On Direct Clients and Overcoming Geographical Disadvantages

Marty and map

Last month, I published a post on earning six-figures as a translator and accidentally sparked several somewhat heated yet fascinating debates on several business aspects of translation. One of the lingering questions in some of the places where my post was discussed was whether or not geography is a handicap when going after direct clients.

We are always told that one of the secrets to making direct clients is going where they are, and the reasoning behind that is pretty sound. Though not specific to translation, some of the best arguments in favor of location as a competitive strategy can be found in Michal E. Porter’s paper in Harvard Business Review’s HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Strategy (including featured article “What Is Strategy?” by Michael E. Porter) and expanded in Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors.

When applied to translation, “going where your clients are” is sometimes interpreted as meaning “relocate to your source country,” another sound piece of advice that is very hard to refute (when based on serious research). But, let’s be totally honest, relocating to your source country is not a realistic option for everyone. This is so for various reasons, including Visas or family/personal commitments. This may be hard to believe, but Visas are not so easy to come by these days. And consulates don’t always deem “moving to your source country to up your game as a freelancer translator” as a genuine reason for granting legal entry to foreigners. The bastards! In addition, some people are unwilling or unable to move their entire families overseas to have a better shot at reaching direct clients. Should they give up? Of course not! So what to do when you’re “stuck” in your target country?

One thing translators do is rely on intermediaries who actually have that geographical advantage. While many are quick to demonize such intermediaries, I personally have no problem with agencies. My problem is with bottom feeders; and believing that all agencies are bottom feeders is just as naïve as believing that bidding wars are in the best interest of translators. In the same vein, not all translators have an entrepreneurial side. Some translators prefer to focus only on translating and let other people worry about all the marketing, client searching, and project management. Again, I don’t see a problem with that, either. We’re all wired differently, we have different talents, interests, and priorities. So if you’re a translator who enjoys working for intermediaries and you’re happy and making a good and honest living, who am I to judge?

For the time being, I’m still combining both agencies and direct clients. I like working with agencies that fit two simple (totally subjective) criteria: i. the people behind the company are likable, and ii. they pay fair rates. However, I also like working for direct clients. I have an outgoing personality with an entrepreneurial spirit. So, I genuinely enjoy the business side of things and love the thrill of the hunt. I enjoy negotiating and closing successful deals with new or returning clients. It’s just how I am. It’s not better or worse than translators who enjoy working solely for agencies, just different.

However, entrepreneurial though I am, I’m also a realist. I’m well aware of the competitive disadvantage of living so far away from my clients and, as if that wasn’t enough, living in the developing part of the world where we often deal with things like this: “I contacted someone in Latin America because you guys are supposed to be cheaper,” true story, someone actually said this to me once! Or, my favorite, “If I wanted to pay American prices, I’d hire an American.” That one was pretty funny, considering the target readership was Argentina. So, yes, we have it rough sometimes and we can’t (or simply don’t want to) relocate, but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed.

In some market niches, prospects come to where you are. In my post about how I built my client base without using translation portals, I mentioned some of the ways in which my university contacts have resulted in well paid work. For those who don’t know, I’m also a part-time university Professor of Law. The numerous academic activities held by different universities in Buenos Aires involve receiving visitors and delegations from all over the world almost constantly throughout the academic year. Many of these activities are even free and have resulted in a simple and easy way for me to meet foreign clients directly, without leaving Buenos Aires.

So, regardless of whether you cater to high profile lawyers and scholars or to IT gurus, it is possible that your city hosts international events that are roaming with interesting prospects. If you can’t leave the country to go them, maybe you can find out if they are coming to you. Needless to say, this will not make up for a total lack of geographical proximity, but combined with other strategies, at least it’s a start. There’s more than one way to skin a cat (poor cat!), and this one sometimes gets overlooked.

