Instagurus and faking it up

So. I hear you’re diversifying?

Sure am. It’s the way to go these days, you know. Everyone’s got an online course, a membership programme, a coaching scheme or some sideline or other. It’s about time I got in on the act. I mean, how hard can it be? Sounds like a nice little earner.

You’re becoming an instaguru, then?

A what now? Don’t think so; social media isn’t really my thing, although I do have 37 followers on Twitter, you know.

Not Instagram, you lummox. Instaguru. An “instant guru”. A shiny expert with all the answers* available for a great-value price (hurry while stocks last!).

* The actual experience and expertise underpinning these answers may vary from that implied.

Hang on a sec –

– Because if you are, you might find yourself persona non grata.

I don’t like the sound of that.

Well, quite. We translators have been encouraged to put ourselves out there on social media, on blogs and at conferences, to forge a brand image and show what we know. (Even if some actually end up revealing how little they know.) And with platforms like Udemy, or even, backed up by a barrowload of marketing advice, there’s a plethora of opportunities to make money by knocking out online courses.

Great! People could pay me to tell them how to create their own online course!

Please tell me you’re joking.

Sorry. You were saying.

Although there’s some excellent CPD to be had from people who really do know their singular “they” from their elbow, sadly some of the other material simply isn’t that good. I’ve had some excellent learning experiences, but I’ve also sat through webinars with rudimentary content, presentations suffocated with bullet-point bindweed, and speeches that meandered along till the clock put them (and the audience) out of their misery. I’ve read many an insightful article but too many vacuous, limply written trickles of consciousness that would have been better consigned to the recycle bin.

But I can’t teach an elite-level course for experts yet. I’ve got the basics down, but I’m still learning the advanced stuff myself, tbh.

Then you’d probably better hold off for a while. Or, at least, make clear that what you’re offering is for noobs. You want to be straight with people.

Quite. A dash of honesty with the hard sell, eh, heh heh?

I’d bin the hard sell altogether. You need to be very careful about selling at all; you get pushback pretty quickly if people feel you’re not treating them with respect. Especially if they’re your peers. Fellow translators and interpreters, that is.

But they know me; that makes it easier, doesn’t it?

Not if people think you’re abusing your position as an insider, a fellow member of the professional community. Look, I want to find out what services are out there that might help me do better work, but I don’t want to feel I’m being sold to in a place that’s supposed to be reserved for peers, a safe space where we ought to be free of such things. It can backfire spectacularly if folk get the impression you’ve joined or even created a community just to “monetise” it later.

Yes, didn’t that happen on a well-known Facebook group for translators a couple of years back?

Sadly, yes (amid much disillusionment and general gnashing of teeth). For there’s a crucial difference in the relationship: colleagues aren’t like your clients. They’re your fellow pros. People you could be running into online and at conferences for years to come. Some of them might be your friends. There’s less distance between you than there is with a translation client. They deserve special care and respect. Enterprise is commendable, but get it right, dude.

Gotcha. Quality content. Pitched at the right level. Respect, honesty, and a gossamer touch with the marketing. What about prices? You’re not going to say “free”, are you?

Some might, but I think we need to practice what we collectively preach about high-end work for high-end money by showing we’re prepared to fork out for quality CPD. The Institute of Translation and Interpreting’s Translate in Cambridge bash cost hundreds of pounds a punt, but the value was immense. A fat price tag focuses the mind.

I bet.

So, tell me you’re not going to be an instaguru. Please?

No, I think I’ll steer well clear of all that malarkey. I value my reputation too much.

Excellent. Keep going, laddie.

5 thoughts on “Instagurus and faking it up

  1. Kevin Hendzel

    Great piece, Oliver.

    I offer the following comments to provide background — this plague has been ongoing for at least the last three years — and to provide some context that you may find useful for your ITI Bulletin article.

    Just for the record, the term “instaguru” was coined by Rose Newell, and caught on almost instantly for its ability to convey the lack of substantive experience, expertise or insight to convey to colleagues (“insta-“) combined with the often downright comical nature of the “advice” for which these inexperienced novices were (and are) charging their colleagues (“-guru.”).

