Translation Project Manager – a Busy Bee

translation project manager is a busy bee

What a Translation Project Manager does

Much is said of the Translation Project Manager (the so-called PM) as the person who has control over everything that is happening inside a translation agency. It is believed that he or she is responsible for every aspect of the translation project, ranging from selecting the right translator to the translator’s payment date. The fact of the matter is that – more often than not – the person behind the PM position is not directly involved in all processes until delivery to the end client. As a matter of fact, many other people participate and have an even more determining role than the individual in charge of managing the project. Still, you’ll find out that your PM is a busy bee.

So Many Bits and Bobs Before a Translation Starts

As translators, when we receive a translation request from a PM, we usually do not think of everything that happened back then until our name is chosen for that particular project. We do not think about the negotiations that had to take place between the customer and the agency, all the bits and pieces that were put in place before the actual project went through.

In an ideal world, the PM Would Have His Say Over the Value of a Translation

For that client to have reached the agency, he had to be contacted by the agency’s sales man or had to contact the translation agency. Then, a negotiation of value ​​(with the customer not always thinking that the translation is worth the price mentioned) and terms too (the customer sometimes thinking it can be done in a shorter time) had to take place.

It is only after that that the project reaches the PM. You might think that, at the stage, it is the PM who determines the value of a translation. This is hardly the case. Usually, this is​​ determined by the owner of the agency and, in some cases, with margins negotiated by the sales representative. There are rare cases where the PM has control over the amount to be paid for a translation.

In an ideal agency, the PM would work with the sales department to determine the value of each text according to its linguistic complexity and layout, timing, and other relevant factors. However, most agencies work with closed – non-negotiable – values, with some difference in value for shorter deadlines (the so-called “emergency rate”).

Translation Agency Owner Has the Final Word

In addition, you might think that it is the PM who determines a price per word for the translator. Again, the owner of the agency intervenes. The PM may be able to negotiate an increase in tariffs, but the final word is never his.

Regarding the choice of the translator for a project, it is true that the decision is almost entirely the PM’s. It is the PM who decides which translator to allocate for a given job. However, other factors may influence their decision, such as negotiated discounts with the client (which will consequently change the value of the translator), customer choice, among others.

Translator Reputation – Yet critical – Is Just the Beginning

The translator’s reputation in terms of quality, timely delivery and specialty in the subject are fundamental aspects when making the decision. Even so, a PM may decide to choose another translator for different reasons. Many agencies prefer to work with the same translator for a particular client (using that old maxim that “do not mess with a winning team”). Many translators are experts in the subject, but won’t accept the fee paid by the agency and the PM may not always interfere in this process.

An Organised PM Will Keep All the Good Resumes Handy

Another misconception is about selecting new translators. The difficulty of getting an answer (be it positive or negative) from an agency is not always related to the PM’s lack of interest in hiring new talent for his agency. Often, the PM might receive a CV from another translator that fits the agency’s needs perfectly at that time; or that project did not go through; or the PM is involved in another project with a higher priority. An organised PM will keep the resumes sent so that they can contact the translators when the time comes. When I used to apply to translation agencies, I submitted resumes and sometimes would receive an immediate response, but more often than not, I would receive an answer months after I sent my resume to agencies.

“Hi, Honey, I’m home!”

Are you kidding me? There is still Review, DTP, Comments, possible Crisis to manage

Anyway, let’s get back to that translation project of ours. You think it ends here? Not at all! After delivery by the translator comes the review phase, layout (if applicable) and delivery to the customer. And after all that is done, you still have to wait to see if the customer has any comments, suggestions or criticism about the work delivered. It is up to the PM to receive the client’s feedback and pass it on to the translator and/or reviewer, as the case may be, for future adjustments. Then, it might be necessary for the PM to manage a possible crisis (when the translator does not deliver the translation in time or deliver later than what was agreed, when the client does not approve the translation or when the client does not pay, just to name a few).

PMs Need to Be Flexible

What freelance translators need to understand is that the PM function requires much more than simple language knowledge. The PM needs, first of all, to be flexible, to know how to solve problems quickly and to deal with the various human elements involved in a translation project. Just as we translators might sometimes complain when a client is insistently asking if the contracted project is ready, the PM also finds it inconvenient for translators to ask about their submitted CVs, deadlines for payment, ask for an advance, etc.

The PM is a Busy bee – Take Care of Your PM

So next time you do not receive a response straight away to a resume you’ve submitted, instead of thinking that it has ended up in the bin, think about all the other tasks that the Translation Project Manager has to perform during the day. Write, but use your good judgement to know when and how to write. After all, the PM is a busy bee. If you remember that, you’ll go a long way with your Translation project Manager.

