FREELANCE TRANSLATION: BEYOND THE BASICS

A half-day NCTA workshop in San Francisco featured practical strategies for increasing earning power. BY SARAH LLEWELLYN

workshop-at-sfsuSome 30 freelance translators attended the NCTA workshop “Freelance Translation: Beyond the Basics,” held at the SFSU downtown campus on July 11. The half-day workshop was conducted by Corinne McKay, author of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and herself a freelance translator.The workshop featured advice on fine-tuning marketing materials, strategies for identifying and approaching potential new clients (both agencies and direct clients), ways to gain name recognition, suggestions on improving translation quality, and ideas on diversifying income sources.
Corinne began with some tips on cover letters and resumes. For example, when approaching a potential new client or agency, always put your language pair on the first line of any correspondence, send your resume as a pdf file, include a description of recently completed projects, give examples of current clients and past projects, and attach a photograph of yourself. If writing to a potential direct client, provide a profile of your experience in narrative form, rather than as a resume.In general, direct clients pay significantly higher rates than agencies, but for most freelancers, sourcing full-time work from direct clients is probably more of an ideal than a reality. Nevertheless, even just a few direct clients can boost income considerably. Corinne therefore discussed ways to identify and approach both types of client.For agencies, target those that are small to medium-sized. When discussing rates, point out to the agency that while your rate is above average, so is your work. Calculate your hourly rate on every job and aim for jobs that will bring in the highest hourly rate. And before contacting a new agency, check their background on sites such as Payment Practices or the ProZ Blue Board.

When it comes to selling translation services to direct clients, this can be very intimidating. By the same token, many translators fail because they are over-ambitious. (You don’t have to aim for IBM!) While some end clients do require the specific range of services that only an agency can offer (high volume, multiple languages, logistical support, fast turnaround, and other language and technical services), there are many who prefer to work directly with a freelancer. The key to seeking direct clients, says Corinne, is to “start small.” Create a profile of your ideal clients, the kind of documents they produce, and where they are located. Focus on material that you have translated dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Follow international business news and target companies on the verge of expansion (particularly if this is likely to be in your area). Send a letter (rather than an e-mail) to the person mentioned in the article, and if you don’t have a name, try writing to the marketing director. Ask them whether they are locked in with their current translation provider or able to consider other options; explain that your rates are competitive with what translation companies charge but that you offer a higher level of quality control, consistency and confidentiality; tell them that by using a freelancer there will be just one point of contact and no layers of communication between them and the translation provider. It is also highly advantageous if you have a trusted colleague who can step in for you when you are not available. Clients want the assurance of availability. And if you do happen to succeed in gaining a local client, offer to meet them to learn more about their business. Shadowing them for a day can prove invaluable, but even meeting for lunch or coffee can be extremely beneficial to both parties. Ultimately, clients want to know how you can help them work faster and more efficiently.

Another important element in developing your business is increasing your name recognition. There are numerous ways to achieve this in addition to joining professional/social networking sites. Corinne’s suggestions included giving a translation-related presentation to a business group (on the topic of successful translation practices, for example), creating your own blog (and/or posting comments on other people’s blogs), participating in online discussion groups, volunteering for professional associations and writing for trade publications. The goal is to get clients to come to you.

Corinne also discussed ways to improve translation quality, and recommended focusing on two areas: writing skills in your target language and mastery of terminology in your source language. This could mean attending local continuing education courses or signing up for an online course, attending a conference or seminar aimed at people working within your area of specialization (take plenty of business cards!), visiting a business or industrial facility that works in your field, or even volunteering on the information desk at a specialist convention.

Finally, Corinne suggested diversifying beyond translation in order to reduce your exposure to risk in a down economy. This could be by providing other language services (such as voiceover, copywriting or software verification), language teaching, software training or writing glossaries, software manuals or white papers.

This was an engaging and highly informative workshop that provided no shortage of ideas, inspiration and food for thought. SL

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