Do you make these mistakes in your offers? Most translators still do

  • Greater than 1 minutes

    Right now, if you’re not towering above your competition, you may be making one (or more) of these three major mistakes:

    Mistake #1: You’re an independent service provider, but you’re still using a CV.

    This is an error because:

    1. You promote your skills, but you also advertise your lack of business awareness. You are in a weak position from the onset, and you display yourself as fair game.
    2. You look like every other job seeker. Like a commodity. Potential clients do not notice you. They may just check if your assumed quality/price ratio is good enough for them to make a substantial profit.

    Mistake #2: You don’t communicate your value.

    You don’t explain why customers should buy from you. Maybe you don’t know yourself. Until you find a way to make them realize your value, your chances to get the next assignment remain close to zero. It is also likely that you use a basic layout that doesn’t communicate your value at a visual level. And when you don’t communicate your value, you can only lower your price to make your offer more cost-effective. You must not only deliver the best translation service. You must also tell why and how you’re the best choice for a particular assignment.

    Mistake #3: You send subtle signals of neediness in your initial offer.

    Every time you write that your ‘rate is negotiable,’ or that you give ‘volume discounts,’ you just say that you are hungry. Your prospects know they can lower whatever price you are offering. And they will be looking to pay you just a hair above your breaking point.


    These three mistakes are just some of the most frequent. There are other ones. They all come from a few core self-harming habits.

    To improve things, you don’t need to become a marketing expert. You just need to prepare a quick set of documents and communication templates that will help you start on a safer basis. This way, you will stop victimizing yourself, change your prospects’ perception and get higher-paying jobs.

    Alain Marsol

    About Alain Marsol

    A native speaker of French who entered the business world in 1984, I design entrancing contents in the fields of marketing and training applied to IT, software, photography and digital imaging.

    9 thoughts on “Do you make these mistakes in your offers? Most translators still do

    1. Hi Alain,
      You’re perfectly right! If we don’t value ourselves, how can we expect clients to acknowledge this?
      I will start today with ending submitting free translation tests. Even worse than the 3 points above… I feel really frustrated, annoyed, unrespected, tested the way you look into the mouth of a horse before buying it for farming activity.
      I promise. #nomorefreetests! And this is just the beginning…
      Thank you for offering food for thought! Today s the right day to start my little revolution. Let me know what will you do!

    2. Thanks Silvia,

      Instead of not doing free tests at all, you may want to make the most of them.

      This means offering them to end clients, only when *you* think it’s useful and you’re happy to walk this extra mile to secure a valuable business relationship with an interesting client who pays what you are worth.

      #nomorefreetestsforbottomfeeders 😉

    3. Yes Alain, good point! I will focus on those clients I would be happy to work for, not on those who would be happy to work with me but would not be happy to pay me for such happiness I cause…
      #nomorefreetestsforbottomfeeders #happytranslatorsonly 😉

    4. Hello Alain – is the reasoning behind not using a CV because it would appear more “corporate” and less sole proprietorship-like? Do you see a difference between a CV versus a one-page resume? Thank you!

    5. Thanks Rebecca,

      A CV or resume—be it one page or more—is strongly associated with job seeking processes, either by its layout or the information it contains.

      This is inappropriate for at least three reasons:

      1. All the information a translation buyer needs to see is not always visible, or not at first glance. The reader has to spend lots of time to dig into a pile of documents to find the best fit for a given assignment.

      2. Most freelance translators’ CVs look very similar. Layouts are usually basic, and each document is just a potato in a bunch of potatoes. For a business, this is a sin.

      3. In an environment where so many so-called translation agencies do all they can to treat their freelance service providers as sub-employees—and make them accept that as a normal situation—there is a need to draw a clear line.

      You can start by naming the document you use differently. Structuring it differently. And of course, behaving differently.

      Now, let’s get concrete and practical. I have designed templates for freelance translators to use. You can download them here: link to

    6. As usual, Alain, your advice is refreshing and innovative. I completely agree that a CV or résumé presents the translator as an employee wannabe rather than as a business person offering services to another business (including but not limited to agencies) or individual client.

