5 Sad Mistakes Freelance Translators Make on Startup

I know there are dozens of posts published in this regard, but I would like to put in my two cents’ worth. Working as a translator for over 9 years, I have made many mistakes including business and communication mistakes and lapses.

But I always wanted to become a better specialist and, which is important, I learned from my mistakes. However, I regularly see how newbie freelance translators make the same mistakes over and over again.

Therefore, in this posts, I would like to share the results of my observations and personal experience, as well as to warn young freelancers against 5 common and sad mistakes. You will also find some pieces of advice on how to avoid these mistakes and perform better as a freelance translator.

After I started active promotion of my translation services on the web, almost every day I receive at least one message from a “freelance translator” offering translation services.

These messages in most cases are impersonal and pointless since I’m not hiring translators now and I never posted this information anywhere on my business website.

Thus, the first point of the posts is as follows:

Sending impersonal mass emails

Excerpt from yet another message from a random freelance translator:

“Dear Sir/Madam, my name is […] I am a freelance translator with […] years of experience in […] language pair…”

Multiple emails received over the last year formed my subjective opinion that many freelance translators never do their homework.

Before contacting a prospect, you should find as much information about the company or the person as possible.

First of all, this includes a name of your potential customer, because, from the psychological point of view, the name is the most important word for every person.

Always try to personalize your emails

Today it is relatively easy to find information about any person on the web. Quick search by company title will help you to find the names of key decision-makers like directors or managers either on the company website or on LinkedIn.

In case if you cannot find any names (for instance when you contact a translation agency with a single HR department email mentioned on the website and no staff contacts found on LinkedIn) you can use a neutral ‘Hello’ as a starting word of your email. But this is the last thing you should think about when contacting a prospect.

Sending emails with empty or non-informative subject line

‘My CV’, ‘[language pair] translator’, ‘Translator’, ‘The best professional translator’ — here are some bad examples of cold email subject lines.

Titles should be different when you contact an agency and a direct client.

Agencies usually have certain requirements for translators. Usually, they include simple instructions like “Put your language pair, your name and a preferred position in your subject line”. So take your time to find this information on a company website before sending a cold email to the agency.

On the other hand, when you’re trying to contact direct clients it is hard to find a universally right approach to writing email subjects.

However, I suggest not to use the words ‘service’ or ‘commercial offer’ or similar words implying that you are going to sell something. These phrases seem too pushy for the potential direct clients.

Offer solutions

I prefer to offer cooperation for the benefit of the client instead of trying to sell my services.

Agreeing on the rate that is below your minimum

Rates can be a stumbling block both for customers and for freelancers. However, there are many clients ready to work at a decent rate set by a translator without bargaining.

As a freelancer, I spent three last years trying to find the best pricing strategy, but, unfortunately, as many other freelance translators, in the beginning of my career, I was trying to win the bids on such sites as Proz and Translation Café by dumping my rates.

This rat race to the bottom will ruin all your business development efforts and you will end up working for rates below your expectations, that is the main reason why people aren’t satisfied with their work.

Therefore, you should set your minimum rate wisely and always add extra 10-15% or even 20% to such rate as a bargaining range.

Low rates

This is the main principle of successful and satisfying freelancing.

Here is a comprehensive guide on how to set your rates written by SmartCAT community manager Vladimir Zakharov.

Not asking for a feedback

Asking for a feedback from the client after translation is done — sounds obvious! Unfortunately, many translators do not ask their clients to provide an opinion about the delivered work.

Translation delivered, money accepted, but sometimes clients just don’t tell you what they liked or disliked about your work. This can be anything beyond translation that prevents them from buying your services repeatedly.

Feedback

Maybe you were not very dedicated or responded their emails slowly. Therefore, you should ask for a detailed feedback every time you deliver the project.

This way you will be able to get relatively objective information about your overall performance and areas requiring improvement.

Forgetting to follow up with the existing clients

When I started freelancing in 2007 being a second-year student, I was happy to work with two local translation agencies that ensured stable workflow and a source of extra income in addition to my educational scholarship.

I got back to freelancing after an in-house position in 2013 and decided to expand to the foreign markets. For this purposes, I started to learn more about marketing. One of the primary marketing principles says:

Do not forget to keep in touch with your existing clients. This can be a follow-up email about your availability (weekly or monthly depending on the type of translation assignments), holiday greetings, seasonal discounts and special offers, etc.

This way you will show your attention and interest in further cooperation. But if you forget to maintain contacts, there is a high chance that next time your client will want to choose another translator.

For this purpose, you can use Streak for Gmail – an amazing CRM (free version available) for your freelance business (I will cover it in details in one of my further posts). It has a ‘Snooze’ feature that helps to create a sequence of follow-up emails to keep in touch with your clients.

Now you know how to avoid these 5 sad mistakes of freelance translators. What kind of mistakes did you make when you started as a freelancer? Leave your comments below the post.

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About Simon Akhrameev

Hey, I’m Simon – Your Instructor. Working as an in-house and freelance translator for 9 years, I have developed a unique approach to freelance translation business and I would like to share what I’ve learned with you. All blog posts and courses presented on this website are based on experience gained over the years of freelancing. A set of skills and expertise obtained here will definitely help you to level-up your translation business.

