Canadian French translator presents anecdotes and advice
In Quebec, du gros bon sens aptly describes Objectif clients by Canadian translator François Gauthier, a slender volume just over 100 pages long written in French. The translation of du gros bon sens is it just makes good sense, as the book does. Written in an intimate and accessible style, and illustrated by the author’s quietly elegant black and white photos, the book doesn’t pretend to be a compendium of everything a translator needs to know or a hefty technical reference. Rather, drawing on his own lengthy experience as a freelance translator, Gauthier offers valuable advice and encouragement to younger colleagues or newcomers entering the translation and language industry professions as freelancers.
Gauthier’s book covers all the usual bases: how to get started as a freelancer, how to set up your office, what equipment might be necessary, pricing, how to organize your time, how to identify your client base, and the ins and outs of selling. Initially, I found some of the advice quaintly outdated. Anecdotes dating back to Gauthier’s early years as a translator only added to that impression. The anecdotes also suggest that Gauthier has lived a charmed life.
For example, I deeply envied Gauthier’s descriptions of collaborating with his life companion, who typed and revised his translations. Taken at face value, one might conclude that to succeed as a freelance translator requires the patient and loving support of a wife with agile fingers.
As old-fashioned as it seems by turns, however, overall Gauthier’s book succeeds as an authentic, “tried and true” account that functions as much as a welcome, if at times avuncular, pep talk as a reference. Decades working as a professional translator in both the public and private sectors and, finally, as a freelancer, have given Gauthier a clear understanding of translators and translation. He understands that many translators tend to be perfectionistic and cerebral, which are strengths when it comes to doing the job, but the flip side of these strengths means translators also tend to be introverted, timid and insecure — all liabilities when competing for clients.
Reading on and between almost all the lines, helping translators move past their innate weaknesses emerges as the book’s primary objective. And the most important message? Success as a freelancer depends on self-respect as a skilled professional who consistently adds value while at the same time carefully nurturing relationships, relationships with collaborators, suppliers, family, friends and colleagues, and clients.
Gauthier carefully and thoroughly describes the many circles that surround us, starting with our families. He counsels a “soft” approach to sales, suggesting that the freelancer first approach prospective contacts and clients for “advice,” a strategy that leverages everyone’s need to be needed, but also can provide a wealth of information and even more contacts. Those contacts might ultimately become clients. To build and strengthen relationships with ever-widening circles of contacts, Gauthier suggests that freelancers keep notes about each individual, notes that include business-related facts as well as more personal information.
In addition to developing contacts and clients through a series of ongoing one-on-one communications, Gauthier also stresses the importance of professional associations. A long-time, committed and active member of professional orders first in Ontario in the Association des traducteurs et interprètes de l’Ontario and then in Quebec in the Ordre des traducteurs, terminilogues et interprètes agréés du Québec, he strongly suggests becoming a member of at least one if not more associations. Of course, simply joining is not enough; to get the most out of any organization, a freelancer must participate actively. In addition to providing a rich learning environment and offering opportunities to gain visibility as a professional, professional associations provide a pool of potential revisers willing to exchange services. Such an exchange, Gauthier writes, is a must for novice translators working solo from home.
Offering obvious, if often neglected, advice, Gauthier reminds freelancers that courtesy and appearance still count for something in a 24/7, profit-driven world.
Placed next to a hefty tome like Profession traducteur by Daniel Gouadec, Objectif clients might seem a tad lightweight. Like Gouadec’s book that describes the reality of translators in France, however, Objectif clients is firmly rooted in a specific geographical context, a Canadian context. That said, and despite its discernible Canadian slant, for francophones and francophiles alike, Gauthier’s book is beautifully written and inspiring. My one hope is that eventually the content will be updated in a new edition.