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Finding More Work
Thread poster: forevergrateful
Sep 20, 2015

Hi everyone,

I have been working as a freelance translator for around five years. I first started working on freelance platforms like Upwork (formerly oDesk) and then found an agency for which I have been working full-time until early this year. During this time, I translated 3 books (featuring my name as the translator), websites, user manuals, brochures, employee guides, medical reports, government reports...etc.

My clients like my work and I like working as a translator, but the problem is translation jobs are scarce and compensation is dismal, especially in my pair (English to Arabic). I was therefore considering completing my profile on Proz.com. I haven't completed my profile because I have been reading very discouraging things about freelance translation opportunities on Proz.com. I always read that after submitting 200+ emails to agencies, translators receive very few replies or none at all! I also read that bidding on translation projects posted on the site is not worthwhile due to low compensation.

If things are this bad, shouldn't one consider a career change?

Some people suggest answering Kudoz questions, but I always wonder how new comers stand any chance in comparison to 'veterans' who have been earning Kudoz points for years and years. The playing field is simply not level in my opinion.

The other option is trying to find direct clients online. I tried to find clients by doing some keyword research and it seems that most translation keyword searches related to my language pair are not done by customers seeking freelance translators.

In your opinion/experience, is it possible to find direct clients online by using SEO, PPC and/or other internet marketing techniques? If yes, what is the best way to do so?


 

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 01:24
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
The weaker plays games Sep 20, 2015

forevergrateful wrote:

Some people suggest answering Kudoz questions, but I always wonder how new comers stand any chance in comparison to 'veterans' who have been earning Kudoz points for years and years. The playing field is simply not level in my opinion.



In my opinion, Kudoz is a weird place: the weaker (question asking side) evaluates and gives score to the stronger (question replying side).
I earned Kudoz scores but now I find it not attractive for professional translators.

Soonthon L.


 

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 20:24
Member
Italian to English
A few thoughts Sep 20, 2015

Hello forevergrateful and welcome to ProZ.

forevergrateful wrote:

I was therefore considering completing my profile on Proz.com. I haven't completed my profile because I have been reading very discouraging things about freelance translation opportunities on Proz.com.


Getting jobs through the site is not the only reason to complete your profile. I've been on the site for over ten years, but the number of jobs I have landed through the site has been minimal, mainly for the reasons you mention! I think landing jobs is partly a cultural issue - here in Italy it works very much on a word-of-mouth basis - people who like your work recommend you to others, or recommend you because they know you translate.

I would encourage you to complete your profile, but I would not expect to get well-paying jobs here, or if you do it is a plus! Not saying they don't exist, just that they are generally few and far between.

Remember too that your profile is a place where you can showcase your skills and experience, and you can provide people with a link to allow them to see what you can do.

forevergrateful wrote:

I always read that after submitting 200+ emails to agencies, translators receive very few replies or none at all!


In my experience, people do not know how to conduct an effective job search by email. If you attach your CV, chances are it will be automatically binned due to the fear of viruses. Therefore you should always put your CV in the body of the message; alternatively, I would recommend contacting agencies, telling them about your skills are asking if they would like to receive a copy. Or you make it available for download on a site like Proz here. Another phenomenon is mailing lists, containing dozens of agency addresses, but any job search needs to be tailored - you need to ascertain that a certain agency is looking for translators in your language pair and areas of specialisation. And all of this takes time that few people are willing to spend.

The key to translation success is specialisation, and delivering quality work. Mediocre generalists are ten a penny - to stand out and be sought after, you need to find a subject area and specialise in it.

forevergrateful wrote:

In your opinion/experience, is it possible to find direct clients online by using SEO, PPC and/or other internet marketing techniques? If yes, what is the best way to do so?


I don't know much about SEO or PPC. What I do know is that many translators are successful because they build a strong presence online, through blogging, contributing to discussions on sites such as LinkedIn, and generally giving back to the community.

[Edited at 2015-09-20 14:03 GMT]


 

ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 21:24
Member (2007)
Turkish to English
+ ...
A Few Ideas Sep 20, 2015

I highly recommend that you complete your ProZ profile. First, it is a good practice, and second, it makes it easier for you to get a job. As you know, ProZ profiles are searchable online, and this will give you an edge. I probably find more jobs through clients contacting me via e-mail than applying to jobs at ProZ.

Another popular job site for freelancers is GURU.com I also recommend that you complete a translator profile there. I have a profile at Guru but I do not actively use it anymore. It is still worth trying. ProZ is specifically for translators whereas Guru is for freelancers in general. As far as I know, both are leaders in their fields.

