When I was just starting out, I fell into a lot of traps. I was taken advantage of, manipulated, ripped off and kept under the thumb. So many traps! But I am free now, and I’d like to expose some of these traps so others can tread safely. From tenders to test translations, from CV scams to bogus certifications… all of these and more will be covered in this three-part series. Enjoy!

Tenders

Tenders are a big, fat, newbie trap. I expect anyone with a profile anywhere on the web has received an email like this:

tender 1a

Or even this one, after I replied to the initial, brief, anonymous request sent via ProZ with a brief-but-polite refusal (“Dear… <You didn’t state your name>, No, sorry. Regards, Rose Newell”):

 tender2a

Are you noticing the careful, personal approach here?

The problem with tenders can be summed up pretty simply:

  1. You are providing YOUR degree certificate, YOUR qualifications, YOUR references, YOUR experience and YOUR expertise so that SOMEONE ELSE (the agency) can be considered qualified to manage the work.
  2. There is NO GUARANTEE WHATSOEVER that the agency will give the work to you if it does, by some miracle, actually win the tender.
  3. In practice, more often than not, they will use more expensive, more highly qualified translators to win the work, but then outsource to cheaper, less highly qualified and less experienced translators who will actually do the work. This is obviously unethical and against the law, but I’ve had it confirmed by multiple current and ex-PMs that this is what goes on. If you ever get solid proof, though, do not hesitate to report it to relevant parties (even government bodies responsible for trading standards). Don’t think your modest newbie rates will protect you either – someone can always go lower. Google Translate is free, remember.
  4. You might think “What’s the harm?” – well, perhaps it’s not obvious, but the misuse of your information to win a tender that ends up actually being fulfilled by someone cheaper seriously damages the profession. Not only that, it seriously damages you, personally, since it sends a message to the end-client that someone of your calibre can be bought for that price, not your price. Things like that work to lower clients’ expectations of what they should have to pay for a good translator.

This is not to say it’s always wrong to participate in tenders. Just, it usually is. A lot of work can and will only ever be obtained via a tender, and in some cases freelancers cannot be considered. But consider the following:

  1. Do you already know this agency/outsourcer? Do you have any reason to believe they will actually use your services if they win the tender? Remember, words are shallow. Money is everything. Even with existing clients you will want to be very sure that the payment terms for this contract will actually be something you’ll agree to. I dumped a long-term agency client a few years ago after continued pressure on rates and the final blow when it came to a tender. I asked about rates and received a vague “Rates are still under discussion. Please send your information by noon today at the latest!”.
  2. What are their payment terms? They will usually ask for all your information without any mention of your payment terms. There is a simple reason – they are not interested. They’ll win the work using your qualifications and then think about who they can actually afford to work with. Check for things like 60-day payment terms and vagueness regarding the rates you’ll actually receive, if you really have got this far and are still considering sending all your hard-earned achievements their way.
  3. Have you thought about participating in the tender yourself or in a team with colleagues? It’s not such a crazy idea. Friends of mine have recently won tenders in their specialisations, and many of the outsourcers listed on the EU tenders website are, in fact, freelancers. (Please note: the two open calls you can see there right now, 04 June 2014, do not relate to translation!) If you have to put all this stuff together for an agency anyway, why not go through the whole process yourself?
  4. Is it worth the hassle? We are our own bosses. We don’t have to take every job, simply because it is out there. If the rates are low, the subject is uninteresting, the payment terms are bad… then why bother? There is plenty of work out there.

Well, those are my thoughts on the matter. If you’re not sure, just hit delete. It’s what I always do. Unless I’m fishing to find out how to apply for the very same tender myself, of course. 🙂

Test translations

This is another one a lot of newbie translators get roped into. Here’s the thing: a lot of legitimate translation agencies and direct clients (less of the latter, though it’s very common among publishers – understandably so) will ask for a test translation. In principle, it makes sense. A client might like to know what you are like before they entrust you with a major project. It’s worth taking note of the following, though, to avoid being taken for a fool:

  1. Is it standardised? If not, then it’s not a test translation, it’s a real job. A standardised test will have a couple of paragraphs on a couple of different topics, usually your specialisation. If it’s a book, it will be a passage. It may also be a small job that may or may not have been translated for them in the past. Try to find out if it’s already been translated – it may be obvious from the file details (e.g. the creation date – a standardised job will usually be older). If it’s a new job, charge for it, or request a real, standardised translation test. Anything else is just sending the wrong message.
  2. What is the deadline? This will also help you to ascertain whether this is a test translation or a real job the client is charging its client for. If the deadline is tight, ask why. Generally, I advise translators to refuse a test translation with a short deadline, since this invariably IS a real job. Just mention that you’re busy and propose a new delivery date. If there’s a good reason for the tight deadline, like an upcoming project, then you can of course be flexible. Just be careful to avoid doing a real job for free.
  3. Will you be paid for it? Don’t be afraid to ask for payment, or inform the client that you usually charge for test translations. You could consider offering a small discount as a show of good faith. Remember that a test translation goes both ways – you are testing them – their professionalism, their payment practices and their review processes – just as much as they are testing you. An agency client who pays for the test translation, especially a standardised one, is usually a keeper. That’s an agency which invests in professionals. Yes, they exist.
  4. How long is it? Tests of 200-400 words are the norm. Tests of up to 1,000 words might come up in literary translation, but I know very little about those as it’s not my field. If it’s much longer than that, then there has to be a good reason. Consider offering to translate less, unless you’re being paid your normal rate for the test, of course.
  5. Can you do the job well? This isn’t so much a trap, but a newbie mistake. Sometimes a translation agency will approach you to do a test translation in a language combination or specialisation that isn’t your strongest suit. Remember that a client is unlikely to give you a second chance if you burn your bridges during your first attempt. They spent money having your work reviewed the first time, after all, so why take the risk? Like all jobs, feel free to turn down anything you don’t think you will do a good job on. Don’t think that passing a test translation is a guarantee the same client won’t complain about your work in the future, either. You should never consider a test translation to be a means of proving something to yourself or verifying your ability to do a job. Rather, it is a way for you to demonstrate what you already can do to your client.

