Tips on Getting and Keeping Agency Clients

Tips on Getting and Keeping Agency ClientsAfter a ten-year stretch as director of the interpreting department for a mid-sized language company on the East Coast, I have recently reentered the freelance world. The language industry has changed considerably for independent contractors since I last worked as an interpreter, and while there is more work to be had, there are also more interpreters and more rigorous standards, certification requirements and regulations. I have encountered the freelance challenges of self promotion, procuring assignments, and negotiating scrutiny in the face of fierce competition. I’ve taken stock of what interests me, what I am good at, my current qualifications and of course, what is in demand.

My strategy is to secure work with agencies as much as possible to build my practice, while concurrently developing my skills, accreditations and specializations.

Below is a systematic approach which breaks down the various elements or steps in the process. This is not intended to be linear but rather circular in that many of the elements can be revisited and are interchangeable, overlapping and ongoing.

  • RESEARCH

Knowledge is power. Keeping current means staying informed of latest trends, new regulations, recent developments and relevant technology to better understand your place in the business. Starting with a thorough and honest self-assessment will help you know how you fit into the professional spectrum and how you stack up against the competition, in order to leverage your services. This self examination can be critical in determining if and how you are equipped to be a successful freelancer in the language industry.

Self-Evaluation

Education: What was your field of study, what degrees or certifications have you attained or do you need to attain to adequately compete?

Skills and Proficiency: For interpreters, modes in simultaneous, consecutive, or sight, and for translators, what CAT tools and formats do you work in and what is your maximum capacity of words per day?

Background: What are your working language pairs and are they equally bi-directional? Are you a native speaker of one or both languages of your pair (for interpreters) or of the target language (for translators)? Have you lived or worked in the non-native country? How many years have you worked in the industry?

Personal considerations: Are there any health or family restrictions? Interpreters: Are you willing to travel? Do you have the time and resources to service a large geographical area? With small children, how many hours a day can you dedicate? Are you the main breadwinner in your family and are you capable of working at this on a part-time or full-time basis? Are you financially able to weather seasonal dry spells? This may influence the volume of work you may need to generate as an independent contractor.

Industry Evaluation

Where is the work? Is there enough work for your language pair in your region to sustain a career in the language industry? Do you plan to work solely as an interpreter, a translator or both?

What is the going rate for your services in your region?

How unique is your language group – locally or nationally – and how do your qualifications compare to those of your colleagues with similar education and backgrounds?

What and where are some of the dominant or obvious business opportunities for your language group (e.g. Pashtu/Government, Japanese/Patents). If you know that the demand for your specialization is greater than the qualified supply, it is advisable to assess the current industry value, capitalize on that uniqueness and strategically position yourself accordingly.

Agency Evaluation

Once some of the questions above have been addressed, you can begin to research and explore the agencies which might best fit some of the above established criteria. For most interpreters, starting with a local search makes the most sense. Working through your local Chapter as well as the ATA for their corporate members is another good place to begin. The ATA annual conference attracts agencies from all over the country that have legal, medical, business and government clients in states beyond the location of their headquarters. Referrals from colleagues whom you trust and respect can also be a great way to expand your services to new agencies. Ultimately, you want to find agencies that are a good match for your services and that are reputable. It is always a good idea to cross-reference a new or unknown agency with other experienced and respected colleagues.

  • RESUMÉ / CV

Once you have identified and captured your qualifications, you will need to organize and present your profile in a single document tailored specifically to feature your professional language skills. For most agencies, a one or two-page resumé should suffice to accurately package your services. Your resumé is your single most powerful marketing tool. It is your opportunity to tell your story, to pitch your unique services to a Project Manager (PM) or Vendor Manager. These are typically the ones who receive, analyze, file or discard solicitations by hundreds of applicants both locally and internationally. A resumé should be above all truthful, well organized and formatted, concise and easy to read, with consistent and accurate grammatical structure. I have seen too many resumés tossed because of poor planning, typos, gaps of information, or language skills hidden in obscure places where they are easily missed. Polish your resumé so that it is outstanding and structured so that your most salient skills are immediately recognizable at a glance.

