Category Archives: Offering premium-level service

Mad Men

Homer Simpson parodies Mad Men

“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days,” wrote columnist Doug Larson. Men —and women— possess selective memory: we all like to remember the best bits of the past, to time travel back when the present looks and feels unbearable, sad or preposterous. That’s one reason behind movie remakes and TV shows such as Mad Men. The pleasant past feels more glamorous and acceptable because it is less noisy than our present.

Our harried present is a slave to quick turnarounds, yesterday deadlines and high productivity. In our lives, both personal and professional, we rush with an even faster step, a bouncier spring, towards a dazzling goal or destination. Once we arrive there, be it in the form of a quarterly sales number or a high manufacturing output, we seemingly can’t wait to be back on the road, to get our speed fix again. Software companies, cellphone makers and twitterers are racing toward the next build, the next device model and the next 140 characters with bated breath, as the squirrel being chased by a dog. So, up she goes on a tree only to gaze forward to the next tree.

Famed Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is known for having sped from rags to riches in five years. But there was a 3-year span that separated the release of Goblet of Fire and the Order of the Phoenix. On the outside, it is generally assumed that an accomplished writer can churn out books with ease. In a TIME Magazine July 2005 interview with Lev Grossman, Rowling admitted that her writing could stand some editing:

I think Phoenix could have been shorter. I knew that, and I ran out of time and energy toward the end.

Regarding Goblet of Fire, Rowling added: “In every single book, there’s stuff I would go back and rewrite. But I think I really planned the hell out of this one. I took three months and just sat there and went over and over and over the plan, really fine-tuned it, looked at it from every angle. I had learnt, maybe, from past mistakes.”

The so-called new field of transcreation, which is none other than copywriting in a foreign language, involves penning slogans, taglines, brand names and other advertising copy that energizes the potential buyer-reader with the same conviction and desire as the English copy. Whether it is marketing copy, poetry, fantasy novel or health care benefits, writing is writing. Good writing can be motivated but cannot be rushed. Good writing follows the same goal but different morphologies in different languages. The phrase Just Do It doesn’t sound so snappy and hip in other languages. David Droga, chairman of Droga5, recently stated that “…for every iconic line like these, there are a hundred failures. Writing bad copy is easy, which is why the majority of advertising feels disposable.”

The translation industry is awash with technology-based promises of faster, higher productivity, perfect renditions in foreign languages, seamless software localization and priceless product placement in overseas markets. Stand back and listen to the noise before you make a determination. The ongoing crush that purveyors of language services have with their technologies conflate time to market with delivery readiness. As first impressions last for a long time, for good or ill, why rush a translated document to the market where it runs the risk of being seen as amateurish or careless by the consumer?

If you really care for your message to the customer, choose your translation writers carefully. Perhaps what you write is all they will know about you. Do you want them to base their buying choices on poorly written copy in their language? If you still think that writing is easy, here’s an exercise for you: write your life’s accomplishments in 3 minutes. It is not that easy, is it? You have to sit down and think about what words to use. After all, these are your accomplishments, you should feel proud of them. How will you communicate that pride, that swagger? What’s the difference between I did 3 years of accounting at Kohl Industries and In my 3 years at Kohl Industries, I streamlined the accounting department operations, achieved annual savings of $35,000 and modernized record keeping?

The only translators that are worth your time are those who care about your image. They don’t come cheap, but they enjoy writing with a purpose. A penny for your thoughts.


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Filed under Advertising, Marketing, Offering premium-level service, Translation as writing, Writing skills

Yes, I am a premium translator

Premium shoes by Louboutin

Christian Louboutin black pumps with their hallmark red soles

During a short vacation in London in March 2009, I came across a book, The Tao of Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, written by Mary Buffett and David Clark. It’s a small pocket book, but I felt I needed it. I started reading the first few pages on the flight back to Cleveland, then left it in my library for a while. A long while.

21 months later, I found myself in need to read something else besides The World of Words and God is not Great. Perhaps I could find something that would help me understand better the mind of the businessman. I am no stranger to the concept of business, since I went to a business high school. I know the basics of reading balance sheets, understanding return on investment and keeping low debt.

I resumed my reading at Rule 23 (“Anything that can’t go on forever will end”). On Rule 25, Buffett says that accounting is the language of business. One of the variables in any business is cost, which has to be a small percentage of your revenue to make any type of profit. Cash flow is another variable to keep an eye on. Perhaps your costs are low but if you have a cash flow problem (ie, your sales are mainly seasonal, such as snow removal), then the business will not survive unless you increase sales or leverage it heavily.

I kept this point, that accounting is the language of business, in the back of my head as I continued reading tonight. In Rule (or Chapter) 33,  Buffett talks about how corporations grow by buying other companies and he sees such companies in two categories. The first one includes companies that have what he calls a durable competitive advantage. The second category includes what he calls commodity-type businesses, which he characterizes as companies “with low return on equity and erratic earnings.” I will attempt to translate into layman’s terms these two categories: category 1 is comprised of companies that have a high-value product or service, thus standing out from the competition in the long term; category 2 is comprised of companies that offer low-price products or services and get a very thin margin of profitability. They make money by selling in bulk.

Now, allow me to extrapolate these two categories to translation companies. Category 1 language service providers offer a high-value, high-priced service. This high price is due to the fact that their service is a durable competitive advantage, it adds value to your own product or service. This value is high because it can generate a durable business relationship or partnership, regardless of the economic or industry ups and downs in America or elsewhere.

Category 2 language service providers, on the other hand, offer a low-priced product or service because it does not add value. It is predicated on high volumes and low returns for the provider. The provider’s relationship with you is only as durable as its margin of return, which is razor thin due to the highly competitive nature of today’s translation market. Because this provider knows you can replace him with another low-cost provider at any time, there is no built-in loyalty in their relationship or partnership with you and he or she will try to lock you in with an upsell, such as a proprietary project management tool or CAT tool.

Compared to most translators that you can find on auction-style portals such as Proz, Translators’ Café, ODesk or Elance, I am expensive. The values I offer you are trust in your company, a durable partnership and enthusiasm for your product or service. My excellent writing skills are the frosting on the proverbial cake.

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Filed under Offering premium-level service, Public relations in translation, The business of translation