Not being paid enough

A lot of newbie translators charge very low rates. When I started in 2006, I was usually offered 0.07 EUR per word in my combination, German to English. Not knowing any better, I accepted such rates. It wasn’t until a bit later, once I had put more work into my business, gained experience and grown sceptical, that I realised I was able to earn more. Later still, I realised I could earn much more. Here are some of the issues, from my perspective:

  1. Translators can be reluctant to talk about rates. Especially fellow newbies, or people you do not know so well. Understandably, I guess. But the result is that newbies have simply no idea what they should be charging. This is further compounded by the lack of real world, honest business advice at universities, or even worse than that, conflicting and negative advice. I discussed the various sources of rate information in a previous blog post, so if you’re not sure where to start, some of those links to information from professional associations might prove useful.
  2. Translation agencies exploit the ignorance of newbies. Translation agencies often claim that what they are offering is the “market rate” (which market?), “market rate for someone of your experience” (what a cheek!), “more than our competitors” (your competitors perhaps, not mine.), “appropriate for this simple job” (who says it’s simple?), etc. Newbies often don’t know what they should be charging, so the agency will dictate their rates to them. Understandably, they choose a rate that works for them, that will secure them a comfortable profit. Inform yourself – through blogs on translation, business, marketing and writing, as well as translation rate surveys and colleagues. Choose a rate and stick to it. Don’t panic if some people reject your rate or say it is expensive. If you’re not convincing people, work on your marketing and presentation. Better yet, read a useful book like Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s book, “The Entrepreneurial Linguist”, or take a look at Marta Stelmaszak’s highly praised blog, online course for newbie translators, and upcoming book, all marketed under the banner of the “Business School for Translators”. Another useful resource for new and experienced translators alike is Chris Durban’s “The Prosperous Translator”.
  3. Clients love to invent reasons for you to charge less. Excuses come in many flavours – be it “we have a limited budget” (okay, then I guess you’ll have to go elsewhere), “this is a test translation for us” (okay, not for me, though), “I’ll do better on the budget next time” (great, but we’re talking about this time), “you/we are based in Argentina/Nepal/Portugal” (so what?), and so on and so forth. A recent favourite has been THE CRISIS. That deserved capitals and big, bold letters because that is JUST HOW DAMNED SIGNIFICANT THAT IS. One large agency’s sob story was published online, although I greatly prefer Kevin Lossner’s version. My heart almost bled for these poor souls, except then I read about how this company “reported average annual growth of 24 per cent through the downturn”. Right. This isn’t to say that THE CRISIS did not hit some businesses hard and they may have less money to spend on translation. But this excuse is getting rather worn-out from overuse these days, especially when coming from the likes of The Pig Turd. Direct clients may also play this card. Tell all of them that you completely understand, but you’ve also tried to explain this to your gas and electricity company, and they were surprisingly unresponsive. That unfortunately leaves you with little lee-way.
  4. Most translators (newbies and experienced translators alike) charge too little per hour. Translators don’t tend to think in terms of hourly rates. Some people are charging a respectable per-word or per-line rate, but an incredibly low rate per hour. Perhaps this is something to do with the nature of the freelancer? We are used to job fees and don’t calculate our hourly income, perhaps because we like to take lots of little breaks or work without looking at the clock. Perhaps some of us are comparing such hourly rates with hourly rates paid to in-house staff. Well, you can’t. Always charge a rate that reflects what you earn in an hour of translation, since that’s what you’d otherwise be doing. Otherwise you are just giving them money, especially if whatever you are doing is more like translation in the first place.
  5. Newbies sometimes take market averages as gospel. It concerns me that when a colleague went to speak to a German university, she was met with negative backlash from certain students who told her she was “wrong” to charge an hourly rate of nearly 80 EUR per hour (at the time, she charges a fair bit more now). The reason cited began with “the BDÜ survey on translation rates says translators charge X”. See, not only had they failed to grasp the nature of those statistics, they’d also failed to understand the power of self-determination that all freelancers have. So what if the BDÜ average is 1.40 EUR a line or whatever? So what if everyone I know is charging between 1.40 and 1.60 EUR a line? That doesn’t stop me from charging 2.40 EUR a line to my clients, or even 0.40 EUR a line if I am so inclined. The same applies everywhere.
  6. A translation academic is not a business consultant. Being an educator in any field is not the same as being a practitioner. Such people are earning their living through their knowledge, research and teaching. They are generally not dependent on the business of translation as we know it. They may translate part-time, but even then, their position as an educator does not make them business consultants, plus, they have an additional income. I’ve heard stories about the sort of rates some incredibly talented translation academics are charging. It saddens me, because their undercharging is setting a bad example for the generations to come. I have a message to any of these academics if they happen to be reading: You’re the pinnacle of our profession, you are the example admired and emulated by the next generation, so your rates should reflect that. If not for yourself, then for your students. Otherwise, what else do they have to aspire to? 
  7. You don’t think you’re worth more. I’m no counsellor, so I can’t tackle your self-esteem problems. I can tell you that the skill of some newbies exceeds that of those with twenty years of experience and more. It happens. It’s rare, yes, but it happens. If you’re not sure what I mean, I have a valuable piece of advice based on my own experience. Compare yourself. Go on ProZ and look at the sample translations of people who have decided to make their rates and/or experience public. You could also take the occasional proofreading job for an agency (not the bottom-feeders, as that will just traumatise you, but perhaps just one of those silly misinformed ones which pays a little on the low side), or at least just open the files and look at them, just to see what other translators are submitting. Then remember that this person is probably charging what you’re charging, or perhaps just a little bit less. Now it’s simple: if you think you’re better, charge more than whatever you’re charging right now.
  8. You can’t sell on experience, so you sell on price. “Fair prices”, “great value”, “affordable”, “reasonable prices”, etc. Trashy statements like that just turn away the good clients. Nobody with any class goes looking for a wedding ring in Aldi. Such clients always want a little bit extra for free, or will fabricate complaints to get out of paying. Instead, target good clients you’ll be happy to work for in the years to come.

