Do you have trouble saying “no”?


As freelancers we’re always on the lookout for potential clients. Even those of us with large client bases need to replace clients from time to time (perhaps with better paying ones, perhaps to replace ones who no longer have relevant projects). So when new enquiries come in it’s usually something to get excited about.

However, I feel that there are plenty of traps that beginner translators in particular regularly fall into (and I’d be prepared to hazard a guess that even seasoned translators struggle with some of these situations from time to time). The added pressure of just starting out though and really needing more work means that as beginner freelancers we often don’t think clearly when dealing with potential clients. In this article I want to talk about a few strategies which you can apply from the outset which will hopefully help you avoid making some rookie mistakes and taking on projects which were never meant for you or clients you were never destined to serve.

Stage 1: Funny feelings (implementation level: easy) – when your own existential anxieties interfere with your decision-making

If you have a funny feeling about a job from the outset, walk away. It’s really important to listen to your intuition. It is completely understandable that if you are concerned about meeting your monthly earnings target, you will try to take every opportunity which comes your way. However, if you can already see the pitfalls (you don’t have the subject-field knowledge, it sounds like timely payment could be an issue, etc.) or you and the client just aren’t on the same page, leave it. It will just lead to problems further down the line. If, on the other hand, you can simply see issues which need to be clarified and you are genuinely interested in the job then do, of course, ask the questions you need to ask before sending or agreeing to send a quote. Just make sure you do any clarification work in advance before making a commitment.

Stage 2: (implementation level: intermediate) – when potential clients start to have expectations

Just because you’ve entered into a dialogue about the client’s needs and expectations does not mean that you are then obliged to take the job on. Once you can see that it’s not for you, say so. It is true that once a potential client has the feeling that you are “dealing” with their translation (asking questions, for example, see stage 1) – even before you’ve sent a quote and agreed to do it – you will find it more difficult to say “no, sorry, I’m not interested” later on. It is a fact that it is much easier to say “no” if you haven’t already sent several emails back and forth. So be careful how much advice you give away for free before you’ve agreed to do the job and start to feel like you have tied yourself into something you haven’t actually decided to do (and remember here that feeling like you have tied yourself in is simply that, a feeling. If you have not made a commitment, you are still free to walk away).

Until you have agreed to do a translation it is not your problem and you do not need to justify your decisions. If a job is not for you then it’s not for you and you politely tell the client that the job is not a good fit or that you have decided not to submit a quote this time. Quoting a higher price in the hope that the client will not accept it is a recipe for disaster. Clients accept those higher quotes much more often than you may think – and the extra money will never be enough to compensate for the problems you know you will encounter along the way and the potential damage to your reputation. Be straight with the client to avoid setting yourself up for a fall.

Stage 3: (implementation level: for the advanced) – when existing clients make assumptions

What about existing clients who come along needing a translation in an area of specialisation you don’t cover? Do you take it on anyway because you’re the translator of choice and you’re anxious that you may otherwise lose the client? Be careful because if you don’t provide your usual standard of quality then it’s quite likely that you will lose the client anyway. Instead, try explaining that you do not cover that area or reiterate that you specialise in a particular field. Try to provide the name of a trusted colleague or offer to arrange for a colleague to do the translation. This is a much more professional way of dealing with these situations and will also increase your credibility and strengthen your relationship with the client because you will have an opportunity to reiterate what it is that you do do and are good at while simultaneously demonstrating your integrity.


In this article we have briefly looked at how our decision-making is affected not only by fears and anxieties but also by the mind’s response to expectations and assumptions made by others. Having a set of internal rules/steps for dealing with these kinds of situations can really help us to make more professional, objective and rational decisions at times when our emotions are running high and our brains are on overdrive. These steps can also include the prices we’re not prepared to go below or the number of words/pages we’re prepared to accept as a maximum in a particular time period. When clients or potential clients then assert pressure we can refer to our rules/steps and hopefully coach ourselves to follow through on the decisions we made when we thought about these situations in advance in an objective manner in a relaxed environment.


Photo credit: Mario Kingemann,


Emotional self-discipline as a key ingredient for success as a freelance translator

business people network and communicate in speech bubbles.

I’m sure we’ve all heard and experienced how important self-discipline is for freelancers, particularly those working from home. Some of us may naturally gravitate towards working all of the time and others of us might have trouble motivating ourselves to do any work at all. Without the routine of going to the office every day for a fixed number of hours and being answerable to somebody higher up and without a set start and finish time, freelancing really does bring with it as many challenges as it does luxuries. But that isn’t quite the topic of my blog post today. What I want us to look at in this post is emotional self-discipline and how I believe that this is a key ingredient for success as a freelancer – and one that people are much less aware of.

