How and Why You Should Diversify Your Freelance Translation Business (COVID-19 Series)

This post was originally published on Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo’s blog. It is reposted with permission.

More and more translators are seeing the need to diversify their freelance businesses these days.

Entrepreneur defines diversification as “a risk-reduction strategy that involves adding product, services, location, customers and markets to your company’s portfolio.”

For many translators, the idea of diversifying their business may have never been a top priority. You may even be thinking, “I’m a translator. I translate. What else could I offer my clients?”

I get it. But being a professional translator doesn’t mean you have to fit into a box of only offering translation services. Yes, you should take the time to hone your craft as much as you can. But as you become more established, diversification is simply a smart business move.

Diversifying your freelance translation business can help you through those bouts of “famine” that so many freelancers talk about.

In fact, the current economic crisis has taught a lot of businesses the lesson of not putting all their eggs in one basket. Those who are thriving are the ones who either pivoted quickly—ƒor example, the businesses that started offering curbside pick-up or delivery or those that moved their in-person offerings to a virtual setting—or those who recognized the importance of diversification before the pandemic broke out and the economy was turned upside down.

Why you should diversify your freelance translation business

If you have not been affected financially by the economic crisis that resulted from COVID-19, count yourself as one of the lucky ones. Maybe your specializations have allowed you to keep your usual workload mostly the same, or maybe you’ve already diversified your business.

I consider myself to fit squarely in both of these categories. And while I couldn’t have foreseen that my specializations (medicine and life sciences) would still be in high demand during all this—and I feel very much for my colleagues who have lost a large portion of their business as a result of this crisis—I did learn the tough lesson of having to diversify my business long before 2020.

Ready for a story?…

About five years ago, I took a bit of a chance (okay, a big one) by letting go of a client that was absolutely draining. I worked for them all. the. time. For many people, this might not seem like a problem. But the pay was not great, and the hours were long. They also didn’t respect boundaries related to weekends and vacation. I was left with no time to market my business to other clients who paid better and respected my work/life boundaries more.

After thinking about it for far longer that I’d like to admit, I made the decision to say “goodbye” to this client. I had a handful of other anchor clients who sent me steady work, and my husband and I were ready to expand our family. While letting go of this client meant that I was also saying “goodbye” to about $50,000 worth of my annual income (yes, you read that correctly), I was confident because I was making enough money at the time that I felt comfortable taking a financial hit for a several months while I looked for new clients to make up the difference in income.

Well, since life rarely works out the way we expect it to, I’ll cut this story short and tell you that my plan didn’t go as planned.

One of my other anchor clients ended up getting purchased by a larger company, and they completely stopped all of their vendor contracts that weren’t considered essential for close to a year while they reviewed their financial structure. Around the same time, I became pregnant with my daughter and my mother became very sick.

Over the course of the following year, I dealt with the challenges of new parenthood while mourning the loss of my mother.

It was a very rough year.

But it was during this time that I also learned to rebuild my business. I had never struggled financially as a freelancer like this until this point, so I felt some confidence in knowing I could find new clients. It would just take some time. I also promised myself that I would never again count on any one client or income stream to keep my business afloat.

Much like the circumstances I was experiencing (which I could not have foreseen), a global pandemic like COVID-19 and an economic crisis of this magnitude are also not something anyone any of us could have seen coming.

But what we can do is be proactive in preparing ourselves for what’s to come in the future (yes, another financial crisis will happen in our lifetimes… at least one more, depending on how much longer you plan to work).

So, instead of kicking ourselves for not diversifying our businesses sooner—trust me, it doesn’t work to keep this up and it isn’t good for your mental health either—we can turn that energy into something more productive by making a plan, even if we don’t know all the steps to make it work just yet.

The answer to the question, “Why should I diversify my translation business?” is simple.

Because it’s just smart business. Diversification doesn’t mean you’re “selling out” on what you’ve studied for years or the reason you became a translator in the first place.

Instead, you’re taking proactive steps to ensure the long-term stability of your business, both during a financial crisis and for the future.

How do you diversify your freelance translation business?

Consider, first, how you can position yourself now for the long term. You may have never thought about positioning yourself, but if you give it some thought and put some strategy behind this process, you can easily be seen and sought as an expert in your specialization/language pair or a complementary skill that you have.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to be known for?

  • What skills do you have that you can offer someone that would help them reach their goals?

Yes, translation can certainly help someone reach their goals, but what else do you have to offer in addition to being a translator?

Perhaps you’re an expert in patent translation. Your clients know it. Your colleagues know it. But you’re not just a translator. You’re an expert in a very complex field. What can you do with this?

Go back to the questions above and consider the challenges that others face with patent translation—both other translators and your clients. What challenges can you help them overcome? What can you offer, in addition to translation or to complement it, that will help them reach their goals?

Others in our professions are already diversifying their service offerings and taking advantage of their complementary knowledge and skills. I know many colleagues who offer editing, post-editing, transcreation, localization, and more. Even if you already offer several translation-related services, perhaps you’re just scratching the surface. Think bigger!

