How can you define a ‘premium’ translation? Opinion by Juan Pablo Sans Palacios

I know this topic may hurt some egos, but I think that, the same way they are entitled to have their opinions, a discerning voice can have its own room. Just as a warning: I am not a native English speaker, nor do I pretend to be one. So please excuse me if I don’t sound as native.

Now, with that in mind, let’s go down to business. What is the premium market? According to many colleagues, it is a market reserved for the best in their profession in few fortunate combinations (especially in the German and/or French combinations).

Clients pay top money for them because they are “premium translators”, that St. Jerome has blessed with a “divine” gift.

However, I differ a little from this view.

In my honest opinion, there is no such thing as a premium market. Or not at least something that is only reserved for the gods of translation.

And I say “gods of translation” because, unfortunately, many of those claiming to be premium translators seem to feel they are entitled to the lion’s share while the rest of mortals will fight for the little spoils sweatshop agencie s will leave.

However, the main problem with this approach is that they are not offering a roadmap to achieving it besides vague advice such as “be a better translator” and “specialise”.

Why is it vague? Because, unless you are just translating in your leisure time, most of translators I know are qualified with BAs, MAs, Doctorates, or at least with enough in-field experience to fit the bill.

And they are making huge efforts to become “better translators” and “specialise”.

The other argument I have seen they offer is that you need to go through extensive years of experience and expert knowledge in the field they are translating (they go as far as to say 20).

The problem with this approach is that I effectively know many translators who are way more experienced and way better than many of those who label themselves premium translators, yet they cannot access the premium market because they don’t know how to do it.

Or they simply were born in situations where a premium market is not available and cannot change it.
So, “being an excellent translator/writer”, “specialising” and “experience” are not the decisive factor to entering the premium market. 

Don’t get me wrong.You do need to be a good translator, have experience and a specialisation in order to enter that premium market.

The other argument I hear them is that they translate “divinely”, and therefore, their skills are rewards.
Again, I think this last argument is not true. 

Why I say so? Because, first of all, saying so basically looks down to the rest of excellent translators out there that are not in the premium market by dismissing their skills as “mundane”.

Secondly: objectively, at least in my opinion, there is no way to measure if one’s translation is better than someone else’s unless put under circumstances where an error or a better translation will give a win to a client or avoid them a problem.

This last point goes in line with what any marketing theory says about sales: you need to have a clear offer that aligns with your clients’ deep needs and desires, which are Wealth, Health, and Relationships.

If you can give your clients more success with wealth, health and relationship through your translation, or else if you can avoid them a problem in those three big niches, you probably can be considered a “premium translator”.

Therefore, in my opinion, a premium translator is the one that understands that some clients will require a premium service while others will require a bulk service because they perceive the value of their work differently.

For example, a company that needs a mere description of something will not pay a premium for that translation. 

However, the same company will not give a sweatshop agency the translation of their landing page that is meant to convert visitors into sales (your translation gives them Wealth).

Or if a vaccine for Covid-19 is being developed, doctors need a precise understanding of what is being developed with the translation from an expert in that field (your translation is giving them Health).

These are simply marketing principles applied to perfection: right message to the right person in the right time in-line to what they want.

Paradoxically, those who you see around calling themselves premium translators REFUSE TO CALL IT marketing and sales, and can go as far as to hate marketing and sales, even though some of them claim to be experts in marketing translation.

Don’t get me wrong: marketing alone won’t make the trick. As said above, if you are not a good translator, you cannot be part of the elite. And you need to be a subject-matter expert.

That said, I think the idea of waiting 20 years to be part of the elite is past gone. W e are living in times where a 25-year-old consultant can get a million-dollar retainer. Just as a clear example: in the last 5 years (2015-2020) we have had the emergence of TikTok, the decline of Twitter, the rebirth of LinkedIn, the creation of chatbots, the sunset of FB pages and the emergence of FB groups, the disruption of ClickFunnels. All of them in the field of social media only! And all these topics already have experts getting paid top dollar for those skills. And, believe me, all these topics need a translator who is a specialist in those areas too! Not only that. According to many studies, 85% of the job positions to be available by 2030 haven’t still been created yet. And they need subject-matter experts, and translators who are subject-matter experts too!

With the amount of information that is freely available or at a fraction of what it used to cost 20-30 years ago, the idea of translators to go through 30 years of experience to be regarded “premium” or even have a seal of approval by your colleagues to become experts in any field is, at least in my opinion, outdated. I bet any translator who understands the concepts of marketing and studies from REAL experts (not another translator selling “for translators” courses) can easily become part of the premium market by the age of 30.

Unfortunately for me, I started understanding these concepts of marketing at 31, yet the difference in these 2 years is BRUTAL, gaining some foothold in that “premium market”, and I am sure in 2-3 years tops I will have a full portfolio of premium clients.

That’s at least my opinion. What do you think guys? 

Article re-published from a Facebook post, by Juan Pablo Sans Palacios, English-Spanish Translator and Owner of Tradcreation