Knowing how to sell your services to clients and, even more importantly, how to keep those customers, are vital to the success of any freelance language professional.
I had a short stint (about a year) as a translation project manager when I was transitioning from in-house work to full-time freelancing, waiting for business to pick up.
I managed over 100 projects, enough to have plenty of tips to share with fellow freelance translators… and a long list of horror stories.
While this advice is solely based on my personal experience, I’m sure it will apply to many project managers you are currently working (or hoping to work) with.
I generally went through translation portals to find translators and proofreaders, but I believe the process is not that different with, say, direct clients. They may be considering other translators as well, although their search methods may differ.
How I Chose New Translators
They were specialized: Before considering any other factor, I would look for the most specialized translator I could find for the projects I had at hand. Mentioning your specialization is important, and sharing a few examples of projects you translated recently can be a real plus.
I once worked with a colleague who even had a blog with excellent translation samples for the exact specialization I was looking for. I hired her without a second thought.
Their proposals were personalized: “Dear sirs I can do it” won’t cut it. Try to write a bit about why you think you would be the best fit for the project or client in question. Specialization, as mentioned above, is key, but project specifics are also welcome if you are quoting for a specific offer. If the word count is known, you can give an estimated delivery time. If a CAT tool is required, write a quick line to confirm your experience with it. Those simple things can help you stand out.
They were professional: Writing a proposal in a non-native language can be difficult, but you should at least run a quick spellcheck on your text before hitting the Send button. In terms of tone, I’ve never had a problem with those who adopted a warm and friendly tone to show their enthusiasm, but you should avoid being overly informal.
Another point to consider: professional email addresses always look better than free ones. It’s also a good clue that you’re not an impersonator. Maybe not the first thing a PM will look at, but it can give your image a little boost.
How Translators Kept Me as a Client
It is easier to retain clients than to find new ones. And as it turns out, project managers are the same! They want to work with a stable team of translators rather than chase out new ones all the time. So give them reasons to keep sending you their projects!
All of the points below are really just common sense. Yet, so many times did I end up collaborating with translators unable to follow them.
Punctuality and reliability
As a project manager, I had two great fears: 1. deliver a translation that wasn’t of the best quality and 2. not being able to deliver at all.
One thing that really amazed me when I was outsourcing projects is the huge proportion of translators who don’t deliver on time. As a translator, I have never delivered an assignment late. If, for any reason, I felt I wouldn’t be able to send a completed file on time, I would let the PM know about it immediately, so they would have time to think of a solution.
But more than once did translators deliver their work several days late without a “sorry” or any mention of the fact. I honestly don’t get it. It is just unprofessional and disrespectful of everybody involved, from the proofreader waiting for the files to the end client desperate to release their new products.
You might get away with a translation that is flawed (not that it’s a happy ending either!), but there’s no excuse for delivering late without any sort of warning. Any translator who would send their work late with no proper and prior explanation was instantly off my list, quality translation or not (and often rather than not those translations were bad).
Naturally, you should deliver quality translations. Don’t accept to translate texts you don’t fully understand, follow the instructions you are sent (a translator should at least be able to read!), and go through the basic QA steps every language professional is expected to apply. The number of translators who don’t even spellcheck their translations is amazingly high – this is also something I see a lot as a proofreader. Needless to say, such a lack of professionalism was also an instant deal breaker.
Try to reply any communications you get from your PMs in a timely manner. The wait for answers can be extremely stressful for under-pressure PMs, especially when the deadline is tight (…which is almost always the case, sadly). The peace of mind you give them with a swift answer is gold. No need to wait a certain amount of time to seem busy, just answer as soon as you reasonably can. If you can’t answer their request right away for technical or physical reasons, just acknowledge receipt of the message and give them an approximate time you’ll be able to get back to them.
Communication through the project lifetime
Good communication is vital for a fruitful relationship, and this though the entire project lifetime.
At the beginning of a project
Occasionally, I would send a job out with lengthy explanations and specific instructions, only to receive a very basic answer, such as “Received.” or “OK, got it.”
Being concise is great, but I always appreciated when translators made it clear that:
- They safely received the files
- They read and understood the instructions
- They are starting to translate and committed to deliver by the deadline
Basically, make it clear you’ve read their message carefully. It doesn’t have to be very long, something like “I confirm safe receipt of the files and instructions regarding XXX. I will start working on the project and deliver by XXX. I’ll get back to you if I have any questions or doubts” is more than enough.
This is particularly important for new collaborations. Once the trust is established, you can be a little more informal, but until then there should be no ambiguity before starting a project.
During a project
Asking questions is important when you need extra information or some explanations, but be careful with the following:
- Ask only when necessary: Asking questions about technical concepts you should understand as a specialist or about points answered in the reference files won’t make you look very professional. It can happen occasionally, of course, and that’s fine, but not 5 times a day. Check the document carefully, run a quick Google search, and write down your question only when it is clear you won’t be able to find an answer by your own means.
- Don’t send an email every time you have a question. Gather them somewhere (some PMs will send you query sheet templates), and review/send them at the end of the day.
Delivery & After
When you deliver, don’t forget to mention anything relevant (doubts you still have, notes about formatting, questions left to answer, etc.). After that, try to remain available for any client-side questions. Unless you are on holiday or don’t have access to your emails, try to answer such queries within a business day. Some translators just seem to vanish after sending their invoice – it’s never too pleasant.
In the end, it all boils down to two things: act as the professional you claim to be, and remember your PM is a human being too. Project management is very stressful and anything you can do to ease the pressure will be immensely appreciated.