Here are some ideas to help you brainstorm ways to diversify your translation business

These ideas (in no particular order) are in addition to the typical translation/editing/proofreading services so many of us already offer. For all of these services, I suggest getting training and doing quite a bit of research before you begin offering them to clients.

  • Audio editing

  • Consulting for clients and/or colleagues (on a wide range of topics, depending on your expertise)

  • Content/editorial calendar creation and strategy, especially for businesses that need this in your target language

  • Content for language-learning apps (I did for a while, and I recommend training in teaching and—like most items on this list—truly advanced language skills to do this well.)

  • Copywriting and content marketing

  • Ghostwriting

  • Language teaching (I did this for several years at different universities, and it can help improve your language skills while you earn some additional cash. Like most on this list, I recommend training in pedagogy methods before you ever begin teaching, of course.)

  • Linguistic validation

  • Localization

  • Monolingual editing for academics and researchers, graduate students, professors, etc.

  • Multilingual design/DTP

  • Project Management

  • Social media or blog content creation in your target language

  • Subtitling and dubbing (there are loads of resources available through ATA’s Audiovisual Division)

  • Training and teaching (especially virtually right now)

  • Transcription

  • Tutoring and conversation partner services

  • Voice-over work

Almost all of these ideas require you to tap into your language skills in some way, but of course, you could diversify your business with additional services that complement language-related skills, like design, website creation, etc.

In addition to brainstorming additional services that could help you diversify your business, consider additional specializations for your translation offerings.

Research what specializations are experiencing an uptick in volume right now, and ask yourself:

  • Do any of these complement your current specialization(s)?

  • Can you start working in one of these areas right away, or will you need some additional training first?

Check out this tweet (and the comments) from Jost Zetzsche from early April for insights from colleagues.

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 2.16.17 PM.png

As you can see, there are many opportunities to be had.

While I would recommend looking at your current specialization(s) and skill set first, there’s no stopping you from branching out into a completely different area of translation that is unrelated to your normal flow of work.

Get creative!

The point of diversification is to open new doors and to allow your business to still flourish during times when client work may be lacking in any one area.

To figure out how you can best serve your current clients during an economic crisis while diversifying your business, you could ask yourself these additional questions:

  • What are their challenges and goals right now during the COVID-19 pandemic? What will they be in the future, and how can you be ready to help them?

  • Similar to the previous questions, how can you help position your clients for the future? They will be going back to work and will be working at full capacity at some point (hopefully sooner than later). Many will need to communicate differently or more often with customers or put new protocols in place that may require your skills.

  • How can you create additional opportunities to help your clients while diversifying your business? For example, perhaps you translate websites for your clients. Could you possibly learn more about SEO translation to add even more value for your clients? What about multilingual copywriting?

By diversifying your business, you are empowering yourself to handle future challenges. You also get the opportunity to see what else interests you and where you have additional (and marketable) strengths.

How have you diversified your translation business? Or if diversification is new for you, what are you excited to dive into? I’d love to hear from you in the comments at the end of this post.

Author bio

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo is the owner of Accessible Translation Solutions (ATS), a boutique translation company based in Southern California. She is also a Spanish and Portuguese to English translator, specializing in medicine and life sciences. Madalena’s interest in online marketing and copywriting has led her to write and teach about the benefits of using informational content online to attract and retain clients. After seeing the advantages of intentional and strategic marketing in her own business, Madalena now teaches those same skills to other freelance language professionals. She blogs and teaches courses on topics related to marketing your freelance translation business by deliberately building and shaping your online presence. For more information, visit


How to Make Prospect Conversations Easier (and Land More Clients) with the ‘Selling Staircase’

This post originally appeared on High Income Business Writing, and it is republished with permission.

Many writers dread having discovery calls with new prospects.

Discovery calls are those first conversations you have with prospects where you discuss their need, their specific project … and hopefully, your fee.

Writers dread these conversations for two big reasons:

First, they don’t know what to say, and they worry they’ll say the wrong thing.

Second, they don’t know how to lead the conversation and increase the chances that the prospect will say yes.

In today’s podcast episode, I’m joined by Nikki Rausch. Nikki is a sales coach, author, speaker and founder of Sales Maven.

After 25 years of selling to such prestigious organizations as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, and NASA, Nikki traded in her road warrior status to help entrepreneurs sell in a way that creates true connections and results in more closed deals.

Nikki’s approach to this discovery call is well aligned with my own, and I learned a lot from her ideas and insights.

Tell us about yourself and your business 

Nikki is founder and CEO of Sales Maven. She teaches people how to get comfortable with the sales conversation. Nikki has over 25 years of sales experience and a background in neuro-linguistic programming.

You say the selling process is often misunderstood. What do people get wrong about it? 

People often think that selling is something you do TO someone. It’s actually something you do WITH someone.

When you sell WITH someone, it doesn’t feel manipulative. It’s to their benefit.

When you sell WITH someone, instead of TO someone, the process doesn’t feel manipulative.