I do not know whether I am old fashioned but I still attach my CV/resume rather than copying it to the body of my message. I think Microsoft Word formatting makes it look more professional as opposed to plain text. Maybe Fiona is right in that they do not even attempt to open it due to the fear of a virus.

Let me reiterate that the more complete/professional your ProZ profile is, the more chances you have in finding jobs. In other words, you are only as good as your ProZ profile because clients look at your profile first. This is my opinion, anyhow. Good luck!


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:24
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Are you comparing with oDesk? Sep 20, 2015

My experience with several of the general freelancing sites, including that one, is that average rates are far lower than here. In fact, ProZ.com caters for two distinct populations, with some overlap:
- The public job board contains a high percentage of peanut rates, often coupled with tight deadlines and hoops to jump through. These are really aimed at hobby "translators" who speak two languages (the unemployed, bored retirees, parents and other carers tied to the house, full-time workers fitting jobs in at the weekend...). The exceptions make the job board worth an occasional glance.
- But direct clients and good agencies more often search the directory and then PM one or more translators whose profile interests them. These client normally request our terms, and they're looking for proper professionals.

Can a client find you own website? Very, very unlikely. Although if you leave your business card in places they might see it then they might use the link to it. Can a client find ProZ.com? Very easily! So if you can make your profile easy to find once they land here, you're going to be in with a chance. But that involves a strong profile, paid membership, KudoZ points in your specialisations, etc.

BTW What makes you think demand for your pair is scarce? I don't know it, but I somehow doubt that claim.

PS a freelancer working fulltime for one client is (a) illegal in many jurisdictions, as your "client" is really an employer and should be acting as one, and (b) incredibly risky. One change of mind and you get no further income, and if the client goes bankrupt not only do you lose future income but you won't get paid anything for the final month(s) of work done. You should have a good handful of main clients and at least a dozen occasional ones.


 

Abdelhalim Zeid  Identity Verified
Egypt
Local time: 20:24
Member (2010)
English to Arabic
+ ...
It is very slow Oct 14, 2015

Hi,

I am working in the same language pair. I have been very busy in the past years, specially the first half of this year and starting from July this year, things have become very slow, really slow. I have not been bidding on job posted here for sometime. However, in the past three months, I have started hunting again here but I was very disappointed really. It is either you never hear back from the client, even if you experience fit perfectly or they offer very, very low rates. I was a writer before I make the shift to translation. I am really considering to publish a book very soon, maybe it can help! I also think of adding more language pair, it is not never late to add another language. So, I started learning German. After 18 months, things might be different with job hunting, publishing a book, learning a new language -that I really love-. I think it is too late to change my career, so I will try to "add" another career that I am really clever in and add one more language pair. Do not give up! It is slow, very slow but you will find your way. Keep up!


 

Richard Foulkes  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:24
German to English
+ ...
Great point! Oct 14, 2015

[/quote]

In my opinion, Kudoz is a weird place: the weaker (question asking side) evaluates and gives score to the stronger (question replying side).
I earned Kudoz scores but now I find it not attractive for professional translators.

Soonthon L. [/quote]

If the asker doesn't know the term, how do they know how good the answer is?! Can't believe I haven't seen this point made before.

OP: My suggestions would be either to specialise to make yourself a more attractive translator or find another source of income, possibly from another freelance vocation, so you aren't solely dependent on translation to pay the bills.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:24
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I think that's a weird view of KudoZ Oct 14, 2015

Richard Foulkes wrote:
Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.) wrote:
In my opinion, Kudoz is a weird place: the weaker (question asking side) evaluates and gives score to the stronger (question replying side).
I earned Kudoz scores but now I find it not attractive for professional translators.
Soonthon L.

If the asker doesn't know the term, how do they know how good the answer is?! Can't believe I haven't seen this point made before.

You're assuming that the Asker has no idea that such a term existed and can't possibly do their own research once the term has been suggested to them as a suitable one for their context. Okay, some of the askers here really don't know much about what they're doing; they've accepted work that is way too difficult for themicon_rolleyes.gif. But surely it's still the case that the majority of questions are raised by professional translators who are having difficulty with one word or a short expression in an otherwise understandable text. They can surely have a very good idea of how good an answer is.