On Being the Underdog and Earning Six-Figures as a Translator


I recently finished re-reading Chris Durban’s book, The Prosperous Translator, and found myself questioning a lot of what I do and how I do it. That’s the great thing about good books. No matter how many times you read them, you always learn something new. This time, what appealed to me the most was the part where she questions why translators are afraid to talk about money. Meanwhile, a few nights ago, while checking out some older posts in Corinne McKay’s blog, I came across a post about translators with six-figure incomes, and one of the things Corinne pointed out is that these translators tend to talk about money quite a bit.

All this, while I was still processing some of the comments on a couple of related posts about premium translation markets in Kevin Hendzel’s blog (here and here). The posts themselves are must-reads, but something else that really caught my attention was a comment by someone who believed high incomes are unattainable for those of us who live in the developing world. I live in the developing world and I hear this all the time from my fellow South Americans. We’re too far. We can’t compete. We don’t have access to direct clients. They only look to Latin America when they want low prices… If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard “I can’t because Latin America,” I wouldn’t be here in front of my computer writing this post. I’d be living it up at some fancy beach resort in Bora Bora while sipping South Pacific smoothies through a curly straw and watching the sun set over the ocean as compounded interests turn my millions into billions.

I was raised in one of those homes where you simply do not discuss money, politics, or religion. My mother would rather swallow a battery than talk about money and my father could not stand braggers or show-offs, so he never dropped the M-bomb either, lest he’d commit the most Heideggerian of pragmatic inconsistencies. Talking about money is, to many people, just “too bourgeois” and “beneath the educated mind.” But money is one of the many things that stand between us and some of our dreams. We think about money quite a bit: how to make it, how to spend it, how to save it, and if we’re smart, how to invest it. We need money for basic essentials and even more money if we’re not the kind of people who are content with the basics alone. So at the risk of offending all the classy people out there who believe discussing money is rude, I’m going to talk about money in this post, because whether we like it or not, it’s there and it’s an issue for many people.

I don’t claim to be a particularly business savvy person and my beginnings in translation were quite humble. My rookie years were rocky and clumsy at best (almost embarrassingly so). When it comes to newbie mistakes, I could probably write the book (though for now all I’ve written is “the post”). I don’t have any magical formulas and I am in no position to tell anyone how to achieve financial success. However, I know what it feels like to be the underdog and, more importantly, I know what it feels like to rise above all odds, both personal and professional. I am, after all, a Latin American woman; and my rocky and clumsy beginnings in translation were due, in part, to the fact that I had bought into “I can’t because Latin America” plus some form of “I can’t because women in Latin America have it even tougher.” For those who are not familiar with current wealth distribution trends, living in Latin America basically means my piece of the pie is statistically prone to being significantly smaller than that of my counterparts in the developed world and even more so than that of my male counterparts. The odds, apparently, are stacked against me. But here’s the thing about stats and odds: they are just numbers. What matters in life is how you play the cards you are dealt.

So, last year I hit six figures and my numbers are still growing. And though I’m light years behind some of the really big names in translation, a six-figure income is more than enough for a comfortable lifestyle where I live. In addition, my numbers defeat all the odds that were stacked against me. Which brings me to my second point, not only is it possible to make a very decent living as a translator, but it’s also possible to do so while running your operations from Latin America. In all honesty, I cringe every time I hear fellow Latin Americans give in on the count of alleged geographical disadvantage. That’s just baloney! In the internet age, geography is not a handicap!

Hitting the six figure mark was not easy, but good things usually aren’t. I did it by simply charging each new client slightly more than the last one, while also dropping older clients who were not willing to renegotiate. This was a slow transition and it mainly meant changing the types of agencies I was working for from large brokers to higher-paying specialized boutique agencies, while also focusing all my long-term marketing efforts on direct clients, as my ultimate goal was (and still is) to work for direct clients only at premium fees. Of course, I’m not saying everybody should do what I did. I’m just saying this worked for me.