You don’t need to be pushy, aggressive or push on people’s pain points to make the sale. Trying to shame or convince people to buy is a waste of time and degrades the relationship.

You don’t have to be a charming, quick-witted extrovert to sell. Everyone can find a way to sell that works for them.

Many of my listeners are introverted or shy. How can they get comfortable with selling?

It helps if you have a pre-defined process that you can follow.

Nikki’s five-step framework for sales:

  1. Introduction
  2. Curiosity
  3. Discovery or consultation
  4. Proposal
  5. Close

Let’s look at a typical scenario: You get an inbound lead over email, and they ask for your rate for an ebook.

When a lead comes to you, you’re in the discovery phase of the process. Because they reached to you, you have their permission to get more information.

If all of your inbound leads start with the question, “What is your price…?” then it can help to put some pricing on your website.

Sales conversations should have a balance of power. The person who asks the questions has the power, so neither you nor the prospect should ask all the questions.

At the start of the call, you should pre-frame what is going to happen during that call.

It can go something like this:

“Thanks so much for your interest…. The goal of our call today is to find out what’s going on for you and see if we have a solution…. These calls usually take xx minutes, does that work with your schedule…? Is it okay if I ask you a couple of questions?”

Have your questions prepared so you can see if this would be a good client for you and if you have a solution that would work for them.

If someone asks for your price straight away, you can give a range. To give a more precise price, ask for a phone call.

“Ebooks can range from $xx to $xx. In order to give a custom quote, we’ll need to have a quick conversation. Would you be open to setting a time to chat?”

Nikki recommends giving three possible meeting times.

“If you like this idea, I’ve listed a few possible times below. Please pick one that works best with your schedule.

Monday, anytime between xx and xxx.

Tuesday, anytime between xx and xxx.

Thursday, anytime between xx and xxx.

If you prefer something else, please let me know what works for you and I’ll do my best to be available.”

Nikki prefers this method over having a calendar scheduling link because the language around scheduling links often make it all about you and your availability — and not the prospective client.

Once they select a time, you do the work of sending them a calendar link.

A lot of writers shy away from talking about money during the discovery call. What questions can they ask to get the information they need?

It’s hard to put together a proposal if you don’t have the money conversation.

You can ask in different ways:

“What is your budget?”

“What have you budgeted?”

“Ebooks tend to range between $xx and $xx. Do you already have an idea of what you’re looking to spend?”

You need to have this conversation before you put a lot of time into developing a quote.

Talk money with prospective clients before you put time into developing a proposal.

What can you do to make the close feel more organic?

Once you’ve completed the discovery phase, you can ask permission to move to the proposal step.

“Based on what you’ve shared, I have an idea of a project that would give you what you need. Are you interested in learning more about it?”

If they say yes, you can lay out the offer. You’ve gotten their permission.

When you put together the proposal, you can give them several options. As the expert, you need to recommend what you think they NEED, not what you think they can afford.

Present the most expensive package first, but recommend the one that fits the best.

People don’t want to be upsold to a more expensive option. But at the same time, they need to understand what they’re giving up with less expensive options.

When you get permission to send them a proposal, you HAVE to say:

“Great! I’ll have that proposal to you by xxxx. Let’s schedule a circle-back call to review the proposal and answer any additional questions you may have.”

Attempt to get that call on their calendar before you get off the phone. If you don’t, they may never make a decision.

What do we need to say during that circle back call?

  1. “Have you looked over the proposal?”
  1. “What questions do you have?”
  1. “Are you ready to move forward with this?” or “Should we move forward with this?”

Stop talking once you’ve asked that last question.

Where can listeners learn more about you? 

Nikki’s website:

Nikki’s book and ebook:

Nikki’s book The Selling Staircase teaches the five steps of the sales process. You can find it anywhere books are sold.

Nikki also has an ebook, Closing the Sale, which focuses on the last step of the selling process.

Listeners of this podcast can get a copy of the ebook for free at

How to Land Your First Gig as a Freelance Translator

The rise of the internet, globalization, and social media has led to a surge in the demand for translators.

As Statista reported in their global language services review for 2009 to 2021, the industry has grown by USD 5 billion in the past two years alone. This means limitless opportunities for freelancing if you know how and where to look.

While setting up for your first gig as a newcomer may feel like a daunting task, here are five tips to help you get started:

1. Determine how you want to receive jobs

For starters, you can be an independent freelancer working for direct clients, translation agencies, or even both. The main difference is the initial setup required before you can start receiving jobs.

Agencies usually administer a test like this that you must pass in order to begin working with them. Once you’re accepted, they will match you with jobs that fit your skillset.

The whole process saves you the hassle of preparing an extensive portfolio and pitching to potential clients yourself.

Do note that some agencies (and even clients from larger companies) use translation software to manage the projects they assign to their translators.

On the other hand, if you decide to go the independent route, you don’t usually need to worry about software. However, you do need to play a more active role in seeking clients, bidding for jobs, and promoting your services.

2. Build a diverse portfolio

To kick off your career as a freelance translator, you need a strong portfolio to showcase your translation experience.

