Being a translator sometimes feels like you spend your life looking for a job. You keep applying, keep filling up your CV, checking out and answering job requests like others check classifieds. And you wonder: "What can I say that will make my bid stand out in the middle of all others?"
Of course, you have certificates and experience, but so do others. And your rates are OK, but no doubt plenty others will go for cheaper than you are willing to consider, and rightly so.
Bidding on Proz can sometimes feel like a lost cause. I should know. Been there, done that, and I still do, occasionnally. How are you going to convince the customer you are the best for him?
I also used Proz to find translation providers a few time in the last 4 years, and being in the client's shoes is a different experience. Proz is amazing on that regard, but it's not as easy as you might expect. As a translator, you are looking at the competition wondering how you can stand out and what are your chances. But as a client, you have to choose the best translator out of hundreds of replies hoping you find the right one, and knowing you will be fully responsible if you fail to get a good translation. For the same jobs offers, translators from the Proz community will offer anything between 0.01 USD to 0.25 EUR per word!
I would like to share some thoughts/advices with you, both as a translator and as a project manager, regarding Proz's job system:
READ the offer attentively and analyse it:
* Does the poster specify a format for replies? (like a specific email address to use, a keyword in the subject line, no attachment,…) You would be surprised to know that nearly half of the translators bidding on the system will fail to comply with such simple requests. Simply making sure that *you* do comply with those will get you in the top 60% in the customer's mind.
* Anything the customer repeats twice or more is garanteed to be an important factor in his mind. Make a list of such points because your reply should mention them.
* Bid only on the jobs you can do. A number of folks reply to all kind of jobs even if they don't have the software, and don't have the first clue on the subject. All it does is reduce your credibility when there is a job that you *can* do.
* Who is the customer? Obviously he wants a translator, but why? Does he need translations for his own company or is he working for a translation agency and resselling your services? Quality doesn't necessarily mean the same thing in the mind of the final customer and on the mind of the agency. And their reactions to prices are quite different too.
For a final customer, I would differentiate 2 main situations:
1. Translation as an investment
This customer is ordering translation to reach new markets and increase his income through globalization. Such a customer will be extremely sensitive to the return on investiment involved and show high interest on the translation. As such, showing how your translation can produce a significant ROI will go a long way. Such a customer would feel guilty of choosing a cheap translator, as he knows quality is important.
2. Translation needed
This type of customer needs to get a translation. It's not like he has a choice, but it's not like he really cares either. Be it a regulation he needs to comply with, or an user manual "that the boss wants in 5 languages". Explaining ROI related benefits to that customer is a waste of time. This will be the customer looking for a cost effective solution or for a conservative "that's the way it's usually done" type of offer.
Either way, the final customer usually doesn't know much about translations, and it may pay to clear up basic concepts and procedures. Explaining your workflow and how it produces an effective (1) or industry standard (2) translation could help to impress a final customer. For you, things like proofreading on the hard copy after the translation may be old hat, but a final customer probably never heard of the practice.
Also understand that you have more or less a free field to negociate your prices. A very low price will penalize you just as much as a very high price. If you are competent, there is no reason you couldn't charge good money for your skills.
Translation agencies have a different point of view all together. They want to:
1. Keep the client happy with a good translation and timing
2. Make a margin as good as possible.
A bad translation is every agency's nightmare. It means a damaged reputation, extra work to correct, low profits (having to pay someone else to correct the job), hard to collect payments, and in the worst case, they could even be sued.
So quality is a *major* concern for every agency worth working with. (As a side note, a translation agency who is not looking for quality is shortchanging its customers...so what makes you think they won't shortchange you?)
Of course you know quality is important. How is it then that so many bids don't ever discuss how they approach quality issues. Some bids go like this.
I am ready to do the job, and my name is XXX. My rate is XXXX.
Was she a good translator? I don't know, but she sure isn't helping me to decide, is she?
If you don't have at least a couple sentences explaining how you provide the proper quality, I guess you are cutting your chances short.
Some bids look like resumes. You know, like:
I graduated from XXX in 1996 and…
[2 pages of CV type material]
My rate is XXXXX
A CV is a good thing to have, but this is a supposed to be a bid, not a CV. Just sending a CV tells the customer you are too lazy to write a personnal message - not quite the first impression you want.
On the rates, I noted many bids saying "0.0X, but that's negociable". From a buyer viewpoint it translates as "I am kind of desperate and will take any rate. 0.06 is just wishful thinking. I don't really know what I am doing, but I hope maybe I will get the job after you cut my rate in half". If you are afraid that the customer will not choose you because your rate is too high, you can say something like "around XXX". Your customer will know there is room for negociation, but it doesn't look like you are ready to be walked over.
Give a price, or a price range. Do not ask the customer to send you a copy of the files before you give a price. This is a mistake I used to make, but getting on the other side of things, you quickly find out this isn't such a good idea. The customer will get hundreds of bids. If your bid requires him extra work to find out if you are within his budget, chances are he will just go with someone else.
When you bid on Proz, you are competing against hundreds of other translators, many of which are much cheaper than you are. However, the large majority of the competing bids either do not follow the asker's instruction, do not provide enough data, confuse the asker with irrelevant data, or are simply not qualified for the job.
So, if you follow the instructions, provide all relevant data, give an idea of your rate and keep it short, you will definitely stand out in the client's mind. It's no garantee you will land a specific job, but I am ready to bet your success ratio will improve. Further, even if you don't land that job, you may have made a good impression that could land you the next one.
Either way, good luck. Maybe I got it all wrong, But I hope the thoughts above will help.
English to French translation