Greater than 5 minutes, my friend!
Once a month posting probably isn’t going to cut it moving forward…
Today I want to talk about working for free. A couple of the translators that I mentor have asked me about unpaid work and this is another one of those subjects that lead to a lot of conflict in the translator community. Those always make interesting posts, right?
Some say it’s a great thing, others demand that you never, ever, work for free. Personally, as with so many things in life, I fall somewhere in the middle and I would like to share my thoughts.
First and foremost, I see three different types of unpaid projects: Working for free, volunteer/pro bono translation, and quid pro quo.
I think that when translators become so vehemently opposed to other translators providing their services for free, they’re thinking of the first type of unpaid work, where a client can pay you, but chooses not to. They usually promise more work in the future, large amounts of exposure, and so on. It’s also usually worthless and often a scam. I totally agree with this point. When we help the bad agencies/clients, we give them the resources to continue being bad, and even to grow. They’re still benefiting from our work, usually monetarily, while the translator gets nothing.
Volunteer translation is generally a good idea. There are a few organizations that I support with my translation and SEO services. Beagle rescue foundations are very important to me and my wife, as well as other animal rescue groups. We translate material for them, help them run their websites and social media accounts, and even help with physical projects when we can. I have also interpreted, pro bono, in schools and hospitals when those services weren’t available. I was also a missionary for two years, which is where I learned Spanish – that was all voluntary as well. This, much like quid pro quo, is all about getting something in return for your time, knowledge, and skill. I hate to use business jargon to describe charity or volunteer work but think of it as an investment. We want to get a return on any investment that we make. What you receive can take many forms. If you feel better after doing volunteer work, and if you’re happy with the investment that you made to receive that reward, then keep doing it.
And finally, we have our quid pro quo, “something for something”. The biggest difference between this and free translation, in my opinion, is the actual compensation received and how the project is approached. If a company were to ask me to translate something for free, I’m going to tell them to _________ and then ________________. However, I don’t mind approaching a potential client and offering my services in return for something else.
Let me tell you about my first freelance project. I was a young in-house interpreter/translator working for a finance company. I had recently discovered Proz.com while researching a term and was intrigued by the idea of going freelance. I also needed the money, since my then fiancé was still in Argentina and we were working on getting her visa. I lived alone and spent the majority of my free time playing World of Warcraft, so I figured some light freelance work in the evenings would be good idea. I started contacting translations agencies and bidding on jobs. However, even though I was working for a very well-known company, and had worked for an equally well-known company previously, I wasn’t getting any work.
One day I found an agency that wanted to translate a very simple text, less than 200 words. I emailed them, telling them that I would do the translation for free if they would give me a positive review (if my work was good, of course). They jumped at it. I translated the text over the next couple of days during my lunch breaks at work and gained a happy new agency client. They wrote a very kind review of my work and I started picking up more agency clients. So, sure, I lost $30 – since I wasn’t paid for it – but the return on that investment over the years has been amazing. I’ve made a living out of this because of that investment.
I think that I would do that again – though at this point I don’t need to. Those first “free” translations are what allowed me to make the connections in the gaming world that I needed in order to take this full-time. I mostly worked on addons for World of Warcraft and this new game that had just released its alpha version called Minecraft. I did the translations on a portal called Curse Forge, where my name would appear as a contributor and translator. I could show those addons to prospective clients and show that I had experience and knew what I was doing. That’s how I started working with my first developer, who used one of the addons that I translated. Eventually, the addon developers moved on to other projects and full games, which they asked me to translation, since they already knew me and what I could do. Again, that’s how I got to where I am today.
If you’re going to do translation like this, make sure that you are getting a return on your investment. If you’re translating a game for an indie develop and it’s their first project and they can’t pay your full rate, take what you can and asked to be included in the credits and for a written referral that you can share with other potential clients. If you can get your name in the game, that’s even better.
There aren’t a lot of translators specializing in video game localization. You, my dear reader, are a rare commodity; a unicorn! Your skills, knowledge, and passion are valuable. You are valuable. So, if you decide to invest your time, knowledge, skills, and passion in to a project, you must get something out of it because there are other games, other developers that need you and instead of helping them, you’re throwing yourself away.
Again, this is nothing more than my opinion. You can do whatever you want. I only ask that, before taking on any sort of unpaid work, you ask yourself what kind of return you will receive for your investment. Ask yourself if it’s really worth your time and energy. If your return in negative, meaning that you give more than you receive, than your “client” is stealing from you.
Of course, my experience and opinions are not the only ones, nor are they necessarily the right ones. There just happens to be a comment section here where you can share your thoughts, opinions, and experiences! USE IT! ^_^