Initially you might need to do some volunteer translation work to build a portfolio, but remember to be fair to yourself, your time, and your efforts before taking unpaid jobs.

Consider your personal interests or those of the people around you, and look for opportunities there instead. Here are some ideas on where to start:

  • Translate subtitles for your favorite YouTubers
  • Offer to translate the website of your friends or family members for a small fee
  • Translate magazine articles and share them on forums for special interest groups (for example, interviews with athletes are interesting to the users of relevant sports forums)

More information on how to create an effective portfolio can be found in this article.

3. Identify your strengths and specializations

Over time, you should develop a few translation specializations based on your strengths and interests.

Otherwise you might feel compelled to accept any offers that come your way, even if they undersell your time and skills. Being a specialist rather than generalist may help you land clients who value quality over quantity and are thus willing to pay the appropriate rates for it.

In fact, this research by Inbox Translation reports that freelance translators with one or two areas of specialization are generally able to charge higher rates than those who are not specialized.

Remember that not everyone is your potential client. Start by asking yourself three simple questions:

  • What industries do I want to work in?
  • What kind of companies do I want to work for?
  • Will this project add relevancy and value to my portfolio?

4. Check out online translation communities

The internet is a great place to socialize with other freelancers and professionals who have been in the trade for longer.

Some of my favorite online forums and social media groups dedicated to translators include:

They’re informative, entertaining, and more importantly, allow you to build meaningful relationships with other translators which increases your chances of finding new projects to join.

5. Create a profile on freelance marketplaces

Businesses that are not within the translation industry themselves are likely to look for freelancers using channels they are familiar with. These include ProZ, Upwork, Fiverr, and even LinkedIn.

To make the best use of them, you should:

  • Create a profile on several marketplaces (as many as you can handle)
  • Complete a profile with your relevant skillsets, experience, and portfolio
  • Indicate your specializations to ensure the right people can find you
  • Update your availability to “open for work” or anything along those lines
  • Establish a routine of checking your inbox and bidding for jobs on freelance marketplaces

On certain websites, you may have to pay a fee to prioritize your profile in recruiters’ search results. I generally do not recommend using this method, because this can be achieved for free by optimizing your profile for certain specializations, language pairs, or industries.

6. Don’t underestimate LinkedIn

LinkedIn is not just a professional platform where people share work anecdotes and announce major career developments.

Being on LinkedIn as a freelancer allows you to use the job search function and build a profile that highlights your top skills so recruiters will notice you.

To do so use specific keywords in your headline and descriptions, like “German to English Translator” or “Gaming Translator,” so that you’re more likely to appear on internal search engines.

However, since there are many head-hunters on LinkedIn recruiting for full time positions, be mindful of how you brand yourself to ensure that the right job invitations land in your inbox.

For more tips on how to craft a good LinkedIn profile for freelancers, check out this video by Freelanceverse.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Author bio

Shu Ni Lim holds a degree in linguistics and freelanced as an English to Chinese / Malay translator, mostly working with social media marketing content. Now a writer at Redokun, Shu Ni hopes to create useful content for translators and businesses by utilizing her experience in translation, marketing, and discourse studies.

Educating the “Uneducated” Client

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

Because of the nature of our work, we translators are fated to work with clients who may not always understand what we do and often push our skills and resilience to the limit. But while some may think that difficult clients top the list of challenges translators face in the exercise of their work and business-building activities, that title is actually held by someone else: the “uneducated” client.

Appreciation: The Difference that Matters

Working with difficult clients (those with tight deadlines, last-minute changes, multiple-review-round habits, etc.) can be taxing, but as long as those clients know what translation entails, time and hard work will likely lead to a mutually trusting relationship. This is one where the client appreciates (both literally and figuratively) what the translator does, and where the translator may trust the client not to jeopardize the quality of his or her work or reputation. Working with “uneducated” clients (who may also be difficult clients) proves a tougher challenge with deeper ramifications.

By definition, “uneducated” clients lack knowledge and understanding about what translation is, what translators do, and the challenges of intercultural communication. As a result, they are less likely than most to prepare their texts for translation, make reasonable demands, understand the choices made during translation, involve us in their projects, value our work and feedback, or treat us as partners in the quest for the perfect final text. Therefore, if we ever hope to establish a mutually trusting and beneficial relationship with these clients, education is key.

The Challenge

While client education is part of our job description and we should always be prepared and willing to provide as much information as needed, educating “uneducated” clients may take more time, patience, and effort than we have to give. However, armed with the right tools, these clients also present an interesting challenge and an opportunity to change the perception the world has of us and our work. Doing so is not without difficulty.

One cannot fail to acknowledge that not all “uneducated” clients are created equal. There are instances when a translator will need to arm himself or herself not only with patience, but with a great deal of stoicism and humor to deal with the situation. This is even more true if that client has no intention of getting “educated,” thinks he already knows all there is to know, or enters the relationship thinking that translators are nothing more than glorified bilingual typists.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The following discusses the different types of “uneducated” clients and how to deal with each effectively.

