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The translation sales handbook 2016 Luke Spear

The translation sales handbook
A roadmap to higher rates, better clients
Luke Spear - 2016
Reader comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Copyright, Copyleft . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Welcome . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Updates for 2014 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Updates for 2016 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Earning potential in freelance translation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Thinking laterally: how other professions can help . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sales and marketing overhaul
New perspective: a case for value pricing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Boost your income immediately – with direct clients . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Boost your income immediately – with agencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A freelancer’s approach to health and wealth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A general approach to selling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Positioning your business for the best clients . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The client cycle – lowering risk, raising rates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gain direct clients online . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gain direct clients offline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Repeat business – lest we forget . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tools for growth
Translation tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Productivity tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Backing up . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A note on business security practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Optimising your website
Websites and their basic structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Basic SEO (for initial traffic) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Advanced SEO (for long-term traffic) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Copywriting to convert those new visitors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Testimonials and case-studies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
How to do A/B testing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Measuring website success . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Building a client mailing list . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A note on Adwords . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
From inspiration to action
Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The calculator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
Signing off . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
The roadmap . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Translation brief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
Terms of business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134
Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Thanks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
About the author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Reader comments
“A valuable addition to the literature.”
Oliver Lawrence, DipTrans, MCIL, freelance Italian translator
“A very well-written and super interesting book. I’ve read some of the popular books focused on translators but yours is clearly something that was missing from
the translation publications market. A sales, marketing and pricing book appropriate
(finally!) mainly for seasoned translators. I particularly loved the sales and marketing
parts of the book. You’d think these would be a bit boring for translators, but they are
so well adapted to us and offer so much food for thought.”
Catherine Christaki, the translator’s blogger, @linguagreca
“[. . . ] I would also just like to say that your book was probably one of the
most practically useful of all the translation/business books I have read, and I now
have so many ideas to revamp my site content, restructure my rates and have more
confidence to go out there and hook some direct clients.”
Nicola Hawkesford, Awendan Translation Services, @awendantrans
“The book is written in a very practical, no-nonsense way and includes a lot
of practical advice that’s easy to relate to and use right away. Many of the tips were
new to me, and I have read quite a few business books and translator books already.
I highly recommend all translators to take a look at it.”
Tess Whitty, Swedish Translation Services
“I’ve read many of the books available on freelance translation from a business perspective, and yours is by far the best that I have come across. I have a degree
in Business and a few years’ experience in sales account management. [. . . ] I felt
that the translation books which I read before the translation sales handbook were
essentially a really basic guide [. . . ] Your book on the other hand offered a completely
different insight into how to conduct your business as a translator/consultant and was
very specific to the sales process of translation, linking it to good practice in similar
Liam Curley,
“The interviews [..] are lively and illuminating, not least about the sheer variety of career paths for translators [. . . ] CIoL members will wholeheartedly agree
with the key theme [. . . ] a helpful input to research.”
The Linguist issue 52.1, The Chartered Institute of Linguists
Copyright, Copyleft
As of November 1st 2016, this text is licensed under the Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivs license. To be clear, this means that you are free to
re-distribute the entire work as far and wide as you please (as long as you make no
changes, share for non-commercial purposes only and provide credit).
As such, no alteration or resale of the work is allowed, but you can of course use
the information contained in the book for commercial purposes, as it is a business
book. You are just not able to use the book itself, as a work, for commercial purposes
(i.e. reselling copies).
The intention of this licensing is to enable any (most) potential educational uses
conceivable, while reserving rights for any translations or other derivative works that
may (however likely or unlikely) arise in the future.
This is the most restrictive of Creative Commons licenses, but it is still a vast
improvement over standard copyright, where even if I tell you I don’t mind you
using and re-distributing the work, you cannot be sure of your status from a legal
standpoint. I may further relax the licensing in the future, but as this is a first foray
I will stick to ‘just’ free re-distribution of the work before allowing transformations
and commercial use by others.
Links to further information on the Creative Commons Licenses and the AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivs License in particular.
Printed 2016
2016, 3rd edition
ISBN 978-1-291-82628-9
Thank you for your interest in this book. To offer you the most value, it makes a few
assumptions, namely that you are:
• A professional translator
• Looking to improve your freelance business
• Looking for ways to secure higher paying clients
The tips, techniques and strategies shared here have the potential to boost your profit
levels significantly, and in a very short space of time. The tips brought together here
are the most provably efficient that I have come across in many years of research while
practicing as a full-time freelance translator, agency owner and ‘internet start-up
If I had employed these tips myself at the start of my freelancing journey I doubtlessly
would have spent less time and effort on reducing living costs and working overtime
just to stay in business.
A certain amount of time should be factored in to allow some of the concepts and
working relationships to evolve, but most strategies offered here are immediately
workable. I’m hoping that this book will give you a shortcut to realising the true
value and opportunities that you can offer to new and existing clients. In doing so,
you will increase the chance that your business will continue to survive and grow long
into the future.
Just as with any investment, starting early is best in order to reap the compounding
benefits of improved reputation and income. I’ll be as concise as possible, as our time
is our most valuable asset and I would not assume to waste yours. Hopefully the
book is laid out clearly enough to help you to zero-in on what matters most to you,
but as the book sets out an overall strategy, I recommend you read all chapters to
ensure you get the most from the approach.
If you have any further questions, or if you would like to tell me what has worked for
you, do let me know. I will be periodically updating this book with fresh ideas and
reinforcing any strategies with case-studies, so your input is always welcome.
This book aims to help you by:
Giving you new ideas for how to find the best new clients
Giving you the confidence and justification to raise your rates
Showing you how effective copy can drive sales
Saving you money on ‘SEO experts’ and web developers
Showing you high ROI tools to streamline your business
Freeing up time for you to live, while increasing your income
Simplifying the marketing and sales process
Calculating the true value of your professional time
Giving you a systematic checklist of actions to work through
Reducing stress with finance, health and planning advice
After you have read the various chapters on how to streamline and improve your
business you will find interviews with 12 established translators who share their many
experiences in sales and marketing.
They all offer a different perspective on how to run a sustainable translation business,
and you are free to consider the ideas that best apply to your situation. Perhaps
you’d like to focus on trade-shows, social media, or business card networking. The
choice is yours, but the overall approach offered by the book should tie the individual
tactics together into a coherent strategy for growth and stability.
Updates for 2014
Since the initial release of this book in November 2012 I have collected and implemented a few new strategies for sales, marketing and business optimisation. These
are added to this version seamlessly, directly in their relevant sections throughout
the book, along with any amendments for clarity and up to date information.
There is a new summary before each of the more technical sections, to allow readers
to save the detail for another time if the chapter doesn’t seem applicable from the
summary. If the chapters in question do appear beyond your comfort level at first
glance, know that I am not one for jargon, buzzwords or pointless advice. I have tried
to just give high level overviews of the available options – more like introductions
than technical manuals.
As for the layout, in this edition you will find increased whitespace between lines and
paragraphs, with a view to better readability in print and over an ever increasing
range of devices.
All readers are now also welcome to download a Kindle version or purchase a print
copy for yourself, a colleague, a local school or university.
Finally, feel free to sign up to the mailing list via the book page on the site to receive
free advice, resources and updates.
Updates for 2016
Only minor changes made to this edition in terms of content. Any new chapters I
plan to write as articles to publish directly to the website, for inclusion in the book if
they generate enough interest.
The main change made is in terms of licensing. I’ve explained above how this edition
is licensed, and will most likely talk about it some more through the blog. Suffice to
say I’m happy to now share this work freely with my work colleagues, so few of whom
I’ve actually met. Please do feel free to send it to anyone you think may appreciate
the subject matter.
The other major change to the book is in terms of layout. Again, I’ll go into more
detail on the blog, but the book is now generated by writing a plain-text file (using
Markdown, a simple formatting method) and converting it to various formats from
there using free and open software called Pandoc. It is great to simplify the writing
process, to be able to leave Word behind and to be able to control exactly how the
book is printed, without trying to squeeze it into Word’s pre-set templates. Hopefully
the result should be a more readable layout and it should enable much easier future
For those who’ve previously paid for an edition, many thanks for your support. I
hope you’ve had enough time since your purchase to see a return on the investment.
It’d be great to hear from you what did or didn’t work for you in the book, if you
had a minute. The paid-for package will continue to be updated via the site. This
will include the addition of new e-reader versions, in particular.
Other versions:
Print version
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Read online
Earning potential in freelance translation
As a freelancer in the translation market, it is useful to know the upper limits of our
earning potential. In doing so we can make sure that an investment in time is going
to be financially worthwhile, over and above the personal-satisfaction that might be
gained from the work.
The good news, as you may well be aware, is that the language services market is
large (ca. $30bn). It continues to grow steadily (+13% pa) despite a prolonged global
recession, fuelled in part by the globalisation of trade and governments. Average
in-house salaried translator roles are paid at around $40k (US Dept. of Labor stats),
however freelance workers have the ability to earn much more, and indeed they must
in order to stay in business.
My own peak monthly earnings have been in the high 4-figures from freelancing.
They reach well into the 5-figures for months combining freelance agency and direct
client work with some basic outsourcing. Those 5-figures are for turnover, with bills
to be paid, and are only the peak months, but it shows how you can go from a few
agency clients at first to a diverse mix of direct, agency and outsourcing with no need
for an MBA or outside investment.
All I have done is to pay close attention to what works for others, even outside of
translation, and taken in as much sales, PR and copywriting information as I could
through online communities, offline courses and well-regarded literature.
Those peak months are hard work, and I have often bordered on entering the fabled
‘burnout’ phase. This is what prompted me to find tools to increase efficiency and
strategies to find new clients. I have read stories of translators earning $43k in one
month, but this is probably not likely for most people with families, nor desirable
if they have lives of any kind outside of work. I am a big proponent of a healthy
work/life balance, and as such any improvements in efficiency that can be squeezed
from a working day are welcome.
I plainly could not have earned the figures that now offer me a degree of stability
without raising my rates and using tools. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
The goal of the book, then, is to help you to achieve your full earning potential as a
freelance translator, whatever that may be.
For those who purchased the book directly from the website, there is a detailed rate
calculator included in the package. It is also available for those signing up to the
mailing list via the site. It is best to use this only after reading the book to make sure
that its use is in line with a consistent strategy to grow and stabilise your business.
I’ve no doubt that you’ll find enough advice in the book to enable you to raise your
rates to the true value of your work almost immediately, if you haven’t already. It
effectively gives you the permission and pathways to give yourself a pay-rise. I hope
you find that you’ve made a worthwhile investment.
Thinking laterally: how other professions can help
Freelance designers, programmers and copywriters all face the same problems:
Customer acquisition and retention
Conveying their true work value
Dealing with non-payers
Keeping income and expense accounts
Re-using previous work effectively
Contingency planning
Finding time to grow their businesses
In order for us all to stay in business we inevitably have to be creative in our use
of limited marketing budgets, time and connections. Some of the most successful
freelancers to be found online actually offer advice from their experience quite openly.
This is a practice that can be useful in many ways, as we’ll see. They often share
extremely valuable strategies that can work in any market. These generous souls can
be found in many places, and are often the ones in the various freelance blogs and
communities with the facts, figures and case studies to back up their assertions.
What you have in this book, then, is much of the best, most provably useful advice
I’ve gathered over the last decade, having had many chances to test it on my
own translation practice. The roadmap at the end can be used to make sure you
systematically cover as many points as are relevant to your situation. It will help you
to drive growth, or to make your business more efficient, giving you more time to live.
Sales and marketing overhaul
New perspective: a case for value pricing
With the intention of this book being to grow or streamline your business, the first
step ought to be to set out an overall approach to follow.
The basic premise of this book’s strategy is simple: you are not a commodity. Not
only that, you are in fact a scarce resource and your full potential value is, in all
likelihood, still to be reached. The plan here is to justify the actions you will take to
approach your full potential value, but not at the expense of clients, your health or
life outside of work.
One way this is done in other professions is to move from marketing themselves as a
freelancer to a consultant. Although they often do exactly the same work, the income
difference can be significant. Let me give you an anecdotal example of the software
consultant (read: programmer) who fixes the same bug that they could have solved
as a freelancer, taking 3 hours in either case. The consultant goes on to invoice $500
on their day rate, whereas previously as a freelancer they might have invoiced for 3
hours at $75-100, for $225-300 in total. This revenue doubling is the real potential
and is most times irrelevant to the client if the bug or problem to solve would have
cost them anywhere from $500 to $1000 per day if not fixed.
The best clients highly value their jobs and their businesses and would typically
opt for an expert who has provably delivered results over a general freelancer to fix
their potentially costly problems. The freelancer charges less, but has a much lower
perceived value, a higher perceived risk and offers less peace of mind. And so with
this approach the clients we will be seeking out are these, the ‘best ones’.
As we’ll come to see, many other factors are at play in this line of thinking, but the
basic idea is that the right price for a client is based on what they will pay, when
weighed against either the costs of not doing the work, or the value the work will
bring to their business or career.
They will never pay you more than the benefit they receive, of course, but if we always
strive to understand what value they get from each project, we can optimise our
pricing structure accordingly. This thinking has some additional bonus side-effects
on the health of your business in the long-term, which can only be good for yourself
and your clients.
The subject of pricing psychology has filled many books, and I won’t presume to
be an expert on the subject, if that is ever even possible. However the results I
continually see from experiments of my own, and those of others, is that clients will
pay much closer to the future value of the work to be done than us freelancers realise.
In addition, they often get work with an improved return on investment (ROI), as
the work done is more tightly aligned with solving the client’s business problems. As
translators we can rarely measure the exact returns clients get on their investment in
our work, but the more we align ourselves with their goals, the more value we offer,
and subsequently the more we can charge.
For a translation industry example let’s take a website of 2500 words. This will
cost a typical freelancer’s direct client around e300 to have translated within 3 days
(planning 2 days for the translation, 1 for QA). Payment is arranged for 30-60 days net.
One or two jobs like this a week will net a translator around e500 a week, or e2000
a month. A fair reward, in line with the average monthly revenue for many workers
in Europe and North America. But we are not most workers. Our work in cases like
this is under-valued. There is effectively money ‘left on the table’ by the freelancer
who doesn’t realise that they can offer more to the client. They also unwittingly risk
de-stabilising their business by under-pricing, creating future cash-flow problems.
Consider the same website, 2500 words, but quoted at e600 for two days’ work at
e300/day. Payment is agreed either upfront or within 14 days, using a professional
set of terms of business. For a site that likely cost many thousands to produce, this
price won’t shock the client, especially as, if done well, the new site will likely lead to
many multiples of this amount in new sales. The freelancer has more time to work
through the detail of the text, consider SEO and localisation implications, have a
colleague proofread their work and build a TM or glossary for the client. On a per
word basis the freelancer is keen to move on to the next project, leaving little time for
as complete a service, focusing only on the purely linguistic aspects of the text. This
approach also heightens the risk of reducing future work with this client. The work
might be a technically brilliant translation, but if it misses the client’s overall goals,
perhaps to increase enquiries via the website using specific terms and keywords, then
it won’t be as effective as a more considered translation.
If the freelancer can then quote this project rate twice a week, for the sake of argument,
they have doubled their income by pricing on value. They have positioned themselves
as a freelancer who offers a higher level of service and considers the client’s business
objectives: an offer much closer to that of a consultant. I should stress that we
don’t have to necessarily refer to ourselves as ‘consultants’ but in borrowing from
and displaying the same level of attention to the client’s needs we can become more
attractive to those ‘best clients’ mentioned earlier.
From the client’s point of view the day-rate is similar to what they usually pay their
contractors, and the service is professional and complete. There is no shock and no
question of commoditising the work when presented in this manner. The example
given above is actually very close to positions I have taken myself to great effect
many times. It certainly helps to essentially give yourself extra time on the project in
question. The extra income it generates then allows for training and work on growing
the business and improving service levels.
It has been effective with both agencies and direct clients. Sometimes there is a
round of negotiation, and there is a simple solution to dealing with this. Rather
than quibble over the price, you can simply remove any services the client deems
unnecessary from the project, such as external proofreading, glossary building etc.,
reducing the project total accordingly. This way you don’t have to work the same
amount of time for less compensation, and you maintain the value of your work in
the client’s eyes. I have provided a project brief at the end of the book to help you
prepare quotes in this way.
The idea is tried and tested. Freelancers in many other industries do this. They
solve problems on a per project basis and profitable companies of all sizes pay much
more than they would pay a standard freelancer in order to access the best of their
expertise. Designers do this. Copywriters do this. Programmers do this. It’s high
time we did this.
The benefits are clear:
More time per project
Client typically wins on quality
Less treadmill-style low-value work burnout
Increased revenue for both translator and client
Places a real-world, results-based value on the work done
Attracts only the best clients who value their work
Remember that if your quote is under budget for the client, achieves their objectives
and is above your daily minimum rate (which we’ll calculate later), then it stands
every chance of being accepted. We’ll move on now to looking at the practical
considerations of ways to grow your business.
Boost your income immediately – with direct clients
It is often said that there are three general ways to grow a business:
1. Raise prices
2. Find new clients
3. Sell more to existing clients
In this section we’ll deal with the first of these, as continually raising prices should
be front and centre in any on-going growth strategy. Providing it is done sensitively
and methodically, it can be the quickest way to improve your business’ revenues.
I’ll start with raising prices among direct clients first, as this is the direction I
would encourage you to explore. There are translation agencies who work for other
translation agencies almost exclusively, but the majority seek out direct clients of
their own. Just as all successful businesses select the most profitable clients, so do
language service providers.
Should we enter into direct competition with the large LSPs, then? Well, no, of
course we cannot compete with their budgets so we should look to use our strengths.
We should make the most of our agility, responsiveness and approachability. The
big LSPs wouldn’t even look twice at some of the clients that could provide us with
years of more than satisfactory income. They chase down government contracts,
multinational companies. We are looking lower down the scale, at single departments
and small companies.
To use the approach employed in this book, you will have to ‘grandfather’ your old
clients. This is a lovely term I’ve often heard used to look after your existing clients at
the prices they’re used to. Don’t give them any major frights. Small annual increases,
perhaps, but nothing major. I’ve charged per project and day rates to existing direct
clients and agencies, but I wouldn’t confuse them by changing pricing structures too
much. It’s much easier to find new direct clients than convince an old client to pay
significantly more.
These new clients are your testing ground for new prices. The aim here is to go as
close to the value of future returns for the client as is fair and acceptable by both
To justify your price, always discuss the client’s requirements (the chapter on sales
goes into more detail here) and structure your quote to include a range of services
they need for a translation project with the highest ROI. This brief-based quote shows
exactly where you add value, and can be used to remove services in negotiations,
rather than lowering the price for the same work.
I quoted a relatively new agency I work with a fixed price for a project that was
based on my work situation at the time (i.e. busy) and an estimate of the budget
they’d have for it. It was double my standard rate with them, yet they accepted it
without blinking. They value the work I do as much as I value their marketing efforts,
and I have found that there is room to offer a fair price in these situations.
The hard part is always in making the higher offer, but remember that it must be
done for the health of your business. It must be done for its sustainability, growth
and the continued improvements in life quality that it can bring as a reward for the
risks you take in business.
To make the higher offer you simply have to state the price of your service for this
particular project with confidence. Either by email, phone or in person. Then you
wait for the approval of the client. Do not negotiate, unless the counter-offer is close
enough to your quoted price as to be acceptable (and above the minimum rate we will
work out later). Before accepting a counter-offer, mention that one of the services
you had offered will be removed to accommodate their budget. They may then find a
larger budget after all, or you can reduce your workload accordingly. Either way you
both benefit.
If accepted, congratulations. You have just given yourself a well-earned pay-rise. You
have further secured the on-going likelihood of your business’ survival. You have
placed a higher value on your own work, and that of the client. You now just have to
deliver an exceptional service. Now, at least, you have the time and resources you
need to do so.
Remember, direct clients are used to paying contractors, freelancers and consultants
per day or per project, so this will come as no surprise to them. The only surprise is
that more of us don’t do this.
But this all assumes that you have some new direct clients asking for quotes. Later
we will look at how to go about finding these in a systematic manner, but first we’ll
look at how to increase your revenue with your agency clients.
Boost your income immediately – with agencies
Improving your rates with agencies is a little more challenging. It’s not the focus of
this book, but should not be ignored as it has built thousands of careers spanning
many decades. You see, with agencies you are less of a scarce resource. That holds
true for the majority of translators; the minority-language folks (hello, Swahili >
Icelandic translators) might not need much in the way of sales advice as they’re as
scarce as it comes. Being less scarce limits your price potential, as does the fact that
the majority of agencies are set on pricing per word. They seem intent on keeping
it as the industry standard. So we will have to consider some agile techniques that
optimise who we work with, and how we work with them.
By marketing your freelance services to agencies in countries with a higher average
per capita income than that of your home country, i.e. living in Poland, working
for Scandinavian agencies or living in Scandinavia and working for Swiss agencies
(apologies, Swiss reader, you’ll have to look for countries with similar income levels)
you maximise potential income where possible by making the most of the discrepancy.
But aside from this basic method, carving a niche is the next best way to boost
your agency earnings. By seeking out agencies which deal heavily in your ideal subject
area specialism (finance, patents, medicine, IT, engineering. . . the list is long) you
can charge specialist rates and begin to use this body of work to help improve your
direct client strategy.
Raising rates with agencies can also be done through teamwork. Teams can take
on a higher work volume, pool resources, proofread each other’s work and cover
more specialisms at no additional cost, thereby charging more on average. This all
leads to a higher quality of service and approaches a business that is more akin to a
consultancy than a freelance practice, yet still allows agencies to do the marketing
and sales work on their behalf.
Teams can work in-house or a through a looser distributed network of same-language
pair (or reverse direction) colleagues. As a solo-freelancer you can emulate this by
keeping a list of these colleagues and their rates to share work between yourselves,
perhaps charging a slight premium for project management.
It is best to avoid those agencies that end up costing you more than they make you.
The commodity agencies will not call back if you say no to their lowball request, but
this is a good thing. You yourself are not a commodity, and neither is your work.
And neither is the end-client’s. There are better contacts out there to be made, you
just need to regularly and systematically work through the ways of finding them.
The worst agencies can end up costing you money when their margins leave no room
for proofreading or QA of any kind and the end client is disappointed with the results.
You know, because you didn’t use that glossary that they provided the agency during
the job, who then didn’t see fit to mention it to you at any point before the delivery
date. . .
Optimising your income from agencies can also be done through ruling out any
free tests. They are time-consuming, invariably poorly marked and assume that
you work for them, not with them. You work together, and you don’t work for free.
Your CV and portfolio show your work standard and experience, your references are
proof. This is sufficient.
These ideas on raising rates with direct and agency clients are a baseline for our sales
and marketing work. Before we go on to look at sales techniques in any depth, let us
briefly look at an approach to health and wealth that will lay further foundations for
streamlining your overall business and work/life balance.
A freelancer’s approach to health and wealth
I wanted to mention my basic approach to finance, again just to be clear about how
I filter any business advice I come across.
Hopefully you’ll find them sound principles that you might already employ, but I’ll
cover them now, before discussing new clients. The idea is to save any potential stress
and wasted opportunities. They weren’t immediately obvious to me, perhaps because
neither my family, schools nor university ever really discussed monetary matters in
any detail.
I have put some thought into it myself, leaning on authors who heavily invest their
time into preserving and maximising the value of every last penny or cent. While
going to those lengths is a little too materially-obsessive for my liking, I can appreciate
the importance of the strategies used to give families and individuals a little more
independence in life. Here are some of the most stand-out points that have stuck
with me:
Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a finance professional, I would advise you to seek one
out before doing anything rash with your cash.
In general I agree with the plan to build assets, and remove liabilities. At its
most basic level this just means spending on things which make you money, not take
it away. Liabilities can be things such as subscriptions or direct debits to companies
you no longer use, yet are still being charged for. They could be bank charges or any
cost that takes your hard-earned income and gives you nothing in return.
It is generally A Good Thing to also consider your time as an asset, to be invested
rather than wasted. The section on productivity tools will give you some ideas to win
back any lost time. Other assets help you to earn more at work (such as this book!)
or to lead a fuller life in a more general sense. In any case, seeing costs through the
prism of assets and liabilities is a simple way to judge their worth.
Avoid bank charges. They are easily avoidable and a great expense if left unmanaged (don’t I know it!). Pick a limit for your bank account above zero (say, £500)
that you won’t let it go under. This creates a buffer. Set account alerts by SMS –
many banks offer these for free – to warn you when you’re in the buffer to avoid any
impending charges. Forewarned is forearmed.
Use credit sparingly. Sometimes the risk of missing a credit card or loan payment,
and being charged for it, outweighs the benefits of being able to spend on credit.
Better to deal in money you have and go without when without. I’ve seen too many
friends (not in translation) risk it all on a loan and lose out to see lending as any
kind of quick-fix for business problems. Offering a solid, reputable service should be
the priority and investment should come later.
Build your ‘war-chest’ of savings from the good times. You can re-invest these
into your business or life (savings accounts, investments etc.), to see you through the
harder times, and to help you enjoy the better times.
