I have decided to add another part to the first article, after being questioned by a potential translator who was scared of competition. In fact, the competition may be tough in the beginning and it can be scary. Without forgetting that many clients demand several years of experience and as usual it is a vicious circle (how can one gain experience if ALL clients ask you to have experience before you are given a translation job? A mystery that no one will ever solve…)
Some additional pieces of advice:
1) Make a difference: find a little “extra” to offer. For example: are you particularly fast (without losing quality!), are you an expert in a domain? (if yes, explain why, for example: if you have studied Law, you can offer legal translation by relying on your training course and knowledge of the field), do you speak a foreign language, does someone else proofread your translations,... Try to find something that will make someone to hire you rather than someone else, despite your limited experience.
2) Be willing to compromise: if the beginning is tough, contact a not-for-profit association or other associations in order to offer voluntarily your translation services. You will be doing a good thing, and at the same time you will have projects to add to your CV. Personally, I translated for some time, reports of a Belgian Association. You can also contact freelance translators and help them by translating at low rates, provided that they agree to give you recommendations or send corrections of your translations. In short, find a way to gain experience in a constructive manner, without selling your soul to the devil.
3) Advertise yourself, over and over. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, your friends, family, etc. Marketing is the most important factor at the beginning; in fact, there are many other translators on the market, so you have to be visible and get noticed. Make sure that the client has a direct access to all useful information on your professional page (how to contact you, your prices, your experience, your training course) in a clear and a precise manner.
4) Identify your target clients well. This is really important. Needless to displace yourself and contact people whom you do not want to work with (ex.: I hate financial translation, so I will never apply for job offers related to this sector nor to agencies specialized in this area). If you are scared of competition on web sites such as Proz and TranslatorsCafe, try to contact direct clients related to your chosen field. Make sure to reach as many as possible your target clients rather than targeting randomly. (For example, if you want to do legal translation, contact lawyers. In medical translation, contact medical magazines etc.) To find your target client, consider the areas that attract you most in translation, those in which you are most talented, remember to brush aside what does not interest you at all, etc.
5) Do not accept everything. It is needless to accept a difficult project that you would probably rush over. It is the best way to lose a client. It is better to be honest and admit your weaknesses. With time, the client will know that if you apply it is because you are sure of yourself for this project, and they will be more tempted to trust you.
6) Suggest to take a short unpaid test to prove your capability. Be honest, say that you are beginning but prove that you are motivated. You can also send a sample of your translations (paying attention to copyright, do not send a translation of confidential documents).
7) Resist. Perhaps you will be lucky, perhaps you will have many clients. But there is a 80% chance (obviously, this is NOT an official statistic, huh!) for beginnings to be difficult, so do not be discouraged if this is really what you want to do and, as I have said before in one of my articles, take a job aside in order to earn some money until your business flushes well.
As often, this article concerns mostly new translators. I remember that when I started, I did not have confidence in me as a professional ("I do not have enough experience, if clients give me a chance it is because they feel pity for me or because I offer lower rates", etc.). Also, I always under estimated myself, thus giving a negative image of me to my clients and potential clients. With time, I identified some avoidable mistakes and some advice that can help.
1. Do not capitalize on your weaknesses: for instance, do not say “I just got my diploma but...”, instead say “I have a diploma/bachelor/master from such school, such studies”. The nuance may seem minimal, but removing the expression “I just got” may help to make a big difference. Anyway, your clients will probably see your CV, in which they will know early enough that you do not have enough experience, so do not emphasize this aspect! On the contrary, highlight the positive points: (you are a beginner as a translator but) you have already worked at a lawyer’s chamber/publishing house/…? Discuss it and explain to the client how this is a positive aspect instead of apologizing in advance for your lack of experience. The idea is not obviously to cheat and to invent a life, but to simply value your strengths.
2. Make yourself an important image: find a logo that represents you, display it on your CV, on your website, etc. Be active on social media (I know, I insist a lot on that), have a professional active page where the client could know more about you, about the people who follow you, etc. Keep a good record: in your profession, it is certainly important to have an impeccable spelling. If your articles are full of mistakes, you will scare away your clients instead of attracting them. Avoid writing in capital letters (very aggressive) or putting ten exclamation/question marks while writing.
