When the people you work or intend to work with seem to be constantly blind to your marketing efforts, the quality of your translations and/or all the benefits you and your services (potentially) represent for their business, it’s often easier to go along with the tide and just admit you're hopeless instead of fighting back and making a stand through self-confidence, talking (with your clients, your potential clients, your colleagues and, perhaps, yourself) and devising a set of business and marketing strategies reloaded.
So, how can you avoid falling prey to downtime as a result of feeling undervalued?
1. Know your own worth. As freelancers, we need to be fully aware of every step we take and use all our predictive skills to preview how our actions will have an impact on our business in the short run, as well as in the long run. Therefore, if you measure your success as per one single metric, you’re bound to fail to gain a balanced perspective of your strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons of your current business plan and the advantages and disadvantages of applying this or that approach to a particular project. For example, letting customer feedback be the only way by which you measure the quality of your work and your overall success as a freelance translator, editor or proof-reader may lead to your feeling undervalued whenever things don’t come out as expected in spite of your efforts. It may also lead to underestimating yourself, which may hinder all chances of progress for a long time. Of course, I’m not saying the feedback coming from the people who will actually use your translations is irrelevant or useless, because even negative criticism and random, uninformed feedback may provide for a basis of constructive analysis of your work if it falls in your steadily optimistic as well as patient hands. However, if you constantly let customer feedback have the last say on your overall performance as a freelance linguist, you are likely to be paralysed whenever you receive unpromising comments. As a result, you may be unable to create a plan to overcome the challenges posed by negative feedback and mostly unwilling to give yourself another chance to brush up your skills and show the world what you’re made of.
Feeling undervalued is often one of the main reasons why translators are, actually, undervalued. If you tend to view the glass half empty when things go wrong and do little to nothing to change your own perception of yourself and your performance, you’re not helping others value your work. If you don’t show enough self-confidence and thirst for providing top quality language services, why should others bother to trust that you will? If you never challenge your agency client with a call-to-action to have your rates raised based on a number of unbeatable reasons in your favour and theirs, then why should they even remember you do have a right to set your own rates and/or negotiate your payment conditions instead of agreeing to the agency’s terms for the next hundred years?
2. Know you can make a difference. Freelance translators need to be confident that they can make a difference in other people’s lives by working for and with them in order to help them bridge cultural barriers. As true, enthusiastic entrepreneurs, they need to familiarise themselves with their own strengths and weaknesses to better address their business in a manner that will be profitable, recommendable and enduring, even when customer feedback doesn’t sound exactly promising, recommendable or endurable. They need to be able to strike a balance when the results they’re getting are not the sort of outcome they would have expected. They need to plan ahead and think in retrospect. They need to carefully craft a marketing plan in order to have prospects see them the way they see themselves. They need to be ready to deal with virtually all kinds of criticism—not just from their clients—and be willing to bounce back. Success and failure are relative terms, not just because they sound like family, but because they can be actually subject to relativism. Just like every extreme, there’s always hope for a middle way. So if you feel undervalued by customer feedback, try not to lose the balanced perspective you’ll need to bounce back. Make a note of what you think you’re doing right and what you feel you could do better. Write down your own perceptions regarding your business plan, your goals and how you have attempted to accomplish them. Compare and contrast your notes with the results achieved so far or for a particular project, decide on what seems to have worked best for your business in general or your project in particular and pause to consider how customer feedback may or may not be connected with a) your approach to the project; b) your approach to your business; c) your approach to... life. Is it a project-specific issue what seems to have resulted in such feedback? A problem with how you work in general? A personal issue interfering with your concentration at work?
3. Don't forget your self-confidence! No matter whether customer feedback is right or wrong, never give up on yourself. Know you can make it better. Know you can learn from your mistakes. Know customer feedback is not often irrevocable. Know that you need to believe in yourself as a professional freelancer long before you receive any kind of feedback that may either boost your confidence or leave you feeling like you should never have gone freelancing in the first place. Confidence is not something you will build upon overnight. It’s not something you can build up, use a few times and forget to maintain in the long run. Yep, Confidence needs maintenance too, just like your car or your hairstyle. Confidence is perhaps the most important skill every freelancer needs to work on in order to overcome the challenges and obstacles posed by the market and industry they choose to break into. It is what will ultimately define the way they respond to such difficulties when they strike. Together with Creativity and Imagination, Confidence is the basis for strategic thinking and planning. Sometimes clients like to make preferential changes to our translations, and that's all right, as long as they understand that a preferential change is that: preferential, meaning out of their own preference, meaning not an error on the translator's part. Now, if out of 5,000 words, 3,000 have been marked up with preferential changes, you ought to let your client know this figure surpasses your power to comply with their new, previously uninformed preferences.