Keep a fixed percentage aside for tax and contingency planning. Over-save
here, anything extra at the end of the year can be a bonus.
Incorporate your business if it saves you on income tax. It may not, depending
on your local tax laws, but setting up a pension and running other business expenses
through the company could work out most efficiently.
Use accounting software, preferably one that allows you to import bank data
directly. You can save many hours and much money by organising your accounts in
this way. The service I use is called Freeagent (see my review on the blog) and it
covers nearly everything I need to report to the tax authorities. All I have to do is
invoice through it (which is very quick) and import my bank statements. I can then
see at a glance any outstanding bills, invoices and tax deadlines.
Deal with problems early. Call your tax authority if something is wrong. They
are often more helpful than you would imagine. Just placing a call is sometimes
enough to help discharge a penalty or misunderstanding.
Moving on to a few very simple basic health principles that are worth considering, if
you don’t already, to make sure you’re always ready for life and work (not a slave to
Setting a limit on how many hours you work in the week and factoring this into
your rate calculations is helpful to protect your health. Setting 9-5 as work hours,
only occasionally going over this in urgent cases, is one way to make sure you stave
off burnout. No work outside these hours, unless paid at a premium, should be the
Too much time spent working can have a huge negative effect on health in any
job, especially in translation which can be so mentally exhausting. You should be
militant about taking rest time. If your business can’t survive overnight without
you, then it’s not set up optimally and you should re-evaluate why you spend so
much time working. Being the ‘busy fool’ who works all day for little reward will not
give you or your business a long life.
Weekends should be taken where possible, which is a given if you have a family,
but less so if you don’t. Spending time stretching out job deadlines for ‘research’ can
be a productivity killer. Fill your work day as much as possible to capacity and then
make a clear distinction between work and play.
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) can be relieved through simple exercises, many
of which can be found online, but is best avoided by reducing your typing load and
increasing revenue as much as possible for your health and that of your business.
Your work chair can lead to damage no matter how ergonomic it is, so make a
point of going for a walk whenever you can. Standing desks are useful (consider an
adjustable desk, drafting desk or mount your computer on a chair or box standing on
your desk to try it out) for reducing sitting time. They do have their own problems,
so a decent mix of sitting and standing in various positions ought to keep your body
moving enough to avoid most major sedentary worker ailments.
Now moving swiftly back to the feature presentation, we’ll look at a basic approach
to selling that can be used in the later sections on gaining new clients.
A general approach to selling
As with many things in life, making sales is, for the most part, a numbers game.
Persistence is indeed a key quality you’ll need to make more sales over time. However
you can use a range of basic strategies to improve your odds of making a sale on
each attempt. These tips can be applied generally to most sales channels, although
with translation the focus is typically on website sales, email marketing and cold
calling. As translators tend to have an academic background, this is often the area
that troubles them most. The cold, hard sale isn’t taught in much depth on most
language courses. But it doesn’t have to be cold or hard – it can be the warm, easy
sale! – and that’s the path I like to go down in my work.
There will be rejection. Mostly rejection, in fact. Remember that it’s never personal
when potential buyers reject your offer. Always be systematic, logical and try to find
out what caused it. Sometimes people aren’t aware they might need you in the next
year, sometimes they know for sure they won’t need you (let them go!), and there
will be those who need your services that day.
Your offer will have to benefit both buyer and seller. It should be ‘win-win’ and it
is our responsibility to demonstrate this. If required, the careful use of questioning
can bring a prospect around to understanding how the benefits of your offer apply to
their situation before you lose their interest. You can also demonstrate this value in
your sales copy. What follows are tips you can use to at least remove the simplest of
sales obstacles, giving your persistence a greater chance of converting prospects to
Prepare Prior to making contact, be sure to prepare a basic level of company
knowledge. Work out where the added value would be if they worked with you.
Typically you should think in terms of what benefits and results you can offer them;
higher sales, stronger branding etc.
Look at the prospect’s competition for ideas on how the prospect could improve their
offer, or for examples of what to avoid. Having this information to hand will certainly
show you have considered their situation and are working with them to improve their
business, rather than being the stereotypical opportunistic and predatory seller.
Double check any mutual contacts you may have among their employees or clients.
This could speed up the sales process. A good tool for this is LinkedIn’s Inmaps. It’s
an experimental project set up in 2009 by LinkedIn, but offers a visual map of your
connections, grouping those who are most interconnected. You can easily mark out
who the key influencers are in your network, who is connected to whom and how.
Credibility Help prospects to trust that you have a ‘win-win’ proposition for them
by displaying your ‘war-medals’ or ‘trust-badges’ prominently. These could be your:
Association memberships
ISO certification
Anything that shows permanence and professionalism
Doing something to help them by giving them useful information, offering a free
business card translation or any action that shows your interest is in a long-term
business relationship will help to improve your credibility in their eyes. Writing
about translation and languages, as many translators do, is a fine way to show your
professional standing to potential prospects, and allows them to find you themselves
via the search engines. Write on your blog, a translation guest post for an industry
blog, or even a trade publication.
Speaking the prospect’s language, in the figurative sense, is a great way to show that
you understand their industry. By using the terminology of their line of work you
immediately catch their attention and stand out above other offers. You are tailoring
the conversation to them, and as I will continue to explain below, this is key to a
successful general sales approach.
Giving talks at group events (for free or paid at your day rate) is also an excellent
way to raise your profile and show people what you offer in an engaging and more
human way.
These credibility ideas are all part of your positioning, which must be considered in
any sales strategy. In this book I advocate the use of pricing on a project’s overall
value to the client, as well as on the usual factors of time and word count. However,
to do this well you must also position yourself as someone who can translate, yet
who can also see the wider picture. Someone who understands the direction of the
prospect’s business and who has the will to work towards growth solutions for their
business. I go deeper into this subject in the next chapter.
Finding the pain
Be sure that you talk to the boss or decision maker. You can generally do this by
writing, emailing or calling them directly and telling them you could make them more
money (in a round-about kind of way). This works better with smaller companies,
with decision-makers typically very open for discussion. And smaller companies, who
make up the majority of most economies, are often much better to work with than
the larger ones. Decisions, payments, red-tape, paperwork; it’s all much quicker and
more efficient in the smaller company. Your cashflow and savings situation will thank
you, especially if building your first direct client base.
If you’re having trouble talking directly to the decision maker or company owner, and
they’re a medium-sized company with myriad ‘gatekeepers’ blocking calls, a great tip
I’ve picked up is to talk to the salespeople. They’re surprisingly informative. Failing
that you have professional network websites that allow you access to a wide range
of company contacts, such as LinkedIn, as mentioned above, or you can ask for a
referral from the first person you talk to within the company.
You can also attempt to meet prospects in person at trade shows, local business and
networking events, translator meet-ups and more. Be wary of networking events that
turn into the Business Card Collector’s Society where no useful discussions are had.
By the same token it’s impossible to say that networking events never produce leads
for anyone, especially if meetings are attended regularly. The work is there, but there
is often a low return in attending ‘every now and then’. I prefer one-to-one events,
such as a phone-call or email. The key point is not to wait for them to contact you,
but rather show them their options before they need you.
When you do end up talking to the person you need to, ask smart questions that
make sure the prospect understands how your product would benefit them. This
makes them much stronger advocates of your business than someone who merely
buys the odd translation. Examples of these ‘smart questions’ would be:
• When [foreign] visitors land on your site to place a large order, what do they
• Do you know the market size for your widget in [country]?
• How do [foreign] users read your product manual?
Once they understand how the offer is a good fit for their company, you can then go
on to remove their risk of this decision being a mistake purchase. Offer a guarantee,
or continued support on your translation (for limited rounds of revision). It is often
said that ‘companies don’t buy things, people do’. Ensuring that they are making a
good decision that will benefit the company and won’t backfire on them personally is
the least you can do as a seller.
Answer any questions you can’t answer immediately with ‘I’ll find that out for you
and let you know’. Don’t try to gloss over them as this undoes any credibility work
you have done up to this point.
Closing the sale
When moving closer to closing the sale, focus on the lifetime value of the translation,
not its price. That translated sales page will sell many hundreds of products over the
coming years, and will let the prospect expand the whole range into a new market.
Remind them of this where necessary.
Finally, when you reach the stage where the prospect is definitely an ideal client for
you, and you an ideal supplier for them, ask for the order. This is what makes the
deal actually happen. Until this point it is only theory. Asking directly if they are
ready to sign off the order is key to securing the business. Make sure you leave the
meeting, call or email conversation with either an order or another meeting scheduled.
Be organised – finding prospects
Decide on a strategy that outlines your ideal prospect industry, location and size
(e.g. law firms, London, 10 employees). Divide up the territories to cover, make a
list of contact details with columns for notes and actions to take. Measure your
performance by working out how many sales you’ve made over how many calls or
emails. Tracking at this level of detail will help you to improve your sales process for
your situation as you go on.
Build your prospect list – the quick way
Find relevant exhibitions and conferences with attendee lists online and manually
select and research relevant companies. Alternatively, the more IT-focused among
us can automate the process with tools such as ‘Scraper’ for Google Chrome. This
allows you to pull out the list of web addresses, phone numbers or email addresses
present on the page in a few clicks. You can then use a tool such as Buzzfeed to
generate contact details from your list, if required. There is a free 14-day trial to test
this with, but is a paid service otherwise. Or you can work manually, as above, which
might see your success rate increase at the expense of time taken.
Given that you then have to spend time doing the work the prospects might then
order, decide on which days you will do your sales work. The cliché is true; it’s
important to take time to work on the business, not just in the business. Be sure to
set aside time.
Regular marketing and selling efforts, as well as striving to improve your sales
conversion rate, are the best way to build the ideal client base quickly. We mustn’t
forget our existing clients in the process, who can be a major source of income, but in
developing the ‘client cycle’ you are also in effect working towards giving yourself a
continuous pay-rise and reaping the rewards of your hard work. As your translation
memories, client list and experience grow, so will your job security and chances of
new opportunities.
A general framework for sales
Find out background info. Grasp their situation in the market.
Single out any language issues. These let you know their needs.
Use questions to highlight their problems and needs to them.
Finally ask them questions that show your translation solution provides a fix to
these problems.
Example questions: Would translation QA processes help? How? Would a multilingual
glossary of terms help? How much revenue could this translation bring you in foreign
Try to focus on the solution at this stage, not the problem. Ideally a problem-solving
atmosphere is created and the client tells you the benefits themself. This avoids any
objections to you selling the features of your translation service. The client might
then go off to fight your corner with their colleagues and bosses. Having them onside
is the goal here.
If you can’t close, look for an advance
• The bigger the sale, the longer the time to close (and vice versa)
• Close calls by setting up the next meeting, at least
• Just saying ‘we might call you in the future’ is not enough
• If they let you know that there is no sale to come, guaranteed, then don’t waste
your time here; appreciate their honesty
To keep moving forward in the process, or rather, to keep the process alive, pay close
attention to finding out their issues and if you suspect they are unclear as to what
you offer, invite questions and summarise the benefits of your work.
Then, rather than asking for the next meeting, tell the prospect when you might be
free for it. It may sound ‘pushy’ but it is only a different way to communicate your
intention of a next meeting, positively and enthusiastically reframed. Asking if they
might be free one day soon perhaps is just too passive for this kind of process.
General tips
• Focus on what they get, not what you offer (this must always be a benefit to
them such as a cost saving or an improvement of their current situation)
• Know what problem the translation solves: peace of mind, quality, consistency
• Tap into areas of common interest: talk about languages
• Be brief on information seeking questions. Less than 20%
• Don’t offer your solutions too soon, as this raises objections
• Make it clear you need to ask questions first
• Plan smart questions ahead of time
• Follow up on the meeting shortly and frequently thereafter
General problems translation prospects face
• Lost foreign sales, number unknown
• Time and cost of recruiting translators
• Hard to monitor translations, no central location, lots of emails
• How to guarantee quality and consistency?
As mentioned, these general principles can be applied to all sales channels from email
to phones, social media and direct mail marketing. Keep conversations going, asking
about their issues and problems, adding value where you can.
There is no mystery. These are approaches that have been shown to work well over
time, but the main point is to invest time in the prospect’s interests before, during
and after the call.
For them to see you in the best light, position your service uniquely. This sets you
apart from the competition and gives you the green light to charge the best rates,
eventually attracting the best clients.
The next chapter covers an approach to positioning yourself that will offer your
business the highest chances of growth and sustainability.
Positioning your business for the best clients
To get the most value out of your skillset, you need to find clients who would pick
you for your specific skills over a generalist. By way of analogy, a blacksmith in
a village couldn’t just make gates to sell to the 500 locals; they’d need a product
range. However, a blacksmith in London could make gates and gates alone because
the millions-strong market is big enough to support it.
Similarly, the internet is a big market. The world’s biggest. Your translation service
can be a very narrow offer, with a high level of expertise – medical, financial, IT
etc. – and prove very profitable. You just need to position it well. Prospects need to
understand exactly what you’re about and be able to find you easily, through the
traditional channels. You will stand out to them high over and above the generalists
who may or may not be able to cater to their specific needs. You are lowering their
risk of making a mistake by showing you can confidently cover everything required in
your specialism.
Positioning is the freelancer’s version of the more corporate branding exercise. It’s
more personable and makes the most of the size of your business. It engages people
who are looking for your particular expertise, which in turn allows you to charge
them a price that reflects your rarity and convenience to them.
There are numerous ways to demonstrate this expertise to prospective clients, to
engage them and convey your value to them. This chapter covers how to present
yourself in this light, changing you from a freelance commodity (a human machine)
to a consulting expert (a helpful human).
One simple way to start the process is to become a ‘thought leader’, or an industry
expert, as it used to be known. This involves blogging and publicly speaking on your
specialist subjects, sending out a regular newsletter, coining new terms, new concepts,
new solutions to old problems etc. It’s not going to do anything on its own, but as
part of a wider strategy it’s a starting point to increase traffic to your site and to
open doors to potential opportunities. Through speaking, guest blogging or trade
publications you can form a feedback loop that can essentially lead to more work.
This wider positioning strategy starts with the way you interact with the client, your
tone. Acting professionally is the first step to encouraging the client to do the same.
Letting them know early on that there will be consequences for paying you late or
changing the project scope can alter the way you are treated by them. This can
be overdone; you still have to be easy to get along with, but not someone they can
walk over. Having standard terms and conditions can help here (see appendix for an
example), but a strong indicator of professionalism is in the language you use and
your own behaviour.
You are aiming to prevent a future situation of late payment or project scope change
rather than trying to fix it when it happens. To make this easier for you to justify
to a client, you can tell them you have to work in a certain framework in order to
maintain quality and consistency and the longevity of the business. You have to act
like a mini-corporation in some ways, in that their rigid processes in certain key areas,
such as payments and billing, ensure the health of the business. Even if you don’t tell
clients this, it helps to justify it to yourself. Some examples of actions that reflect
this professional position are:
• Halting work until pre-payment or deposit is made, or if work on a project goes
over 14 or 30 days without payment. Letting clients know in advance sets the
• Billing for time, unless prospecting, with no exceptions. Long phone calls and
communications are part of the service and these are billed accordingly, unless
built into project scope.
• Amendments to texts are subject to revision fees, periodic meetings and calls
are to be included in the scope to ensure any changes are picked up early.
• For larger projects, sending a summary report detailing work done is a useful
tool for a professional service.
• For smaller projects, a summary of any issues or queries with the project should
be compiled, even if in bullet form.
Using the client’s language, in a management-speak-lite version may be necessary to
get them ‘on-board synergistically going forward’, but usually clear speaking, avoiding
jargon and talking in terms of benefits rather than features is the simplest way
to win them over.
For example, if you need to translate a sales page you could say to the client, “I’ll
translate this page taking account of SEO factors, technical nuance, brevity, clarity
using the latest version of CATmatic 2000, leveraging your fuzzies and reps and
delivering an unclean bilingual as well as an open standard TMX” which might make
you sound like you know what you’re doing, but doesn’t help the client much. Instead,
think more along the lines of communicating a message like this:
“As your localisation contact I’ll improve your sales page for a long-term benefit.
It’ll save you money in the future, improve sales now, and reduce customer support
requests. This translation project is specifically tailored to your business goals”
The point to get over, regardless of the wording, is that you will make them more
money than they spend on you. Communicating this point is essential in conveying
your true value. You don’t have to get all or even any of the above into one sentence,
but certainly letting them know the benefits of your work during a call, after discussing
their needs, is appropriate.
Freelancers usually do not come close to showing this level of understanding of the
client’s objectives. They just want to finish any work ‘on order’, with a short-term view
of the project to move on to the next one. The freelancer who positions themselves
as an expert or consultant works with the client over time to give their business the
best chance of success.
You are not working with them just to translate their website or handbook, then,
you are there to solve the business’ language communication problems to directly
increase their profits using a variety of specific methods tailored to their business.
It’s key to charging more and establishing long relationships.
A consideration of politics is useful. After all, being able to communicate effectively
with clients and their teams is paramount. You need them to cooperate to give you
the green light for work you would like to do and this isn’t likely if interpersonal
relations are strained. You can help to ensure good relations by giving individuals
and teams credit in the work you do, while saving enough credit for yourself to make
sure you’d be welcome back.
Mismanaging work politics can be risky. I was working with a large client who had
contracted another external firm on a translation project. The external firm had their
own translation provider, yet the client had switched to our team out of preference.
Following the project’s delivery there was apparently an omission in the translation.
The other external firm went for the jugular, asking, “don’t you QA your work?” in
front of the client. However, on looking into the problem we soon found out that
the omission wasn’t in the source text in the first place. We’d done nothing to upset
this external firm, presumably only forcing them to switch translation suppliers was
enough to make them unsympathetic towards us.
We patched it and re-shipped immediately. Nothing more came of it. We made it
clear in correspondence with the client that we would fix this immediately, yet it
could have been prevented if the external firm had been up to date in their document
The potential damage done by the other external firm to our relationship with the
client could have been bad for future repeat sales. In the end the client didn’t have to
deal with team politics because of the modular, temporary and results-driven nature
of contract workers. This was no doubt a relief for them and increases the likelihood
of them, and clients like them, continuing to not hire new staff for these roles, opting
for contractors instead. Being diplomatic in political dealings is a worthwhile pursuit.
Measuring and showing results are key pillars of consultant/expert positioning
as this is the proof you’ll need to cement your reputation as someone who delivers
results. This further justifies your rate when compared to commodity freelancers.
• Where possible, orchestrate it so that you can directly measure how much
revenue is produced
• When you have results, show these as you hitting business targets, not ‘just
• After you demonstrate that you can do this, you have more room to charge
• It’s not always easy to quantify the amount of success we bring our clients, and
they are rarely set up to measure the value contractors bring, but looking out
for opportunities to do so adds value to your service for them and for you
• If you can prove, or even hint, that the site you translated increased company
sales by at least 5%, which might amount to many hundreds of thousands in
some cases, then you have a strong case to show the next client just how much
value you can deliver. Discussion about charging for a day here or a day there
becomes moot at that point.
At certain times you might be offered more work than you can handle. This is a
luxury-problem, but a problem nonetheless. You can choose to do one of the following
in this case:
1. Put the client on a waiting list
This might work for direct clients, but rarely for agencies. Still, worth considering as
a professional response to the over-capacity problem.
2. Raise prices
Charging more until you have more capacity to allow new clients is an option that is
only workable in boom-times, but if you truly are at capacity, then the only way for
your rates is up.
3. Outsource to freelancers or to staff
This forces your costs up, and these will have to be passed on to the client, and
might not necessarily increase your profit as you spend time managing the project
and dealing with any issues that may arise.
This last point begs the question: is becoming an agency or outsourcer a
sensible way to grow? It’s a question that depends on your definition of sensible.
Going the agency route, with in-house staff, you’ll find yourself with huge fixed
expenses. The real cost of hiring staff is typically double their salary (at least).
Margins must be double also, but this mostly covers increased costs rather than
increased profits initially. For both in-house staff and outsourcing to freelancers you’ll
find that you have cashflow holes to cover.
You could be waiting 3 months for that £5000 payment while freelancers need paying
in 30 days. There are staff costs that are hard to foresee, risks you couldn’t predict
and the potential for legal issues are much greater than working alone. It is entirely
possible to not grow your profit as an agency or outsourcer, but in fact shrink as you
work hard to cover your many fixed costs and problems.
The upside is that you obviously have much more room to grow, higher capacity to
take on more projects with your new infrastructure. You yourself won’t be translating
as much as before; managing people and their issues will be your new job. It’s really
a step into a new skillset that should be thoroughly considered before approaching as
it brings more risks and cashflow issues with the instant debts it creates.
The hybrid method is the ‘outsourcing freelancer’. There are fewer fixed costs.
The cashflow problem remains, but you can solve that by making sure you get paid
soon after the work or even upfront. You have to charge more as an agency or hybrid
agency to cover those times when you do have cashflow holes, as well as to pay for the
additional infrastructure, tools and marketing costs. In the end it is you who stands
to ultimately profit from this risk of investment, not the outsourcers, and that is
justification enough for you to charge a healthy margin over and above their rate. If
you can stand this level of risk and management, then it is a way to offer your clients
a more varied service for their potential needs. If you couple it with a specialism, and
bring together a tight-knit team of experts in a particular field, then you can set up
the infrastructure to take on much more work than a freelancer working alone.
For an idea of what you might charge for language projects as an outsourcing
consultancy, consider the IT consultancies in the United States who charge between
$5k and $10k per week for projects. These ball-park figures I’ve often come across
show the least value their work must generate for clients over time. Translators can
be as scarce a resource as programmers are, with work that creates as much value at
times, especially when highly specialised, so these figures might not be beyond the
reach of the ‘specialised translation consultancy’ on decent sized projects. Although
it has its own risks, this is not an approach to be ignored.
Getting paid on time can be a prickly issue when working with larger firms, with
6 months being the norm in some cases. There’s no budging them on their payment
processes if they are an international bank or multinational retail operation. Unless
you have some legal leverage, or if they have some accounting reason to pay early,
you can expect cashflow to be a concern here. They even sometimes have accounting
reasons to pay you as late as they can. Be aware of this risk in your pricing and in
the selection of clients. Use a standard terms of business to give yourself a minimum
level of cover.
Underbidding to large clients will get you nowhere if they turn out to be late payers.
You’re usually best off bidding with full consideration of risks and costs to more
agile, small to medium-sized companies with high profits and small infrastructure.
These can be found in the fast-growing company lists, newly funded ventures in the
news and in certain industries similar to our own, where companies are lean and staff
numbers are limited.
Also, small to medium sized companies are more likely to pay you in advance. There’s
no harm in asking, and you get rid of cashflow risks in one immediate payment. There
are consulting freelancers who only work on upfront payment, but I can only imagine
they have plenty enough work to withstand the loss of business from those clients
who can’t pay in advance.
Personally I have had experience with upfront payments a few times, mainly with
direct clients, but once was for a large agency project (in the four figures region) for
a client who had a terrible payment record on the translation portals. I told them
politely that I was only able to work with them if they paid my invoice in advance,
which they did, and I managed to deliver well in advance of my negotiated deadline.
I can imagine them not having agreed to advance payment, but that would have been
no loss if there was a risk of me not being paid in the future. A business with a long
life can’t be built on gambling with orders. You almost have to imagine your business
as a fragile entity in itself which needs special care in order to survive.
Officially incorporating your business to make it a legal entity can actually protect
you from bad payers to quite an extent – especially if you have outsourcers depending
on your subsequent payments who may want to make an official claim through the
courts. They will be limited to claiming business assets, rather than personal assets.
Building a savings fund is another long-term solution to cashflow problems. These
company profits can only be generated by factoring them into your rate, over and
above your basic living expenses.
The rate calculator at the end of this book is unlike most others, in that it sets your
minimum rate to cover the true risks and costs of a business looking to last for years,
not just for month to month work on a very risky equivalent of a fixed salary.
Justifying a higher rate is actually quite easy, yet by no means obvious. Consider
As a full-time employee you’d earn, say, $50,000 a year, but as a consultant-type
freelancer, potentially with the hybrid outsourcing model described above, you have
to aim for a much higher salary than this. Full-time employees typically cost their
employers double their salary to cover social and other costs. You need to consider
these additional costs as your own and charge accordingly.
So you take into account business overheads and the risk of bad-payers, quiet times,
legal issues, cashflow issues. Then there is your pension, your taxes, your social
security payments, your contingency savings fund, your marketing costs, the risk you
take with job security. . . the list goes on.
But clients don’t care about your financial situation. They just want a flexible,
modular workforce they can easily pick up and drop. They want to avoid the 6
months of legal proceedings it would take to get rid of a full-timer, the bad-blood
in the office, the salaries, redundancy payments and many other costs. They want
results delivered in days or weeks, not months, so they are willing to pay for all this
It’s a plain-old mistake to work out your rate based on your expected equivalent
salary. You have so many more risks and costs to cover, coupled with the fact that you
offer much more value than an employee in a shorter time-frame. The rate calculator
mentioned will guide you through this and help you to start to position yourself
as an expert with a solid business structure behind them, rather than a cheap and
apparently fly-by-night freelancer.
