Welcome! After I had spent a few years working as a freelance translator, I thought it might be useful to some translators, especially those who were just beginning their freelance careers, to read about some of my experiences and what I had found useful. It can be very difficult to get honest advice or opinions when starting out in the translation business – I know, I was there once, which is why I didn’t mind taking time to share my experience in the hope it would help whoever wanted to listen… I know I would have liked some of this information when I started! Of course, everything on this page reflects just my own personal opinions.
Below are my Top Ten Tips for translators who wish to grow a professional and profitable business.
1. Do not accept a project which you know is not within your abilities.
It is perfectly professional to turn down jobs translating highly technical product specifications or lengthy legalese if you have no experience in those fields. Turning down such work will not automatically disqualify you for other work in your language pairs for which you are qualified – if anything, in fact, just the opposite. It shows you know your own limitations and that’s good. Alternatively, hire a good editor to review your work if you’re developing a new area of specialization. What you learn from a good editor is worth much more in the long run than the sum of your initial expenses for editors.
2. Do not accept jobs with impossible deadlines.
Dare to negotiate! You can take measures (such as charging higher rates) to discourage or compensate for jobs with extremely tight deadlines. You may often find that the job turns out to be not quite so urgent after all. Besides, the quality of your work may suffer under the pressure of an unreasonable deadline and that, in the end, only reflects poorly on you.
3. Do not hesitate to ask questions.
When asked, agencies may be able to provide you with past translations or other documentation to use as reference material. Also, if I have done considerable research on a term to no avail, I point it out to the agency. I personally would not dare to simply guess and hope that no one notices. I feel better just being up front about the fact that I do not know everything and although I tried, I was unable to find the answer. So far, I’ve never had a negative experience when asking agencies such questions. Most translations contain at least one ambiguity. An important part of translation is to NOT guess what your client might mean, but to identify ambiguities and resolve them together with the client. A common beginner mistake is to try to be “good” and not ask questions.
4. Do not accept a job without seeing the text first.
What someone might describe to you as a business text may turn out to be medical. I’ve been called for Dutch translations and actually received text in Danish. Someone might say the text is 1500 words, but then you find it’s 1500 words of difficult to read handwriting – nightmare! It’s always best to see the text before committing to it.
5. Do not accept work without knowing who your client is.
Check out the person or company who is offering you work. Get full contact details, not just an email address. Get a purchase order in writing before you begin work on a project. You need to do these things to protect yourself – with so much business being done over the Internet, you need to know where you can find someone if for any reason you run into difficulties. Check the payment history of a new potential client through the TCR and Payment Practices Lists. A little research now could save you tremendous problems down the road.
6. Do not proceed with the job until you have agreed on the rate.
No one likes surprises when it comes to the bill, so make sure you and your client are clear when it comes to the cost. You may charge different fees for different projects or you might have a couple of different fees for the same project (a per word rate for translation plus an hourly charge for formatting, for example). For small jobs, you may have a minimum fee rather than a per-word rate. You may have surcharges for handwritten texts or for weekend work. Some jobs require a great deal of formatting or might require you to work with different types of software. These are projects that can be charged by the hour rather than per word or per line. A general guideline is to have an hourly rate that reflects what you normally earn on average for an hour of translating. Be sure you’re familiar with a particular program before accepting a job in, for example, Power Point.
7. Think about what you write before sending it off into cyberspace.
You never know who is reading your posts in online translator forums – your messages could quite possibly end up in the hands of your (agency) client, for example, so always be professional. If you’re upset about something, write the email but be careful not to send it: wait until the next day and see if you still feel as strongly. This also goes for correspondence with your clients if you’re upset with them for whatever reason. Sometimes, as difficult as it may be, it might be wiser to make a concession and keep the client. Then again, depending on the situation, it might be that you feel the client is not worth keeping. In any case, consider it carefully before you fire off an angry letter.
8. Do not sell yourself short.
Emphasize the experience you do have, don’t focus on what you don’t know. Don’t undersell yourself – charge what you feel you are worth. Rates vary for different countries, language combinations and types of translation, so take all these factors into account when determining a fair market price for your services. Make sure you charge enough to make your business profitable, after all, that’s the bottom line. If you do choose to start off with low prices, make sure you raise them as you gain experience.
9. Keep all business records and correspondence for at least 3 years.
This includes every email sent to and received from your clients, every fax, invoice, contract, purchase order, translation file and any other correspondence. It’s simply good business practice to keep good records.
10. Read every clause very carefully before you sign a contract.
See the section devoted to Contracts in the More Tips menu above!