As they say in Swahili “Ahadi ni deni”: “A promise is a debt” or if you prefer French “Chose promise, chose due”. Here is the interview I promised. Glenn Cain is a truly experienced translator. Before founding The Yndigo Translation Agency, he held various positions in the profession, including Head of the Legal Translation Services department at one of New York’s largest translation agencies, account manager, team leader, project manager, for over 10 years…
Well anyway, I guess he’s more qualified to talk about himself than I could ever be – in spite of his great modesty…
So, here is the interview. It’s pretty long, but it’s worth spending a bit of your precious time on. Sit comfortably and enjoy!
1. Hi Glenn, can you tell us a bit about yourself? What brought you into translation business?
I got my M.A. in French literature and then went to France on a teaching fellowship. I then came to New York—my wife’s home town—and looked for jobs using my language skills but ended up working in temporary positions for about a year.
A friend of a friend told me that the law firm Cravath Swaine & Moore needed translators and editors for an enormous financial litigation. I passed their test and ended up spending more than a year on the project, eventually heading up the editing team. By the end of the project we had completed 186,000 pages of French-to-English translation, much of which passed through me. It was a very educational job and I felt very lucky to be a part of it.
2. We all heard about your web site. Can you tell us more about it? Do you get clients through the website, for example do prospects google “French legal translation” (or “French-English legal translations”, or “English-French legal translation”, or whatever keyword you’ve optimized for), click through to your landing page(s) and convert to clients?
When I started my company in April 2007, I knew we needed a professional looking website but I set it up and proceeded to pursue clients the old fashioned way, i.e., word-of-mouth, personal contacts, etc. I never thought we could compete for Google ranking with bigger companies. However, I started looking at web marketing and everyone suggested I blog. I knew nothing about blogs but the format made sense as a way to establish an expertise and give clients – if they do land on my site – a sense that someone has put a lot of thought into the company, which is not so obvious from a static website. I soon realized I enjoyed writing posts.
As for getting clients through the web, I’ve gotten very few through our website. Our ranking still isn’t very high. And even if we achieve a bigger presence on the web, some would argue that our clientele – attorneys – find their translators primarily by asking a colleague who he uses rather than using the internet. So no, not many clients find me through Google; maybe I need some tips on optimizing my site.
3. Your take on a translator’s website. More generally what part do you think a web site should play in marketing translation services? What about SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?
Websites are essentially the new business card. A simple clean website is a good idea for anybody in business these days. But SEO is another challenge entirely. Many many people on the web are trying to crack the SEO code. Some do it well but it takes a lot of time, which many translators don’t have.
In another industry I follow –cycling–there’s a man I admire who achieved great SEO success in a very natural way. Sheldon Brown worked in a small bike shop in Newton, Massachusetts but because he began publishing his bike repair articles on the internet in the early 1990s (when internet marketing was very new) he slowly became the bicycle guru, and is now known to just about anyone who’s ever shopped for a bike part. Just Google “derailleur” or “bike chain” or almost any bicycle component and his page will near the top, despite the fact that he passed away a few months back and nobody updates his site. Of course it doesn’t hurt that every bike blog and forum on the internet still talks about Sheldon all the time. So his SEO happened naturally based on his real desire to share knowledge.
4. Your take on marketing. Do you think “marketing” is really necessary for freelance translators/interpreters?
Marketing can be very useful to freelance translators and interpreters, but they should make sure they have something special to offer. The ultimate for a translator is to establish a reputation among their clients and fellow translators as the person to go to in a certain language pair and specialty.
For example, when I get an Italian-to-English translation in financial derivatives, I have one person at the top of my list. And this is because the first time I had a similar job, I called some “general business” translators and they told me it was “over their head” and gave me his name. How he established this reputation I can only guess that he associated with other translators through the ATA or other associations and promoted himself as the “real deal” in financial markets.
Sending resumes still works too, but it’s important to be specialized these days. My older translators do 6 languages and 10 “general” specialties, and do them very well; I use them all the time. But when something more obscure comes, I start scanning new resumes.
5. Apart from the web site, do you do any “marketing”?
I’ve done some direct mail marketing, both introductory letters and postcards. They were met with a small response; however, in general I think the impact of direct mail is fading. Clients rarely need your service at the moment your mail lands on their desk so you hope they keep it around until they do.
Also you can’t say much in a letter or postcard that differentiates you from other services. I’m sure my clients have read a thousand postcards saying “we’re committed to quality,” “we care about confidentiality,” “we’ll beat your deadline,” etc., etc. I think the true difference is an agency’s knowledge of its subject, something clients can only come to appreciate through a long-term relationship.
6. Now Glenn, do you like “repeat clients”? Do you implement a cool CRM (Client Relationship Management) system? Any “loyalty program”?
I love repeat clients. We have some smart clients who come back to us because they realize we’re learning their subject and getting better with every document.
One-off projects are fine too but you realize after the job is done that you could have done even better if you had more time. Attorneys sometimes work on the same matter for years and it can be invaluable to learn their preferred style and terminology. I try to use individual translators in the same way.
7. What led you to launch the Yndigo Blog? It seems the blog’s readership essentially comprises translation professionals (Almost all comments are by translators), whereas the website targets prospects and clients for your translation business. How do you manage that?
I felt I had some knowledge to share and now I find I like to write. Once you get started though, you realize you should try to keep it up and post regularly, which I don’t always find time to do.