There is a wide range of rates offered by all manner of translators. Not just between
countries with varying average income levels, even within Europe itself. Some rates
are several times higher than others and yet these are all very well qualified translators
with equal experience. They are not several times better at translating than each
other, some are just able to demonstrate their value more clearly and make the bold
decision to stick to their calculated prices.
The highest and lowest rate freelancers may be exactly where they want to be in
terms of price, but the potential for charging more is ever present in the eye of the
provider and buyer.
I’ve personally doubled or tripled my rate on some projects since I first started
translating. I’m not 2-3 times better at the work now than I was, I’m just better at
communicating value. And then of course going on to deliver that value. I’m also
more efficient in my processes (see the productivity section for more on this) which
compounds the gains. The justification for increasing rates was a slow process of
realisation, but it needn’t have been. It just wasn’t immediately obvious, as with so
much else in business.
Over time I have developed my niche, which had the knock-on effect of letting
me work faster. The effect of which was stronger profits, higher workloads, leading to
more confidence to raise rates with new clients and so on. I haven’t always necessarily
positioned myself as a consultant solving problems for businesses, but when I have it
has typically paid off much more than the narrow focus job-to-job approach.
There are other savings that you offer direct clients when you work with them as a
contractor (over them hiring an employee to do the same task). Your higher rate
covers your risk and costs, and they are normally willing to pay a higher rate than
that of an employee for a short period of time just for the convenience:
• Flexibility, in that they can get rid of you at a day’s notice
• No need for weeks of training on in-house tools and processes
• They can find you and set you to work in hours, not months
• Less legal red tape: much less in most countries
• They can’t justify hiring a highly specific skillset for a full year
• . . . If they can even find anyone with your skillset, locally and willing to take
full-time employment
• They don’t need to pay for your down-time (illness, CPD, family)
• It’s simpler to compare the costs and returns of contractors
They are all the more willing to pay a contractor a higher rate than hire an employee if
the budget they are spending from is either company profit to re-invest, a time-limited
budget that must be spent (to justify its renewal) or if paying more will improve the
client’s own CV in a shorter time frame.
They are focused on the results and savings, not the cost. So a crucial part of
positioning yourself for better clients and higher rates is to recognise what your true
costs and risks are, and to charge accordingly.
Is it worth communicating your rates upfront?
On your website, for instance? Some say it is, that it helps to “qualify prospects”
and lets them know that you are not available at a knockdown price. Proponents
of this method say they no longer receive calls from time-wasters who change the
scope of projects frequently, demand more of your time than you have and struggle
to pay on time. You get the organised clients. The best clients. It’s an option worth
considering, even if it gives away your rate to competitors, at least the focus is then
turned to buying on quality, rather than price.
Trying to sell by asking prospects to ‘contact you when they are ready’ is vague at
best, and a far from certain strategy. Neither buyer nor seller know what they are
likely to get. A cheap or expensive service? A time-wasting client or a major brand?
By setting out your shingle clearly and boldly you know more about who will contact
you and they know more about who they’re dealing with and how much of their
budget they can spend with you.
It’s always best to avoid protracted qualifying discussions – confirm in 30-60 minutes
if you can. Free consultations are a cost of being a consultant-type freelancer, so your
rates should reflect this time spent prospecting. These are non-billable hours that
are a business cost. This is included in the rate calculator.
Displaying your rate might not work well if your rate goes up on a fairly regular
basis, during a growth phase, for instance. Nobody wants their rate from months
ago being quoted in a future negotiation. Keeping your rates under your hat and
per project can be useful, and finding another way to pre-qualify leads could work
better depending on your situation. The point is that displaying your current rates is
a sure-fire, sledgehammer type of approach to pre-qualifying prospects.
As a compromise to the show/no-show rate debate, you could try displaying minimum
rates. A minimum hourly charge, perhaps. This makes entry level pricing clear to
pre-qualify only those who have that minimum level of budget. There are many
options, and you can change them at a moment’s notice.
There are many ways to run a successful freelance or consultancy business. An
efficient way to charge for work for one person can be a failure for others. You can
be a ‘word machine’, like the translator with the lucrative $43k month mentioned
earlier, or you can take your time to tailor a high ROI solution for a client who truly
values your work.
The one thing that all of these methods have in common is that charging too little
money will catch up with you one day. Raising your rates is a safety net, reducing
the risk of physical and cashflow burnout. It looks after both entities, you and the
Charging structures can vary wildly for higher rates. Per word, line, page or 1000
words are all standards in places around the world, but among other freelance
professions charging weekly, daily or hourly is the norm. Direct clients are used to
paying in a variety of ways. Often they are confused by a translator’s ‘per line target
word’ quote. You can actually be doing them a favour by pricing by the
day, even if it’s rounded up to the nearest 100 of your currency units.
In fact, with direct clients, the further you get away from per word pricing the better.
Why do I say this? Well you should always consider word count behind the scenes in
order to estimate project time. But when it comes to charging clients you may do
better to invoice by the hour. Or better yet the day. Or better still by the week or
project if possible.
Hourly or per word pricing forces the buyer to compare the rate to similar service
charges, or even their own hourly rate. This is a poor comparison. It is akin to
commodity working and misses the point of the value you offer, as discussed.
You can’t improve your per word rate much past a certain upper limit, unless prospects
have never had a quote from another LSP. In which case they won’t know ranges
charged by translators. But assuming that most buyers do know what to expect to
pay, charging per day or project is the best compromise to let you increase your rate
and make the most of your productivity and efficiency.
Per word/per hour pricing puts you squarely in the nit-picking stage where every
extra word or hour requires more admin and rarely affects the end value of the project.
The value of the results you deliver is what counts to the client. Clients would never
know or care that you spent an extra 15 minutes recalculating the extra 125 words to
invoice, effectively cancelling out the effort to do so.
Negotiating per word can have a massive impact on the final price – dropping the per
word rate by a penny, cent or two will lose much more than knocking a few hundred
off a higher project quote.
When it comes to negotiating, remember to reduce the scope of your work on the
project rather than reducing the rate. This acts as a first line of defence against your
rate and helps to ensure that you don’t do more for less. A lot of times people just
want to negotiate to feel they’ve won something that day. Let them win something,
but not at your expense. Reduce scope, not rate.
Weekly pricing may not be realistic unless for the largest of projects, but is worth
thinking about where possible, as this involves the least admin and gives you plenty of
runway to do a thorough job with all the bells and whistles that would make clients’
lives easier (TM or glossary generation, double or triple proofreading, competition
analysis. . . get creative and add value).
Don’t forget, as mentioned before, clients are used to paying their contracting IT
developers, designers, photographers etc. per day or per project. You really can
confuse them with your word counts and fuzzies and make your offer look less
professional in their eyes, and generally less attractive overall. The truth is they just
aren’t as interested in word counts, lines or repetitions as we are. They want the job
done and the results to make them look good. They are interested in how much of
their budget you will take and how to avoid any mistakes made by you or them in
the selection process. They need re-assuring. Per word pricing rarely does this.
Another risk of per word pricing is if the client keeps you waiting for delivery of the
file; you lose time you could be working or prospecting for work. Have them pay
a flat rate that covers the value of the project services, results and any unforeseen
circumstances. You can always overlap projects yourself if you have capacity, but
don’t let clients take advantage of your time, damaging your business, without paying
for it. Don’t work for free. It’s wholly avoidable by working this downtime into your
rates and structures. After all, you can’t realistically invoice for waiting time, no
matter how you charge, so building it into your rate for all clients covers the time it
happens with that client or two.
Of course you can stick to per word pricing in many situations and with existing
clients, and just go ahead and raise these rates to the value that represents your true
risk and costs. After all, a lot of direct clients might appreciate how simple per word
pricing is. But often-times you can just convert the per word total price to a project
price, include any extra services you offer and round up to the nearest ten/hundred
and call it the project price. It’s something else to consider, at least.
Finally, after showing yourself to be the expert who works for a reassuringly stabilityinducing rate, who fits their niche requirements perfectly (in a variety of language
pairs, or not), it’s worth showing new clients case studies of success stories. These
make up your portfolio and will go on to do a lot of the talking and proving for you
in the future.
The way to acquire case studies professionally is to frame them as a valuable proposition that works for you both. You are giving their business backlinks and new
visitors online, and you obviously get to reinforce your business which can only benefit
existing clients in the future. If you do this, you start to improve the credibility of
your offer and make future clients easier to acquire.
Now we’ve established a general approach to positioning our service to new clients,
let’s take a look at how we should handle our client list to ensure optimum business
The client cycle – lowering risk, raising rates
Assuming you secure a handful of new clients (various techniques for this to follow)
over the coming year, what are your options for managing these alongside existing
Considering the overall health of your business, let’s look at this as a process to
strengthen the long-term chances of survival and continued growth. We can group
the actions to take into two categories: lowering risk and raising rates.
The risks we are aiming to lower are those of poor payment practices and poor
project management. Both of these present significant risks to your business in
terms of cashflow and unbillable hours spent fixing mismanaged projects. Ways to
get around these are:
• Requesting upfront payments
• Doing credit checks online
• Double-checking POs and payment terms
• Confirming project scope in advance
• Making it clear that additional services will be invoiced
• Showing clients your own terms of business
Once you’ve done all you can to minimise the risk of working with a new client, the
process of raising your rates across the board can begin.
• Reducing workload with the lowest paying clients by quoting new jobs at your
higher rate
• . . . Or being too busy if you’ve not been overly impressed with them, but have
relied on their income
• Taking on projects offering new specialist experience where possible as these
‘opportunity projects’ can pay dividends later
• Diversifying your client base over various industries and structures, such as a
mix of the best agencies and direct clients
• Consider charging less per-word projects to direct clients, in favour of per project
or per day pricing
• Take responsibility for the business results your projects create – note any
measurements you’ve taken or that are reported
• Pick up any new industry terms in your specialism from client literature, trade
publications and so on
• Use these in your communication with clients and prospects via your site and
marketing material
• Develop a brief sheet that clients can fill in (online or by email) to flesh out
their project requirements (see example brief in appendix)
• Use the brief to negotiate on scope, not on price
• Rule of thumb: entrust no single client with more than 1/5th of your
time/revenue (imagine losing that much of your projected income if the single
client went out of business!)
• A wide range of low-volume clients can work well, as just a couple of calls per
year from 50 clients can mean 100 projects
• Obviously with 50 clients, some are bound to call more often than this, so your
waiting list or outsourcing strategy can be applied if you so wish
Remember that agencies market to direct clients, and while they remove the hassle of
you needing to do this, they take a large cut of your work for the privilege. Get into
the habit of marketing regularly in order to secure your own selection of higher-paying
direct clients.
A good agency mailshot can generate hundreds of thousands of words of work for little
to no cost. This has happened to me several times in the past. I receive translator
applications on a regular basis for my own agency operation and there is a clear
distinction between the experienced professional and the opposite.
The professional always includes their key specialisms, qualifications and experience,
rate (not always) and CV (with filename that helps to distinguish it from the other
100). Their messages are brief yet informative, respectful of the reader’s time. This
might be obvious to you, but it’s worth mentioning to cover all bases.
When targeting direct clients, if you call one prospect every working day and only
one says yes per week, that still adds up to 50 new clients a year. Even if you don’t
hit that rate, 10 new clients a year would still be a great boost to your business. The
key is in being consistent with your sales and marketing efforts, optimising them as
you go. If targeting agencies, pick those that offer a specialised service, not the large
generalists with interns as project managers and knock-down rates.
With all this in mind, how do you go about finding these new clients?
Gain direct clients online
The traditional ways to contact new clients are through cold calls, mailshots and
other painfully ineffective, awkward and resource-wasting methods. Although they
still (unfortunately) exist, the internet has changed the marketing landscape for the
better, and the most agile successful businesses are investing their limited time and
budgets into it. Some of the best new techniques being used are either free or very
cheap and make the smartest use of the internet. We will look at two key building
blocks of an online approach:
• Email
• Web presence
These two methods alone allow a freelancer to reach thousands of potential clients at
little cost, typically only the unbillable hours that have been built into the rate.
Email remains the most unobtrusive, direct, relevant and cheapest form of marketing
that can be used. It has survived the waves of social networks and messaging
technologies that have attempted to usurp it. A private inbox remains the best place
to engage a potential client. We all live in our inboxes day to day in the modern
workplace and now even carry them around with us.
It is important to get the prospect’s permission to receive your email, but if you offer
enough value through special offers and information, then this should be a simple
request to those interested. This permission is extremely valuable and lasts for a
long period of time. Respecting the contact’s wishes to be (or not to be) emailed
is paramount, and ensures continued efficacy of the method. A mailing list of 500
prospects, including 50 clients, would keep you in work for as long as you wanted it.
How do you start to build a mailing list?
The first step is to offer the prospect and existing customer a way to sign up, and an
incentive to do so. In your sales and marketing communications you can provide a link
for them to click through to subscribe. You can offer them industry insights, language
news or any special offers you may have in the future. Using a third-party service
makes this easy and automates the permission request. Once they sign up you know
that they are potentially interested, and they become ‘qualified leads’ in sales-talk.
This simply means that they are contacts who are receptive to your business offers.
You can place this ‘subscribe link’ on your website or communications with a simple
link offered by services such as MailChimp or Aweber. These companies store your
lists and enable you to send out a set number of emails depending on the package.
The free plans include 1000s of contacts, and hundreds of emails per month at present,
which ought to be enough to make a start.
Invite all of your existing clients to sign up, that way you can be sure to have their
permission and get them onto your main list, so they stay in the loop too. This has
the benefit of helping with repeat business, gently steering their thoughts towards
translation whenever opportunities arise in their companies.
Once you have a list of existing and new clients you can send out emails periodically.
Keeping this to a minimum is respectful of their time and sanity, and starts things
off on the right foot. Aside from the subscribe link, you should also include a ‘call to
action’. This asks your prospect or client to either get in touch or set up a meeting.
It can’t be vague, “if you get a chance do not hesitate to call us to ask any potential
questions”, it should be direct and guide the reader into the action you ask for
immediately, “Call us now”, “Reply to this email”, “Call to discuss your project” etc.
This email contact doesn’t guarantee sales by any stretch of the imagination. What it
does guarantee is at least more sales than doing nothing and has been shown to be at
least as effective as website sales. It is the minimum level of on-going communication
that you should (in theory) have with your client-base and prospects.
Another way to stay in touch with clients is the now ubiquitous social media. The
basic premise of using this effectively is to communicate with prospects and existing
clients where possible. Search for users with your problem, search their bios and
tweets, mine the data to find the key influencers in your target market. Hashtags
and keywords let you sift through the masses of data to find people who may be
interested in your offer. Try to encourage retweets of your message among influencers,
and be sure to try to keep it relevant to prospects.
Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud (and many, many more) are now very much part of
the social media fabric, becoming some of the largest alternative search engines on
the web. They can help you to communicate your message in an engaging way. Set
up a podcast, or give tips and tutorials on a regular basis. You can even sponsor a
podcast in an industry you work in, to leverage their audience and credibility.
The idea with all social media is to start and continue conversations for improved
relationships with colleagues, prospects and existing clients. There are ways to work
this to your advantage, but given that they are typically less focused than traditional
avenues, I’ll only advise a presence on social media and to place a higher importance
on private communications with prospects.
The most efficient use-case for social media, apart from democratising news and
information dissemination, is for client-provider contact when urgency and masscommunication is required. Disaster and crisis situations are a solid example of this.
However, many businesses report that engaging with prospects generates new orders
over time, so at least a cursory exploration is a worthwhile time investment.
Training or speaking publicly positions you as the expert but also lets others
interact with you in a way that printed material doesn’t allow. Starting conversations
and thus relationships with interested parties is a great way to bring in new clients.
Look to surprise, inform and intrigue. Try offering webinars or contacting conference
organisers in your area.
The national press can certainly work wonders for your profile and website status
if linked from their sites. The best way to reach journalists, much like with clients, is
to build a relationship first. Introductory emails to a journalist who covers language
or translation matters, letting them know what you’ll be able to provide for them,
is well worth doing. To shortcut to what they may be interested in, take something
they are already talking about and add a new angle to it. You can also sign up to
portals that connect you to journalists looking for stories, such as Expert Sources,
Gorkana or DWPub. There is a fee to pay, but it is modest and your marketing
budget may thank you for it. Make sure your mailing list solution is in place before
you go national – it’d be a waste to not capture the emails of any interested prospects
who visited your site but didn’t call!
Local press is reported to have a response rate of up to 3x over national press. This
was at least the experience of a PR consultant I worked with. Your mileage may vary
depending on the size and properties of your local region, but reporters working on
feel-good stories about local business success and intriguing initiatives would welcome
your contact. Avoiding ‘advertorial’ is the main requirement, meaning you do need
an interesting story, rather than sending them plain old self-promotion.
Search engine optimisation is a fundamental branch of the modern marketer’s
communication strategy. I’ve included a full section on basic and advanced SEO in
the coming chapters, following a discussion on the tools you can use to market and
organise your efforts. These include tips on how to set up a website, if you haven’t
Data-driven blogging can bring in traffic from all corners of the web, or just those
you are interested in, by carefully crafting posts to answer or mirror the questions
and problems your ideal clients might have. The concepts for this are covered in the
SEO section, but the overall idea is to publish as frequently and relevantly as you
can manage and doubling-down on any posts that turn out to be popular. Include
a call to action at the bottom of each post, either in a bio/signature box or more
relevantly as part of the post itself.
The use of A/B split testing is a great low-cost way to turn your site from a static
window to an irresistible display. It involves measuring simple changes to a site, such
as the colour and placement of contact buttons, introductory texts and so on. Using
this data you can set up your site to convert as many visitors as possible to interested
prospects who give you their details for future contact. This is explained further in
the section on productivity and tools.
Networking is often lauded as the sure-fire way to gain new clients. My experience
is mixed, and I’d say it is highly dependent on industry, product and personality. To
make sure you have the right balance of these you can at least ensure your industry
and product are right for networking by doing it at a relevant tradeshow or exhibition.
Go to where your clients will be. Get their literature and speak to their representatives
to get an idea of how they work and what they like to work on. Even if no sale is
forthcoming directly from the show, you have improved your chances for the future.
Networking can also help to raise your profile if you’re not known locally or don’t
have a vast and impressive portfolio. Talk to people directly and let them know that
you can cover their needs if there is a good fit; you’ll find that out by asking them
questions and taking an interest in them.
I work in a rural area, so I have to travel to network, or do it online. Networking
online may not offer everything face to face networking does, but it has a lot more
reach to make up for the difference. If you deliver on your promises, the word of
mouth effect is the same as for face to face. You can also mention that you accept
referrals on your various profiles, to really drive the word of mouth aspect.
Think of LinkedIn as a potential starting point, with its groups and company research
possibilities. There are many other online networking sites that now cross over into
the world of social networking, opening up communication between people like never
A general framework for marketing online is:
1. Use your head before your money. Make your message delight and intrigue your
reader. Quality over quantity.
2. Rather than comparing yourself to competitors, compare your solution to the
problem your client is likely to be having (such as communicating effectively in
foreign markets, in our case).
3. Offer something more than features and tools – offer clients an insight into
another culture, show them foreign companies in their field, or how you could
help them to find foreign clients. Capture their interest. Just showing what
you can do and where you studied does not do that.
4. Give them an easy way to use your service: a low cost trial, a newsletter signup
or a free consultation to find out more about their situation.
One last tip I would offer is to remove your contact form from your website. As
counter-intuitive as it sounds, I did this and saw contact emails increase substantially.
I can’t explain the phenomenon, but I’d hazard a guess that email is really quite
simple and cannot go wrong, instilling confidence in the buyer to reach out. Using a
different custom contact form on every site can seem more impersonal and like, well,
filling in forms.
Dealing with naysayers
There will be those who cannot commit to a meeting nor have time to engage in a
conversation at that moment. For those people, ask if you can add them to your
mailing list if in person, or include the subscribe link in your communications with
In either case, you should track responses in the tools mentioned in the productivity
section below. Before looking at productivity, though, there is one other method that
translators should focus on when prospecting for work, and it does not involve the
internet. Read on. . .
Gain direct clients offline
Despite the wonders of the internet, and all of the above methods to reach new clients,
these tried-and-tested techniques still work for many:
• Cold calling
• Cold mailing
They may not be as cost effective as email, or as wide reaching as social media, and
they can be unwelcome for recipients of calls and letters. Who hasn’t sat through
mind-numbing scripts being read out monotonously down the phone, and then made
polite excuses to end the call early? Or scanned over those boilerplate letters offering
you ‘unbelievable’ deals. . .
Well, I don’t think it has to be this way. Phones and posted letters can indeed be your
friends. Being creative and genuine with your calls and letters can lead to natural
conversations and conversions.
There is a simple method you can use with these which has worked for me and is
certainly worth a try. When calling or writing be sure to:
• Check relevance
Check that the company really would benefit from your translation expertise, and
think of how they might use it to a) save time or b) make money.
- Be clear
Bear in mind not to let the conversation or letter stray from business. The aim
is to ask just a few simple questions over the phone, or to highlight how you can
help by letter, as trying to make the sale too early is pointless and could waste the
If you establish that they don’t need any form of translation services at the moment,
offer to place them on your mailing list for future offers.
What to say?
What can you say, then, to establish a working relationship over the phone or in
writing? The goal with this particular approach is to advance down the sales pipeline,
either with a meeting in person or with a view to setting one up at a later date.
One method for the phone is to arrange to meet in person. If inviting
them into your home office or local café isn’t ideal, this method essentially creates a
potential invite to their office, while offering them value in exchange.
“Hi, I’m Luke, a [specialism] translation consultant, and I’ve seen your work with
[x]. I’m researching [local] companies who might provide interesting reading for the
[specialism] businesses who visit my website. Could I come out to meet you this week
to hear more about how your company works?”
At worst, you get a “no, sorry, not interested,” which you should make a note of and
perhaps try only once again in the future. At best you go to meet them, you hear
how they work and use that information to let them know where you can add value
to their business.
You also offer their website an SEO boost by featuring them on your site, and they
may then go on to hire you, talk about you or refer you to their colleagues.
At the meeting be prepared to take notes for the article, which might also be a future
case-study if it goes to plan. This will build trust in other prospects looking at your
site and continue the cycle.
Another way to write an effective sales letter is to show that you have researched
the prospect’s company and would like to arrange a meeting to discuss collaboration,
again in order to a) increase sales, or b) reduce costs.
Upon meeting these prospects, aim to find out who and where their clients are, which
markets they plan to test, what changes their industry is undergoing, how often they
release new products, how they currently handle translation projects, if they do, and
how they see translation improving their business.
If you can demonstrate a clear way for you to add value to their business then there’s
every chance you will be invited to put together a proposal after the meeting.
That one phone call or letter to find out more about the company can lead to a range
of opportunities that would rarely be explored by email. That is why there is hope
yet for the cold call and letter. It just has to be done in a smarter way to work in
this day and age.
Repeat business – lest we forget
Before leaving the realm of increasing profits from client acquisition, a mention must
be made of your existing clients.
They represent the most cost effective way to create new orders in your business, and
looking after them through regular contact and follow-ups is a great way to put your
business on track for growth.
You can initiate a new conversation on a range of subjects. You can ask them how
their plans for future projects are coming along. Or how things went with the last
project. You can invite them to feature in a case study, or offer them a discount on
their next invoice if they mention you on their social media channels. For agency
clients, let them know you’re available and you may be brought in on a project they’re
currently working on. You can even talk with them on social media, just to see how
they are doing, or to invite your followers to check them out.
There is a lot that can be done with existing clients to improve their value to your
business. Best of all these are typically low cost ways to gain new work. We should
bear this in mind when out prospecting for new clients and receiving rejections,
non-responses or uncertainty.
The roadmap at the end of the book will ensure you cover all of these points to gain
new clients and make the most of the old ones. It also shows you how to make your
business more efficient, leaving you more time to work or live life. The next section
goes into detail on the tools to do just this.
Tools for growth
Now, if we’re going to manage our all-star client roster of agencies and direct clients,
we’ll need to harness the power of automation and reminders in order to make the
most of our key asset – our client list.
As a one-person business, or small team at most, these tools can improve productivity
to such a degree that you can start to rival services offered by companies with much
bigger budgets. They essentially act as very cost effective staff, keeping you abreast
of everything your business is doing now and in the future.
They give an overview of current tasks, previous exchanges (even if that means just a
30 second call 7.5 months ago), manage multiple projects and schedules and make
sure our time is optimised for business during working hours.
A pleasant side-effect of having well-oiled machines and tools in your production line
is that your clients also benefit from increased consistency and better communication,
increasing the chances of repeat orders. You also have less administrative work to do,
so more time to live. Not forgetting that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re on
top of everything.
Translation tools
At this stage you’re likely to have chosen a CAT tool already, are confident in its use,
and not keen to change. I won’t try to convince you of the benefits of one tool over
another, I’ll only touch on some alternative uses for your CAT tool that you might
not have realised were possible. Uses which could increase the amount of billable
hours you have to offer your clients, and so maximise your income. If you definitely
don’t have these features, consider investing in a new tool.