Because money is such a touchy subject, I am well aware of the positive and negative reactions that are likely to be sparked by this post. I know some people will crucify me for my rocky beginnings and unwillingness to condemn all brokers on the count of the bad ones. Others may think the aim of this post is just to brag about my numbers. But those who know me will hopefully read this the way it was intended: as an honest challenge against anyone who has ever said there is no money in translation, especially for those of us who live in the developing world. I never set out to be a business guru and I believe that each person has to write their own story. But if you’re in the place where I was a decade ago, working your little heart out 24/7 for peanuts, watching life happen outside your window, and wondering if bigger and better things are possible, I have two words for you: They are!

If this non-business savvy, human rights-oriented underdog can do it, so can anyone else who’s willing to put in all the extra effort, dedication, training, education, and hard work. So in the spirit of encouraging other Latin Americans to reach for the sky, here’s some bibliography I’ve found particularly helpful:

1) The Prosperous Translator by Chris Durban

2) Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations by William Ury

3) Mastering Services Pricing: Designing pricing that works for you and for your clients
by Kevin Doolen (still reading this, but finding it pretty useful so far and very grateful to Rose Newell for recommending it)

4) Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution (Collins Business Essentials) by Michal Hammer and James Champy

5) The Culture of Collaboration: Maximizing Time, Talent and Tools to Create Value in the Global Economy by Evan Rosen

Special thanks to my friend Ana Gauz (English to Brazilian Portuguese translator extraordinaire) for her help with this post.

The Opportunity Cost of Misplaced Entitlement in Translation

Comprehensive list

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted a picture of “a comprehensive list of everything you are entitled to and that which the world owes you.” The image was that of an empty sheet of paper. I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

Later that week, someone in a translation group posted a copy of an incredibly rude, whiny, and ineffective message they had sent out to a potential client who was simply trying to open the door to a negotiation. The translator was insulted, apparently, because the agency owner wanted to negotiate in the first place: not drive down price with a ludicrous offer, just negotiate. Things escalated and got quite ugly pretty quickly once the agency owner went online and came across her name and confidential information about the job (information which had been given to the translator in good faith for the sole purpose of evaluating and quoting the job).

I happen to know both parties involved. The translator does a lot of online bragging about his rudeness to agencies who just don’t seem to get how special he is; and the agency owner is actually a really great person, who pays well, on time, and is an absolute pleasure to work with. I have in fact recommended several colleagues in other language pairs to this boutique agency and they have the same impression as I do. So on the one hand we have a serial agency basher and problematic translator and on the other hand we have a boutique translation business owner who was looking after her client’s interests and her own business. How dare she?!?!

Had the translator not been betrayed by his own Ego and misplaced sense of entitlement, he would have landed a great client, as the agency’s concern had more to do with the translator’s proposed deadline than with his price. Had the translator focused on interests instead of positions, he would have realized the agency was willing to pay his proposed price (and even a bit more, according to the agency) to get the translation a couple of days earlier and have enough time to review it in-house before final delivery to the end client. Instead, the translator took to social media to list all that to which he is entitled on the count of his self-perceived sheer awesomeness (paraphrasing Po the Panda).

Of course, there’s more than one way to understand the concept of entitlement. If by entitlement we are referring to our legal entitlements (i.e. the rights we each have in virtue of being human), then the empty “comprehensive list of everything you are entitled to” is flat-out insensitive to the entire notion of justice and clueless as to the many sufferings of the world. However, if by “entitlement” we are referring to some people’s unjustified belief that they have a right to certain privileges or special treatment just because they are who they are (i.e. white, rich, etc.), then the idea behind that picture is well worth promoting and the translator in question should learn from it.

I have insisted in many different posts that professionals need to watch their online behavior at all times. It’s oftentimes the first thing people see and you never know where in the web a potential client is waiting to be discovered. In today’s world, opportunity no longer “knocks at your door,” sometimes it IMs you or pokes you on Facebook. So when we go online to brag about how rude and rough we got with a client or to troll other translators in forums or blog comments, what we’re really doing is telling the world there is a side of us that feels it is better than other people, that others owe us this or that because we are SO cool, that we know better, that we are smarter, that we own a thesaurus, that we read some business guru and bought into the hype, that we can write complicated sentences, etc. You get the point.

