Bad Business Practices for Freelancers

We often hear about what a good freelancer should be like. But somewhere in between good advice, we let a bad decision slip in. Having a clear idea of what not to do is just as important as knowing what you should do.

Below is a list of bad choices taken from real-life scenarios of the freelance world.

Accept too much work.

Pretty soon, people will start to say one of these things:

  • Oh, when Joe has too much work he works late hours and rushes the work out with no review. You just can’t trust him.
  • When Joe is too busy he starts to subcontract to lower-priced colleagues and doesn’t check their work. You never know whether you are going to get his good work or something else.
  • When Mary is overbooked, she sends unqualified people to interpret in her place. My agency lost a contract because of that already!

Don’t answer emails.

Whether it is from established clients or—even worse—a prospective client, nothing screams “unreliable” like ignoring an email, or answering a few days later without a decent explanation.

Don’t meet deadlines.

Need we say more?

Be late to appointments.

You should arrive early to ask orientation questions, get familiar with the venue, maybe check the speaker’s PowerPoint, so nobody is worried about their communication. When everyone else is on time, waiting for you… this will be your last job.

Overpromise and underdeliver.

We have heard of some agencies that say they always send certified interpreters, but the doctors notice that the interpreters don’t always understand their English. Another translation company said its work always went through a reviewer, but delivered substandard work.

Don’t keep your clients posted on how your work is progressing with a long project, or if you need to slide a deadline because of a natural disaster, or a family situation (yes, these things do happen). Clients would often be quite understanding if you spoke up, or would tell you that this deadline just can’t be changed, so you could find another way to meet it…

Things always have to be done your way, because the translator knows best.

The client is the expert on how the readers respond to the text, so you have to listen to your client and find a reasonable way to deal with the issues at hand.

Don’t show any interest in helping your client’s mission move forward.

Your translations are, after all, intended to help your client’s mission move forward. It is your job to see how you can partner with the client to help with language access in as many ways as possible. They may not have considered some issues.

Don’t explain how you set your deadlines.

Explaining the rationale for your deadlines helps your client see that you are respecting the work you do, and you are not a mindless machine.

Don’t offer improvements on the source text when appropriate.

If there is typo in the copy, they want to know so they can improve it. If there is an ambiguous phrase, they would like to clarify it in the next edition. This does not make you their copy editor, but we do catch a few issues as we translate. We should point them out.

Don’t explain your translation choices.

Sometimes a translation choice may not appear obvious to some bilingual speakers. Explaining it helps your client understand the process of translation better.

Don’t ask questions about your work.

If you never have any questions, your client can’t see much difference between working with you and an automated service.

Have you heard of any of these issues? This is not an exhaustive list. We would love to hear some stories in the comments.

Image source: Pixabay

Focus on: New Translators (Part 1)

Reblogged from Silver Tongue Translations blog, with permission

You know, the title of this blog post is a bit misleading (arrrgh! I’m breaking my own rules!) I’ve aimed it at “new translators”, but really, these tips serve any translators, be they fresh as daisies or been-around-the-blockers, the only requirement is that they want to improve. (This is all of us, right?)

I got asked to mentor two new translators over the summer, and, once I’d finished my bulk order of anti-aging cream, I decided to view it as a positive thing. I also started to think about how I could be of best service. What would my “tips” be? What did I wish I knew at the start of my career? The video at the end of this post, lovely colleagues, is what I came up with.

In a nutshell (as I’m aware that my videos are more coconut shell than pistachio in size), these are my top ten tips (if you can’t be bothered scrolling to the video):

  1. Translate every day

It doesn’t matter if it’s the back of the shampoo bottle you bought on your last trip to your source language country, or whether it’s an extract from an article you loved (I know what I’d go for), translating every day sharpens your translation skills, makes you a better writer and keeps up your source language proficiency (this last one is especially important if you don’t reside in your source language country).

