I Don’t Just Write, I Translate (& I Speak Only English)

by Randy Murray on November 1, 2011

I’m a professional writer. There’s really only one qualification for that: other people pay you for what you write. You can have any training or background and as long as you can convince someone to pay you for writing, you’re a pro. If you can get paid on a regular basis, you’ll be a successful professional writer.

And, according to what I read on the Internet, there are a lot of people who really want to be professional writers. Some sign up with content farms, chaining themselves into virtual sweatshops, working hours for pennies. I feel for them. That’s no way to live as a writer.

I personally charge a fairly high rate, what you’d likely be charged by a good quality lawyer per billing hour. How can I do that when other people can’t even make minimum wage?

It’s because I do more than write well: I translate.

And I’ll now reveal my secret on how to do that: you have to listen and understand what someone inside business is saying and convince them that their customers and clients don’t use the same language as they do. And this secret can be applied to any type of service or product that a freelancer can provide. I can hire any old graphic designer for a project, or I can hire someone who understands my products and my customers. That changes the discussion from one about prices and costs to one about capabilities.

I’ve spent many years inside businesses, many of them at the cutting edge of high tech. I know how to talk with designers and engineers and programmers and managers and executives. I make sure that I hear what they’re saying and collect what they think is important. Then I find out who they need to communicate with and build a model of how that type of person talks about their problems and issues.

And then I write for that person, translating the information I’ve gathered into something for that target audience.

This approach works for technical materials, but it also works for virtually everything else. It’s been my experience that almost any organization creates its own way of talking about its industry and products or services. And I’ve also found that very rarely do their customers talk about things in the same way as these organizations do. As a writer I can stand in-between and translate, hopefully in a way that not only communicates with the customer, but also lets my customer see how to communicate better in the future.

Spend day after day inside a business and you’ll find yourself talking exactly like everyone else who works there. At first their terminology and jargon is strange, but you’ll pick it up before long. You’re now part of the problem. When I work with a client, I learn to speak their language, but I also learn the language of their potential customers. I work hard not to be part of the problem. Sometimes my clients insist that they’re right, but they only have to step outside of the corporate bubble and talk with a customer to see that their internal jargon and specialized language simply doesn’t work in the country of the customer.

This approach works the same way for virtually any project. I’ve written for tech companies, marketing agencies, telecommunications giants, political campaigns, and fashion retailers. All are very different businesses. All need help translating.

A good writer is a partner, someone whom those in an organization can work with to help them communicate with the natives. If I do my job well I can not only write for a client, but help teach them the language of their customers as well. That doesn’t typically work me out of a job — it ties me closer to a client. I’m more valuable when I’m not just a “content creator.” I’m someone who understands their products and their customers.

That’s valuable. It’s not a commodity. I’m difficult to replace with another “body.” If you’re a freelancer providing a service, this is the role you’ll want to play.

The I Don’t Just Write, I Translate (& I Speak Only English) by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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