For higher-level work (e.g. legal document review, conferences) a longer CV may be desirable which details the years, clients and specific nature of complex assignments. Resumés should always be sent in a protected format such as encrypted PDF to protect your information and prevent tampering or piracy.

  • PROMOTION: GETTING/KEEPING THE WORK

Promotional Materials

Once you have conducted the necessary research to identify the targeted ideal agencies, you will need to put together an organized outreach strategy to circulate your resumé for potential work. Utilize LinkedIn and treat it as an extension of your resumé. If you do not have a website, recruiters doing a simple Google search of your name will find your LinkedIn profile. If not already a member of ATA or your local ATA chapter, invest the time and minor funds to join and tap into the terrific resources each offers. The better agencies will always resort to the directory in their searches for linguists. ATA, Chapter or Affiliate networking and educational events offer not only professional development and social support but also provide the opportunity for face-to-face contact with sponsoring agencies. The ATA annual conference and the ATA directory profile also attract top national agencies searching for talent. More and more professional translators and interpreters are creating websites to promote their services and can be another great marketing tool to reflect a polished, professional image, which can generate a lot of online traffic. Applying the same structural, aesthetic, grammatical and ethical rules as resumés, websites also require additional maintenance and utility. It should be noted that an outdated or dysfunctional website can be detrimental to landing a job and worse, to your reputation.

Introductory and Follow-up Emails

An email is your chance to close the deal, especially if acquiring your services may satisfy a deficiency in an agency’s language roster or fill a void for the loss of another vendor through illness, death or relocation. If you are following up with an agency after personally meeting with the owner, vendor manager or PM, be sure to add a personal touch, recapping the event with perhaps an anecdote reminding them of a chat you might have had or a colleague’s introduction or referral. If you are reaching out cold, try to make it as personable as possible, addressing it to the appropriate person. Emails with an impersonal opening, poor grammar or spelling in the target language might be deleted without even getting the resumé attachment opened. Because you never have a second chance to make a good first impression, an introductory email has to strike the right note and indicate the courtesy, professionalism and communication skills that would be desirable from a vendor representing the agency if ultimately hired. At the risk of being obvious, when presented with a job opportunity, not missing deadlines and returning emails in a timely fashion are sacrosanct to a successful practice.

  • CULTIVATING THE RELATIONSHIP

One of the most rewarding aspects of our profession and an additional benefit of working with multiple agencies is the variety of assignments you can enjoy in a given week. Both legal and medical certification programs require continuing professional development as part of the code of conduct and ethics. Developing skills through diverse workshops, courses and accreditation programs, besides refining our skills, can permit you to expand the types of agencies, clients and settings that require language access. Once an agency evaluates an independent contractor as a top-tier vendor, they will always call on them first when a choice assignment becomes available because they know they can rely on quality, with consistent, fairly priced services. Another great way to keep your profile prominent on an agency’s radar is to regularly communicate to them new certifications achieved, new industries you are able to cover or an increase in your availability. Once you become a regular and can develop a relationship with one or two PMs, remind them of your services, keeping them informed by contacting them with vacation notices, birth notices and/or Christmas cards. PMs will often share these with co-workers and the preferred status is then shared among departments. All of these individuals are more than clients; they are human beings who – in addition to appreciating quality, flexibility and punctuality – respond to kindness, humor and courtesy.

Header image credit: Unsplash

Author bio

 Tony GuerraTony Guerra, the current president of the Delaware Valley Translators Association, has more than 20 years of experience in the management, marketing and development of multicultural communications services. A native of Havana, Cuba, he has worked as an independent contractor as well as in-house with companies and agencies. His Spanish<>English translation and interpretation services specialize in legal, medical, government and marketing sectors. Besides chairing DVTA’s PR and Certification Committees, he is also highly involved in numerous volunteer activities for the American Translators Association (ATA) including as National Chapters Chair, the interpretation Policy Advisory Committee, the PR Committee’s Speakers Forum and ATA’s Mentoring Program.