Yes, my readers are mostly translators. I have no delusions that my direct clientele will be spending much time on my blog. Lawyers are busy. So from a marketing or client communications point of view, it’s a very indirect approach. In contrast to the bike blog I mentioned, which is able to communicate directly with its customers, I’m communicating with my vendors. But that communication is important, too. It lets me talk to my vendors about serious things, but in a candid way. And if potential clients ever “listen in” on the conversation, they’ll see that Yndigo is a knowledgeable company and that translators are true professionals and put a lot of thought into their profession.
8. What’s your take on translation tests?
Now that I’m in the blogosphere, I see that translators generally hate them. And I can understand why. I think if an agency requests a very short test for a very specific reason, like winning a bid from another agency, there’s nothing wrong with it. But we have to be honest with translators in these situations. And with clients.
A client often requests a test, and then the agency gives it to their top translator in order to “pass” without even knowing if that translator will be available if the job comes in. This is dishonest. The client should be told that translators are freelancers (strangely, many don’t know this – they think each agency has a room full of their own translators) and that if they want the person who did such a great job on the test to do the full translation, they need to make allowances in terms of time.
With regard to agencies asking for translation tests from every translator before authorizing them, this seems extreme. Some agencies are trying to pass ISO requirements and formalize their quality assurance and they feel that this will help. But translation tests really show no indication of the true skills of a translator. As for the suspicion that agencies are trying to piece together large translations for free, I hope this is just urban legend. I can’t imagine that an agency is very on very solid ground if they resort to this.
9. You have a highly specialized translation company. What’s your take on generalist v/s specialized translator?
As I mention above, I think globalization and the internet has forced us all to specialize more. This is not to say that a generalist translator or agency can’t thrive but savvier buyers are now more able to go looking for people who really know a subject well. I would say Yndigo Translations is specialized but there are other agencies with the same specialty and just looking at other industries I can imagine specializing even more. Look on the internet and you’ll find stores devoted to ball bearings or blinds or dog toys.
10. Your take on MT, is it a threat?
I’ve posted a couple times on whether MT represents a benefit or a threat. What makes people in translation nervous about MT is that it seems to be the only topic in our industry that reaches the general public. General newspapers give it much more press than they do human translation and our clients sometimes falsely believe all translation is done by computers now. So when we’re asked about it our natural reaction is to set people straight about how machines are still way behind humans. And conversations like this can turn ugly when a client that’s hoping to cut costs sends raw machine output to a translator and asks to have it edited.
On the other hand, you have large translation companies investing lots of money and research to make sure that, if and when MT becomes the new model, they’re not left behind. But it’s sometimes a blind scramble. I think all of this has created confusion about where we are with MT and what role humans will continue to play. It’s obvious MT will play a growing role, as it should. Lots of progress has been made and MT is a fascinating field. But the need for client education – and translator education – has never been greater.
11. What are your plans? Where do you want to be in 2025?
Wow, I’ve never looked that far into the future! My sons will be 27 and 25 by then and I hate to see them grow up so quickly. As for my business, it’s been very rewarding on many levels and I hope it continues to afford me an interesting way to make a living.
12. Who is your best client (I suppose it should be possible to answer this question without “naming names” – for reasons of NDA!)? What is so special about him/her?
My best client is very educated about translation and knows how the business works so our discussions are on a higher level than with other clients. He has used other services, some he likes, some he doesn’t and he knows Yndigo’s strengths and relies on us for high quality translations and good service, especially in certain subject matters.
13. Who is your “worst” client (I suppose it should be possible to answer this question without “naming names” – for reasons of NDA!)? What is so especially terrible about him/her?
I don’t currently have a “worst” client but one memorably bad client in the past was an attorney who seemed convinced that he was a much better translator than we were, only he didn’t have the time to do it himself. So he essentially treated us like typists and then would edit the translations until they were bleeding red ink, at which point we had to diplomatically disagree with almost all of his corrections. It was a difficult situation; he was paying us but we couldn’t sign off on (certify) a translation we didn’t agree with.
14. With Web 2.0 we now have a great variety of online networking venues. What do you think is the future of Social Media Marketing and how does apply to the marketing of translation services?
At 40, I’m not so old but when I first logged on to Facebook, I felt ancient. Everyone is so hip and spontaneous. I like Linkedin and see it as a very useful venue. I think the internet and social networking are good steps in levelling the marketing playing field. You don’t have to have the resources of a huge corporation to be able to get a lot of marketing leverage from some of the sites offered. And even big corporations find themselves trying to understand them because traditional marketing and advertising isn’t as effective on younger audiences. Social Media Marketing and viral marketing seem to be incredibly powerful tools.
15. What do you think of Translator Power ;-)?
When I first saw Translator Power, I thought, “this site has everything a translator needs.” The site has so much good information. I check back often and look at your links and older articles. Anyone who wants to break into the translation business – or anyone who wants to promote any service – will find such great things. The site’s a must!
16. Thank you very much, Glenn
Thank you, Amadou!
And thank you all!
P.S. Click here to download your copy of “The Insider Guide to The Strategic Marketing of Translation Services“, the book no translator/interpreter in his/her right mind should even think of going without :-). Or maybe you’d rather take a look at the Free Preview first? This is the book you’ve been waiting for so impatiently: it’s here NOW. And did I mention I’m now working on the 2nd edition, which will be much more complete, but also with a higher price (yes, there’s going to be a price rise!). Now here is the deal: if you get the book now (at the current price), you’ll get the 2nd edition for free. So why wait any longer…!?
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