      I looked through the helpful templates you included in your last comment, but your “Service Offer” template still looks too much like a CV, in my opinion. I wonder if my reactions might nudge you and your readers to think even more like businesses offering services.

      The main problem I see in your Service Offer is that it is still presenting the translator as an individual with credentials on hand (hoping they impress the client), rather than as a business offering to meet clients’ needs. Translators really should create a business entity for what they do; even a sole proprietorship (a basic one-person business in the U.S.) is still an entity separate from the individual. Along with this comes the creation of a business name and tagline. In my opinion, these two are what should be at the very top of the Service Offer in large type, not the individual’s name and line of work/main service description. It is the business name that should be presented as the primary identity of the translator. Only after that is clearly defined, I suggest, should the translator’s name appear; I would even go further and argue that this name should be followed by the word “Owner” or similar title, further emphasizing that this individual is a *business person,* not a job seeker. Only then, on the next line, should the line of work appear. An example of following these suggestions is this invented entity:

      Cross-Cultural Translation Services
      Bridging worlds through words

      Maxwell Parrish, Owner
      Expert French-to-Spanish medical translator

      See how differently this defines the person offering a service? Think of the last time you received a service offer from a business, say, a cable services company : did the large heading at the top of the letter identify the name of the business or the name of the CEO? My bet is the former. Do you even care who the CEO is? My hunch is you’re interested in the company and its services, not who runs it.

      While I agree with you that relevant credentials and diplomas in the field can come next (but not necessarily), I would totally remove the list of association memberships, especially from such a prominent place: number one, because most clients don’t know or don’t care what they are, and number two, because most memberships are merely purchased and are therefore meaningless as proof of added value.

      As for the next two paragraphs you helpfully suggest, I would reverse their order. If you think like a true business, then your value proposition — how you propose to meet your clients’ needs or solve their problems — should come first, not a mini-biography of the translator. Clients are more interested in how you will help them than what you’ve done in life. Again, since you’re not trying to land a “job,” you don’t need to grovel by listing all the experience you have — it’s assumed.

      What do you think of these suggestions? They build on your foundation, but go a bit further toward fulfilling your advice to present oneself as a business offering services rather than as a job applicant submitting a CV.

      Thanks for stimulating my thinking on this topic, Alain. I look forward to your reactions!

    7. Catherine,

      Thanks for offering constructive criticism and challenging the concept.

      I agree that my Service Offer template is still presenting the translator as an individual.

      It’s on purpose.

      Reason #1

      Creating a meaningful business name and tagline is a good idea, but:
      1. not anyone knows how to do it properly,
      2. or is willing to pay to have it done,
      3. and the above is also true for the logo that should be a part of your business identity package.

      Besides, how do you address your prospects and clients as a business entity? Do you say ‘I’ or ‘WE?’ Which one sounds best? Which one is faithful to the reality?

      Reason #2

      The full business identity package may be too much of a leap for most translators. Especially when they are still having trouble freeing themselves from their employee mindset.

      I agree that it’s good to have a business name, and a tagline, and a logo, and a website… But is it the actual foundation?

      For me, the foundation is a limited set of documents and templates that allow any freelance translator to develop a business mindset. And stop being taken advantage of at every step of the process.

      Reason #3

      Whatever your dressing, clients know they are doing business with a single person. They even want that. That is why I see nothing wrong with promoting yourself as an expert. It may be more efficient to speak as a full I than a hypothetic WE.

      It’s true that when I receive a service offer from a cable services company, I do not care who the CEO is. But this is an orange-to-apple comparison. When I am seeking the services of a lawyer or a medical doctor, I am looking for a specialist. A specific individual. A precise name and surname. I am interested in the very person who provides the service. Not if they run the business, or someone else does. Translators are in the same boat. (Doctors and lawyers are on the deck, translators are in the hold…)

      The list of association memberships is meant to be a credibility booster. Especially when national trade associations are mentioned. This information doesn’t do any harm if readers don’t know or don’t care. But it’s a big plus when they do. Besides, I am not sure that most memberships can be merely purchased. In fact, all serious trade associations screen their members with tests and criteria. Yearly fees alone are not enough. This screening is the selling point. The reason why we discretely but prominently display this information.