3. Separate private and professional life: point 2 aims to show the client who you are as a professional. You may sure talk a little about your private interests, but do not publish 1000 pictures of your baby/pet on your page, do not make private jokes with your friends in the comments of your page, etc.
4. Always be polite, even in case of refusal: did you apply for a job offer and the client answers that he had found someone else? It happens. You were even lucky, because most of the clients do not even care to inform you in such a case. The best thing to do in such a situation is to answer politely that you are happy to know that they had found someone, that you hope that it will go well and that you are always available if they need help for another future project. You could also possibly ask to know why the client preferred someone else (does it have to do with the price, experience…?), but adopt the right tone - avoid the “What does he have that I don’t? / can I know what you did not like about me? «how funny it can be, imitating an ex-hysteric
5. Same thing in case of criticism: it may happen that the client sends you a negative feedback for a translation project and for many reasons. If you made a mistake, admit it honestly, apologize (say you are sorry, not “yes but it is because my son was sick/I did not have enough time…” you are wrong, no matter the reason) and promise them to be more careful in the future. The clients will calm down fast when they’ will notice that you admit your mistakes, and will be more likely to forgive you. However, you may obviously explain yourself if you think you are right, but do not get mad at the clients, explain calmly to them why you made such choice and ask their opinion.
6. Finally, obviously behave like a professional : do not accept projects that you may not be able to handle, send your translations in due course (or in advance, it’s always a wonderful surprise), be clear about your schedules (if you are available only from 10 am to 4 pm, tell the clients in order to let them know when they can reach you), be reactive (do not take 3 hours to answer to a direct offer, the client might give up and look for someone else), Besides, always answer to the clients even if you will not accept their project, so they should know they have to look for someone else (unless stated otherwise, some send a collective e-mails to several translators asking to answer only if one is interested), you can also recommend a colleague (a trust worthy one) to replace you in the project.
In conclusion, have confidence in yourself. Are you a beginner? Everyone had to begin once, it is not a weakness. The freelance translator faces a huge competition since it is a profession which is not regulated as far as the certificates are concerned and it is practiced from a distance by colleagues worldwide. So, maximize all your chances and do your best!
I have already mentioned it before, it is important for a freelance translator to create their own network. In fact, it offers many advantages.
1. Potential clients: let us be honest to ourselves, as a freelance translator, finding clients is one of our main worries. The bigger your network is, the bigger will be the chances of finding a potential client. Personally, I have found 3 clients thanks to social media. They may not be many, but they are quality clients who have personally chosen me; I did not approach these clients. Choosing me means that they recognize my value and are ready to pay a higher price, and offer more wonderful conditions. And, for your ego, it’s good to be chosen instead of having to sell yourself :-)
2. Advice: this is very important, especially when you are beginning. Be active on LinkedIn or Facebook, visit forums, meet people from your sector (yes, not only virtually, real life is important too), it also allows you to acquire knowledge from other professionals of your field, ask questions, read articles that teach you interesting tips...
3. A bigger visibility/credibility: since I have been writing articles, I have become more and more solicited by young translators or even by old professionals. And this always gives me great satisfaction., As time passes by, the number of people who say “I love this” on my Facebook page is increasing, same as the number of people visiting my LinkedIn page. What is the importance? The client who visits my web page and sees 300 expressions of “I like this” and many positive opinions will perhaps take me more seriously than if I had 50 . It makes it a little bit more professional, I think. Furthermore, my colleagues hear about me, read my articles and sometimes when they have a lot of work, they think of me to give a helping hand - and that is always great.
4. A reassuring occupation: in the beginning when I had peak periods, I used to be somehow stressed out. I thought I was the only one in such a situation, I was almost ashamed, I thought my business was not working properly. But by visiting translators’ blog, reading my colleagues’ articles and following discussions on LinkedIn, I realized that I was not the only one in such a situation. We all go through hard times in the beginning. Thus, visiting social media gives me a double advantage: I busy and reassure myself. (And then I write articles to reassure you in my turn. Huhu).
In conclusion, we often tend to neglect networks when we start. It was certainly my case. I thought I had to apply over and over. I had a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page, but I would not update them. I was using Proz and TC to see job offers, but I never glanced through forums. And then, during a boring day, I started reading the discussions on LinkedIn and participating as well. Then, I asked a question. And I ended up finding a client. And I decided that LinkedIn was actually good. (One may think I am sponsored by LinkedIn…).
