Advice for a new translator on job hunting

By Jill Sommer

Reblogged from Musings from an overworked translator with permission from the author

I received an interesting comment from Martha, a new translator. I felt this was important enough that it shouldn’t be buried on a page no one will see. Martha has agreed to my posting it here for everyone to comment on. I particularly hope that some of my former students will share their insights (May, Justin, Emily, etc.) since they broke into the market more recently and are busy in their own rights.

I have to say that as a new translator, I’ve read these ideas to keep rates standard 100 times but find it very difficult to find any work at all if I can’t show I have much experience in any field yet. Does anyone have a good strategy of how to hunt for potential jobs (besides proZ.com)? I thought working for one agency and showing them that I could complete a quality translation would be an effective way to start and yet I finished a large project for my first employer and am now questioning whether I’ll be paid a dime for it or anything I’ve done since. Other translation agencies do not seem to be interested once they find out I have limited knowledge of a trial version of a CAT tool and have only offered small and sporadic work so I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. Do you seasoned translators have any suggestions?

Here are ten tips from me to get started. I hope others can share what worked for them.

1. Start marketing yourself to as many translation agencies and/or direct clients as you can. They won’t know you are available if they don’t know you exist. I wrote a guest blog post at Naked Translations explaining how I broke into the U.S. market when I moved back from Germany in 2001. Think about what makes you stand out from all the other translators out there looking for clients and highlight it to new clients.

2. Get active on the local, national and international levels. I was the president of the Northeast Ohio Translators Association for eight years. Not only was I the face of NOTA to local and regional businesses, I established good relations with my NOTA members (both agencies and freelancers) and kept urging my members to act professional at all times. I also highly recommend attending some of the smaller ATA regional conferences that are more specialized in the fields you work in or would like to work in. At the national and international level I attend (and present at) the ATA conference every year, am active on various translation listservs in the U.S. and Germany (word of mouth and referrals from colleagues who are too busy are VERY helpful – both when you are starting out and once you are established and you have a lull), maintain this blog, and use social media like Twitter, XING and LinkedIn. I have also written articles for our local newsletter (the NOTA BENE) and the ATA Chronicle. People actually do remember them years later.

3. Have you read Corinne McKay’s book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, or Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s The Entrepreneurial Linguist yet? Both offer valuable advice for new and experienced translators alike.

4. Use a full version of your CAT tool – not a trial version. There are some excellent tools out there like Fluency or OmegaT that do not cost an arm and a leg (in fact, OmegaT is free!). Once you start earning more money you can consider branching out and purchasing one of the more expensive translation environment tools (if you feel you need to). This is where I feel sites like Proz.com can come in handy, because they occasionally offer group buys that make a software like MemoQ more affordable.

5. Stay strong on price. I just announced to my favorite client that I was raising my word rate by $0.01, and they were okay with it. Quality agencies are willing to pay for quality work. Don’t let yourself be beaten down by the bottom feeders. Have you spent any time on No Peanuts! for Translators? They offer some convincing arguments you can use when you are pressured by a lower paying agency.

6. Be sure to check out the agencies on non-payment sites like Payment PracticesTranslator-Client Review, the ProZ.com Blue Board and Translatorscafe’s Hall of Shame. Get on non-payment listservs like WPPF and Zahlungspraxis (in German). This ensures you won’t be taken in by unscrupulous non-payers who prey on (desperate/less-informed) translators.

7. Take some college courses to expand your knowledge and experience in the field you are interested in and let potential clients know you have taken them. You don’t need to get a degree, but it shows you are interested in becoming a better translator. For example, Kent State University offers classes that they consider their core requirements (Translation Theory, Documents in Multilingual Contexts, Terminology and Computer Applications, and hands-on translation courses in the practice of translation, sci-tech-med, legal-commercial and literary-cultural).

8. Consider working on holidays, weekends and during the professional conferences (and advertising that fact) until you establish yourself. Many agencies scramble to find translators when their established translators are not available, and if you do a good job and impress them they will come back.

9. Be prepared to work hard. It takes about a year to establish yourself. Consider taking on a part-time job until you start becoming busier.

10. Most importantly, keep your existing clients very happy with quality work (hire a proofreader if you have to) and deliver quickly (if not early).

11 thoughts on “Advice for a new translator on job hunting

  1. I’ve been freelancing for a few years and at one point had to fight my way through a difficult non-payment issue on a large project (I did eventually get paid, but I will never work for that client again). My current dilemma is that I do a lot of work for a low-paying agency; in fact, they are my most steady supplier of work, completely reliable on payment and easy to work with – in most respects the ideal agency to work for, except for the rates. I wouldn’t want to cut them off, and I wouldn’t want to lose clout with a failed negotiation. Is there an effective and face-saving way to negotiate that without threatening to refuse work?

    • An anonymous reader said:
      I’ve been freelancing for a few years and at one point had to fight my way through a difficult non-payment issue on a large project (I did eventually get paid, but I will never work for that client again). My current dilemma is that I do a lot of work for a low-paying agency; in fact, they are my most steady supplier of work, completely reliable on payment and easy to work with – in most respects the ideal agency to work for, except for the rates. I wouldn’t want to cut them off, and I wouldn’t want to lose clout with a failed negotiation. Is there an effective and face-saving way to negotiate that without threatening to refuse work?