So if you’re feeling undervalued…
4. Balance your facts. Don’t just stick to the comfortable approach of attributing all the responsibility for your low self-esteem to your clients, your potential clients, your colleagues or “the translation industry”. Balance your facts: Why do you feel X is undervaluing your work? What can you do in order to become more positively visible in the translation arena? How should you tell X you’re feeling undervalued because they don’t seem to be valuing your work? In any case, speak up. Talk to X. Voice your feelings. Have X listen to what you have to say. Offer to help them help you feel valued, just like you offer value to them by doing a great job most of the times they hire you for a translation project. Explain how you expect them to act or react based on the top quality of the services you offer, the added-value you are providing them with, and the many rewards they are reaping, or could reap, thanks to you. Don’t make light weather of customer feedback. Of course, it matters. But don’t forget to stick up for your work. Be ready to contradict feedback by means of reliable linguistic and non-linguistic sources regarding your field of specialisation. Be ready to use all the resources you have in your power to show your client their feedback is always welcome, provided it shows respect for you as the translator in charge and relevancy to the project and deadlines in question.
5. Be ready to stick up for your work. If you don’t have one yet, create and memorise a motto. This could be a word, a phrase, a memory, an image or just about anything you feel you could cling to if something goes so wrong that you could lose all respect for yourself and what you do for a living. Take Harry Potter, for instance. The boy was a wizard. He survived Voldemort’s attack with the aid of his mother and became “The Boy Who Lived”. And yet, yet, he was human. He was vulnerable. When Dementors turn up in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, he’s scared to death. No wonder! Dementors are magical creatures who have the power of sucking out the soul of a person with a kiss, literally. Now, I don’t know much about Harry Potter, but I know this: when Harry learns that in order to beat a Dementor he needs to be emotionally prepared to conjure up a nice memory and stick to that image during the Dementor’s attack, he knows he stands a good chance of beating it. He’s still afraid of Dementors—who wouldn’t be, anyway?!—but he has built up some confidence. And in spite of all his fears, he knows what course of action he needs to take whenever those awful creatures attempt to suck out his soul in the near future. He has a plan based on emotional intelligence and he kind of trusts that it’s going to work.
In Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel The Help (2009), there’s a white baby girl called Mae Mobley who often feels sad because she never gets her shallow mother’s attention, except for when she’s made a “mistake” (my commas, because the girl is innocent). Despite her mother’s scorn, Mae Mobley’s self-esteem is constantly boosted by her loving and caring nana, Aibileen, with whom she spends most of her time during her mother’s absence. Aibileen is a wise black maid with tons of experience in raising white children who loves Mae Mobley as if she were her own daughter. Whenever Mae Mobley’s spirits are down because of her mother’s lack of attention, care, tact or self-control, Aibileen prompts Mae Mobley to repeat out loud the three short and memorable sentences she’s taught her: “You is kiiiind. You is smaaaart. You is important.” Those three sentences alone always manage to give Mae Mobley’s spirits a boost despite the many difficulties she’s got to face as a child who’s constantly led to feel she keeps falling short of her mother’s expectations and society’s standards of beauty. The point is, having a motto to go back to when results look unpromising can help you gain emotional stability and confidence whenever results make the future of your translation business look nothing short of bleak.
Finally, we know that failure and feeling undervalued are both likely to be part of a freelance translator’s life, no matter how good they are at what they do. But if you have a smart plan in place, a more or less clear head to try and look on the bright side of, hopefully, everything that comes in your way, and a thirst for learning (and remember, in learning you will teach), by the time the sky gets a little unclear, or just too cloudy, you’re bound to see the silver lining you need in order to keep going strong.