The Outsourcing Freelancer: Lesson 04 How to win a client who already has a translator

  • Greater than 11 minutes, my friend!

    Technically, this post has nothing to do with outsourcing. But since I only work with direct clients, people often ask me for advice on how to win direct clients, and we all know the typical scenario: You come across a website. You’d really dig this company. Then you realize that their translations into your target language are… bad. You could do way better. Wouldn’t that be the perfect reason to get in touch with them? Well… it’s not! Criticizing someone for what they’ve perhaps done themselves, or for their poor decision when they picked a (so you think) mediocre service provider is definitely not the best door opener. Because either way, they spent time and money on what they have at the moment.

    Let’s imagine you somehow manage to get a foot in the door and you get to talk to the right person. Not every potential or new client talks to us because they are looking for a new translator. Many of them are happy with the status quo, especially with the translations they already have (and paid for!).

    Or a potential client is indeed looking for a new translator; the reasons can be countless. Sometimes it’s simply that their go2translator is busy, ill, or on vacation. Another scenario is the one I described above: You came across their website or their brochure and dared to send them a contact request on LinkedIn and they confirmed. Perhaps you had a short talk at a trade fair, but you didn’t have any idea how to spark their interest in you. Or you commented on a post on their Facebook page and got a friendly reply (this would be a good time to message the page admin and ask them if they ever buy translations)…

    New brooms sweep clean. They say.

    We all know that new brooms are more expensive than old ones. That’s totally normal because the cost of living is constantly on the rise, there’s inflation, and perhaps their previous translator didn’t get around to up their rates in years.

    Additionally, from the clients’ point of view, (highly) specialized translators with an appropriate education seem to be a rare species. One reason is that machine translation (MT) is already splitting the market today. The bulk market, i.e. the lot of the translation volume (which benefits from MT) is mainly served by agencies and, by nature, they have larger marketing budgets and therefore they tend to be more visible to clients. And yes, visibility is expensive.

    There’s two “breeds” of translators: Those who work with MT and serve the bulk market via agencies, for projects that are defined by quantity. The others are translators (and cooperations among freelance translators) focusing on high quality translations and consulting, e.g. in the areas of marketing, medicine, legalese, etc. They tend to work for direct clients. This is definitely a trend that started a few years ago and has been confirmed by various associations for language service providers and agencies, by clients, and my own experience.

    Note: Both “breeds” of translators hold veritable approaches, at least in my opinion. But here in this post we are talking about high quality translations for direct clients.

    In this post I am not referring to the common penny-pinching client or the ones who will gladly forgo quality for the sake of saving a dime. I am referring to those clients who work with specialized translators to translate a certain type of text produced by their company. These translators are well versed, deliver top-notch results that can go online off the reel or can be printed straightaway. These translators are also approachable, reliable, proactive and thoughtful. Precisely what we want to be for our selected clients, right?

    But how can we argue for ourselves once we are certain that we would be the better choice for a company? How do we let them know gracefully that their translations really need revision or even retranslation? To answer this question we will first have to put ourselves in the shoes of an established company.

    The difference between startups (or market conquerers) and established companies

    The above described type of client greatly differs from a startup or a company that has just recently decided to conquer new markets. You can quote me on something I recently said: “If you want to earn money you have to go where the money is.” Usually, startups do not have any money, for two reasons: For one, they do not plan any budget for translations or they fail to plan it sufficiently. And then, they usually decide in the very last moment that it would be smart to tackle foreign markets, too. Which takes us back to square 1.

    Note: There are other remuneration models for startups besides charging your regular rate. Perhaps I’ll come back to this topic in a later post. You have to know, I love working with startups. From the translator’s point of view, their corporate lingo is still a blank sheet leaving a lot of room for creative leeway: Processes and copy creation, tonality and terminology, terms of collaboration… 

    Established companies, who have been more or less successful in their target markets for years, have other (financial) considerations to make than startups do. We are talking about a totally different overhead¹ including marketing budgets, personell expenses, and so on. Every Cent they spend on translations needs to have a definitive ROI². How big or small this ROI is does not only depend on the company’s performance or product, but also on the translator’s performance. They know that! And we should, too. (I hear you: Plus, there’s the fact that the service offered or the product presented needs to be in demand in the target market. That’s a no-brainer, though.)