For your agency clients, if applicable to your tool, let them know if you have the ability
to accept files in both proprietary and open formats. With MemoQ, for instance, I
can accept files in a wide range of formats for various applications and CAT tools and
this has given me a useful layer of flexibility to offer clients. Specifically, InDesign
and AutoCAD files, as well as other proprietary CAT tool formats.
Translation memory concordancing
If you use a CAT tool you certainly will have built translation memories for a variety
of projects in the past. I have built a central TM to use with all projects, and I
dip into it by highlighting the word in question and running a search through the
concordancing engine. This brings up all instances of the word I may have previously
translated in a variety of other contexts to help me place its current translation.
This saves me re-researching the same word online or on paper and shows me, in a
single list, all the other times I’ve translated the word and how I tackled it each time.
To create a large central TM you can use various tools to merge TMX files, often in
batches. The one I initially used when moving from OmegaT to MemoQ was Olifant,
but now MemoQ allows me to do so in its interface.
I couldn’t import my full all-project TM into OmegaT as it had memory restrictions
in place, but in MemoQ I can import it alongside the full EU DGT TM for every
relevant project in a matter of minutes. If your tool can do this, I wholly recommend
it. If not, upgrade!
This is the act of taking a source and target text, with no TM, and creating a new
TM from them. Useful when managing projects in other languages and for building a
TM for your client.
CAT tool performance
Is your tool quick, and able to offer high-performance concordance and TM leverage?
Are the keyboard shortcuts awkward, or can they be customised?
If relying on a free tool for your translation work (apart from the inherent privacy
risks they can present) you may not realise that investing in a CAT tool can start to
make you more money in a very short time by boosting your productivity.
I recommend you take a trial of one of the majors if you have any doubts about the
performance of your CAT tool and its effect on your business’ profitability.
Just say that with your current tool, 500 words take you 60 minutes. When trialling
a new tool you find that those same 500 words now take you 45 minutes to translate,
that is a 25% speed increase.
If you currently translate for 30 hours a week, which would average to 15,000 words
a week (30*500), the new tool would let you cover the same amount of words in just
22.5 hours (30*0.75), which is a saving of 7.5 hours, or a whole working day. One
whole working day per week throughout the year will add up to a full month of
additional working capacity (provided you work 30 weeks of the year).
Small savings in time can add up to big improvements to your profits; you can
potentially add another month’s earnings to your bottom line just by optimising your
CAT tool usage. That’s a 10% pay rise for just streamlining your workflow. There
are many other ways to oil your work systems and machinery. Allow me to explain a
few of my favourites.
Productivity tools
Project management
There are many of these available with a variety of features on offer, but they all
offer the same key benefit: see what projects you are working on, when they are due,
and what stage you are at in them. As many business owners have found, keeping an
archive of handwritten notes is impractical. Single-PC diaries (Outlook, Thunderbird
etc.) rarely allow for teamwork or checking your workload on a mobile device.
An example of two that do allow you to do this are Trello and Basecamp. Both
are from very reputable software companies (Fog Creek Software and 37 Signals,
respectively). Trello is currently free, and will always have a free plan according to
its creators, while Basecamp is a subscription-based service starting at $20/month.
Basecamp is the more user-friendly of the two, guiding you through the project
processes with minimum clutter. Clients and colleagues can be invited on a per
project basis to give feedback, share files and create the central repository for your
on-going work.
Trello lets you create ‘boards’ (as in ‘whiteboards’) and place ‘cards’ on these boards
in columns. These cards can have various things assigned to them: dates, people,
files, checklists etc. and it works as a fluid whiteboard that is always accessible to
you and whomever else you invite to view and edit the board. You can get creative
with Trello and create your own workflows in columns of your choosing – mine looks
like this, for example:
Keeping track of conversations, agreements, deals and tasks can be done in a Customer
Relationship Manager such as HighriseHQ. The free plan of this app, again by 37
signals, allows you to track up to 250 clients and build a file on your interactions
with them over time. This is a great tool to use when calling a range of prospects
and keen to record the interested parties.
Alternatives are Salesforce, FatFreeCRM, Microsoft Dynamics, Zoho CRM and many
more. Even an Excel spreadsheet can get you started, but a nice interface and
interconnectivity between deals, projects and contacts is extremely useful.
Time management
In the past I have found myself wondering just how many hours a week I was losing
to news reading and social media. I heard about RescueTime, signed up for the free
package ($9/month otherwise), and let it start to track my time spent online.
There turned out to be patterns, with key times I would go from work to the web
of news and information, often for extended periods. It helped me to recognise the
patterns and break them, freeing me to be much more productive in subsequent
years. Seeing graphs of your working behaviour is a very intuitive way to understand
where improvements can be made. It beats a blanket rule on ‘no social media or
news reading during work hours’ because it allows you to start using them more
productively, sometimes perfectly in line with a marketing strategy.
Note taking
I keep unimportant and temporary notes in a simple Windows Notepad file, saving it
often (Ctrl+S). I press the F5-key whenever I enter a new note. This inserts the date
and time automatically, and the whole file can then be searched for keywords at a
later date. It is a simple solution, yet a vast improvement on my old pile of paper,
despite my enjoyment of handwriting and physically putting pen to paper.
Text editing
If you use Windows and work with XML, HTML or any other kind of tagged or
coded file, grab a free copy of Notepad++ and benefit from its advanced search,
save, colour-coding and text encoding features. I once used it to edit a line-break on
every other line from an AutoCAD DXF file (for engineering drawings) automatically,
using the macro function to record my keystrokes and save me from over 25,000
repetitive movements of pressing down-down-delete. Another useful benefit of a
tool like Notepad++ are in its ability to search using Regular Expressions, or regex,
allowing complex search queries to segment and join the text in new ways.
Solid Mac alternatives to Notepad++ are TextMate or TextWrangler, offering similar
Your website
An extremely efficient way to make sales is by hanging your virtual shingle out on
the internet 24/7. There are many ways to make sure your sign gets seen, and then
you have the task of converting viewers to buyers. This is covered in depth in the
next section as it is such a key aspect of a modern marketing strategy.
Suffice it to say that having a website of your own can be a productivity tool in itself,
in that it automates the sales, trust and information process to a large degree.
Your computer
This can affect where you work, or are able to work and how you work. A subjective
area for many, but for me the Lenovo netbook I have been using for 3 years is
perfection (my review). It is powerful enough to load up massive TMs and many
tabs in the browser, with capacity to play a video and listen to music if required, in a
small form factor.
Modern netbooks are affordable, with full-size keyboards (sometimes splash or waterproof – as I have accidentally tested), fast processors and a large RAM capacity in a
lightweight, long-battery-life package.
Obviously tablets (‘surfaces and pads’) don’t yet let us install our full range of tools
and offer little in the way of typing efficiency or processing power, but in time we
should start to be able to consider these as an option. Especially when they allow us
to install CAT tools.
For now, the netbook wins for me in terms of freedom and power. I’d assign a large
percentage of my overall productivity score to the computer I use, and the freedom
to use it in many places.
When making upgrades to your computer, an SSD (solid state drive) as a replacement
for a spinning disk is very worthwhile. It can boost loading times for TMs, software
and processing or exporting documents by between 5 to 10 times, at the fraction of a
cost of a full upgrade.
The SSD, plus additional RAM, also helps with virtualisation, which involves running
a different operating system within your current one. So, Mac users can use Parallels
to run Windows or Linux within their Mac environment, and Windows users can
run Mac or Linux systems while still within Windows. This is great for running
incompatible or untrusted software while still being able to work in your normal
environment. Windows users can look to VMWare and VirtualBox for free solutions.
Typing speed
Not to be overlooked in productivity discussions is the speed at which you can
physically output your thoughts into the computer. Keyboard shortcuts can help you
to jump between words and sentences much quicker, some of the most useful of these:
• CTRL+L/R arrow, Home, End and PageUp/Down
• CTRL+SHIFT+L/R arrow to highlight text
• Highlight and F3 for UPPER, lower, Sentence and Title Cases
Try to learn the shortcuts in your most frequently used applications to enjoy a quick
productivity increase.
As for pure typing speed, you can test yours at Ten Fast Fingers. You don’t need to
sign up to this site, it offers the test in some 40 languages and is built well enough to
ensure testing consistency.
Mine is stable at around 80/90 wpm. The average on this site, over millions of tests,
is around 40wpm. The fastest typist I know clocks in at around 100-120 wpm (not
even in his first language) depending on the test. For a sustainable speed, including
the work of translation and research, tipping past 40wpm for 30 minutes in each hour
will still give you over 1000 words per hour, well above the typical translation speed.
Any gains in speed you can muster in this area will let you finish the translation
stages of a project in a much shorter time. Depending on how you work, you may
like to spend the saved time with a print-out and a proofread to finalise the project.
If you’d rather not use your fingers, feel free to try voice recognition, now packaged
as standard from Windows 7, or for a truly smart voice engine try Dragon Naturally
Speaking for PC or Mac. With voice recognition a constant ‘typing’ speed of 100
wpm is not out of the question.
Another tool you can use to type faster is AutoHotkey. It offers the ability to
automate anything you are able to do with your PC. Your imagination is the limit,
and there are many examples to be found online to inspire you. As a starting point
you can consider this script for predictive typing and the autocorrection of some 4700+
common misspellings. More of a tool for the brave and productivity die-hards, but
certainly capable of boosting output, as detailed in one of the translator interviews
Then I would suggest this one, which is more of a health tool: F.Lux changes your
screen colour-tone as the day goes on, based on your location, to ensure that your eyes
remain unstrained. It also helps you to sleep better when working late by removing
the blue light from the screen, which studies have shown keeps you awake for longer
by resetting your natural (‘circadian’) rhythms. A new version is available for 2014.
Accounts and administration
Further savings in time can be made in areas of administration. To freelance translators this mainly amounts to invoicing, keeping records and chasing payments. The
tool I use for this is called Freeagent, it is subscription based with various levels
for different business structures. It handles multiple currencies, exchange rate gains
and losses, invoicing, overdue bills, expenses and shows all relevant tax information
Compared to my old method of constantly editing an Excel invoice template, manually
scanning for outstanding payments and trying to add up all income, costs and expenses
by hand or in a spreadsheet, I estimate savings of at least 5 hours a month. For the
sake of argument, that could represent some £3000 a year in earning potential, if
I priced my time at £50/hour. Couple this with the use of all of the above tools,
including the increased quality of service I offer to clients and you can see how it’s
not only the earning potential that increases, but total earnings themselves as more
repeat orders roll in.
These tools form a solid infrastructure on which to grow. It doesn’t ever spiral out
of control as the systems manage the complexity while I feed it work and orders. I
then produce a reliable record for myself, the government and clients, while given
more time to concentrate on the work itself. I highly recommend investing in this
area where possible.
Backing up
Fortunately, many of the tools outlined above store your records and work securely
on their servers. It is always useful, though to back up your records personally in
order to avoid complete loss which could reset the clock on your business growth to
Day 1.
Items to back-up are your TMs (these are prime assets), your client lists and details,
your accounts and project records. The tools mentioned above let you export this
data as individual files, to be saved to a location separate to your home and these
This ensures that if you were to lose your computer and, on the same terrible day,
all of the above services stopped working, you’d be able to open these files from any
computer, reimport the information and carry on working as before.
You can save your key data to a USB stick stored in a fireproof safe, or a webserver
you can only access through shared authentication keys, but if neither of these are
an option for you there is always your email inbox or a service such as Dropbox.
Although more of a folder synchronising application than a dedicated backup tool, it
is a quick way to store remote copies of key files. I recommend encrypting, or at least
password protecting, your files before uploading them to any third-party services,
despite the security features they offer. One rogue employee could do well from your
list of contacts, for instance. The point is that there are secure third-party locations
in which to keep your data safe in case of disaster, aside from a fireproof safe or USB
A note on business security practices
Given that a translation business relies on the protection of its key digital assets
(sensitive documents, client lists, accounts information), it is worth spending a moment
considering security best practices. The section does refer to technical concepts but
they are very straightforward and require no additional research to understand.
Summary - Increase password complexity by using groups of words,
preferably non-English words, non-standard characters, initials of a
song lyric or line from a poem and coupling this with two-factor authorisation where possible. Feel free to skip this section if that is enough
detail for your needs.
Firstly, I get so many spam Tweets and emails from friends and colleagues that I
can’t help but think their passwords must be incredibly basic in order for automated
hives of hacker-programs to be able to systematically log in and send messages from
their accounts.
Not so important between friends, but as a business it does not look good to send a
key client an email on the latest Viagra offer, bank details scam or attempt to lure
them to a virus-laden website.
As a member of several IT-enthusiast communities (read: geek sites), I thought I’d
mention the latest in password security ideology that I see discussed. You can use
these tips to avoid most breaches in your accounts and professional reputation.
The tips given for password security often defy conventional wisdom, i.e. mixed-caseword+number is not the safest format for a password. A safe password takes longer
to crack because it has random elements known as ‘bits of entropy’. The more bits
there are the longer it takes to crack, and so the less likely it will be cracked.
The first is to use different passwords for different accounts. One way to do
this without forgetting the many passwords is through a password manager. These
store your passwords for you in an encrypted file and can insert them automatically on
websites. KeePass offers this for all operating systems in an open source application.
Another memorable way to use different passwords is through using a root password
and appending site names to the end. Or alternatively you can use various passwords
of different ‘strengths’ for sites with varying levels of sensitivity. A basic password
for your ecards website password and a secure one for your professional networking
site, for instance.
As for the password itself, it’s best to use a sentence or phrase that’s easy to remember.
Adding a new letter to a password will add one bit of entropy, but adding whole new
words adds many, so one idea is to couple four random words together for a long and
memorable password:
translator cat tool lawnmower
The use of foreign words or special characters is an efficient way to further protect
your password. The goal is to avoid single English dictionary words where possible, as
these are where most hacks are likely. Password crackers use dictionaries containing
millions of word and number combinations to repeatedly and automatically test
Lists of the most popular English passwords are often published, and they typically
123456, password, 12345678, qwerty, abc123, 111111, monkey, consumer, 12345,
letmein, trustno1, dragon, jesus, writer, ninja, iloveyou, princess
Avoid these. Password length itself is a great factor for adding entropy to passwords,
so an alternative to the four-words strategy is to think of a long sentence, preferably
non-English, and to take only the first letters of each word and try to build something
from there. Song lyrics are useful here, or favourite sayings:
This is a line from the song ‘Candle in the Wind’ by Elton John.
Best-practice does vary from place to place, but given the real-world problem of
memorisation, these guidelines introduce a much higher level of protection than using
a single dictionary word coupled with a number. Anything that takes you ‘off the
dictionary list’ is a good thing.
Unfortunately, many companies force users and staff to set insecure or hard to
remember passwords, driving up the costs of IT departments and potential risks.
Forcing a password change every 2 weeks usually results in a staff member changing
the number at the end of their standard password. This is not the best of practices.
Neither is requiring a complicated password (more than 8 characters in length with
non-alphabet characters, upper and lower cases and numbers); these become hard to
remember and usually lead to more password recovery calls which can be a further
drain on resources.
Another point to remember is that humans are often the weakest link in the password
chain. Staff often leave passwords on post-it notes stuck to their monitors or just give
them out over the phone to callers claiming to be from the IT department. Remain
vigilant in your password storage and don’t underestimate their importance.
Finally, using internet café’s or public computers poses a significant risk to your
password being intercepted from the keyboard (by a device known as a keylogger) or
on the computer in use. I recommend using 2-factor authorisation where possible,
which sends an additional temporary password to a mobile device when logging in
from a new computer. Google currently offers this with their Gmail product.
Protecting sensitive information
Summary – Be sure to encrypt sensitive client data, use special tools
to truly delete that data and transfer that data over encrypted channels
where possible. If that is enough detail for your needs, feel free to skip
or skim over this chapter.
The main information risk we face as freelancers is in the protection of client documents,
and of our own records and assets. The current best practice on this front is to use
encryption to secure file transfers and file storage.
Starting with securing file storage, using the open source software TrueCrypt you
can encrypt a whole PC or just a folder on a computer or USB stick and secure it
with a passphrase. The encryption used is reported to be unbreakable with current
technology, requiring many years of high-level computation to crack the keys used.
This was put to the test in 2008, when a Brazilian banker suspected of financial
crimes (Daniel Dantas) had his TrueCrypt-secured harddrives seized by the Brazilian
National Institute of Criminology. After 5 months of efforts they then enlisted the
help of the FBI who spent a further 12 months of resources trying to access the
encrypted files. Neither were successful.
The fact that the software is open source offers some further reassurance as we’re
safer in the knowledge that the application code has been (and can be at any time)
checked over by any member of the public. It is a transparent approach in contrast
to a single company keeping the code secret, perhaps introducing insecure elements
or ‘backdoors’ to the application. The main concern is to make sure the application
download is from the true source, and that it has not been tampered with.
There are legal considerations to be taken into account with encryption; for instance
you may be required to surrender your password or keys to an encrypted volume by
law (as in the UK) or even prohibited from using encryption at all. Please check
your local regulations, or those of countries you may be travelling to, before putting
encryption into use. In the US it has been ruled (in 2012) that TrueCrypt users can
not be compelled to decrypt their hard-disks.
On the performance front I can testify that encrypting a whole PC, even with a slow
hard-disk drive, does not affect productivity or load times in any noticeable way. It
takes around 5 hours to encrypt 300GB of data, so it’s best to perhaps start the
process overnight or on the weekend. It is very easy to do, but you must be absolutely
sure that you will remember your password. If you forget it, you will effectively lose
all data stored on the PC, with no way to recover it. This is a risk to be weighed
against the risk of your PC falling into the wrong hands and your identity/business
being compromised.
One further risk of disk encryption is that a laptop in ‘sleep mode’ will not ask for
an encryption password when it is ‘woken’. The encryption data held in RAM is
susceptible to a technical (but possible) attack using a USB stick to dump the RAM
contents for later decryption. This makes it worthwhile, then, to consider file-by-file
encryption, or completely shutting down your encrypted machine when not in use.
When it comes to deleting information, it should be known that when you hit ‘Delete’
the operating system typically only switches the file data section on the disk from
‘used’ to ‘unused’. To actually remove the data beyond retrieval it needs to be ‘zeroed’
or overwritten. As this is impractical in terms of time and processing power for each
individual deletion, setting the ‘unused’ flag is the standard method for operating
systems. This is why files accidentally deleted from hard-disk drives, USB sticks, SD
cards or any media can be usually systematically recovered (using free tools) if they
have not been overwritten. It is always worth considering this when disposing of
confidential data or old computers.
The equivalent of shredding documents on PCs can be done on a file-by-file basis
with tools such as Eraser (open source), or for whole disks by using a tool such as
HDDErase provided by the University of California. Deleting files that are already
encrypted mitigates much of the risk of data remanence, but is somewhat impractical
on a day-to-day basis.
This level of security borders on, and often exceeds, that employed by governments,
so you can be sure of doing the best you can to protect sensitive information when
employing these practices. Given that certain industries require compliance with
security policies as standard, you may open new opportunities if you let clients know
about your security procedures.
When it comes to encrypted file transfer for file receiving or delivery you can use:
1. PGP Keys for email and attachments
2. File encryption before emailing over HTTPS (see below)
3. File encryption before transfer over FTP
4. FTP over VPN, FTP over SSH, FTP over SSL (FTPS)
5. Secure FTP (SFTP)
The first four are the most cumbersome and error-prone methods. PGP keys, despite
their great potential, are rarely used by clients. Encryption before transfer doesn’t
protect against interception and replacement of the file (a distant risk, but still a valid
concern). Network errors may also occur with methods 1-4 if firewalls and protective
zones are set up on either network.
Using method 5, SFTP, you can make sure that everything from your login details to
the file and its transfer is fully encrypted. And all this with the minimum of network
error, configuration and interception concerns.
An application such as FileZilla or WinSCP will offer this level of protection and
can be set up in minutes. Documentation and instructions for this are available on
their respective sites, and I recommend you spend time reviewing this if best practice
file-transfer security is a priority for you.
Using public networks
Summary – A discussion of various solutions for working in public over
secure connections, and for protecting client data.
If you ever use the internet from public connections for private work, you can set up
a ‘Virtual Private Network’ to log-in to when working away from trusted networks.
This VPN will encrypt your web traffic through a ‘tunnel’ that connects to your
home network. It offers a good level of protection against ‘sniffing’ carried out by
potentially malicious users on the network you’re connected to. These ‘sniffers’ scan
for passwords and sensitive information which can then be misused or sold on for
profit. When encrypted, this is no longer possible.
VPNs can be set up by using either a server (a dedicated, always on computer at
home) or with just a standard router. The server will consume more power, but offer
more flexibility in terms of file sharing (Windows Home Server currently costs under
£50, Ubuntu Server is free). Servers themselves cost from £100-£500 and often come
in packages that optimise for quietness and low power consumption. A very smart
solution is the TonidoPlug, which costs around £100 and lets you attach a hard-drive
to back up files locally and serve them securely over the web. TonidoPlugs can then
be modified to allow for VPN usage, with plenty of instructions on how to do this
available publicly. Alternatively there is the Raspberry Pi at £35, acting as a full
and complete server at 2-3 Watts of power, costing only pence/cents per month to
run. It is less of a consumer product than the Tonido, but there is great support
from its community to learn with.
The router method for VPN benefits from extremely low-power consumption. ****
This method is much more technical and requires replacement of the internal software
(the firmware) of your router. It can give a £20 router the features of a £5001000 device, but requires extensive documentation reading and research if you are
unfamiliar with the concepts. Tomato or DD-WRT are the standard options here if
you are still interested! If using one of these on low-memory routers you can create
an encrypted SSH tunnel as they often cannot manage a full VPN with their memory
capacity. I’ve tested this and it works very well to secure browsing while on a public
connection, it just requires a little more configuration in the browser to finalise the
If this is not an option for you, there is a practice that you can employ immediately
when browsing the web on public (and private) networks. Just always be sure to find
the https version of a site where available. This encrypts passwords and information
as they pass back and forth between you and the several computers in between the
website’s own server. You can tell if a site is using https or not by looking for the
padlock symbol, which shows that the site’s security certificate (known as an SSL
cert) is approved by the relevant internet authorities for secure transactions. Or
you can see it in the address bar, with https:// being used instead of http://. This
practice will not hide which sites you are using (your bank site, your client’s site
etc.) so bear in mind that it is only the credentials and in-site browsing data that
is encrypted. Using a browser plugin such as HTTPS-Everywhere, provided by the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, ensures that when you visit sites offering https it is
enabled, as this is not always the case. This particular plugin is available for Firefox
and Chrome.
So hopefully after implementing as much of the above as you can, your business assets
will be as secure as humanly possible and the chances that your business will have
long life will increase in turn. Clients may well appreciate the conscientious approach
to file security in certain industries, so do remember to communicate this on your
website or in general exchanges with them. Unfortunately, going into detail on how
to implement most of the above security solutions would not be possible without
knowing the various individual situations of readers. If you would like any further
information on these technical aspects, please do get in touch and I’ll be happy to
help where I can.
Since the above was written, while the information still stands, widespread government
and commercial ‘monitoring’ of personal and private data has been confirmed by
Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing.
Assuming that these capabilities are widespread among governments and corporations,
client data privacy has never been so weak. Employing these methods, and letting
clients know this, can stand you in good stead among those with intellectual property
to protect, or just as general good practice to help them maintain competitive
advantages. This could be in source code, company reports and plans or internal
The next section deals with the most useful of marketing tools we have at our disposal,
and aims to guide you through the potential minefields of website setup, optimisation
and client conversion.
Optimising your website
Websites and their basic structure
A website can be the ultimate business card, available around the globe 24/7 to
convince that direct client or agency looking for your service to place an order. The key
to having a successful, order-generating website is in the structure and organisation
of the information you keep on it. Everything else flows from there.
The visitor needs to first find you before reading about you, so the first port of call
is making sure the site is indexed (and indexed well) in the search engines. I’ll use
this chapter to give you the basic and advanced methods of doing this, ensuring that
clients and search engines alike can find your pages.
The next thing the visitor needs is to know if you’re suitable for them, and available
for work. Information and a call to action, as explained in the section below on
copywriting, turn your visitor into a customer in a process sometimes known as
conversion. Conversion rates for internet services and websites typically vary from
under 1% to %10, so the aim is to attract as many relevant visitors as possible in
order to convert as many new clients as possible. It is a long term process and
cannot normally be accomplished overnight. There are, however, ways to speed up
the process and start visitors placing orders in days or weeks, if that is your intention.
Given this book’s nature, I’ll assume that it is.
The old way to create a website was to painstakingly craft and edit every page in turn.
Now general practice is to use a Content Management System (CMS) to handle the
nuts and bolts of site creation, allowing you to focus on the content and conversion
work. I am going to recommend Wordpress as the main tool for this purpose as it is
so well established, developed and documented that you would be hard pressed to
find anything better for our purposes on any budget. You can set up a Wordpress site
in just a few clicks with most website hosts nowadays, so research your country’s most
recommended site host and sign up for their smallest plan (typically $3-5/month)
and follow their instructions to set up your site, email and any file storage they offer.
