Lesson 132: 7 translation business paradoxes that are surprisingly true

Lesson 132: 7 translation business paradoxes that are surprisingly true

Though the business world may seem paradoxical, especially if you’re facing tough and puzzling situations at various stages of your career, I’ve identified some translation business paradoxes that are in fact true. Even more so, they’re true and helpful. Sometimes looking at sentences that make you think twice forces you to reconsider your beliefs and convictions.

So in this article I wanted to share 7 of such paradoxes with you hoping they’ll provide some food for thought.

1. The more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed.

As business people, as translators, as perfectionists, we’re very tough on ourselves when it comes to failure. We’re often doing all we can to avoid it or even putting ourselves in situations where we may be risking failing. And of course, we’re doing that because we want to succeed, not fail. But what if failing more equals, in fact, succeeding more?

2. The more something scares you, the more you should probably do it.

Of course marketing is scary! Of course going to client events is intimidating! Of course giving a talk gets you out of your comfort zone. What I learned with time was that the more scared I feel in business, the more I should do it. And it pays.

3. The more you try to argue with someone, the less likely you are to convince them of your perspective.

As seen on social media, endless arguments make both sides only more adamant about their own views. One of the most important lessons in business for me was to understand that letting go may not be the quickest, but it’s by far the surest way of getting heard.

4. The more choices you have, the less satisfied you are with each one.

Applies to me, but also my clients. The sooner I “get” the client before he or she looks at several providers and collects quotes from a number of them, the happier they are. It’s subconscious. This one is for the ladies: a few weeks ago I really wanted a new clutch (as in: REALLY). I found the perfect one online and went off to get it at the weekend. Of course, when I got to the department store and I wandered around looking at all the other bags, I ended up liking my perfect bag a bit less. Not that I liked any other one more. I just had too much choice. Simple psychology.

5. The best way to learn how to become a better translator is to become a client.

Believe me, one of the most important lesson in business for me was to buy a few translations from others. You can learn the bad sides, of course, seeing colleagues you trusted before miss deadlines or make typos, or just behave “unprofesh”. But the amount of positive learning experience you can take away from seeing marvellous work is worth it.

6. If we want to educate our clients about translation, we must first educate ourselves about our clients.

Over the years, I’ve heard many colleagues claim that we need to educate clients. Of course, it’s true, but we shouldn’t attempt at doing it knowing very little about clients ourselves, or we’re risking boring the other side or worse – misadvising them. If we want to educate, we need to know the audience first.

7. If we want to make money as a translator, we must concentrate on the work — not the money.

Perhaps quite controversially, in the light of the heated debate on translation rates, I’d like to reiterate: if you want to make money as a translator, concentrate on the work, not the money. Of course, I’m the first person to tell you that you need to do your maths, have your financial goals and track them, but don’t let that make you loose sight of the actual work. Time and time again, analysing my income, I see that I make much more when I focus on translation than when I focus on chasing big bucks.

What about you? What are your paradoxes?


  1. Angélique Olivia Moreau , on Jun 30, 2015 at 15:25 Reply

    I absolutely agree with number 5, and this point is valid for careers in various branches.
    As an example, many years ago, I had often student or summer jobs in the hospitality industry, and everytime that I booked a room or checked-in somewhere, experiencing frustrations or wonderful service, I reflected on my own work and tried to emulate what was good and avoid replicating mistakes.
    And don’t start me on attending a foreign language class 🙂

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jul 10, 2015 at 12:24 Reply

      I think putting yourself in someone else’s place is generally a good idea – you get so much priceless insight 😉

  2. Haydée Menna , on Jul 1, 2015 at 01:13 Reply

    Dear Marta,

    I will make comments on some of the points:

    1. Failure is a lesson. At first, we feel upset, but we have to analyse the situation and we will surely learn a lesson from that experience.

    2. Sometimes, if there is a situation which scares us, we run away, but then we wish we had faced that situation, because we have the feeling that we missed something valuable because we were afraid. It is positive to be a bit scared when facing challenges, because they make us be on the alert and help us succeed in the end.

