Life of an Interpreter: Connecting with Clients

As an interpreter, not only do you accept assignments, you’re also constantly selling yourself and your services to agencies, businesses, and other potential clients. As a customer in everyday life, I’m sure your runner instinct activates the moment you spot a sales pitch. This is completely natural. I don’t like being sold to either. Like everyone else, we like to believe that we make decisions because we want to, not because we are told to.

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But to grow your business and expand your clientele, selling is necessary. Instead of shoving information down a prospect’s throat, however, find ways to connect with them instead. Jeff Gitomer, author of the Little Red Book of Sales Answers, always says, “if the customer says they are not interested, you’re not interesting.” We need to make ourselves more interesting to give prospects a reason to spare their time of day.

I had the pleasure of hearing Jost Zetzche, co-author of Found in Translations, speak at this year’s ATA Annual Conference on the power of stories. We are all about stories, he says. Not only do stories define us, they also allow others a peak into our world, and allow others to connect with us through the shared anecdotes. When people become engaged with your stories, they will feel a connection growing.

People like to buy from people they like, so take the time to build rapport. Connect with your prospects by having a conversation. Ask them questions and find out what their needs and wants are. This will be a start for you and help open doors.

When there are an array of service providers offering similar options, what you do to set yourself apart by engaging the client is what’ll give you the business.

Good luck, and happy connecting!

On the Job: Rushing to an Appointment

Let’s admit it.  It happens. Even when we plan ahead, not everything goes as planned. To roll the way a professional interpreter should though, we still need to make every effort to be on time.

One important trick to ensure timeliness is to have everything you need ready the evening before so you don’t waste time fumbling around the day of. Here’s a quick checklist: 

  • OFFICE SUPPLIES. If you’re a lady interpreter like me, you probably have a purse. Get your notebook, pens, badge, water ready the night before so you can just grab and go.
  • PRINT OUT YOUR FORMS. Different agencies and facilities have different requirements. Makes sure that you have the interpreter log. You don’t want to complete an assignment only to find out you’re missing the necessary form to log the work. It’s happened to me once and I won’t let it happen again.
  • PICK OUT YOUR OUTFIT. Plan out your outfit the night before. You don’t necessarily have to lay them all out, but envision what you’re gonna wear so you don’t waste time staring at the closet trying to decide. Interpreters should wear business clothes.
  • GPS. Input the address for your GPS ahead of time so you don’t have to waste time typing it in the day of.
  • OFFICE ON-THE-GO. To save time, you can even keep some dress shoes and your blazer in the car.
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There are times, however, when even that extra 30 minutes cuts close to my appointment time. Just the other day, my morning phone interpreting appointment lasted longer than expected and I had only 10 minutes to get dressed and rush out of my house, which was a 1.5-hour drive away. I ran around the house like a maniac and drove off, all the while freaking out about being late and how I’m going to explain my tardiness. Thankfully, because I allotted extra time for travel, I still arrived 15 minutes before the appointment. One thing to note is that when we’re traveling there isn’t much we can do about the travel time. At that point, the key thing is to be safe and be as calm as you can. Your cruise control can help with that. 

USE YOUR CRUISE CONTROL.  When you’re in a rush, the temptation to speed way over the speed limit is high, but this can be a very dangerous and expensive decision.  You could get into an accident, or you could get pulled over by a cop. Either of these would not be worth the extra time and money it will cost. When you activate your cruise control, it’ll force you to drive at a safe speed.

Other things to note when you’re running late:
CALL AHEAD. If you know for sure you’re going to be late, call your agency to give them a heads up and they can make the necessary arrangements. If you work directly with a client, then inform them that you will be late. There is nothing worse than a no-show. Being late is bad enough but without any prior notice, the clients may be waiting around for you, wondering if you’ll ever show up. This will decrease your credibility and lessen the chance of them calling you up again.

KEEP CALM. These things happen and we can’t make our travel time go faster than it is. Once you’ve made sure you’re still traveling safely and that you’ve given notice, follow your client’s instructions and try your best to plan better next time.