Emotional self-discipline

I’m going to start by letting you into a little secret: I hear voices in my head. In fact, I can hear one right now “you’re not seriously going to write that are you?”. Perhaps you hear them too. If not, try listening a little more closely because we all have them. It’s just mind chatter and it’s completely normal (or at least I hope it is). This mind chatter is simply the mind’s way of making sense of what we are doing and protecting us on the basis of past experience. The mind’s main objective is to keep us safely in our comfort zones and to keep everything as it is. Now there are certainly advantages to this. I mean, if your mind remembers that you once did something and something terrible happened, then you’re unlikely to want to go and do it again. However, what about all of those opinions those voices have and judgements those voices are constantly making on things you haven’t tried out yet, like raising your rates, contacting new clients, choosing a new area of specialisation and so forth. If we listen to them all of the time and haven’t learnt how to distinguish between useful objective information and fear, then the voices will soon start to take over your business. Are they already running yours?

The only way to grow, both personally and as a freelancer, is to take steps out of your comfort zone and to be prepared to try something new – even where the outcome is uncertain.

The illusion of control being necessary

Not being in control isn’t something that the human mind can handle very well. For that reason, it does all it can to try to stay in control of every situation. This is one of the reasons that voice telling you not to take new action is so loud. The only way to stay in control is to take the same action you’ve always taken. Then there’s no (or little) risk. But remember that saying “no risk, no gain”? It’s 100% true. If you want change, if you want to get out of the vicious circle you feel you are stuck in, then you need to take new considered action and then let go and be open to what happens next.

Listen carefully

When you start carefully listening to the voices in your head you may find that there are several, that some want to support you and some want to hold you back, some are encouraging you to move forwards and others are doing everything they can to stand in your way. Which of those voices is the loudest? If it’s not the one encouraging you, then it might be useful to ask why you are listening to the ones that are trying to hold you back. Is it just because they are louder? Is it simply a habit? Is it easier for you that way?

I hear from so many translators who feel like they are stuck in a vicious circle. They read books about marketing, they try to take new action but they rarely get very far. Even if they have the best of intentions and some of them are the most conscientious translators I know who are excellent at their craft, and yet lack of emotional self-discipline leaves them unable to break out of this vicious circle.

A process, not instant results

Like anything, learning to practise emotional self-discipline is a process. If you expect immediate results then you are going to be in for a disappointment. Just like any new client or personal relationship, learning to get to know your mind and to listen to and to differentiate between the different voices and to weigh up which ones you are going to choose to listen to takes time. But once you start to do this, you will feel more empowered because even if you still find yourself listening to the obstructive voices for a while, you will, from the time when you finish reading this post onwards, at least be aware of what you are doing and awareness, as I tell my mentees again and again, is the first step on the path to change and the first step on the ladder to success.

Action steps

  1. Pay attention to those inner voices. What are they saying? Is there more than one? Listen carefully to what the quiet ones are saying.
  2. Write down everything those voices are telling you on a piece of paper. This is important as it allows you to detach. When they are all in your head shouting for attention, it’s easy to lose track or to only hear the loudest ones or the ones you are most used to listening to.
  3. Now that you have everything down on paper, try to disidentify with the situation. Perhaps try imagining that you are advising a good friend rather than yourself.
  4. Go through the statements provided by your inner voices one by one and look for objective useful information and write it down.
  5. Identify the statements which are purely fear-based. Identify what the fear is in each case.
  6. Determine whether the fear is valid or whether your mind has simply been making up stories about one of the potential outcomes and is perhaps focussing on what it considers to be the worst case scenario. Ask whether the negative outcome you are expecting is a certainty or whether there are other possibilities.
  7. Take the new action. Coach yourself through it if necessary. Talk back to those voices and explain why you are doing what you are doing and that you have carefully considered the situation and that this is the best objective course of Action.
  8. Let go, trust and embrace any changes. Remember that until you take new action, you can’t know exactly how things will change. Life is never as black and white as our minds want us to believe it is.


Photo credit: Fotolia #50460503



Ideals and reality



So I’m aware that I’ve not posted for a good while. This has been due to other projects and having to put a few things on the back-burner for a while. To my surprise, however, this has not resulted in less traffic to my blog and it’s great to see that the older articles are read just as much as the newer ones. I hope that my blog will continue to provide advice and to act as a source of information for translators all over the world.

