LSP with a Human Face: Connecting with Freelancers
By: Dr. Jiri Stejskal (CETRA Language Solutions) - CETRA Language Solutions
15 March 2012
Dr. Jiri Stejskal gives suggestions from an LSP perspective on how to develop a successful working relationship with contracted freelancers.
Most multi-language vendors could not function without an army of freelance translators, and most freelancers would find it hard to make a living without working with language services providers (LSPs). In a 2005 survey conducted by the American Translators Association , 60% of independent contractors reported that their income derived from LSPs, 35% worked for direct clients, and 5% reported “other”. On the flip side, nearly 60% of LSPs reported that they worked with at least 50 freelancers on a regular basis. Clearly, there is a strong relationship between the two groups. This relationship is often a strained one, but it is possible for it to be pleasant. Traditionally, there have been tensions between freelance translators and LSPs: freelancers sometimes view LSPs as envelope-pushers who do not add any value to the process, while LSPs sometimes view freelancers as a commodity. Understanding the value that both sides bring to the table and having a positive relationship result not only in a pleasant working environment, but also in financial profit for both LSPs and freelancers. Below are few suggestions on how to develop and maintain a great working relationship from the LSP perspective.
Blasting a bulk e-mail to dozens of translators or interpreters in search of the lowest bidder on a project is not likely to enhance your relationship with any of them. Clear and concise communication directed to individual vendors might be more time-consuming, but it is time well spent. Connecting on ongoing basis, not just when a contractor is needed for a project, also goes a long way. This can be done in the form of thank you notes, holiday wishes, get well cards, or congratulations on a new baby. Surveying freelancers periodically on how you perform as their client will give you valuable feedback. Connecting with freelancers on social media and reading their blogs will give you some insight into their lives, and will also give you an opportunity to provide your perspective in an informal setting.
With the freelance network spread around the world, LSPs need to be cognizant of regional differences. Editing, revising, reviewing, proofreading – these mean different things in different places; make sure you establish common understanding of the tasks. Welcome inquisitive translators and interpreters and answer their questions with care and precision. Before starting a project, provide your freelancers with glossaries, translation memories, reference materials, and any other relevant documentation. After the project is completed, provide them with feedback on their work, be it positive or negative. And above all, be respectful and polite in all your communications.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the relationship between an LSP and a freelancer is financial. Independent contractors expect to be paid fair rates and receive payments on time. They also expect to be paid according to agreed-on terms regardless of when the LSP gets paid by its client, or whether the LSP gets paid at all. The aforementioned survey showed that the majority of LSPs and freelancers agree that a freelance translator or interpreter should get paid within 30 days of his or her invoice. This might not be possible for all LSPs, but as long as a mutual agreement has been made (and followed) regarding the payment terms, everyone should be happy. There are several payment practices lists maintained by freelance communities and it behooves LSPs to monitor them and make sure they maintain a high ranking.
Another way to build good relationships is to attend events for translators and to invite them to LSP events, such as GALA conferences or local networking events. Attending translator conferences such as the Annual ATA Conference gives LSPs a great opportunity to network with freelancers. Some LSPs use such events for recruiting and also for sharing their experiences and perspectives through presentations and panel discussions. Some LSPs also organize events for freelancers: these can take the form of education and training opportunities or simply networking events and parties. Many LSPs are involved in philanthropic activities and translators and interpreters are usually happy to give their support; the same applies the other way around and many LSPs support their contractors’ charitable causes.
The CETRA Approach
Keeping independent contractors happy is a core part of the company mission at CETRA Language Solutions. In my role as CETRA’s President & CEO I have held leadership positions in the American Translators Association and the International Federation of Translators (Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs, or FIT). Both organizations serve primarily the needs of individual translators and interpreters, and my involvement in them gave me a unique opportunity to help the freelance community to see the bigger picture of the language industry and the role LSPs play in it. Other CETRA associates are also encouraged to serve on boards or committees of language industry related organizations, and many of them do.
CETRA engages with the freelance community on many different levels beyond the working relationship. Our annual parties for translators and interpreters that take place in conjunction with ATA conferences are very popular and well attended, and provide an opportunity for CETRA’s project managers and the freelancers to meet in person. We also host events for the local freelance community in our office – our monthly movie nights featuring language industry-related movies are becoming quite popular, as well as other networking events, such as a recent fundraiser for a global charity. CETRA also has a cycling team and some of our translators and interpreters participate in the annual MS City to Shore Ride.
We feature our freelancers regularly both on the CETRAblog and in the CETRA monthly internal newsletter – this gives our staff a chance to get to know our freelancers on a personal level and in case of the blog it also provides promotional opportunities for the freelancers themselves. To gauge our relationship with the freelancers over time, we survey them regularly and compile a Quarterly Happiness Index, a metric that not only enables us to actually measure the relationship but that provides another touch point and opportunity for the freelancers to give us their feedback.
10 Tips to Keep Your Freelancers Happy
- Pay fair rates and pay on time.
- Monitor payment practices lists.
- Get to know your freelancers personally – attend their events and invite them to yours.
- Join boards or committees of freelance organizations.
- Organize events for freelancers – educational or just for fun.
- Provide a way for your freelancers to give you feedback.
- Involve freelancers in your charitable activities, and get involved in theirs.
- Surprise your freelancers with an occasional card or phone call.
- Connect with your freelancers through social media.
- Be respectful and polite, even when there are problems.
Dr. Jiri Stejskal, founder and president of CETRA Language Solutions, has more than 20 years of experience as a translator, and has also taught undergraduate and graduate language courses at the University of Pennsylvania since 1990. Jiri is a past President of the American Translators Association and he currently serves as Vice President of the International Federation of Translators and Treasurer of the American Foundation for Translation and Interpretation.