What we’re not doing is helping to promote professionalism in translation or in any way earning other people’s respect. One could argue respect is a given. It’s not something you earn. Perhaps in everyday life that is true. We say “please” and “thank you” to absolute strangers on a daily basis out of respect and those are givens. But the kind of respect that comes with placing value on a person at a professional level, with wanting to pay their fees and to accept their terms and conditions are not givens. Professional respect is earned. You don’t respect your doctor’s professional opinion simply because he or she wears a white coat and has a stethoscope around their neck, you respect their professional opinion once they have proven to be qualified, reliable professionals who know their stuff. So why should translation be any different?

5 Tips for Translators Who Want to Start 2016 Off on the Right Foot

2016 Marty

It’s that time of year again when the “New Year” reminds us that 365.2422 days have gone by since the last time 365.2422 days went by. Big Whoop!? Family gatherings, parties, Champagne, and fireworks are all not-so-subtle reminders that time passes and we can make the most of it if we choose to. So we make resolutions and renew our faith in new beginnings. “This year, I will seize the day,” many of us tell ourselves, and some of us actually do. So for the doers out there, here are five things you should most definitely do if you haven’t already.

1. Get your taxes and legal “stuff” in order: Nothing reads “amateur” like not having your paperwork in order. If you want to compete in the high-end market, you need to have your tax and legal situation under control. Register yourself and/or your business as required by domestic law, make sure your invoices are up-to-date and all mandatory information is properly displayed where it should be in accordance with local law, and double check whether you’re meeting all legal and tax requirements for doing business in your area.

2. Research your market: But “for real.” I’m not talking about reading the same old tired tips and posts by the same old winners of internet popularity contests. I mean really research your market. What market do you want to cater to? Who are the key players in that market? What entry barriers are there? What is expected of language professionals? How does that market play into your local economy? What I’m talking about is not reading superficial texts on marketing in general or translation in particular. I’m talking about serious market research.

3. Update/review your SWOT analysis: A good business plan (see next tip) starts with a cold honest look at ourselves and our business; our strengths and weaknesses; opportunities and threats in the business world. If you’re reading this post because you want to escape the hamster wheel and shift to a better market segment, then you need to know whether you have what it takes to cater to it in the first place. Though nowhere near enough, SWOTs and similar assessments are a good place to start; and if turns out you don’t have what it takes, they will help you figure out your shortcomings and how to overcome them.

4. Update/draft your business plan: I’m writing this post on December 26th, I expect to publish it on December 28th, if that’s when you read it and you haven’t updated your 2016 business plan yet (or what’s worse, you have nothing to update because you have no business plan at all) then get to it! You need to start 2016 with a clear sense of direction; and each business move you make needs to be consistent with that.

5. Plan your CPD: If you did a good job on your SWOT, then you’ve identified your shortcomings and/or areas of opportunity you wish to explore; and continuing professional development (CPD) is essential to both. Find and schedule relevant courses, webinars, conferences, etc. to develop and maintain knowledge and skills that are important for your business. At the risk of blatant self-promotion, if you’re a little lost as to translation contracts (NDAs, T&Cs, etc.), then you might want to add my e-CPD webinar on “Binding Agreements and Legal Principles for Translators” to your list.

My Five Biggest Newbie Mistakes in Translation

Young Marty

In my soon-to-be 15 years in translation I haven’t done it all, but I have done a lot. I’ve worked in-house and freelance; I’ve won some and lost some; followed the rules, questioned them, and ultimately broke the ones that made no sense; exposed myself to harsh criticism for speaking my mind; stood my ground against bottom feeders and their knights; shared my views in two failed blogs prior to Translator’s Digest; started a business, left that business, started a new business… alas, a lot of trial and error, falling down and getting back up again. Translation can be quite a ride if you’re willing to leave your comfort zone; and though I haven’t been riding the crest of any record breaking waves, I can’t really complain about the surf either.