    So compared to a startup or a company that is just about to set out to enter new markets (in your target language), the established company has probably already invested thousands of bucks in translations. A startup is still in its baby shoes when it comes to buying translation services, so it’s much easier to land a deal with a startup than with an established company. Or let me put it like this: With a startup, you don’t have to push anybody out of the boat, because every translator has an equal chance. The moral of the story is that we have to address established companies differently in order to convince them to work with us.

    How do I get a potential client to give it a shot with me?

    So when we introduce ourselves to a potential client who is already working with another translator, and we’re assuming that they are somewhat interested in what we have to say, then the client will want to know the following:

    • How would you assess existing translations? Do they fulfill their purpose?
    • Would your translations help to increase their turnover?
    • Will it pay off for them if they invest more money in retranslations and/or future translations from you?

    These are the questions we need to be able to answer. Or at least we need to be able to help find answers. This is where our homework comes in. And we need to have it completed and ready before pitching our services.

    So what is this homework about? The goal is to present an assessment of existing translations proactively. I am often asked by newbies in our industry: “Can I tell this company I’m interested in working with them and that the copy on their website could use some improvement?” Well, yes, you could. Just don’t do it in a simple 5-line email. You need to give them something that not only helps them to turn you, you need to give them something that will make them realize that there’s a need for improvement in the first place.

    It all depends on HOW we present our assessment

    A compellingly prepared and branded PDF file, with a fair assessment based on profound knowledge. That’s my recommendation. This can be presented either by email or as a download from your website, should your website be compelling and radiant. Preferably, you’ve made sure beforehand that the client is interested in what you have in store for him. What I mean is: You have your foot in the door and you’ve talked to them about doing the assessment, of course without any obligation.

    What should you concentrate on when looking at existing translations? On anything that can improve the company’s ROI. This is the moment when we have to point out why revising all their translations or why doing a complete retranslation will lead to new and more business and/or customers and thus increase their turnover. The rest should be a breeze.

    Your objective should be to point the client to what it is you offer: Improving their sales. You have to convince them that they can win new customers by means of correct and better translations (whatever that entails, e.g. localization). This is the ROI when they buy your services. Always! In other words, the expenses for your services need to pay off for them. So lets have a look what said assessment could include. The overall assessment is then your best argument.

    The first impression matters, regarding both you and the potential client’s existing copy

    This certainly also applies to written words. Whether on a website, in a brochure, on a poster or in a catalog. Are the company’s customers addressed the way the client had it in mind? Is the copy localized? Are there even blunders or stylistic inconsistencies in the translations? Make notes of them and incorporate them into the evaluation. Grab one or two headlines or statements and explain why you would translate them differently. Does a CTA make you shiver? Let them know why. Describe what that mistranslation does to a reader. Does it spark a unintended or inappropriate train of thoughts? Find the worst one or two spots and summarize why they should not settle for what they’ve got.

    But remember, this is not about making the  previously commissioned translator look bad. You will never make yourself look good by trying to make others look bad. The important goal is to work out why you are a better match for the company, without comparing or even speaking ill of your colleague. A good rule of thumb here is: When assessing someone else’s work, always remember that it’s about what YOU would do differently, not what the other person did wrong. Stay true to yourself, do not judge others. That will make it so much easier for the client to turn to you. I’ll give you an example.

    Let’s pretend that the translation of a headline turned out to be quite verbatim and readers might feel offended. You and I clearly know that this was not written by a native speaker of the language. But, rather than writing: “Clearly, the person who translated this is not a native XY speaker, this should be translated like this…” opt for “I am sure this happened unintentionally, but right now your readers might feel offended when they read xyz because it will read to them like…/make them think of…”

    Or let’s say you find that in some passages, the copy addresses a single reader, in other passages the copy addresses multiple readers. In a lot of languages this is a huge difference. Rather than saying this is poorly translated or that the consistency is non-existent, point out the lack of consistency by asking the client whom the copy addresses in the first place as you couldn’t make it out from the copy itself. Quote those passages, translate them if necessary, and leave them without any further comment.

