Oct 27, 2009

Listening to Jeffrey

I'm a big believer in interdisciplinary principles. General education. Cross-fertilization. Recently I had a very disappointing conversation with a bright 16-year old planning to go to the university next year, who informed me that German education was superior because no time was "wasted" on general education and there was far greater rigor in the individual disciplines. Right. I suppose that's why the "best" university in Germany is ranked something like #65 in the world. And why objective studies place the country nowhere near the top of the European scale.

Germany has a lot to offer. And there are many brilliant, creative Germans in academia, industry and elsewhere whose contributions will stand up to those of any others. But I could probably say the same for Iran. The stars here, as in most places, do not draw their experience and ideas from one well; instead they synthesize information from many sources and look for underlying, general principles which often apply across disciplines.

Often, translators are far too insular. We spend our days with translations. We talk to translation clients about translations. Agencies about translations and translating. Colleagues - the same. I'm sure some of our pets are damned sick of hearing about Trados. (Yes, Astrid and Russell, I can say damned and even make it red, bold and italic here ;-)

Some of my translating colleagues - successful ones generally - draw their business inspiration from many sources, most of them having nothing to do with translation when taken at face value. But these smart people understand that the principles of general education apply throughout a lifetime and are usually the basis for success. That's why so often you'll find the English major with eclectic minors and broad general education in the board room raking in the multi-million dollar salary while the specialist Ph.D. labors unloved and unnoticed in the lab. I've been there and seen it in action at Avery and elsewhere. That's reality in the professional world, and the "nerd" who makes it to the top probably has a lot more on his shelf than the engineering degree would suggest.

This long, dull pontification is my silly way of leading up to a recommendation for a man who is on my list of must-read inspiration sources. If I met Jeffrey Gitomer in person I might have to step out for air after ten minutes. Maybe not. Sharp sales types get on my nerves big-time, unless they are 100% genuine, like a certain ex-decathlete sales and marketing executive I know who cares more about the well-being of his customers and his family than he does about making a sale. He is, of course, superbly successful, and he sleeps well at night with a good conscience. Mr. Gitomer is the author of a number of books on selling and related topics, none of which I have read, though perhaps I should some day. What I do read, however, is his weekly newsletter with advice on how to meet the challenges of selling. Lately - not surprisingly - his emphasis has been on how to survive and thrive when so many do not in the current economy. On the lower left side of the home page of his frighteningly bright web site, you can subscribe to his Sales Caffeine newsletter. Some days it is really a major jolt of java.

Mr. Gitomer makes a very real impression. At least the advice he dispenses fits with the experience (good and bad) I've gathered over the years, and his suggestions for doing better are plausible. Some are dead obvious, but many are not. A lot of what he says is directly applicable to the freelance translating professional, even though his main audience is very obviously salaried salesmen and -women. Ditto for agencies looking to save their businesses. This weeks's jolt is titled "Take a Internet lesson from the big companies. Don't do it their way." Gotta love it. Don't let the screwed up indefinite article upset you, my pedantic peers, the man is sharing the wealth there, and you'd be fools not to fill a sack or two before you move on.


  1. Though I do agree with you in general, I would like to point out that this view of the German education system is only true for university level (or rather the expectations of employers looking for qualified staff). At school "general education" is emphasized very much and nobody can go to university without having done two foreign languages, two or three sciences and (depending on the Land) Math and German until the end of their school studies.

  2. Good point, Bettina. Although I am quite aware of how a gymnasium education works in Germany, others outside the country may not be. A major problem I have found, however, is the arrogant and mistaken notion that a bit of breadth in one's teenage years will give you all you need for a lifetime. My ex (a German) used to claim such things all the time, though in practice her diverse personal interests were very much the equivalent of a reasonable general education. I love the rigorous approach I encountered in my year at the Universität des Saarlandes - great depth in analytical chemistry, computer science, Russian language, general linguistics, Sumerian, Akkadian, near eastern archeology, prehistory and other subjects I took back then. But I thought it was a shame that one type of archeology student didn't mix with the others and that even within one field there was a tendency to narrow too much. And those people were real generalists compared to the rest. A combination of depth and breadth always seemed to me to be a better bet.