Beat the January doldrums starting now

Beat the January doldrums starting nowThe holiday season is an interesting time in the freelance business cycle. For many freelancers, some much-wanted/needed time off turns into an unwelcome amount of down time when work is slow in January. Following are some tips on how to beat the January doldrums in your freelance business, starting now:

Tip 1: Work over the holidays if you need or want to. Many established freelancers may look forward to a holiday lull. And if you work with clients in Europe, they may all but shut down until about January 9, the first Monday after New Year’s. But especially if you’re just starting your freelance business (or if you need to bring in some more income before the end of the year), consider working over the holidays. This is an especially good time to land new clients, when all of a translation agency’s go-to translators are out of the office and they have no choice but to branch out.

Tip 2: Assign yourself some work for January. What do most freelancers do when work is slow? Panic. Assume that no client will ever call them again. What’s a better option? “Assign yourself” to those non-paying projects that (if you’re like me…) remain eternally on the back burner because they’re not due tomorrow. Demo some accounting software. Upgrade your website. Take an online course. Start researching a new specialization. Write an e-book. Pre-load your blog with 10 posts. The key here is to plan ahead, so that the “assignments” are in place when you sit down at your desk in the new year, and before panic mode sets in.

Tip 3: Do a marketing push ahead of your slow periods. The time to get on a client’s radar screen is before they need you. For next year, schedule a marketing push in early December, before your clients wind down for the holidays. For now, prepare a marketing push for the next big work slowdown (such as July and August, when a lot of clients and translators go on vacation). For example, write a warm e-mail that you can send to prospective clients; resolve to send at least three e-mails a day, starting two to three weeks before you expect your work volume to drop off. Check in with all of your current clients (anything in the pipeline that you might help with?) and prospect for some new clients.

Tip 4: Evaluate your business expenses. Many freelance translators spend *too little* on their businesses, in a way that can lead to stagnation. But it’s also important to look at what you’re currently spending, and where you could reallocate some money. This is especially critical if you tend to sign up for services that require a monthly fee, but then you don’t end up using as much as you anticipated. It’s also critical if you pay for big-ticket expenses such as health insurance or office rent. Otherwise, think about what expenses might make you happier and more productive in your work (an accountant? a better desk?) and allocate some money for those.

Along those same lines, the end of the year is a good time to rack up tax-deductible business expenses. For example, make sure to renew your ATA membership and any other professional association memberships before December 31, so that you can claim the business expense for this year. If you need office equipment or a new computer, Black Friday and after-Christmas sales are a great time to shop for deals. Software companies may even run end-of-the-year specials. In future years, you may even want to earmark some money to spend in December.

Tip 5: Plan a “think swap” activity with other freelancers. January is a great time for types of activities that seem like a good idea, but for which you never have time. Invite three or four (or more) other freelancers, block out a couple of hours, and pick a topic. Maybe you invite other people in your language pair and everyone translates the same passage before you meet, then you go over your translations together. Maybe you invite freelancers of various flavors and trade marketing ideas. Go over each other’s resumes or LinkedIn profiles. Practice interpreting using YouTube videos. The possibilities are pretty much endless, and in January you may actually have the time for some of them!

Thanks for reading, and happy translating!

Header image credit: MTT

Author bio

Corinne McKayCorinne McKay, CT, is an ATA-certified French to English translator and the current ATA President-elect. She specializes in international development, corporate communications, and non-fiction book translation. She is also passionate about helping beginning and established translators launch, run, and grow successful freelance businesses. Her book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, has become a go-to reference for the industry with over 10,000 copies in print, and her blog, Thoughts on Translation, has been a lively gathering place for freelance translators since 2008. You can keep in touch with Corinne on Twitter @corinnemckay, or on LinkedIn.

Quoting a Large Translation Project

By May Fung Danis and Steven Marzuola

Quoting a Large Translation ProjectMay Fung Danis and Steven Marzuola each responded to a question about writing a proposal for a large translation project recently on the ATA Business Practices discussion group. We’ve combined our remarks for The Savvy Newcomer blog.

First, take a look at the following resources from the ATA:

Model translation job contract A job contract is a one-time arrangement covering an individual job or assignment. It specifies the details of the work for that job—and only for that job.

Model translation agreement A services agreement is a standing arrangement covering multiple jobs or assignments. It establishes a structure for an ongoing business relationship, generally between a company and a freelancer.