Selecting a domain name is a subject of many a magazine and blog article, and as a
general rule should be kept brief, with no ‘unusual’ characters or numbers that would
make it hard to remember or type into a browser. Wordpress sites are simply made
of pages (the main links in the site navigation menu) and posts, which amount to
articles you can write to generate interest. It is all very clear from within the site
dashboard how to add and edit these. Advanced features can be found in the settings
and plugins extend the functionality of your site. You can of course raise your rates,
position yourself and run a very successful business without a website, but if you’re
looking to give your business an extremely cost effective sales and marketing tool,
this fits the bill perfectly.
Many websites are single-page online calling cards, just a simple contact page. This
is great in itself, but a site can be so much more. It can become your main source of
new client referrals. It’s just a case of making sure they can find you. That’s where
Search Engine Optimisation comes in, or SEO.
Basic SEO (for initial traffic)
Summary – write good, relevant quality content, update it frequently,
target users who are ready to buy, ensure your site runs fast through
caching and content delivery networks, submit sitemaps to search engines, separate out multilingual content, build links back to your site
around the web.
As demonstrated by many SEO ‘experts’, for whom years of work are turned on their
head in an instant when major search engines (OK, Google. . . ) change their search
formulas, SEO is not an exact science and strategies must be flexible in order to work
in the long term. However there are several ‘core tenets’ of SEO that all site owners
should be aware of. Implementation of these will ensure a basic level of search engine
optimisation for an initial flow of traffic. With these the right people will find you,
and stay with you for long enough to see what they need to. Converting these visitors
to actual sales is another matter altogether, one I’ll tackle after these sections on
The best thing about SEO however, is that for the most part it is free to carry out.
It’s great for business as it just requires a semi-regular time investment and can often
single-handedly speed up business growth. Helping search engines to index you, and
the best clients to find you, is a good strategic move for any business concern, but
especially for translators whose work is nowadays mainly bought and sold online.
In SEO there is a general distinction between ‘on-page’ and ‘off-page’ techniques.
On-page work can be conducted on the site itself, off-page is promotion work that
involves boosting the rank or reputation of a site around the internet. Let’s take a
look at the basics of both.
The three main on-page aspects of a website, from a search engine’s perspective, are:
• Content quality
• Code correctness
• Site indexing speed
As a search engine has many thousands of computers ‘crawling’ the web for new sites
and updates all day, every day, using formulas to determine site quality (a.k.a. search
algorithms such as Google’s PageRank), it pays to create a site which is easy for
them to find. The algorithms currently used strive to give the highest ranking to
sites that are most useful to the users’ searches, i.e. by providing the most relevant
content. This means site owners should aim to provide content that is easily found
and understood by the engines, while maintaining a high standard of usefulness to
their human readers.
To produce content of the quality that search engines would rank highly, you need
to consider the use of keywords. These used to be stuffed into the bottom of a page
before search engines got wise to the trick. Now they rely on the relevant keywords
being used in the body of the text, as well as elsewhere.
Content quality factors
First research keywords most relevant to your target visitor. This can be done
with Google’s own keyword planner. Be sure to log in to a Google (Adwords) account
to get the full analysis of keywords related to your content.
The use of keywords in copy must be natural, yet considered. Using hundreds of
search terms in your content just to draw search traffic into your site will produce
stilted copy in your articles and sales pages and won’t convert to sales or visitor
Content must therefore have an engagement factor to keep people on-site. To get
them to talk about your content, to share it online and offline, to save them from
‘bouncing’ away (leaving immediately), which is another search engine formula criteria
in itself.
Your content must be relevant to the visitor’s needs and the search they carried out.
To be most effective it must engage their interest and get them talking, thinking or
acting. A sale, a retweet, a referral, a comment; any of these are the hallmarks of a
successful ‘piece of content’, be it a blog post, sales page or site widget.
When it comes to content, the basic rule is quality over quantity, but if the
quality is in place then having quantity multiplies the effect.
Generally speaking, blog and site owners find that the more content they have, the
more visitors they have. If the content is relevant and useful, then they move up the
search engine rankings and the effects snowball. If the content is relevant and useful
to target clients, then converting visitors to clients is that bit easier.
Consistent content writing also helps to engage readers and show the search engine
that the site is fresh, recent and relevant. Aiming to write hundreds of articles over a
number of years is a solid goal to establish a reputable web presence. But all of this
would be for nought if the search engines had trouble indexing it in their databases.
We need to help them to do so, and the way to do that at the moment is to speak
directly to them in HTML.
Fluency in HTML
HTML is the ‘language’ of the internet, in which web pages are presented. HTML
code correctness and completion can be automated and made easy, but must be
done for an optimal search engine ranking.
If you are using a CMS as laid out above, you can add plugins or modules to your site
that will automate this process for you. If you are handcoding your site, I’ll assume
you know the crucial importance of tagging titles, descriptions and headers correctly,
and let you move on to the next paragraph on the use of keywords in your title and
header copy.
The major point on keyword use is to be sparing in their use. There is often discussion
around ‘keyword density’, (trying to find the ‘perfect’ frequency keywords are to be
used in titles and content), but no definitive answers ever emerge. It is generally
accepted that over-using keywords is bad (known as stuffing) and that pluralising
keywords to pretend they are new words, among other grammatical tricks, is not a
reliable strategy.
So when writing your page titles, descriptions and headers, be sure to use your
keywords. Just don’t repeat them too often. I was told on good authority that site
developers of a major broadsheet newspaper in the UK aim for 5-10% keyword density
on all headlines and page titles. But as Google representatives themselves have never
given a definitive answer on this, it is best to stick to the basic tenets of ‘don’t stuff’
and, ‘be natural’ with keywords; just make sure you use them.
Site indexing speed
This makes it easier for the search engine to index your site, as it uses less resources,
and is generally seen as favourable. Visitors also visit more pages, which is good
for business. Aspects of indexing speed are site load time, crawlability and URL
Sites that are slow to load are penalised in the rankings, so ensure that your
site images are suitably compressed (jpg/gif over png/bmp, depending on quality
required), that your pages are not full of sidebar widgets and scripts that lead to
excruciatingly slow load times. Use this Pagespeed tool provided by Google to check
your site, or this one by Pingdom if you’d prefer.
If you have some ‘multimedia’ elements to add to a page, be they video, audio or
image, consider embedding them from a ‘content delivery network’ (CDN) which
hosts files and caches pages, serving them quickly to visitors from servers located
as close to them (geographically speaking) as possible. This will involve a little
documentation reading to set up, but will be worth it for the increase in ranking that
can be achieved. For text-only type sites, this is a lower priority, but all sites could
benefit from seeking out a caching plugin or service.
Crawlability factors include having what’s known as a ‘sitemap’. Preferably in XML
format. Again, CMS plugins can automate this process for you, so I recommend
you stick to a CMS and seek out a sitemap plugin. This allows the search engine to
quickly see if you have made any changes to the site, and to rapidly digest the page
Your URLs also need to be relevant, that is to say, the address to each page should
be human readable (, not to be
correctly ranked. Look for ‘permalinks’ in your CMS to automate this simple process.
Any links you then include in your content must be periodically checked. If they
no longer lead to the original destination then you have a ‘link rot’ issue, which
negatively affects your site rank. Use a free service such as to
weed them out.
Multilingual websites and SEO
Search engines still get confused by different languages. It is best practice to use
separate subdomains or sub-folders. Employing multiple languages is an effective way
to increase site traffic, and therefore the odds of a sale. Subdomains (
or act as separate sites, and this is reflected in search engine rank,
meaning they don’t benefit from the rank built up on the original domain when first
launched. They may be harder to keep current over time, requiring the maintenance
of a new CMS for each. Thus, it is better to use the category/sub-folder method
( or to separate content between languages to make
the most of your existing rank, only adding to it, rather than competing against it.
Consider translating your own blog posts and pages in order to attract search traffic
from your target markets.
A final note on the keywords themselves
Ensure you use keywords that would tend to attract users who are already prepared to
buy. By this I mean to attract those users who have searched for something along the
lines of ‘professional Greek translator in London’ or ‘how to get a website translation’
because the chance that this user is ready to buy is much higher than one searching
for ‘free and instant translation’.
Therefore your website copy ought to reflect the needs of your ideal clients to increase
your sales conversion rate.
Your off-page strategy involves building reputation through other people and sites.
Search engines take into account the following aspects:
• Links
• Social
• Personal
• Official listings
Building quality inbound links from trusted sites, is a key factor in any SEO strategy.
Sites must be relevant, credible and specifically not blacklisted in any way. The text
in these links can also include keywords. The number of these links, provided they
are of quality, will directly affect your ranking. There are numerous ways to build
‘backlinks’, and there are certainly ways that you should avoid, as noted in the next
section on advanced SEO. Some of the most tried and true backlink-generating
methods include:
• Writing guest pieces for like-minded sites, giving them fresh content and giving
you a solid backlink
• Forum signatures and blog comments do tend to work to a degree, but are
not an especially sustainable or scalable technique as a lot of sites include a
‘no-follow’ tag to avoid ‘comment spam’, as it is sometimes known, meaning
search engines discard any comment links
• Find ways on to blogrolls and link lists – a small scale strategy that can be
slowly worked on over time
• Business directories – not the same as official listings, as described below, but
an interesting (and already old) way of building backlinks. Not ideal if it adds
another redundant layer to a visitor clicking through to your site, but not to be
ignored as the most popular ones can rank highly – Google, for instance, has
said it splits directories into two categories: those offering guaranteed inclusion,
and those not guaranteeing inclusion, often requiring a non-refundable fee. The
latter rank higher.
• Links back from trusted sites – government, charity, university and broadcaster
sites all carry more weight than most others when it comes to improving rankings
For the last point, there are many ways to earn links back from each kind of site.
Charity sites might mention you if you translate a landing page for them on their
website. Universities might mention you if you give a lecture there occasionally.
Broadcasters if you have a great news story on language or translation, and government
if you do any local work as a ‘languages champion’ or similar, perhaps for schools.
These sites are highly reputable, so it pays to be associated where possible.
Social media can of course be used to post your content to these channels yourself
and start the process of others sharing and linking back to you. The quantity and
quality of shares can count towards a positive ranking. No guarantees here, but it
all builds over time. Be wary of URL shorteners (, etc.) which can go bust
and leave all of your backlinks in the place where links go to die. According to the
Economist, of 1000 URL shortening services launched since 2001, 600 had gone bust
by 2012, with most citing spam as the primary reason.
Trust is the key here, which is built through these shares and mentions online. A
slow process, but one that adds to your ranking potential. Age contributes to this.
Just by virtue of being online for a sustained period of time will help to improve your
credibility in the eyes of the search engines. A site with 100 well-linked articles and 5
years online will invariably rank higher for a particular search term than a 1 month
old site with 2 articles.
The personal perceptions of the visitor, such as the country you are posting from,
how local you are to them on a regional level and how often they are inclined to
visit your site all contribute to average visit times, number of pages viewed and so
on. Being location agnostic may have benefits for attracting a global audience, but
mentioning your country and city may also be a useful way to build an intangible
level of trust in your visitor and potential client. An aspect to be considered, at least.
Finally, no off-page strategy is complete without some mention of the web’s ‘official
listings’. Well, they aren’t so much official, as they are the de facto standards for
registering your site online. Start with Google’s own Webmaster Tools, which gives
you a place to officially upload your sitemap to Google and let them know key site
preferences and information directly. The Yahoo! Directory now charges an annual
fee, so is not as interesting as Google’s offer, however the DMOZ Open Directory
Project is well edited (but can take months for approval) and should be consulted.
DMOZ offers directory services directly to Google, Alexa, Lycos, HotBot, AOL Search
and many more.
To ensure that you’ve covered all of the basics, run your site through a tool such as
Woorank. Be aware that Woorank will score your site based on its own criteria, and
this can be displayed in search results. This score can look like a star-review and
could be misleading to clients, but the information it provides is extremely useful.
Perhaps consider scoring a well-established website to view the criteria if you’d rather
not risk your own site rank being placed online.
Another tool frequently recommend by SEO communities is the SEO for Firefox tool
by SEOBook. This provides lots of useful information when you search the web.
More tools are available in the Resources section.
Advanced SEO (for long-term traffic)
Summary - Use server caching, long-tail keywords, site analytics, and
generate shareable content, offering the means to do so. Applicable to
those wanting to make the most of online sales and marketing. If that’s
not you at the moment, skip ahead.
Once the above tactics have been employed, or at least considered, you can start to
plan your advanced SEO strategy. These tips will give you the edge over sites that
are left to gather virtual cobwebs.
Site speed – how to get it
As faster sites are better ranked and keep visitors engaged for longer, anything
you can do to improve page load times is time well spent. Many high traffic sites
have optimised this by reducing graphics and content to a minimum functional and
aesthetic level, often elegantly. See Google’s front page for a good example!
Enable any ‘caching’ features your CMS offers. This saves the site from doing the
same database calls and full page refreshes for every new visitor and speeds up load
times significantly.
CDNs, content delivery networks, as previously mentioned in the basic SEO
section can be used to great effect for media-heavy sites. They cache your content on
their servers and re-route users to their nearest local server to reduce load times. Try
Cloudflare for this.
Another advanced way to do this is to serve larger media from a ‘cloud’ server such
as Amazon’s S3 web services, which can reduce your hosting bills and increase
end-user speeds. Your CMS, if using one, will have pre-programmed plugins and
modules to do just this. If you are not using a CMS I’ll again assume that you know
what you’re doing and can read the documentation to get this working.
Use the long-tail
A term popularised in 2004 by technology writer Chris Anderson, the long-tail is where
you find the rare items that can still hold much value for many people; from major
retailers (Amazon product searches for fluffy thumb warmers) to translators (Siberianbased specialist in fluffy thumb warmers). Long-tail search keywords can convert to
sales more readily than the most popular ‘head’ terms (translator, translation etc.).
Highlighting your niche in your SEO keywords has the benefit of you coming to
dominate and corner a specific service offer, as competition will be low or non-existent.
Searchers are also potentially more likely to convert to buyers if your term is specific
and business related, weeding out the searchers who are in the early stages of research
only (i.e. ‘translation professional’ vs ‘free translation’). By making this small effort
to study the niche keywords you can compete quite well with the large LSPs who
regularly produce fresh content on big budgets. If you show yourself to be an expert
in a particular field, and can be found for it, your chances of a sale through your
website go up exponentially.
Use analytics
Your website analytics package is your friend. I use Google Analytics as it is
comprehensive and free, but more in-depth, paid-for alternatives exist (Kissmetrics
and Mixpanel), as well as free (in money and liberty) and open source alternatives
such as Piwik. You can use analytics to find out your most popular content over time
and then write more around that subject, especially if you find it brings in the right
Dig in to the data to find out which pages lead on to which others, to find out how
people arrive at your site and use this to tailor new content to encourage the most
active visitors to view more pages or to take an action.
Creating popular content
As mentioned, going niche is a good start, but it is not enough on its own. Standard
writing rules apply for creating something interesting and keeping readers engaged.
But what to write about?
Any exclusive data you can generate is a perennial favourite among freelancer-bloggers.
Look through your analytics data, carry out a survey among clients or colleagues, or
you can look over your previous year’s top 5 translation subject categories.
Keeping these data posts easily consumable (in lists, or summary form) and easily
shareable (with a simple message) is key to converting readers to sharers and buyers.
Be careful not to always write about current affairs. Aim to write what is referred to
in some circles as ‘evergreen’ or ‘pillar’ content. This is content that stands the test
of time. It doesn’t go stale. Searchers will find it and enjoy it for years to come.
Other successful techniques I’ve seen work well over the years are quizzes, controversial
pieces, funny pieces, in-depth pieces. . . if it’s different and interesting it stands a
good chance of being read or shared, so be creative in your content creation.
A good source of posts can be to write about what your clients talk to you or ask
about. Client emails contain the wording they use and these will often cover concerns
that are common across their industry. If you work with their concerns and the
specific terms they use you can create a stream of useful articles that speak directly
to them and their industry.
The end goal of interesting content is to generate interest in your service, and this
effect is multiplied by sharing and word of mouth, something you can facilitate by
including social media ‘buttons’ on your site. CMS plugins and site code snippets are
available (Addthis). The floating narrow left-side sidebar next to content is reported
to be successful, as is asking for email signups and shares at the end of a blog post.
There are many ways of doing this, with new ones developing all the time.
If you get ‘blogger’s block’ and need fresh ideas I would advise the occasional study of
successful sites. How many posts do they have? How long have they been blogging?
How do they use social media? How are their keywords laid out? How in-depth are
their articles? The general trend you will tend to see is that luck and ‘the perfect post’
is often not the overriding success factor, rather persistence, quality and quantity
over months and years. Find an interesting post and write your thoughts on it. If
it doesn’t seem a good read when you’ve finished, you don’t need to publish it, but
pushing it to the site may be of benefit in the long run if the quality is passable.
Finally, if ever offered any of the following ‘services’, you have now been formally
advised to avoid them, on pain of suffering the wrath of the search engines for
attempting to ‘game’ them:
• Paid links (don’t buy backlinks from others, it won’t end well)
• Link spam (always contribute to conversations in the comments)
• Hidden keywords (this barely worked in the 90s)
• Spam content (users can flag content as spam very easily)
• Keyword stuffing (inserting keywords into a text unnaturally)
Using this chapter, and the roadmap, you should be able to structure your site in an
SEO friendly manner to maximise search traffic. Now, when your visitors arrive, how
will you then welcome and convert them to clients? Read on. . .
Copywriting to convert those new visitors
Effective copywriting can mean the difference between converting 2% of site visitors
or email readers, to up to 10-20%. This difference in lifetime sales value could be
worth weeks of extra projects per year, and yet the cost of optimising your copy is
minimal. So what do you need to know in order to start converting today? In this
chapter you will read the basic principles of effective copy, from which you can build
out your marketing literature in any medium.
Identify your reader, find out about them and about what they like. They probably
appreciate languages and travel as a starting point. From there they might like fine
and unique dining, logically then they like good company and entertaining, they enjoy
the odd day-dream about their next great meal, trip or social event and so on and
so forth. You can use these assumptions to tailor your copy to help them to engage
with your message.
However, decision-makers are typically also busy people, so be relevant immediately.
As a priority, any benefits or features you discuss must benefit them directly; not
their boss, not their company, them. Benefits that speak to decision-makers could be:
• Make your department/company look good to clients/bosses
• Spend less time sourcing translation
• Spend less time dealing with translation issues
• Rest assured that the translation will be of the highest standard
• Rest assured that we are relied upon by top companies
• Increase company profits (if speaking to business owners)
Always use plain English, despite our desire to bask in the mellifluent glow of language
be verbose, we should edit ourselves very strongly until a clear message emerges in as
few words as possible. Being verbose does not help to make a sale. We must focus on
the reader, catering to their needs with brevity, relevance and clarity.
George Orwell gave six succinct writing tips in his essay “Politics and the English
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to
seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think
of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
As point six says, it is better to be flexible and break a rule than rigidly follow any
particular rule subset or system, however bearing the previous five in mind is a good
starting point for copy writing. Although Orwell never surfed the web, I’d imagine
he’d not stray too far from these rules if tasked with writing your sales and marketing
copy earlier in his career.
What he doesn’t cover (thankfully, perhaps) are any particular marketing-specific
tips. He makes no mention of using trigger-phrases to induce action or memorable
interactions with the reader. Without being a sleazy marketer-type, you can therefore
venture into eliciting emotional responses from readers if your goal is to ‘help them
to help you to help them’.
In other words, if you truly believe you have a win-win service offering for your client
(which we do) and you would like them to get in contact with you (which we do), I
see no moral conflict in encouraging that interaction through words and phrases that
inspire action. I would never use guilt or fear to inspire action, to be clear on this
The main considerations then are to include the key information you need the reader
to know, any emotional or appealing component that inspires action, and finally your
call to action. This explicitly asks your reader to do what you need them to do to
continue the interaction. This could be to sign up, place an order, talk about you
online, share with colleagues, retweet or any other action you need.
The ‘appealing component’ could be the judicious use of ‘power-words’ such as: ‘now’,
‘free’, ‘guarantee’, ‘instant’. These have been shown to increase conversion rates over
It is worth noting at this point that using terms like ‘quality service’ or ‘great value’
are almost completely redundant (in the context of your competition) and your
copy should strive to be much more compelling than this. In fact, the ‘I offer great
value’-type statement speaks to the wrong kind of clientele. Everyone appreciates
good value, that’s a given, but only some people have it as a priority requirement in
their buying process, over and above finding expertise and seeing proven results. We
should be clear in providing original, distinct and compelling benefits to readers.
Titles and headlines should present these benefits first. Some say that they should
be ‘attention grabbing’ but they don’t tell you how. The way to get people’s attention
is to tell them what benefits they’ll get in this single line, filtering out those not
interested immediately. Lines like:
• Stop wasting time managing translation projects
• Never worry about translation hiccups again
• Patent translations must be exact; we are exacting
• Translate the success of your business into new markets
• Worry no more, save time, earn more, save more. . .
These speak directly to people’s concerns and offer a solution. They select certain
clients who have the problems you like to solve; problems that require on-going
translation work, for instance. A benefit tailored to their problems compels them (in
theory) to learn more by reading on.
Headlines should also be fewer than approximately 65 characters for SEO purposes.
Few companies do this, even the majors, as demonstrated in a study by Schwartz
MSL. Keeping titles short helps search engines to parse and display the whole title in
their systems, all helping you to be found more effectively.
Be careful not to confuse features for benefits in your copy. An example feature
a translator might offer is: I am highly specialised. This is great to know, but why
should the reader care?
An example benefit offered by a translator: save many hours by avoiding vocab
mistakes in my subject area; subsequently make more sales through clear, industrystandard communication. Now the reader might be more inclined to care. More
money, more time? Sold.
Be sure to give the reader an opportunity to enjoy the benefit immediately by being
clear that they can contact you and get the process started today.
When writing for the web we have one other advantage over static, printed copy:
web copy can be tested. The section below on A/B testing will cover this in more
detail, but the gist is to test two copy ideas simultaneously in order to get real data
on which converts better. This process can make an exceptionally large difference to
conversion rates, often doubling the efficacy of a call to action button (order here vs.
order now). It can have an impact on the on-page placement of information, titles
and calls, their colour, their length and wording; very simple, cost effective changes
can have highly profitable results.
General copywriting practices
I write this section apprehensively as I’m acutely aware of my own shortfalls, as well
as the fact that I’m trying to advise the most technical of writers on writing. The only
reason I will plough on, however, is that not all of the below is completely obvious,
and so may have been missed by some, in that there are some peculiarities to sales
and marketing copy that aren’t covered in most translation or language courses.
Avoiding redundancy in copywriting is important as we don’t want the reader to
ever stop reading. Ideally, they remain engaged throughout and flow over the text,
eventually to be gently corralled into your own particular sales path. Talking about
‘hazardous risks’ of ‘mistaken errors’ in ‘language translation’ increases the odds of
readers hitting the back button on their browsers. This is not good for sales.
This is also why it is important to be concise. A good indicator of concision is
the ‘Readability Statistics’ feature offered in MS Word (go to File > Options >
Proofing > Show readability stats – to see the score after spellchecking a document
or selection). This takes into account words per sentence and calculates your Flesch
score, a metric used to indicate readability. A 60% (or above) Flesch score is usually
indicative of clear writing for all audiences.
To improve your score avoid long sentences and the use of the passive voice. Obviously
the score is only an indicator, and it’s always better to break the rules than produce
something Orwell would call ‘barbarous’. Still, it’s a handy tool to use when in doubt.
The WPS/Readability score of this chapter is 59%. This equates to an American
Grade 9 level (14-15 years old), with 17 words per sentence. Not entirely simple, then,
but not overly complicated.
Another standard practice for copywriting is to punctuate for clarity. Don’t use
commas where you breathe. Slowed readers can become stopped readers, so don’t let
that happen. Avoid full-stops (or periods) at the end of bullet-point lists, headlines
and titles for this reason.
The standard grammatical tenet of avoiding split infinitives can in fact create ambiguity, risking that dreaded reader slow-down:
• The translator failed fully to comprehend the source (not split)
• The translator failed to fully comprehend the source (split)
The basic point here is not to become (fully) entangled in grammar rules. When it
comes to sales and engagement, speak to the reader as they are used to being spoken
to. Translators know the rules as well as anyone, however we usually care about the
technical aspects much more than our readers do. It is best to recognise this and be
sure to write clearly for their sake.
Avoiding the use of idiom is a given for translators, but do remember to do so. This
of course allows for clearer translations of your copy, less reader miscomprehension
and so less lost sales.
Native copy, rather than translated copy, should be most effective when writing for
foreign markets. Just as with translation.
Credibility is worth considering. Proof of your professionalism, subtly conveyed,
can have a positive effect on engagement and conversion. This can be done through
• Trust badges (key client and association logos)
• Press coverage (a journalist has staked their reputation on you)
• Offering a guarantee or free revisions
Your call to action must be clear. If not, no action will be taken:
‘Don’t hesitate to get in touch’ should be replaced by ‘Call now’. If your tests show
the contrary, don’t hesitate to do let me know.
You can use stories to engage readers. This is essentially what case studies are,
so give them characters, events and intrigue as you would any story.
