Freelance translation can be an amazing field. If you do things right, you’ll work with a variety of great clients. You’ll take on interesting work, at least sometimes. You can also make a very healthy living at it.
Even better, the nature of most translation work allows you to be location independent. This means you can work from home, while traveling the world, or simply from your favorite people watching spot. You’ll also enjoy flexibility not available to you in many other fields.
There is one downside. While it takes time to build a reputation as a great, translation professional, bad habits and decisions can get you into trouble quickly.
While translation professionals are in demand, there are enough of them that people don’t have to work with subpar translators if they don’t wish to do so.
This is why maintaining and meeting high professional standards are key. The following are steps to take in order to avoid being a bad freelance translator.
1. Keep Your Technology up To Date and in Running Condition
‘My hard drive crashed. Can you send those files again? Also, I’m going to need an extension.’ ‘Sorry, my network has been impossibly slow. I will get those papers to you later.’
These are statements your clients should never ever hear from you. They should fall under the category of ‘Not my Problem’. As a freelance translator, it is your job to ensure that you have the equipment you need to do your job, and meet your contractual obligations.
This includes keeping your equipment free from viruses and malware, as well as ensuring your networks and servers are protected from intruders. Remember that you may be storing sensitive data, and customers need to be confident in your ability to protect it.
2. Acknowledge and Fix Your Mistakes Quickly
If you’ve made a mistake, the best way forward is to simply acknowledge, apologize, and fix. This is true even if you think the mistake wasn’t a big deal and could have easily been rectified by your client.
This is true even if you think the mistake was due to the client’s failure to be clear. This is true even if fixing the problem is a pain and will put you behind schedule.
It’s nearly always worthwhile to do right by a client, and to handle things professionally when mistakes are pointed out. If a client proves that they regularly attempt to get free revisions by pointing out so-called ‘mistakes’ you can deal with them on a case by case basis. Until then, give them the benefit of the doubt.
3. Don’t Take on More Work Than You Can Complete on Time
It’s tempting to take on all the work you can. After all, more clients can lead to even more clients. That’s a great way to get your name out there. Then of course, there’s the money.
Unfortunately, you can negate any benefits of this if you take on so much work that you start missing deadlines. You should certainly never take on so much work that it begins to impact your quality of work.
Here’s the reality of things. This is a slow growing business. Trying to rush yourself into the position of being a full time translator simply won’t work.
Have a long term plan in place. It could take as long as year to get things situated. Taking things slowly and doing everything the right way is much better better than taking shortcuts.
4. Follow up With Clients
The vast majority of unhappy customers won’t say anything to you. They simply won’t hire you again. This is why follow up is such an important step.
When you contact a client and ask them if they are happy, if there’s anything they would like to discuss, and if there are ways you can better serve them in the future that opens up an important dialogue. Clients then feel free discuss anything that disappointed them.
You can then use this as an opportunity to fix any issues that may exist. This will significantly increase the likelihood that a once unhappy client will be willing to work with you in the future.
6. Develop Cultural Competencies
The best translation professionals make an effort to learn beyond language and dialect mastery. They work hard to become familiar with the various cultures that speak the languages they work with.
Whether you are localizing a game or website, translating training materials, or providing captioning for a foreign movie or television show, cultural understanding is key.
Your job as a translator is much more than taking words written in one language and writing them in another. You have to retain meaning. You also must respect social norms and traditions.
You can only do this, if you understand culture and history. If you fail to do so, at best your translations will be confusing and a bit tone deaf. At worst, you could cause genuine upset and offense.
7. Ask Happy Clients For Reviews
Before you are hired, potential clients are going to look into your reputation and history with other clients. Make sure that they find something positive. If you know you have done a great job with a client, don’t be shy. Reach out to them and ask for a positive review. Many will be happy to help.
Of course, you can help by making the process as easy as you possibly can. Provide them with links to websites that do reviews for translation services. If they are too busy to write out a full review, ask for a brief testimonial. This is a good time to ask for referrals as well.
8. Don’t Take Work beyond Your Expertise no Matter How Lucrative
Translation is not a field where you have the luxury of figuring things out along the way. If you cannot execute the duties required to complete a translation assignment, don’t accept the job. Accuracy and on time delivery are simply too important.
Remember that an inaccurate or late translation may mean extra work, or a lost job for you. It can mean a ruined vacation, a costly delay of a business deal, or even have serious safety or health implications.
Don’t risk your reputation or your clients well-being in an effort to build up business or earn more money.
9. Avoid Working with Low Rate Translation Mills
If you choose to take all or a portion of your work from an agency, be sure to vet them out thoroughly.
First, if you don’t work for someone who has high standards, you won’t be called out on your bad habits or mistakes. They’ll simply pass on your translation, and reward you with a small paycheck. This makes it nearly impossible to improve your skills.
Further, you have to consider what you want on your resume. You certainly aren’t going to impress anyone by working with an agency that has a hack reputation.
10. Be Upfront About Your Prices
Nobody likes to get hit with unexpected costs. Your clients are no different. When you quote a job, it should include the final price your customer will be expected to pay. There should never be any surprises. Further, you can help create goodwill if you provide reasoning for any extra fees that you do charge.
Keep an eye on your competition as well. If your pricing is much higher or lower, that could give customers pause. If you don’t have justification for your pricing, consider adjusting it so that it is in line with industry standards.
11. Be Aware of Your Own Reputation
This is one field where you should always read your own press. Check out customer review websites and read the reviews. Pay attention to the negative ones, even if they are a bit painful to read.
Reach out to past clients who were unsatisfied, and try to come to a satisfactory resolution. In many cases, you may be able to get them to modify or take down negative reviews.
You should also pay attention to relevant online discussion forums. Knowing what people are saying about you can provide valuable insights. Finally, consider setting up Google alerts for your name, company name, and any relevant keywords.
This is truly a great field to be in. The demand for translators and interpreters is growing at a very high rate. This makes it an ideal field to be in. If you work hard, treat clients well, and deliver quality services, you can grow your business into something quite lucrative.
However, there are pitfalls as well. Don’t allow bad decisions or shortcuts turn you into a bad freelance translator.