The Blank-Canvas Client

The Blank-Canvas Client is new to translation and, in my experience, tends to be monolingual. He has no or little preconceived ideas about language, intercultural communication, or translation in general. This most often stems from a lack of interest in or need for our services. Or his curiosity may have led him to try his hand at a game of “Google Translate back-and-forth,” which is when he realized that things are not as simple as they look. (This is probably what convinced him to hire a professional translator in the first place!)

To a translator, the Blank-Canvas Client is as much a challenge as an opportunity to learn. Indeed, explaining the basics of our trade forces us to take a closer look at things, simplify ideas (perhaps even challenge some), and improve the way we do things when it comes to including our clients in the decision-making process.

As mentioned previously, the Blank-Canvas Client has no preconceived ideas about our work. Educating him gives us an opportunity to promote professional translation and share bona fide knowledge that will benefit not only us but the translation industry as a whole— hence the need to do it right.

The main challenge we face when educating the Blank-Canvas Client is to provide him with enough information, but not to a degree where he becomes confused with too much of it. The good news is that streamlined help is available in the form of ATA’s Translation: Getting it Right (available online as a free PDF), a guide that provides clients who are new to translation with basic, valuable information about the translation process, what to expect, and how to prepare their texts for translation. (An equally valuable resource is ATA’s Interpreting: Getting it Right.)

Educating the Blank-Canvas Client starts with providing him with a copy of Translation: Getting it Right, explaining that it will clarify the translation process and help him get the most out of his translation budget. (That latter point should guarantee that he reads it!) After familiarizing himself with the guide’s contents, the client should have a better understanding of the basics of translation, including the following:

  • Not all translations (or translators) are created equal.
  • Translation takes as much time as writing.
  • Translation is about “exporting” concepts and ideas across cultures, not transposing words.
  • An inquisitive translator is good news.
  • Typography varies from one language to the next.

Naturally, as you work on more projects with your client and questions/ challenges arise, you may need to go into detail about one point or another or address other issues. Provided that your message is clear and consistent, the Blank-Canvas Client will in time become an educated client who understands what you do and trusts you. You’ll also be in a better position to exchange ideas without fear of confusing him or jeopardizing the quality of your work. The same is achievable with our next type of uneducated client, but it will take much more time and effort.

The Biased Client

Just like the Blank-Canvas Client, the Biased Client is often (although not always) monolingual and may be new to translation. But unlike his quick-learning counterpart, he believes strongly in some widely-held translation myths that will take time and effort to dispel. While it is always useful to share Translation: Getting it Right with the Biased Client, you will also need to spend a considerable amount of time disproving moderately-to-deeply ingrained dangerous misconceptions about translation. Dangerous misconceptions are those that have the potential of deeply and negatively affecting your relationship with your clients and the quality of your work, so it’s important to have an answer ready when specific concerns come up.

Most dangerous misconceptions derive from one myth: that translation is about replacing word A in the source language with word B in the target language. Clients who believe that translation is simply about replacing words will generally think that:

  • Translation is a fast and simple process.
  • Anyone who speaks a foreign language or is bilingual can translate and/or review translations.
  • Machine translations are as good as human translations.
  • There’s only one possible translation for every text.
  • Back translation is a good indicator of the quality of a translation.
  • Source and target copy are similar in length and structure.

To the Biased Client, translation is easy, fast, and predictable, and any bilingual person is as valuable and knowledgeable as the next. Hence the importance of quickly, clearly, and consistently disproving the following dangerous misconceptions one at a time:

Translation is a fast and simple process.

Answer: Translation is an elaborate deconstruction-reconstruction process that consists of interpreting words and ideas and “exporting” them into another language and culture. That process is as complex and time consuming as writing (i.e., not typing, but actually writing creative/technical copy). It is also a process that may take longer depending on the level of creativity, complexity, or technicality of the text. My experience has been that professional translators will translate around 250-350 words per hour. Delivery time may be hastened, but not without sacrificing quality, accuracy, or consistency.

Anyone who speaks a foreign language or is bilingual can translate.

Answer: There is more to translating than understanding and being able to speak another language. Just as being able to speak/write English doesn’t make you a writer, being able to speak a language doesn’t make you a translator. Professional translators are skilled writers with the language skills, subject-matter expertise, and the socio-cultural knowledge needed to produce an accurate text that reads well in the target language and with which target readers can relate. Even the skills required to interpret or teach another language are different than the set of skills required to translate (and vice versa).

Anyone who speaks a foreign language or is bilingual can review translations.

Answer: The decisions made by the professional translator during the translation process are based on numerous factors: interpretation, style, lexical choices, research, available space, errors in the source copy, background material and reference copy, etc. Unless the reviewer is also a linguist and is aware of all the factors that the translator had to consider during translation, the edits made to the text may harm it instead of improve it.

Machine translations are as good as human translations.