    We translators face so many different challenges. It's quite right to say that the markets I work with are very different from what a Russian colleague of mine might face, and it's all rather easy to get caught up in navel-gazing the differences between translation specialties, technologies, styles, etc. so that we forget that when it comes to the business challenges we face, freelance copywriters, technical editors, sales staff for products and services and possibly even the guy who operates the sandwich truck parked down the road have experience and advice that we can learn from. It's just up to us to fine-tune our filters to maximize the benefits.

  3. Jeffrey's Sales Caffeine letter provides the right "kick in the ass" (yesssss! I can say that here :) ) when one's marketing omph is starting to wane. Three others I also follow regularly are:

    www.actionplan.com - Robert Middleton also publishes a weekly newsletter



    Ah, for 48 hour days to be able to read all the good stuff that's out there...

  4. I don´t have a 48 hour day, but I like reading this blog, because Kevin hints practical information to me.

    Thanks, Kevin, for the hint to Mr. Gitomer´s website and the article, "Take a Internet lesson from big companies. Don’t do it their way."

    Big companies are like governments. They are too busy with their own bureaucracy. When a CEO is not available for the employees, the latter will become not available for the customers sooner or later.

    I have been freelancing since 2000 and I am happy that I am not so insular like many translators. There are a lot of good stuffs out there and I take as much as I can. Regular exchange of minds with other people is important for me. Listen to their honest opinions and learn from them. Or, maybe, when necessary, I tell them about me and my honest opinions. As to ideas, I don´t have much. But it´s always fun to read or listen to good stuffs.

    Thank you, Keven!

    - Sylvia

  5. Excellent entry and an even better blog discovery.

    I guess the main difference between the English and the German education is not specialized versus general knowledge, but knowledge versus the development of character and personality. I'm sorry to say (without irony) that the majority of my English contacts and friends are not from the comprehensive school attending classes, but from the "horsey" and country set, which means that my picture of the English is, while authentic as far as it goes, rather limited. That said, while I am under the impression that the "gentleman" is (or maybe was) somewhat of an educational goal among the English, this has never been of the slightest importance in Germany, isn't, never will be. Hell, the word "gentleman" isn't even translatable. (The German "Herr" is something totally different.) I was involved in the defusing of countless situations between genteel and wellmeaning Englishmen and rude and uncouth Germans.

    I passed my "Abitur" in 1970, at a time when some standards were still applied. I hold an M.A. degree in history from a German university and I consider myself generally well educated. Never had I the feeling among the English that their level of education and general knowledge was beneath my own, and different from Germany I always found that the exchange of information and ideas was considered valuable and inspiring and not as a power struggle. Maybe this is the point where the concept of the "gentleman" comes in again.

  6. Not that I consider myself to be NOT painfully German and re-reading my comment, I feel I have to say something in defence of my fellow Germans. When I'm over in England, generally after two weeks, I reach a certain frustration level and want to scream: "Cant they FOR ONCE say something original???!!!" (Of course, I never do.) The general politeness, the constant insistence on common sense and the idiomatic nature of the English language does grind the nerves of this very typical German after a while. But it always goes away. ;-)

  7. Just had the opportunity to talk with Wyhlidal - their dictionaries are on sale through the end of October, and I had a few questions about their end user licenses. They seem to be pretty in touch with Gitomer's ideas. First of all, it's phenomenal that someone picks up the phone at a German company at almost 6 pm (to which he responded "Mir arbeite' halt iiimmer"). Secondly, I didn't have to wait on hold or make my way through a bunch of automated menus. Most importantly, the person I reached there was absolutely competent and immediately able to answer my questions in detail. Quite refreshing actually.