Today’s post is just to let you know that I have recently published an article in the University of Trieste’s International Journal of Translation entitled “The importance of active foreign language competence – Maximising choice for graduate translators”. The article is based on a talk I gave at the University of Trieste in December 2015 at a conference considering the question of the degree of foreign language competence required by future graduate translators in view of the native speaker principle, i.e. if translators are only supposed to be translating into their native language, how much active foreign language competence do they really need? As usual, I jumped at the chance to talk and write about this subject which is close to my heart and is all about ideals and reality. While ideals do have their place and I personally also apply the native speaker principle in my professional legal translation practice, it is not the only way. Real life and the requirements of companies and institutions, as I discuss in my article, is often a completely different ball game. This is why I take such a keen interest in this field and, when it comes to the academic perspective, I like to keep a very open mind and to consider what the situation really is like on the ground, right now, in order to assist translators (particularly beginner translators) who are facing these questions right now and not in some ideal world which they may not live to see.

The article is freely accessible via the following link and can be downloaded as a PDF file:

Translating in one direction or both – your choice to make

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Today’s post is an English translation with slight adaptations from an article I first published on my German blog. When reviewing the site stats for Translator Mentoring Blog earlier this week, I found that the most popular post by far continues to be Should I only translate into my native language? which suggests that this topic is one which translators, especially those just starting out, struggle to get their heads around. This is hardly surprising with so much conflicting information out there, apparent rules, requests which seem to run counter to these “rules”, and strong opinions. So I thought that my readers might be interested in this article which is a brief summary of the main points I discussed at a workshop last year. A longer article is soon to be published. Please feel free to e-mail me if you would like a copy.

The future of the translation industry – what will translator training look like in the future?

In September 2015 an interesting invitation landed in my inbox. I was being invited to speak at a workshop entitled “Foreign Language for Future Language Professionals: Reassessing Market Needs and Training Programmes” in Trieste, Italy. The seminar was being organised by the University of Trieste and the European Union and would address, among other things, the topics of translator training and translation competence into the non-native language and the extent to which this is necessary given the native speaker principle which appears to dominate the industry.

As a representative of the translation industry, in my presentation I wanted to set the advantages of the native speaker principle against my experience of the requirements and needs of corporate clients and to explain why translators must be extremely competent in their foreign language(s), irrespective of whether they translate into their non-native language or not.

The native speaker principle

Personally I am and will remain a proponent of the native speaker principle, but purely because this happens to fit my own personal circumstances. The main argument in favour of the native speaker principle is that it ensures that the translation is linguistically and grammatically flawless. In many cases, this is, of course, of utmost importance. However, being a native speaker of the target language alone is in no way sufficient to ensure that the translation also properly accurately conveys the source text message – and this must surely always be at the very top of the list of objectives.

The native language of the translator therefore is only one factor which must be considered when commissioning a translation. Equally important is whether the translator understands the source text, i.e. the level of his/her foreign language competence and specialist technical language of the subject-field concerned. Only if the translator has a very good command of the foreign language and the specialist technical language, can he/she produce an accurate translation into his/her mother tongue.

Unfortunately, this second point is often ignored when applying the native speaker principle.

From ideals to reality

What is more, academic rules and ideals (“only translate into your native language”) are often not in line with the requirements of the industry and the needs of clients. It is increasingly the case that companies and clients are looking for their internal translators to meet all of their translation needs. Perhaps a company has a regular translation requirement and therefore wants to employ an internal translator, but doesn’t have enough translation work for it to make economic sense to employ one translator per language pair, let alone one translator per language direction. In such cases, it clearly makes business sense to employ one translator who can offer all of the language pairs required in both directions. But even companies which work with external translators are increasingly looking for a one-stop shop – often due to time constraints and concerns relating to confidentiality.

Translator training

Whether future translation graduates translate only into their own mother tongue or in both directions is, in my view, a question which each new translator must decide for him/herself. There will always be a market for translators who only offer the highest quality translations into their own mother tongue, providing that they also have extensive specialist knowledge in their field. However, there will also always be a market for translators wanting to translate in both directions.

Whatever the decision these translators make, it is, however, extremely important that they are given the opportunity during their training to increase their foreign language competence to the highest possible level and to polish their writing skills in the foreign language because, irrespective of whether they later decide to translate into the foreign language or not, one thing is for sure: in order to be successful in today’s translation industry, more than average foreign language competence is absolutely essential, not least for marketing purposes and communicating effectively with clients.

Your choice

So ultimately there is no “right” or”wrong”. Whether you decide to translate in one direction or both is simply a choice that you, as a businessman or businesswoman, are free to make on the basis of your skillset, your strengths and weaknesses and your vision. Know that whatever choice you make, there are clients out there for you – it is your job to find the ones which are the right fit for you.