Answer: While automated translation has come a long way and may be helpful to get the gist of simple texts, raw computer output is unviable as a finished printed product. Machine translation programs typically translate sentences word for word, failing to take context, sense, or style into account. These programs do not distinguish between different meanings of the same word. They cannot analyze technical terminology.

There is only one possible translation for every text.

Answer: Translating is not about transposing words, but about expressing ideas into another language. Any idea can be phrased in many different ways. A translation may vary based on interpretation, lexical choice, style, context, available space, target readers, and many other factors. Ask 10 professional translators to translate the same sentence, and chances are you’ll get 10 different translations—all of which may be correct.

Back translation is a good indicator of the quality of a translation.

Answer: A back-translation is intended only to ensure that a translation’s original meaning has been conveyed correctly. Because translation depends on many factors (lexical choices, style, etc.), a back translation will not result in a text that is identical to the source text, and therefore cannot be used as the sole indicator of the quality of a translation.

Source and target copy are similar in length and structure.

Answer: Different languages follow different grammar, semantic, phrase construction, punctuation, and typography rules, which results in many differences between source and target texts, including differences in length and structure/layout. When working with language pairs with a significant difference in length, it is unlikely that same-length translation can be achieved—at least not without sacrificing content, style, or some other element of the original text. Since phrase construction differs from one language to the next, it is also unlikely that the source and target texts can be laid out exactly the same way.

Regardless of how much your client learns to appreciate you as a professional over time, it may take much repetition for the facts above to replace the preconceived ideas that have anchored themselves in his “pre-educated mind.” Though some situations can try your endurance, it is important to be patient and strive to provide clear, consistent answers. In really desperate situations, remember: a good sense of humor goes a long way, and it’s always better to laugh (at situations, never at clients) than pull your hair out.

Even after working with the same Biased Client for many years, you might still get unexpected surprises! Here are a few real-life examples that prove that even the most hopeless-looking situations are not without moments of humor:

Client: We need this in three days, but send it before if you can (concerning a 150,000-word, brand-new-content text).

Client: We noticed that the three-line burst in this ad didn’t follow the same order as the original text, but it must for artistic purposes, so we’ve moved words around (and published it without checking with you first).

Client: There’s a problem with the translation you provided. We double-checked it with Google Translate, and it doesn’t say what we want.

Situations like those might feel discouraging, especially if you’ve been working with (and educating) your client for a while, but provided that your message is consistent and you have nerves of steel, there’s hope that your client will one day understand enough about translation to trust you and allow you to do the same. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said of our last type of “uneducated” client.

The Recalcitrant Client

The Recalcitrant Client (who could as easily have been called the Know-Better Client) may not be as easily “spottable” as his counterparts because, unlike them, he doesn’t fit the typical profile of the uneducated client. The Recalcitrant Client is not necessarily new to translation, monolingual, badly informed, or ill advised. At first, he may even seem familiar with the target language and/or the translation process. But working with him soon becomes the utmost challenge as you realize that, to him, everything seems “wrong” (although he will seldom provide you with any direction on how to make it right). It may also take all of your skill, patience, and guile to reach a point where you may have a relatively good working relationship with him—if ever.

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to the Recalcitrant Client, you’re not dealing with someone who necessarily lacks information or has preconceived ideas about translation. Actually, what seems to drive the client to doubt your work doesn’t have anything to do with language or translation! Most often, it has to do with mistrust, and perhaps even ego and/or control. Whether the client has any knowledge of the target language or not, he believes that he knows better. He will always doubt, question, and ultimately revise your work, even if he has to resort to machine translation to do so.

Unlike his counterparts, the Recalcitrant Client seldom sees things objectively, and no evidence, explanation, or rework ever seems to satisfy him. That is, unless he feels that he’s had decisive input in the final text or got you to acquiesce to all his demands. Whether that’s something you can do depends on your personality, the value you put on your work and professional reputation, and how much of your livelihood depends on him.

When working as an in-house translator, you might have little choice in the matter. When working as a freelance translator on the other hand, you always have the option to “fire” your Recalcitrant Client (especially if the situation has turned abusive). The following advice about how to deal with overly difficult clients, originally written by Judy Jenner (author of “The Entrepreneurial Linguist” column in The ATA Chronicle), is pertinent:

If your customer makes your stomach turn, you are losing sleep, or can’t talk about anything else, perhaps it’s time to prioritize your mental health over your business’ bottom line […].

A translator’s job is complex enough, and while we should always be prepared and willing to educate our clients (because it’s to our mutual benefit), client education should not occupy most of our time or resources. While we can reasonably anticipate having to explain repeatedly that computer-assisted translation is different from machine translation and that we’re the ones doing the work (and therefore need time), we can’t be expected to consent to unrealistic demands, intentionally damage translations, or spend hours justifying every single word because the dictionary, Google Translate, or our client’s bilingual accountant (or plumber) “says something else.”

Ultimately, It’s All about Trust … and Patience

When working with clients who are familiar enough with translation and/or the target language to be able to provide constructive input, the ensuing relationship feels more like a partnership than a service provider-client relationship. That’s really what all translators strive for: trust, collaboration, and mutual respect. Getting there may take a little longer with “uneducated” clients, but it’s an attainable goal for most.

