What do you tell people when they ask you what you do for a living?
Do you just tell them you're a translator and then leave them to sit and think about it for a moment before they follow up with another question? Do you cringe a little when they ask you how many languages you speak, expecting you to say something like "5" or "10?"
The way we talk about the work we do helps to shape the way people see us as professionals. Not only is it important to get this right for your own business, but I'd argue that it's just as important for the entire market — all the professional translators out there who make a living at this!
So, how do you tell people about your translation services?
Do you also cringe at the thought of an "elevator speech?" I never liked that term... maybe because I always felt like what we do cannot be summed up in just a few sentences.
But truly… we should be able to sum up what we do in a few sentences. I don't mean we need to repeat the "bridging the language gap" cliché we've probably all used or heard some variation of at one point or another.
I'm talking about real, tangible stuff. The good stuff. The stuff our clients praise us for and want to receive in exchange for paying for our services. I'm talking about results.
So, when it comes time to talk about your translation services to someone who asks, pretend their question was really one of these questions below. It will make it much easier to explain what you do in a way that others can grasp so they can comprehend the enormous value you provide.
What results do you help your translation clients obtain with the work you deliver?
What problems or challenges do you solve for your translation clients?
What goals do you help your translation clients reach?
What do translators do?
One thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of people who don't really understand what translators do. You may even be the first translator they've ever met. This is why it's important to get it right. They'll remember what you tell them and will remember it the next time they hear someone mention or ask about a translator.
Remember, the last thing you want to do is confuse the person who asks you what you do for a living. After all, they may know someone they could refer to you for business. Do your best to avoid using translation industry jargon like "target language" and "CAT tools," for example. Break down more complex concepts into everyday language. Remove any formality from the conversation, and talk to the person as you would a friend. This also makes it easier to follow up with a question: "Do you know anyone who needs a [fill in your language pair/specialization] translator?" It can't hurt to ask, right?
Practice the way you talk about your work with friends or acquaintances who are not all that familiar with translation. Ask them if what you've told them is clear. Also ask them if they have more questions about what you do based on the explanation you gave. If they do, that means you might want to tweak what you've said a bit until it becomes clear the first time you say it.
By practicing your professional value statement (now, that's much better than "elevator speech," right?!), you see what others find most interesting or surprising about what you do and continue to hone your message over time.
Now, you tell me! How do you tell others about your work as a professional translator?