After working as a freelance translator for more than 12 years, I am a firm believer that some of the most valuable insights come from those who have gone before us. Here I wanted to discuss some of the most common mistakes that translators make during the early stages of their businesses. I know that I myself have committed some of these mistakes. The important thing is to recognize that each of these errors offers learning, and as soon as you become aware of one, simply take action to put your business back on track.
You may already have expertise in a field from a previous career or perhaps from a college degree program. If you don’t feel that you have any expertise in a particular field, then you can try to gain some relevant in-house experience in a particular area, or complete an accredited course to demonstrate competence to potential clients. Avoid the temptation to add a dozen subjects to your list of specializations in an attempt to get more jobs. This completely defeats the point, and it will only damage your credibility. By choosing a niche, you can become an authority on the subject you choose and the go-to-resource for your clients.
Setting rates for translation services is never easy, and it’s often very tempting early in your career to set very low rates in an attempt to gain more experience. However, this is a strategy that’s likely to come back and bite you later on down the road. Low rates can devalue your service offer and give the wrong impression – communicating to your clients that you are too new to the game, or that your translation services are not high quality.
Many new translators are afraid to ask questions of their clients when receiving a new project, fearing that the client will be turned off and suspect that the translator doesn’t know what he or she is doing. I can testify that this is not the case! If your questions are intelligent, and will assist you in providing a higher quality product in the end, your clients will appreciate you taking the time to ask.
A membership in a professional organization will set you apart from the hobby translators and will give you credibility by showing that you fulfill the organization’s standards. In addition, many of these organizations offer numerous opportunities for networking, continuing education and personal development.
Treat your business professionally from the start. Have a separate account for your business and keep track of all your income and expenses. This can be done in a spreadsheet or by using any of the accounting tools available on the market today.
Another strong temptation is to accept every new client that contacts you, particularly early in your career when you are hungry for experience and eager to begin building your business. Resist this urge! Not all clients are created equal. When a new client contacts you, you should always make sure to request their full company name and address, and visit their website. Another good idea is to research the company in a payment practices database.
I have also found that many new translators are afraid to turn projects down, thinking they might lose the client. If you take on a project that you cannot translate well, or accept a deadline that you cannot meet, you will only damage your relationship with the client. Most clients respect and appreciate it if you turn down a project if you believe you cannot do a good job, and they will keep you in mind for future projects down the road.
In today’s competitive marketplace, it is important to set aside time for continuous marketing and networking so that clients can find you easily. Create a website, join one or two social media networks, attend conferences, join professional associations and attend business networking events to make people aware of your services. The simple truth of freelancing is that people cannot hire you if they cannot find you.
There is nothing worse for a project manager or client than having to deal with uncertainty. Make sure you respond to emails promptly, acknowledge receipt of each correspondence, and follow their instructions. Let clients know that they can rely on you and the client will want to come back to you with work time and time again. Make it a habit to keep in touch with your clients regularly, and not only when you need work. Lastly, don’t forget to ask for references. Word of mouth and recommendations are your most powerful marketing tools.
The translation industry is constantly changing and developing, with new processes and new tools becoming available every day. That’s why it’s important to keep current with changes and not resist learning new tools. Stay on top of new technology as well as your areas of specialization, and consider investing in additional education or professional development programs.
Don’t expect to become a successful translator in a few months; 6 months to a year is a much more realistic time frame for your business to truly take shape and to start generating sustainable income. Most translators reach a satisfying stream of clients and income around three years after starting their business.
Being a freelancer is a lot of work. It is important to realize that your translation business will require a lot of effort and dedication, but most of the time, it is worth it to become your own boss and take full responsibility for your own future.
I love my job as a freelance translator and want other freelance translators to do that too. One way of doing this is to share my experience as a freelance translator and my background in marketing. This post is a condensed version of one of the “appetizers” or foundations in the Marketing Cookbook for Translators. If you want to find out more information about the book, please go to: http://marketingtipsfortranslators.com/marketing_book/
For more information and help to create a marketing plan and get your year started right, check out the Quick Start Guide – 8 steps to a marketing plan for translators.