Why Professionalism is Based on Respect Lessons from an Industry Controversy

  • Greater than 3 minutes, my friend!

    The beginning of this week was stirred by a little controversy in translation circles.

    On Twitter, the Open Mic and other industry networks, people were talking about a particularly brash article posted by an agency called Burg Translations (here it is).

    The article is quite brilliant – although sadly now somewhat redacted. It manages to discuss professional business ethics in a manner so completely unprofessional, it has to be a gag.

    Okay, let’s take a step back. What’s it all about?

    Well, I of course recommend you take a look at the offending article, but essentially it seeks to help clients decide in favour of entrusting translation agencies rather than freelance translators with their work.

    I was always taught not to speak poorly of the competition. But I guess that’s no obstacle for their marketing strategy.

    Except, it doesn’t really feel like a deliberate strategy.

    The article makes all sorts of wild assertions and this is what motivated me to write this blog post – to address some of the Borg’s – oops, I mean – the Burg’s points.

    Please note, I do not wish to make any comment about Burg Translations as an agency. I don’t know them, nor their work. Instead, I’ll only consider the article itself and what we can learn from this controversy. All statements made here are to be understood purely as an article review only.

    Right, that’s the disclaimer out the way…


    Crazy Assertion #1: Freelance translators are less professional than agencies


    I know and have worked with some highly professional freelancers and have also dealt with unprofessional agencies. I’ve also experienced the exact reverse.

    Although anecdotal, I’ve just shown in one fell swoop that their assertion is at best a tenuous generalisation, and at worst pure fiction.

    Many freelancers have established quality control processes, while also taking care to present themselves and their work in a professional manner.

    Established translators also often list their testimonials and references on their websites – indeed like many honest agencies do.

    Professionalism is not determined by whether the vendor is a freelance translator or an agency, but solely by how they treat you as a client and by the quality they deliver.

    Anything else is simply not true.


    Crazy Assertion #2: Freelance translators deliver inferior quality

    The article states the risk that a translator may provide excellent lifestyle content, for example, but poor medical product copy.

    This simply demonstrates the author’s lack of understanding as to how the translation industry works.

    A translator specialising in lifestyle content does not typically handle technical medical texts! The same is true in reverse.

    Translators specialise. (If they don’t, that should be a red flag).

    They have an intimate understanding of their field, or few fields or specialisation, and do not stray away from these areas (the exception is non-technical work).

    So the statement is, if you would pardon my French, bollocks.

    It continues by saying agencies not only work with translators, but editors and proofreaders as well.

    Actually, this is not always the case. And freelance translators may themselves have a network of qualified peers they use if and when they require a second pair of eyes.


    Crazy Assertion #3: A freelancer takes more time

    This may be true if a freelancer is too busy to accept your business, but even in this case you’d receive a swift response and have time to look elsewhere if necessary. So this doesn’t really stick.

    Professional translators also use technical translation software – just as agencies often do. It’s really not possible to say who is more likely to use CAT tools.

    Many agencies don’t use this software and simply send off the work to remote freelancers who may or may not use translation memories and term bases.

    In any case, it’s always best to ask which tools your translator or agency uses.


    Crazy Assertion #4: Agencies can provide cost savings

    While it’s true that using translation memories, databases and archives can make the translation process more efficient – these are all tools which are also routinely used by independent translators.

    What’s more, freelance translators have much lower overhead costs than agencies. More often than not, we don’t need to cover the costs of offices and non-technical staff.

    We can pass on these savings to our clients.


    So what can we learn about this

    As I say, I have no idea about the quality provided by that particular agency. That’s also irrelevant for the purposes of my ramblings here.

    But by posting the above article, they have needlessly disrespected the translator community and ultimately misled any clients who genuinely do need guidance as to whether or not they should trust an individual or an agency.

    Indeed, both have their merits.

    There are many well-respected freelance translators as well as many reputable agencies out there.

    [clickToTweet tweet=”It does the translation sector a disservice to drive a wedge between pro freelancers and agencies” quote=”It does the translation sector a disservice to drive a wedge between pro freelancers and agencies”]
    Lewis Dale

    About Lewis Dale

    Freelance German to English translator specialising in blockchain, finance, gaming, online content and business localisation.