Translating every day has the added benefit of increasing your productivity because, usually, the more you practise, the quicker you get. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that if you’re working quickly and accurately you’re able to complete more work in a shorter period of time (which leaves you more time for checking, of course!). Whether you pass these savings on to your client is up to you though….

  1. Work out how much you must earn

….then how much you want to earn. Only you know your essential outgoings every month (I’m thinking rent/mortgage, utilities, phone, food….) so only you know how much you’ll need to cover those expenses. Don’t forget to pay yourself a salary! Then have a look at how many days a week/month/year you’re going to be working. Be realistic.

It is simply not feasible to work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, so don’t pretend that it is.

Use these calculations as a basis for working out how much you need to charge. Don’t forget to take into account the total time for a translation – from initial contact, through to translation and then on to editing and checking. It all counts.

  1. Find your “I’m special because…”

Do you have a hobby that you’ve enjoyed for years? How about a part time job or family business you’ve been a part of?

Don’t discount all past experiences which aren’t obviously related to translation as irrelevant.

You have skills, knowledge, experiences and expertise (we all do, we’re not one-dimensional creatures). It might not be sustainable to only work in an area that relates to your interests and pastimes, but if it can form a part of your business it’ll sure make a 25,000 word document more pleasant to pull an (occasional) all-nighter for.

  1. Get yourself a buddy

Friends are important. We know this. In your professional life, it’s no different. I recommend two courses of action for buddying up with a translator:

  1. Find a colleague (perhaps of similar experience to you) who is willing to check your work.

Another set of eyes is always helpful, and you will feel much happier submitting to your client if you know that it hasn’t just been your coffee-fuelled brain working on the document.

  1. Find a mentor.

By mentor, I mean a more experienced colleague who is willing to share some of their knowledge and experience with you. They don’t have to have the same specialisms as you (although that is enormously helpful), their experience in translation and running a business will more than suffice.

  1. Keep moving

It’s easy to stay at our desk. Eat lunch over the keyboard (gross, but we’ve probably all done it), slurp coffee (and probably spill it) over the aforementioned keyboard and generally only get up from our desks when our bladders are threatening to stage a walkout. Take breaks, get outside for fresh air (and perspective, inspiration and Vitamin D). It’s easy to play the role of martyr and say things like “I’ve been translating for 9 hours straight.” That’s not something to boast about. It’s just unhealthy.

Keeping moving means something else too. Keep your business moving. Every day, make some form of forward motion. Some progress. It could be setting your goals for the year. Doing a bit of marketing. Sending out some pitch emails. It might seem that it’s not getting you anywhere, but it is.

Momentum will make a difference.

  1. Give and receive help

I talk about being helpful a lot. I’m a big believer in it. The translation community is open and responsive. Just last week I was having Trados issues and several colleagues (Sheila, Caroline and David to name but a few) jumped in to help me out. David even ended up testing out my document on his version, re-saving the target file for me to use and then later that evening, converting it back for me, just in case I’d had more technical issues. When I thanked him, he said,

“No problem. You shared something months ago and I am a great believer in “pass it forward”.”

This isn’t encouraging you to help people only to get something in return, it’s to say that we’re an appreciative, helpful bunch. And we don’t forget.

  1. Systems are your friend

It might seem like a lot of hassle to have spreadsheets for everything right from the start. It can feel like Excel is mocking you, with your client list filling up only two lines of the cells on the worksheet of your grandly titled “Clients_Master Database”. Equally, calendar reminders for when to invoice may also seem a little…unnecessary for new translators at the beginning. I faithfully set them up and by the time they pinged to remind me to remind the client to pay I had already done it (it’s not hard to remember when you only have one client…)

But you will get more clients.

And when you do, you will be happy to have a list of invoice references, so you don’t have to faff around finding the last one you sent. There are even systems that do this all for you, and link up to your emails and take away the coffee cups from your desk before they walk away on their own (I made that last bit up.)