Useless directories

  1. ProZ.com. When I started, ProZ.com was not quite so bad. I attracted a lot of my first clients from there, and they paid a rate which was low, albeit not as low as they are today. ProZ.com still has some great resources, but for clients the pickings have become rather dry. Once upon a time, I paid up for professional membership and was admitted to the Certified PRO network. A bogus certification, really… I’ll talk about those next time. Certified PRO members get listed top in the directory, so you can look at it as a bit of artificial, paid-for search-engine optimisation. It’s still probably the most serious of the directories out there at present, with the exception of translation associations, and membership is still perhaps worth it for some translators in different combinations or specialisations to me.
  2. ProZ.com clones. There are many ProZ clones out there, with new ones springing up all the time. It’s become easy to put together a translation platform, and each of these budding entrepreneurs seems convinced that theirs will be the next big thing. It won’t. It’s a business model that’s had its day. Translators can just as easily chase the good agencies and direct clients themselves these days.
  3. Translator’s Café probably deserves a mention, but it shares many of the same problems as ProZ. Right down to the low-value work being outsourced through it.
  4. Odeskelancefiverrpeopleperhour, etc. Not a place for serious professionals in my opinion, but still, you will find many a “translator” selling their wares there, and I can see how a newbie might get sucked in. I personally have a profile on Odesk, because it allows me to show my real rates. I’ve never gained work through it, but at least I added some perspective for anyone who accidentally sorted the translators by price descending.
  5. Other online business and translation directories. Some might be worth it, but the vast majority aren’t. Exercise extreme caution. Most are just a money vacuum, and Google will penalise paid link systems.
  6. Regarding their fees: most of the above will charge an annual membership fee, or allow free membership in exchange for a hefty percentage of your earnings, combined with an exclusion clause that will really break the bank should you and the client decide to go direct. Factor in any and all of these costs when working out what you might stand to gain through membership of such a site.

Directories serve a purpose, of course. Exposure. If you think you’d benefit from something more than a free ProZ profile, then perhaps you should consider getting your own websiteWebsites for Translators have a great deal of experience in this and are very reasonably priced. Personally, I bought premium themes and customised them. You could also consider membership of a professional organisation. If you’re eligible, you will then be listed on a valuable directory which is frequently accessed by better clients. That is of course in addition to the numerous other benefits of joining an association, like the professional support, training and networking with colleagues.

That’s nearly all for today…

I hope you found this post helpful. Parts two and three will be out soon.

About the Author:

Rose Newell is a British-born, Berlin-based copywriter and translator specialising in high end and high tech. Rose works exclusively with direct clients, mostly located in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. This blog is a labour of love for colleagues, not a sales funnel for paid membership groups, webinars, seminars, courses or coaching services. As one of those who has consistently spoken out against instagurus, readers can trust this blog will never be monetised. Truly successful translators have no need for the pittance generated by such activities.

64 Comments

  1. baka Strumpf 01/03/2017 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    I am still puzzled how to achieve balance between getting paid at least a decent amount of money for your work and risking loosing the job due to asking that decent payment, as there are always low-quality translators willing to work for cents.

  2. Verena 26/07/2016 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the great article!
    I’m studying audiovisual translation and I slowly want to build up a website and prepare for freelance work, so this helped a lot!