  8. I'm not quite sure what relevance that article has to the average freelance translator. Are we that hard to get in contact with? Do we typically fence ourselves off in various ways?

    My trouble in relationships with big corporations is that I'm not bureaucratic enough and therefore don't inspire the confidence of middle managers.

  9. Rod wrote:
    I'm not quite sure what relevance that article has to the average freelance translator. Are we that hard to get in contact with? Do we typically fence ourselves off in various ways?

    Depends on what you mean by the average translator, Rod. As far as I can tell, the "average" is hardly to be taken seriously for business, won't charge a rate commensurate with the cost of living and depends on parents or a spouse (or possibly public charity) for real living costs. If you narrow the list down to the few who have the skills and are serious about supporting themselves and possibly a family and staying off the dole, then I think there are a few points to take away there.

    #1 for example. A button on your web pages for instant e-mail, Skype or ICQ contact, etc. A prospect who sees that can get to you with one convenient click if you are online. Very relevant in my experience - often the first plausible contact gets the job.

    #2 - making your contact info (including phone number) available in several prominent places on your web site. There's a fellow on ProZ (the one I affectionately call "benjo-text" in response to his generally kind remarks about my name in the German forum) who absolutely refuses to let customers have his phone number. It's too "old fashioned", and all contact must be by e-mail. This joker also has a web site purporting to offer FR, DE and EN content, but the links for DE and FR (his native languages) are dead, leaving only really badly written English pages. That's not really point #3 or #4 from Jeffrey, because he probably assumes that we're all smart enough to make our links go somewhere at least. (He doesn't know the average translator. However, perhaps "benjo" is just too busy to finish his site. I can understand that situation, because I have a number of web pages that have been "in progress" long enough for me to write a doctoral dissertation. I know that's bad, bad, bad, but even that junk brings in good clients. Go figure.)

    Point #5 is relevant to any of us who use e-mail autoresponders. I do that on one of my shared addresses that my partner and I use to ensure that customer inquiries are handled quickly if one of us is out of the office or not checking e-mail regularly. Lots of average translators as well as above-average ones use this technique when going off on holiday or out for an interpreting appointment, client negotiation, etc.

    I'll grant you that the auto-attendant (#6) isn't relevant to most freelancers except when they try to call their customers who use one. I can't say the world would be a better place without those things, because I translate for one of the internationally leading providers of them, but I am happy when I get a person instead of a machine on the phone. I despise voicemail, so I've programmed my office phone system so it rolls over to a second handset if one of us is talking on the first. Obviously a bad idea if you are alone, but it works for an office with 2+ people.

    I don't expect every one of Mr. Gitomer's points to be on the mark for my needs, but many are, and for those that aren't, even thinking about "why not" can bring me to some useful conclusions. Every week I'm offered a fresh selection of such treats to pick and choose from, and I take what's useful and leave the rest for the crows. But they often don't end up with a lot.

    Rod commented further:
    My trouble in relationships with big corporations is that I'm not bureaucratic enough and therefore don't inspire the confidence of middle managers.

    We'll all hit that wall from time to time. Sometimes you can find a strategy to win anyway, sometimes not, and I'm sure the local cultures play a big role here. But there is a lot of other work out there, and that confidence may eventually come when they hear from their golfing and drinking buddies what a crack translator that hakujin is.

  10. Somewhat relevant to this topic, here's a Twitterer who started following me today.
    Despite the unpromising, er, domain name, the links are all to articles on issues that I've had an interest in at one time or another, and even now.

    This is the first Twitterer I've run into that I feel it might be worth following.

  11. I see you're going hog wild in the social media echo chamber ;->

    I bet in the end that quietly doing translation work and then enjoying your free time will prove more profitable than chasing after loopy followers.


Notice to spammers: your locations are being traced and fed to the recreational target list for my new line of chemical weapon drones :-)