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Curiosity as an approach to marketing


We’ve probably all heard marketing people say that we should try to write texts which spark curiosity as it is the best way to get people interested in our products and services and to get their attention long enough to read our marketing texts and website copy.

But what about curiosity as an approach to marketing?

This idea came to me recently as I was thinking about how people feel in relation to marketing. I know that, in the past, I have procrastinated on my marketing. Not because I was lazy, but because I was very attached to the outcome. I wanted to be able control the result – and since I obviously couldn’t do this, my mind helped me out by creating a story about what was going to happen: “Nobody will read my letters. Nobody will be interested. I don’t have enough experience. Other people can do this job better than me. The statistical return is only 1-3% anyway. It’s a waste of time.“ And once that negativity creeps in, it really isn’t easy to overcome it. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who has ever felt like that.

Turn it around

So what about trying a different approach? What if we were able to completely detach from the outcome – not easy, I know, when you need clients and you need the income – and look at marketing from the point of view of curiosity?

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Oh it’s all right for her. She already has plenty of clients. I, on the other hand, really need the clients and I really need the income.“ Ok, I hear you. But this is simply you attaching even more to an outcome over which you have no control – irrespective of how much you may feel you need or want to control it. And how exactly does that help you? All you are actually doing, in fact, is adding even more pointless emotional stress to a situation which is already difficult for you.

A change of focus

Now if you take the curiosity approach you could say to yourself, “Ok, I have never done this before, but I’m going to try sending out 100 letters to potential clients and see what happens.“ This way you are detaching emotionally from the result and approaching the matter with interest and openness – positive rather than negative emotions, positive rather than negative energy. This will already feel like, and indeed be, a big step forward. What is more, regardless of whether the marketing measure you choose first is successful or not, you will (a) be a step closer to learning what does and doesn’t work in your target market, and (b) have some experience under your belt, which means that next time round the emotional hurdle won’t be so high.

Remain curious

Perhaps next time you will try heading to an event attended by your target clients or a trade fair for your industry. Or maybe you’ll look into participating in a workshop or a CPD event aimed at your potential clients. No, I can’t tell you and you won’t be able to say in advance whether these options will be successful in terms of getting you those new clients you want and need, but you will, through curiosity and trial and error, be able to determine which marketing options are best suited to you and, if you run a survey or ask every new client who comes your way how they found you (which I highly recommend by the way), then, over time, you will be able to ascertain which marketing methods are working best for your business.


The truth about your marketing issues


“I hate marketing”, “I really should do some marketing”, “I just don’t think marketing is for me”, “I’m a linguist, I’m just not good at the business side”, “I know what I need to do in theory but somehow I never get round to it”. Ever heard any of these or said something similar yourself? If so, read on!

What makes marketing into such a big (negative) thing for so many people?

We all know the theory: marketing is essential for every business. It brings you new clients which makes sure that your business grows and thrives. Marketing is for your business what exercise is for your body. We don’t have to exercise, but if we don’t we’ll be unfit. It’s the same with marketing: if we want a healthy business we need to do it. Let’s draw another comparison: chores around the house. Probably not your favourite thing, certainly not mine. And we may put them off and put them off but eventually we’ll get round to doing them. For some people not doing any marketing really is purely and simply about procrastination. It’s just something they rarely make time to do. For many people, however, marketing isn’t simply a chore like the washing and ironing that they put off but do get round to doing eventually. Marketing is something that they don’t want to touch with barge pole. They may get as far as dipping their big toe in but then they get the barge pole out again and it’s back to square one. Ring any bells?

So what’s going on here?

Unlike chores which we may simply dislike, people tend to have a deeper emotional relationship with their feelings towards marketing. If you get round to other chores eventually but not to your marketing then this might be true for you. Let’s explore this idea some more.

So you know what marketing is, you know it’s good for your business, you’ve been to seminars and attended webinars, you’ve probably also read a few books on the subject but somehow this is the furthest you have got. Let’s take a look at why that might be.

When you think about marketing what emotions do you feel? If you’ve “simply” been dismissing marketing as something you just don’t like for a long time then you might need to sit quietly for a while and really listen to what your body is telling you. Perhaps you can relate to one or more of these responses:

  • Fear of the unknown – What if nobody is interested in my services? What if everyone is interested in my services? How will I handle that?
  • Lack of control – What if none of my prospects respond?
  • Rejection – What if my prospects aren’t interested? What if they reject me?
  • Lack of confidence – What if I’m not good enough? What if potential clients find out that I don’t have much experience? I’m not as self-confident as my website suggests, what if my prospects find out?

