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How do you make a good first impression when bidding for a job?
Thread poster: Luiza McGibbon

Luiza McGibbon  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Oct 1, 2013

Hi everyone,

I've been on Proz for 10 months and I bid on jobs almost every day. I'd say I get a reply 5% of the time. So far, I have one very good client that gives me work every couple of months and I know they come to me when they need my language pair. I think one client in 10 months of bidding is good, but could be much better. I can't help to think that there's something wrong with my profile, my experience, maybe my price or the message I send out to bid for new work. I was wondering if some of you that are more experienced could enlighten me about this situation. Below is my bid to clients (I edit it accordingly, of course!):

Dear ...,

I am a Portuguese English Translator based in Durban, South Africa, native in Brazilian Portuguese and proficient in English. I specialize in literature and tourism translations and have 2 and a half years varied experience in book translation, marketing/advertising, law, corporate documents, academic documents, business proposals, environment/sustainability and commercial trade.

I am available to start immediately and can complete ±3500 words in a day.

I can offer a translation rate of USD 0.04 per word and a Proofreading rate of USD 0.02 per word. I accept payment to my South African bank account, or via PayPal.

I hope this is suitable and I look forward to hearing from you.

------

Thank you,

Luiza

[Edited at 2013-10-01 10:58 GMT]


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Agnes Lenkey  Identity Verified
German to Spanish
+ ...
Question about rates Oct 1, 2013

Hi Luiza,

In my humble opinion your rate is far below the acceptable minimum. Based on which calculations did you arrive to this amount? Did you really consider all the costs implied or do you do this as a secondary activity to have some extra income?

I would also be curious, how come that there is such a little difference between your rate for translation and the one for proofreading?

I know I raise more questions instead of giving you answers, but these are the ones which came to my mind after reading your post. Some translators say that if your rates are too low it may cause a bad impression on a future client, too. Anyway, for sure that the one good client you mention is happy that you can offer him this rate. Me, for example, I could not. My expenses and ROI are too high and I could not stay in the market, I would have to seek for another job...

Let’s see what others say about this.

Best regards,

Agnes


[Edited at 2013-10-01 11:35 GMT]


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Francisco Vare
Poland
Local time: 23:31
Polish to Spanish
+ ...
Agree Oct 1, 2013

Agnes Lenkey wrote:

Hi Luiza,

In my humble opinion your rate is far below the acceptable minimum. Based on which calculations did you arrive to this amount? Did you really consider all the costs implied or do you do this as a secondary activity to have some extra income?

I would also be curious, how come that there is such a little difference between your rate for translation and the one for proofreading?

I know I raise more questions instead of giving you answers, but these are the ones which came to my mind after reading your post. Some translators say that if your rates are too low it may cause a bad impression on a future client, too. Anyway, for sure that the one good client you mention is happy that you can offer him this rate. Me, for example, I could not. My expenses and ROI are too high and I could not stay in the market, I would have to seek for another job...

Let’s see what others say about this.

Best regards,

Agnes


[Edited at 2013-10-01 11:35 GMT]



I totally agree, the problem seems to be the low rate.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:31
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Agree with Agnes Oct 1, 2013

This was my first reaction also. The average rate for your language combination (for both of the services you offer) certainly has to be considerably higher.

It is therefore possible that prospective clients don't take you seriously because you don't properly value your services.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 18:31
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Free online machine translation may be taking your jobs Oct 1, 2013

Luiza,

We share the same language pair, though there is an ocean between us. In spite of no incentive whatsoever for Prozians to keep their posted rates updated, check the community rates here on Proz, under the menu item "Tools". For our pair, EN-PT, it says minimum 8¢/word, average 11¢/word.

Then check my article, specifically item #4, and apply these figures there.

Paraphrasing, if your translation is too cheap to be any good, it probably is. You'll have a hard time proving that it's good, in spite of the low price, hence prospects prefer not to take chances with you.