  1. Sort the essentials

I hate to break it you, but you have to pay tax. You’ll probably also want to retire at some stage with some form of savings and/or a pension. These are two items on the “essentials” list for everybody, not just translators. The difference when you’re self-employed (or even working in a self-employed capacity on a part-time basis) is that you don’t have someone else, i.e. an employer, to handle it for you. Sort this stuff early.

As in the tip above about systems, I know it feels silly to be putting money away for tax when, at the beginning, you don’t feel you’re earning much, but getting into good habits at the start of your career is so much easier than trying to adopt good habits when you’re a more established translator.

  1. Don’t stop learning

Read widely in your source and target languages. Subscribe to magazines in your niche. Talk to fellow translators. Take advantage of CPD offered by colleagues and institutions. Attend events. You never know when a piece of knowledge or a chance encounter will give rise to an opportunity. Apart from the potential business benefits, don’t forget what we all knew as children….

Learning is fun.

  1. Integrity is everything

It’s tempting at the beginning to try and be all things to all people. Accepting that impossible deadline might curry favour with a PM, but it probably won’t be conducive to producing high quality work. Changing your CV to say you’re an expert on quantum physics is only a good idea if you’d somehow forgotten studying for that PhD back in high school.

Some jobs are worth going the extra mile for, some jobs are worth pushing yourself beyond what you’d previously thought you could achieve. But don’t push yourself too far away from what is possible and practical.

Your reputation is worth much more than a single “impossible” job.

Do you have any tips for new translators? Would you be interested in mentoring a colleague? Let me know in the comments!

Image source: Pixabay

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Money Matters

This post is the fourth (first post, second post, and third post) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

In the first post in this series, I alluded to a question I’ve been asked several times since I began freelancing—sometimes more subtly than others: “Do people actually pay you to do that?” Some days it feels surreal that, yes, people really do pay me for this and I get to read in Spanish, write in English, and sometimes even correct other people’s spelling and grammatical mistakes (Grammar Police Alert!), but the underlying question is whether translation and interpreting are viable career options for bilinguals. The short answer is yes—if you have the right skill set.

If you’re just beginning to consider whether a career in T&I may be for you and are asking the same question, you are not alone. Some of the biggest questions many beginning translators and interpreters have about getting started also revolve around money: How much do I charge? What kinds of expenses will I have? How do I make sure my clients actually pay me (on time)? I’ll do my best to cover these tricky yet essential questions in the following lines.

What should I charge?

Translators often charge per word (source or target) or per hour, while interpreters may charge per hour, half day, or per diem rates. Rates can vary significantly in different segments of the market, while your specialization and language combination can also play a major role. Quoting too much relative to the importance and budget of a particular project may make it hard to secure enough work. However, quoting too little could put you in a vicious cycle where you work long hours at low rates. Long-term business prospects and finances can be affected by your choice of rates because it’s difficult to make time to find higher-paying projects and invest in the skills development and training needed to qualify for them if you are too busy with smaller or lower-paying projects and clients. And on top of all that, you could end up undercutting your colleagues.

While newer translators and interpreters may logically earn less than more experienced professionals—like in any other industry—you can earn fair compensation for your experience and education level, if you are putting the right amount of time and effort into your work and business development. But again, this begs the question: What should I charge? There are a few good ways to figure out what that means in terms of specific numbers.

First, the American Translators Association (ATA) has conducted and reported on a survey of professional translators and interpreters regarding their compensation and rates. The results of this ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey, Fifth Edition can be accessed for free in summary form or in full form (free to ATA members, $95 for non-members). The results cover information on rates, language pairs, and annual income.

Calpro is another resource you can use to determine what rate you should charge in order to bring in your target income, taking into account working hours, holidays, and other expenses. This spreadsheet was first developed by the Spanish association of translators, ASETRAD, and was adapted by ATA volunteers for use in the U.S.