These are all viable and typical responses and they all stem from programmes which we have been running since early childhood. So the reason why so many people are unsuccessful with their marketing efforts is that although they are trying to implement tried and tested techniques, they haven’t started at the root of the problem. They’re trying to start somewhere higher up. It’s like spending thousands on renovating a house but not bothering to deal with the unsteady foundations or like trying to heal an illness by only treating the symptoms.

Ok so now what?

First of all don’t be tempted to run away from the uncomfortable feelings. Simply feel them and then start to examine them. Take them apart piece by piece and ask questions like “is this true for me now?”, “do I really believe this?”, “is this a likely outcome or am I simply making up stories?”, “is a rejection of my services really the same as a rejection of me as a person?”. This kind of introspection work can be extremely insightful. You may discover that some of the stories your mind is making up are pretty far-fetched and extreme scenarios. You can then start asking questions like “is this the only way I can see this?”, “what if I look at it in another way?”

Perspective is a powerful tool because your thoughts determine your experience. If you can be open to the unknown, do your marketing in good faith, focus on the possibility of creating new connections and finding new clients rather than on the potential for rejection and accept that you (can) have little control over the outcome, you will find marketing a much more straight-forward and less burdensome task which may still feel like a chore but will hopefully no longer be something you fear to such an extent that it paralyses you into inaction.



Photo credit: Leigh Blackall,

The Five Steps to Charging on Value not on Price


Today’s post is a guest post by my own coach, Vanessa Ugatti, The True Worth Expert. Over to Vanessa:

No doubt, you’ve heard it before – focus on value, not on price.  The question is are you doing that or not?  I would hazard a guess that many businesses pay lip service to this, rather than really doing it.  Fear dominates the world of commerce – there’s always someone willing to do it cheaper.  So let’s get straight to the point – no procrastination or shilly-shallying; it’s time to make a decision and the sooner you make it the better.  Neither path is easy; ultimately the choice is yours.

Step 1

Ask yourself the following question:

Do I want to be the person doing it cheaper?

If the answer is yes, keep on doing the same thing and I can guarantee that you will get the same results. Don’t bother reading this article either, because you’ll be wasting your time. On the other hand, if the answer is no, take a deep breath and carry on reading.

So far, so good.  If you’re still with me, you’ve successfully jumped over the first hurdle.  Well done.

Step 2

Ask yourself this: When was the last time I really looked at and understood my value?

For most people who have an expertise, it’s not easy to understand their value.  The longer they have been doing it, and the easier it has become, the more they take it for granted.  Consider the following:

  • How long did it take you to become a professional translator?
  • What did it cost you?
  • What did you have to give up while training/learning?
  • How long have you been a professional translator?
  • If you were to rate yourself in terms of how good you were when you first trained on a scale of 1-10, what figure would you put on it?
  • If you were to rate yourself in terms of how good you are now on a scale of 1-10, what figure would you put on it?

I will hazard a guess that it took years – longer than it took a chartered accountant to train, a doctor or even an architect.  It’s no mean feat.  Although I’m not a translator, I am a fluent French speaker and know how much time and effort was required to reach that stage. Remember you have gone beyond that level and are able to communicate a message effectively from one language into another. It’s an amazing skill and don’t you ever doubt it!  Are you starting to see your value?  If you don’t understand your own value, it will be unlikely that your clients will.  Understanding your value is something which takes time and you also need to review it on a regular basis.

Step 3

Ask yourself the following question:

Are the clients I’m working with in general the sort of clients who will pay me on value or are they looking for cheap and cheerful? 

If it’s the latter, then clearly you’re working with the wrong clients!  As previously mentioned, although I’m not a translator, I do know from coaching Karen that those of you who are working for agencies, for example, will definitely not be able to charge on value, as the agencies are dictating the prices and driving them down.

This situation means that you are not actually in control of your business; the agency acts as your employer, but without any of the benefits of actually being employed. This then erodes confidence, creates self-doubt and makes it harder to change.  It’s a vicious circle which needs to be broken.

Either way, you must target those clients who will value your service and pay you accordingly.  This may well mean making some radical changes in your business to be able to achieve this.  I would also encourage you to decide on a specialism so that your marketing can be focussed on a particular industry or profession.  As a generalist, you will be competing with all and sundry and therefore price will likely be the dictator.  On the other hand, as a specialist, you elevate yourself from the masses and it’s then that you can charge a premium for your expertise.