      Daniela replied:
      What an interesting question! In fact, this would be a great subject for a blog post (thanks for the idea!). Negotiating a rate increase can be a nerve-wrecking process. Here are the things I consider before creating a negotiation strategy:
      1) The length of time I’ve been working with the client. If you’ve been working for them for some time, it is more likely that they will seriously consider your proposal. You might want to use the Inflation calculator to see how much you can increase your rates: http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm. This is a good starting point and a good tool to bring to the negotiation table, because it shows your rate increase is based on facts, and it’s reasonable. Conversely, asking for a 25% increase at once is absolutely not acceptable. If that’s what you’d need to increase this particular client’s rate to match what you currently charge, then you should really consider expanding your client portfolio and eventually “phasing out” this client.
      2) The volume of work I receive from them (sounds like they’re a good steady client for you). You don’t want to lose face, but you also want a rate increase. All business relationships need to be mutually beneficial. So if you bring your proposal to the client and they simply say no, you may continue to work with them, but you will never again be happy with this client and will eventually drop them. Instead, present your proposal and say you are open to negotiation, and see what they say. But be prepared: You might not get what you want, and you’ll have to make the decision of whether to continue to work with them until you find greener pastures, or let them go.
      3) Do I have a good contact person within the company with whom I can discuss this? Project managers, accounting personnel, etc? Please keep in mind you should ALWAYS discuss this over the phone (or in person if you are lucky enough!), never send an email to begin with. Depending on your conversation, you can then follow up with an email where you clearly state what you discussed.
      Most importantly: Keep a polite and friendly tone in all your communications with the client (about this and any subject!). No need to threat about refusing work. Don’t burn your bridges. If you can’t find a happy median, then that pretty much tells you what you need to do: Look for new clients in a quiet, subtle way, without saying anything to them. How would you feel about them telling you they’ll find new translators if you don’t continue to charge what you’re charging? 🙂
      Only you know your client. I remember only one instance in my career when, after talking with my project manager, I knew there was no hope of ever getting a rate increase from this agency. She was very open and honest and said she’d present my proposal, but she knew it would be rejected. I really enjoyed their projects, and my project manager was awesome, but I knew it was time to say good-bye, and I started to actively look for new clients. Within two months I was no longer working for this particular agency, and had as much or more work from new and better-paying clients.
      Good luck and do keep us posted!

    • Thanks for the advice. I like the conciliatory approach you describe here and may borrow some of your language. I just have one more question: why is it important not to initiate a discussion of rates by email?

  2. An anonymous reader said:
    Thanks for the advice. I like the conciliatory approach you describe here and may borrow some of your language. I just have one more question: why is it important not to initiate a discussion of rates by email?

    Helen replied:
    I NEVER have a discussion of rates by email. On the phone, I can get a better idea of what the client is looking for, their rate parameters and other issues involved in setting the rate. Typically I negotiate over the phone and then send an email with the rate we agreed on over the phone.
    On the phone you can respond based on tone of voice, which is not present in email, and you can respond to the client’s questions instantly.

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  4. I’ve been thinking about this some more, because I only communicate with my clients/agencies by email (is this abnormal?). So I feel like it would seem overly dramatic if I were to suddenly call a contact person with whom I have never spoken by phone. And email is a much more comfortable medium of communication for me anyway. For both of those reasons, I would be less able to negotiate confidently by phone, and so I have a hard time seeing a real advantage in that.

    • An anonymous reader said:
      I’ve been thinking about this some more, because I only communicate with my clients/agencies by email (is this abnormal?). So I feel like it would seem overly dramatic if I were to suddenly call a contact person with whom I have never spoken by phone. And email is a much more comfortable medium of communication for me anyway. For both of those reasons, I would be less able to negotiate confidently by phone, and so I have a hard time seeing a real advantage in that.

      Helen replied:
      Each relationship is different. My phone calls are not limited to the crass discussion of numbers. They are focused on developing a relationship with my clients. I don’t just call them about rates. I call them to accept a project that they emailed me about, to ask how things are going when I haven’t heard from them for a while, to let them know I’m available after I’m done with a large project, etc. Discussing the rates is really a very small part of the relationship. In the Hillsboro, Oregon, Chamber of Commerce, they say that people do business with those they know, like and trust. I try to develop all three of those aspects before we get to the rates.

      An anonymous reader said:
      That was my understanding of your situation, and I’m sorry if I seemed to imply anything different, which was not my intention. It could be that I am missing something by not telephoning my clients in general, but since that has not been my practice thus far, my concern was that to call them out of the blue to ask for a rate increase would seem, as you say, crass. I think for me it would be awkward to suddenly start a phone relationship with clients I’ve been communicating with only by email, but maybe I could consider reaching out in other ways when adding new clients. But that’s another question.

      • That was my understanding of your situation, and I’m sorry if I seemed to imply anything different, which was not my intention. It could be that I am missing something by not telephoning my clients in general, but since that has not been my practice thus far, my concern was that to call them out of the blue to ask for a rate increase would seem, as you say, crass. I think for me it would be awkward to suddenly start a phone relationship with clients I’ve been communicating with only by email, but maybe I could consider reaching out in other ways when adding new clients. But that’s another question.

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  6. One way to do this would be to ask by e-mail if your PM would be available to talk by phone — make an appointment. Consider doing that shortly after completing an assignment, when your stellar services are fresh in your client’s mind. If you were to do it soon, you could put the rate increase off into the future by indicating that you’re planning to raise your rates at the first of the year and you wanted to give the client a heads up and didn’t just want to drop it on them by e-mail, or something similar. In other words, it’s not a demand-more-money call, it’s a courtesy call.

  7. I think that it’s oftentimes a matter of mindset or perspective. It’s important not to focus too much on “getting” jobs. It’ll help to focus more on “sharing” your knowledge and experience. Being desperate isn’t attractive in anyone’s eyes. My advice is to be calm, composed and continue to hone your skills, and live the experience. Let them come to you.

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