Do not just forget some basic rules on social media: do not ever be oppressive. Go ahead gently. Do not start by publishing 5 conversations per day on the same group of Linkedin, or answering questions beyond your qualification. Make useful and discreet contributions. Imagine yourself at a social event, you definitely will not run from group to group handing out your business card without it being requested or giving your opinion indiscriminately on topics you know nothing about.
I talk much about social media because it is the simplest within everybody’s reach - especially translators who are not always the best fans of social media, (Sorry, no offence intended!) - but that does not stop you from also building a network in your town . Sometimes, there are meetings and training sessions for translators.
For once, this article concerns both translators and clients - would you like to know if you are part of the elite, of those clients who are so nice that we are ready to work on weekends or to lower our prices, just to please them? Let us see…
1) The perfect client is precise: this client does not only specify the language combination, but also the number of words, the deadline and the rate. Wow! This is different from the clients who contact you to know if “you are available for a translation job” and to whom you have to ask a lot of questions to obtain all the necessary information.
2) The perfect client is polite and easy going: perfect clients greet and thank the translator in return when they receive their translations. One would think that it is obvious, unfortunately it is not always the case. Yet, would you see someone at the bakery say “I want bread”, pay and leave without saying Good morning or Thank you? No? Well, it’s the same for us.
3) The perfect client honors their commitments: when they say “I’ will send you the file on Monday morning” they send it on Monday morning. Not Monday at 6pm. Not Wednesday morning. And that is good because when one is expecting a file and refuses another project, but finally receives the file after 2 days, the person is not very happy.
4) The perfect clients pay on time: you do not have to remind them. There is nothing more annoying than a client who pays you 90 days after the translation job – to me this is already more than a reasonable deadline - and whom you have to remind because two weeks after the deadline, they still have not paid.
5) The perfect client trusts you: they ask for your CV, it is normal. They request that you take a small test, alright! They ask for your references, this is too much to ask! My other clients have other things to do than sending e-mail recommendations to my new clients for confirmation, I work well.
Again, do you imagine yourself getting into a bakery, you ask to taste the bread, see the list of clients, then ask if you can call three clients to ask their opinion on the quality of service?
6) Bonus: the name of the perfect client is Alain: My favorite client (I won’t mention his surname for confidentiality reasons). He regularly sends translation projects, he pays every Friday - needless to wait till two months, needless to remind him, he is always punctual like a clockmaker. He reacts promptly, he is always polite, and more to that, he is kind. He always says “Thank you”. Even though he is far from being my client who pays the best, he is one of my favorite clients.
In conclusion: I have some perfect clients. They are not those who pay the most or who offer the most interesting translation projects. But for them, I’m willing to translate a contract (even if I really do not like legal translation), I am willing to work on weekends if they really need a helping hand, I’m ready to reduce my price if necessary. This is just because they are kind, and grateful for the work delivered, they pay on time Again because they do not expect more from me than what they are willing to offer. If they ask for an urgent translation, they are willing to pay promptly. If they ask me to respond quickly, they are also reactive. In a short, they consider me as a service provider who deserves respect, and not be treated as a slave.
On translation websites like Proz or TranslatorsCafe (TC), there are so many job offers. The translator is faced with two challenges: first, knowing which offer to apply for and second, knowing how to apply.
Actually, applying for every job offer you come across is useless. Some will not suit you, it is a fact. We all have our limits; a gynecology-specialized translator should not apply for a job offer meant for a colleague who is specialized in dentistry translation, just as I will never apply for a financial translation job (In case you have not noticed yet, I hate this area, ugh!.)
So how do you handle a translation job?
1. Analyze it
Who published this job offer? Search for their name on Google, check out their website, and find out if there are comments about them on translation websites such as Proz or TC. Check out if there are many negative comments (“do not pay”, “very tight deadline”, etc.), ask yourself if it is worth applying for such a job. If you do not find any information about them, it becomes somehow suspicious. It may be a scam.
What is the job all about? Is it a domain you like and able to translate in? What is the file format? Beware of jobs PDF format; it can be a scanned file/document and you will as well spend the whole time formatting (several times). Is the client requesting for a particular software such as SDLTrados, Adobe, or Wordfast,...?
When is the deadline? Does it seem realistic? Do not forget to take into consideration all factors: the file format, the complexity of the field, your own speed …
Finally, what is the rate offered? How does the client plan to pay? (Paypal, bank transfer, 30 days after, immediately after...)