  • Hanna Sles

    Simon, awesome! I would add, that it is also very important to narrow down the fields of expertise. It is very important from many points of view, but the most significant one: when the fields of expertise are outlined, it is much easier to reach the target audience. And, of course, all aspects of online presence.

    • Thanks for your helpful comment, Hanna! Yes, choosing a specialization is very important too 🙂 Especially in our competitive environment.

      • Jean Guy Merlaud

        Thank you for the advice Simon but as far as I am concerned, I chose a niche wine and spirits and gastronomy but up to now after many months of research, I have no success in finding agencies nor direct clients. I also specialize in sustainability. My translator’s hope are pretty dull and I am now teaching English as a foreign language to executives and managers face to face. I still want to translate as I have worked hard to prepare my Master’s degree in translation. I hope my commercial prospection will be more productive in the coming weeks.

        • Dear Jean, probably you were trying to sell ice to Eskimos. I mean, probably you overspecialized your efforts and chose the niche where translation is a rare and non-demanded service. Marketing usually consists in the following: analyze your existing clients (or make an assumption about your prospect) => select a communication channel channel/method => test the channel/method => analyze the results => select another method/channel if this one does not work => repeat the cycle. This way you will definitely find the right approach to the right clients. I wish you good luck with you search and never give up!

  • tralangia

    my mistake recently, and maybe the greatest until now is to back down from a project when you have accepted it. always be confident that you can make the project by yourself and don’t return it back to the client (be it an agency).

    • Indeed, I was in the same situation a couple of times when had to reject a project after I accepted it (because of force majeure). But ideally we should always evaluate our capacity to fulfil the project before confirmation. This can be a good subject for a new post — how to evaluate the project before accepting it.

  • Adrian Probst

    Hi Simon. Very nice post, especially for me since I’m currently in my first year 🙂 A few weeks back I read in another forum that the term ‘freelance(r)’ should be avoided, as it has some negative connotations in some countries. What is your stance on that? Do you market yourself as a ‘freelancer’, as an ‘independent’, as a ‘professional’ translator? Do you mentioned anything like this at all? Thanks for your insights! Cheers, Adrian

    • Hi, Adrian! I have given a partial answer to the question about ‘freelancer’ above. But I can also add that I like the term ‘freelancer’. For me it is a lifestyle allowing me to spend more time for things I really love to do. For examples, running this blog. Other people may think that freelancers are air-minded people scraping a living from one random job to another, but this is not true. When introducing myself to the client I apply a selective approach. For instance, in my country freelancing is still something unknown and vague, therefore I use the word self-employed or independent translator. When I work with European and US agencies, it is quite acceptable to use the word ‘freelance’ translator.

  • Julio

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Gionn Caoimhin Morpheagh

    In my experience, what clients value greatly is reliability, accuracy and speed (more or less in that order). However, many clients aren’t translators themselves and sometimes have unrealistic ideas of how fast a translation can be carried out. Always be aware of your translating speed and don’t accept unrealistic deadlines. I did that often at the beginning and made myself look unreliable. Talk honestly and frankly with the client about the deadline and even explain the translation process if necessary. I’ve found that most clients (who are business people, after all) will accept changed deadlines if they’re reasonable.

    Reliability is most important. If you can’t take on a project, then explain why in detail. It helps enormously if you can recommend good colleagues to the client. What I sometimes do is to pass on projects to others, but I explain that to the client. I’ve never had any problems with this system and it helps to promote a feeling of trust in your work. An added bonus is that clients often recommend me to other agencies because they have the feeling that they can rely on me to get the job done.

    I also regularly contact clients and agencies by phone, rather than restricting any communications to e-mails. It’s a “personal touch” and, within a remarkably short time, you’ll find that the conversations turn to more personal aspects such as pressure of work, cost of living, holidays, etc. That not only makes you a “real person” in the clients’ eyes, but also ensures that you’re foremost in their minds when it comes to contracting out projects.

    A colleague earlier expressed his qualms about using the term “freelancer”. I can understand that and I’d recommend in that case the description “independent translator”.

    If I think of any other points that may be useful to colleagues, I’ll post them at a later date.

    MsG

    • Dear Gionn, thanks a lot for you comment! Indeed, reliability, accuracy, and speed are indisputable values we can offer to our clients.

      As for the term ‘freelancer’, I suppose that a negative connotation can be connected with the former meaning of this word (a mercenary with a lance) and also the word ‘free’ is a bit confusing when it is come to payment. However, freelance economy gradually becomes a powerful sector in many countries and I believe people will change their attitude towards this term in the near future, when they understand the true meaning and all benefits of this type of business and lifestyle. Until then, translators may choose another words to identify themselves, such as independent specialists, self-employed, etc.

  • Sandrine Kristofic

    Hi Simon, nice post. One of the biggest mistakes I made at the very beginning, was to accept insane deadlines or too many projects. As a result, I had sometimes to work about 12 hours a day for meeting the deadlines! Now, I know how to say “sorry, but I can’t do it”, and explain why.

    • Thanks for your comment, @sandrinekristofic:disqus. Yes, it is really important to learn how to say “No”.

  • Sarah Cutts

    Useful advice Simon, thanks very much!