The vast majority of “uneducated” clients are “educable” (or at least willing to get educated), and even though they may never thoroughly appreciate the difficulty of our work, they’ll get to understand enough of the translation process to develop a positive, trusting, and mutually beneficial working relationship with us. As for dealing with those few “uneducable” clients who may cross our path from time to time, the choice is ours. We may either choose to get crafty, yield, terminate the relationship, or hope and trust that “a little persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.” Meanwhile, keeping a sense of humor is not a bad idea!

Business and Marketing Tips for Translators: Direct Client Contact Ideas

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

Companies are looking for someone who is more than just a great translator and writer. They’re looking for someone who can translate, provide cultural and background expertise, and who is in tune with the company’s vision.

Finding and contacting potential direct clients can be perplexing for translators. One of the challenges is performing appropriately within the context of the client relationship. I’m always on the prowl for tips on how to finesse these relationships.

Recently, I listened to a webinar by Ed Gandia entitled “How to Launch a Profitable B2B Writing Business in 10 Weeks or Less.”1 While this audio course focused primarily on writers and copywriters and how they can make money quickly by zeroing in on corporate content writing, a number of strategies and ideas stood out to me as being relevant to translators marketing their services and dealing with direct clients.

Writing for businesses that sell to other businesses can be very profitable. Think potentially doubling whatever you thought would be a healthy freelancing income in our profession and you’ll get an idea about your potential profit margins for corporate content writing. How is this related to direct translation clients and a healthy freelancing career? Well, it has to do with the approach: being focused and strategic. As freelancers, we’re always trying to get on the right radar. We know clients are out there and that they need us, but exactly how to reach them is the issue.

Focus on What Clients Need

The first step toward securing clients is to stop pestering potential ones with details about what we do. Yes, we have to educate clients, but we can’t just overwhelm them with that education from the very beginning. We have to ease them into it, like getting in a hot tub. But before we invite them in, let’s make sure they have a swimsuit on and that they like to soak.

So, how can we get to clients? How can we let them know that we’re here to solve their problems? By offering to help with what they need most and learning about their businesses. Keep in mind that what you can do for clients and what they need can be two different things. In order to get the business we want—the fun projects, the high profile names, the work that makes a difference—before all that, we have to get clients, confidence, and experience. How? Once you’ve listened to what clients need, deliver it to them by going the extra mile.

Look Beyond Your Current Contacts

Find your ideal potential clients by looking for a business that offers services or products that are new, expensive, and complex, and—this is the key for translators—a business that wants to expand into a target market for your native language. This should be a company that has a lot of written material to explain and inform about the services and products it offers. This is a good time to showcase your writing skills as a translator by providing excellent copy in your target language.

The crux of the thing here is that companies are looking for someone who is more than just a great translator and writer. They’re looking for someone who can translate, provide cultural and background expertise, and who is in tune with the company’s vision.

To find these elusive companies, invest in a hyper-focused marketing effort. Hyper-focused? Yes, this is going to require some reflection. But break through those usual barriers where you say to yourself, “I don’t know anyone who needs my services,” or “I’ve already told everyone about what I do.” Instead, look beyond your contacts to the people they know. Investigate their circles online and consider where you could do meaningful work (i.e., the type of work that you enjoy most and excel). Here’s a possible path your thinking could follow:

  • Think about the people you know in professional and personal circles.
  • Think about the people you know and the companies where they work. Are you interested in any of those companies as potential clients?
  • What’s your specialty or favorite type of text? What sector is it?
  • Have you ever done work in that area? Ask a contact from a previous project for a recommendation.

For online research, you can start by looking at your contacts’ contacts on LinkedIn to see if there is an area where you can fill a need. For example, I browsed an investment banker’s contacts recently and not only learned a lot, but also got some great ideas for potential leads, even though I’m not involved in financial translation. (As a courtesy, you might want to mention to your existing contact that you found a potential lead on their profile list.)

Shift Your Focus

When you market your services as a translator, consider shifting your focus away from telling prospects about your business and services. Instead, how about learning about the companies your clients run and how they are organized? What do they want and need, and how can you make that happen for them?

For example, say you want to translate a book describing photography from the state where you live for a client in your source-language country. You know a client who will publish such a translation in your target language. Boom! Sounds great, right? But this client doesn’t know you, and the photography book is one of the most important things they’re doing this year. By finding the areas where they need help, not what you want to do for them, you get your foot in their door. Ask clients what their most urgent communication needs are related to cultural questions, translation, interpreting, or another service at which you excel.

Oh, and don’t forget to mention any certifications. Recently, I told a client that I’m certified as a translator by the Judiciary Council of the State of Jalisco. Although this has little to do with being a literary translator, it turned out that the client needed someone with this certification. After helping the client in this way, I became liked, known, and trusted. This is a great place to start a long-term relationship with a client.

