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Some serious mistakes no freelancer should ever make

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Jaume de Marcos Andreu
Spain
Local time: 23:07
English to Spanish
+ ...
Contradiction? Mar 9, 2011

A good list, but don't you think that items #3 and #4 contradict each other? Why should an agency send some down payment first if, as you say, some freelancers "miss deadline after deadline while never running out of excuses, or simply disappear."? Doesn't it look like that they are throwing away the money by giving advanced payment to people who are unreliable? And if both the agency and the freelancer know that they both are reliable, why the need of advanced payment?

 

Evonymus (Ewa Kazmierczak)  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 23:07
English to Polish
+ ...
. Mar 9, 2011

Jaume de Marcos Andreu wrote:

A good list, but don't you think that items #3 and #4 contradict each other? Why should an agency send some down payment first if, as you say, some freelancers "miss deadline after deadline while never running out of excuses, or simply disappear."? Doesn't it look like that they are throwing away the money by giving advanced payment to people who are unreliable? And if both the agency and the freelancer know that they both are reliable, why the need of advanced payment?


exactly!


 

Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:07
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
For the European market Mar 10, 2011

I'm not sure about several 'mistakes' in the list.

To ask a down payment for jobs amounting to 2000 euro or less would be an affront to most serious customers with a good payment track record (BB). Demanding it would be a show stopper.

Once we get more propositions than we can handle, the last thing we should do is keeping on 'marketing' ourselves. That would be plain stupid in a buyer's market. This is the moment to play hard to get, raise tariffs, and refuse NDA's and silly (payment) conditions.

In Europe translators propose once, by e-mail, and they normally don't use the telephone to find out if their e-mail has been received. The system works, but asking for a written confirmation of receipt isn't detrimental (don't try to automate this, elderly Europeans still adhere to Netiquette).

We send a proposition and then we wait. Further contact would only weaken our position. The bottom feeders will never answer you properly, that's why they're bottom feeders. Once in a fortnight we will receive a proper answer. That e-mail will normally be well-written and will contain loads of information about our prospect. Our future customer invites us to be checked. We’ll perform all the available checks and will then decide how to enter the negotiations.

The moments we receive professional personal e-mail requests are crucial for our careers as a translator. We should send a reply as soon as possible, excusing ourselves for responding within an hour. Checking out future customers and counting words takes time but they love it when we’re behind our desks. Our perfect customer has seen our advertised tariff before contacting us. We can either stick to that tariff or negotiate.

Other customers might have seeped through, even through this website. We should never negotiate about files we haven't seen. Customers who want to discuss rates and deadlines for a certain project and can't send us the files often don't possess them: they're part of a bottom feeder chain. Our perfect customer might want us to sign a NDA before sending us anything, that’s a good sign.

For Europe, the most serious mistakes I could make in my marketing would be:

A lack of basic marketing knowledge
Being too eager
Annoying customers
Chasing customers
Making beginner's mistakes

Cheers,
Gerard


 

PT Translati (X)
United States
Local time: 14:07
Japanese to English
Going to add one Mar 10, 2011

Don't just give out your rates to anyone until they at least provide some sample to be translated and contact info other than a gmail address (*I know many translators like to use gmail, but we're talking about potential clients)

Could be translator POSING as potential client trying to figure out your rate. I didn't give any translation rates, only minor proofreading; but I learned this from experience. Seemed weird I'd get RFQ's from random individuals from proz asking for rates and promising work (not going to mention names); then when I request a sample to be translated so I can quote them, they are never heard from again.

Learned quickly that there are lots of good people, but also lots of shady people it seems (as with any business). Sorry but it's the truth.

Doesn't really affect me, but you do need to keep your guard up.

[Edited at 2011-03-10 01:29 GMT]


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:07
Spanish to English
+ ...
Rate queries Mar 10, 2011

Could be translator POSING as potential client trying to figure out your rate.
Learned quickly that there are lots of good people, but also lots of shady people ...

[Edited at 2011-03-10 01:29 GMT]


I don't really see how someone trying to find out our rates is "shady" - if we as freelancers insist on being so protective, how else are newbies supposed to gauge their own rates when starting out, unless by comparing what their peers are charging? Clients and agencies will always quote THEIR ideal prices... which tend to be less than what the freelancer would like to earn. And they say that all's fair in love and war...


