Published on 03.09.2022
Diana Rhudick is a 30-year veteran of the translation industry, specializing in business, legal, and marketing texts. She is ATA-certified from French into English and Spanish into English, and holds a master’s degree in translation from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Currently, she divides her time between her freelance work and project management for a boutique translation company. She also currently serves as president and co-webmaster of the New England Translators Association.
The global pandemic on the world economy has led to diversification of skills and services becoming a trending concept. As a result, language professionals are finding creative ways to remain competitive and profitable. One option is to offer project management services. The Division of Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines Project Management Specialists as those who, on a project-basis, “analyze, and coordinate the schedule, timeline, procurement, staffing, and budget of a product or service” (U.S. Bureau of Labor 2021). In addition, 2021 data published by this Division lists the top industries that employ the largest number of project managers (PMs), an estimate of 743,860 nationwide. Of this estimate, 53,680 PMs, earning an average of $49 an hour, are specifically employed in the Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services industry, which encompasses a myriad of groups and major occupations.
These groups, where most likely PMs for translation, interpreting, and localization projects are found, include Management; Life, Physical, and Social Sciences; Legal; Educational Instruction and Library; Computer and Mathematical; Business and Financial Operations; Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media occupations; Healthcare, and several others. These findings illustrate a professional path, not only for those language professionals seeking to work in-house, but also for freelance translators and interpreters who may not be aware of this potential for additional revenue. To gain deeper insight and understanding on how to tap into this path, I spoke with Diana Rhudick, project manager for a translation agency and freelance project manager for her own clients. Diana recently presented the ATA Webinar, “What Do Project Managers Do?,” and provided practical information on how freelance language professionals can add project management services to their portfolios. Diana also discusses the desired skills and qualities of project managers, and how understanding, developing, and applying these skills can benefit and enhance a translation and interpreting (T&I) language professional’s ability to negotiate and subcontract projects.
Actionable strategies for adding project managing to language services
Since translators and interpreters are often managed and guided by PMs employed by language service providers (LSPs) and businesses of all sizes, the notion of a freelance PM is not that common. Could you explain what is a freelance PM? Can freelance PMs lead and manage projects in any field and specialties, or is it a best practice for them to work specifically within one or two specializations?
In my case, a freelance PM is a project manager for only one translation agency. I have certain hours and days that I work, very similar to a part-time job. A big difference is that I can change my hours if I’m working on my own projects, and I take time off according to my own schedule.
Project management has more to do with management skills than with specializing in a specific field, such as aeronautics, or German language and automotive topics. That said, it would certainly add value to your work if you specialized in managing the types of projects that you also translate. While we might say that this “double specialization” is a best practice, I don’t think you would have many opportunities to manage only the projects you specialize in.
The global pandemic has widened the landscape for PMs by creating innovative work infrastructures across major industries, improving cloud-based collaboration spaces, thereby causing greater awareness and the need for remote and hybrid jobs. Could you share two specific examples of how freelance PMs can leverage the new opportunities of working remotely? What is a strategy you have implemented that has helped you balance work and life while remaining productive managing projects in a remote setting?
When you work remotely, you can manage projects during the day (since you will most likely need to contact vendors and clients during the day), and translate at night, without wasting commuter time—and gas money—in between. Remote work also allows you to interact with the translation clients in your time zone during the day, and manage projects in an earlier time zone after 5 p.m. your time.
I don’t mean that I work all day and all night all the time, though! I love being able to schedule doctor’s appointments and go shopping in the middle of the day without the crowds, which is possible if you accept that you’ll also have to work some nights and weekends.
A major reason why the freelancer lifestyle appeals to me is this very flexibility and nontraditional schedule. You could say my strategy is that I’ve realized I work best by engaging in a variety of activities, some business, some pleasure, throughout the day. If you know that you are a very nine-to-five personality, you can structure your day accordingly, and even pick certain days just for translation, with other days just for project management.
Whether intentionally or as part of their daily work activities, most language professionals— freelancers and business owners—are already managing their time, resources, and assigned translation and interpreting projects. Should language professionals view themselves as PMs and include this experience in their CVs to show project management skills? In your experience as a veteran translator, is it a good strategy to provide translation services while managing projects for several clients or the same client? What are some advantages you have experienced as a result? Are there any disadvantages to watch for?