  3. […] you. The first post in this series was the most successful post I’ve ever written. Thank you so much for all the sharing, […]

  4. […] Temptacions Sovint, exalumnes nostres, quan comencen al món professional de la traducció, ens mostren ofertes de traducció molt temptadores, que no sempre són honestes. Rose Newell ens ofereix consells per evitar les novatades més habituals en la traducció professional. […]

  5. […] 04/06/2014 12 traps newbie translators fall into (Part 1/3) by Rose Newell (The Translator’s Teacup) […]

  6. Tereza 24/04/2015 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    Gosh, I wish I have read this a couple of months ago…
    It was very useful, thank you. Do you know if they can take advantage of your personal data? To sign a contract or to take a lease on my behalf, etc…

  7. Matthew Paines 25/03/2015 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Precise, concise, and to the point as always Rose 🙂

  8. Beatrice Hendon 09/10/2014 at 7:57 am - Reply

    These links are very helpful. Glad you’ve shared it.

  9. Audra 21/09/2014 at 9:09 pm - Reply

    EXCELLENT article. I love reading your blog. As always, really good content that I revisit time after time.

  10. Hans 08/08/2014 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    Hi Steffen,
    Great blog, and great article! Looking forward to 2/3 and 3/3 🙂
    I would also love an update of http://t.co/aADLD6Bp12, I doubt between buying or building a desktop PC.
    Take care!
    Hans

    • Rose Newell 09/08/2014 at 9:04 am - Reply

      My name is Rose, not Steffen. 😉

      I’m not really planning to update that article… A lot of things have stayed the same, or the changes are rather obvious. These days, a powerful laptop (or at least one that does what most translators need) is more affordable, and you can always attach an external monitor. It seems to be what works for most people. That said, I prefer to work on Alex, my desktop, as he’s just that bit more powerful than my laptop (ultrabook style) – a Samsung Ativ Book 9 with a 15″ screen in a 14″ chassis. Her name is Alexandra.

  11. Veronica Garcia Garcia 08/08/2014 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Great post!

    You have mentioned some things that are currently true. Most of the similar posts to this one are outdated since, as you mentioned, Proz.com used to be a good resource for job seeking but not anymore.

    Regarding not charging enough… That’s a problem that’s probably never going to change unfortunately, and I don’t think it’s applicable only to our profession.

    Regards,
    Veronica

  12. Carmen 11/07/2014 at 10:12 am - Reply

    Thanks for the article Rose! I’ve recently made the jump to full-time freelancing and it seems like the main message from your article is “value yourself, value your services”. It’s really good advice for new starters.

    From my own experience, it’s very difficult to resist the “bargain bin” approach when starting out, but I’ve learnt that this devalues your services, and once you’ve gone down that road it’s hard to turn off. Personally I’ve taken a few lower-paid jobs to keep me going and get experience in my specialist area, but I’ve been lucky enough to have that one great client who pays well which has kept me believing in the value of my services.

  13. Nick Block 24/06/2014 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    Rose, thank you for the great blog. A couple weeks into this gig, I think I might be falling into the trap of not knowing what to prioritize. If I’m not mistaken, there seems to be more work in the home country of the source language rather than the target language for my language pair, German to English. I haven’t been getting many bites from American agencies. Now it’s on to the German ones. Think I should have focused on those agencies first (and putting up the requisite website, resume in German first, rather than English for American agenicies). I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

  14. […] as a Translator for the United Nations Video blogs for and by translators – a short list 12 traps newbie translators fall into (Part 1/3) Take a scalpel to your marketing materials… Important numbers for freelance translators 10 Golden […]

  15. Sian Cooper 20/06/2014 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Hello, Rose. Interesting post, I was very interested by the Tender section – I have received that sort of approach, but luckily I was not yet qualified to have been able to answer – and now I will know to look out!

    Although as is bound to happen in anything where you could, indeed, write a book on the subject, the fees section is somewhat contentious. It is worth mentioning that fees vary greatly depending on language combination (German pays much more than Spanish, for example), by where the client or agency is located (Northern European countries pay more than Southern European ones, without getting into discussions on emerging countries) and by specialisation (medical or legal specialists can generally command more than music and arts specialists, for example).

    It also, of course, varies wildly depending whether you are working for a direct client or an agency.

    There is also a balance with speed of payment and frequency of jobs. Because occasional 10K words at 0.10€ paid on 60 days (and late…) may be worth less than 2K words a couple of times a month at 0.05€ paid within 2 weeks. Sometimes that sort of keep-it-ticking-over work is also worth keeping.

    I guess what I’m saying is, any single generalised rule on pricing can be misleading. I think the main thing that does need to continue to be driven home is that there is a HUGE amount of poor quality out there, even among ‘seasoned pros’ – yes, I have done the proofreading ‘My God, they dare to call themselves a translator?’ experience 🙂 – and all those who are producing high quality translation need to learn to recognise their worth. It is good always to remember, even if they start out doing some lower paid work while learning the ropes, that higher paid stuff is out there (some even through proz, still!) and that they should aspire to it – for the client’s sake as well as for their own.

    I look forward to your next posts, thanks for this!

  16. […] a really helpful blog post on the traps that new freelance translators fall into. I’ve made a few of these these past […]

  17. Lukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz 18/06/2014 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Nice stuff, Darth Newell.

    Re: tenders. If the shenanigans are premeditated, you can actually go to the cops because it will likely qualify for extortion. It might also qualify for extortion from *you* (unpaid time), perhaps a specific crime against the public procurement system if some such crimes are defined, perhaps something else, depending on your jurisdiction.