 

Krzysztof Kajetanowicz (X)  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 23:07
English to Polish
+ ...
the list - a mixed bag Mar 10, 2011

1. Working without a contract–Sometimes, freelancers start out while they’re still in school. Or just doing it on the side. So they don’t treat it as a serious business. Or sometimes, we just trust our clients too much. We can’t believe they could stiff us… until they do.


OK, now who really has a contract (written and executed) for every client? It may be practical with agencies, not with one-off jobs for EUR 200. And agencies don't pay that much, do they (see point 5).

3. Missing deadlines and appointments


Good point. I'd add "crap work" to the list, where someone posing as a professional performs a high school level word-by-word translation with typos. I get to review those sometimes when I have nothing better to do.

4. Starting work without getting paid first–This is another common mistake, especially by freelancers who are just starting out. Again, it stems from trusting the client too much. The solution is simple: ask for a down payment first, before starting to do ANY work.


Nonsense.

5. Charging too little–


This is a point often raised. However, how are you going to charge decent rates if you demand upfront payment?

Also note that those cheap translations are often really crappy, so it's difficult to say that they do bring the value the author wants to charge for.

7. Neglecting your marketing when times are good


Good point. Any advice on how to market yourself during the good times (busy times) would be welcome. I only managed to put together my website during a real dead period.

9. Not having a “kill fee” in the contract


You may not need one if applicable law provides for one. Under Polish civil law - and probably most civil law systems for that matter - this is well regulated, and you're entitled to payment for whatever work you've already performed.

It might make sense to include something extra in the contract, especially if you're bound to reject other clients/projects when you take on this particular piece of work, but what client will agree to that?

10. Submitting completed work and client files without getting paid first–Here’s another mistake made by overly trusting freelancers. Remember that, once you’ve turned over the finished product to the client, you don’t have a hold on them any more.


Bad advice, see point 4.

11. Not following up on proposals


As the say - if they show you the door, come back through the window. I agree that it's not undignified to sell.

12. Not upselling clients–Here’s another mistake many freelancers don’t even realize they’re making. Freelancers who don’t “upsell”–offer to do more services than what their clients asked for–are leaving money on the table.


Excellent point. We complain so much about translation being perceived as a commodity and the resulting rivarly among translators, lower rates etc. Why not throw in something unexpected - like a suggestion to improve this or that, or a question someone else would not have asked - and be remembered? It's stepping outside your role - OR, it's client-oriented thinking.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 23:07
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Mixed bag II Mar 10, 2011

I agree with others here that this list is a mixed bag. I suspect the list is geared more to graphic designers than to freelance translators. Many of these "tips for freelancers" relate to graphic design (or similar) work, and what applies there doesn't always apply to translators (and certainly not to international translators).

1. Working without a contract...


You can have a nice contract drafted by a lawyer in your country, but will it be valid in the country of your client? And will the client even sign it? And what if the client has his own contract that he wants you to sign (and both contracts say that that is the only or latest agreement)?

If your client has something that he wants you to sign, then you can count on it that he won't sign yours, even if it is reasonable or addresses only issues that do not contradict the client's contract.

Having your own NDA might be a good idea. Having a statement that explains how you work and what you expect from the client, might also be a good idea, but don't expect anyone to regard it as a legal agreement.

2. Working with just any client: Often, we get a bad feeling about a client. We see lots of red flags popping up, but we ignore them. We need the money.


This is a good point, and translators should decide how to deal with it. Graphic design jobs typically involve a lot of work per job, but freelance translators can choose to do smaller jobs for clients they don't trust yet.

Another point is that graphic designers tend to have lots of contact with the client, and the client is constantly present in the process, but a translator typically does not have that problem -- the client is usually absent from the actual execution of the job.

3. Missing deadlines and appointments...


Good point, and by "appointments" one should also understand agreements. Do what you said you were going to do, and remember that time and quality are both essential elements of the job.

4. Starting work without getting paid first...


Again, this is more relevant for graphic designers whose jobs tend to be longer, and they incur more expenses for the job, and a job may actually be tied to some project of the client, and the job offer may actually just be exploratory. Also, a grahic designer's job is more difficult to price, and his invoice may include several items that the client may not agree with.

