Perception is Reality, Even for Freelance Translators

Perception is Reality, Even for Freelance Translators

This is a post I recorded the other day while driving around town, which is why it sounds much more colloquial than my usual posts.


One of the things that I’ve been talking to my kids about lately is the idea that perception is reality.

It’s a situation that they come across a lot, actually.

For example, a friend thinks a certain way and is convinced that it is the correct way. My son, though, thinks the friend is wrong and has facts to back it up.

In the end, though, I have to tell my son, “look, the way people perceive things is their reality for that just like the way that we perceive things is the reality for us.”

If a teacher gives you a bad grade, because he perceives that you’re not doing the work or not putting forth the right efforts, regardless of whether you are not, that’s his reality. Just because you might think that you’re putting in the work and you’re doing the right things doesn’t change his perception of what the teacher thinks is right.

And believe it or not, this happens with you all the time, too, whether it’s in school, at work, or even in our own families.

Let’s take another example.

If you’re married, this happens all the time.

When I clean the bathroom, I think it’s clean after I’m done. However, when my wife comes to look at it, her perception is that the bathroom is not clean. But I can’t tell her that that’s not true. Because for her, it is true that it’s dirty just as true as it is for me that it’s clean.

OK, so what does this have to do with translation?

Translation Reality or Translation Perception?

Well, actually, a lot if you think about it.

First of all, the way you perceive your clients and the way that your clients perceive you matters a ton. In other words, how satisfied they are with your product or service and how satisfied you are with them as a client.

Let’s say you have a client. Well, it’s your duty to make sure that the requirements for the job are laid out in such a way that both sides (you as the translator and the client) know exactly what is required, what is needed, and what’s going to be done, in addition to how to measure the successful completion.

Here’s a scenario that happens way too often.

Your client gives you a set of requirements that aren’t very clear, and you take on that client, and then you don’t ask any follow up questions, and do the job how you think it should be done or how you think the client wants it to be done. You then turn that job in to the client who claims that the job wasn’t down how he wanted it to be done.

Well, who’s right?

Actually both of you are, and neither one of you are at the same time.

The client had a perception of the correct outcome for the job. That is true to the client. At the same time, you as the translator had a perception of how you thought the job should be done based on your previous experience, or based on what you thought the client wanted. You had an idea of how the job should be done. That perception formed the basis of your reality for that particular job.

However, when you turned the job in, the client wasn’t happy, and then neither were you.

That’s why communication is so important. It’s vital that both sides understand explicitly the requirements for the job.

This idea that perception is reality doesn’t only affect us in our relationships with our clients. It also affects us on a personal level as freelance translators.

Here’s another example.

Most translators don’t publish their hourly rates or per word rate.

For whatever reason, translators get skittish about doing that. Maybe they think that somebody’s going to come in and undercut them. I don’t know. Whatever the case, I don’t quite agree with it.

But that’s the reality, right?

That’s how most translators do things. They keep that rate close hold. Now, here’s the thing. If you go online, however, and look at websites like Upwork or some other type of freelancing website, you will see that there is a whole range of prices. You might have translators at the high end, you know, working for 30 or 50 cents a word, depending on the language combination and/or specialty involved.

At the same time, you’ll see translators willing to translate for half a cent a word or less. You might not think that’s true but if you go on a freelance job site, you’ll see plenty of jobs where the client is offering that much, with translators willing to work for that amount.

What that means for you is that there’s something to watch out for. And that is they way you perceive yourself as a freelance translator.

Why?

Because the way you perceive yourself as a translator is the reality not only for yourself, but for the people around you as well as your clients and potential clients.

So for example, a lot of translators think, “Oh, you know what? I’ll just start out translating for half a cent to word. I’m worth a higher amount based on my skill, education, and experience, but I’ll start out at that small amount and then move up.”

Here’s the reality.

If you are charging half a cent to word or if you are willing to work for half a cent per word, then guess what? You’re saying to yourself that the reality is that you are only worth half a cent.

Your work is only as good as charging half a cent per word.

That’s the reality.

And not only are you telling yourself that, but you’re also telling the people around you the same thing. You’re also telling potential clients that you’re only as good as half a cent per and you might say to yourself, “Oh, well. That’s okay. I’m just doing this to start out I’m going to charge more later on.”

But what you’re doing is short changing yourself about the reality of the situation. You’re creating the environment in which you are operating.

When you set ridiculously low amounts, you’re telling yourself that that is what you’re worth. If you set higher amounts on the other hand, you’re telling yourself that you’re worth that higher amount. My skills, training, education, and experience are worth worth much more than a half cent per word.

So, again, the way we perceive things in our personal life and in our professional life is the reality that we have to live.

Now, before moving on, should you go out and start charging $5 a word? Probably not, right? Because in the end, you still have to convince other people of your worth. In other words, your clients (or potential clients) need to be convinced that their perception of you and your work is the reality. If you started charging $5 a word, the perception of other people towards you would be that you’re crazy and that you don’t know what you’re talking about because nobody charges $5 a word.

So you have to not only make sure that your perception matches what you want your reality to be, but you also have to make sure that other people’s perception of you matches the reality that you want them to have about you. It’s equally important, especially when you’re dealing with a job where you’re dealing with clients. In the end, you want their perception of you to match your own perception (and reality) of yourself.


If you want more tips on how to become a successful translator, be sure to read my Translation Rules book.

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