Once you have asked yourself all these questions, you should know if it’s worth applying or not.
2. Apply wisely
Well, the job suitable you. But as you can notice 15 people have already applied, and you are scared of measuring up. So, you have to make a difference.
Firstly, read carefully the client’s requests. If they want to be contacted through-e-mail, do not e-mail them via their website. If they ask to include some information in your e-mail subject, do it. Keep in mind that if your client receives about twenty job applications, preference will be given to the applicants who respected their instructions.
Then, prove to them that you are organized.
If you send an attached file, don’t simply name it as “CV”. Give a clear title such as:”CV_Yourname_2015”. That way, when the clients download it, they immediately see to whom it belongs, they won't have to rename it. You make their task easier and score a point.
If the client did not give instructions about the subject of your e-mail, try to be as complete as possible (but do not write a 20- line title, it remains a subject). For example, write,” Translator EN-FR, graduate, 3 years of experience” or “EN-FR, rate/word, Trados 2014." Put straight the most useful information for the client for them to see what the e-mail is all about before opening it.
In the body of the e-mail, be complete, and above all, concise. Do not recount your life story to them. It’s not a spontaneous application but a reply to a specific job offer, so comply with your client’s requests. Show them qualified you are for their job offer, describe your strengths (you already have a similar experience, you can translate faster than they want to...) etc.
Write in paragraphs so that the client should have a clear vision of your rates, your availability, software(s), etc. You may finally add more information (for example, say that you also do proofreading), but without exaggerating.
Finally, in your email (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) signature, remember to include a link to your Proz profile, your TC profile, your LinkedIn page, your website, your Facebook page… That is, where your client can easily find additional information about you. (You must not put 10 links, choose those that will be helpful to the client: if you have opinions from clients on Proz, for example, putting the link in your signature may be a plus).
In conclusion, be clear and precise. Prove to the clients that you are organized, make the task easy for them to the maximum, spare them the stress of having to search for information they need. Add links to your professional pages so that the clients can have a larger vision of you if they want.
After moaning in another article, I thought it would be good to highlight the positive aspects of this profession, in order to bring a little joy in this cruel world.
1) Schedule: Yes, I’ve already mentioned it, but I repeat because, according to me, it is one of the main advantages as a freelancer. We are free! We can take a break at 2 pm to watch a TV show! We can walk the dog at 3 pm! We can go to the laundry at 11am, when there is no crowd…. (Well, we can’t do all this the same day, huh. We still have to work from time to time).
2) Payment: another advantage that I love is being paid on per--word basis, that is, being paid according to the task is knowing that we will be paid a certain amount of money for a job irrespective of whether it is done within an hour or three. Is knowing that if we are productive, we can earn much, we can earn more, while still charging the same amount per word. Personally, I love it, mostly because I do work fast (and well) when I’m motivated.
3) Autonomy: a freelancer is their own bosses. And, as long as freelancers work alone, they are not someone else’s boss. In other words, they do not take orders from anyone else, and they don't give orders to anyone else. In short, they manage issues by themselves. Not only it is an advantage on itself, it also gives another pleasure: pride. What they have accomplished, they have accomplished it by themselves. They are not indebted anybody (except their clients, hello kind clients).
4) Variety: another great aspect of a freelance translator that in-house translators may also enjoy to an extent, is the variety of texts and the available choices. Today it can be a script and tomorrow a user manual (yes, you are right, it is a little bit less fun), then a book the other day (and for many following days). You can also do proofreading or transcription. You can see the different translation jobs and go shopping, apply for jobs that you like the most, neglecting those you like less (well, I’m exaggerating a bit, I often “choose” projects that do not necessarily excite me, I need money to live on). But it is almost like changing your job every day.
5) Learning: this is one of the reasons that made me want to be a translator. We are paid to read a variety of texts and translate them, and we learn every day. This is great! (Sure, we cannot remember everything). I translated texts about football, a crane instruction manual, a script about North Korea, a book about Asperger Syndrome... And each time I learnt one or two things. (Not much about cranes, though).
In a nutshell, we are (almost) totally free we can earn more with no need asking for an increase, just by working more efficiently, (less time spent on Facebook, for example); we can be proud of ourselves; we do not do the same thing every day and finally we learn something with each new translation job. Isn't life beautiful?