In doing so, use the reader’s language. Use any abbreviations or industry words
which mark you out as an equal and a peer. These give you credibility points. As
linguists, we do this all the time; when we avoid word-for-word translation we mimic
the phrases used naturally in the target language to be understood and accepted.
This is the same, just be sure to avoid jargon and any unclear terms.
Don’t talk about yourself unless you really have to. I often see convoluted
biographies and life-stories. While these have a purpose for credibility and SEO if the
right keywords are interwoven, it boils down to an indulgence. Focusing on reader
problems will lead to better chances of conversion, unless you’re hoping to awe and
inspire readers into action (which, if you’re anything like me, isn’t all that likely).
When it comes to including humour in copy there is a nice succinct quote from Claude
Hopkins, who apparently earned a princely $185k a year in 1907 as a copywriter:
“People don’t buy from clowns”
Many societies may well have relaxed in the intervening century, but I suspect the
message would still hold true today. I mean, you may say that clowns don’t sell
anything, and that’s why people don’t buy from them, yet I suspect a clown selling
translation wouldn’t get too far. I’d very much like for someone to prove me wrong
on this.
Be original, as new things are usually more interesting than old things, but stick to
your key message.
On the web-specific front, the top of any webpage is the hive of any site’s activity. It
is known as ‘above the fold’, as with newspapers, and is where you should place your
key messages and calls to action.
We can also use our site analytics data to find the best pages on which to place our
copy and to invite sales. Seek out the most popular content pages of the site.
Finally, be sure to periodically take a look at your country’s top-ranking translation
websites. How are they written? How are their headlines, information sections,
credibility factors, benefits and features communicated? What are their calls to
I advise you do the same for local copywriter websites. They can provide much
inspiration for what is a fascinating use of language1 .
Etymology corner: copy (n.): The root of the word copy is from the Latin Copiare, to transcribe,
originally Copia meaning plenty, (copia: ample supply from com ‘with’ + ops ‘wealth, resources,
power’ – now ‘copious’ and ‘opus’ giving opera/oeuvre/obra), and the meaning later extended to
‘written account or record’, then on to any writing, printing or re-transcribing of text. Quite haughty
origins, then, for what is essentially now either a marketing or entertainment tool!
Basic design for visitor conversion
If we’re going to put so much effort into crafting natural and effective copy, we
shouldn’t scare off our readers and visitors with bad design.
It’s a subject in which an understanding of the basics can go a long way, and a
professional can take you even further. Assuming you want to reach a certain level of
effectiveness without the services of a professional, consider the following:
• Put your CTA and contact info ‘above the fold’
This is the most active area of a site. Be efficient here.
• Think legibility – serif fonts and white space
The small tails on letters in serif fonts (as with Times New Roman) are said to
aid readability, however this has not yet been proven conclusively in studies, so
laying out text areas clearly is still the safe bet for legibility.
• Use headings and indexes for a clear structure
As with legibility, clarity and separation of ideas is important when ‘speaking
visually’. Headings, indexes and a logical flow of ideas all help here.
• Justify text to avoid end-of-line wobbles
Using ‘Justify’ in your paragraphs (as opposed to left align or centre) avoids
the varying line lengths that can distract readers and risk them slowing down
or losing their place.
• Organise key information into bullet-points
Much like this list, organising your key messages into bullet points makes
reading a bite-sized activity rather than a fully loaded wall-of-text that can
deter readers.
• Consider colour harmony with colour wheels
Just like with music, certain light frequencies work better together and a colour
wheel displays this clearly. Research these if you’d like to experiment with
colour schemes that don’t scare away your more visually sensitive clients.
• Use short paragraphs
As with the bullet-points, we are trying to avoid readers’ fear of walls-of-text.
• Be visually brief
Avoid visual elements that don’t add to the message.
Braun’s Dieter Rams, whose design themes later influenced Apple’s Jonathan Ive
(their principle designer), called for design to be:
Environmentally friendly
And to:
Make the product useful
Make the product understandable
Use as little design as possible
Use design as a tool to support your message and to help visitors convert to clients,
guiding them to your call to action.
Professional designers will consider all of the above as a matter of course. However,
if you would like to try your own hand first, don’t forget to borrow elements from
other examples of pages that worked well on you. Not pages that just worked well on
you visually, but pages where you carried out the call to action.
Further reading on design principles can be found in the resources section at the end
of the book.
Testimonials and case-studies
These short stories from former and existing clients constitute ‘social proof’, and can
range from the ‘trust badges’ mentioned earlier to dedicated pages displaying the
words of happy customers. Collect this whenever possible from clients, preferably
immediately after a job, or following-up on its progress a few weeks later in a courtesy
The theory goes that visitors seeing these feel reassured that you have helped others
before, and could well help them. To stay in line with our expert-consultant type
freelancer positioning it would help to include any concrete results that emerged from
your work, such as a 10% increase in foreign sales, a doubling of site conversions or
any other objective that you and your client set out to achieve.
How to do A/B testing
There are numerous shared reports of A/B testing online, each showing varying results
from the process. What they all have in common is that they manage to do in a few
hours or days what well-funded marketing teams couldn’t do in years. Users report
doubling conversion rates by testing different home pages. Variations in images, titles,
calls to action, button colours and placement all make a difference to how visitors
react. Tools are now available that require low technical ability to implement them
and start testing immediately.
If carrying out a test, be sure to measure conversions and sales, as increased clickthroughs alone are not always indicative of a complete conversion.
Videos, smiling human faces (it’s true!) and certain power words (free, now, instant
etc.) are all said to convert more visitors to clients than non-optimised text. Take a
look a few alternatives such as Optimizely, Visual Website Optimizer (featuring a
great blog with many case studies), Unbounce or to find out more on
the subject.
There can be statistical grey areas in A/B testing – a sample size that does not
include enough visitors could give insignificant results, as could a larger sample size
if the tests vary over multiple differences. If you would like to delve deeper here, you
can use a significance calculator.
Measuring website success
Google offers its own free Analytics tool, which is a great way to start collecting data
on your website. The EU cookie law (requiring user consent before collecting this
data) may affect its usage in the future, but for the present you seem to have the
green light to carry on collecting non-personal user data in order to improve the user
Google Analytics allows you to set conversion goals such as “how many people clicked
through from the front page to the contact page?” and allows you to track people’s
paths through your site, from page to page. Your most visited pages can be optimised
to funnel new sales, and demographics data can be used to tailor content to various
nationalities and locations.
Google’s free offer is indeed comprehensive, but if you want to get deep into the figures,
and with live data, you can use the paid-for tools mentioned earlier, Kissmetrics
or Mixpanel, both often cited as standards in site analytics and metrics. And as
mentioned earlier, Piwik is free, open source and self-hosted.
Building a client mailing list
As covered in the section on gaining clients online, this often-overlooked method
is easy to set up and very powerful once a list has been built. Using Mailchimp,
Aweber, and other mailing list managers, you can use build a list of interested visitors
and clients and periodically send them useful information and offers, converting a
percentage of those to new orders.
You can use the automatic responder features offered by these services to send a chain
of emails spaced out over days and weeks to new sign-ups, including any attachments
or messages you may want to convey. These are extremely effective at keeping clients
and prospects engaged.
Using a reputable service is important as many are flagged for spam and have trouble
delivering messages, despite their legitimacy.
A note on Adwords
. . . and other online ad platforms. These used to be cheaper, but as more and more
competition emerged for keywords (bidding for ads is done via an auction process)
SEO is now arguably more cost-effective.
Adwords can still be cost-effective for small campaigns, such as testing how well
certain pages convert visitors to clients.
The big-budget LSPs use Adwords to garner new clients, but there is a chance that
we can compete by running cheaper and more focused campaigns. These would be
based solely around keywords related to our speciality and expertise; terms they do
not bid on. It is very much a trial and error approach, but data-driven so that you
can seek out those keywords that only you have discovered work for your ideal client.
Campaigns can be set up with ‘negative keywords’ which stop your ad from showing
when someone searches for ‘free translation’. This saves you money, as each click
costs, and helps to ensure that only paying clients click through to your site. This is
a way of qualifying visitors, ensuring that they are potential customers, and can be
done in other ways, such as including an offer in the ad, to show that it is a paying
service or empathising with the client’s search query (‘Trouble finding experienced
German legal translation?’).
Then be sure to go back over the data and remove weak keywords, double-down on
the strong ones, and seek out new related keywords. Compete on the agile strengths
that a small business has at its disposal, chop and change the campaigns frequently
to drive up the conversion rate. Ensure searchers are landing on a page relevant to
the ad, keeping them there to read further, and calling them to action after the pitch.
It is also worth testing the re-marketing features that Adwords now offers. While
intrusive if over done, re-targeting ads back to people who have already visited your
site to remind them of your solution has been shown to be effective, based on the
repeated exposure marketing technique.
If you can engineer a campaign that gets you 1 good £500 lead per £25-50 spent
then it may well be worth experimenting with.
Be sure to use free credit where possible, as you may have noticed that Google are
quite keen to send new businesses coupons to test their first campaigns.
That wraps up the section on making the most of your website. There now follows
the not insignificant chapter featuring a dozen interviews with translators from a
variety of backgrounds, each sharing their sales and marketing advice.
From inspiration to action
These interviews with a dozen established translators round off the book by relating
how other translators sell and market their businesses. You will see a variety of
methods used, from handing out business cards whenever possible to embracing social
media in all its forms, cold letter-writing and much more. Each translator was asked
the same questions on a variety of topics such as strategies for raising rates, using
tools for productivity and gaining new clients. I asked some of the translators to
answer an additional question or two to elaborate on their particularly interesting
experiences with blogging, social media and productivity tools. The interviews are
only ‘lightly’ edited in parts, so as to retain the voice of the individual translators.
The questions:
How did you get started in freelance translation?
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
What has been your single most effective sales strategy?
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
What is your ideal next investment in order to grow your business?
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
And with that, I leave you in the very capable hands of our translation industry
Lucy Brooks - eCPD Webinars, CIoL Fellow
Lucy Brooks has been translating professionally from German, French and Spanish
into UK English for 23 years. Following careers in tourism, local government, personal
computing training, and industrial PR, she used her experience to concentrate on
technical and commercial translation. She was one of the first to attain Chartered
Linguist status in 2008 and is now a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
She is also an associate member of the ITI. In 2010 she founded eCPD Webinars,
providing quality CPD webinars to fellow translators and Interpreters. However she
continues her translation business with a number of direct and agency clients.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
When I left college, having studied German and French to degree level, I hot-footed it
to Spain where I lived for over seven years. During my time in Spain I was employed
to deal with my employer’s French, English and German-speaking clients, so I was
making use of my studied languages, while getting my Spanish up to a high standard.
In fact Spanish is still the language in which I converse most readily, rather than the
other two. On my return to the UK in the 1970s I started a word processing and
computing business, and offered a small amount of translation as a sideline. Later,
I worked for a busy Parish Council as its Chief Officer, and also in an industrial
PR firm, where I learned much about the electronics and mechanical engineering
By 1990 I felt ready to set up as a freelance translator. While continuing to work for
the Parish Council part-time I set about finding my first clients. I sought out the
Yellow Pages for Dusseldorf and Munich and wrote (by letter) to a dozen agencies,
intending to write to a dozen more in a couple of weeks. I never wrote the second
batch because four of the agencies I wrote to started sending me work by fax, which
I returned by FTP (uploading to a server). I didn’t use email to receive and send
work for quite a few more years.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
It’s very hard to increase rates with existing agency customers. They will always
counter your efforts with tales of economic woe, while quoting their standard rates.
So quite simply, I ditch the low and slow payers. But it took a while to have the
bottle to do this. I waited until I had enough clients not to miss one of the low payers
and simply told them I was no longer available. In the early days I don’t recall doing
very much marketing, people seemed to find me, either through Yellow Pages or
on-line (although on-line searching was still fairly unusual then). As a new customer
came along I quoted a slightly higher price. I had to keep fairly tight control over
what I quoted to whom. But to be honest, I never charged particularly low prices. I
think I started out at around £60/1000 in 1990. I pitched that by asking a couple of
people I knew from the IoL.
With direct clients I tend to quote on a job by job basis. I apply a higher rate each
year but they don’t really know what it is. I just tell them what I will charge to do
the job in hand. They accept it.
Could you elaborate on how you price a job?
My direct client sends me some files for me to look at. For their own accounting and
budgeting purposes they need to know what it is going to cost them, but they aren’t
really interested in how I arrive at a figure.
My method is as follows:
I analyse the files in the CAT tool and work out how much new translation it involves.
I also look at the 100% matches, fuzzies and repetitions. I can then work out how
long it will take me to do the job - roughly.
Sometimes the client sends me a PDF which requires conversion. I extract the text
to do a word count and analysis and then work out how long it will take me to make
a tidy editable file. If there are lots of tables, this is quite a while.
I apply my rate to the analysis, ignoring fuzzies - these are more trouble than they
are worth and I charge as if they were new translation.
I charge much less for the 100% matches - around 25% of the normal rate, and call
this “processing existing translations” (or something similar). Since they are my own
translations they do not need checking in theory, but I always read them anyway
and sometimes make minor changes. Direct clients do not understand about fuzzies,
matches and CAT tools anyway.
So I have two figures at the end of all this. One is measured in hours and the other
in money using the price/1000 method.
I equate the two in my head and quote the client. I keep a record of my calculations
in case they query it, but they never do.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
This has to have been the dozen snail-mail letters I wrote in 1990. I also believe that
my husband had a lot to do with how my business developed. He was (still is) a
technical journalist and editor. I’d met him while working in the PR firm. He had a
lot of contacts and my first direct client was obtained through him.
He had a tip about a takeover by a Surrey company of an Austrian firm through a
press release and I phoned the company. They asked to see me and on a very snowy
day in 1990 I drove over to see them. I came away with a dozen huge manuals to
translate and then got stuck on the M25 in the snow. I delivered the work back on
floppy discs, involving another trip to the offices to return the manuals but fortunately
the snow had gone by then.
So it was a mixture of my own efforts and the people I know. Nowadays of course,
you wouldn’t write letters like I did. But maybe it’s not such a bad idea even now.
You need somehow to stand out from the crowd.
Maybe it was my experience that my early customers liked, or the fact that I was a
German-English translator living in the UK rather than Germany.
Do you have a favourite type of client?
Without doubt my favourite clients are my two main direct clients. One is a small
manufacturer of fasteners and formed components in Germany, and the other a
major car manufacturer in Munich. Because I’ve worked with both for more than
10 years I know their products and systems very well, and have developed glossaries
and termbases for them both. Their texts are challenging, ranging as they do from
datasheets to glossy brochures, from IT help screens, to company newsletters.
But I have two favourite agencies too, both in Germany. They retain me for certain
clients, so again I get the continuity of context.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
I think this has to be the company newsletter for the fastenings manufacturer, because
I really felt like part of the team. I work with the editor and the typesetter on issues
such as the name of the magazine in English, the content, the final page layouts
etc. I am able to point out anomalies in the text and they are grateful for the extra
pair of eyes on their publications. And I get to sign the newsletter (English version
translated by Lucy Brooks). But I’ve done thousands of very satisfying projects, as
well as a few that I didn’t enjoy.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
I don’t think I charge as much as some of my colleagues. I’m still fearful of pitching
too high. But I’m happy with what I charge. I look at it like this: I want to earn so
much an hour, it takes me so long to do 1000 words. From that I work out my per
word rate. Sometimes a text takes longer and sometimes less, because as we all know
some are more difficult than others. But it evens out and I earn a reasonable hourly
These days I never offer reductions for repetitions. However if I am revising a training
manual that I translated the year before, for example, with a low percentage of new
material, I will of course quote my client a much lower fee than as if I was to do it all
again. But I don’t give details.
What would you ideally invest in next in order to grow your business?
I intend to keep up with the latest version of my CAT tool. I already have everything
else I need.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
CAT tools are supposed to make you work faster. In my case they probably don’t
but they make my work better in that I never miss anything and I can be consistent
and use the termbase and QA features efficiently. I never get complaints. Before
CAT tools came along, my main error was to miss out paragraphs.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Lose the low payers and look for higher paying clients - boutique and specialist
agencies, and seek out direct clients.
Michael Roberts – Vivtek: translation, programming
Michael Roberts was a programmer in a past life, but after the 2001 recession found
that software development is too difficult to manage as a sole proprietor, and switched
to technical translation, which has clear specs, very little debugging, and is replete with
full-time agencies so he never has to interact with end customers. In the meantime,
he translates over a million words a year and sometimes manages to automate some
of his workflow.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
When came online, I realized that I could get self-contained jobs for very
little expenditure, and I never looked back.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
I haven’t. I’ve just learned to translate more efficiently. Heavy use of typing
accelerators increased my output and thus my income by about 20-30% when I
started using them, for example. More recently, I’ve started quoting higher word
rates to new agencies. Sometimes this works.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
Doing a good job on the first job I get from a new agency.
Repeat business is
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
I like people who can be less formal with me. As an American working almost
entirely with Europeans, this can be a little jarring for them at first. But in the
end, I think a good personal relationship is number one for working with agencies if they can feel that you’re not going to care whether the invoice was 672 Euros or
673 Euros, and that you’ll reschedule other things to work in an extra file that got
forgotten, you’ll have a customer for life. This is the kind of relationship that I like
to have with people, and there are agencies I’ve worked with for nearly a decade now
where they’re practically family.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
I translated an entire book for SAP Press once. I can actually link to it on their
Web-store. That was a good feeling of accomplishment.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
If somebody I know and like can’t quite swing the usual rate, sure, I’ll negotiate. It’s
all about the relationship, and honestly, I do fine even at the lower rates. I’m not
going to quibble over a penny per word with Hungarians - they have to fight for every
bit already.
What would you ideally invest in next in order to grow your business?
Time. Time to work out automation of some of my processes, and especially time
to look a lot more closely at machine translation. I know it’s the Holy Grail, but I
have a strong feeling that I have sufficient proficiency with tool use and translation
in general now to make really profitable use of MT - but I just don’t have the time
to sit down with it. I have started to nibble on the edges, though.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
Well, let’s not even count TRADOS - I don’t work without it (or some other TM
tool) because it’s just a waste of my time and energy. So honestly, AutoHotkey for
typing acceleration. It was truly an incredible boost. I have no real ground-breaking
technique - if I find myself typing a word or phrase repeatedly, I make a shortcut and
try to remember to use it. It really pays off for text where you type a phrase a lot,
like patents, or words that you find you just can’t type correctly the first time, like
(for me) portfolio, which I type as “pfl”.
What I’d do if I had time is to run a terminology extractor on my source document
as soon as I had it, identify common terms, find translations for them immediately,
then define shortcuts for them. Then, each time I typed the full word/phrase, a little
popup flag would tell me that I have a shortcut for that (the little popup would be
defined as a shortcut for the full word/phrase at the same time - that would be done
automatically for me). This would train me to use the shortcuts defined.
Also, for the segment currently open, a small window would show me the identified
terminology, the translations (so far, this is a normal tool), and the shortcuts for
each. With some practice, I’d type the segment much more quickly.
But since none of that exists except in planning, it’s a little underwhelming. Still, it
increased my income 20-30%. That’s pretty useful for something that simple. And
if you do a lot of patents you’ll see a bigger bump than that. You just have to
remember to think about shortcuts all the time, which is sometimes difficult to do.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
I’ve never raised a rate. I *have*, however, “cheated”. If I can do a job for a given
rate, but use a tool or another technique to decrease the amount of work I’m actually
doing, I will do that and never look back.
Case in point:
I had a rather lengthy project once that couldn’t be done
with a TM, because the source was in PDF. The material was lab procedures,
though, in a tabular format, and each step had an ID number - turned out the ID
number actually indexed a step database, and each ID number’s text was always the
same (well, *almost* always, because it looked like maybe the texts changed over
time - but not by much).
So I did what came natural: I wrote a Word macro that would allow me to type in
just the ID number in the table cell for the next step - the macro would then consult
my private step database (another Word document), and if the ID number was found,
it would automagically fill in the table row for that step. It worked like a charm,
and allowed me to grind through the entire job at least three times faster than it
would have taken to type it all by hand - and it was all paid at full rate.
Unfortunately, in my experience, this kind of trick doesn’t actually occur very
often. But I hope to be able to exploit text regularity more efficiently in the future,
at a sub-segment level, once I have time to work it out. It’s not a rate increase, but
better tools certainly do have a real impact on my bottom line.
Céline Graciet - Naked Translations: no ordinary blogger
I’m a freelance English to French translator who works for a variety of mainly
direct clients. Sorry about the lack of third-person, but I firmly market myself as an
individual, not a company, hence the first person.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I took the Institute of Linguists’ Diploma in Translation, emailed lots of agencies and
was lucky to have friends in the right places, which got me two excellent clients in
interesting fields, who then recommended me to other organisations.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
I’m not very good at regularly increasing the rate I charge long-term clients, but
every two or three years, I’ll check out what my rate should be if it followed inflation,
and I send an email to my clients informing them of my new rate. My most successful
strategy, however, is to quote higher for new clients.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
Starting a website with a blog. It’s brought me visibility, an enhanced reputation
and the clients I want, which is why I’m stupid to neglect it, but see [the answer to
the investment question below].
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
My favourite client would be a medium-sized organisation working in the field of
international development, with a well-organised person in charge of translator liaison,
and clear invoicing procedures.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
I once translated 190,000 words over a few months, where the source text was
regularly updated, which meant reflecting the changes in the translation. It all went
well because the PM and I kept communication lines open at all times and showed
complete respect for each other, even when things were hectic and we both got little
things wrong.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
More and more, particularly deadlines. Clients seem to be increasingly reluctant to
agree to my rate, so I often have to put my foot down, which means seeing quotes
turned down, but it’s better that way. I try and show them the added value I bring
them compared to somehow charging a lower rate. For example, a client asked me to
quote for a two-day interpreting gig last week and mentioned she didn’t know where
to hire interpreting equipment. I got her a quote from a local company, and she gave
me the job, as I made her job much easier.
What would you ideally invest in next in order to grow your business?
I’m not really interested in growing my business. I try and make sure that work
doesn’t get in the way of friends, family, sports and games, and at the moment, the
balance is right. But if I wanted to find new clients, I’d hire the help of an SEO
consultant to give my website a boost. I have neglected it in the last couple of years,
mainly because I’m a bit bored of blogging after 9 years.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
CAT tools and switching to Mac - no more blue screen of death.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Do the equivalent of what my physiotherapist did last December: put a note on the
door saying “From January 1st , consultation price will go from £20 to £25.” No
apologies, no explanation. I’m sure nobody questioned it.
[As for pricing on value,] it’s not a strategy I’ve employed, because I’ve been working
steadily with the same clients for years and I’ve always used a per word rate, but I
would like to learn more about it.
Finally, as you’re such a well-known blogger in the industry, could you
talk a little about that?
I started my blog because I wanted to draw visitors to my website and attract incoming
links so as to improve my ranking. As marketing my services is my least favourite
part of being translator, I was hoping that this would direct potential customers to
me instead of me having to find them. I wasn’t sure at all this would be efficient, but
I liked the idea of writing about my work, so even if my main aim wasn’t reached, I
would at least enjoy the process. The strategy worked, and it has brought me some
excellent clients. Despite the fact that I no longer blog as regularly as I used to, the
richness of my site (1,174 blog entries in total on both the English and French sides)
means that it is well indexed by search engines and that it still comes up reasonably
high for keywords I’m interested in, like “English to French translator” or “French
On the subject of SEO and keywords, it’s interesting to see that even entries that
aren’t directly linked to my work as a translator can have as much value as a wellwritten piece on a particular industry issue containing lots of relevant keywords. For
example, a 2004 entry on the translation of the song “My way” got picked up by
Wikipedia, as well as my piece on Language and Diplomacy (in the France section,
no less) earning me the sort of incoming links that Google values highly.
Ideally, we’re told that a blog should be updated regularly. However, after 9 years, I
sometimes feel like I’ve said all I have to say and over time, I’ve learnt that a sensible
work/life balance is important for my general happiness, and so these days, on a nice,
quiet day, I’m much more likely to spend some quality time in the Sussex countryside
playing golf than to sit at my desk to write a blog entry. Thankfully, the body of
work I’ve accumulated over the years means that this site still does its job, and I
still receive regular requests from potential clients, so nowadays, if I’m blogging, it’s
because something completely new has attracted my attention. Or because it’s too
wet to play golf.
Gaetano Fabozzi – Video-games FTW
Gaetano is Italian, 29 years old and a full-time freelance translator working in the
linguistic combination EN > IT. He worked in a video game localisation company in
the United Kingdom (London) for 4 years and has lived back in Italy since May 2011.
His field of expertise is in video games.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
During my work experience in London I developed strong abilities in translation and
proofreading, as well as in editing, so at some point I decided to work as a full time
freelancer as I believed I had gained enough experience and skills to deal with my
own business.
When I started to work as freelance translator, I already had some clients thanks
to my ex-colleagues who had also left the company to start to work as freelance
translators, and they suggested me to their clients. This was definitely an advantage
for me getting started in freelance translation.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
Basically, when I started to have more clients I felt more sure of my possibilities and
I could increase my rates with the clients that offered low rates.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
When I got the ProZ Certified Pro Network, clients started to contact me more often.
