adapt and find new opportunities based on their long track in the industry. Thanks for commenting HJ 🙂

  5. Just for the sake of discussion I’ll disagree. 🙂

    If a client finds a translator that delivers the same level of quality at a lower rate, then it is an obvious choice. I don’t mind that type of competition. But the hard part for the client is to know what level of quality they actually receive.

    When comparing with other businesses you need to remember that in most cases the client will need to find someone to redo the job, and they will have to pay full rate for that person to fix the issues. That will cost some money, but then you know better the next time. The new graphics designer/plumber/whatever will not be working at a reduced rate to cover up for someone else.

    In the translation business a poor translation will ruin TMs and MT engines, and everybody else will have to reuse the poor quality at a reduced rate. More and more often we have to reuse poor translations, and even a 100% match that might be paid as low as 10% of the new word rate might require 5 to 6 changes to terminology, grammar, style etc. The reduced fuzzy match rates assumes that the existing content is in mint condition, but it rarely is. So whenever the client hires a translator that delivers poor quality it will be other translators that have to pay for the mistake – not the client.
    As a translator you can often ask the client for a higher rate than originally agreed if the quality is too low, but in most cases the result is that they will hire another cheaper translator that again might just make the problem worse.

    Just the other day I complained about a new ‘feature’ in a translation tool that would require extra steps for me as a translator. As the tool already have a number of extra steps that doesn’t really improve the quality level I did actually increase my productivity and income by asking the client to send the job to a different translator. 🙂 Unfortunately most translation agencies own all of the processes, so as a freelancer you have only very little room to improve your productivity. Only way forward is constructive feedback aka ‘complaining’.

    1. Sherif Abuzid says:

      I always enjoy your comments Johney, and it seems you will be the first one who will receive the badges comments on the website :). Of course, the technicality of the translators’ jobs is different from some other professions who use the manual operations more, like plumbers. But still, all the issues you mentioned are common in other industries too. Using a poor TM looks in your translation is the same as a web developer works on a project that is not well-coded. My point is freelance translators should see many issues as standard issues in their industry. They need to embrace them and do not take them as excuses to proceed and advance in their career.

  6. How about when the 60-day mark is approaching and the client still hasn’t paid you for work done? Would you complain then?

    Of course we shouldn’t make complaining a part of our daily routine, but sometimes it is called for.

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