You're Only as Good as Your Last Translation

May 12, 2015
You're Only as Good as Your Last Translation

There’s a popular saying that you may have heard whilst having a conversation about productivity: “you’re only as good as your last…”, with the final word of that saying describing a piece of work relating to the field that the speaker works in. In the case of a freelance translator, such as yourself, are you really only as good as your last translation?

This Translators’ Hub post will examine the aforementioned statement, discussing what assumptions inform this popular slogan and whether it’s applicable to you.

The importance of persistent quality

At the heart of this saying is the commendable idea that each piece of work you produce should be of consistently high quality. This is something that’s really important for your clients to become dependable on – after all, if the overall quality of your translations fluctuate each time your clients commission you, then your clients may start to look elsewhere for more dependable translators.

But is it really likely that your clients will cease working with you if you submit one below-par translation when you usually produce work to a consistently high standard? Ultimately, the “you’re only as good as your last…” slogan is built on a large assumption…

People are generally more aware of negatives than positives

You’ve heard it said that you need X positive remarks to counteract a single negative comment in your psyche, right? This provides an important psychological insight into how humans, generally speaking, process information: negative results are afforded more prominence in the mind of an observer than positive results.

In practice, this could mean that your clients are more likely to judge you based on one piece of substandard work than on a whole host of excellent translations you’ve submitted previously! However, is it really likely that a client you’ve cultivated a professional relationship with over time will dismiss you so quickly?

Are clients who only judge you by your last translation worth working with anyway?

We’re all human, and even the best translators have their ‘off-days’ too. What truly sets apart the professionals from the amateurs is how they respond to their mistakes. When you make a mistake, do you always put your client’s needs first? Do you apologise and try to make amends? Or do you simply write the problem off as unimportant and leave the client floundering?

Well, if you refuse to take the latter approach then it’s obvious that you take pride in your service and look after your clients. If your client is a reasonable person (and most are!), then they should appreciate your willingness to make things right and leave the mistake in the past. However, if you client doesn’t notice this and is deeply unimpressed with your latest piece of work, despite your usual level of service and the fact that you’ve taken initiative to fix the situation, then it might be worth asking yourself whether this client is really worth working for in the long run.

Final thoughts

What do you think of the “you’re only as good as your last…” saying? Do you think it’s applicable to your work as a freelance translator? Have you ever refused to work with a client who was unable to see past a minor mistake despite your normal level of professionalism? Let us know in the comments.

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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