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
Not really, the important thing is that the client (agency or direct) replies to queries
and is precise in payments.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
That was a video game strategic guide, where I received compliments from the
What would you ideally invest in next in order to grow your business?
I would invest in a freelance collaborator who could revise all of my translations, in
that case I could increase my rates but I would ensure a complete job (translation
and revision) to my clients. Also, launching my own professional website.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
XTM, a web-based CAT tool and Translation Management System, and Trados 7,
which is required by most clients.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Increase in small increments over time. A 10-15% increase is hardly noticeable to the
clients, but can make a significant impact to the bottom line.
What changes do you foresee in the games industry, having surpassed the
size of the film industry? Will it still rely on Excel files?
Given my personal work experience in video games, I think this industry will continue
to grow. In my opinion, it is one of those few industries that have been less affected
by the general crisis which affected the world economy.
The real “battle” in the video games market between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo
has just started and they are constantly planning new generation consoles and video
games. We may include Apple as well between these big names, as we can consider
iPhone and iPad as consoles really.
In Europe, for now only a few video game publishers translate their games into
languages that are not EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German and Spanish), but
I think this is going to change little by little and other languages will come into
consideration more often. Of course, this would be a benefit for translators too, as
there would be more work for them.
As you mentioned in your question, working in Excel is still the norm indeed, but
sooner or later this may change too, as some companies are starting to use web-based
CAT tools, which are good to improve the translation process, especially in terms of
in-game consistency.
And do you charge in any specific way for the games industry?
For translation services, I only set the price based on the word count. For revisions,
sometimes I price by hour. So nothing unusual.
Oliver Lawrence – Efficiency in Italian
Oliver Lawrence translates from Italian to English – specialising in marketing, tourism,
contracts and quality management – and edits/proofreads texts in English. He is
particularly interested in international English, translation quality control, and elegant
plain language.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
At age 15, the school curriculum conspired to leave me with just one modern language.
Maths and science ganged up on it, and I ended up with a degree in maths and a job
at a software company. Feeling a bit stuck, a few years later I returned to languages
in my spare time, grasshoppering from Estonian to Basque to Swahili and, eventually,
Italian, which I stuck with right through to the DipTrans preparatory course at City
University. I might as well have a go at this, I thought, armed with my 2 distinctions
and a merit, so I registered on ProZ, bid for some jobs, and quickly gathered some
regular clients and a full work schedule.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
I started with the low-ish rates offered on ProZ and increased them every year or so
when my schedule filled out. I normally charge higher rates to new clients and then
gradually raise rates to my regulars when I am confident that I’d still be OK even if
their volume reduced.
For translation, I charge per word/page. For editing, proofreading and transcreation,
I usually work per hour, although this is not always possible, as some new clients are
understandably wary of what they perceive as an open-ended quote. So I sometimes
quote an hourly rate with a cap. I tend to eschew flat rates in order to avoid problems
if the client wants to lengthen the source text.
I believe that pricing on value is the way to go, but communicating value is a challenge
that, with a few individual exceptions, the translation profession has not yet risen to
very effectively.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
Responding quickly and professionally to requests (seizing the opportunity before
the client looks elsewhere) and providing a reliable, high-quality service (encouraging
repeat business). Also, having a very clear idea of what my minimum rate would be
for a given job, and walking away when it is not achievable.
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
Those who are pleasant to deal with, reliable payers, and ‘low maintenance’ (quick at
negotiating orders and answering queries, providing all necessary materials at the
outset, minimal chasing required). Either direct clients or agencies that add value for
the translator to justify the lower fee.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
I wouldn’t single out any particular one. A successful project might mean enjoying
working with the text (e.g. my guidebooks on Venice and Verona), pride in the quality
of the result, a good effective hourly rate, prompt payment, a high-profile addition to
the CV, the start of a good long-term client relationship, and probably other factors.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
I have a minimum rate below which I won’t go under any circumstances. I have a
higher minimum for new clients. I quote above the minimum for new customers, with
a further mark-up for direct clients. If I like the look of the job/customer, then I
might be prepared to negotiate the price down from the higher figure that I originally
I seldom give discounts; on the contrary, I charge premiums for dodgy formats, rush
jobs, weekend work, long payment terms, etc. That said, I’m reluctant to accept
aggressive deadlines – partly because I don’t enjoy them and partly because they
represent a higher risk (of error and subsequent liability, especially if the agency is
tempted to cut corners on the proofreading). And I may give discounts for repetitions
as part of a negotiation, although I don’t volunteer them. There are not always as
many opportunities for negotiation as one might like. The vast majority of the sales
enquiries I receive are via email, so I can’t read the customer’s “body language” to
see if they think my quoted rate is high but might still be acceptable if they could
negotiate it down a bit – basically, you often send a quote and then never hear from
the prospect again.
What would you ideally invest in next in order to grow your business?
I am researching and reflecting on my requirements for a new website and a comprehensive branding package; as part of this, I am also getting to grips with customer
profiling and practical marketing psychology.
I would also like to invest in several distance-learning courses on advanced writing
skills in my specialist text genres.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
In small ways, too many to mention; time is money, so little ways to squeeze more
productive hours out of a day can help (e.g. online stopwatches/alarms). I just use a
really simple stopwatch, coupled with an egg-timer to make sure I don’t take breaks
too often.
Within a few months of starting out, I found that a CAT tool significantly increased
the number of customers that were prepared to work with me.
I am about to embark on implementing a well-known speech-recognition program,
which I hope will increase my productivity and thus profitability.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Having started and nurtured my freelance business during a recession, I have taken
the prudent approach of raising my rates only when I already had a full workload.
For some customers, your current rate may already be the maximum that they are
prepared to pay, so even a slight increase may be enough to drive them away for
good. Others may go away then come back at the same or lower volumes. Perhaps in
brighter times one can be bolder.
Anne Diamantidis – #Marketer, client educator
Anne is a French native certified translator for English and German. After working
for 2 years as part of the site staff where she was in charge of translators
conferences and in-person events, she is now Marketing Manager, PM and occasional
in-house translator at GxP Language Services, a medical LSP based in the Black
Forest region in Germany.
She works in parallel as a Social Media & Internet Marketing consultant, speaker and
trainer for freelancers and small business owners, in the translation industry and in
other industries - she already helped dozens of translators boost their online presence
and visibility. In 2012, she even was commissioned by a political party with managing
the online image of a candidate running for the French elections and was in charge
of his entire online campaign. A regular contributor to marketing and translation
publications, she gives training sessions and workshops online and all over Europe.
How did you get started in the translation industry?
I studied translation in Lyon, France, where I graduated with an MA in Translation.
As a student, I already was a very active member of the website which
led them to offer me my first job fresh out of university. This is how I started in
the industry: by working as a service provider for the translation industry, more
specifically by organizing conferences worldwide for translators. It was an amazing
experience which gave me a unique overview and knowledge of local translation
markets, but also of the industry as a whole. Not to mention the amazing contacts I
made and the insights they gave me on an intercultural level and of what translators
need, the challenges in the industry, etc.
How do you communicate the value of translation services?
As I am primarily the marketing manager for the LSP I work for, my job is basically
to get us end clients. I see my job not so much as Sales, but rather education. I do a
lot of telephone marketing and attend clients’ industry trade shows and it’s amazing
how little end clients know (and understand) about what we do - some are even
surprised that this is “a real job” and that there is a “real big translation industry”.
It’s sometimes ungrateful and frustrating work selling translation services to end
clients - of 100 phone calls, maybe 15 will sound really interested - and from these 15,
max 5 will get back to me within a year, asking for a quote – of which 4 out of the 5
will refuse because they find us too expensive and have found another agency ready
to do the same for 10 cents a word. Usually this is the point where I wish them luck
and expect to hear back from them soon. . . which happens most of the time. They
get back to me after 1 month or so, in need of a complete retranslation because the
cheap provider did a very poor job. Those clients then remain faithful to us and no
longer discuss prices, because they learnt “the hard way” that a quality service has a
price. But again, that’s maybe 3 to 4 clients.
All the others, it’s more difficult. I get a lot of, “we don’t need translators, my
secretary speaks 8 languages, she does all our corporate brochures, user manuals
and marketing stuff” (Wow!). I try to make them understand that (a) she couldn’t
possibly speak 8 languages so fluently that she could convey cultural aspects when
localizing/adapting a brochure, (b) even if she could, being perfectly bilingual does
not mean she’s actually able to translate, and (c) translation is a real job, with a real
university-degree level education.
Then of course, we have our own arguments and sales techniques for clients who are
almost convinced but need a little more - we only do medical and pharma texts and
have a medical doctor in-house and we work with medical professionals worldwide for
languages and medical fields that we don’t cover in-house. We can offer additional
services, etc. But yes, the main point is the fact that quality has a price and an
agency charging 0,10e per word probably pays their freelancers peanuts and does
not even pay a proofreader - and not only hurts the industry but risks poor quality
and thus, losses of time and money for the end client are higher.
What has been your single most effective sales or marketing strategy?
In-person networking with the relevant contacts (marketing managers, communication
managers etc.) of those medical/pharma companies we target. Nothing beats inperson. I am a big believer of Internet marketing and networking, I strongly believe
in its power, but even so, nothing will ever replace the “in-the-flesh” contact.
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
Haha, yes! I call them “traumatized” clients, the ones mentioned earlier - those
who went to cheap agencies the first time they ever needed a translation, it went
completely wrong and they came back to us begging to have the texts corrected or
retranslated. If they are happy with what we the deliver, they remain faithful and
never discuss prices anymore because they’re so relieved to have found a provider
that can deliver the quality they need. With time, a real trust and friendship usually
builds - one such of our clients told us recently that they trusted our work blindly
and were recommending us to all their providers and partners.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
Any project that results in the client’s satisfaction combined with a good business
relationship (including timely payment) is a successful project.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
Only when necessary - we have educated our existing clients to respect our work, so
they do not discuss prices. 90% of the time, deadlines are just fine, when they need a
big translation in a rush, it means they really do and there’s no way around it. It is a
“client retain” strategy as well - when you have a good client with whom you have a
good relationship, if they exceptionally need one huge text in a very tight timeframe,
you just do it, you can’t let them down. New potential clients however are another
matter and we do negotiate with those, mostly on rates.
What would you ideally invest in next in order to grow your business?
Constant investment in new technologies and additional in-house staff.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
Translation memory tools, without a doubt.
Do you have any advice for others looking to market their services?
Don’t underestimate social networks and an active online presence!
Catherine Christaki – Influential blogger, translator
Catherine Christaki has been a freelance translator since 2001 and the co-owner
of the boutique translation agency Lingua Greca Translations since March 2012.
She translates from English to Greek and specializes in IT, Medical and Gambling texts. She is happily active in social media (especially Twitter, [@LinguaGreca]( and co-maintains a blog called Adventures
in Freelance Translation.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I always knew I wanted to be a freelance translator. I studied Modern Languages and
did my thesis on translation. After graduating from university, I did some part-time
translation work while having a 9-5 job in the travel industry for a few years. Then,
I worked in-house at a translation agency, where I learned how to use CAT tools. In
the meantime, I was looking for companies and other agencies to build my clientele,
so a few months later began my full-time freelancing journey.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
I’m proud to say I started with relatively high rates (compared to the Greek market
rates). That gave me some leeway to negotiate the first few years of freelancing. I
raise my rates every 2-3 years on a per client basis, i.e. for some regular clients, I
might keep the existing rate for longer, whereas for new clients my rates are usually
a bit higher than my existing ones. After a few years of continuous co-operation
with some agencies, it’s easier to ask for an increase in rates, given that you can also
use the notion of value to your advantage: if you always try to be professional, pay
attention to detail and instructions and be available for your clients, in essence you
create value for them. That way, they are willing to pay you more in order to keep
this flawless co-operation going.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
The only sales strategy I’ve ever used as a freelancer was to send a lot of resumes
via email in the first few years of working. I didn’t have a website, so I updated my
translation portal profiles regularly. That’s how clients found me or checked me out
after having received my application email.
As a company, I try to maintain a good social media presence and a professional
website & blog. My next step is to attend expos in the fields I specialize, i.e. IT,
Medical and Gambling, bearing impressive promotional material.
Before attending those conferences, I’m planning to research my potential clients as
much as possible in order to create a personalised sales pitch for each one. If they
already have Greek translations, I’ll check their website/manuals to see if the quality
is good. If it’s not, I’ll choose and translate a small text to show them how good my
work is. If they don’t use Greek translations, I’ll prepare a list of reasons why they
should market their products in the Greek market and how I can help them do that
with my localisation skills.
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
Sure. I appreciate it when project managers send one email (and not five or more)
with all the instructions, files to translate and the rest of the materials for a job. I
like it when they are polite, professional and cooperative. And of course, prompt
payment is always appreciated.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
Doing localization work for ‘the most admired company in the world’ (according to
Fortune’s list for 2012). It’s amazing to see my translations right there in my phone,
tablet and computer. The client is a sheer pleasure to work with and the work is
super interesting.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
As I work mostly with translation agencies, I rarely negotiate. If their budget doesn’t
cover my rates, I just recommend colleagues with possible lower rates. Some very
nice PMs offer a weekend surcharge sometimes for urgent work, but I don’t usually
ask (mostly because I prefer to keep my weekends work-free). As for translation
memory discounts, I have standard percentages for each category of matches which
applies to all my work (e.g. for repetitions, I charge 30% of the full rate). Sometimes
the agencies offer different discounts; if they’re not far from mine, then I don’t mind
accepting theirs.
As for the negotiating part, I don’t do well on the phone or in-person. I’m a peoplepleaser and tend to say yes to everything. But on email, it’s very different. Having
regular work for the past 11 years has given me the strength to be a strong negotiator.
I have proudly won several negotiating ‘battles’ and stood up to ‘we have cheaper
translators in our database’ threats. My secret weapon has always been high-quality
service. I want my clients to choose and pay me for the whole ‘package’ (education,
experience, quality, professionalism), not just for the translated texts I send them.
The package is what distinguishes a translator from others.
What would you ideally invest in next for your business?
Promotional material (e.g. flyers, brochures) and then attending more conferences
and expos each year. I’ve read numerous books and useful blog posts on marketing
for translators, so I can’t wait to apply all those brilliant ideas to find direct clients.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
CAT tools influence my profitability significantly since they offer a number of advantages that save time and increase my productivity. The Web is a great resource
for terminology research and saves a lot of time compared to hard-copy dictionaries.
And last but not least, conferences and blogs have been an amazing resource with
regard to profitability. The tips and advice offered by other translators for pricing,
marketing, communication and so much more are invaluable.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Start by creating a pricing strategy: in essence, set a goal that you want to reach
in a specific time period. Take into account a number of economic factors, such as
inflation, business expenses etc. Most companies raise their prices almost every year,
so there should be no fear in asking for something that is a common business practice.
Existing clients are usually the first to learn about the price increase. Send a polite
email asking them to update your profile with your new rates. Some of them will
do as told and thank you for letting them know. Some will ignore and delete your
email (when the next project comes from them, you’ll need to remind them that your
rates are higher). Some will say, nicely or maybe not, that you’re too expensive for
them now. In these cases, hold your ground (always politely) and don’t be lured by
promises of more work or be intimidated by threats that they have other translators
in their database. Try to avoid haggling as well, especially if you’re not experienced
in negotiating, you’ll end up agreeing to your old price (if not a lower one).
These aren’t the best clients anyway; they treat translation as a commodity and
choose providers according to the price, not the value of their services. If I receive
a negative reply about my rates from a (polite) client that can’t afford my rates, I
recommend colleagues with possibly lower rates. Even if that means you’re losing
them as a client, another colleague gets to benefit from the nice client and they’re
both happy (they’ll find a way to pay you back for your kindness in the future).
The more professional and high-quality the work you deliver, the easier it is to charge
highly for it. Be a problem-solver for your clients and become indispensable to them;
that way you won’t be competing with other translators on price alone, but on the
high-quality services you offer.
What’s your take on blogging and social media?
In general, I’m a late adopter. I wanted to create a website for many years and I
finally decided to stop with the ‘no time, too busy’ excuses in 2010 after the annual
ATA (American Translators Association) conference. That’s where I also decided to
accompany my website with a blog and create a Twitter account. The latter was the
easiest and quickest to implement. I’ve written a blog post about my first steps with
Twitter (also available in French). The blog started in August 2011 along with my
website going live.
Blogging and tweeting have no downsides, honestly. They do require a bit of time
now and then (maybe a few hours per week), but that’s about it. They’re both free,
lots of fun and offer translators a nice break from translating and a nice opportunity
to bring out the news curator (for finding and sharing interesting links on Twitter) or
the creative writer (for blogging) in them.
Both have numerous benefits for marketing your services. Nowadays, a potential
client can find out all about you by checking out your social media presence (keep
your professional and personal accounts separate!). In our digital age, the easiest way
for someone to find a translator is to google it. If you’re nowhere to be found online,
you’re missing out on indefinite opportunities.
Blogging and social media are also excellent networking tools. First and foremost,
with fellow translators and interpreters. They give you the opportunity to get to know
them and establish a relationship (I’m proud to have real translator and interpreter
friends that I met online). Then, with professionals in other fields, like web designers
and writers, whose clients might need translation services at some point. All these
people are potential ‘evangelists’ of your brand. When their clients ask for someone
offering your services, they’ll recommend you. Clients prefer recommendations from
their providers instead of looking for resources themselves.
And last but not least, you’re able to network with potential clients. Not so much
with blogging, that’s more to showcase your knowledge and experience and share
your insights into your fields of expertise. On Twitter though, you can find your
dream clients, follow them, learn the latest news about your industry and contact
them to ask for a meeting. If you’re not yet comfortable attending traditional offline
networking events (like expos), social media offers you the opportunity to network in
the safety of your own home. Plus, you can research a great deal about your target
clients and thus create the perfect sales pitch when the time comes to meet them
either online or offline!
Elaine Farrell – Networking legal translator
Elaine is a French to English translator working mainly with organisations/companies
operating in West Africa and legal documents (contracts, etc.). Currently focussing
on outsourcing, mainly French to English work but also other language combinations,
with a view to setting up an agency in the near future.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I applied to be an in-house proofreader for a translation agency. They chose someone
else for the job but asked me if I would be interested in doing translations for them
on a freelance basis. From there, I sent my CV out to a huge number of agencies,
registered on Proz, etc. and built up my contacts/clients over time.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
Firstly, I invested in new translation tools (e.g. Trados Studio 2011), which made it
possible for me to ask agencies for more money.
Secondly, I let go of low-paying clients to concentrate on higher-paying clients. It’s
tough to take that leap of faith that the work will be there from the higher-paying
clients, but in my experience, it pays off in the long run. I also raised my rates with
one agency/client at a time, so as to reduce the risk of losing work due to charging
higher rates.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
The thing that has worked the most for me in terms of finding new clients has been
simply talking to people and seizing every opportunity to tell other people what I do
and offer my services. All of my major clients come from having given my business
card to someone I met at a party/event and from word-of-mouth, clients passing on
my details to other companies, etc.
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
Clients that are available to answer questions, that don’t take the work for granted
(e.g. thanking me for work!) and that pay on time.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
My most successful project was a multi-lingual translation of marketing materials and
packaging texts for a start-up cosmetics company. It was an important step for me
because it was the first time working with languages that I didn’t speak. From there,
I have managed more projects in my non-working languages and that has enhanced
my CV considerably, improving my credibility.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
I do negotiate on rates – offering lower fees for large jobs, requesting more money for
weekend work, and doing deals on first jobs for new clients (10% discount). I have
also learnt that it is important to ensure that deadlines are realistic. If you need
more time, ask for it.
What would you ideally invest in next for your business?
A shiny new website! And an accountant.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
CAT tools in general, especially now that Google Translate can be incorporated into
most CAT tools (although shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily!). Making sure that
you really understand how to use a CAT tool is also important so as to really make
the most of the functionalities on offer, and so I have also invested in Trados training.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Don’t be afraid of asking for more money. In my experience as both a translator and
outsourcer, charging too little actually creates a bad impression, casting doubts on
the ability of the translator to do the job. You have a choice as a translator wanting
to make ends meet between charging little and working a lot or charging more and
working less. I know which I would rather do!
Marta Stelmaszak – Social medialite
Marta Stelmaszak (BA(Hons) DPSI NRPSI ACIL) is a Polski - English Français translator and interpreter with 6 years of experience. She specialises
in law, IT, marketing, and business; she is a member of the Management
Committee of the Interpreting Division at the Chartered Institute of Linguists
and co-head of the UK Chapter of the International Association of Professional
Translators and Interpreters. She had also been voted a Top 17 Twitterer
( [@mstelmaszak]( and Top 20 Facebook Fan
Page in Language Lovers 2012. Besides, she runs the Business School for Translators
and regularly presents and writes on marketing and social media for the languages
industry. Finally, she is a qualified business mentor and a member of the Institute of
Enterprise and Entrepreneur, as well as an associate of the Chartered Institute of
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I can honestly admit that I was born a freelance translator. I have been doing it for
as long as I can remember. It must have started some time in secondary school, when
I was captivated by an online role playing game we used to spend hours and hours
playing online with my friends. It was set in the Middle Ages and cried out to me with
its use of very, very old Polish. But the whole game was in Old English! We started
our great translation process, without even realising the great deal of adaptation
and idiomatic translation we were doing. When I grew up a bit, I was translating
Wikipedia articles into Polish. We were very enthusiastic about the project at that
time, as it was an entirely new approach to sharing knowledge. I must have translated
some novels as well, just for the pleasure of translating. The only thing that changed
is that now I’m actually getting paid for it.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
I’m trying to be better and better every day. Translation is, whether you want it or
not, constant professional development; however, I also follow formal development
and get more qualifications. Of course, doing so doesn’t mean that I’m automatically
getting paid more per word. But it helps in building my professional self-confidence,
the key aspect in being a successful professional.
Now I have enough confidence to raise my rates a bit whenever I reach 90% of my
capacity. In other words, if I have enough work to cover 90% of my work time, I
don’t hesitate to fire my lowest paying clients.
What has been the most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
Every single time I’m asked to give my quote, I explain the whole translation and
editing process to the client. Very often they don’t realise that translation is so much
more than just taking one word and replacing it with another. When clients are
aware that the process consists of research, glossary building, terminology checks,
translation, revising, reviewing and external proofreading, they are much more likely
to accept my quote.
This is how I add value to my services. Clients know what they’re paying for and
that the service they’re getting in return is of highest quality. Not everyone is willing
to pay for this quality, but why should I care about the rest?
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
I’ll be a little bit subversive here. I like those clients who in the end decide to go for
a cheaper and faster service. I enjoy the pleasure of letting them explore the world of
bad translations, I share their pain when they receive yet another complaint because
their translation is so bad, I imagine this sort of confusion that troubles their minds.
And then I’m very happy to hear from them again asking me to review, retranslate,
or just do “something” to improve their useless text. Remorseful, repentant and
understanding client is definitely my favourite type.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
Setting up as a freelance translator! This project has been on for over 6 years now,
and I’m extremely happy with it. It wasn’t affected by the recession at all, I do a lot
of business travel, I can decide when and where I work, and the canteen is top-quality!
The boss is quite nice, too.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
I had to give a bit of thought to my rate structure. I started with thinking about
the sort of jobs I’d be doing if I weren’t a freelance translator. I had a look at some
offers I could apply to and noted down the suggested salaries. I added the fact that
I’m running my own business and that I have additional office duties (opportunity
costs, in a way), and I ended up with an equivalent of an hourly wage I’d expect to
get in in-house employment. This rate is not negotiable.
However, I’m always willing to negotiate the price per word, as long as I’m sure I’ll
get my hourly wage in the end. If there are plenty of repetitions that will speed me
up, or if a client has his translation memory or termbase and I’ll work faster in the
end, why not?
I also negotiate surcharges for certified translation, evening work, weekends, and rush
jobs. Overtime, right?
What would you ideally invest in next in order to grow your business?
This is a very important question I ask myself every time when I do my quarterly
business planning. I have all the tools I need for now, but I’m always budgeting in a
lot for professional development. It’s not always and not only translation-related, for
example marketing or business courses. I have one huge investment planned in two
years and it’s about professional development again. Having said that, I think that
in an industry where skills and know-how matters, it’s never about physical tools or
equipment, it’s always about knowledge.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
Getting my own website, logo and business cards gave me a boost I needed. I started
receiving more requests and enquiries, but I also started believing in myself much
more. When I look at my website, or when I flick through my business cards in a
holder, I repeat it to myself: You are a business. And if I am a business, I have to
earn like one! Believe or not, this change of thinking really had impact on my profits.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
I think it’s essential to realise that even though we’re paid per word (or per line, page,
stroke), we’re selling our skills and abilities. That’s why my bottom line is always
the hourly wage that I think I should be getting. I know that if I accept a difficult,
technical project in PDF, I’ll end up earning less than I should, unless I charge more.
If you worked for someone full-time, you wouldn’t accept getting paid less than your
contractual rate from time to time, would you?
As you regularly give talks on social media, how do you see it as part of
a wider sales strategy?