Step 4

Eliminating limiting beliefs

By now, I get the impression that you could be feeling a little overwhelmed.  If that’s the case, I apologise.  However, I’m not one of those fluffy people who say this is going to be easy.  If it was, everyone would be doing it.  Rome wasn’t built in a day; you’ll need focus, patience and determination to get where you want to.  Moreover, it’s not just about marketing and what you do practically; it’s also vital to work on yourself.   If you fail to do this, you’ll potentially limit your earnings and feel frustrated into the bargain.

What limiting beliefs do you have which are getting in the way of your success?

Karen is proof of what I’m saying.  She recently told me that because of the work we’ve been doing together, that she is now charging top fees to her clients and getting them, whereas before, that wasn’t happening.  Even though there are others in the marketplace willing to charge significantly less, (their competence level may or may not be as good as hers) because she now understands her value, both consciously and unconsciously, and has no qualms stating her fees, she is able to charge her true worth.

Step 5

Get help!  You can’t do it alone.  Be willing to invest in yourself.  Find the right people to support you on your journey.

Author biography:

Vanessa Ugatti, The True Worth Expert, coach, speaker and author of Amazon Bestseller, True Worth, dramatically shifts the thinking for people in professional services  taking them from their own perceptions of not feeling they can really charge what they are worth, to doing just that – and more! This unique ability, to bring out the best in people, has evolved for her over many years of facing similar challenges both professionally and personally, even questioning her own value in business. 

To access a complimentary copy of True Worth: How to Charge What You’re Worth and Get It, and to find out more, visit:

True Worth





Title photo credit: Got Credit

Being good at what you do is only half the battle

Strategy Sean MacEntee

Many freelance translators complain about the quality of the translations produced by translation agencies and the way that they “force” translators to accept extremely low rates. However, looking at the situation without the emotional element, they are simply implementing a business model which works for them. Freelancers are, in effect, facilitating their business model by being prepared (if under perceived duress) to work for such low rates.

Where freelancers often go wrong and agencies win out

As a freelancer you stand alone. You are your business’ most important asset. You have the skills, you do the marketing, you set your rates, your draw up your business plan. It’s all about you, and you are a person, an emotional human being. As such you internalise your decisions, you let your emotions and feelings feed into your decisions and sometimes you even stand in your own way.

An agency, on the other hand, is a legal person. It does not feel emotion. An agency will have employees, people trained and employed to do different jobs such as marketing, customer acquisition and customer service. They each have their individual roles and, because what they are doing is for the business, they will normally feel one step removed on an emotional level. (Of course, this may not necessarily apply to smaller agencies where the business owner is still ultimately the only one running the show).

There are pros and cons to both of these scenarios.

Because the freelancer has a vested interest in his work and his business and he is doing all of the work himself, he can ensure that the quality he produces meets his very high standards. On the other hand, he may struggle with marketing and client acquisition because he knows that what he is doing is putting himself out there, exposing him, and he alone is facing the pressure that only he can keep his business thriving and make it work.

By contrast, an agency, with a non-emotive approach, is able to move through what it simply regards as tasks much more swiftly and effectively. The agency is marketing “the business”, there is always a name or a concept to hide behind. This makes marketing efforts less personal and easier in many ways. However, since the whole concept is also bigger, it is also more difficult to keep an eye on quality standards. Even where an agency has set quality processes, the extremely high levels of specialist knowledge required to produce a very specialist high-quality translation will not be able to be replicated in house (unless we are talking about a highly specialised agency) which often results in in-house staff misguidedly adding mistakes to excellent translations produced by freelancers all in the name of proof-reading and post-editing. The fact that the agency also has to earn a good margin to be able to afford to pay its staff, cover its other operating costs and still make a profit whilst offering competitive prices to clients means that more and more agencies are paying lower and lower rates to their freelance translators.

This business model should automatically fail when good freelance translators simply refuse to work for agencies on this basis and clients start to reject the quality of translations produced by inexperienced and less competent translators. However, we all know that agencies are thriving. So what’s going wrong? I think there are two main factors:

  1. Freelancers succumbing to the pressure to accept lower rates

If freelancers didn’t allow themselves to succumb to the downward price pressure, agencies would be forced to up their game and start competing on quality rather than on price. The fact that freelancers accept very low rates means that they are facilitating the very problem they are complaining about.

  1. False assumptions on the part of clients

One of the saddest things about our industry is the misguided blanket assumption clients often make about translators and our work, e.g.

  • Anyone who can speak a bit of a foreign language can translate = I don’t see why I should pay very much for this service
  • Translations are always full of mistakes = I don’t see why I should pay very much for this service

All of the assumptions we make in life are based on our past experiences. Can you really blame a lawyer for thinking that there are no decent legal translators if he’s tried out 10 different translators and still not got the results he’s after? And can you really blame him for not wanting to pay very much for a translation which he knows in advance will fall well below his quality standards?