Market Yourself as a Problem Solver, but Be Selective

Every client needs someone to solve his or her communication problems. Translators are in a unique position to do so because of the complexity of their work and the level of skill required. For each step in the translation process, the translator changes roles: from researcher to cultural expert; from writer to editor to word processor; from customer services representative to bookkeeper to innovator; from friend to colleague to mentor. What are we missing? Business, sales, negotiation, and soft skills (e.g., interpersonal skills).2

Clients need you to take the tasks off their hands that they don’t understand completely but realize are important. Unfortunately, working with clients who have no idea what translation involves is not the road to increased income and a comfortable freelancing career. Every freelancer works with clients who aren’t from the word world (i.e. linguists, writers, editors, etc.), and every professional has to explain what he or she does. However, if you work with clients who have even an inkling of what you do and why it’s important, you’ll be able to do business faster, more productively, and ultimately, more successfully.

In his webinar, Ed Gandia alludes to a great parable about a man selling watches. Ed’s advice: if you’re selling watches, don’t try to sell to someone who doesn’t have a watch, since this is very hard. You need to find those clients who already have a watch and know its value. In our case, this means clients who appreciate the value of translation.

Whatever the reason for clients having some knowledge about what you do, it’s very helpful. Maybe it’s because you’re not the first translator they’re dealing with, maybe the text was botched the first time. Maybe it’s a marketing department at a large company where they know that translation is important, but don’t exactly understand everything that’s involved in shifting a text from one culture to another. Whatever it is, the kind of clients you market to makes all the difference.

Stockpiling Documents

I listened to another talk by legendary copywriter Bob Bly, and his marketing strategies are pure genius.3 In terms of positioning—that is, how you communicate with clients and the value you bring to their business—his strategies and suggestions are spot on in relation to freelance translation.

In addition to the types of clients to whom you market, the sheer number is crucial. Bob’s suggestion is to try and get two to five times the leads you can handle. In his words: “Don’t market to get business, market to have choice.”

How can you help ensure that your marketing efforts stand out? Freelance translators looking to attract great direct clients should have a cache of professional documents, samples, and website pages. When clients need information about what you do or your work process, you should have documents ready to send out that describe and highlight your value and explain your approach. For translators, this might mean a document showing how historical miscommunications have led to costly errors, or the traditional example of company names not working in target cultures.4

A great way to get clients’ attention is to show them how your cultural knowledge can help them save time and money. Find a translation blunder in your prospect’s industry and you’ll be sure to impress. This leads to a more satisfying business relationship and in turn generates new insights in your clients about the culture of their customers and suppliers. This document could include examples from their industry or that show how important it is to localize content. There are great examples in the book Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. Here’s an excerpt:

When Mistranslations Cost Millions
Banking and financial services giant HSBC had a popular Assume Nothing campaign, but the phrase was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in several countries. How to repair the damage done to the brand? A $10 million rebranding initiative soon followed.5

As an added value, you can check if the client has localized their products in your target language, or send them a short paragraph on why the brand name would work in country X, which, incidentally, might also be a good place to export. When you have industry-specific examples ready, it’s easy to connect with and educate clients.

Another suggestion is to write a book to market yourself. This could be great for many translators with vast specialty knowledge. A nonfiction book, a handout, or a pamphlet on your specialty knowledge subject area might be just the ticket. Your book could get noticed. As word spreads, you’ll gradually gain a reputation as an expert on the subject, and clients will come to you. This happens when someone buys your book, tells other people about it, or simply keeps it and picks it up again later. When you’ve written a book on a specialized sector you boost your authority and exposure. You can also send copies of your book to potential clients. Bob says it best: “A book is a brochure that will never be thrown away.” Remember, in every business, professionals have to explain what they do.

Take Advantage of ATA’s Client Outreach Kit

For translators working with clients who don’t have a precise idea about what translators or interpreters do, a short, informative, and entertaining document, brochure, case study or short presentation prepared beforehand with clients in mind is an invaluable resource. ATA’s Client Outreach Kit will help with some ideas on how to prepare your material.6 These documents will also showcase your writing skills, but they must be flawless. Get a top-notch translation editor to look over your material so that clients will be drawn in by the meticulous copy.

It’s Time to Determine What Works for You

What marketing methods have worked for you with direct clients? What cultural quandaries have you come into contact with? Consider creating a list with examples to use with future clients!

  1. “High-Level Business Writing with Ed Gandia,”
  2. For a basic definition of soft skills, see
  3. Bly, Bob. “Ten Steps to Having a Great Copywriting Career for Life,”
  4. “13 Unfortunate Translations that Harmed Brand Reputations,”; also see “11 Brand Names that Sound Hilarious in a Different Language” (Huffington Post, August 11, 2012),
  5. Kelly, Nataly, and Jost Zetzsche. Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World (Perigee Books, 2012).
  6. ATA Client Outreach Kit,

Author bio

Jesse Tomlinson is an interpreter and translator and splits her time between Canada and México. She translates from Spanish into English and interprets in both languages. Her special interests lie in Mexican culture, the tequila industry, and literature. Website: