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My diversified client portfolio dried up!
Thread poster: Tom in London

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:06
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Feb 12, 2016

Until about six months ago, I thought I had done the right thing by diversifying my core portfolio so that I had about six or seven regular agencies who were satisfied with the quality of my work, happy to pay my rate, and would give me jobs on a regular basis. In addition, there were the other occasional jobs.

But then something strange happened: my diversified portfolio dried up! I didn't do anything wrong; the quality of my work didn't fall off, and I didn't increase my rates. So I can only conclude that those six or seven agencies just don't have any more work of the appropriate type to give me.

Now I find myself, once again, working to re-diversify my portfolio so that I'm back to where I was before, with a new core portfolio similar to the one I had before.

I would be interested to know if this has ever happened to colleagues.

[Edited at 2016-02-12 09:41 GMT]


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Domenico Trimboli  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:06
English to Italian
Yes Feb 12, 2016

Until March 2015 my three main clients were:

An Irish agency - end client was a huge IT brand
An Israeli agency - end client was one of the main companies in a niche field
A UK-based agency - end client was again in IT, again a very popular brand, and I was doing transcreation projects

They were based in three different countries, operated in different fields, were sending payment in three different currencies. Together, they accounted for 40-50% of my income.

In April, I stopped receiving projects from agency three: the end-client decided that Italy was no longer one of their main markets, and that certain projects had to be completed in-house.
In July, the end-client for which I were working with agency two merged with another (bigger) company. Since then, I've not received any projects from them.
In September I moved to a different country. Agency one prefers in-country translators, and I am currently at 10-20% of what used to be the average monthly workload.

So yes. I didn't do anything wrong, never received any negative feedback or had any problems with these clients. The circumstances were just beyond their control and mine. In fact, agency three later came back and we're now working together with a different client.

Still... when this happened I was working at full rate, and had no time left to market my services... Over the past few months I did a lot of marketing, and I have now almost entirely replaced them with other, better-paying clients.


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Anna Sarah Krämer Fazendeiro
Germany
Local time: 08:06
Member (2011)
English to German
+ ...
Too many? Feb 12, 2016

Although I keep reading in these forums and elsewhere that it is absolutely essential to keep a "diversified portfolio", I find it difficult to work for more than 3 or 4 clients at same time (well, not working on projects for all of them at same time, but I guess you know what I mean...).

If they like your work, they want to give as many jobs as possible to you, especially when they consider you the main translator for certain end clients. If they find someone as good as you who accepts the whole amount of jobs for a certain end client instead of just a job here and there, they will go with that person, to ensure consistency.

Having just a few regular clients can also lead to some days with less work, and large, anonymous agencies with enormous workloads and fifty non-personal job offers per day are perfect to fill the gaps between a few main clients.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:06
Member (2008)
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Good to know Feb 12, 2016

Domenico Trimboli wrote:

Over the past few months I did a lot of marketing, and I have now almost entirely replaced them with other, better-paying clients.


That's good to know. What kind of marketing did you do?


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:06
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Bad luck, Tom Feb 12, 2016

That's probably all it is, if nothing else has changed. But they aren't actually ex-clients by the sound of it - just sleeping ones. I bet they all come awake at the same time and flood you with work. The old "feast or famine" problem of any freelance profession.

I've been worrying a bit myself since the turn of the year, particularly as I had some extra admin overheads start up then. There seems to have been a lull in my area of work, or maybe it just hasn't been coming my way. Things have been ticking over but I was beginning to imagine a fuse connected to the clock. I've certainly got too many eggs in one basket at the moment, that I do know. But I've had a couple of clients return and a new one has appeared on the scene just these last two days. If only they'd get themselves arranged into an orderly queue!

Hopefully you'll be cursing the lot of them this time next month when they all want a bit of your weekend.


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Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:06
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
Been there Feb 12, 2016

I was in this same sort of situation a few years ago, work dropped off, several once good agencies dropped their rates, started editing MT or working for the big boys, so I dropped them or they just stopped contacting me because of the difference in rates. I started working as a kitesurf instructor again, which was fun, and the two jobs worked quite well together.