Way forward?

If we as freelance translators really want to change the status quo, there would seem to me to be only one way forward. First, we need to stop allowing translation agencies to dictate rates to us. And second, we need to learn to be less emotional about our business decisions so that we don’t feel the need to succumb to downward price pressure, so that we stop seeing ourselves as dependent on translation agencies for our work and so that we become more business-minded. By detaching from the emotional side enough to implement some sound business decisions and carry out some effective marketing of our individual skillsets to direct clients, whilst simultaneously carrying out client education, we can become real competitors for translation agencies.

So the next time you find yourself or hear someone else complaining about the business practices of translation agencies, perhaps you might like to consider or discuss some of these points and think about how you could up your game.

Photo credit: Strategy © Sean MacEntee,

Specialisation Series: How I got where I am today: Annette Weizsäcker

Today’s interview for the popular specialisation series I started this summer is with German translator Annette Weizsäcker:

Thank you, Karen, for inviting me to take part in your specialisation series!

When I started my career as a translator, I did not know that this would be my future profession and passion and that, with Language Support, I would even become an entrepreneur. I am very glad that I got where I am today thanks to many special people who have crossed my path and have been wonderful mentors and friends over all these years. I feel that I am one of those fortunate people on the planet who have a job they really love and I look forward to sharing some of my secrets with you.

What are your specialist areas?

I am an English <-> German, Spanish <-> German and English <-> Spanish translator specialising in the pet and horse supplies & food industry, veterinary medicine, farm and stable supplies & building equipment, zoological gardens, the hunting and shooting sports industry, as well as (eco-)tourism, green products & concepts, and business administration in general.

How did you choose your specialist areas?

Funnily enough, it all began with my passion for horseback riding when I was a teenage girl.  At that time western riding was not common in Germany at all and a riding instructor hard to find. Therefore I always asked my friends and family abroad to send me magazines, books and articles which I devoured. It is not surprising that my first translations were English-German translations of these articles for my riding pals.

Many years later, when I was at university majoring in international business, on a flight back to the US I had a nice chat with the president of a well-respected sporting goods manufacturer for the hunting and shooting sports who then asked me to translate a letter to a German business friend. He became my first real customer, a good friend and valuable mentor for this specialisation.

However, at this time I never thought of making a living from translations. As student jobs and after receiving my degrees, I worked for several companies in different positions, from tour guiding, trilingual secretarial work, technical documentation, to operations management, and as CEO of a small Chamber of Commerce and Industry abroad. Nevertheless, during all this time I did translations either on the job or as infrequent jobs on the side. Only when my family decided to settle down on a farm and continuous help was needed for my elderly parents, did I start thinking of becoming a solopreneur.

The decisive push for becoming a freelance translator and for this particular field of specialisation came from my late British riding instructor and good friend whom I had frequently helped with translations. One day he took me aside when I interpreted at one of his clinics and asked “Why don’t you do this for a living?”

After starting out with the pet and equine industries and with hunting and shooting sports, I later added specialist areas I was particularly interested in, enjoyed researching and already knew a lot about from my work or personal background.

What is your experience in these areas? Are there sufficient customers? Do you have sufficient work?

Today I am in the lucky position to answer “Yes” to this question. There is enough work to even share and grow the business. So far I have only worked with direct customers who have specifically chosen me as their translator because they also expected some kind of cultural consultancy and knew that I would be able to provide this because of my intercultural / business background and management work experience. In view of the increasing demand for these related services, I have recently added intercultural consulting services, trade show services, sales rep services and travel planning services to Language Support’s portfolio. Thanks to working with a small group of highly qualified freelancers and professionals in other fields, it is possible to collaborate on projects, especially if a request is for more than one language pair and involves complementary services.

In your opinion, what are the advantages of specialising? How has it helped you? How has it helped your business?

Specialisation in a few but very diverse areas has helped me a lot to stay focused and to better organize my time and my marketing efforts. In addition, research is quick and fun if you like your specialisations (you better not choose an area you are not interested in just because it is the most often requested or easiest to make money in). With growing experience and knowledge you will produce higher quality in less time. The results will be reflected in your hourly rate and customer satisfaction. A good reputation spreads easier by word-of-mouth within one industry than across industries. Recommendations are free and the best advertising you can get. However, even if you advertise or produce marketing materials, write a blog or send out newsletters, targeting just one or a few industries is easier, less time consuming and usually generates better response rates.

Do you have any other tips/advice/anecdotes for beginner translators?