Work Translation with Agencies, Companies, LSPs – neither fish nor fowl

Work Translation between Agencies, LSPs and translators

Prioritising Clients You Are Best Suited With

One of the main questions professional translators ask is: Should I work translation for direct clients or translation agencies? Undoubtedly, working for direct clients is more profitable, but it can often mean having to perform more tasks outside the scope of the translation itself: budget, file preparation, DTP (layout and formatting), final review, and more. Agencies pay less, but they take care of all of the collateral tasks of the project, and the translator can focus on his greatest talent: translating. In both situations, there are pros and cons, and it is up to each professional to prioritise the type of client they are best suited to work with. To do so, we must understand who our customers are, their role in the supply chain within the translation market and where we, as linguistic providers, position ourselves in that chain.

Translation Agencies – What are They?

There are two main types of clients: direct customers and translation agencies. Direct clients are individuals or companies that hire independent professionals or translation agencies for translation projects. Translation agencies can be global companies that operate in multiple languages ​​and have offices in several countries OR small translation agencies that work translation with a limited number of languages ​​and provide services to both direct clients and global agencies.

What on earth? Translation agencies working for other translation agencies?

But how so? Translation agencies working with translation agencies? Sounds complicated? Well, not so much. As a matter-of-fact, small agencies, besides being clients of independent translators, are also linguistic providers for direct clients and global agencies, placing them in two market positions: as agencies and LSPs.

Translation Agencies Supply Bigger Fish

Small translation agencies are structured to suit both direct customers and global translation agencies. Direct clients are supplied with all the items pertaining to the translation project (from a detailed budget to the finished product, be it a website, a subtitled video or a simple document), since they have a diverse portfolio of collaborators taking care of translation, revision, editing, subtitling, among others. For global translation agencies, these companies provide what we call TEP (translation, editing, proofreading), which is nothing more than a revised and verified translation in its final format: three process steps guaranteed by a single supplier, in addition to a customised project management infrastructure.

Big Translation Agencies Rely on Smaller Fish for Local Translators

What is the advantage for global agencies in working with small translation service providers? While global agencies have many independent translation and proofreading professionals in their workflows, hiring them as translators, proofreaders, quality control specialists, project leaders and many other functions, they also rely on the small translation agencies based in the countries where the contracted target language is spoken.

Small Agencies Assist in the Translation Process

The role of these small businesses as LSPs is not only to provide TEP, but also to provide infrastructure and workflow support, especially in large accounts projects, for which it is difficult to get as many resources with the specific account profile and manage quality control efficiency at the same time. Small translation agencies then act as partners for global agencies, assisting the translation process, supplying revision teams, controlling quality to apply LQAs (language quality assurance), manage glossaries, and act as an intermediary between client and translators, etc., and relying on a team of project managers specifically dedicated to these accounts.

Working With Freelancers – Easier on the Wallet

But for small agencies, is it advantageous to have these customers? If the global agency pays a fair price for such an important and complex partnership, that’s fine. As we know, in France, legal entities are submitted to a large tax and health insurance burden. That makes it very complex for companies to hire employees to perform some of the functions that require a greater commitment to work translation. Working with independent professionals (or freelancers) is a way out, but as these professionals have numerous clients, it becomes complicated to require a quasi-exclusive commitment from them if they have other fish to fry.

Working With the Biggest Translation Agencies to Be Better Trained

Still, it is advantageous to work translation with global agencies, not only for turnover, but also for the opportunity to learn more about the latest tools and trends in the marketplace. Depending on the partnership that translation agencies have with global agencies, their employees are trained, deal with their direct clients on some tasks, and even travel to other countries to test products and perform specific projects. On the other hand, it may be difficult for the small business to handle the volumes of this type of customer, since maintaining a portfolio of available employees can be challenging. And, in general, global agencies specify minimum weekly contract volumes, so you have to prepare well to combine time and quality.

Smaller translation agencies – a Better Understanding of Freelance Translators

For the independent translator, having a small translation agency as a client is a way for them to work translation with professionals who could potentially understand the role of translators and the difficulties they encounter with specific projects. It is the chance to work with those who already went through these difficulties and probably already have solutions for some of them. The ultimate goal being: keep the customer happy.

We Are All in the Same Boat

The truth of the matter is: we are all in the same boat. So we all need – translators, proofreaders, agencies – to leave prejudices aside and try to maintain a healthy relationship, always, communicating as much as we can about the role of each party in this relationship and tariffs, the real taboo between us. Keep in mind that our goals are the same, so if we have a good relationship, we all profit, both in revenue and in knowledge. To reach this point, it is necessary to think about which role each party play in the translation industry and, rather than competing, trying to improve our partnerships.

Interview with a language translator

Me Language translator

Olivier den Hartigh is a language translator of English into French. He is an expert in translation and interpreting since 1995, and has a great deal of experience with translation technologies. He has worked for many of the world’s largest brands. Olivier shares his time between the South of France and Australia. He has translated over 2 million words during his career.

How did you start in the translation industry?

I started my career as a language translator shortly while finishing my MA in Translation Studies. I worked for a translation agency – or language service provider – as we call them now, whose office was just a few miles from where I lived in the UK. That was the 90s back then. And at that time, I would need to physically go to the agency to get the documents to translate and get my check. It was a pre-requisite. Something that’s just fun to think of nowadays when most language translators work for companies all over the globe.