    And, obviously, the whole thing is a loss of time. It’s also awful when several agencies report you as their subcontractor and compete for the privilege of being the lowest bidder for your services.

    Re: test translations. Just regard them as an investment. A sure expense of 0.5-1 hours of your time versus a chance to get a new client. The more clients you have banging on your door, the more picky you can be or just charge more. Plus, getting a free sample of their QA, project management and comm skills is invaluable.

    Re: rates. Wow, if you’ve managed to raise your rates from the cheap standard to something decent, then you definitely need to write a dedicated post about just that.

    And you’re spot on about human psychology, as in inventing raesons to pay less etc., and the crisis mumbo jumbo.

    Re: hourly rates. Of course! Something’s wrong when it takes a celebrity translator to earn less than green lawyers, consultants etc.

    • Rose Newell 19/06/2014 at 10:05 am - Reply

      RE: legal aspects of tenders
      I’m no lawyer. I’ll let you be the judge on that.

      RE: test translations
      Maybe I wasn’t clear – but basically, test translations, unless standardised, are used as a way of getting free work. No thank you. If it’s a standardised test, or you yourself are volunteering to do a test (like I often do to prove my value to direct clients), sure. But no, I’m not going to work for free because someone asked me to. Never.

      RE: rates
      More than a post, Lukasz. A book. But I need more time to really have every aspect of the strategy worked out before I go telling others “this is how I did it”. 🙂

      RE: human psychology, excuses
      Thanks. Yes, pile of crap, isn’t it.

      RE: hourly rates
      Indeed. Well, my hourly rate if ever asked is three figures. But I try not to ever reveal that. Sad, isn’t it?

  18. K R Castle 16/06/2014 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    Have you thought of offering a course for newbie translators? I’d be interested in attending.

    • Emma L 16/06/2014 at 8:25 pm - Reply

      Yes! A crash course would be great. My university didn’t do much in teaching the business aspect of being a translator.

      • Rose Newell 16/06/2014 at 9:29 pm - Reply

        Marta’s Business School for Translators is the best thing out there, I think. I’m not currently planning to offer a similar course, since I think Marta does it better than I ever could.

        Regarding the traps, the pitfalls and the things to watch out for – the “negative” side many people don’t dare expose (perhaps because some of those positive folk are either in bed with the exploiters or happy to be exploited, or perhaps they are just scared of being branded “negative”, who knows?) – that’s all going to be covered right here on this blog.

        A couple of people have said I should charge for advice like this. However, in many ways, that would defeat the object. Sure, I don’t believe in giving everything away for free and maybe one day, when I’m a bit more old and wrinkly, I’ll offer coaching or a course, too… but right now, when it comes to this basic stuff, I think it needs to be given away free to the most needy, who also happen to be the group least likely to pay for such information. You can call it my pro bono work. The more translators there are who are aware of these tricks, the less success the bad boys will have with them. That will improve the state of the industry and the way translators are treated and perceived. That helps everyone, including me. 🙂

  19. Thanks for the great article as always Rose! I’ve received many emails for tenders too and my reaction is always delete. Too much hassle, horrid rates and I’m sure at the end they would assign the work to much cheaper translators anyway.
    One comment about the EU contractors list. It includes a few Greek agencies, 2 of which have a good reputation, a few I don’t know, 1 has the worst reputation (among Greek translators, I wonder how they still find people to work for & with them) and 1 uses Google Translate (heard that from project managers working there). Sadly, this reflects the Greek market of translation companies quite accurately (in terms of quality: 80% crap, 15% barely acceptable, 5% good or higher). Nice, huh?

  20. Vilina Svetoslavova 10/06/2014 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Hi Rose

    Thank you for this informative article, I’ve put my vote for you.

    I happen to be one of the newbie translators and also to be participating in a tender through an agency. It was quite striking to read this but I actually found the tender and I am hoping for the best. I am also registered with ProZ.com and mainly apply for projects that are posted there.
    To be honest, I am not sure what else I and all the other start-ups could possibly do in trying to find clients. I contacted agencies as well. Is this the only way?
    What I mean is that it’s great to read advice from you, the established translators. Several years ago you probably didn’t even have that, so you had to fall for some of these traps yourself. But also, now that you have your reliable professional clients it is somewhat easy to say don’t do this and that. I mean, it just leaves us all the newbies a bit disheartened. It seems like everything is a scam and everyone is corrupted these days.
    What are we suppose to do? It is even harder with this profession (and being a freelancer) where nearly everything happens virtually…
    I do thank you and I will keep my eyes open for red flags. But I do hope to read something more inspiring and encouraging sometimes, too.

    Vilina

    • Rose Newell 11/06/2014 at 7:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Vilina,
      There is more to ProZ than the jobs section – a lot of the best work there is obtained through your profile. Make yours stand out (also visually, with a bit of HTML) and that will help. A good website is of course a must for good agencies and direct clients, too. Going out to meet potential clients like any other business would is also sensible.
      Yes, I fell in most of these traps myself… No, there wasn’t anyone warning me when I started.
      Perhaps you’ll find some of the other posts on my blog informative, like the series on what makes a good, successful and happy translator. You’ll also find useful info on other translators’ blogs, or blogs about marketing, business and online marketing in general.
      Good luck!
      Rose

  21. Beatriz Ramírez de Haro 09/06/2014 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    How true, I look forward to the rest of the series (I have fallen in all the traps up to now).
    This is sure to help many colleagues so, an enthusiastic vote for your blog!
    Cheers
    Bea

    • Rose Newell 11/06/2014 at 7:33 pm - Reply

      🙂 Thank you, Beatriz. I hope you’ll know not to fall in them next time, at least!