    8 thoughts on “Why Professionalism is Based on Respect Lessons from an Industry Controversy

    1. I agree, Lewis! There are great translation agencies out there as well as wonderful freelance translators. I believe many times translation agencies have a bad rep for paying low rates, among other things, and this individual felt the need to explain why agencies have an advantage over freelancers.

      I think both freelance translators and translation agencies have to be really careful to not talk negatively about each other. I think both sides are guilty of having done this, and of course, reputable translation agencies don’t like it any less than freelancers when the quality and reputation of their business is questioned. However, I think freelancers are more at risk to be thought of as unprofessional by the general public than a translation agency with an established reputation, so this blog post by Burg translations was truly unnecessary. It makes more sense for a freelancer to write a blog post to explain the benefit of hiring him/her than for a translation agency to do it.

      In conclusion, it is all about being respectful of all parties and learning that we don’t always have to say what we think. It is all about us rising higher when others want to push us down. And many times ignoring articles like the one from Burg translations is the best antidote.

      1. I agree with you, Beverly, but sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Articles likes this are very misleading and they harm our reputation in the eyes of potential customers, diminishing our accomplishments.

        Of course, clients are not stupid and they will never work with someone who’s trying to prove their worth by badmouthing the perceived competition, but still it is our duty to raise the awareness about harmful practices like this one. Ignoring and letting it slide will send a wrong signal.

        This is where the power of social media becomes so evident. In a matter of minutes this articles was everywhere and everyone has been talking about. This truly shows that there’s a great amount of solidarity among translators and that we’re stronger together.

        Burg Translations might be a wonderful company to work with, but their content marketing strategy should be revised, in my humble opinion. I still don’t understand why they decided to keep this post online after so much backlash they’ve got. It’s a very bad PR.

        1. It’s so important to actively educate clients and address such misleading articles. If we let them slide, we are implicitly consenting to their message. And I can’t image the result of that being particularly positive for the translation industry as a whole.

          1. Thanks for responding to my comment, Lewis! I understand how you and many others feel the need to address this article. I just wasn’t impressed with the comments some translators made in regards to what was written. Some used swear words and made comments that were definitely not reflecting professionalism, and in my humble opinion, that’s not how any of us should handle a situation like the one we encountered with Burg translations. Addressing the issue with care and respect to the offender says a lot more about our professionalism than making comments full of sarcasm and irritation. If we say we’re professional, we need to not only say it, we also need to show it, especially during hard times. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts about this, Lewis.

            1. “Some used swear words and made comments that were definitely not reflecting professionalism, and in my humble opinion, that’s not how any of us should handle a situation like the one we encountered with Burg translations” – yes, that is not a good way to handle a situation like this one, but sometimes it is useful to let steam off (provided that was in a private setting).

              “If we say we’re professional, we need to not only say it, we also need to show it, especially during hard times.” – this need to be printed on t-shirts! Unfortunately most of us are very creative people and it’s not easy for us to keep our cool and not let the emotions take over. But at the end of the day, I think it’s just a matter of personal choice and the personal understanding of professional ethics (which differs greatly from one translator to another and is probably a great topic for another blog post).

        2. Yes, they should have definitely removed it! I also like how you said that “the best defense is a good offense.” Let’s just make sure we make those “good offenses” with class, without coming down to their level. That shows our professionalism and how we can still maintain our “cool” when a translation agency or anyone wants to make us look bad. Thanks for your comment, Dmitry!

          1. I agree 100%! We can address this kind of misleading and disrespectful content without becoming disrespectful and unprofessional ourselves. Perhaps my post is quite passionate in places, but I felt I was careful not to talk about the agency in general, but rather said article. As Dmitry rightly says, this is our livelihoods and as creative people, we may find ourselves reacting quite strongly. It may be a good idea to take 5 minutes before responding to anything – so that we can formulate a calm, professional rebuttal.

            1. Lewis, I thought your post was fabulous! I was mostly referring to other translators on twitter and other social media platforms. I love what you said at the end–it is best to take 5 minutes and “formulate a calm, professional rebuttal” than to react and write something that’ll linger on the internet forever with the potential to damage our own reputation. Precisely my point, Lewis! Thank you for being so professional while addressing this issue.

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