August 2016

Why Professionalism is Based on Respect: Lessons from an Industry Controversy

The beginning of this week was stirred by a little controversy in translation circles.

On Twitter, the Open Mic and other industry networks, people were talking about a particularly brash article posted by an agency.

The article is quite brilliant – although sadly now somewhat redacted. It manages to discuss professional business ethics in a manner so completely unprofessional, it has to be a gag.

Okay, let’s take a step back. What’s it all about?

Well, I of course recommend you take a look at the offending article, but essentially it seeks to help clients decide in favour of entrusting translation agencies rather than freelance translators with their work.

I was always taught not to speak poorly of the competition. But I guess that’s no obstacle for their marketing strategy.

Except, it doesn’t really feel like a deliberate strategy.

The article makes all sorts of wild assertions and this is what motivated me to write this blog post – to address some of their points.

Please note, I do not wish to make any comment about them as an agency. I don’t know them, nor their work. Instead, I’ll only consider the article itself and what we can learn from this controversy. All statements made here are to be understood purely as an article review only.

Right, that’s the disclaimer out the way…


Crazy Assertion #1: Freelance translators are less professional than agencies


I know and have worked with some highly professional freelancers and have also dealt with unprofessional agencies. I’ve also experienced the exact reverse.

Although anecdotal, I’ve just shown in one fell swoop that their assertion is at best a tenuous generalisation, and at worst pure fiction.

Many freelancers have established quality control processes, while also taking care to present themselves and their work in a professional manner.

Established translators also often list their testimonials and references on their websites – indeed like many honest agencies do.

Professionalism is not determined by whether the vendor is a freelance translator or an agency, but solely by how they treat you as a client and by the quality they deliver.

Anything else is simply not true.


Crazy Assertion #2: Freelance translators deliver inferior quality

The article states the risk that a translator may provide excellent lifestyle content, for example, but poor medical product copy.

This simply demonstrates the author’s lack of understanding as to how the translation industry works.

A translator specialising in lifestyle content does not typically handle technical medical texts! The same is true in reverse.

Translators specialise. (If they don’t, that should be a red flag).

They have an intimate understanding of their field, or few fields or specialisation, and do not stray away from these areas (the exception is non-technical work).

So the statement is, if you would pardon my French, bollocks.

It continues by saying agencies not only work with translators, but editors and proofreaders as well.

Actually, this is not always the case. And freelance translators may themselves have a network of qualified peers they use if and when they require a second pair of eyes.


Crazy Assertion #3: A freelancer takes more time

This may be true if a freelancer is too busy to accept your business, but even in this case you’d receive a swift response and have time to look elsewhere if necessary. So this doesn’t really stick.

Professional translators also use technical translation software – just as agencies often do. It’s really not possible to say who is more likely to use CAT tools.

Many agencies don’t use this software and simply send off the work to remote freelancers who may or may not use translation memories and term bases.

In any case, it’s always best to ask which tools your translator or agency uses.


Crazy Assertion #4: Agencies can provide cost savings

While it’s true that using translation memories, databases and archives can make the translation process more efficient – these are all tools which are also routinely used by independent translators.

What’s more, freelance translators have much lower overhead costs than agencies. More often than not, we don’t need to cover the costs of offices and non-technical staff.

We can pass on these savings to our clients.


So what can we learn about this

As I say, I have no idea about the quality provided by that particular agency. That’s also irrelevant for the purposes of my ramblings here.

But by posting the above article, they have needlessly disrespected the translator community and ultimately misled any clients who genuinely do need guidance as to whether or not they should trust an individual or an agency.

Indeed, both have their merits.

There are many well-respected freelance translators as well as many reputable agencies out there.

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