So now I’m about to turn 37 and when I see all these younger people trying to start out as translators I’m reminded of my rookie years and the challenges I once faced. And, naturally, I want to help; not by trying to shield newbies from some of the harsh realities of the professional world, but by sharing experiences and views that might be useful to them. I would not be doing anyone any favors by denying them the opportunity to try and fail time after time until they succeed or by trying to pass my personal experience off as some sort of winning formula. As I’ve said in the past, we each have to write our own story. But now that I seem to be suffering from what my Argentinean friends have mockingly labeled “el viejazo” [midlife crisis], I’ve come to believe that I have benefited as much from my achievements as from my failures, and that others might be able to benefit from them too. As it turned out Lincoln was right (as if there was ever any doubt); and these are the mistakes I’ve learned from the most:

1. Letting clients dictate my fees

When you are a freelancer and/or business owner, you know how much time, effort, and resources you will put into your work. You know your opportunity cost and BATNA. Yet, sometimes, we let clients dictate our fees. Accepting the fees that clients were “willing” to pay as if I had no say in my own income was my number one newbie mistake before I learned how to calculate my fees and negotiate.

2. Fearing the word “No”

I didn’t just have a hard time saying no, I avoided it altogether, always, no matter the cost of saying yes. When my business started to grow, I was afraid that if I didn’t accept every single job that came my way (regardless of the terms and conditions of the job), clients would take their business elsewhere. But the question isn’t whether they did or not. Of course many did; so the fear of “no” is not completely irrational. The question is, though, whether the ones that did were worth my time in the first place. Good clients, reasonable clients, professionals who understand the business world, and people who value your work will come back if you have rendered good service in the past. And if they don’t, and you have a solid business plan and marketing strategy, you will always attract other clients anyway.

3. Overbooking

Fearing the word “no” has a second drawback and it’s that it can affect your credibility and ultimately lead to more loss. If you’re saying yes to everything, you are overbooking; and if you are overbooking, important details of your work are inevitably falling through the cracks. That’s when you really loose clients and money.

4. Being clueless about finance and economy

Most of my friends and people close to me who are also translators confess to reading about “business” and “marketing,” but not hardcore economic and finance literature. Even fewer actively work to develop strong math skills. Your ceiling is much lower when you don’t understand the economy in which your business is emerged or when you struggle with numbers. You need to understand market economics to make sound business decisions, and the only way to do that is to hit the books and get informed. But not the light stuff you find online, the tough stuff that can help you calculate key economic factors that can affect your growth and indicate which baskets to put your eggs in. I took several economy and finance courses during my master’s and later my PhD studies and am currently studying a specialization in finance, and it has made all the difference in the world for me.

5. Marketing only when business is slow

Here’s the one thing I’ve learned about marketing: it takes a lot of ant work. When you don’t have a large budget to hire marketing professionals and launch a full-blown campaign, then you need to make small efforts every day to build your network, get referrals, get testimonials from your clients, get the ball rolling. It’s not going to happen on its own or overnight. And it’s certainly not going to happen at all if you only concentrate on marketing when you have nothing better to do.

Greek biographer and philosopher Plutarch is often credited with saying that, “To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.” To the wise and good people out there reading this post, may my mistakes help you succeed in the future!

What Abraham Lincoln Can Teach Us About Translation


Abraham Lincoln was my favorite US President in elementary school. Unlike George Washington whose portrait and unfriendly frown hung next to Lincoln’s in class, Lincoln actually smiled as he gazed down at us from above the chalkboard. And he did so in a way that seemed to imply he was on to something huge. As I later learned in school, George Washington wasn’t actually frowning, he just had really bad teeth. But given a choice between the two forefathers, I liked Lincoln the best. I remember staring at his portrait and thinking if I could just talk to him for a minute, the mysteries of the overwhelmingly confusing world I lived in would unravel right before my eyes. A bit too much to expect from a president, I know. But who can blame me? I was just a kid under the influence of a fascinating portrait of an admirable man whose smile didn’t just make him seem wise, but also made him appear approachable. In my childish imagination, he was the kind of president you could eat a hot dog with at a baseball game as he imparted his infinite wisdom onto you.