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Alain Chuba
Germany
Local time: 23:31
Member (2016)
English to French
+ ...
Low rate Oct 1, 2013

Luiza, I agree to all assertions here that your rates are too low. Anyway, keep on trying.
I tried here too for so long until I found this page: translationshome.com . I had a very good contract there of late.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 23:31
English to Polish
+ ...
... Oct 1, 2013

Hi, Luiza. Yes, the rate may be the core of the problem, but that low response rate you speak about is not anbnormal in this 'industry', either. Basically, you need to be prepared to respond whenever opportunity comes your way on its own, that being an agency that needs to assign a project (which is not always a small one) or looking for translators in a pair that matters.

Otherwise, when it's you initiating the talks you won't really have a huge response. Look at my profile – I sometimes don't even get a: 'thank you, we got your mail,' from agencies that actually specialise in legal translation. It just happens. They basically write to you when they need you, minus a bunch of folks who are just polite or forward-looking or unrealistic about their own impact on the market.

Anyway, you do need to spend some quality time with your profile. Get yourself a website and a blog, I guess, my intuition is that having one would suit you (you don't have to be an extrovert talking about your private reflections really, it's possible to write about normal things).

Perhaps try to team up with an established translator. That kinda seems to be the best way to start. There are some benefits for the mentor in that, such as having a trusted hand to help with the turnover, not cause any unpleasant surprises or bicker about corrections.

And from what José said:

You'll have a hard time proving that it's good, in spite of the low price, hence prospects prefer not to take chances with you.


Yup. It's hard to have good rates when you're new, but not that awfully hard, actually. I quoted ~$0.08 per word on my first ever professional translation in Feb 2009 and got it... In a country in which the minimum wage was like ~$400 per month. That it took me years to get paid that much again is not something I need to mention in publ... oh wait.

Let me know if you'd like some links to help you think what you'd like to include your presentation here or anywhere. Actually, the links are there in a short article I wrote:

http://www.proz.com/doc/3832

The article is of less consequence than the links in it.

Just about typographical presentation I also wrote an article a while ago:

http://www.proz.com/translation-articles/articles/3854/

In any case, zoom in on Marta (you can e-mail her, she doesn't bite):

http://wantwords.co.uk/school/


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Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:31
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Constructive criticism Oct 1, 2013

This is what I would think if I were a client and had received your message:

1) This person is potentially not serious about offering good quality since she is offering services in her native language and in a language she claims only to be "proficient" in, whereas we are used to professional translators only translating into their native language.

2) This person is "available to start immediately". However, she doesn't know when we will reply. Is she really always available? Maybe she is no good/unpopular.

3) This person is potentially not a careful writer (in English) "years experience" instead of "years' experience". If you claim to translate into English, you may get exposed to this kind of criticism.

4) This person claims to be able to complete more or less 3,500 words in a day but surely that depends on the subject matter?

5) The rate offered by this person is only slightly more than nothing. Perhaps she uses google translate to justify charging so little.



I would advise the following:

1) Only offer translation into your native language, or provide a convincing justification as to why you translate in both directions. Usually a client's expectations are that translators only translate into their native language so you have to work a little harder at convincing people you are truly bilingual (if you truly are).

2) Hint at your availability being limited or don't mention it at all

3) Explain that you would like to have a look at the document to give a reasonable estimate of the time it could take you to translate it

4) Give your rates a serious re-think. At the rates you have stated, you will only obtain bottom-feeder clients and serious clients will no doubt steer well clear because of our human perception that money buys you quality and peanuts buy you monkeys (please don't think I'm calling you a monkey though)

I'm also thinking that perhaps you don't have to mention your location. It doesn't really matter at this stage where you are located (unless the work requires your presence in some way). I just can't help feeling that scam e-mails usually start off with "I am in Switzerland at the moment" or "I am travelling to Australia/Lebanon/Ghana etc." so you may put people off by association, certainly with all the scam e-mails and identity theft going on.

You could just say "I accept both bank transfers and paypal".