Language professionals should absolutely view themselves as PMs! Your attitude toward this part of your job will tell you whether or not you should pursue project management for others. If the answer is yes, then you can describe your experience on your résumé with wording such as “successfully completed 20,000-word translation on urgent basis while maintaining high quality”; “collaborated with translation team to create project glossary and complete project on time.”
My personal view is that it is much less confusing to manage projects for one client at a time, whether or not you are also doing translation for that client. That way, you are focused on the methods and requirements of that specific client; you are immersed in the details of that specific project. I do like being part of the translation team at the same time as I am managing the project. This is because I can more easily draw up a glossary and answer any questions the other team members may have. The disadvantage would be the potential for spreading yourself too thin: You can’t take on as much text to translate as you normally would if you are also managing the project. You have to expect problems and slowdowns.
Best practices and desired skills for a successful and profitable project manager-client relationship
There is an obvious advantage for language professionals who work in more than two languages. Considering that you speak three languages, is it required for PMs to be multilingual for managing multilingual translation and interpreting projects and teams? Regardless of the language combinations involved, what specific steps or best practices can bilingual professionals implement to maximize productivity and profitability for managing multilingual projects?
I wouldn’t say you have to be multilingual to manage multilingual projects and teams, but it certainly is an advantage. I believe that a minimum of some exposure to other languages and to translation or interpretation specifically is required, so that you readily understand concepts like language expansion, lack of word-for-word correspondence, or ideal interpreting conditions. Hopefully, you’re also quick-witted and can learn on the job.
The keys to productive and profitable multilingual ATA TCD News – Summer 2022 15 projects are having your systems in place before you begin, and communicating. You don’t want to waste time trying to find a Norwegian translator specializing in medical texts once the client has sent the project. Compile a database of a few vendors for your most common languages and specializations. Or at the very least, know where to look for them (Hint: ATA Directory). Have templates already drawn up that show timelines, project milestones, vendor names, etc. PM software will also have these templates.
Dare I say that the need for communication speaks for itself? Applied specifically to multilingual projects, communicating means having on hand the contact info and time zones of your vendors, writing down the project specifics and getting vendor acceptance of them, checking in with vendors throughout the project by sending clear and (somewhat) frequent messages.
In a productivity- and skill-driven, highly competitive T&I industry, soft skills (i.e., effective communication, public relations, and customer service) are often overlooked. Yet, the attributes of language professionals for working and interacting congenially, building rapport, and communicating effectively can turn short-term project manager-client relationships into longlasting ones. From your perspective as both PM and translator, what are two essential qualities that contribute to maintaining a productive project manager-client relationship? Along these lines, what are two major challenges a freelance PM may encounter arising from miscommunication during the course of managing a project? Could you propose possible solutions to these challenges?
I’m glad you asked these questions, because I’m a strong believer in building productive relationships in this field. Two essential qualities are a positive attitude and empathy. (These two go a long way in any kind of relationship.) One translator I work with is always upbeat, always appreciates that we are sending him work, and even asks us to thank the editor of his translations. Give me more like him. A few other translators act as though I’m imposing on them by sending them work, or as though they are doing me a favor by accepting a job. If both sides see the project as an opportunity to work together to produce the best results possible, the relationship is much more positive and successful.
Briefly, empathy is important for understanding the other person’s point of view to avoid unreasonable demands and gain their trust.
One challenge I face as a PM is knowing how explicit to be in my instructions to vendors. I had assumed that all editors would use Track Changes in Word to edit a translation. I have been surprised—and dismayed—to see someone highlight changes or use some other method that takes much longer to process. But I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence with obvious instructions, either.
Another challenge is learning to adjust to different work styles. I tend to be a perfectionist, hyperefficient, and punctual. Not everyone works that way. It’s not specifically a communication problem, except that acknowledging my own style and letting vendors know my expectations are helpful ways to smooth out the bumps.
Living in a technology-driven world, the internet offers language professionals an overwhelming number of options of project management applications and tools—from highly sophisticated, often cost-prohibitive (for freelance language professionals) to free, open-sourced project management software. Among so many options, what type of project management tools would you recommend? Do you have a cost-effective system or process you use?