A translator typically has one task per job, which has one price that is easy to determine beforehand (or if not, it is easy to describe to the client how the price is calculated). When a client hires a translator, it is not because he is still tentatively thinking about what he might be able to do with the translation.

It is normal and accepted for international freelance translators to give credit of up to 90 days.

5. Charging too little...


Good point. This is especially relevant to new translators who are just starting out.

Fortunately, the tasks involved in a translation job are typically very easy to describe beforehand and to price beforehand, so the translator can often limit the amount of extra (unpaid) time spend on a project. Graphic designers, on the other hand, can sometimes spend a lot of time on a job that they don't get paid for because they budgeted far too low for it.

8. Not having clear deliverables...


Good point. This includes learning how to ask the right questions from the client, so that you can deliver exactly what the client had wanted.

9. Not having a “kill fee” in the contract...


Theoretically a good point, but how would you enforce it? It may be easier to just negotiate with such a client after the fact. Remember, translators have shorter and more defined jobs than graphic designers (for whom this list was written) have.

10. Submitting completed work and client files without getting paid first... once you’ve turned over the finished product to the client, you don’t have a hold on them any more.


With the longish deadlines that graphic designers tend to have, this may be true for them, but in our world not handing over the good to the client will only result in the client getting a second translator to do the job over, and possibly also expecting us to pay for it.


 

Laurent KRAULAND (X)  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:07
French to German
+ ...
Point 8 together with point 12... Mar 10, 2011

seem interesting, as some clients will assume that being able to process a file generated by a DTP programme means delivering a print-ready file. Most of the time, this is clearly not the case.
In this case, upselling could for example mean doing the DTP job on the target file.


 

Aisha Prigann  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:07
Spanish to English
+ ...
Contracts Mar 10, 2011

I'm curious about item 1. What kind of contracts do other translators prepare for their clients? I make sure that all of my projects contain some form of a written agreement on conditions, rates and deadlines, but I've never drawn up a proper, legal contract for a client. I'd like to know how other translators address this issue.

I would love to ask for partial payment up front and final payment upon delivery, but here in Spain it's difficult enough to get clients to pay you within 30 days! I agree that this would be worth negotiating for a large project that demands a significant time commitment, but asking for these terms on smaller jobs seems like absolute utopia.

Other than that - good advice. Thank you!


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 20:07
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Under a magnifying glass Mar 10, 2011

I found this pretty 'lame', I couldn't find a more accurate word to describe my reaction. I mean, most of it is okay for a beginning freelancer, however some of these may change over time.

1. Questionable. I'd rephrase it to "working without a clear agreement". One shouldn't envision a legal battle right at the outset, in order to develop a wordy piece of paper for both parties to sign. Yet each party knowing exactly what they should expect from the other is paramount.

2. Not a biggie. I had severe payment problems with a Fortune 500 company because the underlings in the accounts payable were thoroughly incompetent (and possibly too dumb as well) to do their jobs properly. Yet I've had many John Does who paid me quickly and without a hitch. However it's worth developing one's intuition for that.

3. This is the worst of them all, really. Reliability is one of the major keys to success.

4. Questionable. Who would pay a fledgling freelancer in advance? Nevertheless my remarks on #2 should prevail. However I'd change it to "starting work before having a firm order/request". Many eager beavers just go for it at full blast. When they tell the client it's ready, the response is "But I never told you to actually DO it! We were just assessing costs, and the whole project has been dropped because it wouldn't be worthwhile."

5. Too little in comparison to what? A freelancer must be aware of the market value of their wares. Then it's their call - upon comparing what they offer against what can be found in the market - to set an adequate price. If they can't make a living with that price, they'll have to either improve their efficiency or move to a different line of business.

6. Poorly worded. First one must know their average production capacity during normal working hours. This should have come up while doing the calculations for the previous item. Then they should calculate their overtime availability, and, if there is some, sell it for a premium price. Of course, overtime will only be needed if the client has a short deadline. By wisely increasing their rates for overtime, they can naturally lead their clients to vendors who have more availability at the time. I mean, a client could get me working round the clock for a couple of days, but it would be so expensive for them, that they should consider hiring someone else.