Tracking the time you spend on each project is a great way to generate data that can help you figure out how much you actually are earning and which projects are more or less worthwhile for you. Start by using a time tracking tool like RescueTime or Timecamp and then use an Excel file or other method to compile your data and divide the total fee for a project by the number of hours spent on it to see how much you earned per hour. This will help you determine whether you might need to charge more next time for a similar type of text, or whether you would be better off rejecting a project that you will likely earn less on in favor of a project that would earn you more per hour, or even in favor of spending time on business development to grow your client base.

How do I make sure I get paid?

Two common issues when it comes to getting paid for freelance work are scams (where a fake client orders work from you and either never pays or scams money out of you by means of a fake check) and late payers. Several resources exist to help freelancers avoid these issues, including Payment Practices and WPPF (and check out this article on the topic).

How do freelance finances work?

I could write pages upon pages about freelance finances, but at the end of the day, the important thing is to understand that earning money as a freelancer (what we would refer to as “1099 income” in the U.S.) is vastly different from earning money as an employee of a company (“W2 income”). Freelancers need to send invoices to request payment from their clients, pay their own taxes (usually there is no withholding and you make estimated payments throughout the year), manage their own retirement savings, cover their own business expenses, and meet their own insurance needs. All of these are things that employers will often handle for their employees, while freelancers need to build them into their time and finances. I won’t go into detail about each of these topics, but I do want to provide a resource or two on each topic in case you need somewhere to start looking.

  1. Invoicing and Expenses

Some freelancers choose to create their own invoicing processes and others prefer to use software to help manage the process for them. The following are a few popular invoicing tools for freelance translators and interpreters: Xero, Translation Office 3000, Express Invoice.

  1. Taxes

Some freelancers choose to do their own taxes, but many prefer to outsource this service to a professional accountant or accounting firm. Since there are so many extra factors that go into freelance tax filings (e.g. multiple 1099’s, a Schedule C/1040, possibly other business filings depending on your setup and location, and deductions for business expenses), options like TurboTax and TaxAct would probably make for a stressful springtime… So unless you want to forego a lot of afternoons going crazy trying to decipher the tax code, I would suggest reaching out to other translators in your area to get recommendations for an accountant you can trust to take care of your tax needs.

  1. Retirement

Employers generally contribute to your retirement savings when you are a W2 employee, so it is extra important to start early if you’re a freelancer. Options for freelancers include traditional or Roth IRAs and SEPs, whether through financial planners or using online options like Vanguard and e-Trade.

  1. Insurance

Another expense that is often subsidized by employers for W2 employees is insurance (health, vision, dental, life, etc.) As a freelancer you’ll need to take care of this yourself, but you won’t be alone! Many options are available outside employer-sponsored health plans. For instance, Freelancers Union offers a private marketplace for members to connect with insurance companies (and Union membership is free!).

We hope this information has helped you get a better idea of what to expect as you consider a career as a freelance translator or interpreter! Stay tuned for the fifth and final installment in this series: Technology and Tools.

Image source: Pixabay

My Business Is Better Because I Have E&O

I had heard many people say Errors and Omissions (E&O) policies were not necessary for translators. I went along with that… until a direct client required it. In the medical field, it is common for direct clients to require a one million dollar E and policy limit. When I signed the policy, my insurance agent walked me through the do’s and don’ts. Now I’ll walk you through my thoughts on what is and what is not covered.

What does it cover?

My damages and defense costs, up to a limit, incurred from claims as a result of a wrongful act in performing insured services (translation) for others.

What does it NOT cover?

Bodily injury or property damage. That’s fine. I’m a translator. This means that someone tripping in my office is not covered. There is a separate insurance policy for that. If I am driving to an appointment and I hurt someone while driving, that would be bodilyinjury. My E and O does not cover that. If my laptop falls on someone’s iPhone at a training session and damages it, that would be property damage covered by a separate insurance policy. It is called Business Liability Insurance, commonly known as Trip and Fall insurance. Most businesses have this.

Infringement of intellectual property. So… I don’t want to be a party to plagiarism. I pay for all my software. I do not post other people’s ideas as my own on my blog.