      Rose

  22. Paul 09/06/2014 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    This is a superb article. Thank you!

  23. Daniela Gotta 08/06/2014 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    Thank you Rose!

    Vote gladly given.

    Thumbs up!

    Dani, your fellow from the DVÜD 🙂

  24. Lisa Simpson 07/06/2014 at 9:08 am - Reply

    Excellent work. Well done. A mention somewhere of newbies not imposing surcharges for weekend/evening/urgent work would also be great. It makes me weep how many people fall for the Friday afternoon trap.

    • Rose Newell 07/06/2014 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      That’s already in my plan for later on in the series, Lisa. I feel it is more about professional relationships than not earning enough (we do it to compensate stress, not just earn more, after all), so I didn’t include it here. Thanks for the praise. 🙂

  25. […] Part one of a three-part series on traps newbie translators fall into. This post covers tenders, tests, not being paid enough and useless directories.  […]

  26. Maria Loose 05/06/2014 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Hi Rose,
    as far as participating in EU tenders is concerned, I made a presentation on ProZ yesterday to encourage freelancers to particpate directly without going through an agency. I explained all the details colleagues need to know in order to participate. I also explained where they can find tendering procedures with a contractual value of more than 130,000 EUR on Tenders Electronics Daily. If you think that this presentation is of some use I would be willing to send you the link. However I think that you have to be registered on ProZ in order to be able to view it. My background is in Procurement Law and Translation and I currently work as a legal advisor on procurement law within the European Institutions.

    Maria

  27. Emma Gledhill 05/06/2014 at 8:24 am - Reply

    Nice post Rose. I’ve been translating for over 20 years and have seen so many of these.

    Re pricing: I did an interesting calculation a few weeks ago which resulted in the realisation that my fee from one of my best and oldest clients is now 40% lower in real terms today than in 2002. Combine that with living in high-cost Switzerland, you’ll understand why I’m frying other fish more these days.

    Here’s a question for you all – why the devil are we not charging by an hourly rate? If we want to be considered professionally equivalent to lawyers, accountants etc. (who I bet are not being sent the “due to the economic crisis we need you to reduce your rates by 5%” mails), why do we still charge on a piece rate? It’s akin to Victorian wool mills and reduces our income the more complex the text for translation – where’s the motivation to do a good job then?

    • Rose Newell 05/06/2014 at 9:32 am - Reply

      Hi Emma,

      Thanks for your comment. Interesting…

      I know some people who charge an hourly rate. I still prefer a job fee which is based on all the costs involved.

      As for why? Because bad translators are often slower translators, and my own speed will vary a little. I’m actually very fast, especially on things that are well-written and creative in German. You know, the kind of texts some translators without the same comprehension and creative skills would struggle with and take them longer. Oddly, I am fastest on some of my most valuable work – but that does not decrease the value. I always charge a job fee, which is based on the line rate and the content, plus any other factors that will add to the work involved. If I charged an hourly rate, I think my clients would be shocked. My hourly direct client rate in terms of what I earn is nearly always three figures, and often very safely in that zone. Some translators would even have the attitude that I’m ripping those clients off. Well, one such client sent me a grateful note just last week. Professionals appreciate professionals – I absolutely love working on such well-written German texts, too. They probably have an idea how fast I am, and perhaps they in particular would accept an hourly rate, but many wouldn’t.

      Another factor – what we do, in terms of quantity, is still quite measurable. I agree, a lot of us are performing work that is not about the quantity, but unfortunately that is how most clients (especially clients we have not educated) will think. Engineers are still respected. They also often get paid by the job, not the hour. Although I agree – freelance engineers may not necessarily be charging the same sort of rates I have mentioned above. Not sure. But I suppose a specialised one does, so perhaps there is no difference…

      Anyway… I prefer job fees. And value pricing when it relates to something applicable, especially writing-translation jobs. I use both.

      • Shai 05/06/2014 at 12:00 pm - Reply

        I completely agree with you Rose. A Project Fee is the way to go. The units (words, lines, hours, whatever) are just one internal measure that a professional uses to come up with his or her project fee.

        You actually already said it, but one great reason against working by an hourly rate is that in a profession that is based on skills and expertise like ours, when one’s productivity increases over time due experience and expertise, one is actually ending up losing money. This creates an absurd situation in which getting more skilled and specialized actually leads to lower revenue.
        Having an idea about one’s hourly earnings is important – for internal purposes, but project fee is the best and most balanced way to go for all parties involved. Those who are after ripping other people off will do so regardless of how they structure their quote or service.

    • Lukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz 18/06/2014 at 9:09 pm - Reply

      Lawyers are currently facing pressure to abandon the billable hour and offer ‘value pricing’, which is supposed to mean (or pass for) client value. Alternatively, fixed fees are used, which are basically project fees, regardless how long it takes.

      The criticism of billing by the hour is mostly that it’s unpredictable and rewards those who work slowly. That’s kinda ridiculous because you do want people to work slowly enough to do the job right, perhaps give their everything, rather then hurrying up and moving on to the next project for a fixed fee.

