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Joining forces with experts is arguably one of the most important decisions you can make. Through a simple exchange, you gain access to the wealth of knowledge and insight that it took those individuals years to accumulate, and at a fraction of the cost. Leverage of this nature is not always available to people or companies of ordinary means, but one of the salient features of translation is that the costs of buying expertise are moderate. Indeed, access to experts often may cost you no more than double what you would pay for entry-level work. This is rather thought-provoking when you consider that, say, expert medical, financial and law translators are an important link in the chain for the high-grossing companies that regularly demand the best people money can buy. Even highly skilled marketing translators come at reasonable rates relative to their contribution.

For the LSP project manager, two things matter above all else: knowing your clients and knowing your translators. Advanced platforms and a plentitude of technical aspects may cloud this perspective at times, but there is no doubt that the people side of the business is the bread and butter of daily project manager work. Indeed, before project managers can do any work at all, they need to know their translators: which domains do they master, how well do they work under pressure, how good are they at working from a detailed set of instructions, to name but a few of the considerations that project managers have to constantly bear in mind. Another aspect to consider is price. Unless special circumstances prevail, however, pricing should not be getting all that much attention for the simple reason that if a client does not get the expert result they need, the opportunity to make amends might not present itself. And in my experience, a client who has paid the price of going with cheap translations in the past will certainly be amenable to the basic tenet that “expertise pays, it does not cost.”

That is not to say that working with experts is always easy. For starters, they tend to know more about their domain than the project manager and sometimes even the client. On the surface of things, this often leads to extra work for the project manager. Is the client aware that the source text is not in compliance with the latest regulatory requirements? Would the client like to have the campaign material consistent across documents? Can the client be consulted about these numbers that seem off from a statistical perspective? Important questions like these crop up every day, giving the project manager a chance to let the experts and, by proxy, the LSP shine. Over time, situations such as these work to produce one of the strongest foundations possible for long-term client-LSP collaboration. It is well to bear to in mind that generally such questions can come only from domain experts who feel respected and well taken care of. The expert who half-grudgingly accepts a price that got hammered down their throat will be mired in bad feelings about the job and will be reluctant to provide their expert opinion on top. And somebody has to pay for that. Take a guess who that will be.

On the quest to discover the best talent, it will soon become apparent that highly skilled translators, experts within their field, often are so well esteemed and so aware of their worth that it is they who pick the LSP rather than the other way around. This has given rise to a situation where the LSP is peer-reviewed, so to speak, not only by the rates they pay, but possibly to a greater degree also on a score of elements such as timely settlement, infrastructure, technical support and, not least, the quality of the human interaction with project managers. In other words: do they like you and are you making it clear to them that you have their best interests at heart? Specialised sites abound for translators looking to vet their potential LSP partner, and with competition strong there is little reason for the best translators to work with any other than the best LSP. While priorities may differ, the landscape is clear: pay me fairly, pay me on time and treat me like a human being. This is what our surveys tell us over and over again.

From a philosophical perspective, the expert translator works from a place of professional pride to produce to the highest level of which they are capable. They realise that, in part, they have a moral obligation to make the fruits of their knowledge available to the world. The more evolved their standpoint, the more keenly they will feel this urge to do good, to work for the benefit of others. At times, this basic stance may come through as critique, as a voice of discontent. This is one of the hallmarks of the expert. Translated, it means “I know this could be improved upon.” Rather than feeling frustrated at what may be seen as an attempt to be difficult or even to thwart the process, the project manager might as well lend a sympathetic ear. It could well be that the information divulged up at this point is precisely what is needed to take the client-LSP collaboration to a deeper level. In this sense, when presented with a “difficult” expert translator, project managers need to get out of their own way, ignoring what may be a personal temptation to flee the scene and just get on with their day. For if they stick around, the rainbow just might yield its fabled pot of gold: knowledge hitherto unseen and now available for the taking. Worth its weight in, well, gold and something to be leveraged in the client relationship.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to work with people who are like them. People who possess the requisite domain knowledge, people who know how hard you work to get things right, people you can identify with. Once you have built a solid roster of experts and domain knowledge is anchored within the company, you will surely become known in the business as the place to go for domain expertise. Then you are like them as they are like you. And with this basic identification in place, value originates at a different level. You are then on that plateau that combines trust, quality and expertise. And it will take a Herculean effort to oust you from that exalted place of operations.

Philip Philipsen

Philip Philipsen:
Philip is married with two sons aged 4 and 7.
When he is not at work, he is particularly fond of reading and good food. A graduate of the University of Copenhagen, he also spent three years studying at universities in Tokyo and Hong Kong. If dreams could speak, they would tell of his cherished desire to travel the world with his family.