Unfair competition or any other violation of antitrust laws. I need to be aware of antitrust laws so I don’t violate them. The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have information on the subject. Some clear-cut examples are plain arrangements among competing individuals or businesses to fix prices, divide markets, or rig bids. These are carefully defined in documents in the links provided.

Discrimination prohibited by federal law. As a freelancer, I do not have employees. Therefore, this does not apply to me. If I ever have employees (not likely), I will have to abide by the same rules as any other employer.

Gain or profit I am not entitled to. In other words, I make what my invoice says and no more. I don’t upsell, take advantage of the knowledge to trade stock… etc.

Any liability I make myself responsible for in a contract. If I say I will be responsible for x, then the insurance company won’t keep me from being responsible for x.

Violations of securities and blue skies laws. In other words, I have to be above board in my financial dealings.

Bankruptcy. I had better keep paying my bills… That is good business.

Breach of contract.

  • If I say the translation will be ready by May 1, and on May 15 I have not contacted my client about it… I am in breach of contract.
  • If I promised a reviewed translation and I deliver a Google Translate version, I am in breach of contract. In one contract, I specified that any disputes regarding the quality of my work would have to be settled by an ATA grader in my language pair. This kept things nice and clean. I state that I am only responsible for the text I deliver, and if the client changes a single word, I am no longer responsible for the document.
  • I could have said that I would keep the information confidential, but since I know people in the engineering field, I go and tell them about a new development. That would be violating an NDA – breach of contract.

Any act a jury or arbitrator finds dishonest, fraudulent, etc.Be honest. If I submit a machine translation instead of a quality translation to meet the deadline, that might be considered dishonest, since I tell clients that the translation will be done by a certified translator and reviewed by another certified translator.

In short, E&O covers me for errors and omissions that happen inadvertently, provided that I made a reasonable effort to prevent them. It does not cover me for lazy work, breach of contract or dishonesty. It does not give me cover to be lazy from that point on. Clients expect me to have it because they know that any human has a margin of error in any work we do. Perfection at all times is simply not possible. It gives my clients peace of mind.

One client who hired me for a medical website translation had this conversation withme:

  • Do you have a one-million-dollar policy limit?
  • You don’t really think that’s going to be necessary, right?
  • If something goes wrong, the damage is going to be much greater than the price of your translation. We don’t expect you to be able to cover it. That is why we want you to have insurance.

I made sure I had coverage and increased my insurance coverage.

E and O insurance gives our clients peace of mind. Think of it this way. If someone was going to cut down a 130-foot tree in the front yard next to your home and told you “I am awesome, so I have no insurance,” what would you do? Well… this is a true story, and I got very nervous when that happened. I had two small children sleeping in the house. I got them out, and we watched the tree fall from a safe place. I wrote down the guy’s license plate number so I could call the police if anything went wrong. Is that how you want your clients to treat you? I don’t. This fellow did not have the money to replace my house or pay for the damage that tree could do to it. It missed the fence across the street by a few inches. All the neighbors were watching the proceedings very closely.

That is not the way to build trust. People work with people they know, like and trust. I build trust with my clients.

Image source: Pixabay

9 Useful Questions by New Professional Translators

Training and earning credentials in translation are a massive part of becoming a successful professional translator. But once you’ve finished your training course, then what? In this article, I’ll share nine of the most popular questions that budding professional translators ask me when they complete my Spanish-to-English translation course.

  1. Should I Think about Working In-house?

If you like the idea of being an employee and you’re in a suitable location, this option is worth considering. By working in-house you get solid experience, guaranteed work from the get-go, and ongoing technology training. You learn methods for dealing with clients and managing projects, not to mention how to perform proper quality control.

  1. Do People Actually Make it as Freelance Translators?

Yes. After singing the praises of in-house, I should disclose that I’ve never actually done it. I went into freelancing from TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) in 2009, and am still a freelance translator today. You have to work hard and be self-disciplined. You also have to learn to run a business. So, besides your translation, specialization, and technology skills, you’ll need training on digital marketing, selling, negotiating, customer service, accounting, and time management.