Knowing what you really don’t like to do is as important as choosing your specialisations. In my case, these are all legal texts which go beyond the common General Terms and Conditions. There is no shame in turning down a job and it is in any case better than delivering a quick and messy translation which might even harm your reputation. Handing the work over or directly referring the customer to a trusted colleague, like Karen in my case, makes you look professional and sincere.

If you are just starting out, struggling to gain experience and to find your specialist areas, don’t ever accept lower rates as a way in. Instead volunteer for pro bono work (e.g. Translators without borders, Kiva). This way you can gather expertise and make our planet a better place at the same time.

Quality first! Always put 100% quality, attention to detail and outstanding customer service first and before quantity. Working through several nights in a row to meet a crazy deadline clearly compromises the quality of your translations (and your life!). It is rather wise and there is no shame at all in declining a 15 page catalogue project to be done by 10 am tomorrow.

Strengthen the bond with your existing customers. It is likely that happy customers will come back to you and save you all the effort of attracting new ones to fill the gap.

Find yourself mentors with specialist knowledge, preferably from the industries you are targeting. They might also become valuable referrers.

Translation is all about building bridges between cultures. If you haven’t lived in different countries yet, go for a backpacking trip and mingle with the locals as much as you can to get a feeling for the different perspectives another language and culture bring with them. Apart from adding to your intercultural experience, you will probably also pick up a good basic knowledge of another language on the fly which might be helpful when developing your business.

Above all, make your profession your passion and your passions your specialist areas!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I’ll be glad to help.

Annette Weizsäcker
Language Support
Auf der Hörn 11
26655 Westerstede

Phone: +49 44 88 84 21 360
Cell: +49 157 30 200 387

Working with agencies, working with direct clients

I’ve been asked a lot recently by new freelance translators about whether I think they should look for direct clients from the outset or whether they should start out by contacting agencies. I think the answer to that question is that it depends on many factors: How much experience do you have? How confident are you? Would you benefit from somebody proofreading your work or are you ready to go it alone? Do you have the time and mindset necessary to market yourself to direct clients? There are pros and cons to working with agencies just as there are to working with direct clients. Here are a few I came up with this morning:

Agencies – Pros

Easy to find and contact, always on the look-out for new translators, constant influx of work, they come to you, no need to market yourself, you can take holidays and accept and turn down work as it suits you without having to worry that they’ll never come back, gets you work and experience when you are just starting out, there are some good agencies, these are usually small specialised agencies, rather than the large impersonal ones, a good agency will give you feedback on your work and you will be able to use that feedback to hone your translation skills.

Agencies – Cons

The influx of work may be so constant and rates so low that you may have difficulty getting out of the “agency rut” and finding direct clients or even better paying agencies, you may often have to deal with inexperienced project managers and will not have an opportunity to discuss translation queries directly with the author of the text, they will expect you to use CAT tools and accept deductions for matches – even when the content of the TM leaves much to be desired and you end up having to retranslate those segments anyway, at low rates you will have to translate more words to make your target income.

Direct clients – Pros

They generally pay a lot more than agencies, you can build up a relationship or even a partnership with the client, once that relationship is in place and you have them well-trained, direct clients will often give you notice of when they will need you allowing you to plan accordingly, you will earn more in fewer hours, if you do good work for direct clients, these clients are likely to refer you to other well-paying clients. Most of my new clients now come through referrals from current clients. In my experience direct clients are very faithful and not penny-pinching, they are prepared to pay for the reliability and stability you give them and are not constantly on the look-out for cheaper providers. Working with direct clients usually means that you are working directly with the author of the text you are translating and will be able to contact him/her with any queries you may have.

Direct clients – Cons

In order to find direct clients you need a brand and a marketing strategy. This can be a time-consuming task, particularly at the outset, and is not for everyone. Once you have attracted some direct clients, you will need to find a way to look after them. For instance, if you are going away on holiday you will need to let them know, preferably recommend a colleague they can contact if they have a translation project whilst you are away and you’ll need to make sure that you are organised enough to fit their projects in if you want to keep them because chances are that if they feel they have to go elsewhere, they will stay there. Depending on the type of client, projects can be infrequent and irregular or last only for a few weeks or months. If you want to be successful working with direct clients, you need a lot of them and a good customer relationship management strategy for keeping in touch with them all.

Final note

Working with direct clients is certainly more rewarding for me – both personally and financially – but working with direct clients also brings with it much more responsibility which can be a pro or a con really depending on how you like to work. Starting out working for agencies with a view to moving towards working with direct clients in the future as you gain experience and confidence might be a good strategy. Just don’t get stuck in the agency rut and remember to reassess your objectives at regular intervals.