5 Sad Mistakes Freelance Translators Make on Startup




  • Greater than 5 minutes, my friend!

    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.

    Follow up

    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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    Simon Akhrameev

    About Simon Akhrameev

    Blogger, entrepreneur, certified English-Russian translator helping businesses expand to the Russian market since 2007 offering technical, legal, and marketing translation & localization services.

    3 thoughts on “5 Sad Mistakes Freelance Translators Make on Startup

    1. This is a great post, but the tip about minimum rates really surprised me: “you should set your minimum rate wisely and always add extra 10-15% or even 20% to such rate as a bargaining range.” Prior to this, most translator guides and forums I’ve read suggest having a few different rates (related to format, rush jobs, etc.), but then sticking to these rates and not bargaining. Don’t get me wrong – I spent over six years in China, so I’m pretty familiar with bargaining – but I personally don’t enjoy it and have always loved the “no bargaining” policy. Have other people had good results with this method?

      1. Thanks for your comment, Laura. The main idea about the minimum rate — never agree on the rate that is lower than your minimum. Of course, there are different pricing strategies. I use several depending on the client, but I think that having a negotiation margin is good if you never reduce the cost below your accepted minimum. Discounts can be a strong motivation to take a decision.

    2. Thank you Simon,
      As a young freelance translator I found your article very useful and inspiring. There are things that are not obvious when you begin, even if they should be – for example, keeping in touch with clients. You gave me great tips!

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