    Purposeful translation

    I can only speak from my own personal experience here, and that bases on translations in marketing. Therefore, I do not only look at translations in terms of correctness, stylistics and localization, but also with regard to SEO and user experience.

    You can almost always uncover potential improvements because most translators, for whatever reason, do not pay attention to these aspects. Why? No idea. Perhaps because they are not up to date, perhaps because they’re generally not into the subject, or perhaps they simply forget that this is a service that can be turned into hard cash. As a matter of fact, optimizing copy for search engines and with respect to user experience can and should be offered to translation clients in line with consulting. There’s nothing wrong with charging the face value of an amenity. It’s called up-selling. The client can take it or leave it, but if we don’t charge for it, someone else will. No later than when the client realizes that the translated website copy alone doesn’t do anything for him in his target market.

    We can say it, too: Content is King!Click To Tweet


    SEO check in terms of translation

    You can also do a quick SEO check as part of the assessment. Those who are familiar with reading the source text of websites can almost always find something that can be fixed relatively quickly and easily to improve the client’s SEM³. Some points that you may consider:

    • Was the meta text for image files translated?
    • Do links in footers work like they should?
    • Is the contact data localized?
    • Is the permalink structure localized?
    • Were important tags lost when the translation was uploaded?
    • Do the anchor texts make sense?

    These are just some examples. If you translate websites professionally and properly, then chances are you will know what to look out for.

    But what if their translations are good?

    There will be dream clients out there who have good translations and you’ll want to contact them anyway. This is a hard one. But let’s face it: You don’t know if the good translations they got were hard to get. What I’m saying is this: Perhaps they don’t like dealing with their service provider although they do deliver a good job. Or for some reason, their current translator stops working for them. Or they raised their fees and the client has a hard time accepting. Or the person in charge for buying translations just changed jobs and the client is in need of a new translator. Considering how often my contact persons have changed jobs and took me along with them to their new employer, and the new person at the “old” client never got in touch with me, this is a veritable thought.

    Try to get in touch anyway. You could tell them how much you like their brand and their copy. Ask them for the contact details of their service provider. If it’s an agency, you’ll have someone to contact who works with the kind of clients you like (maybe even this one). If it’s a freelancer, you’ve got a new contact to network with (and perhaps share jobs with). Either way, complementing a company on their choice of service provider will make them feel good about themselves. Blame it on psychology that it will make them feel good about you, too. After all, you’ll be the source of a positive feeling.


    A carefully drafted assessment can be very helpful if you want to persuade a potential client to work with you. It will take a lot of time and brains to put together the information above. But acquisition has never been easy, and quick money is usually bad money. This goes for us, and for our clients. Preparing for acquisition by means of assessment is time-consuming, but it is a good investment that pays off more often than not. It gives us something tangible, it is evidence of our expertise and it certainly gives us a USP. Knowing this will strengthen your self-confidence, and you’ll present your pitch with much more sovereignty. It will show that you take your profession seriously and that you are genuinely interested in working with them. It also shows that you are aware of the immediate impact your services have on the company’s success. If you’re aware of that, it will be much easier to win that client.

    Thank you for reading this lesson and I look forward to your thoughts and questions!

    If you’d like to read my other lessons, please feel free to visit my profile. And don’t forget to connect!


    ¹Overhead: Expenses that are not directly related to the production of a product or the fulfillment of a service.

    ²ROI or Return on Investment: Return, or the profit that can be achieved by an expenditure.

    ³SEM: Search Engine Marketing

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    Tanya Quintieri

    About Tanya Quintieri

    Web designer and translator. Foodie and in love with my man. Grateful for my kids, laughs and intelligent conversation.

    16 thoughts on “The Outsourcing Freelancer: Lesson 04

    1. Phew, finally found the time to leave a comment! Awesome post, Tanya! To be honest I haven’t done any prospecting in years (approximately right after I’ve started building The Open Mic). So this post has inspired me to step up my game and some prospecting again.

      I also loved the tip about asking for contact details of a translator or a company when translation is great. I never thought about this way. Really great advice that will help me network with people within my field of expertise 🙂

    2. Very good article, Tanya. Yes, I am one of those felons who has criticised translations to its buyer, either because it looked like google translate or has too many infelicities. I know it get’s one no where, or even pushes you back one step. But, it’s difficult to control one self when the market gets very slow and those buyers, being in your network, didn’t even try to contact you. Anyway, you are right, it’s negative marketing. However, momentarily, it feels good. But will never gain recognition.

