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 »  Articles Overview  »  Business of Translation and Interpreting  »  Getting Established  »  Ten typical mistakes start-up freelance translators should avoid

Ten typical mistakes start-up freelance translators should avoid

By Nicole Y. Adams, M.A. | Published  03/25/2012 | Getting Established | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://www.proz.com/doc/3553
This article addresses typical mistakes start-up freelance translators tend to make. Here are some common blunders:
Ten typical mistakes start-up freelance translators should avoid
This article addresses typical mistakes start-up freelance translators tend to make. Here are some common blunders:

1. Specialising in everything: Jack of all trades, master of none. You don't want this to apply to you when you are starting your freelance career. It will look rather odd to prospective clients when they discover that you specialise in medical, technical, legal and home furnishings! Decide for yourself which field you are good at, try to get some relevant in-house experience under your belt, or complete an accredited course to demonstrate to clients that you know your stuff. Don't add ten subjects to your list of specialisations, because it will damage your credibility. And just because you once manned the supermarket till in your student days doesn't make you a financial expert!

2. Setting your rates too low: A frequent mistake new translators make is to charge too little. When I outsource assignments and receive applications from potential candidates, the first batch that will go straight into the bin is those with very low rates. This creates the impression that the translator is either lacking confidence in his/her capabilities (therefore the quality will probably be poor), is brand new to the industry and doesn't know what to charge, or has zero business skills – all of which are a no-go for most serious outsourcers (of course, we are not talking about the low-quality, low-rate bottom segment of the market here). So do your research, calculate what you need to earn to make a decent living, and then set appropriate rates that will allow you to be taken seriously as a professional translator.

3. Lack of marketing or networking skills: You think marketing is setting up a website, handing out a couple of business cards and then leaning back waiting for the work to flood in? Think again! In today's world, an ad in the Yellow Pages is no longer enough; you should be visible and help clients to find you. Join Twitter or Facebook, network with colleagues or clients, contribute to discussions and make a name for yourself. Start a blog and attend conferences, set up a Google Ads campaign, let an SEO expert review your website, join a professional association and attend business networking events in your city. The opportunities are seemingly endless – use them!

4. Failure to investigate clients before working with them: A new enquiry hits your inbox: 15,000 words from JohnDoe@coldmail.com of no fixed abode. His job is urgent so you apply a 25% rush surcharge, which he willingly accepts, and in all the excitement you forget to request full company and address details. But you sense a great opportunity to land your first large assignment, work all weekend and proudly deliver the translation just in time at 9.00 am on Monday morning, together with your invoice made out to his email address. Not surprisingly, you'll never hear from Mr Doe again. The first thing you should do when you get an enquiry from a new client is to make sure you have their full company and address details and preferably their website to check if it appears to be legitimate. Then check their credit history and – before accepting any orders – make sure you know how to claim your money in their country if they are based abroad and decide not to pay you.

5. Poor communication with clients: There is nothing worse for the client than uncertainty – will you deliver that crucial translation in time? Did you get their last email with the updated text? Can you open the file in the new format? Clients shouldn't have to worry about any of those things. They should know that they can rely on you 100%, so make sure you communicate with them. Confirm the receipt of client emails to acknowledge new information, drop them a quick line every once in a while to let them know that large project is going well, and respond to any email as quickly as you can. They will appreciate this peace of mind and you will become a trusted preferred supplier!

6. The inability to say 'no': New freelancers often don't know what they'd like to specialise in so they gladly accept each and every assignment that comes their way, just to gain experience. It can run the gamut of technical, fashion, hotel websites, etc. Although most of us were guilty of this when we first started out, this is a big mistake. If you're not 100% confident that you can translate a text well, don't accept it! If you specialise in marketing and a good client wants you to take on a translation of a contract but you are not a legal expert, decline it! It takes just one poor translation to damage your reputation and therefore your business. Don't risk it!

7. Forget to get references: When you first start out, word of mouth is your most effective marketing tool. So each time you complete a project, ask the client for feedback and permission to publish this feedback as a testimonial on your website, for example. Word of mouth usually generates a lot of business and can create a powerful (and positive) snowball effect.

8. Failure to diversify your income stream: You've hit the jackpot and have one good client that keeps you busy 24/7 and pays well? Great! But what if they go bankrupt tomorrow? Do you have other clients to keep your business afloat? You should never rely on just one or two clients to provide most of your income. This is a very risky strategy that is likely to backfire in the long term. Clients come and go, and as a result, you should never have more than 50% of your income coming from the same client. Expand your client base and diversify!

9. Failure to save money for your tax bill: You had a great first year and are satisfied with your income? Congratulations! To celebrate your success, you spent your well-deserved cash on that long-desired holiday to Hawaii and treated yourself to a new iPad. But did you remember to set aside enough for your first tax bill? In your first year of trading, tax is usually paid in arrears, so you may be required to pay a large lump sum after you file your first tax return. It is surprising how many businesses don't budget for this and fall at the very first hurdle.

10. Work too much: As tempting as it may be to work day and night, if the work is there, don't let your work/life balance suffer. Make sure you schedule in some time for relaxation and non-work-related activities each day, e.g. an exercise class or reading a book. Otherwise, you run the risk of burning out very quickly.


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