I could fairly be described as a Luddite in this area. But I have heard good things about these project management packages: LSP Expert, Plunet (I’ve used this as a translator with no major problems), Translation Office 3000, and Axonaut.com.
One tool I sing the praises of weekly is ABBYY FineReader, a PDF-to-Word conversion program, among other talents. No, it cannot produce a clean Word copy of a file that was saved as an image with handwriting scrawled all over it, but it can produce a usable copy, and for nearly everything else, it’s a miracle worker. Of course, Trados, and I’m sure other CAT tools, can now convert PDFs to Word and retain the formatting, which is stupendous.
My own process is to record the same details about each project (client name, date, job number, assigned vendors, etc.), update these immediately as things evolve, follow the same naming system for all files and folders, send out a template for interpreter assignments (address for interpretation, date, time, topic, etc.), and maintain up-to-date files of vendors.
Marketing and negotiation best practices for freelance project managers
Personal branding and marketing, an active social media presence, contributing to the industry, and being savvy professionals are some of the recommended assets for standing out and staying current on a fast-paced and technology-oriented global market. Negotiation skills are also necessary for successful and profitable business outcomes between PMs and language professionals. Could you share three strategies that have worked or are still working for you that freelance PMs can use for marketing and finding clients? What are two important marketing strategies and best practices for ensuring and promoting the best outcome for negotiating and managing projects with agencies and clients?
I was going to say that I haven’t implemented any specific marketing strategies, because I got my current PM job when a company owner contacted me unexpectedly to see if I knew anyone interested in project management. But that one contact was the result of years of building my relationship with this woman, positioning myself as someone who knows a lot of language specialists and acts professionally.
So the most logical first step would be to contact agencies and direct clients that you already work for as a translator or interpreter. Agency owners may not even have thought of hiring someone to help out with project management, which is where you come in. Be sure to tell clients that you can find and recommend translators in other languages for them, and that you are available for managing whole projects. For instance, when I get a request for a job in a language combination I don’t have, or I am not available, I always refer the sender to other translators.
For those who like LinkedIn, you can set up job alerts (Jobs icon at top, Create a job alert button) with a filter for project management.
The third strategy is the one that has also helped me find translation clients: Join professional organizations. A good portion of my translation work comes from recommendations from my fellow New England Translators Association members. Of course, you’ll have to attend events and volunteer for activities so that other members get to know you.
Lastly, two important strategies or practices to ensure the best outcome when negotiating and managing projects: Be honest about your abilities, and remember that they’re not the only clients in town. We do need to paint ourselves in the best possible light when negotiating for work, but if we overdo it, we end up frustrated and overburdened, and looking unreliable in the client’s eyes.
The second point applies to any type of negotiation: Be prepared to walk away if the deal isn’t good for you. If you feel as though this job is your only hope, you will be tempted to accept less favorable conditions. I know that we are in a tough industry with low pay in many cases, and I know that sometimes people are desperate for any job. But just google translation agency + [any major American city], and you will see dozens, or even thousands, of hits. Find the right fit for you so you can excel at what you do.
Thank you so much for granting this enriching interview for the ATA TCD newsletter. Your experience as a freelance project manager will serve to inspire, motivate, and help T&I professionals seeking fresh perspectives about project management and wanting to learn about the essential skills and qualities necessary for offering this additional service.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2021. “NAICS 541600 – Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services.”
“Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, 13-1082 Project Management Specialists.” Occupational Employment and Wages Statistics.
About the author:
Rosario “Charo” is an accredited LATAM & U.S. Spanish language consultant and cross-cultural communicator. Charo has over 25 years of working experience translating, editing, and localizing corporate and institutional communications, education, bilingual marketing, and healthcare contents. Charo holds a Professional Certificate in Translation Studies English to Spanish from NYU and a BA in Communications from University of Denver. She’s pursuing a MA in Communication Management with a Concentration in Marketing Communication and a Professional Certificate in Creative Writing. Charo joined ATA in 2001 and is recognized for her contributions to the language industry by actively promoting the ATA’s goals through serving in significant leadership roles. Her accolades include translation awards from the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA), the 2006 ATA’s School Outreach Award, and the 2014 ATA’s Harvie Jordan Scholarship.