You turn on your computer, take a sip of coffee and see a potential project come in. What are the chances, knowing nothing about the project, that you will accept it? If your answer is close to 100%, it might be time to re-think your strategy. You may be providing subpar service to your clients and hurting your potential future in the translation and interpreting (T&I) industry.
Is this assignment a good fit for you?
I regularly turn down work when I don’t have the expertise for it, don’t have the exact qualifications they are needing, or don’t have the time to give the client the quality I expect of myself. Is it that my business is already so solid I can’t take on any more work? Absolutely not. Don’t I have bills to pay? Of course I do! The thing is, I care about what I do and I insist on providing excellent service to my clients. As a result, when I know, for one reason or another, that I can’t do that, I believe the best thing for my long-term business and my clients is to turn down the assignment, even when it hurts. I also take the ATA & NAJIT Codes of Ethics seriously and both require that translators and interpreters accurately represent their credentials.
Some assignments are easy for me to turn down: You need a Spanish into French translator? I translate Spanish and French into English. You need a French court interpreter? I am a Spanish court interpreter, but don’t interpret in French. Some jobs are harder to turn down, though. Take, for example, a French transcription that I received from a favorite client of mine, a few days after doing a similar French transcription for them. I always try to prioritize this client’s assignments; I hate saying no to them and luckily almost never have to. I listened to the file and just wasn’t confident, so I had to turn it down. I felt like I let them down and I hated that feeling. However, they were able to find someone else who was able to provide a better service, and my time was freed up for another assignment that came in just after that.
Misrepresenting your qualifications to get more work
Just don’t do it! Saying you’re a Certified Translator when you’re not puts you at risk of being called out publicly for an ethics violation and causes people to question those who do have that credential. If you’re serious about the T&I industry, you’re hurting your future self because people may not trust your credentials when you do attain them.
When helping others can hurt you
In Texas, in order to interpret at depositions, county courthouses, and in any court of record, the law states you must be a Master Licensed Court Interpreter (with a few exceptions that are beyond the scope of this article). I have a great relationship with a colleague who does not have this qualification. He recently got a call from a lawyer asking him to interpret at court. My colleague explained that he was not a Master Licensed Court Interpreter and the attorney told him he didn’t care. He told him it was an easy case and it was hard to find people with the right qualifications available for hearings. This colleague is the kind of guy you can count on—he really wants to help people. He hates disappointing clients and he felt like this attorney needed him, so he was contemplating helping him. I pushed back and explained that this was his decision, not the attorney’s, and that he was better positioned to know the risks and consequences. I emphasized that he could get into trouble for taking on this assignment. I was shocked to be having that conversation with this person, whose ethics I normally admire. This just goes to show how “being helpful” can make us lose sight of real issues.
How to turn down work in a way that gets more work later
Remember that transcription assignment I mentioned earlier? Two weeks later, the client offered me the best assignment they’ve ever offered me, and I was ecstatic to take it on. They know that when I say I can do something I can do it!
Half the battle is getting a client to find you and reach out to you. Once you’ve won this part of the battle, use the opportunity to talk about what you can do for them. Rather than ignoring the email, respond back and let them know that while you don’t have the expertise or qualifications needed for this assignment, you can do XYZ.
It’s also a good idea to network with other colleagues in your language pair, and in the opposite language pair, so that you don’t have to leave clients out in the cold. A few weeks ago, I was asked to do 30 pages of handwritten medical reports by a client from whom I was really hoping to get some repeat business. I like electronic medical reports, but I just could not decipher these handwritten ones. I did a search in the ATA directory and found two people I thought were qualified. I took the risk and told a client with whom I really wanted to build a better relationship that I couldn’t decipher the handwritten medical reports and gave them the names of people who I thought could. I wanted them to get the best translation they could get, and I highlighted what I can do for them in the future, as well as my desire to continue working with them. Fingers crossed—hopefully they learned they can trust me.
It’s important to grow your business in ways that bring back more business. That means only advertising on your business card, website, LinkedIn profile, CV, etc. qualifications and certifications you actually have. Take a good look at assignments before accepting them and don’t take jobs you know you aren’t qualified for, hoping you’ll just figure it out, or think that the client won’t know the difference. Remember, if this is the career of your dreams and it gives you the lifestyle and intellectual challenges you want, focus on the long-term: creating a reputation for excellent work and helpful customer service.
Image source: Pixabay
Jessica Hartstein is an ATA-Certified Translator (Spanish>English, French>English) and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter (Spanish-English). She holds an MA in Conference Interpreting and Translation Studies from the University of Leeds and graduated Cum Laude with a BA from Rice University.
Prior to working freelance, she held full-time, in-house translation positions at a marketing firm in Luxembourg and an oil and gas engineering company in Houston. Jessica specializes in legal, medical, asylum, and oil and gas translation and interpreting projects. She has been fortunate to have lived abroad in Spain, China, Japan, England, and Luxembourg.