Many people don’t know this, but Lincoln was a Republican. I never held that against him though, back then the Republican Party was far more progressive than it is today. Another thing many people don’t know about Lincoln is that he was somewhat of a self-educated man. He only attended school for less than a year and he became a lawyer under an Illinois law enacted in 1833 which stated that to become a lawyer, you had to “obtain a certificate procured from the court of an Illinois county certifying to the applicant’s good moral character.” The multi-million dollar business of law school hadn’t been discovered yet, obviously.

Everybody knows Lincoln the president, but few people know Lincoln the lawyer. It is said that his greatest skill as a lawyer was that he could simplify even the most complicated cases to a few key points. He handled over 5000 cases in his lifetime and made only one appearance before the United States Supreme Court in a case he lost, but in which Justice John McLean wrote a very long opinion where he held in accordance with Lincoln’s contentions.

At some point in 1850, Lincoln wrote “Notes for a Law Lecture”. Nobody’s really sure where or even if he ever gave that lecture, but I find it inspiring and wanted to share a few bits and pieces along with things I think we can learn from it. Of course, he’s talking to lawyers, but it all easily applies to translators as well.

1. Be Humble

I am not an accomplished lawyer. I find quite as much material for a lecture in those points wherein I have failed, as in those wherein I have been moderately successful.

Said the man who issued the Emancipation Proclamation initiating the long-hard process that would ultimately result in ending the abhorrent and immoral practice of slavery… and who preserved the nation as one during the Civil War while he was at it. If Lincoln was “moderately successful,” what does that make the rest of us? But the point here is learning as much from our failures as from our achievements.

2. Be Diligent

The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day.

I thought my mom had coined that one to get me to put my toys away, but I guess I was wrong. Diligence is a virtue in every profession, but in translation diligence results in timely high-quality deliveries; and that translates into happy and returning clients.

3. Watch your Fees

The matter of fees is important, far beyond the mere question of bread and butter involved. […] Settle the amount of fee and take a note in advance. Then you will feel that you are working for something, and you are sure to do your work faithfully and well.

See? Even Lincoln was against “the poverty cult.” Your fees should not just allow you to make ends meet or satisfy the needs at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. We all crave and deserve the items at the top of the pyramid as well. We deserve recognition for a job well done and the esteem (self and otherwise) associated with it. But, more importantly, life is too short to waste; and investing in our self-actualization is one of the few truly meaningful things we can do with our money. Our fees should reflect that and they should be high enough to serve as a means to the end of achieving whatever fulfills us on a personal level: painting, traveling, chilling out with our friends, finding shapes in the clouds, whatever else makes you happy. You should earn enough to live a fulfilling life, not just get by to the end of the month.

4. Be Honest

[…] resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.

As someone who has yet to win at a game of poker, this one’s my favorite. Honesty in translation means introspection, knowing our limitations, properly assessing our clients, admitting when we can or cannot deliver, asking for help… alas, as I understand it, it means being as honest with ourselves as we are with others. How much easier would translation transactions be if honesty were a top value?

7 Tips for Growing Up as a Professional Translator

crying baby

I don’t usually publish two posts on the same week, especially not just one day apart, but there is a rich debate going on in one of the many online forums I check out from time to time and the Professor in me simply cannot help commenting on it while it’s still a hot topic from which we can learn a thing or two.

These are the facts as I know them. A translator with a degree in translation applied to an agency specializing in technical translation, apparently in two very specific subject areas. The agency allegedly reviewed the translator’s application and –very politely in my opinion– thanked her for applying and explained that the nature of their work requires professionals with degrees in these two subject areas. They added that, although they don’t often receive much work that fits her profile, they will keep her on record in case anything comes up that matches her background.