Back then, I caught the virus of translating and decided to start an independent career as a freelance translator … and that’s where you currently find me. Of course, with the internet, at a later stage, I could just carry on being a language translator anywhere in the world. And that’s when I travelled to South-East Asia, South Africa, Australia and Canada.

What translation project are you most proud of and why?

I have been lucky enough to be engaged in several important projects. Some of the ones I am really proud of are the translation into European French of some of the Sony PlayStation terminology, several localisation projects for OS X and iOS, lots of nuclear technology and engineering manuals, reports and notices for nuclear power plants and INPO, some technical and scientific books. And, more recently, when I was already working for TranslateMedia, several projects for UK Energy, the Government Office for Science and other UK government bodies, a project about the history of Levi’s corp. And another one for the Spanish FootLocker sneaker store, D-Link’s website and many more.

Generally, I tend to enjoy various projects: from technical to purely commercial ones, as well as such combining complex technical issues with a marketing perspective, like websites, booklets, etc.

What is the worst thing about working as a language translator?

Probably the worst thing about working as a language translator is that it is hard to make plans in advance, because you never know how busy you will be at any given time in the future.

Another issue is uncertainty. Even if I have managed to keep myself quite busy and to secure an on-going flow of projects, nothing – and I mean nothing – can guarantee that it will keep like this in the next weeks, months or years.

Yet, this can also be considered a good thing, since it makes you always do your absolute best. You are always pushed to go an extra mile. Any mistake could mean losing a client, even if it’s taken you several years to gain their confidence. This could be hard and demanding, but it also makes you feel alive.

What do you see changing in the translation industry in the next few years, and further into the future?

I expect that in the near future, 100% of the projects will be processed using computer-assisted translation tools, with an online translation repository to improve leveraging. This would pose new problems related to the quality of those translations, discounts for matches derived from poor quality memories, etc.

In a more distant future, machine translation could progressively take over a higher number of fields, provided that the topics are specific enough and that the quality of the source copies is good enough, since not even the most powerful computer in the world stands any chance against a poor copy developed by a non-native speaker of English. This mechanisation would make us translators more revisers and proof-readers of an increasingly higher number of machine translations.

What technologies have you used so far and what has been the outcome?

I have used most of the translation and localisation tools commercially available, premium or free, such as SDL Trados, Passolo, memoQ, OmegaT or Catalyst, together with several developed and used internally by some companies, like Apple Xtrans or Microsoft LocStudio, as well as some other designed by agencies for the use of their translators. In addition, I used online translation services, like SDL WorldServer, DocZone data center or TranslateMedia TM-Stream, as well as other which were just a two-column web interface linked to a database. Moreover, I have used online translation memory servers and even been part of a hybrid human-TM project.

In my experience, I tend to get the best results when I am provided with the source files (for example, QuarkXPress, InDesign or MS Office files instead of PDFs) and allowed to choose the CAT tool that is best for the job, both in terms of productivity and of quality.

What advice would you give to clients embarking on a large localisation/translation project?

I always say that the most important pieces of information I need before approaching any project are two: if there are any terms which the client wants to leave in the original language and if the client prefers a formal or informal addressing style.

Apart from that, they should devise a proper translation procedure which takes into account the different processes involved: extraction of texts, preparation, translation, revision, editing, layout, etc. For example, working directly on HTML or InDesign files could save the client lots of hours of edition and layout.

Another advice, clients should always provide us with a final text, since it is always more expensive to make changes in several translated documents than in a single source text.

In your experience what makes a “good” translation agency?

I prefer to work with translation agencies that allow me a certain amount of freedom with regard to how I process the files they send me. After more than a decade in the industry, I usually know which is the best procedure to be applied to a given type of files.

Another point is that some agencies make you feel as if you were the ‘other’, the one who will get half of the rate paid by the end client and, because of that, almost the enemy to beat. Some translation agencies are only starting to realise that language translators and their relationships with them are one of their main assets.

In my opinion, a good translation company is one which is able to design a good translation process instead of being just an intermediary between clients and translators. One which is able to select the most appropriate translators for any given job. One which is able to provide these translators with all the information they need. And one which is able to support both clients and language translators when needs arise.

Do you notice anything different about me?

a different translation

You’ve had your website translated into French?
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Yet, like many companies, you might have used a translation agency to translate your document into French.

Have you ever considered using a Freelance Translator? If you have not, let me give you 3 very good reasons why You Should:

(Much) Better Quality of translation

  • Translator gets to know your business, your language, your style and your company, becoming part of your team
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  • You are 100% sure YOUR translator is a French-native speaker and Professional Translator

No middleman = Better Value for Money

Direct Contact

  • One Point of Contact
  • Strong relationship with Trusted & Competent Translator
  • Easier communication

Today, you can have your documentation into French, with a MUCH BETTER Value for Money and Quality that any Translation Agency can offer you.

How do I know that? Simple: Most translation agencies you might employ are using a Freelance Translator just like me, taking their cut along the way.

Why not cut the middle man, and get Better Translations in the process?

Contact me now for a quote for the translation of your document and/or website and see the difference