How do you make sure you get to your appointments on time? I’d love to hear from you.

As always, be safe, have fun, and happy interpreting!

Crossing the Line: Is It Okay to Become Friends with My Clients? (Interpreting)

As interpreters, we run in a small circle of limited-English speakers. It’s possible that you would work with the same client over and over again; it’s also possible that you’ll work with a client once and never see him again. Regardless, it’s important to keep a professional relationship, not only through keeping up your skill set, arriving to appointments on time, and interpreting as faithfully as you can, but also through treating your clients as equals and not taking advantage of their vulnerability as limited-English speakers.

One question that interpreters run into revolves around whether it is okay to become friends with a client. Different interpreters have different opinions about this, but most would agree that it’s better to keep business separate from friendship. This is really hard though, especially when clients are always excited to find people who speak their language and want to know more about the person who’s helping them get the services they need.

From my point of view, the main risk of breaking the professional relationship is that the client may have different expectations of the interpreter during appointments. Also, once you become friends, the client may want to show his appreciation in different ways besides just saying “thank you,” such as with gifts. Accepting gifts, is a tricky one.

What can we do to make sure we maintain professionalism with our patients?

1. Keep Your distance. One way to avoid developing a close relationship with your client is through keeping your distance with the client. I know an interpreter who never allows herself to be alone with a client. After she introduces herself as the interpreter and explains how the process will work, she always finds an excuse to sit on the other side of the waiting room (“I need to prepare for a test” or “I need to work on some personal things while we wait”), and in medical interpreting cases, she stands outside the doctor’s office until the doctor walks in, simply to avoid conversation with the client. Without conversation outside of appointments, the interpreter and client won’t ever have a chance to build a personal relationship. And by explaining why she needs to be alone from the client, the client won’t feel like he is being ignored.

2. Clarify Your Role. It’s not always easy to create distance between you and your client. Some clients may feel offended if you’re not willing to socialize with them. If removing yourself from the client’s presence is not possible for you, it’s important to clarify your role as an interpreter early on when you introduce yourself and make reminders during your conversations as well. Make it clear to them that you are there to interpret everything that is said, and nothing that is not said, so if the client discloses information that he wishes to convey to the provider (doctor or lawyer, or whomever), you should remind him to bring it up at the appointment: “make sure to bring this up when you see the doctor (or lawyer), so I can interpret for you.” Personal dialogue between an interpreter and client can lead to expectations that the interpreter will convey everything that’s been said outside of an appointment. By clarifying and reminding the client of your role, you’ll help him remember that you are there to help him communicate, not there to communicate for him.“

3. Use a Higher Power. Clients are often very grateful to have someone who speaks their language to help them get the services they need. Sometimes, they’ll thank you repeatedly, other times, they might want to give you a gift or offer you services, such as a ride, to show their appreciation. Outright refusal of a gift you find inappropriate may hurt a client’s feelings, so it’s important to explain your position in such situations and let the client know that you appreciate the thought, but your agency or company does now allow you to accept gifts from clients. You can use this as an excuse for other uncomfortable situations that come up as well. Explaining your position while using a “higher authority” will make your refusal less personal.

Where should we draw the line?
It’s always difficult to figure out where to draw the line when it comes to building a friendship with a client, but the important thing to keep in mind is that all your actions have implications. In deciding whether to further a relationship or accept a gift from a client, interpreters should make sure that we are not in any way exploiting the patient. By doing so, an interpreter is doing her job to protect herself and also a client, and that’s a part of an interpreter’s professionalism as well.

For a summary of the code of ethics for a medical interpreter, click here.

Good luck!

What Makes a Prepared Interpreter

Interpreting is challenging and fun, but it’s also a profession and something to take seriously. Not only do we want to present ourselves as a professional, we also want others to see us as one.

A professional interpreter strives to be as prepared as he can be. When he receives an assignment, he tries to get as much information as he can about the assignment, and makes sure he prepares for it by reviewing his terminology. However, because access to appointment details isn’t always available, keeping up with terminology and language skills is a nonstop process for interpreters.