(To learn more about these documents, visit http://www.atanet.org/business_practices/services_agreements.php)

The contract/agreement is relevant only when the client has decided to work with you. But looking at the contract/agreement will help you to think about the details that need to be addressed in your quote. For new clients, your quotation will typically contain the following (please note that not everything in this list will apply to you):

– Short note addressed to the person requesting the bid, acknowledging the request and thanking them for the opportunity.

– Description of services provided. This section will vary a great deal, depending on the client and industry. Feel free to omit what doesn’t make sense in your case.

  • Describe the source document. Title, revision number or date, approximate number of pages, source format (Word, PDF, etc.). This could be important if the client makes any changes to the document after they send it for translation, or if several different people have contacted you about the project.
  • Describe the target document, including the format of the finished translation. This is especially relevant when the format of your translation differs from the source, for example, if you are asked to deliver your translation as a bilingual table in a MSWord document when the source document is a .pdf file.
  • Describe how elements such as images, graphics or tables will be handled.
  • Describe whether third-party review is included. Your client may expect a document that is ready for publication. Others may only want a “draft” translation, for example, if they plan on editing the translation internally.
  • Describe whether review of proofs is included. Will the client ask you to check the printed copy for errors? A typesetter that normally works in language A might not get everything right in language B.
  • Describe whether post-delivery edits are included. When the translation is delivered, is the job complete? Or will the client perform their own review, and then ask for your consent for any changes?

– Description of your rate or price. If you are not offering a fixed price in advance, then explain how the price will be calculated.

– Description of turnaround time. Will the client make a decision immediately, or will they require some time to decide? If it’s the latter, then you should state that the delivery will be X weeks/months after they notify you of their approval.

– Description of delivery terms. Will you offer a single delivery, or does the client want to see partials?

– Description of payment terms:

  • Payment on delivery: These are the simplest terms and are preferred by most clients’ accounting departments.
  • Advance payment: Do you require an advance payment before you start work? If so, the typical percentage is 30-50% of the total, with the remaining balance due on delivery.
  • Partial payments: If the translation will take more than 30 days, will you require partial payments? Will the payments be linked to partial deliveries?

– Description of quotation validity. How long will your quotation be valid? (What will you do if you send the quotation, and before they respond, you receive a large assignment from another customer?)

– Description of service provider qualifications. This is especially relevant if your quotation will be reviewed by a number of people and not just the person who contacted you. If you are working with an editor, a translator of a different language, or any other service providers, you might include their qualifications here also. You can use your CV here. Or, better yet, write a short paragraph describing what makes you the right translator.

– Several possible closing remarks. For example, ask whether they have any other questions, and when you can expect the order.

– Thank them, and include your contact information.

We suggest that you include all of the above in a single business-style letter; perhaps in PDF format attached to an email. After you have worked with a client, you won’t need to include all of these details in future proposals. But you should still include these basics:

name and contact info
client’s name and contact info
date (important if your quote is only valid for a certain amount of time)
project description/details
price
turnaround/delivery date
payment terms (e.g. partial payment)

Good luck on your first big quote!

Author bios

May Fung Danis is a member of ATA’s Business Practices Education committee and serves as co-moderator for its discussion list. An ATA-certified French to English translator, May lives and works in Guadeloupe, France.www.mfdanis.com

Steven Marzuola is a Spanish to English technical translator based in Houston, Texas. He specializes in the oil and gas industry and related technical and commercial documents. www.techlanguage.com

6 Ways to Foster a Strong Relationship with your Project Manager and Earn More Work

6 Ways to Foster a Strong Relationship with your Project ManagerAs a freelance translator, some of your projects will come from language service providers (LSPs) as opposed to direct clients. If you attend the ATA Conference, you’ll meet almost as many LSP representatives as fellow translators, looking to hire their next batch of vendors. Many of those representatives will be project managers (PMs). PMs often decide whom to hire for a project, and whether to continue working with the translator after the project ends.

