Success story mini-series: Teaming up to secure our future as freelance translators

In recent years, the language industry has experienced various changes, not all of them beneficial to freelance translators. Today more than ever, it seems essential to join forces in order to secure our future in this profession. This observation led to the creation of our translation collective, Syllabes.

How it all began

In 2016, two freelance translators based in France, Claudia and Cécile, started reflecting on how to team up to future-proof their activity. The continuous improvements of machine translation and the ever-greater concentration of the translation market in the hands of a few big agencies seemed reason enough for them not to adopt a wait-and-see approach but to proactively shape their professional activity. They worked out the fundamental principles of the structure they wanted to create, and then started contacting other colleagues to find out if they would be interested in joining them. Several took up their offer, and the group spent extensive time on finding the best ways to work together. Complicated administrative procedures slowed them down somewhat, but couldn’t stop them, and in May 2018, Syllabes was born!

A company without a leader

What exactly is Syllabes? We are a cooperative company without managers – or with only managers, it depends on how you look at it. At Syllabes, all members have the same responsibilities towards the company and each other. We try to share projects and administrative tasks as equally as possible, and we take (almost) every single decision together. We offer our clients translation and language services, mainly from English into French and German, with a focus on environment and sustainable development. We foster an inclusive community, open to the individual contribution of each member. Our differences are part of our collective strength!

Syllabes is a distributed company. We don’t have a shared office, but work from home and communicate through an open-source message platform and other tools. To coordinate our activity, we communicate in writing, but also hold a regular 1-hour online meeting every week and meet in person for two days of meetings every three months. As far as work/life balance is concerned, the group accommodates personal rhythms as much as possible.

Each of Syllabes’ members enriches the group with their individual experience as a translator. Collaboration is not always easy, as we have all found ways of doing things we think are best, and when confronted with differences, we have to sometimes question and accept to change our own approaches and practices. However, listening to different suggestions and reflecting together on how to improve, makes us all become better professionals. Our years of experience in language services have taught us the value of open, transparent dialogue. When something doesn’t seem right or makes us unhappy, we talk about it. A “majority-takes–all” approach is not what we favour; instead, we make sure everyone can support all our decisions. This may take a bit longer sometimes, but it’s definitely worth it.

5 years already!

This year, we’ll celebrate our fifth year of existence. We successfully passed the three-year milestone, which, as we tend to say in France, shows that the company is financially stable and viable. We’re really happy to have come this far. On top of that, last year, we became a member of 1% for the planet and donated our first contribution to an environmental organisation we chose. We’re very proud to be able to help an important cause.

But the story doesn’t end here. We keep developing our cooperative company to meet our needs, and especially our clients’ needs. Syllabes is constantly in motion and we are always trying to evolve. Sometimes, this can seem frightening, but sharing our hopes and fears can help us to overcome obstacles and look at things from a different perspective. For example, recently, two of our founding members left the team to pursue another career or to focus their activity on a more specific market. While it is sad to see colleagues with whom we have closely worked for several years leaving, it is also an opportunity to reflect on how we can adapt to this new situation. Change is part of life. We all have to face it and learn to live with it. So we started looking for new members and contacted colleagues whom we thought could be a good match for Syllabes and interested in joining us. We’ll see to where this new path will lead us.

Inspiring others, hopefully

We decided to share our story and our experience hoping they can inspire fellow translators to think outside their day-to-day routine as freelancers. Being a freelance translator doesn’t mean we have to work on our own. Quite the opposite! We believe that teaming up is highly enriching, allowing us to share responsibilities, ideas, and tasks, reflect together on how to best approach our professional activity and provide our clients with a service that is truly satisfactory both to us and to them. We strive to be transparent about our methods and practices with our clients and colleagues, creating and nurturing long-term partnerships and inspiring others to explore different ways of working and living together, to build a brighter future for all.

Syllabes – including two FrenchNetters Cécile Guarin and Laetitia Paris – is a close-knit team of professional translators working in a cooperative company based in France which offers translation and language services, mainly from English into French and German, with a focus on the environment and sustainable development.