As a well-known proverb says, "Learn wisdom by the follies of others". This article is specifically talking about mistakes in business that start-up freelance translators often make. I tried to come up with some advice about each point in the list. The whole article is based on my experience and on some lessons learned from my more experienced colleagues.
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As I was thinking back to 2007 when I was just beginning my freelancer's journey, I found myself analysing all my victories and failures, remembering some blog posts, tweets and other messages of my colleagues, and suddenly I realized that there are some specific mistakes that start-up freelancers make most frequently. Here's the list that I came up with:
1. Setting too low or too high rates for their work;
2. Specializing in everything - inability to indicate their strengths and use them to their advantage;
3. Poor communication with the clients;
4. No marketing and networking skills or lack of understanding how important they are for freelancers;
5. Inability to say "no".
Here are some recommendations from me concerning each point:
1. Setting too low or too high rates: When setting your rates, make sure they are adequate to your experience. Charging too little money may say to your clients that you are not professional enough, and may even attract some scammers.
Charging too much and failure to provide the level of quality associated with the price means that you will lose clients and eventually lose your credibility. I think it makes sense to make your own little investigation and find out how much other translators charge, especially those who specialize in the same language pairs, fields and have a similar level of experience in translation.
2. Specialising in everything: I think only agencies can specialize in everything because they have lots of different people in their databases. I think the best thing here would be to choose subjects that you love and know much about. Some translators come into freelance business with a second degree in a different field, e.g. in chemistry, law, art etc. Even if you don't, think about your hobbies, find out which topics you know best so you can specialize in them. I have a good friend who is also a freelance translator, and she just loves texts on fishing! I don't know much about it and, to be honest, don't really feel enthusiastic about it. So if I ever get a request to translate a text about fishing with lots of details that only experience fishermen understand, I know who to turn to! :) Of course, the list of specialty fields may change with time (just like our hobbies and areas of our special interest), and that's ok! For example I didn't specialize in marketing texts from the very beginning. That topic appeared a bit later in my life, when I started my own marketing efforts.
3. Poor communication with clients: A colleague from proz.com shared his list of 7 mistakes that freelance translators should avoid (please see http://www.proz.com/forum/translation_project_vendor_management/214889-7_mistakes_freelance_translators_should_avoid.html) and at least two of the mistakes actually concern communication:
"- Being afraid to ask your customer questions. Do not be concerned with asking your clients questions about the files you are translating: there is nothing wrong with going back to your customer asking for clarification of words that maybe difficult to read or understand. They will not think any less of you because you asked a question. Be sure, however to ask relevant questions, well in advance of the deadline.
- Only getting in touch with your customer when you need work from them.Keep in touch with your customers regularly. Let them know how you are doing. Tell them about the new tools or software you may have acquired, and any new skills you may have learned since last working with them."
I would also add another aspect here that especially concerns large projects: it's good to update your customers about the work process from time to time, maybe once a week or so. Thus your client can be sure that the work is being done and that it will be completed on time.
4. No marketing or networking skills: Very few freelance translators have an inborn marketing and networking talent. Those are the things that we should always be studying and practising in order to succeed! This is an endless topic for discussion! There are lots of social media sites that can be used both for networking and marketing. Even this blog is a marketing tool. Speaking about networking, there are professional translation conferences that regularly take place in different countries. I'd love to take part in a real conference. Maybe this year it will work out. I hope so! But I've taken part in two proz.com virtual conferences which have been a tremendous experience for me. I am also thinking about becoming a member of a professional translation association. All associations have their own conferences and powwows. Plus it's good to communicate with other translators in your home city/country, maybe meet at a cafe over a cup of coffee and discuss some issues that nobody else in the world understands! I know a few translators in my city and we occasionally write to one another, or see one another, though we don't have scheduled meetings (yet).
5. Inability to say 'no': Many freelancers have fear that if they say "no" to a particular project they won't hear from this client again. But being honest and offering a solution often saves the situation because it tells your clients that you respect them and care for their needs. If you can't do a job now, you can either negotiate a different deadline or recommend an available colleague. In this case, you won't lose your customer because you have acted professionally and your client will remember that. But sometimes we do have to say "no" to a customer for good. For example, I had to say "good-bye" to a client just a couple weeks ago. I feared that step, though it was absolutely necessary. Thank God, everything went well. I recommended a couple colleagues to this client, they found another translator, and we parted with no hard feelings. That's a normal part of a freelancer's life. Yes, that may mean moving out of your comfort zone, but it's a normal part of life.
If you are a beginning translator, I hope this post helps you avoid these 5 business mistakes. If you are an experienced freelancer, what other business mistakes can you name and what advice you would give to new freelance translators?