But wait, preparation isn’t just about the behind-the scene work of reviewing terminology and researching on the topic, it’s as important to prepare for the whole session, and I’ve put together some tips to help you prepare for your next gig. Share some of your tips and tricks if you think of anything else as well!

Map it. Make sure you plan your route and know where you’re going, where you’re meeting, and leave for the appointment with sufficient lead time so that traffic doesn’t become an issue for your arrival time.

Dress Professionally. Even though you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulders, business attire will show that you take your job seriously. When you’re dressed professionally, you feel more confident, people will also give you more credibility.

Arrive Early. Arriving at least 10 minutes before the appointment will allow you enough time to acquaint yourself to your surroundings. For appointments in large hospitals or courts, interpreters are often asked to check in to get a visitor’s badge, so make sure to account that into your commute as well.

Explain Your Role. Not every client will have experience working with an interpreter. While it may seem intrusive to give the client a short info session about who you are and what your role is, the 20-second explanation will benefit the communication between your clients and make your job easier. Explain that you will interpret everything that is said. Also ask the speakers to speak directly to each other, and kindly request that they use short sentences so that you can accurately convey the entire message.

Remember Your Code of Ethics. Stay true to the message and interpret everything that is said, without omissions, additions, or alterations of the message.

Ask for Clarification. We want to make sure that we are communicating everything that is said. It’s okay to not understand a phrase, and it’s okay to ask for clarification or rephrasing, particularly in a consecutive interpreting session (medical interpreting).

Be Confident and Have Fun with it. You’ve done your homework, did your training, and got that gig. Now be confident that you can do this and that you’re going to be amazing. Interpreting is work, but it should be fun, too. That’s why we’re doing it, right?

Good luck!

How to Prepare for a Phone Interpreting Session

What is Phone Interpretation
Phone interpreting is the oral translation of conversations through the phone.  Some people find it easier because it doesn’t involve direct human contact; others find it more difficult because there isn’t face-to-face contact.

The benefit of phone interpreting is you can focus on the words while taking notes in a place you’re comfortable in–your quiet office, your bedroom, wherever. You can even have your laptop in front of you and quickly look up unfamiliar terminology while on the job. The downside is that you are not physically present and that you are reliant on technology that can sometimes be unpredictable.

Preparing for A Conference Call
The basics are the same as any interpreting session. You need the language capacity and to keep in mind the code of ethics, but you’ll also have to make sure that you put yourself in the best setting when making calls.

Environment. It’s important that you are in a quiet place when placing calls so that you can hear the other line(s) and so you’re clear of distractions during the call. While you can’t control the connection or sound quality on the other end of the phone, you should do what you can to ensure that you are in a quiet environment.

Phone Reception. I prefer landlines over cell phones as I find that the connection is better. Not everyone has a landline nowadays so making sure our phone reception is good is the best we can do to ensure clear transmission of messages. If you’re using Skype or an internet phone service, make sure that the internet connection is stable.

First Person. Same with in-person interpretation jobs, interpretations should be in first person, and if you need the speaker to repeat or rephrase something, ask in third person, “The interpreter would like you to repeat….”

Consecutive Interpretation. Phone interpretations are often consecutive. At in-person interpretation sessions, I ask the parties involved to use short sentences so I can make sure that I interpret everything that is said. I also raise my hand in a “stop” motion if I need them to pause, so I can interpret. On the phone, it’s a little different because no one can see each other. The way I interrupt is simply to start interpreting after a sentence or two. Don’t be shy to interrupt. Your goal and job is to transmit all information, and you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Sensitivity to Tones and Cultures. This one is obvious. To be a good interpreter, one must know the language. Especially in cases where you can’t read the speaker’s facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language, it’s even more important to know the cultural nuances and be able to read/copy the intonations of the speaker.

Familiarity with the Topic. Interpreters are sometimes given the subject to be discussed before the conference call. This would allow you to prepare ahead of time–catch up on the vocabulary, and read up on the topic. This is not always the case, however, so it’s important for interpreters to constantly educate themselves on new subject areas and vocabulary.

