As I started writing this text I realised there are various difficulties when it comes to describing the main subject matter of this article: project management. Unfortunately, during academic training and in the first years as a translator, there are some aspects of this professional activity that need more practical information and that go beyond the technical details directly related to the content of the translation itself.
Professional translations are much more than the simple act of transposing the content message with all its cultural and linguistic characteristics from one language into another: each translation should be seen as a project and as such they have to take into account all the planning factors, schedule and supervision that are essential to doing a good job. This means that from the moment a client orders a service (we will use the translation service as an example for the purpose of clarity), the translator is responsible for taking the necessary steps to transform the original text – the raw material – into a translated text – the final product. In order for this transformation process to occur, the linguist has to have the project management skills and the right tools for the job.
These are some of the skills I consider essential and useful for perfecting project management so as to ensure your projects run smoothly, as foreseen, and without any hiccups or negative consequences:
1. Great time management and high resistance to stress
Let’s start with what seems to me to be the most important item on the list time management and meeting deadlines. In today’s market, time is one of the most precious assets for workers and for clients, both companies and individuals. This is why the deadline and the time needed to do a specific job are fundamental before accepting and then awarding any project. Before accepting a project, think whether the time proposed (by you or by the client) is enough for the translation to be viable, bearing in mind the linguistic complexity of the text, the tools you have at your disposal and the projects that you already have in the pipeline. Delivering a high-quality translation is obviously your priority, but late delivery could be harmful for the client (because of their own deadlines or other matters of urgency) and for you, since, apart from running the risk of not getting paid for the project, you are sending a message of poor professionalism and this leads the client to look for another professional next time they need a similar service.
Invest some time in planning your day, your week or even your entire month, focussing on the tasks you have been given, setting aside some time to prepare the project, translation, revision, quality control, text formatting and any unforeseen events (because they happen to everyone sooner or later) – and on how much time is left over that can be used to contact current clients and sound out potential future clients. No matter how hard it is to admit it, the truth is that it is better to have a realistic idea of your time management skills and not accept projects that may exceed your capacity. After all, it’s your professional reputation that is on the line and, along with it, the possibility of keeping loyal clients. Some common time management practices include setting up alerts and reminders in programs such as Outlook, planning your time in a file before starting the project and constantly keeping an eye on the time you take to do a project, so that you have a realistic idea of how long you are going to need in the future.
2. Excellent organisational skills
Another elementary factor for effective project management is the ability to really manage yourself. With so many emails, translations, folders, files and so on, it can easily seem almost impossible to keep everything organised. Breathe deeply: there are some (incredibly) simple ways to do your work “without losing the thread”. Starting with the project organisation itself, one of the most common tricks is to organise the folders on your computer by client-year-month-project. This way it won’t be difficult to find files from a project even several months later. There is something else you shouldn’t forget: NEVER alter the names of the files the clients send you, unless they specifically ask you to do so.
Many translation companies send a check-list, where the linguists have to tick off whether they have done specific tasks or not, such as spell checking and quality control. Use these check-lists to make sure you don’t forget all the tasks you have to do on your projects. They don’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) very complicated: think of these lists like shopping lists – what really matters is to tick off what you have done and make sure you don’t forget anything.
3. Mastery of CAT tools and project management assistance tools
Yes, I know that CAT Tool mastery is almost a prerequisite in the translation market nowadays. However, you mustn’t just use them for translation tasks. Everyone who has worked in or with translation agencies knows that when a client sends a project for SDL Studio, for instance, it helps if the Project Manager knows how to work with that platform so they can check that the files are working correctly, create packages to send to the translators and revisers and to conduct quality control (often called QA – Quality Assessment) before the final delivery. Speaking of QA, one of the tools I consider most effective for this (and I reckon many people will agree with me here) is ApSIC Xbench, which accepts various kinds of files (including glossaries) and various kinds of checks such as spelling and terminology or consistency between segments or concordance with the glossaries that are loaded into the tool.
4. Effective communication
This topic concerns your social skills. Communication is an essential skill in maintaining your professional relationships with clients and colleagues: don’t let the pressure of work affect how you communicate with them. When you send emails (or talk on the phone) with clients, make sure that you always explain your point of view and the project conditions clearly and concisely (once again, time is a precious commodity). Whenever possible, analyse the texts you have been assigned at the beginning of each project and send as many queries as possible to the client. This way you won’t have to interrupt the work later, or waste time with sending emails back and forth to clients and translators. However, it is important that you always show you are available and offer support to the clients and the people who work with you. Respectful, friendly dialogue is essential. Be friendly/approachable and show you are available!
5. Constant networking
Just one final word: there is one thing that I believe is particularly useful, especially for freelancers, which is to create your own resource network of colleagues and friends who are experts in different areas. A wide range of contacts is essential to avoid overload and so that you can dedicate yourself to other jobs. Don’t waste time. Organise a group of people who are willing to establish a partnership with you. I would advise you to be able to count on the help of at least one person for the following jobs:
- A specialist on DTP (Desktop Publishing) – this is essential for formatting and the graphic adaptation of your text;
- IT – your best friend in times of computer meltdown. Believe me, it’s something that happens more often than we want to think about;
- An accountant – because unfortunately a business is much more than letters and the number of words/lines/pages; an accountant is a highly important resource as they can help study your situation and (re)define financial goals and the best practice for your business.
- Trustworthy translators/revisers – don’t forget, the unforeseen does happen. If you come across an unexpected emergency, you can relax knowing that you have colleagues you can trust.