HABITS OF HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL TRANSLATORS AND INTERPRETERS.
1) Having world-class language skills – in translation, interpretation, or both – is key to having a great career in this languages industry. However, just like in any industry, having the key job-related skills are not enough. There are certain traits, habits and characteristics that set truly successful people apart, whether they are engineers, designers, lawyers, real estate professionals, or linguists, from others in their profession. But what exactly are those traits? Can they be learned? Or are great entrepreneurs born? Inspired by Stephen Covey’s timeless management classic, “7 Habits of Highly Successful People,” I have tried to answer this question throughout the years. Allow me to introduce two of them to you. As a matter of course, there are hundreds of traits that make people successful, and my list is not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination.
I do, in essence, believe that entrepreneurs – in this industry and any other – are made, not born. However, some traits do come in handy: perseverance, discipline, the ability to see the bright side, etc. That said, even if you work very hard, try your best, and are always positive, that doesn’t mean you will necessarily be successful, just like hitting 1,000 tennis balls a day with great attitude won’t necessarily qualify you to play on the professional tennis tour. In our profession, I oftentimes hear from beginning linguists that “they love languages and want to work in them.” I fully believe that loving languages is a key component to success as a linguist, but it’s just one of them rather than the only one. All linguists, unless they are employed at in-house positions, which are relatively rare, are self-employed entrepreneurs and face the challenging task of finding clients to pay them for their work. But what kind of person does it take to attract and retain customers and to keep them happy for years?
Something that I think is occasionally forgotten in our industry is that while we all want to be successful, have great clients, and want to be taken seriously as the professionals that we are, we can fall into the trap of forgetting the flip side: that you need to be professional to be taken seriously. This takes me into one of the most crucial habits.
2) Having a professional presence.
This means something very simple, essentially the basics of any business in the 21st century: having a strong website, good business cards, a professional e-mail address, a dedicated phone line, good email and phone etiquette, etc., yet this is still not the norm in T&I. It’s oftentimes surprising that linguists want to run a business with a Hotmail address—but would you trust a lawyer with a Hotmail address? I probably would want a lawyer who has invested enough in his or her business to spend less than the cost of dinner a year into a website and associated e-mail address, and clients feel the same way about linguists. As we continue our journey to become respected essential elements of global business, we also need to step our professionalism up on an individual level, and it starts with a professional presence, because you usually only get one shot at making a good first impression (some clichés are true).
3) Being a Porsche, not a Kia. In our industry as in all others, there’s price differentiation, meaning there are different price points for services than can be perceived by some to be exchangeable but really aren’t. For instance, in the restaurant industry, there’s a huge difference between dining at the corner deli and eating at Le Cirque at Bellagio in Vegas (it’s the meal of a lifetime, I promise). Both meals will fill your belly at entirely different price points. In the language industry, there will be clients who will always want the prices of the corner deli, but others who are willing to pay Le Cirque prices. The beauty for individual linguists is that they can decide which marketplace they want to target and which prices they are willing to accept. In general, you should shoot for being Le Cirque (or the Porsche, or the Dior dress). Know your worth and demand the prices you should get from clients who appreciate your work. Many will, some won’t – and as a freelancer, you have the opportunity to decide with whom you would like to work.
These are only two of the habits that I consider essential in being truly successful in our industry. As a matter of course, success means different things to different people, but we can probably all agree that getting paid a fair rate for your work and finding fulfillment in your work are quite important.