In what to me was a very childlike reaction, the translator then posted the e-mail (including the name of the agency representative) on a blacklist group and then went on to whine about non-translators (i.e. those of us who don’t necessarily hold degrees in translation) who translate. This brings me to Tip #1: Learn to handle rejection.

As it turned out, the agency who claims to use professionals with degrees in these two technical fields also advertises very low rates on their site. Therefore, it is perhaps safe to assume that they, in turn, pay their translators with peanuts. THIS would have been a legitimate reason to blacklist the agency in question IF they had made this translator a ludicrous offer. But that simply wasn’t the case, the reason the translator was so outraged had nothing to do with rates and everything to do with her inability to handle rejection. Tip #2: Learn to focus on the big picture.

This sparked an endless and at some points even absurd debate on whether or not a degree in translation is a prerequisite for working as a translator. I’m not going to get into that debate itself because if you part from the premise that translation is not an undergraduate area of study in every country (just in some) and that there are international certification processes designed to compensate for that (which take into account academic background, experience in translation, and actual skill), the debate is rendered moot, which brings me to my third tip. Tip #3: Learn to zoom out and see the world from a broader perspective.

Although I don’t care much for the issue that sparked the debate, what I do want to get into is what the debate revealed to me about how some translators see translation. Here’s the gist of some of the comments in the discussion:

Nobody can teach me, as someone who has a degree in translation, about language or what I can and cannot translate.

In context, this was phrased a little differently and was in response to some very reasonable comments about specialization and knowing your own limitations. But, aside from the obvious appeal to authority fallacy, what this statement is also revealing is a complete lack of understanding of what an education in a specific field has to add to training/education in translation. If this person had a clue of the underlying sophistication or complexity of certain subject areas of translation, she would be more than willing to learn from field experts and to use that training and knowledge to add value to her degree in translation. Tip #4: Learn from others.

If lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc. can translate, then why can’t translators practice law, medicine, engineering, etc.?

This failed reductio ad absurdum is not even worth addressing directly; but the fact that so many people supported it reveals the massive lack of knowledge –even among some translators– of the limitations of education and training and just how much additional learning is required to do a good job as a translator. Tip #5: Learn your limitations (if you can’t even see them, you’ll never be able to overcome them).

There was also a certain level of animosity toward professionals from other areas, which revealed a total lack of self-esteem. What you say about others really says a lot more about you than it does about them. This animosity took several forms; from claims that lawyers, engineers, doctors, etc. think they are somehow “better” than people with degrees in translation to this:

Why would engineers, lawyers, doctors, etc. want to work as translators if they can make more money in their original field of study?

Well, not really. I make about the same as a lawyer-linguist as I would working at a law firm and I know for a fact (having done the actual math) that I make at least as much as a first instance judge with 10 years on the bench (in Argentina, which is where I live). I am not the exception to the rule; people with similar backgrounds make as much money from translation as I do. The question is what makes YOU (translator) believe you CAN’T make as much as an engineer, lawyer, doctor, etc.? Tip #6: Learn to respect your profession and value its worth.

These self-proclaimed translators without degrees in translation are stealing our jobs.

Of course we’re not. We work and thrive in different markets and the world is big enough for us both. If you are the kind of translator who works in a market where a translation degree is the sole prerequisite for translating (where experience, specialization, subject-matter training, etc. don’t count or can be replaced by a certificate that reads, “yes, this person sat through a few years of translation school”), then you can’t compete with me and you have a lot of catching up to do. If instead you are translator with a degree in translation PLUS the added value of subject-matter education, training, specialization, experience, etc. then perhaps I can’t compete with you and I have some catching up to do. However, given our respective positions in this debate, as things currently stand, we’re aiming at different target markets. Tip #6: Learn to identify what league you’re in and who you are really playing against.

It is no accident that all my tips begin with the word “learn.” Growing up professionally is a learning process. It can be at times painful (especially in the beginning) and at times incredibly rewarding. But we must all go through the process of growing up if we wish to succeed in any walk of life. This leads me to my last tip, lucky #7: If you feel you have nothing left to learn, then there is no doubt you have failed.