Now things have picked up again and I'm once more in the position where I can quite regularly say "no" to requests because I'm busy. I've been able to increase my rates and most of my work is for faster/higher paying European clients outside Spain and Italy.

I think you should contact your clients to find out why work has dropped off because in some cases you might be able to sort things out.

Also consider getting a cat. I used to hate em (not the purring kind) but if used properly they are great for consistency in terminology, can speed up things considerably, and a lot of work is now offered only in this format so if you ain't got a hub puller you ain't gonna get much hub pullin' work. This is especially true for tech jobs.

Also a team can mean big juicy jobs that would otherwise be impossible to do in the required time, and after setting it up with other good translators it gives you an excuse to contact your clients to offer something new and remind them you're still alive and kicking.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:06
Member (2008)
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Miao Feb 12, 2016

Jo Macdonald wrote:

Also consider getting a cat.


I got one recently. It appeared miaoing at my door. It is now attempting to sit on my spacebar.

In accordance with Proz rule 376,576,687 this discussion can now wander off-topic.

________

seriously though: during various past lulls I have had a go at CAT tools and hated them all. As a Mac user I expect everything to just work intuitively the way I expect it to, but all of these CAT tools required me to embark on some sort of learning curve, which I refuse to do. Then I worked out, with the aid of some intelligent posters in these forums, that CAT tools are simply a way for you to spend a lot of money so that agencies can pay you less and get hold of all your TMs for nothing.

I don't do that.

I'll comfort myself instead with Sheila's excellent advice.


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Andrea Garfield-Barkworth  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:06
Member (2015)
German to English
Yes and no. Feb 12, 2016

I experienced something similar at the start of last year. It was extremely worrying so I racked up my marketing efforts here on Proz as well as in other areas, designed my own website and started doing more networking.

The result: I was flooded with offers and nearly drowned in my efforts not to let anybody down. I didn't want to turn new clients down with their initial requests and also didn't want to upset old clients in the process. So I basically decided I would only do work if it paid particularly well and was in an area I was most comfortable with, turning down subject matters that are trickier and take longer to complete. In essence, not diversifying but consolidating.

It has not been any easy ride as negotiations are not my strong point but this gets easier over time.

I sometimes think it is all just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

I wish you luck.


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EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:06
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
Not diversified enough? Feb 12, 2016

If I only had 7 clients and all of them agencies, I would be very nervous indeed! You also appear to translate only one language pair, which is a very fragile position. I have about 50 clients in my "active" DB, thereof 20 for whom I have actually worked since the beginning of this year. I think you should diversify much more.

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Serena Basili  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 08:06
English to Italian
+ ...
Yes (but my experience is quite limited) Feb 12, 2016

One of my best clients - a company - suddenly stopped sending me work for 3 or 4 months, and I was worried about having done something wrong or that they no longer had Italian in the languages offered. Since the beginning of this year, however, their PMs have sent me more than 5-6 email for various projects in less than a week.

I just guess it is a matter of workflow and, since Italy is not so economically stable and foreign companies do not want to invest in here due to the ambiguity and/or lack of laws and total absence of industrial plans, this might reflect in how much Italian is involved in translating.

Good luck Tom! (and to everyone here )

[Edited at 2016-02-12 11:30 GMT]


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Anna Sarah Krämer Fazendeiro
Germany
Local time: 08:06
Member (2011)
English to German
+ ...
I have to agree with Jo Macdonald - you need more CATs Feb 12, 2016

Tom in London wrote:

I have had a go at CAT tools and hated them all.


An example from the world of agriculture: I was trying to find a job as a farm worker. I prefer to dig fields by hand, because tractors and machines have a steep learning curve. They are not intuitive and I refuse to work with them. Recently, it has been more and more difficult to find jobs.

In the world of translation, we have not yet reached this point. I am sure there are (very) few agencies and many direct clients who do not care whether you use a cat or a dog. But as soon as existing TMs or extensive glossaries must be used, or certain fixed procedures are adopted by an agency, things become very difficult without CAT.