You could also tailor your text to the job in question. You seem to specialize in plenty of subjects but perhaps a client who needs a poem translated doesn't need to know that you also translate law. You could risk looking like a Jack of all trades (Master of none). I would give specific examples of the kind of work completed in the past that is similar to the job in question.

I hope that doesn't sound too harsh. I certainly didn't mean it to.
Good luck!


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Sarai Pahla (MD) MBChB
Germany
Local time: 23:31
Member (2012)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Agreed Oct 1, 2013

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:

I'm also thinking that perhaps you don't have to mention your location. It doesn't really matter at this stage where you are located (unless the work requires your presence in some way).


Aside from all the other excellent advice mentioned here, I think this point stands out the most to me, being that I am also based in South Africa (but moving to Germany on Thursday - yooohooo!)

Potential clients do sometimes judge you by your location, so let them find out from the fine-print in your CV rather than advertising it. It's probably not the biggest factor, but I can tell you that potential clients and agencies have commented on my rates being "far too high for where I live". I have a sneaky suspicion that will change dramatically shortly after I have moved.

If you're working as a full-time freelancer (don't know if you are the breadwinner or not, as that also makes a difference), you'll be working long hours to make a good monthly salary at those rates and you know that our cost of living here is about midway between that in Northern Europe and Eastern Europe (no offence intended but I've asked around and even I was surprised at the average salaries in some countries...) - don't sell yourself short. You've got experience, you're not a beginner - charge accordingly.

The other thing that really needs to be pointed out is that you should be looking further afield than just bidding on ProZ - think of potential clients and approach them directly via the Internet. You might get a few leads. Although some people here suggest you might be losing work because your rates are too low, I think ProZ has become the place where low bidders get the most work, so chances are your rates might not be low enough for some companies here Spend time hunting down agencies around the world that you would like to work with if you're not comfortable with direct clients yet, but go out and find people, and as Łukasz said, make it easy for people to find you directly - this makes a huge difference.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:31
Hebrew to English
Ditto Oct 1, 2013

Sarai Pahla wrote:
The other thing that really needs to be pointed out is that you should be looking further afield than just bidding on ProZ


You read my mind.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:31
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Comments on ProZ.com profile Oct 1, 2013

I agree with others here but just have a couple of things to add.

It seems that you do aim to earn a viable amount per hour - your profile says 30-35 USD. It's just the per-word rate that gives the impression that you don't value your own work. Bear in mind that if you are one of the few lucky translators able to churn out polished translations at a fast rate then you can afford to work fewer hours for the same income.

Your profile also says you've been speaking English since 2005, but you're a native speaker. All in all, you're giving a highly confusing message there. Your profile is mega-important here and you have to make sure you are sending a 100% positive and consistent message.

For more success in finding jobs here (not that your 5% record is actually too bad for public job posts), you need to visit http://www.proz.com/guidance-center and follow all the good advice there. You are already doing some things right, but there's a lot more you could do to encourage clients to contact you: the way most of the better jobs are allocated.


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Chiara Deaglio
Local time: 23:31
English to Italian
+ ...
Rates and chances to get work Oct 1, 2013

You are not a beginner (you "have 2 and a half years varied experience..."), you have a ProZ full membership so you are likely to know how things are likely to work, these days.

In my opinion, and in spite of what other colleagues have said about your rates per word, you are likely to get less work if you increase your rates.

Bottom feeders or not, there is no such thing as a rate "far below the acceptable minimum".

Let's not be hypocritical. Usually the market goes this way: the lower the prices, the more job you get, and not the other way round.

If your current rates are high enough to get you a decent living, this is a matter that you, and you only, can decide based on your personal situation.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 23:31
English to Polish
+ ...
... Oct 1, 2013

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:

1) This person is potentially not serious about offering good quality since she is offering services in her native language and in a language she claims only to be "proficient" in, whereas we are used to professional translators only translating into their native language.


Or rather claiming that in public. It's a little different in the backstage.

3) This person is potentially not a careful writer (in English) "years experience" instead of "years' experience". If you claim to translate into English, you may get exposed to this kind of criticism.