The translation industry has seen rapid evolution of the tools we use on a daily
basis. We started with pen and paper, we then moved to typewriters. We had
telephones, faxes, then computers. The Internet helped us, the same as the email
and downloading and sending protocols. Communication is essential in our work also
for us to be able to sell our services.
In this perspective, social media is a tool equal to a telephone, an email, or a business
card. It’s not a magic wand, and having a Twitter account doesn’t mean we’ll be
flooded by new clients from Day 01. If you get a new phone, even if it’s the newest
iPhone or BlackBerry, you won’t expect clients to start calling you just like that? Or
if you order 500 business cards and keep them in your drawer, you’re not very likely
to get more business from them, are you?
Social media used for professional marketing can boost our careers. The first step to
using it right is to think of your goals and make them as specific as you can. You
then need to think about your target audience. We tend to stick with our colleagues,
also on social media, but that’s not the best marketing strategy. In the end, you
can only sell your services to people who are potentially interested in buying them,
while other translators aren’t. The rule is very simple: Find your clients. If you’re
a legal translator, follow solicitors on Twitter. If you do medical interpreting, try
finding private clinics on Facebook. If you do IT translation, join IT-related groups
on LinkedIn. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Time and effort need some consideration as well. If you can’t commit regular time
every week (or better said, every day) to engage with your connections on social
media, it’s not likely to bring you enough return to make it worthwhile.
The most important aspect of using social media professionally is making a plan.
Without a list of tasks to do on each platform you engage with, you’re at risk of
wasting your time away.
I’m always very happy to talk or write about social media in the translation industry.
You can download my free publication “Practical Guide to Social Media” from my
Erik Hansson – Technical freelancer and outsourcer
Erik is a native Swede with a technical education within electro-technology. His focus
is on technical translations from German into Swedish, mainly within the engineering,
electronics, automation and printing industries. Erik translates both for agencies
and direct-clients throughout the world, but also cooperates with colleagues for other
language pairs. This gives him an opportunity to see the translation business both as
a freelancer and a vendor.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
Although I have always been interested in languages, it happened more or less by
coincidence. After I had moved to Germany in 1991, I started working as an English
trainer for adults, but soon began with translations as a parallel business. After eight
years, I decided to quit the language courses and concentrate fully on translations.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
It’s essential to increase your translation rates regularly, at least once every second
year. This shows your client that you are serious about your business, as you are
aware of your market value as a translator. You have your own business and need to
make a living.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
Sending direct mailings directly to the staff in charge of purchasing has proven to be
an effective way of getting clients. Even if takes some time to research before you
can send off a batch of mailings, it’s really worth the effort.
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
My favourite client is definitely an end-client who knows what translation work is
all about, offering well-prepared source texts with a consistent terminology, humane
deadlines and no discussions about the rates.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
One of my most successful translation projects consisted of several handbooks and
product descriptions for valves and fittings for industrial plants. Well-written texts,
smooth communication with the client, humane deadlines, decent rates - very pleasant!
Do you ever negotiate rates?
When it comes to agencies, I seldom negotiate on rates. I can, however, accept certain
discounts for repetitions. But again, if it’s a rush job, e.g. from Friday afternoon until
Monday morning, I always insist on a higher rate which can be anything between
a 50-100% surcharge. It’s fascinating to see how many clients really can wait one
additional day for a translation just to save some money. When speaking about direct
clients, I often charge a fixed rate for a complete project as most of these clients very
often aren’t interested in text repetitions or fuzzy matches.
What would you ideally invest in next for your business?
Purchasing new and better translation tools in order to handle different file formats,
upgrading software and hardware, taking different courses and webinars in marketing.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
First of all my current CAT tool has proved to be a valuable investment. Another is
our project management software used for tracking all orders, quotes and invoices,
and for following up on any outstanding payments. In order to send out reminders
without delay, it’s crucial to know who owes you how much money and by when the
invoices should be paid. Even though it’s possible to work without such software –
you really save a lot of time.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Raise your rates regularly. If a client starts arguing about your price, don’t try to
justify yourself, simply state that this is your rate. Period. Don’t jump on all kind of
jobs just out of curiosity or because you’re desperate, but make sure to specialize in
certain fields – being an expert within a certain niche is a key factor when it comes
to rates.
Eric Bullington – Medical, code translator
Eric S. Bullington is an ATA-certified (FR>EN) medical translator. Over the past
decade, he has translated almost every imaginable kind of document that passes through
medical offices, pharmaceutical companies, and international health organizations. A
skilled programmer, Eric has worked on a range of innovative software projects for
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I started freelance translating full-time in 2005, when my wife and I moved back to
South Carolina to be near family. I love South Carolina, but there are not many
jobs in these parts requiring someone who speaks multiple languages and has a
background in international health. I had worked as an interpreter back in 2000,
and was already picking up freelance jobs once or twice a month, so it wasn’t a
hard transition. However, it did take some time to build up an income to match
my expectations. My first year’s net income was not much over 10,000, but I then
increased by net income by 50% or more the first 5 years of my full-time freelance
work, and by a decent percentage the following years. And so I’ve ended up in a
pretty good spot. But for most translators, a thriving business is not built in a week,
or even a month.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
The most effective thing I’ve done to raise my rates over time is to find better clients.
Negotiating higher rates with existing clients may work in certain “hot” industries
like mobile app development, but most translation buyers have a very specific rate
they want to pay, and will not exceed that rate. It’s part of the “commoditization”
problem we are seeing in our industry. However, that problem has a very easy solution.
Drop the translation buyers who want to pay for a commodity! ProZ played a very
nice role in helping me get started in the industry, but I quickly worked to find a
better quality of clients than those that frequent ProZ and similar communities. By
my second year as a full-time translator, I had dropped all but one of my clients
from ProZ and my rate had nearly doubled. If you are conscientious about culling
“commodity” clients on a regular basis, you will find it easy to raise your rates.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
The best sales strategy I’ve come across so far is to socialize with other translators
and show them that you’re competent and pleasant to work with, particularly at
translation conferences. My most lucrative clients have been referred to me by people
I’ve met at ATA conferences. I’ve missed the last few ATA annual conferences because
of deaths and illnesses in my family, and my business has definitely flattened off
because of this.
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
Yes, my favourite type of client to work with is directly with the author of the
document I’m translating (inevitably an MD or PhD “subject-matter expert”). It
gives me the opportunity to clarify any ambiguous phrases or novel terminology, and
to be appreciated as someone who understands the field. Even better if the document
author I’m working with is also bilingual in the language pair I’m translating (it
happens!). Unfortunately, this is a relatively uncommon occurrence, since usually
I work through some intermediary, even if it’s within the same organization as the
original author.
If you’re lucky enough to work directly with a document’s author, just be sure it’s
OK to ask for clarifications, and don’t ask too many questions, since it’s not your
client’s job to translate the document! But as a general rule, the closer you can get
to the original author, the better you will be paid and the more enjoyable your job
will be. If the person you are working for deals directly with the document’s author,
you are probably doing OK.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
My most successful project was a large-scale job, with a total of over 50,000 words
to be translated in a relatively short amount of time. I worked directly with the
document’s author, who was not only bilingual in the language pair I was working in,
but was also a recognized subject-matter expert. At the end of the job, the client told
me that he couldn’t have done a better job himself with the translation or technical
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
I routinely negotiate on deadlines with regular clients, since they often want me
specifically to do a job and so are willing to wait X number of days or weeks until I
am available. I’ve frequently raised rates, and when clients have protested, I’ve tried
to negotiate. But clients who are unwilling to pay for very modest pay hike after a
year of excellent work are usually not clients I’m interested in continuing to work
I have negotiated on repetitions with exactly one very high-volume client over my
entire career, and I now regret doing so. I’m the one who purchased the expensive
CAT tools, I’m the one who trained myself to use them, and I’m the one who built
my TM and TBD. So I’m the one who will reap the benefits of this technology. When
I meet a client who is willing to reimburse me for the costs of my CAT tools and the
time I’ve spent learning them and building up my language assets, I’ll entertain a
“TM discount”. Until then, it’s out of the question.
What would you ideally invest in next in order to grow your business?
I would invest in the time to market. I would write careful blog posts, targeted toward
my ideal client and attend conferences frequented by such clients. Unfortunately,
I really love translating and programming, not marketing, so this need often goes
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
I’m also a programmer, which has allowed me to develop a highly-refined process for
bootstraping a TM and terminology database for new large-scale translation projects.
Unfortunately, a complete answer here would reveal some of my trade secrets, both as
a freelance translator and as someone who consults with translation buyers on how to
optimize their workflow. But I will mention one tool I use a lot when building custom
terminology databases: AntConc. It’s free and doesn’t even require a knowledge of
programming to operate.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
1. Specialize
2. Look for better clients
3. Market yourself well.
Corinne McKay, ATA Director, author, translator
Corinne McKay, CT, is an American Translators Association-certified French to
English translator based in Boulder, Colorado (USA). She translates primarily in the
areas of international development and law, and is the author of How to Succeed as a
Freelance Translator, a career how-to guide for beginning and experienced translators
alike. Her past leadership roles in the industry include serving as President of the
Colorado Translators Association, administrator of the ATA French Language Division
and chair of the ATA Public Relations committee. Corinne was elected to the ATA
Board of Directors in October, 2012 and also teaches in the University of Chicago’s
translation certificate program.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in French. After a first career as a high
school teacher and a few translations on the side, I wanted to find a job that would
allow me to work from home and use my language skills. I knew very little about the
business side of working as a freelance translator, and on my first day in business for
myself, I sat down at my dining room table with my baby and the phone book, and
started looking for translation companies to call on the phone and apply to. That
was 10 years ago, and fortunately my business strategy has improved since then!
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
My main strategy is to raise my rates for new clients when I am very busy. I’ll try a
rate that is 10% or 20% higher than what I currently charge my highest-paying clients
and see what happens. That way, I’m not in a bad situation if the prospective client
refuses that rate, because I have enough work as it is. Also, I focus on a fairly narrow
specialization - international development - and I get faster and more consistent over
time, which allows me to earn more money as well.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you’ve used?
For work with other translators, such as promoting my book and online course, my
blog is absolutely the best marketing strategy I’ve used. For work with agencies,
many of them find me through my online profiles. For work with direct clients, I get
a lot of referrals from other translators, and I also do some “cold” marketing by send
out letters in the mail.
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of client?
Clients who are passionate about their work are always great to translate for. They
care about the quality of the end product because a lot of work went into preparing
the source document. I enjoy working with direct clients because I can communicate
directly with the person who wrote the document, or with the person who is going to
use my translation.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
I really took a chance when I wrote my book on how to become a translator. Even
my husband, who is normally my most enthusiastic cheerleader, said “Do you really
think people would buy something like that?” Well, five thousand copies later, I guess
I proved him wrong! Mostly I theorized that if I really struggled with the business
aspects of working as a freelance translator, a lot of other people probably did too!
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
I do negotiate quite a bit on rates, but mostly in terms of trying to get potential clients
to see the value of hiring a professional. In the end I think clients see that high-quality
translators save them time and money because their work needs very little editing
and they know what questions to ask (and for that matter, what questions not to
ask). I don’t give translation memory discounts other than offering not to charge
for repetitions if the client doesn’t want me to read them. I dislike rush work, so
I often negotiate for more time so that I can provide the kind of quality I want to
provide without feeling stressed for time. I also charge direct clients higher rates than
agencies because I do more non-translation work for them, and because I hire my
own editor to thoroughly review my work.
What would you ideally invest in next for your business?
I think that subject-area knowledge is the next wave in our industry. First, it was
enough to know another language (let’s say 20 years ago). Then, you needed another
language and knowledge about translation technique and translation technology (say,
over the past 10 years). Now, I think that the pendulum is swinging toward people
who have some sort of real training in their specialization areas. So that’s what I’m
pursuing: I’m taking an online course in public health starting in January, and I would
like to pursue more subject-area coursework in the future. I’m also a tentatively
aspiring interpreter, so I’m working on that too!
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
Marketing myself to clients who value quality and see me as a partner in the business
relationship, not just a service provider. Attending conferences such as Translate
in the Catskills which are geared at a small group of premium-market translators.
Having multiple revenue streams (translation, books, teaching) so that my income is
not concentrated on one or two main clients.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
There are a lot of translators out there, but the demand for high-quality translators
and interpreters still exceeds the supply. Don’t worry about what “most clients” will
pay, or what “most clients” want (for example high volume, fast turnaround and low
rates). Focus on finding the amount of work that you need to generate a healthy
income. Don’t be afraid to talk and think about money; hopefully you enjoy your
work, but presumably you wouldn’t do it if you weren’t getting paid, right? It’s fine
to want to earn good money, or even a lot of money, as a translator or interpreter,
and the high end of the market is waiting for you!
The calculator
The rate calculator is available as a standalone Excel spreadsheet available via the
book page, if you didn’t receive a copy with the book.
It differs from most freelance rate calculators in a few ways:
• It sets a minimum suggested rate, leaving room for growth
• It calculates what that potential growth can be (at different rates)
• It shows you the most profitable agency/direct model for you
• It takes your non-billable work hours and
• Your words per hour speed into account
By setting a rate floor, not a ceiling, you can then experiment with what varying
rates above that would give you in terms of hours worked and potential maximum
income. It does this over a variety of agency and direct client scenarios.
This calculator offers an accurate representation of a freelance translator’s business
model, and allows you to test different ways in which to grow.
By accounting for growth capacity, it allows you to take on additional work without
affecting your planned holiday, illness and administration time. The spare capacity
this model allows you to build into your rate calculation gives you plenty of scope
to plan for the future. This better fits the positioning I have suggested in the book,
rather than aligning your desired income with an equivalent salary, here we are setting
up your business for long term growth and stability.
Notes on the calculator
The calculator breaks down into two sides. The left-hand side works out your annual
costs (personal and business), how often you’ll work in a year, and how fast you work
on average. This produces an absolute minimum baseline rate that assumes you fill
all of the planned work hours.
The right-hand side then uses this information to calculate your potential income based
on rates you set (hourly or per word), and on various direct/agency combinations of
your choice. These show you how long it will take to achieve your income goal based
on the rates set. Scenarios 3 and 4 are based on the theoretical rates provided in
scenarios 1 and 2.
• Scenario 1 – 100% direct client
• Scenario 2 – 100% agency clients
• Scenario 3 – 75% agency clients (fully editable)
• Scenario 4 – 75% direct clients
If you don’t usually work in a per word rate, use the convertor to the far-right to
derive an approximate per word rate from your standard pricing convention.
Notes on rates
When working with agencies, if you do happen to work faster than the words per
hour you set (thanks to TMs, tools, etc.) and also manage to fill your daily working
capacity (no wasted time, using productivity tools) then the benefits of planning a
minimum rate start to compound and give your business a vastly improved chance of
long term stability.
If you can’t find an agency paying your suggested minimum rate, keep looking.
You will. Use the tips from the chapters above and carry them out regularly and
systematically. And if you’re spending that much effort looking for decent agencies,
why not go straight to source and find direct clients? They’re often less inundated
with LSP offers and most likely to pay you a fair rate that keeps you in business and
them in quality. A little extra work for a lot of extra reward.
In professions such as software and web development, some freelancers advise setting
a minimum billable unit of one day. Their small projects may include tasks like fixing
a small bug on a single page, for example, taking 2 hours. They say to charge per
day to avoid scope-creep and to ensure the client values your time fully.
We can’t always do that, as our translation projects are often much smaller than the
smallest of software projects, but employ this in principle where possible. One hour
should be an absolute minimum, based on word count, but don’t forget to take into
account the time it will take to arrange the job, and the opportunity cost of losing
out on larger projects that day. These jobs can be profitable, but seeking out longer
projects ought to offer more stability in the long-run.
The other professions I’ve mentioned also advise a calculation based on the rule of
thumb: your equivalent salaried day rate x3. This is said to cover you, your taxes
and any non-billable hours. The rate calculator I’ve provided should be all you need,
as it cover these three elements (and more) in a manner that is highly-focused on our
profession. It is worth comparing the figures it provides with this baseline used in
other trades.
Per word rate – use word counts as a baseline unit for pricing calculations. The
calculator takes your non-billable and profit/savings/growth goals into account when
producing a minimum per word rate. This rate can be used for new agencies and
clients that are used to working in this metric. As said elsewhere, direct clients can
actually be confused by complex translation pricing (per word, urgency, complexity,
project management fees etc.).
Hourly rate – recommended for smaller jobs for agencies and direct clients where
possible. It accounts for the true value and costs of your work very well.
Day rate – this is our most promising rate structure, in that clients are already very
familiar with this pricing method. It reflects our work’s true costs and value, reduces
administration time and cost (less word/time tracking) and can be used for speaking
at events, short-term consulting, standard translation projects. Calculate this by
multiplying your hourly rate by 7, offering a slight incentive over hourly-tracking.
Weekly rate – other professions advise this as the minimum for consultancy projects.
It is worth having this prepared in case it is ever required, however rare that may be.
Calculate by multiplying your day rate by 5 as a good starting point.
These pricing structures should free you from the standard word count model, and
give you the time you need to offer a more rounded service.
It also gives you room to negotiate with clients by removing services from your
quote, rather than by lowering your price. This way you can remove hours or days
required for proofreading, TM creation or glossary building, showing that your time
is non-negotiable and reducing the amount of time you will spend on the project.
Alternatively you can offer a £50 discount on a £1000 project, which is better for
business than removing 0.01 per word (equalling some £75-£100 on the same project),
and much clearer for the client.
Signing off
And that, kind reader, marks the end of the book. Below is your actionable roadmap.
This systematic approach will ensure you’ve covered everything of relevance in the
book to improve your chances of making sales.
Then follows the appendix with a sample translator’s brief (to be used with direct
clients) and a sample terms of business. The resources section that follows contains a
list of resources referred to for more information and further reading.
I hope you’ve found the book informative and useful, and I hope that you raise your
rates immediately with the confidence of knowing that both you and your business
deserve and require it.
The roadmap
A 4-week plan to work from to create a sustainable, high-growth business. Select priorities and schedule these into
your work planner. Time estimates may of course vary.
Structure for growth
Web presence
Marketing and sales
Week 1
Building blocks
Calculate optimal rate &
structure to use with new
clients (1 hour)
Create basic site in CMS
(4 hours)
Define your specialism in
detail (30 minutes)
16 hours or 20 hours
if new website
Invest in up to date CAT
tools or tool training (2
Keyword planner tool for Identify your perfect client
initial keyword list (1
(30 minutes)
Outsource admin: accounts
CRM, proj. management,
time efficiency (3 hours)
Create optional multilingual sites under
separate structure (2
Build a list of 10 potential
new clients (1 hour - every
Clear out dead links
Call, write or email to
Submit site to DMOZ,
start a dialogue (3 hours)
set up analytics (2 hours)
Week 2
Getting analytical
8 hours
Week 3
Fine tuning the
14 hours
Secure deletions, file transfer Fix copy to increase
and storage - SFTP for
conversions with A/B
transfer - Secure erase testing (ongoing, 1 hour)
Encrypt storage (2 hours)
Implement terms of bus.
and project brief (3 hours)
Follow up, monitor via
CRM or spreadsheet (1
Add testimonials, case
studies, and trust badges
(3 hours)
Determine any personal
links to local prospects via
LinkedIn & request
referrals (1 hour)
Hire designer to fix
weaknesses, continue
with analytics (1 hour)
Sign up to PR sites and
pitch journalists with
articles (2 hours)
Add landing pages for an Create provable results file
Adwords campaign (2
to show to clients
(2 hours)
Mailing list & sign-up
forms (2 hours)
Week 4
Plan for growth and
7 hours
Start process of
incorporating business if
optimal for profit/growth (2
Create compelling
content, of interest for a
long time (ongoing, 2
Share content (1 hour)
Join local networking
group (1 hour)
Book tickets to an
exhibition, show or
conference (1 hour)
Week 5+
7 hours
Maintain tools, lists and
teams (1 hour)
Add content regularly,
tune content and site for
SEO + share-worthy
content (2 hours)
Make at least 10 sales
attempts per week, tuning
your model and ideal
client, following up on
previous week’s attempts,
checking for new events to
attend (4 hours)
Translation brief
Key data
• Date, client, project title, contact person
About the client and project
What do you offer your clients? Why do they choose you?
Project overview: background, current progress
Languages and variants
Type of document
Subject matter expertise
Optional: word count
About the business objectives
Target customer; who are they (age, profession, budget), what are they looking for?
What reaction should the target give? (call, buy, sign up)
Is there a single-minded proposition for this project? A single message for the target to take away?
Why should they believe the message? (Rationale, Substantiation)
Detail about the translation
• Is there a tone that should be conveyed in the translation? (conversational, formal, professional,
educational, light etc.)
• Are you aware of any legal or cultural restrictions that would affect the translation? We will
endeavour to raise any of these we come across with you as and when we do.
• Deadline
• Format of source, delivery format
• Miscellaneous information
• Attachments; existing translations, translation memories, company glossaries etc.
• Extra services required (first to be removed in negotiation): external proof, TM or glossary building,
OCR, summary, localization of strings, code conversion etc.
Terms of business
[Name, Address, Association membership number]
These terms are provided for information purposes only. For your terms to have maximum legal effect, a
lawyer should be consulted to draw up terms relevant to your particular location and situation.
In these terms of business, Translation Consultant means [x], trading as [x]. Client means the person or
entity commissioning the services of the Translation Consultant. Work means the translation services
rendered under these business terms. Quote means a price quote for the Work which remains valid for 15
days from date of issue.
The Client guarantees the Translation Consultant that the material to be translated will not infringe
any existing copyright. The Client guarantees that the Translation Consultant is not liable from any
resulting breach of this guarantee.
It is agreed that translations are protected works [UK IPO reference] and may not be reproduced if in
breach of this copyright. Full payment of the translation shall result in the assignment of the copyright,
unless otherwise specified in writing by both parties.
The Translation Consultant retains the right to publish extracts of the work for the purposes of promotion
unless specifically prohibited from doing so through a signed non-disclosure agreement.
Reproduction rights granted for the Work belong to the commissioning person or entity and may not
be assigned, nor may any portion of the Works be loaned or transferred to third parties, save for the
purpose of the exercise by the Client of such reproduction rights.
The Translation Consultant will not disclose to any third parties any information communicated for the
purposes of the Work, except where it may be reasonably necessary to enable to completion of the Work.
Any Work in addition to that included in the Quote, such as meetings, interviews or additions will be
invoiced at the quoted or hourly rate.
If the client cancels the project after the Work has begun then fees for the Work completed to that point,
and any costs incurred during that time, will be invoiced, in addition to a cancellation fee of [150] [GBP].
The Translation Consultant will not be liable for any loss or damage sustained by the client or any other
party arising out of the provision of these services.
Payment for each project is due [15] days from the invoice date. If this period is exceeded, then all unpaid
invoices issued to the Client become due with immediate effect, with these invoices being considered
overdue in the pursuit of legal action for the recovery of these debts.
In application of [the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) act 1998], payment remaining due
later than [15] days from the invoicing date are to be considered actionable, and interest charged at
[1-5]% per month. The Translation Consultant may also charge an administrative fee of up to [£150] for
any recovery work carried out.
The Translation Consultant reserves the right to halt the Work in the event of non-payment of previous
Any payment fees incurred in making payment are the responsibility of the Client. Any fees deducted
from the payment will be invoiced to the client.
The price agreed in the Work quote shall prevail for the duration of the Work, except where the scope of
the work is revised.
[Any line items requiring under 4 hours of Work, not appearing in the original quote, will be billed
hourly at [£50] unless otherwise specified. Line items requiring over 4 hours of Work, not appearing in
the original quote, will be billed daily at [£350] unless otherwise specified. These line items may involve
services of translation, proofreading, editing, voice recording or revisions to the Work quoted.]
[All sums of under [£500] are to be paid in advance. Sums over this amount are to be paid 50% in
advance, before the Work commences, with 50% to be paid on delivery.]
These terms are governed by the laws of [your country]
These terms will not be varied except by signed agreement in writing.
Further reading and tools:
Jeffrey Gitomer - Big Red Book of Sales
Neil Rackham – Spin Selling
Mlodinov - The Drunkard’s Walk
Andy Maslen – Copywriting
Donald A. Norman – The Design of Everyday Things
W. Lidwell, K. Holden, J. Butler – Universal Principles of Design
Please visit this page to see the up to date list of links to tools mentioned in the book
First a special thanks to my wife, Rebecca, whose help and support has helped me
to see this project through to completion. A big thank you also to all those who
have helped with the book; the interviewees in particular, who offered such insightful
replies. I would also like to thank my friends and colleagues, near and far, who have
offered so much kind advice over the years on subjects in and around those featured
in the book.
About the author
Luke is a consulting freelance translator (FR/SV>EN). He is a CIoL Member and
owner of translation agency World to Writers, trading in good standing since 2008.
When not translating, he works on Linguaquote, a site which offers LSPs better access
to new direct clients, and conversely, buyers better access to linguists. These clients
are guided through a process highlighting expertise over price. The site’s LSPs, both
agency and freelance, are carefully vetted prior to approval, thus competing on a level
playing field, regardless of marketing budgets and industry contacts.
For any further assistance, feel free to get in touch via
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