      1. Happens to the best of us, Richard. We just need to make sure it doesn’t become a habit. I’m not a spiritual person, but I do believe in Karma. And you never really know why a client ended up with a bad translation. Maybe they had their part in it, too. I remember one client who paid me a lot of money to translate his website and marketing copy. He had a really cool product that was quite new and unique. No one had ever done anything similar before and it came at the right time. A few weeks later, I had a meeting with another client and we were talking about what he could get for his employees for Christmas (we kinda drifted off in our conversation about a translation he was going to get from me). So I pointed him at my other client’s website and I nearly fell of my chair. Said client had changed so much in my translation (i.e. turned it into crappy copy) that I immediately grabbed my phone and gave him a call. I asked him what had happened and he said: “Well, you know, Tanya, I once did an exchange year in the US and I still have friends from back then. So I asked one of them to review your translation and we made some changes to it.” I asked him what that person did for a living. And he said she worked at a delicacy shop. I got so upset and said that I cannot accept him doing this and that his original copy was written by a marketeer and not by a cashier, so why would he settle for a cashier’s opinion on my professional translation. Thankfully, that made sense to him and he changed it all back.

        1. ” So I asked one of them to review your translation and we made some changes to it.” – Wow! That’s horrible, but at least they didn’t come back saying: “Hey! Our cashier found mistakes in your text no revise everything and explain yourself free of charge!”

    3. Hi Tanya! A great post and very timely for me personally. I’m constantly on the lookout for direct clients, and I keep at it even though most of the time I don’t hear from them. I’ll try out this idea with a pdf containing print screens of website pages. One client I’ve been trying to approach has a typo right on their Russian homepage in big letters (think 46 pt or more).

    4. Hi Tanya, thanks for writing this. I have often wondered how to approach companies whose translations aren’t up to scratch. Now I just need to put your advice into practice.

    5. Hello Tanya,

      Awesome ideas, I will start working on implementing them as soon as the kids go back to nursery in September. Not only for the results, but also to gain experience over the course of the process. Thanks for sharing!

    6. Ahoj Tanya:

      Interesting post.

      I do have one question: I am wondering whether the term “outsourcing” and “outsourcer” is the best term to use to describe translators who don’t like to say “no, I don’t do that” to a client and instead figure out a way to do what the client needs to have done even though it may be a translation into another language, for example.

      I am saying this because the word “outsourcing” has a negative connotation as it was originally and is often used for the practice when a US corporation sends jobs for US to a cheaper country such as China.

      Also, when translators talk about “outsourcers” on social media, they usually imply negative attributes with this term. Personally, I think that a different word would be better. Do you agree?

      Problem is, I’m afraid I myself can’t think of a better word.

      1. Ahoj Steve,

        Thank you for your comment. I get where you’re coming from, but to be honest: I couldn’t care less how it’s perceived by (some) translators. Translators should (and most do) know better than assuming the negative connotation. For one, “outsourcing” by definition simply means to purchase (goods) or subcontract (services) from an outside company. In most cases, and in light of the developing global economy, it also means to buy highly specialized services that a company itself is not capable of providing themselves.

        Secondly, I truly believe in the power of attraction. My content here on The Open Mic will appeal to those translators who share my mindset: Taking words for what they are, not what people might believe them to be. Plus all of the other values I share here: Business sense, self-confidence, anti-nihilism. And those are the translators I want to reach.

        That said, I think I’ll leave it as it is. 🙂

        Have a great day!

    7. Hi Tanya,

      Yesterday I came across a poorly translated website of an interesting prospect and I immediately thought about this lesson. 😉

      I have a question: do you think it makes sense to ask the person in charge of the translations whether they would like me to send them a free, non-binding assessment of the Russian translation before compiling said assessment? I sent a contact request to that person on LinkedIn and he confirmed. What do you recommend?

      1. Hi Elena, I think that’s a very good idea. Fingers crossed and all the best!!

        Let me know if there’s anything else you need help with.

        And do keep us posted! 😉

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