That's actually vaguely correct in American English. Unlike traditionally across the pond, in American you can use plural nouns in forming compound nouns and you can skip hyphens when using multiple words to form a single adjective (few among the living still cling to those hyphens anyway, no matter where they are from). The result sometimes looks like an AWOL Saxon genitive. In reality, though, it's closer to those 'another England victory' headlines you you can see in sports papers all the time.

... Except when you're a non-native speaker, the default interpretation is kinda always gonna be one that results in alleged errors on your part when multiple explanations are possible.

4) This person claims to be able to complete more or less 3,500 words in a day but surely that depends on the subject matter?


A fast-thinking fast-typing rookie can do that. I remember doing 10K words a day and more in my very first months. I was lucky enough to have been tagged along by a more senior colleague and his high-yield outsourcer who provided the second line of QA, so the production chain might actually have been more compliant than in most cases. Oh, and it was very much not into my native language.

I got most of my early jobs because I could translate in the 'wrong' direction reliably. There actually exist native speakers of English who know some Polish, but the difference between surviving in a bar and translating from the language is quite noticeable (to the point we generally don't trust non-native translation from Polish), and you'd also need that person to be a good writer and reasonably strict grammarian in English, actually, which is rare enough these days.

Things may be different in FREN, but

This said:

Usually a client's expectations are that translators only translate into their native language so you have to work a little harder at convincing people you are truly bilingual (if you truly are).


That's true, unfortunately.

2) Hint at your availability being limited or don't mention it at all


I agree. Don't mention being available, they'll readily conclude that you aren't exactly torn by competing requests. In which case they'd actually be willing to pay much higher rates just to get you. Like, 50% more or even more than that.

3) Explain that you would like to have a look at the document to give a reasonable estimate of the time it could take you to translate it


The magical phrases are: 'on a case-by-case basis' and 'after a careful review of your document'.

You could just say "I accept both bank transfers and paypal".


Or use something like 'PayPal accepted'. Some people really care about being able to pay via PayPal.

You could also tailor your text to the job in question. You seem to specialize in plenty of subjects but perhaps a client who needs a poem translated doesn't need to know that you also translate law. You could risk looking like a Jack of all trades (Master of none). I would give specific examples of the kind of work completed in the past that is similar to the job in question.


Speaking of which, there's that nice little field in your profile where you can include as many samples of your work as you want. Get some good ones. No more than two or three. (Yes, I know how many I have in mine, thank you.)

Chiara Deaglio wrote:

You are not a beginner (you "have 2 and a half years varied experience..."), you have a ProZ full membership so you are likely to know how things are likely to work, these days.

In my opinion, and in spite of what other colleagues have said about your rates per word, you are likely to get less work if you increase your rates.

Bottom feeders or not, there is no such thing as a rate "far below the acceptable minimum".


Four to six cents may seem far below the acceptable minimum to people who appreciate quality (and can tell it) and have money to spend, but in the sad reality of the trenches six cents is more like the going rate, unfortunately.

[Edited at 2013-10-01 15:11 GMT]

Sheila Wilson wrote:

I agree with others here but just have a couple of things to add.

It seems that you do aim to earn a viable amount per hour - your profile says 30-35 USD. It's just the per-word rate that gives the impression that you don't value your own work. Bear in mind that if you are one of the few lucky translators able to churn out polished translations at a fast rate then you can afford to work fewer hours for the same income.


Yeah, you don't need to let people know you're fast. That can work against you in negotiating rates.

Your profile also says you've been speaking English since 2005, but you're a native speaker. All in all, you're giving a highly confusing message there. Your profile is mega-important here and you have to make sure you are sending a 100% positive and consistent message.


I suppose passports and nationalities play some role there, given the OP's surname. Well, I guess having some ties of that kind can put a thumb on the scale, but, unless English is some kind of lost language of your childhood you regained around 2005, I really wouldn't claim it as your native language. Simply living for a couple of years in a country where it's an official language spoken by a large share of the populace (whether fully natively or not is a different question) won't do that to you unless you have a really exceptional affinity with languages. Native-like is perhaps a somewhat controversial proficiency level that could be claimed on such a basis (ideally taking more than 8 years to acquire, though), but being 'native' is not really a matter of proficiency.