@Asker: It appears from your own questions on KudoZ that you're very much a generalist, accepting translations in any field, presumably avoiding the highly technical ones. KudoZ (and the site itself in many ways) is designed more for the specialists among us. After all, if you stick to general subjects, or the more general areas of law, medicine, engineering etc, then having a layman's grasp of the terminology in two languages should be almost sufficient. Also, agencies won't pay top dollar because "it's easy". It's when you start specialising in particular subject areas that you come across terms that aren't easily tracked down. For someone who specialises in just two or three areas, it's the KudoZ points gained in those particular areas that are really important here. They are what determines your position in the directory when a client comes searching for a subject specialist.

As an example, I searched for a translator specialising in Aerospace, English to Arabic being their top or only pair, an Arabic native speaker. Top of the list translator has 54 KudoZ points in that subject area, 2nd had just 12, so did 3rd. Interestingly, that 3rd one has 739 points in EN>AR; 4th place has 3124 in the pair but only 4 in the specialisation, so . I hasten to say that my search selected 26 paying members, all of whom will appear above the top non-payer, who has 8 points. What this boils down to is:
- get yourself awarded 16 points (often that's for as little as four accepted answers) in Aerospace and you'll be top in the non-paying users section and 27th overall
- buy membership (no KudoZ points) and you'll be placed somewhere between 13th (on page one!) and 27th. (Placing depends on various other criteria for those with equal points.)
- buy membership AND get 16 points in Aerospace and you'll jump to N° 2 in the directory!!! That might well find you receiving messages from serious clients!

If you want to find clients here then you really need to spend some time in the Site Guidance Centre area of the site. There are very many things you can do to improve your chances of reasonable work here (and elsewhere). Doing nothing but sending CVs and responding to public job posts is really not a viable option for a serious full-time freelance translator.


 

Richard Foulkes  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:24
German to English
+ ...
Nope Oct 14, 2015

Sheila Wilson wrote:
You're assuming that the Asker has no idea that such a term existed...


No I'm not but I agree the point doesn't apply in all cases. I just thought it was a good/amusing point by the previous poster.

Sheila Wilson wrote:
But surely it's still the case that the majority of questions are raised by professional translators who are having difficulty with one word or a short expression in an otherwise understandable text.


I'd say that's an assumption but I'd also say it's practically impossible to quantify.


 

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:24
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
It's not you - things are really bad right now Oct 14, 2015

Even with 22 years of experience, I haven't had any work for at least FOUR months now. And last year I barely earned over the poverty level for the United States.

Had to take out a loan last month just to pay bills. And I owe over 30,000 on credit cards.

I think the "profession" of translation is dying a slow death.

Meanwhile, I just got notice that my health insurance went up to $540.00 per month (which pays for nothing until you pay an additional $6,700.00 deductible on top of the monthly premium - thanks Obama!)

[Edited at 2015-10-14 16:42 GMT]


 

Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:24
Spanish to English
+ ...
Noticing the same thing Oct 14, 2015

Jeff Whittaker wrote:

Even with 22 years of experience, I haven't had any work for at least FOUR months now. And last year I barely earned over the poverty level for the United States.

Had to take out a loan last month just to pay bills. And I owe over 30,000 on credit cards.

I think the "profession" of translation is dying a slow death.

Meanwhile, I just got notice that my health insurance went up to $540.00 per month (which pays for nothing until you pay an additional $6,700.00 deductible on top of the monthly premium - thanks Obama!)

[Edited at 2015-10-14 16:42 GMT]


It was a $1,000 premium in Missouri :/

I have also noticed a drastic decline in work over the past four months (Spanish>English), mostly from agency clients. Direct clients are the ones keeping us afloat right now.


 

Serena Basili  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 20:24
English to Italian
+ ...
DAMN, Jeff! Oct 15, 2015

Jeff Whittaker wrote:


Meanwhile, I just got notice that my health insurance went up to $540.00 per month (which pays for nothing until you pay an additional $6,700.00 deductible on top of the monthly premium - thanks Obama!)

[Edited at 2015-10-14 16:42 GMT]


I know it is off topic:
Italian NHS may be getting worse and worse thanks to the THIRD government we HAVEN'T voted (kinda weird for a democratic state, isn't it?) but finding out how much you have to pay in the US makes me grateful of being born in Italy!icon_eek.gificon_eek.gif

[Edited at 2015-10-15 07:08 GMT]


 

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:24
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Insurance Oct 15, 2015

If you have no income, you get insurance for free. Therefore, everyone who works has to subsidize those who don't (although at the current rate, I may soon qualify for free insurance).

In the U.S. if you do not have a job (especially if you are a single mother), you can get a free house/apartment, free cell phone, free food, free internet, free cable, free electricity, free child care, free taxi rides to doctor's appoints, free healthcare, free school and education.... If you work, you have to pay for everything. Therefore, for a lot of people, it doesn't make any sense to work for $10-$15 an hour because they are better off not working at all because they would "net" less income if they work.

