Takeaway: Managing a translator database

Ever since I founded my small translation business around 1997, I have managed my agency’s freelancer database. I have always been proud of it, thanks to the fact that it contains the details of several thousand native freelancers representing a total of over 250 languages.

However, by the time you feel your translator database is complete and well-functioning, and everything appears to be running smoothly and efficiently, some of your translators are bound to have gone out of business or decided to raise their rates to a level you cannot afford. Or perhaps the quality of their work will have deteriorated due to personal problems or a shift in interest. This necessitates a constant inclusion of new freelancers in the database and the filtering out of the inactive ones included at an earlier point in time. There are basically two ways a freelancer or vendor can gain entrance into my database: either by my invitation through a campaign in a given country, job posting or direct contact at a translation portal; or by the freelancer finding my company on the internet and subsequently sending me an application by e-mail. The former is typical of representatives of rare, exotic languages, while I receive applications from major language translators by the bucketful every day. It takes considerably more effort to locate capable exotic-language translators, agree on a mutually acceptable rate with them, test them and eventually include them in my database than to secure a reliable Russian, Spanish, Chinese or Arabic translator, for instance. However, the extra amount of effort is rewarded by higher-paying projects and much less fierce competition, which means that once I have an exotic-language freelancer in place, I can expect monetary and reputation-based results, although not always instantly.

When a freelance translator finds my agency on the internet and submits an application for inclusion in my database, I weigh several factors. Some of these I apply consciously, some others automatically. I read translators’ motivation letters and résumés, search for mistakes in their English and in general do my best to establish whether they are flexible, accurate, empathic and professional enough to deserve a chance. When I deem the candidate appropriate, I start talking to him or her and discuss the possibility of a cooperation. I use instant messaging programs for this purpose, as I believe that interactivity yields better results than off-line conversations. When a mutually acceptable rate is agreed upon, I have the candidate complete a short test in his or her specialty, and if he or she passes the test, which is evaluated by one of our well-established native speakers of the same language, I send out our two-page nondisclosure agreement to sign and return. The process is similar when I get in touch with a given translator myself instead of waiting for an application, except for the initial trust that in such cases is already established from my side — but which can be lost pretty easily, too, at such an early stage.

When I contact translators, it often happens that they are not yet familiar with the way international cooperation takes place, and in such an event, I am more than happy to explain the ins and outs of our profession. I conducted a major campaign in Iceland in the summer of 2001, and 37 native Icelandic people responded and expressed an interest in providing English into Icelandic translation services. I soon decided in favor of one who exhibited all the traits of a reliable translator. He had never done any translation work before, but had a university degree and a strong interest in getting engaged in freelancing, and his communication skills were excellent. I taught him the basics of the profession and started sending jobs his way. He has been working for my company for ten years now, completing at least 1,000 Icelandic projects for us without a single complaint ever being received of the quality of his output. His appreciation for the regular assignments I send him is attested to by the fact that to this day, I have been his only client.

I have always enjoyed communicating with translators and editors, thereby getting to know their ways of thinking and their cultures, and this constant communication is one of the things that keeps me moving ahead.