[Edited at 2013-10-01 15:23 GMT]


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Sarai Pahla (MD) MBChB
Germany
Local time: 23:31
Member (2012)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Jeepers! Oct 1, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:
Four to six cents may seem far below the acceptable minimum to people who appreciate quality (and can tell it) and have money to spend, but in the sad reality of the trenches six cents is more like the going rate, unfortunately.


I agree with most of your other points, but this one... not at all. I mean, language pair and area of specialisation play a role (and of course personal preference - I mean if you're happy at 0.04 - 0.06 USD per word, who am I to force you to raise your rates) but I know that I (and several others like me) consider those rates to be too low to sustain our standard of living. I think it's important to know that there are ways and means of increasing your rates and still getting lots of work - there's no need to paint such a dismal picture.

PS. I've been in the industry for just under 3 years, living in the same country as the poster and earn more than double those rates. It is certainly possible.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 23:31
English to Polish
+ ...
... Oct 1, 2013

Sarai Pahla wrote:

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:
Four to six cents may seem far below the acceptable minimum to people who appreciate quality (and can tell it) and have money to spend, but in the sad reality of the trenches six cents is more like the going rate, unfortunately.


I agree with most of your other points, but this one... not at all. I mean, language pair and area of specialisation play a role (and of course personal preference - I mean if you're happy at 0.04 - 0.06 USD per word, who am I to force you to raise your rates) but I know that I (and several others like me) consider those rates to be too low to sustain our standard of living. I think it's important to know that there are ways and means of increasing your rates and still getting lots of work - there's no need to paint such a dismal picture.


Where you live plays a role in what rates you are offered and what rates are accepted when you name the numbers. Agencies try to pay less to LatAm Spanish speakers than someone living in Spain, for example. It's not that hard to google up Poland's average or minimum wage, either, or find out what kind of rates are offered by Polish agencies. When they know what things look like in your backyard, they aren't going to be particularly open-handed (although I distinctly recall two western agencies accepting $0.12/€0.10 outright). Not to mention that six cents a word is far from non-existent in the internal US market anyway.

On the other hand, it matters where the agency is located, too. Plenty of them are based in Asian markets, where costs of living are cheaper, providing translation services to and from all languages in the world. They probably pay western rates to some translators if they have to, but I wouldn't count on much more than a nickel.

Now, if both of you are located in a first-world country or at least your pair isn't associated with a cheap market, then you may end up getting offered some quite decent rates instead of the usual peanuts that are passed around in what seems to be most of the market.

Having direct clients also plays a role – good for you when you have them. For example, in the UK, having a good direct client allows you to charge like three times what's a respectable rate to get from an agency. In Poland... not so much, though an ~80% difference does exist. It probably depends on some societal factors such as whatever degree of prestige and respect translation enjoys or translators enjoy in the particular society, which varies from place to place and tends to be less than homogenous in any given place anyway.

When it comes to the offers I get, the more serious ones are indeed around 6 cents, though I could probably get them higher if I wanted to cut a deal, and in some cases 8-12 will be accepted without mentioning that at such a high rate there isn't going to be much flow. There are still 3-4-cent offers, though I don't even bother to reply most of the time. But I've never, ever, seen more than a dozen cents a word.

I probably shouldn't be mentioning this in public, but I don't really care. When I've got enough of this 'industry', I can always go back to legal practice.

PS. I've been in the industry for just under 3 years, living in the same country as the poster and earn more than double those rates. It is certainly possible.


Well, guessing at South Africa's translation prices was a bit hard, admittedly. Do you mean individual large, industrial, corporate clients or the more general agency-driven market that's a bit of everything down to serving individuals and their needs?

[Edited at 2013-10-01 16:07 GMT]


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