    What makes this trend especially dangerous is that it’s often enriching novices who have “diversified” by dint of necessity. Their lack of deep subject-area expertise or a long (10+ year) history of being revised by colleagues and experts means they MUST diversity to make up for the lack of translation work.

    They charge colleagues because they need the money. They are not doing well themselves.

    This whole “diversification” movement started with a frank and honest acknowledgement of this brutal reality, but then it seemed to disappear from the narrative.

    The whole phenomenon suffers from at least 3 cognitive biases I can see just off the top of my head:

    The Dunning–Kruger effect, which is the tendency for unskilled individuals to overestimate their own ability (the instagurus);

    The Halo Effect, which is the tendency for a person’s positive or negative traits to “spill over” from one personality area to another in others’ perceptions of them (this applies to the unsuspecting translators: they “like” the person on a personal level, and that positive sense spills over into thinking that they must be competent in other areas, such as actually being good translators — this is, sadly, often not only false, but the exact opposite);

    The Pleasure of Cognitive Ease, which is a price we pay because of social media and the endless exposure to people’s names. Under this bias, repeated exposure to a name or brand results in a cognitive leap of faith that the brand is good (a principle on which all advertising is based). It’s a cognitive shortcut from our forebears where repeated stimuli were treated as “safe,” and hence believable.

    The fact that there are so many cognitive flaws driving the phenomenon should give us serious pause.

    Also crucial to note: the premium market is crying out for translators. The demand is enormous, and is being unmet. Clients are frustrated, and elated when they find qualified translators who have been actually trained over the years in collaboration with colleagues, and who have attended workshops like “Translate in the..” series.

    Rates of USD $0.50 per word are the norm, and full-time salaries in the USD $150,000 range are very common.

    To a first approximation, real insight into the market on blogs, in seminars and at conferences are most reliable and valuable when they come from people who do not charge you. The most valuable advice, insight and strategic thinking come from people who have been there.

    With their success comes the obligation to help their colleagues. It’s been like this for decades.

    They don’t charge you because they don’t NEED to charge you. The market has already compensated them — and continues to do so — at a very significant premium.

    The exception are the workshops where these translators actually do active hands-on training on real-world texts, including competitions and other events such as translation slams. They are held over a period of days, and will point up your own translation strengths as well as weaknesses. The “Translate in the…” series is one of these; the SFT holds several of their own.

    But these are life-changing events: People find partners to collaborate with; identify areas where they need to up their game, and even are introduced to premium-market clients directly or through references.

    1. Oliver Lawrence Post author

      Thanks Kevin, much appreciated. I’m aware this isn’t “my” topic and that others, notably your good self, have been championing these notions for some time. My initial idea was to get a piece into the ITI Bulletin, for the benefit of any UK-based colleagues who might not have been exposed to the discussions online. But that submission has been edited (watered) down somewhat, hence my publishing it separately here.

  2. Claire Cox

    Lovely article, Oliver – and written with as much heartfelt passion as I applauded it with in my head when I was reading. I had quite enough of being asked to diversify when I worked in-house many moons ago: no, I don’t want to be be a people manager or organise conferences, or site visits for visiting dignitaries. I want to translate! And that’s still the way I feel. If you’re good at what you do, you shouldn’t be looking to diversify into other (less skilled?) areas. Let’s just concentrate on excelling at what we do and improving the way we do that – even after 30+ years in the business. I’ll look out for the article in the Bulletin – or have I missed it and it’s been published already?

    1. Allison Wright

      Your remark about improving ‘even after 30+ years in the business’ struck a chord with me, Claire. The kind of learning I need to pursue, having just reached the 30-year mark myself, certainly cannot be provided by any of these instaguru types who do not have the hardcore skills and practical experience which would persuade me to part with my time – or my money.

    2. Oliver Lawrence Post author

      Thanks Claire. A version of the article adapted by the editor into a more conventional form will be appearing in the next ITI Bulletin. (But I prefer this one 😉 .)
      I don’t have anything against diversification per se, and I don’t necessarily agree that everyone who has more than one skill must be a master of none and therefore a failure, but those acquiring new strings to their bow should neither underestimate the time and effort involved in getting up to an excellent standard nor overestimate (or over-sell) their own abilities.


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