Happy interpreting!

When I Can’t Say “No” and the Virtue of Logging Hours

No, a one syllable, two-alphabet word, appears simple and direct, but is in fact one of the most difficult words to utter or type out. When it comes to potential projects that come our way, there are times when we want to or know that we should say no, but just have a hard time doing it. We end up taking on the project and regretting it once we dive into it, knowing that the instincts to reject the project was correct after all.

Knowing the reason(s) why we want to say no is the first step to mastering this difficult task. A few reasons that come to mind are:
1. The pay is too low for the time you would spend on it.
2. The client has a bad history of not paying on time, or paying at all.
3. You’re already over-committed and won’t be able to give the project the focus and care it deserves.
4. You’ve had bad experiences working with this client.

After figuring out the reason(s) why you want to say no, think about why you’re hesitant to cross off this project immediately. Examples may be:
1. Money is money, you can use any amount that you can get.
2. You’re  just starting out and think that taking on this project would get you more experience.
3. This job might lead to future jobs.

These are all logical reasons for saying yes, but ultimately, you’ll have to decide if the cons outweigh the pros. In the end, the main reason you should say no is because: It is not worth your time, energy, or headache! If the pay is too low, then you shouldn’t waste your time on it. If you know that the client has a difficult time paying, and waiting is not an option for you, don’t do it. If you’ve been tormented before with a client, don’t waste your valuable time haggling with the client again.

Know Your Worth
As a freelancer, especially one who is just starting off, any opportunity seems appealing, even if the pay is low. We tell ourselves, 「I’ll do this for a while until I get more experience, then I’ll charge more,」 but I can speak from experience that it does not go this way. Once you agree to low-ball your rate, you’ll be stuck with it, which is why it’s important to know your worth and to try your best to stick to it.

It’s important to know the worth of your time and expertise. One way to calculate this is by calculating your hourly rate by breaking down the salary you would receive as a full-time employee. For example, if your goal is to make a gross income of $50,000, divide that by 52 weeks in a year and 8 hours a day, you’ll find that your hourly rate should be around $24. If you’re able to edit 4 pages per hour, then your rate-per-page would be around $6/page. Use these numbers to guide your rate, and stick to it, as much as you can.

But Where Do We Draw the Line?
But what if you really can’t say no? What if you can’t resist passing on a project? If you feel that you have to take on a project even though it is under budgeted, managing your time by logging your hours is the best way to help you use your time efficiently. For example, if you are asked to edit a 150-page textbook at $2/page, use your hourly rate calculated earlier to figure out how much time you should spend on this project. This project will bring in $300 for you. If your hourly rate is $24, then you should make sure that you only spend around 12 hours on it. This will help you control your schedule and will also minimize wasted time. For tracking hours, I like to use, a free time-management service that helps you to track multiple projects. It’s easy to use and it also has pro service for $5/month that can help you generate bills, estimates, and reports.

How do you decide whether to say no to a client?

Time Management (How much time should I spend on a copyediting project?)

Your time is money, so logging hours is important. It can help you gauge how much time you spend on a particular manuscript, and allow you to evaluate your strategy for projects to come. Over time, you’ll have a better idea of how much time on average you spend on each page, and will be able to give more accurate estimates for future projects.

When you are paid by the page, you’ll know off the bat how much the project will bring in. Based on that, you can try to set a time limit for yourself, and use that as a goal to complete the project. If you received a 200-page manuscript and are being paid at $2.00 per page, the project will bring in $400 dollars. The more efficient you are, the more you’ll make per hour for the particular project. If you spend 20 hours on the MS, you’d make $20.00 per hour. If you spend 40 hours on it, you’d make $10.00 per hour. Of course, you can’t always control how much time you spend on a project, but it’s still good to set a goal so you don’t go too far over your budgeted time.