  1. How Do I Choose a Specialization?

Three words: follow the money. If you have a degree or work experience in another subject, then that may be a good place to start. It’s essential to make sure that there’s market demand for your chosen subject. Look for industries where you know the end clients are profitable. That means they’ll have the budget to work with professional translators.

  1. Should I Join a Translation Association?

Yes. As I wrote about in this article on how accredited translators get more work, being a member of a translation association, like the ATA, is a great way of showing your dedication to the profession. It’ll also help you network with other translators, which can result in new projects.

  1. How Do You Get Your First Clients?

Start by making a great CV and building strong online profiles on ProZ.com, LinkedIn, and your translation association. Most freelance translators begin by looking for work with translation agencies. It’s best to go after a client who has a job in hand. So, if they’re putting out ads on translation sites like ProZ.com, or advertising on LinkedIn, you know they need somebody right now.

If you can’t find any immediate opportunities, send out your CV while you keep looking. You must have a good cover letter, realistic prices, and a CV that contains the information the agency needs. For guidance on this, read How Do Translators Showcase Their Talent to Translation Agencies?, which was reblogged on The Savvy Newcomer.

  1. How Much Should I Charge?

Translation agencies will have price brackets they accept for each language combination. They pay at the lower end of the bracket for less-experienced translators and non-specialists, and at the higher end for specialists with more experience. You can get pricing guidance by asking a sample of agencies you would consider working with what they pay freelancers in your combination. You could also try asking a sample of professional translators working in your combination.

Remember that when you set your rates you need to consider all your business costs and the time you spend working. That way you can make sure you offer prices that are competitive and sustainable.

  1. How Do I Learn How to Quote and Invoice?

If you’re talking to good translation agencies, they won’t mind guiding you. Before you quote, read the agency’s terms and conditions, to make sure you’re happy to work under them.

The project manager will normally agree prices with you by email. Mention whether your price includes sales tax, and any other details you want to state, e.g. USD X.XX per source word + sales tax.

There will be official requirements in your country of residence on what an invoice has to contain. You could consult the tax authorities, or visit freelancer forums to find out the requirements. The agency will probably check your invoice to make sure it’s legal for tax purposes, and ask you to make amendments if necessary.

  1. Can I Start Sending Out My CV Without a Translation Qualification?

If you’ve not yet completed your translation qualification exam or program, you can still start marketing yourself. Include your translation studies on your CV and say the results are pending. That’ll give you an excuse to follow up with the potential client a few months later when the results come out, hopefully with good news. I help translators prepare for the UK’s IoLET DipTrans exam, which has three papers. Sometimes candidates fail to get the qualification, but get a letter of credit. Include anything like that on your CV, as it will differentiate you from unqualified translators.

  1. Do I Need to Buy a CAT Tool and Learn About Machine Translation?

CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools are the norm in the industry and serious professional translators own at least one. You may like to read this CAT tool digest published on The Savvy Newcomer for more details.

Machine translation is growing and is set to get bigger. So, it’s definitely worth learning about it. My guest post 10 Things Translators Need to Know About Machine Translation on ProZ.com is a good place to start.

All this may feel overwhelming when you’re starting out. But if you break it down into a to-do list and work through your priorities, you’ll be surprised how quickly you get a handle on it all. None of these issues are worth worrying about. Enjoy the challenges of climbing the learning curve.

Image source: Unsplash

Author bio

Gwenydd Jones is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator and translator trainer. She has two MAs, the first in translation studies and the second in legal translation, and the IoLET DipTrans. A freelance translator since 2009, Gwenydd specializes in legal, business, and marketing translation. She is also a copywriter. You can read her blog and discover her Advanced Spanish-to-English Translation Course, which includes DipTrans exam preparation, at translatorstudio.co.uk. Twitter: @Gwenydd_Jones.