Freelance Translators and Their Clients

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By Margaret Wiens

Freelance translators can no longer be solely language specialists: they must also know how to market themselves and maintain productive client relationships. Time management and effective planning are especially important components of a freelance lifestyle. Entrepreneurship can be challenging, but the freedom to choose your own clients and jobs can be worthwhile advantages. With three core concepts—qualifications, communication, and marketability—freelancers can distinguish themselves from the multitudes of talented translators and take an active role in their careers.

First, before actively looking for clients, freelancers must qualify themselves for translation or communications work. There are many forms of education and professional development, but the simplest way to demonstrate skill as a translator and stand out among your peers is to become certified with a professional association. However, it is often not the easiest way. In Canada, for example, certification may be earned through a combination of the following: a degree in translation or relevant experience; proof of translation work for a requisite period of time; completion of a mentorship program; and a minimum score on a certification exam. (See the link below to the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council for more details.)

If certification is not an immediate possibility, there are other avenues of professional development that will provide experience and expertise, including courses, seminars and workshops in writing, project management and CAT tools. In countries that do not have their own associations, freelancers may be eligible to join an international association (see source below), which will have various requirements depending on the country and bylaws in place. Other kinds of associations can also allow freelancers to improve their writing skills, network with other language professionals and stay up to date on industry news and the latest technology. The Editors’ Association of Canada, for example, has a directory of its members to aid clients in finding professional editors or proofreaders, an annual conference and external courses, among other benefits. These options will not only enable a freelancer to differentiate themselves from their competition and gain access to more clients, but also to improve the quality of their work and to become more efficient.

Next, freelancers must ensure that they are always personable and prepared when interacting with clients. These relationships can be tenuous, and one bad experience can change the dynamic of the relationship irreparably. The most important part of any relationship is communication, and in the professional world it is all the more crucial to be clear, open and honest about your skills, schedule and availability so that each job you take can be completed on time and in line with the client’s needs and requirements. It is often the small things that clients remember most about working with freelancers. If you have the time and budget, doing favours such as offering to proofread a document for free, adding personal touches like sending thank you notes or holiday cards, or accepting last-minute or rush jobs will keep you in work and in the client’s good books. You might also consider offering your older clients a discount rate or a package deal for certain jobs to show that you appreciate their business. Maintaining open channels of communication allows you to build trust with your clients and ensures that you are the one they ask when they need a reliable translator.

Finally, when searching for new clients, freelancers must also be salesmen. It is always useful to keep track of your accomplishments and projects in a portfolio, from which you can pull proof of your skills at any time and any occasion. Clients want to know that you are organized and efficient so that they can feel comfortable trusting you with their projects. Freelancers can showcase their talents through an updated resume, an elevator pitch, a cold call, or a portfolio of past work for which you received positive feedback. By preparing these assets ahead of time, you can offer a clear, concise version of yourself with your strengths and weaknesses clearly defined. Whether you are conducting a full interview, calling a company to inquire about employment, or briefly meeting an executive at a conference, the goal is to appear polished and to be memorable. Additionally, target your client search to companies with values that align with your own. Show interest in the client and their accomplishments, any interesting projects they’ve done and their prospects for the future. Being invested in your clients’ work makes it more fulfilling for you as a translator and will produce better work on your end, as well as foster a deeper relationship between you and the client.

Freelance translation is not an easy career choice, but it can also be more rewarding with pointed efforts and effective planning allocated to client services. By knowing the market, communicating effectively and remaining active in the translation community, it is possible for freelancers to succeed on their own terms.


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