If you love your translator, set them free!

What a wonderful time we all had at Elia Together 2016 in Barcelona! I know it was over a month ago now and the memories are fading amongst new jobs, word counts and upcoming events, but I would like to share my experience of Elia and what I took away from it. I was inspired to grow my business, to focus more on the areas that interest me the most, but the crux was the need for better, more open communication between freelancers and LSPs, and a respect for each other on an individual level. We need to end toxic business relationships and practices, and trust each other to do the jobs we are trained and qualified to do (and this applies equally to how freelancers treat project managers and agencies in general!).


Inspiration from Stephen Lank – What’s your Big Hairy Audacious Goal?

The highlight:

There was a variety of focus areas, and one talk that I found the most stimulating, hilarious and encouraging was Karen Tkaczyk’s frank discussion on how LSPs can keep their “high-end” freelancers, and it’s not just about money. She covered things like the obvious bonus points for clients who pay on time, as well as how off-putting it is to be asked to spend hours on time-consuming and unnecessary admin (and frequent system changes). After all, we are freelancers for a reason!

The overall message:

If one thing is clear, it’s that language service providers (LSPs/agencies) need freelancers and most freelance translators need agencies. In order for both LSPs and freelancers to thrive, they need to nurture this basic yet at times problematic relationship.

Like so many relationships, many causes for discontent can be attributed to poor communication and/or money.

On money:

In my opinion, the money issues are boring. In most languages there is an expression like “pay peanuts, get monkeys” or “buy cheap, buy twice”. Of course, end clients are demanding and a business must be competitive in order to function, something which perhaps some freelancers are happy to ignore, as agencies save us the trouble of dealing with end clients – and finding them. Similarly, it is a freelancer’s responsibly as a business owner – even if the business is only one person – to know the market, to know what we’re worth and to negotiate. It’s a minefield, sure, but a common thread throughout Elia was that merely complaining – or indeed vehemently complaining – about it is not the way to go about achieving a positive change.

On communication:

Effective and open communication among all of us within the language industry is the key to a satisfying future where we can grow together. However, this kind of honest communication can be uncomfortable. Personally, I had the plan to work in-house at a translation agency before going freelance, but, in the end, freelancing was providing me with enough income and I know myself well enough to know the 9-6 is not for me. This means I am always asking friends and colleagues on the other side what the challenges are and what I can do to make a project manager’s life easier. Agencies seem to have a similar problem, that they are not made aware of freelancers’ realities because many translators are afraid to voice problems, preferences or concerns, due to the fear that we are simply a number and rocking the boat would mean that the next person would be plucked from the list to take any further work that would have otherwise been sent to us.

Another possible cause of communication issues was highlighted: ironic as it may be, we need to remember that in a lot of LSP<>freelancer communication, one or both parties may not be communicating in their first language, so we should always make allowances for this and any minor errors or perceived rudeness/coldness/cause for upset. Communication is our business so we have no excuse!


All work and no play … is not what Barcelona means! Most of us stayed as long as possible!

To summarise: be human, be personal and be kind:

  • Both sides want their work to be appreciated and understood
  • Only write in an email what you would say to someone’s face
  • Have faith and expect the best intentions
  • Pick up the phone sometimes

We are two sides of the same coin.

We are all humans and we are all individuals.

We need united, professional relationships to set an example to newcomers and clients and to ensure that LSPs working with freelancers have a positive experience and vice versa.