      About the two paragraphs, I agree on the general principle. But in our case, the short business bio that comes first is the rationale of the value proposition. Clients are only interested in how you will help them. But they also need to know why you are qualified for this job. And they need to know it in the first place. Besides, the sequence ends with a call to action, which is more ‘flowing’ and efficient after the value proposition, not after the bio.

      As you can see in the template, the professional experience you would find detailed in a regular CV has been taken out. Better than being assumed, the experience is condensed to its core. The main focus remains on the provided services and specialty fields. So, in no case can the reader think that it’s a CV, and you’re trying to land a job. Especially when you take care to avoid using this word. And when a clear-cut business offer stands in the body of your email or your online profile.

      Now, that’s only my view. It works for me. I have internationally known clients who want to work with me, not with my business name.

      At any rate, you are welcome to build on the available foundation. Tweak as much as you please. Have it your way. Make it work for you. As I have succeeded in stimulating your thinking on this topic, the primary goal of this post and these templates is achieved.

    8. That’s a useful review of the thinking behind your Service Offer. I guess my comments were aimed at experienced translators who already think of themselves as business people but haven’t yet dropped the CV as a way of presenting themselves. If my suggestions are too big of a leap for those who still think of themselves along the lines of “employees,” then I agree your format is fine for them.

      As for the pronoun I use in my dealings with clients, I still use the first person. I never pretend to be more than myself. But identifying myself as a business gives a professional frame to my service offer.

      Yes, you’re right that the comparison with a cable service was not really relevant and unfortunately seemed to diminish the importance of the individual translator. I simply picked the example to emphasize the notion that translators, as service providers, should define themselves first and foremost as businesses. Certainly the individual translator is crucial, like doctors or lawyers are. But when translators define themselves as mere freelancers, rather than as established businesses, then potential clients take them less seriously. This has already been demonstrated in surveys of businesses.

      As for the list of association memberships, I still think it should go way down on the page, if at all, and not take up the “prime real estate” at the top of the page. It does indeed make a difference if the client knows what they mean. The translator has only a few seconds to grab the attention of potential clients and persuade them to continue reading the rest of the page; in my own opinion (others may differ), it is a waste of those first few precious seconds to list information as secondary as memberships. If they mean nothing to clients, it only serves to confuse them, even if unconsciously, which is always a bad idea in a service offer. They care much more about how you can meet their needs. Although experience is important, of course, translators get so obsessed with talking about all their experience, something from their past, that they forget that their primary focus should be on the client and solving his or her problems in the near future. Also, in the U.S. at least, I can’t think of any T&I association memberships that screens its members; they are all available merely for purchase. True, to become an ATA Active Member, a translator has to prove certain qualifications, but I suspect that only an infinitesimal number (perhaps agencies) know or care about the category of membership the translator belongs to. I know the situation is slightly different in Europe, where a few associations screen their members for qualifications.

      Let me reiterate that my comments are meant in the nature of dialogue, not criticism. I think it’s great if any translators get motivated to drop their CVs because of your great post.

    9. P.S. I meant to say I use the first person *singular* in my business.

      Another point I wanted to raise was the cost of becoming a business. You said many translators can’t afford it. Although the situation may well be different in other countries, it is extraordinarily cheap here in the U.S. to become a sole proprietorship (which is the simplest form of business for a one-person entity). It costs nothing if the translator wants to get an Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service (although it’s not necessary). The only cost is registering the business name with the state in which the business is located — usually no more than $50 for five years. No other fees are required.

    Leave a Reply

    The Open Mic

    Where translators share their stories and where clients find professional translators.

    Find Translators OR Register as a translator