      Still, clients don’t like hourly billing.

      Some contractors bill per day, that’s not bad when you don’t work for other clients on the same day or if you define the day appropriately in your ToS.

      I like per-page and per-project pricing because it has a bit of a tangible feel. Perhaps a publisher’s sheet would be even better. I believe ~40 pages does look better than 10,000 words. And obviously €25 per page is better than €0.10 per word. The paltry units are the problem, not the fact we don’t bill on a time basis.

      And not having an hourly rate helps you avoid very direct status checks by other professionals who do charge per hour. It’s not cool if you’re an experienced translator and your rate is less than their intern’s.

      • Oliver Lawrence 20/04/2015 at 7:27 pm - Reply

        The main problem with billing by the hour (apart from that clients don’t like it, because they don’t know how much the bill will be before they order) is that you end up shooting yourself in the foot.
        If you learn to do the same job to the same standard in half the time, then (with an hourly rate) the person who benefits is the client. Not you, the person who learned how to become more efficient, who invested in the tools that helped to get you there, who spent so much time learning the lingo and the terminology that you don’t have to look up as much as you did 5-10 years ago.
        The solution, IMHO, is to quote per project (based on your experience, word count, or whatever). That way, if you manage to get the job done faster, you still take home the same pay, but you get to decide what to do with the time you save (eg take on an extra job and make even more).

  28. Shai 05/06/2014 at 4:35 am - Reply

    Great article Rose. It should serve as an invaluable resource for any translator – newcomer or not – to use as a guide when navigating the sometimes muddy water of the marketplace, and as a resource for making educated business decisions.

    A couple of more thoughts:
    Tenders
    Another trap involving tenders is dangling the tender as a carrot while the real purpose is identity theft and/or business espionage. Some use tenders and their appeal (appeal that I never understood) to collect identities and/or business data from translators that are eager to participate. The risk of identity theft is pretty clear, but a less obvious risk is the use of the tender as a bait to collect “references”, that is, details and information about current translation buyers, the fields they buy translation in, and what one is charging them. From here it is very easy for those scammers to attempt and undercut the translators who voluntarily hand over their sensitive business information. This behavior has been confirmed and there are multiple reports in various online fora, even on ProZ forums.

    Fee and the Economic Crisis
    A hoax that refuses to end, probably because it is still so effective. Here is another sad story that demonstrates the financial hardship a well notorious agency is facing in these dire times. Yes, there was a crisis, but it didn’t affect all countries, markets, and businesses the same. Translation is not a charity. It is not some fixed amount that companies decide to donate each year to the Translation Service Providers Welfare Fund, and gets cut when facing a financial strain. Translation is an important commercial service that those companies stand to benefit from (sometimes a lot). Otherwise, it wasn’t in commercial demand. Think of it this way, during the years of the so-called crisis, did companies stop developing new products and services? Did the cost of everything was cut in half? Did the commercial world stopped? The general answer is No! The crisis causes damages, but the way it is abused in the translation marketplace – and in some other marketplaces – is just cynical.

    Last but not least
    There are good guys and some not so good guys (and girls) out there. The key to avoiding traps is knowledge. Newbies and even experienced translators make mistakes all the time. Nothing is wrong with that, as long as those mistakes carry some value and lesson for the future. However, there are also empty mistakes that carry no real value and don’t contribute much to one’s career advancement. Most of the traps described above fall into the latter category. There are plenty other “rookie” mistakes to be me made, whether one wants it or not, so it is best to avoid the most basic and unnecessary ones. The knowledge asymmetry in the translation marketplace is quite significant. It is present between clients and service providers and between some agencies and translators. Many outfits that deal with knowledge asymmetry (to their advantage, that is) are getting consultation from behavioral psychologists that guide them how to exploit human weaknesses and how to play on the primal fears of small independent service providers who often lack negotiation skills, confidence, and knowledge. Knowledge is the key to counter these attempts. Having a business policy to use as a guideline, using a checklist of topics that should be covered, and having a list of common red flags to look out for when discussing a project with a client are also a good idea for developing good and healthy business habits.

    • Rose Newell 05/06/2014 at 10:13 am - Reply

      Hi Shai,

      Thanks for your thoughts! Yes, scams and all their forms are coming up later in the series. They are a major trap for people to look out for. Agreed that tenders can be dangerous in that regard, too.

      I have also been a bit concerned by some approaches from agencies requesting samples and references from me, in addition to rates. It is almost as if they want to know what I am charging, so they can approach my clients. I declined.

      Best,

      Rose

  29. Lucy Brooks 04/06/2014 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    Great post Rose. I shall mention it and provide a link to attendees at my webinar for new translators on Friday.

  30. Ewa Erdmann 04/06/2014 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Congratulations, Rose. Fantastic summary. I can certainly recognise a few traps I fell into as a newbie, but thanks to people like yourself, I became much more sceptical and careful when accepting job offers from agencies. Actually, I stopped working for many for the reasons you described in detail above, and swapped them for direct clients who are just lovely. I have already shared your post and will definitely recommend it to anyone who is starting out in the translation profession. Looking forward to part 2 and 3!