    3. Absolutely true. The more we try to convince someone of our perspective the less we will get. I believe that the best way is to let facts speak for themselves. Actions speak louder than words. In the long run, facts will show that we were right.

    4. In my particular case, if I have too many choices, I get confused. This may probably be applied to clients as well when they have to choose among several translators…

    6. Absolutely. Sometimes, I have to be careful not to be carried away by my emotions. We love speaking about what we do, but we have to be careful not to make people feel bored on the other side.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jul 10, 2015 at 12:21 Reply

      Good points! I believe in particular that what you think about 4 can also apply to a lot of us – myself included 🙂

  3. Suzanne Smart , on Jul 1, 2015 at 08:24 Reply

    So did you get that clutch?! 😉
    Another great read Marta and yes, it certainly does give some food for thought.
    That image is driving me crazy by the way – why doesn’t it bend?!!

  4. Allison Wright , on Jul 5, 2015 at 11:34 Reply

    I found a paradox, quite by accident, in a blog I wrote about three years ago; it is in the last sentence:
    “There is, however, a certain fidelity to one’s source text that has to be observed… Even if a source text word has twenty possible synonyms in the target language, the context narrows that possibility down to two, say. Then, with the incisiveness of a butcher cutting up a carcass, we choose ‘the one’. A great deal of deliberation is often required before one can be so incisive.”

    The full blog is here: http://wrightonthebutton.com/2012/06/10/what-goes-through-my-mind-when-i-translate/

  5. Amaury Lainé , on Jul 7, 2015 at 07:46 Reply

    Good morning Marta,

    Once again a thought-provoking article!
    I would like to come back on the 6th point. I recently took part in a CPD seminar organized by the German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators (BDÜ) about Management and one speaker said something very interesting: clients don’t need to be educated, they need to be ADVISED! At first, I thought educating and advising your clients was the same, but after giving it some thoughts, it realized it was completely different. Indeed, educating implicitly involves that the one teaching – the translator – is not on the same level as the client, who is being taught. And I have the feeling that this happens a lot in our industry: as many clients out there know near to nothing about the translation industry, we sometimes feel “superior” and give away to the urge to act like teachers and educate our clients about what we do. However, I think this is clearly a mistake because clients certainly feel in the way we communicate with them that we do not consider them as equal. Nevertheless, once you start advising your clients, you place them at your level instead of considering them as “inferior” subjects who need to be educated. And, according to me, this is when the magic happens!

    To cut a long story short, I think educating ourselves about our clients or anything relevant for our job is of paramount importance, but advising our clients rather than educating them is equally important as well!

    What do you think?

    Best regards,

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jul 10, 2015 at 12:51 Reply

      I think that I use the term ‘educate’ in its modern meaning – we as translators know more about our subject than the clients, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are in any way better and in turn the clients teach us about their subject in the process of our collaboration. In this sense, both translator and the client have advisory roles. The difference is that translators usually know they need to learn more about their client, the client is often unaware on needing to know more about translation (and what to find out) 😉

  6. Anne-Sophie De Clercq , on Jul 13, 2015 at 19:46 Reply

    Thanks for this great post, Marta! I think you’re right… The 3rd point is really interesting. When I don’t agree with someone (client or not) I always find it much more usefull (although hard most of the time) to “agree to disagree” in order to reach a solution that fits everyone. Of course, it is linked with the 5th point, put yourself in your interlocutor’s shoes. Sometimes, those won’t fit quite well, but it’s always worth trying!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jul 17, 2015 at 07:44 Reply

      I agree, it’s always worth to try and reach a compromise, even should we not get there in the end – it shows the client that we are open to discussion, but know our worth at the same time.

  7. Jonathan , on Oct 24, 2015 at 13:49 Reply

    Hi Marta, glad to have chanced upon your site today. What you wrote truly resonates with me. And i definitely agree with you that we need to have the right focus. It is indeed important, Too often, we focus on the money (putting the cart before the horse) when we should be focused on delivering our best. As professionals, we owe our clients our hard work and efficiency. A well-written post. Congratulations Marta.

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