7. Correct. No doubt about it.

8. That was covered in my version of #1.

9. It shouldn't be a "kill fee", but an agreement on "pro rata" payment for work done until the order was cancelled. On the other hand, a "booking fee" (i.e. having to be available on a certain day for a certain time), or a "standby fee" (i.e. having to turn down any other request while waiting until you get the stuff to work on) are quite necessary in case of a cancellation.
Likewise, as an additional item, a "disruption fee", to "drop everything else and do this NOW" should apply. After all, you might have to shift your other work into overtime, at regular rates.

10. That is correct, however it depends on the client. Yet I see too many freelancers, on the grounds explained in the original #5, accepting overly long payment terms. Keep in mind that, as a personal services provider - like plumbers, physicians, electricians, dentists, mechanics, etc. worldwide - you should be paid COD. Every additional day you give your client to pay you, you will be lending them money out of your pocket at zero interest! You will be actually competing with banks. Make a 'one-sided deal' with your bank: as long as banks don't offer your services for free, you won't lend money at zero interest.

11. It depends. If you are bidding against countless competitors, don't expect feedback unless you are the chosen one. Conversely, if you have been directly requested a proposal, you should follow it up.

12. One caveat: don't go overboard; I mean, don't offer additional services you are unable to provide reliably. Some translators upsell by including, say, DTP services, without being prepared to do them, and then get everybody into trouble.

13. Definitively, yes!


Then I would add:

14. Excel in customer service. If you really know your trade, analyze your client's (or prospect's) both stated and unstated needs. Is their choice the best way to fulfill them? If you know a better, faster, or more efficient way, show it! Now and then you may lose an order, because your services are not as necessary as the client had thought, but you'll have become a dependable source for guidance, and they'll seek you for advice in the future, such advice including your services whenever they are actually needed.

15. Network I - Develop a network of colleagues, including some that specialize in areas you don't serve. Let them know your specialties too. Then you'll refer one to each other whenever it's the case, so a client will see you as a dependable source of solutions for their needs. Don't expect reciprocity, though. Each member of that network will refer to the most suitable other for a specific case, in a criss-cross pattern where everybody wins.

16. Network II - Develop a network of complementary services vendors. For instance, if you (only) translate videos, develop a network of reliable dubbing, subtitling, and/or DVD authoring services. The client may be glad to know who can take your work all the way to its final stage, or pay you a percentage/fee to go the whole nine yards in fulfilling their needs by outsourcing. Conversely, these complementary services providers might refer their clients to you (or hire you) for translation services.

17. Learn to say "no". If the request is beyond your capacity for any reason, if the compensation is unworthy, or if you are swamped with work, explain the reason to the client, and say "no". If possible, tell them what changes in the request could turn it into a "yes".

18. Don't give discounts just for the asking. If you state your price, the client asks you for a discount, and you promptly agree, it means that your initial quote was an attempt to rip them off, viz. dishonest. If they remove items from their request, extend the deadline, or change anything else, okay, you may recalculate your price.

This list could go on and on, however each reader should challenge each assertion under the light of thir individual setting, and keep the list growing forever. This is called 'business experience'.


 

Evonymus (Ewa Kazmierczak)  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 23:07
English to Polish
+ ...
contract Mar 10, 2011

Krzysztof Kajetanowicz wrote:

1. Working without a contract–Sometimes, freelancers start out while they’re still in school. Or just doing it on the side. So they don’t treat it as a serious business. Or sometimes, we just trust our clients too much. We can’t believe they could stiff us… until they do.


OK, now who really has a contract (written and executed) for every client? It may be practical with agencies, not with one-off jobs for EUR 200. And agencies don't pay that much, do they (see point 5).



Exactly. And what is the contract? Is an e-mail a contract. For me it is. For all my clients (direct ones and one translation agency) I work based on agreements specified in simple e-mails (with a number of pages stated, rates and deadlines). So far it works excellent. I wouldn't have money or time to draw "real" contracts for every job.
Ewa


 

Anthony Baldwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:07
Portuguese to English
+ ...
down payment? Mar 10, 2011

I've been doing this for 7 years.
Not once have I encountered an agency willing to make a deposit on a job. Ever.

Also, for the occasional private client, as mentioned above, I don't find a contract appropriate.
A simply purchase order outling the project and payment parameters is sufficient, as I see it.