Health insurance premiums are going up again in January. Compensation paid to doctors also drops by up to 50% next year. A lot of doctors will be quitting or retiring early.

And yet, we still spend billions interfering with countries overseas....

Serena Basili wrote:



[Edited at 2015-10-15 14:10 GMT]


 

Jenae Spry  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:24
French to English
Don't blame the industry Oct 17, 2015

I'm sorry but I strongly disagree with the turn that was taken here. I know I'm in a different language combination, but I coach freelancers in many combinations and it usually boils down to remembering that you might not be working, but *someone* is. Of course there is always the ebb and flow of our business and feast or famine, but sometimes you need to think outside the box.

Have you reached out to new clients? Followed up with current ones? Downtime is also a great time to work on that giant to do list that seems to grow almost indefinitely when we're busy. If you're truly in a position that you need a loan to eat, I'd say it's not them, it's you. I know this sounds harsh, but Sheila is right, the claim that work is scarce is just not true. Yes it takes dips, and during those dips people are still working...it doesn't go to zero.

For comparison, this month is relatively slow for me, so I'll probably make around $6500-$7000. September was just over $9k and I consider that a fairly good month, and the previous months before that were around my average of $8k. I live within my means such that even during the slow months, I can still afford all of my personal and operating expenses.

I would suggest you research how to expand your client base and/or reduce your budget so that you're living within what you're making. If getting work is your primary issue, I wrote a blog post this week about this very topic. Feel free to check it out here: 5 Winning Strategies for Getting Work.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:24
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
How much time would it take? Oct 17, 2015

forevergrateful wrote:
I was therefore considering completing my profile on Proz.com. I haven't completed my profile because I have been reading very discouraging things about freelance translation opportunities on Proz.com.

Let me ask you this: how long does it take to complete your profile in Proz.com? Honestly, I do not think it would take more than four or five hours of your time if you add translation samples prepared by you for this purpose, or perhaps one hour if you simply add details about your qualification and experience. When you complete your profile, nobody forces you to accept jobs with low pay! Do you really have anything to lose by completing your profile?

(Even if I have absolutely nothing to gain, I spent more time writing this than the time it would take you to complete your Proz.com profile with the main details.)

I hope this does not sound too blunt but, if you are not willing to spend one hour of your time in creating a profile in one of the most visited translation portals, are you really willing to do what it takes to become a full-time, successful translator?

In a global economy, with the omnipresence of Internet, and with very many good translators ready and eager to work in all language pairs, your only option to get more work is constantly to increase your visibility and qualification. It really depends on you and your willingness o push forward! Here three very basic lines of thought:

- If you are a translator by education or training, continue to invest in courses, take a/another degree at the university, do a MA programme in translation... If you are not a trained translator and only translate as a source of income, consider investing in getting training and education as a translator in the long run. Get moving now: this takes years and the sooner you start, the better. Make a plan, and be ready to put aside time and money for it. Consider it an investment. A good one.

- Increase your visibility in all posible translator portals and fora. Attend all translation congresses, meetings, and conferences you can afford. Many customers choose their translators proactively, i.e. they look at what you do online and offline and decide on your professionalism. They get in touch directly with you instead of posting jobs in a portal. Avoid nicknames (would you hire a nickname?). Prepare a professional-looking CV, business card, professional references if you can, and template emails for your communications with prospects and colleagues. Get moving now: complete your profile in Proz.com and look for more portals!

- Become a member of a professional association and, if you can, prepare yourself for certification exams such as the ATA certification, IOL's DipTrans, the Canadian or Australian certification... Although difficult to achieve, these certifications are sought by very many good customers (I mean, customers who pay good rates and treat you well).

- Make finding work part of your daily work: never allow yourself to depend on one big customer. Always actively look for more customers until you have a wide and diverse customer base and you cannot reasonably serve more customers. Research the area around you for potential work, research potential customers in the Internet (be very selective or you will be considered a spammer and will be marked as such!) and get in touch with them. Snail-mail them your CV with a professional letter. Call those who show a bit of interest to try to make it a big interest. If there is a big interest, visit them. Reserve at least three hours every week for focused, uninterrupted, undistracted work on this matter, and set yourself goals and dates.

It is hard work to get translation work! You compete with very good professionals out there who are good at marketing themselves. My advice is that you make a plan with short-term actions and long-term actions, and stick to it.

Good luck!


 
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