This week our blog features a special contribution from one of our English translators: She shares her experiences in the translation industry and offers an interesting perspective on the role of project managers.

So… years have passed gaining vital experience as a technical translator, initially under the strict guidance of a supervisor, revising, correcting, encouraging, at times blunt but nevertheless helpful. So then, on to the “real-life” role as a freelance translator.

As an indicator of my age, the arrival of the Internet was a breath of fresh air, bringing a range of opportunities into the field of translating and creating countless opportunities for immediate contact with clients.

The changeover from using direct contact with clients and specialist dictionaries to using the web for research was mind-boggling. How to research the specialist subjects was the main challenge, sifting through the tides of information online, learning to recognise a reliable authentic text from flawed or amateur source material. The attraction and curiosity in the new technology helped speed up this learning process, soon to be followed by the introduction of translation memory software – another remarkable development for translators and agencies alike. All these changes I took in my stride, keen to develop professionally and keep up with the rest of the world.
With hindsight, these new aspects of my profession were reasonably simple to take on board, especially when compared to the other tasks and skills I needed to acquire when starting as a freelancer from home on a permanent basis. I naively imagined the transition to be smooth and straightforward, just a simple change of location, but I could not have been more wrong. Unless I simply had intended on working for a single client with little likelihood of advancing my career, I needed to acquire a variety of skills in time management, client relations, accounting, promotion and marketing techniques, problem solving abilities and new technologies.

And here we come to the main subject for discussion. Across the web we can find thousands of blogs, forums, discussions on the pros and cons of freelance translating versus in-house positions. The classic reasons behind opting for a freelance role are flexibility, choice, specialisation, financial gain. However writers often gloss over the amount of time a translator has to dedicate to non-translation tasks, simply to survive in this sector. These are not to be taken lightly, and, as in my case, certainly not relished.

In my opinion, the role of the project manager is often neglected and merits some due attention. A translator with a Smartphone organiser, and efficient Excel spreadsheets recording work is simply not enough. When debating these pros and cons, the role of the middle man, i.e. the project manager, can really swing the balance. Aside from actually running the business, contact and communication with clients is an all-important factor in the work of a translator.

At the beginning of my career, training in-house, it was left to the translator to contact the client directly when needing to clarify a number of points regarding a translation. In most cases, this was the ideal solution, and worked both ways, in that the translator cleared up any doubts regarding terminology, phrasing etc., while the client could see proof of commitment and professionalism in producing a quality translation. With the introduction of new technologies, this direct and personal contact between the translators and clients was soon to diminish, and the combination of translation memories, relocation for home-based freelance work, and centralised agency management of clients meant that the “middle man”, i.e. the project manager, was destined to grow in importance.

So who are the ideal translation project managers? Many insist that they should be translators first, project managers second, but this is not necessarily so. The outstanding skills needed in a project manager are the ability to multi-task, to communicate, to find targeted solutions to problems arising on a day to day basis, to keep a positive outlook when dealing with customers. Hence the ideal characteristics include being people friendly, customer focussed, excellent time managers, combined with a professional awareness of the entire translation chain, and flexibility in their approach to each task required of them. The project manager plays a pivotal role in balancing the needs of the client with the workload of translators, with the constant aim of delivering quality translations within reasonable timeframes for both. A translation project manager takes away this burden from translators, while giving added value to their work, generating a sense of involvement in a team. It is not a question of delegating, but rather sharing the daily tasks involved in the process of translation, leaving the translators to concentrate on their specialism alone. Given a choice I would vote for this system every time.

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