Something crucial in today's market, where services are sought and sold on the internet, that was left off entirely, is:
Build yourself a proper website (and employ an effective SEO strategy).
If you can't do it for yourself, find someone who can and hire them (like me).


 

PT Translati (X)
United States
Local time: 14:07
Japanese to English
I hear what you're saying but... Mar 10, 2011

neilmac wrote:

Could be translator POSING as potential client trying to figure out your rate.
Learned quickly that there are lots of good people, but also lots of shady people ...

[Edited at 2011-03-10 01:29 GMT]


I don't really see how someone trying to find out our rates is "shady" - if we as freelancers insist on being so protective, how else are newbies supposed to gauge their own rates when starting out, unless by comparing what their peers are charging? Clients and agencies will always quote THEIR ideal prices... which tend to be less than what the freelancer would like to earn. And they say that all's fair in love and war...


The fact that they are asking isn't shady. The way in which they are going about it is shady/underhanded.

I also sympathize with wanting to know the going rate when starting out. I'm still learning that myself. But I should be given the CHOICE whether to reveal it or not and they should properly identify themselves. I have no problem with a fellow translator asking for my rates, as long as they identify themselves as a translator and that they want to get an idea of rates. Then I can choose whether to reveal it or not.

Also, in fairness, I left out some crucial information in my post.

1. The ONLY place I publicly advertise my translation services is on proz (for now, since I'm currently part-time and ramping up).
2. For the very few agencies/customers I work with regularly (again for now), I contacted them directly. So whoever is E-mailing me found me on proz.
3. I've received only about 10 E-mails from people who found me through proz.

a. 3 were from people who had provided the following: phone number, company/individual website, sample source document for translation.
b. The rest went something like this, and all were from a gmail account:

Gmail: I found you on proz. I need a translator for my current project. "Give me your rate". No company information, no contact info, nothing.

Me (politely): Thank you for contacting me. I would be happy to send you my rate; however, it varies depending on the content, completion date, etc. If disclosure is an issue, please kindly send a portion of the source document and some description. Etc. etc…

No answer.

I can't imagine a potential customer having a problem with my reply. Even if that was the case, all 7 of them? Don't think so. Again, it's really of no concern to me other than being a waste of time, but it's underhanded to say the least. Matter of principle, really.

To make the long story short, many in the business work in relative anonymity. That's just the nature of it. So my point is to be wary of people who don't properly identify themselves.



[Edited at 2011-03-10 17:29 GMT]


 

Cathy Flick  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:07
Member (2004)
Russian to English
+ ...
sometimes advance payment is essential Mar 10, 2011

I usually give 30 days net terms, but only to agencies that I know or who have good reputations.

To anybody else (individuals, agencies that are unknown and nothing is available about them from other translators in places such as the Blue Board, agencies that are too well known for slow payment or non-payment) - they get terms that include advance payment. I'll work for anybody if they pay me first!icon_smile.gif If that's a deal-breaker, no problem. I just can't take the risk. But people do actually pay in advance (as they might for other professional services) and it's not odd at all in the business world.

For advance payments, I require direct transfer to my bank account and do not start the work until the payment has been verified by my bank. I would personally not trust credit cards for this purpose, since charge backs can occur (and I know one translator who was burned just this way). This does mean really rush jobs are unlikely from such clients, but that's all right since I don't really like rush jobs.

Sometimes I make an exception for an unknown (usually very small agency or another translator who is subcontracting) if I have other reason to believe that it's safe to extend credit.

I once read a book for translation agencies that pointed out that credit should not be automatically extended to their clients, either. Get payment in advance, then gradually shift to a down payment scheme. Extend full 30 days credit terms only once the pattern of prompt payment has been established.

Another time down payments are quite normal is for book translations, which may extend over long periods of time.

An alternative would be some kind of escrow arrangement, where the client pays in advance but to a third party who then pays me when I submit the job, but I've never found an easy way to set that up.


 

Holly Nathan (X)  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 23:07
Italian to English
how high shall I jump? Mar 11, 2011

Gerard de Noord wrote:

For Europe, the most serious mistakes I could make in my marketing would be:

A lack of basic marketing knowledge
Being too eager

Cheers,
Gerard



Yes Gerard, I agree with you here. At least here in Italy it seems relevant advice.


 
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