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Under-promise and Over-deliver – Interview with Paul Brown

Translation is a very diverse industry – we want to introduce some of the people behind making the world a more multilingual place. This time it is an interview with Paul Brown from the UK. Enjoy reading!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a 23 year old from the UK. I graduated in the summer of 2013 from the University of Birmingham in Spanish and Portuguese studies and ever since then I have been launching my career as a paul_brownSpanish/Portuguese > English translator. I worked at a company in Reading for 3 months reading and analysing Latin American business media and providing concise summaries of the latest news and information. For the past 4 months I have been going solo and whilst I have worked very hard it has been a very enjoyable experience and I can now say that I have picked up around 500,000 words of professional translation experience.

Here are my two main professional profiles and my contact information: Proz.com profile, LinkedIn Profile, E-mail: [email protected]

How did you decide to become a translator?

Well, it certainly wasn’t a decision that was on the spur of the moment. I have been thinking about becoming a translator since my very early teens so this was not something that I decided just yesterday. I have always seen a huge opportunity in being able helping to break the language barriers of the huge Spanish, Portuguese and English-speaking markets.

Also, I have a huge passion for continuing to extend my learning and knowledge and whilst this isn’t to say that you don’t continue to learn in most professions I don’t think there are many professions like being a translator where the field is so wide open and you have the opportunity to learn so much and pretty much anything you want. I love to read non-fiction and being able to get paid through translating such material is like a dream come true for me.

What are good or bad things about freelancing?

I would say that the best thing about freelancing is the freedom that it gives you. By this I mean the ability to work from anywhere in the world and at any time and to a certain extent, as much as you want to work and as less as you want to work in a given period. For example, there is nothing to stop you from working very hard one month and then dedicating more time to a needed break and leisure time the next month. It really feels good to have so much choice and control over your own destiny.

Maybe the bad thing is that it really is all YOU, you have to really take care of a lot of administrative tasks yourself and you have the worry of perhaps not getting paid in time or in the rarer, more unfortunate occasions, not at all. Also, there aren’t the perks that you might get with a ‘normal’ job such as free private health care, paid holidays etc. However, this is a downside that I am definitely willing to accept and it really depends on how you look at it.

In self-marketing, which factors have helped out the most so far?

Purely by building up my social profiles through making them look as impressive as possible. Client feedback has been important, answering Kudoz term questions on Proz.com and documenting my past experience on my profiles. I have a feeling that I might be one of the few translators to have not used the mass e-mail method. My strategy has just been to constantly keep tabs on the job boards and the immediate demand from agencies and clients. I personally think that agencies and clients are too busy to even look through an out of the blue e-mail from a random translator; I’m sure they get a lot of this.

Which of the social networks do you use most successfully for customer acquisition, which ones more for interaction with others in your industry?

In terms of customer acquisition I would definitely say that Proz.com has been the best for me. Since I have been gaining Kudoz points I have had three companies approach me via my profile. In terms of interacting with other translators Facebook has been great. In fact, through my Kudoz activity I have been able to establish some good friendships with some very experienced translators that have been in the industry for a long time. Their expertise and knowledge is second to none and any advice that they can give is very helpful to me.

In your work with clients and partners, what are you doing differently today in comparison to the early phase of your career?

Well, I am still in the early phase of my career but I have already changed some things. I have learned that two projects with the same number of words are not necessarily going to require the same amount of time. For example, let’s take a photocopied PDF document with boxes and highly complex financial terminology and then a friendly Excel file containing answers to a market research survey; I think you can imagine which one would take less time to get 1000 words translated, and a lot less time. Other than this I am trying to be a little more accommodating with my time estimations. I have been adopting the work philosophy of ‘Under-promise and Over-deliver’.

Which online and offline resources do you read on a regular basis?

I have joined various translation industry groups on Facebook and I think they are great to get a good understanding of what’s going on in the industry and other translator’s thoughts and opinions. They also make me laugh a lot! The forums on Proz.com are also a good, helpful read. I think it is very important to know where the translation industry is heading and what changes could possibly arise in the future.

Also, reading general freelancing forums is very useful. Freelancers Union is a site that I have found incredibly useful and almost all of their articles apply and are important to me. I think that a lot of freelancers are in the same boat as a lot of the freelancer-agency-client relationships are similar across the board.

How does your average workday look like?

Well I must admit that I barely have a set procedure or schedule; I really just work as per required. I certainly don’t adhere to a normal working day. I much prefer varying my work periods throughout the day and having breaks in between as my mind functions a lot better this way. I am very easily persuaded by overnight or over the weekend projects, especially if there is a lack of translators available and willing to take on the jobs and if I’m offered a greater return for my time invested.

If you could change something in your work environment, what would it be?

I would love to have a fellow translator or translators in my work environment as I think we could give each other a lot of guidance, motivate each other, exchange ideas etc. Sure, this can be done through online chat or Skype but it’s not quite the same thing for me.

Are you a desk person or more of a mobile worker?

I think I am a bit of both. I plan to travel to and live in Latin America in the near future so I imagine that I will do a bit of mobile working. However, maybe I won’t feel so comfortable with a lot of busy people in my surroundings. Certainly when it comes to translating I think desk working has to be best but it is great to be able answer e-mails and check out, apply for and discuss projects when you are on the move.

What are CAT tools missing today, how would you envision the CAT tool of your dreams?

I’m not sure what is missing, in fact, there might not be anything as there are lots of tools out there. I use WordFast Classic and I must admit I’m very happy with it; it’s rather easy to deal with and it has worked very well with me.

What would you pass on as personal advice to translators new to the industry?

It is a very competitive out here and one has to find a way to stand out. I would strongly advise setting up a profile on Proz.com and answering Kudoz term questions and perhaps competing in the translation contests. If money isn’t a huge initial worry then perhaps you could offer to translate a book for a low payment or for free and sign a contract for royalties? This is something I am looking into for the future; royalties and residual income. I know that BabelCube has a good platform for this.

Nevertheless there is work out there for sure. I would advise constantly checking the job boards. I know there are a lot of people in the industry who bemoan the low rates but if a client hasn’t got a huge budget then this is perfectly understandable. For example, if a company from Bolivia has a project that needs to be translated into English and they would ideally hire a native English speaker then I’m afraid that they are just not usually going to be able to offer their project at $0.08 per word when the average wage in Bolivia is around $200 a month. I feel that young, emerging translators should step up and take on these types of projects.

Ultimately, it is all about building up your experience and interests. There is a big emphasis on specialising and I agree with this to a certain extent. I personally think that it is important to specialise in 1 or 2 areas and then be open to other areas. For example, I am not a medical translator but I have done quite a few market research projects in this field and I have more than coped with the language used.

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