Responsibilities and internal structures vary from company to company, but most PMs have the same set of fundamental responsibilities. They work with translation-buyers to determine the scope, projected budget, and client needs for a given project. They contact translators and make sure that projects are completed to client specifications. PMs save translation buyers the hassle of locating good translators themselves, while translators spend less time locating direct clients and more time translating.

As a freelancer, it’s important to establish a continuous stream of work. Since many PMs enjoy great discretion in whom they assign work to, how can you ensure you’ll get the job and keep it?

As a PM myself, I’m so glad you asked. After consulting with colleagues and reflecting on past projects, I’ve listed six ways to foster strong relationships with your PMs and earn more work.

  1. Be responsive. When a PM sends an assignment, confirm your availability immediately. Every project is a race against time, and your responsiveness is key. If a client sends changes or cancels a project that’s already started, the faster you respond to a PM, the more time you save everyone.
  2. Be communicative. The first point’s close cousin. Keep your PM up to-date on anything that might affect the quality, cost, or delivery of your project. Is there some issue with the document that will affect its delivery or final quality? Let your PM know immediately. The faster and more forthcoming you are when a problem presents itself, the easier finding a solution will be, and you’ll have helped not only your PM, but the end client too.
  3. Do your homework. This has two parts. First, it means to research the content and terminology of the document you are translating. Putting in the work to learn the industry-standard translation of a term or the correct spelling of a name shows attention to detail and commitment to your work. Second, never be afraid to ask questions. If you are not sure whether a term should be left in the original language, or what it means, there’s no shame in asking. It doesn’t make you seem ignorant or incompetent. On the contrary, you’ll come off as much more competent and thoughtful than the translator who guesses.
  4. Accept reasonable deadlines, and then meet them. It goes without saying that you should always deliver on time. Knowing the amount of time it takes to complete a project to the best of your abilities ensures that you stick to this rule. Remember, you’re being paid in part for the quality of your work. Unless explicitly told otherwise, you should never sacrifice quality on the altar of turnaround. If you know you cannot meet a deadline, say so, or even propose an extension.
  5. Step in. In translation, rush requests are common. A translator who steps in with little advance warning is helping out both the PM and the client. A PM may also be having a hard time finding a translator to take on a challenging assignment, and your strengths may match that challenge in particular. Challenge yourself,.
  6. Know when to turn work down. Finally, never be afraid to say no to a project, just do it promptly. If you can’t take the project, I need to know as quickly as possible so I lose no time in finding someone else. If a project is outside your area of expertise, I’ll know what I can and cannot send you, saving us both time. Never accept a project that you cannot complete to a good standard. I, or your editor, or the client, will notice.

I’m sure many of you have other tips that have worked for you. We’d love to hear them in the comments! Remember, the ideal translation is a collaboration between you and your project manager. I’ve literally heard colleagues spontaneously exclaim that they love working with some of our translators. You can’t buy that kind of publicity, but you can earn it by doing great work.

Header image credit: Picjumbo

Author bio

Dan McCartney

Dan McCartney is a freelance French and Spanish to English translator based in Chicago. Before translating, he worked as a consultant, instructor, and freelance math problem writer.

Living the Dream? How Freelance Translators Can Become Digital Nomads

How Freelance Translators Can Become Digital NomadsPicture yourself newly-arrived on some tropical beach somewhere, or perhaps in a café in the middle of an exciting, cosmopolitan city. Laptop open in front of you, you’re adding the finishing touches to your latest translation project. As you close the file and click ‘Send’, you set off to explore this latest destination – sparing a thought, of course, for the poor project manager sitting in a boring office hundreds or thousands of miles away.

If this sounds like living the dream to you, then you might be interested in learning more about the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle. It’s made possible by two fast, (relatively) cheap conveniences of the modern world: internet access and international travel. Working remotely, a digital nomad might spend a month or two living in one place, then pack up and move somewhere else when they feel like they’ve seen enough. It’s a sort of hyper-mobile expat lifestyle.

I can’t claim to be a digital nomad myself, but before I finally settled in Poland, I spent about five years living and working on the move. I went away three to four times a year, with each trip usually lasting between twenty and thirty days. As a resident of Ukraine, I had to face exhausting visa procedures for EU countries, but it never stopped me from travelling.