Earlier or later you will have to ask yourself whether the drying up is not really the result of too many years of untreated CAT allergy...

[Edited at 2016-02-12 11:33 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:06
Member (2008)
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Mother tongue Feb 12, 2016

EvaVer wrote:

If I only had 7 clients and all of them agencies, I would be very nervous indeed!


Well, I'm glad it isn't you. As for me: I'm not the nervous type.

You also appear to translate only one language pair


I only translate into my mother tongue. Don't you?

thereof 20 for whom


?

I think you should diversify much more


That's what I'm trying to do.


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DJHartmann  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Slow start to 2016 Feb 12, 2016

Also slow for me, I sent close to 200 emails over the past week trying to reconnect with old clients and provide an update. Did exactly the same thing February last year after panicking about losing income and they all came rushing back at once!

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:06
Member (2008)
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Cats Feb 12, 2016

Anna Sarah Krämer Fazendeiro wrote:

ask yourself whether the drying up is not really the result of too many years of untreated CAT allergy...


Not for the kind of translations in which I specialise, e.g.

- academic papers on matters relating to urban and territorial planning
- construction and plant analytical reports on the condition of existing buildings/the advisability of purchasing them etc.
- building test reports
- specialist architecture/product design/interiors magazine articles written in a creative style and aimed at an upmarket readership
- etc.

I simply DO NOT WANT to do the kind of translating work that can be done with CAT tools. Those are boring, uninteresting, repetitive, mechanical documents. I'd rather watch paint dry than spend my life doing that type of translation. I'm not so desperate for work that I'd be willing to invest time and money in CAT tools, to make my life boring ! Sometimes I do accept those jobs when they come from regular clients, but they're never welcome and I hate doing them.

I'm perfectly happy to do fewer jobs, but at a better rate and with plenty of time to devote to making elegant, polished, intelligent text that flows.

I am beginning to suspect that most of the translators here on Proz live on Planet CAT where translating is just a mechanical process offering little or no intellectual/cultural stimulus. The solution to every problem always seems to be "use a CAT tool". But my aim in life is to do work that's interesting.

So in seeking new ways to diversify I'm not going to start competing with everyone else by getting the same CAT tool and joining the crowd. I'm going to be more different and more specialised, not more the same as everyone else ! That's what has always worked for me and that's why clients seek me out - when they have something *special* to translate.

Thanks anyway to those whose advice is "get a CAT tool". Your advice is useful because it helps me to clarify my own ideas. But thanks especially to others like Serena, Domenico, Sheila etc. for your more nuanced thoughts.

[Edited at 2016-02-12 11:52 GMT]


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:06
German to English
direct clients? Feb 12, 2016

I have not had any significant (i. e., disturbing instead of pleasant) lulls since then, but the first couple years I was working as a translator basically consisted of an extended lull interrupted by occasional periods of work.

The only marketing I ever really did consisted of (1) searching Google for tranlation plus my subject field and languages and then writing to two specialized agencies and a couple of specialized translators who translate into my source language and (2) non-aggressively informing everyone I knew (I got my MA at a German university) that I was translating.
I got no response from one agency and earned between seven and eight thousand euros with the other agency over a period of several years.
One of the translator colleagues actively recommended me when his clients asked for translations from German into English. I don't really have any good way to figure out, but I would guess that led directly to projects adding up to a five-figure sum (which is still expanding to this day). The same is true of the people I know from my art history MA.
Indirectly those contacts then led to the vast majority of the clients and one-off projects that I have today.
It took several years for all of that to build up to a scope that was adequate to keep me consistently busy, but now it basically takes care of itself (my SEO-optimized website also helps some).
That is also the problem with agency clients: however good they are, they seem extremely unlikely to lead to new clients coming in, there is little or no "word of mouth".

You are a perfectionist with an advanced degree and extensive professional experience in the field of architecture, you are fluent in your source language and you presumably still have a large number of professionally relevant contacts in Italy. It doesn't get any better than that.


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