When you start your career as a freelance translator, what you might not realize off the bat is that, as solitary as the translation process may be, every job you take on makes you part of a specific working environment. That environment might be the smallest there is, including just you and your client, or it can be very large and complex, for example in multilingual, multiformat projects involving many people and many processes.
As a professional, in order to be truly efficient, you need to understand your role in that environment, and the tasks needed to fulfil it. For that, you usually need project management — in the broadest sense of the term and in its various expressions.
You, the project manager
From the perspective of your own business, and in your relations with clients who are not really aware of the translation process, you will become de facto your own project manager: issuing quotes, suggesting deadlines, requesting or applying specific style guidelines, explaining some constraints to the client, invoicing, etc. The better you are at those tasks — i.e., at managing your own projects, — the more profitable your business can be. For example, establishing precise, professional quotes and realistic schedules will help you make the most of your time, which is essential for a successful freelancer. Clients will also be more confident in your professionalism and competence, which is always an asset in a most competitive market.
Project management skills might also help you broaden your professional horizons. Freelancers may pool their time and resources to offer their services as a team in order to get larger and more profitable jobs. That requires impeccable coordination, communication and management, but the financial benefits are usually well worth it.
The project manager as your main contact
Many independent professional translators work for translation agencies and similar organisations, in projects big and small. In such contexts, the actual project management is out off your hands, but remains a large component of your professional life, since project managers will be your main (or only) point of contact, the necessary link between you and the work to be done, and how it should be done. It is therefore very interesting to understand that particular world and your role in it right from the start of your career if possible.
To begin with, it improves the quality of the work. Knowing the various steps that might be involved in translation projects enables translators to better understand the processes that are required of them, the importance of deadlines, and the reasons behind some instructions or requirements — such as character limitations due to some technical constraints for example. It is obviously not necessary, nor useful, for translators to be appraised of every single aspect of individual projects, but being aware of their role and their impact in a project definitely makes them more efficient and productive.
Having a better understanding of project management also improves the relationship between the translators and the actual translation project managers. Understanding the other person’s tasks and duties, including the limitations of the project manager’s role, will improve communication. Constructive feedback can be given, realistic requests have a better chance of being fulfilled. This will benefit everyone, since an open, efficient communication between the parties involved is crucial to the success of any translation project.
Nancy Matis, Anne Masè, January 2015