    • Rose Newell 05/06/2014 at 10:08 am - Reply

      Thanks, Eva! Yeah, I think I probably fell in a few of these traps myself. That is how I discovered them… Haha.

  31. tony 04/06/2014 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    A problem I see is that these huge, corporate fascist agencies are now charging clients the rates I was charging 7 years ago, yet offering more services, because they’re paying translators something like half of what I was charging then, and reviewers even less.
    So, I have to compete with them, while unable to provide the broad spectrum of services (translation, review, DTP, etc.) at those rates.
    Private clients I once had are now buying their translations from agencies, because they get more for the same price.
    Granted, their translations are often machine translated and human reviewed, or worse, but the client doesn’t always realize the hit they’ve taken in quality.
    In these past 7 years, I’ve cut every extraneous expense I can, but everything’s got more expensive for me, still.
    I’ve had to compromise on rates. I no longer have any significant advertising/marketing budget. Certainly can’t compete with these huge agencies on that front. And I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.

    • Rose Newell 05/06/2014 at 10:11 am - Reply

      I am sorry to hear that, Tony. I don’t work in your combination, and I have heard it is harder. I know there are a lot of problems with the romantic languages. I also know that companies like Lionbridge are charging a lot to their direct clients, though, even for such languages, so I would not be too sceptical. You *may* find you have to charge more to direct clients to be taken seriously. I don’t know. Can’t really say too much as I work in a different combination and live in my source country, where the recession is pretty hard to see.

    • Lukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz 18/06/2014 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      I know the feeling, Tony. Have you considered magazine ads (on paper, not online) in whatever your prospects read?

  32. Miguel Carmona 04/06/2014 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    I agree 100% with everything you say about agencies.

    I also enjoyed reading the clear difference you make between true professional associations and comercial websites like ProZ with their bogus “professional” diploma programs and reverse job auctions, where jobs are typically awarded to freelancers who offer laughable rates.

    Your fearless approach to subjects that need to be discussed in an unfettered way is really refreshing.

    Thank you so much for writing such an informative and truthful blog.

    Please, for the good of our profession, and those who practice it seriously, keep up the good work.

    A loyal reader from now on,

    Miguel

    • Rose Newell 04/06/2014 at 8:15 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Miguel. That’s very kind of you.

      I agree with you on associations vs. translation platforms, as well as those other freelance platforms I listed. I’m glad the “fearless approach” meets with approval. I guess I say things because they seem logical to me, and I can’t understand why nobody else said it yet. Perhaps that’s arrogance. Perhaps it’s social dyslexia of sorts. 😉

      Hope to see you in the comments again soon!

      Rose

  33. Sabine Winter 04/06/2014 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    As always, great article, Rose! I really admire you for all your writings. Of course, I voted for your blog, and I also forwarded the link to your blog to a few people who might benefit from this insight as well.

  34. Robin Bonthrone 04/06/2014 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    Rose: This isn’t a summary – it’s a textbook chapter! Excellent insights: you should be charging for them. Though I would say that nobody should expect to be paid for genuinely standardised test translations. That’s really not an option.

    Thank you also for reinforcing what I’ve been saying for several years now: at least for German-to-English translations, the financial crisis hasn’t had any negative impact on prices paid by the overwhelming majority if end clients. If some agencies (especially large ones) have been trying to push down prices to translators for this language pair, it’s merely so they can offset heavily squeezed margins in other language pairs. The real price competition is happening at the agency level: too many agencies with too much expensive-to-maintain infrastructure chasing the same work (and the sales guys trying to make their numbers).

    • Rose Newell 04/06/2014 at 2:40 pm - Reply

      Hi Robin, thanks for your thoughts! Indeed, there is a sort of irony in saying how we should work for free, yet never making any money from my blog (at least, not directly). I call it my pro bono work…

      I think I need to clarify the point about free standardised test translations actually, thanks for pointing that one out. I’ve been paid for standardised tests in the past, which obviously really impressed me. The more standard practice I’ve seen is being paid for a small, non-urgent-albeit-real job.

      I agree completely with your comments regarding THE CRISIS. I’m not even sure that margins have been that pushed in other language pairs, at least, not as much as the translators have been forced to bear.

      I also agree with your valuable insight regarding inter-agency competition. I also believe some smaller agencies are rather ignorant of how much some of the more established smaller boutique and larger established agencies are charging their clients (the latter is harder to detect – since they’re often paying their translators the least of all).

      Thanks for the comment, very appreciated. I’m sure the readers will find it informative, too.

  35. Steffen Walter 04/06/2014 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Rose, this is an excellent summary already – I look forward to reading the following parts. Will you also mention scam enquiries with insufficient or fake contact/address details? (This would be relevant to all of us, though.)

    On a related note, I always ask potential clients to provide full business address details if they haven’t done so already in their first message (this might not always be the case, though, with “digital natives” accustomed to communicating bluntly and briefly – one of my best direct clients approached me this way initially). You certainly know the tools available out there to ascertain if enquiries are legit (IP-to-location services, Companies House, Unternehmensregister etc.).

    • Rose Newell 04/06/2014 at 12:38 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Steffen! Yes, scams are well and truly on the list, along with ways to avoid non-payment and minimising risk. 🙂

  36. Anna Stuttard 04/06/2014 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Thank you for a very helpful article. I graduated quite recently and am still learning!

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