Frankly speaking, I could never dedicate more than about four hours a day to actual work – I was too busy trying to see as much as possible in these new places. I heard stories from a fellow translator who sometimes spends so much time working while travelling that he has hardly any opportunities to actually see the places he visits. That seems to defeat the purpose for me, personally, but I still try to always stay online when travelling by using local SIM cards or Wi-Fi connections, so that I never miss an important job. On the other hand, I also don’t hesitate to decline any urgent work while travelling if it ruins my plans for the day.

Speaking of Internet connections, I’ve noticed a tendency among four- and five- star hotels to charge extravagant rates for Wi-Fi connections in their rooms, while cheap apartments and hotels always seem to offer free internet. This is one of the reasons I prefer renting an apartment when I go abroad, rather than a hotel room. Besides, there’s also a kitchen and all the appliances that help you feel at home.

Before tablets and ultrabooks came into my life, I translated in an old-fashioned way: printing the source text out and translating it with pen and paper while taking a break from sightseeing in a café or park, or even on the beach. Once I got back to my accommodation, I would then type out the translation on my big, heavy notebook computer. Later, the rise of new mobile gadgets helped me to work a lot faster. I used my smartphone and tablet like a dual-screen display, with the source text on my phone and the translation itself on my tablet. This was a much better solution, but after a few scary moments where my Android-specific office software caused compatibility issues for the customers who received my files, I switched to a two-in-one Windows tablet/laptop instead.

All in all, the digital age has simplified this kind of lifestyle enormously, making it possible to combine work and leisure in new and exciting ways. With that said, however, there are some important factors to consider before you pack your bags and jump on the next flight.

Establish a strong client base before you leave

If this kind of lifestyle appeals to you, you should build up your business, then go travelling – not the other way around.

This is important for one key reason: travelling is expensive. Relatively speaking, it may be the cheapest it’s ever been in human history, but it can still eat into your finances in a big way. There are probably parts of the world where the cost of living is cheaper than wherever you live right now, but you still have to get there somehow and you still have to support yourself after you arrive. Where you go will be defined in part by what you can afford, which means you need a reliable budget and a reasonable expectation of continued income. Having a stable pool of customers who send you regular work will help immensely with that.

Think carefully about your destinations

Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? By all means, look into the places you’ve always had on your bucket list, but consider other sources of information too. There are a number of websites such as Nomad List and Numbeo that rank cities around the world according to factors like the cost of living, weather, internet access speeds and more.

These are all important issues, but as a freelance translator you should also consider a few other factors. What about time zones, for example? If you’re already working in the industry, you’ll know that many translation projects require an urgent turnaround — sometimes only a few hours. If you find yourself particularly far away from your regular customers, you risk missing out on projects because you’re simply unable to claim or complete them in time.

It’s a lifestyle, not a holiday

Being a digital nomad can sound exciting and glamorous—and sometimes it really is both of those things. However, it’s important to understand that this kind of long-term travel is a fundamentally different proposition from something like an ordinary two-week holiday. You’ll still need to work hard to support yourself, but maintaining that work-life balance is even more important when the stress of travel makes it all too easy to become tired and burned-out. If you reach that point, it can seriously impact the quality of your work and spoil your enjoyment of the amazing places you visit.

This isn’t intended to put you off the idea of travelling while working: it’s an opportunity for a unique adventure, and freelance translators are ideally-placed to make the most of it. If your expectations are realistic, and you’re prepared to take the rough with the smooth, then you really can live the dream. Do your research, weigh up every decision-making factor, and do what’s right for you.

For those of you who have already taken the plunge and set out to live as a digital nomad, what has it been like? Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of getting on the road? If so, we’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

Header image credit: freemagebank
Header image edited with Canva

Author bio

Oleg SemerikovOleg Semerikov started as an English to Russian freelance translator ten years ago. Nowadays, he runs his own company, Translators Family, a boutique translation agency specialising in Russian, Ukrainian and Polish, with expertise in English, German, and other European languages. Many long-term customers of Oleg as a freelancer became the permanent customers of his agency. Translators Family on social media: FacebookTwitterGoogle+