If you’re paid hourly, your client tends to already have a budget in mind. This makes it even more important for you to log your hours and review the project before you begin. Scanning through the project beforehand will give you an idea of how much work may be necessary. If you feel that more time may be needed, give your client a heads up and check in now and then to update them on your progress. You don’t want to go over the budgeted hours unless it’s really necessary. If their budget is stringent and there is no compensation for additional hours, you can make the choice to either work overtime without pay, or do your best to complete the project within the given time frame.

These are my basic approaches to managing my time when I take on a project. How do you decide how much time you should spend on a given project?

Elance (and Don’t Say Yes to Any Project)

Many freelancers or those who are just starting as a freelancer must have heard the buzz about I learned about it through my friend, Dale, who found some help through this site for his start-up.

As a translator and copy editor trying to build a larger client list, I decided to give Elance a shot. Excited with the concept and idea of Elance, I began browsing the site for new opportunities to bid on. People who want to outsource their work post descriptions of the jobs they need done, the time frame, and their budget. Freelancers who are finding work can bid on these jobs with a delivery time frame and rate that is within the outsourcer’s budget and expectations The outsourcers will decide who to hire through the bids received, basing their decisions on the experience of the bidder, reviews the bidder has received, and the price the bidder is asking for. The more experience you have and the better reviews you get from your clients, the higher chance you will get selected for a job. But here’s the catch. The employers looking for labor often have a stringent budget, and because this website is open to workers worldwide, the competition is high for freelancers from the US who have a higher standard of living. I’ve found that at the end of the day, the bidder that asks for the lowest amount of money and has the fastest delivery date gets selected for the job.

The Competition

One big thing outsourcers look at is the price that bidders ask for. All of my bids were declined because the rate I gave was too high compared to what other bidders offered, even though I kept my rate within the outsourcer’s budget (the outsources have to select a reason why they declined a bidder’s bid, which is why I know the reason mine were declined).

Realizing this trend, I decided to place a lower bid for an e-commerce translation project. The outsourcer budgeted it at $500, so I placed my bid at $100. Within five minutes, I received an e-mail that said that I got the bid. I was excited to finally get my first bid, and jumped right into it to finish the project within the 48 hours I had promised.

Your Time is Money, Too

After finishing the 6000-word translation that took me six hours to complete and another hour to proofread, I realized that it has taken too much of my time for the money I was to receive for it. The rate for English to Chinese translations is $0.10/word on the low end, which means that I should be receiving at least $600 for this project if I had gone with my normal rate. I received  invitations to bid on projects through Elance after this, but as the one I was selected for, these projects were all under budgeted. I have declined them all.

When trying to get more work as a freelancer, we often fall into the trap of doing work for less, with hopes that the experience and portfolio we build will allow us to charge for more later on. While this is sometimes the case, it’s also important to know when to say no. I tried out Elance for three months and finally decided to stop. Even though it was an experience and something that can be added to my resume, I do not feel it was worth my time.

My Final Thoughts toward Elance

Although Elance may be a good way to make extra cash and get clients if you are from a country with a lower cost-of-living (China or India), I do not feel it is for me or for freelancers in the US. However, if you are someone who is trying to outsource your work, you may be able to find quality and affordable workers. Who knows?

Stalking Yourself Online

Do you ever enter your name and search for the results that appear on Google or any other search engine you use? The ease of finding information online has made me a small stalker of people: people I know, don’t know, or have heard of. When someone new is being hired into our company, I Google that person’s name immediately. When I’m curious about what my old classmates or colleagues are up to, I Google their names. When I get a request from new clients, I Google their names or company to find out their background. If I’m doing it, I’m sure other people are as well.

As a business professional, or anyone who is trying to get a job, it’s important to make sure that your online image is as clean and as complimentary as possible. You’ve heard it many times: Make sure to set up your privacy settings on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, so nothing embarrassing shows up in the search engines. When you get a chance, do a test-search of your name to see what pops up and what needs to go. A clean record will benefit your job-hunt efforts and even help you build a better reputation.

Everyone can be a stalker now because information is everywhere, so be aware of what you put onto the internet and make sure that nothing will negatively affect your goals.