As a language enthusiast and word-fanatic, I looked it up in two dictionaries: “professional” is (1) a person following a profession, especially a learned profession; (2) one who earns a living in a given or implied occupation; and (3) a skilled practitioner, an expert.
However, that’s only part of the story if a professional wants to differentiate himself or herself. Dictionaries are right: professional translators studied one or more foreign languages, learnt translation techniques, and are paid for their work.
Here are some do’s and don’ts that a professional (translator) should keep in mind:
Do NOT accept everything
Especially in the early stages of the profession, or when you are not too busy, you are willing to accept every single job, too urgent to be done with quality, outside your specialisation (maybe you still have not one), most of the time underpaid.
However, this is not the right strategy! Professional translators accept only jobs they can execute in reasonable time, with good quality. If you deliver a very bad job, done without specialisation, and full of mistakes, you will lose the client. If you explain clearly to a potential client why you are not accepting a certain job, the client will appreciate that. Maybe they will ask another translator this time, with a different specialisation or availability. But they will remember you next time they need a professional work.
Know Your Customer
The right translation does not exist. To get the translation that fits for your purpose, you should communicate your needs, the destination market, the purpose and use of the documents to be translated, the style and language that you prefer. Professional translators know their customers, ask questions, comply with the customer’s instructions, ask for feed-back. The more you know about the customer’s purpose and strategy, the “better” will be the translation.
Do not Undersell yourself
Unfortunately, this is very common habit, especially in Italy. Translators often fear to lose a client because of price. As a professional, you know what you can offer and the efforts you need to complete a translation assignment. You have calculated your fixed costs and have your agenda constantly updated. You know the market and your competitors. First of all, you know what you need to earn a living from your profession. Well, clients may ask you a discount sometimes, but they will pay you what is right if they are satisfied with your work. A very low price is often a sign of averageness and mediocrity.
Show that you Care… and React within reasonable time
You are a professional translator, you are very busy working on numerous projects. It is not a good reason not to answer quickly to emails and messages. Do not leave messages unanswered for hours. Do not contact your customer for questions on the text you are translating at the last minute. Keep your client updated in case of long projects, notify any mistakes in the original. Be always on time, and deliver before deadline. Clients will appreciate that. Because you care.
Prevent problems and misunderstandings
Collect information and put everything in writing in advance. Explain how you calculate words or pages to be translated. Specify if you are not translating charts or images because they are not editable. Ask your client about specific acronyms which are not of common use. Prevent claims collecting information and making agreements in writing.
Do not take it personally
If you have done your best to avoid problems, but your client files a claim anyway, do not take it personally. Making mistakes is human. Sometimes it depends on the lack of information. So listen to complaints, offer a solution, try to understand what went wrong, and if it was your fault… admit the mistake and take advice to heart. Write it down, change your quality process if necessary. A professional translator’s goal is to improve and learn constantly.
That’s exactly what I like more as a translator. This profession allows you to learn constantly, to research and study all day long. I love my job.