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What makes a good freelance translator? - Part 3. Business skills

Hi! How've you been? I've missed you so much! The past couple weeks before my niece's wedding were so busy that I decided to take a week off right after the wedding. And I thoroughly enjoyed my small vacation! We celebrated the wedding which took part in Suzdal and in Vladimir, I did some reading for pleasure, slept a lot, took long walks with my hubby and my daughter and did many other things that I wouldn't normally be able to do. Now I feel a lot better. So it's time for a new post in "being a good translator" series.

It's the last post in the series. Here we are going to talk not just about any translators, but about freelance translators in particular. Being good specialists and having great motivation is not enough for becoming a good freelance translator. A freelance translator also needs good business skills, otherwise their business will fail.

As I was thinking about this part, I realized that the subject is so vast that it may make a really huge blog post. I'd like to divide business skills into two parts: relationship with clients and relationship with fellow translators. Then there will be a little post scriptum for individual entrepreneurs.

1. Relationship with clients

  • When a prospective client contacts you, the first thing they notice is your communication style. It has been one of the tough points for me since English is not my native tongue, so I had to learn to communicate with my clients to make sure they feel welcome and trust me. I am still mastering the skill. I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that European and American clients appreciate cheerful and friendly attitude, while Russians prefer a little more formal style.
  • But being a great communicator and translation specialist is still not enough. You need to be able to follow the instructions of your client as closely as possible. One of the things that I've learned is that it is ok to ask questions if I don't understand anything. I grew up in the culture where asking questions was not always appreciated. Now I understand that it is ok! Some people think that if they do that they will look unprofessional. But my opinion is that it is better to ask a question and then do a job right, then not ask a question and then fail. Sometimes asking questions is that important.
  • Another vital component is the ability to keep the deadlines. There are some things that you need to take into consideration before you agree to take an assignment. When your client suggests a deadline you need to calculate at what speed you need to work and whether you can fit this assignment into your current projects, or whether you will be able to fit any other projects that may come along! I also prefer to negotiate the deadlines so that I have a bit more time than needed just in case something unexpected happens, or simply to be able to leave the project for a while and then check it again with a fresh eye.
  • We also need to be able to make decisions. Sometimes we have a question and we ask a client, but we don't get their answer on time. For example, not long ago I had a project where there was a person mentioned twice, and each time the last name would be spelled differently in English. Since that was a Russian name I kind of guessed which variant was right and used it. The client then confirmed that it was the right choice. But in such cases I am always open for any corrections. After all, I can't know everything!
  • And the last thing in this part is setting your payment strategy and sticking to it as firmly as you can. Clients feel more comfortable if they know your expectations just as well as you know theirs. They should know if you expect them to pay some percentage upfront (and how much), when you expect the full payment and which payment method you prefer. Of course, it's always good if you accept payment in several ways like paypal, check, bank/wire transfer etc. That will give you and your clients freedom to choose the way that's good both for them and for you.
2. Relationship with fellow translators
    Much has already been said about networking. I can recommend some very useful posts on this topic: Transliteria's "6 Ways to Get More Clients" and Aga Gordon's "Why networking is important to your business". I love networking because it allows me not only to meet new clients, but to make friends with fellow translators, learn from them and even occasionally cooperate with them! To me, this is more than just a business skill though it definitely is good for business. I love sharing my life with others and seeing other people sharing their lives with me. My favourite networking options are meeting local fellow translators here in the city and making friends with my far-away colleagues via Facebook, Twitter and Langmates. I am also registered in LinkedIn, but I'm not an active user of it yet.

    3. A little post scriptum for individual entrepreneurs
    Most of us, freelancers, have to be registered as individual entrepreneurs. And that involves a whole new range of responsibilities: paying your taxes, medical and old age insurance, making sure you file your tax/pension payments declaration on time and stay tuned about all the changes in the tax system. I usually do that with the help of a specialist, since I am definitely not a pro in these issues.

    In my opinion, motivation, language and business skills are the three keys to being a good freelance translator. What else would you add?


    1. Hi Olga, great post. Thank you! In my opinion a very important aspect of being a freelance translator (or a home-based worker) is finding a balance between your work and your free time. I used to work too much when I started my career as a translator and I neglected my social life and my health. Now I try to follow certain rules, such as physical activity twice a week (dancing), not working on weekends (well... not there yet, but trying to :) ), meeting friends at least once a week. Otherwise you can easily burn out and be less productive. Not to mention poor quality of your work. Magda

    2. Hi Magda! Thank you for the valuable comment! I absolutely agree with you. I am still struggling finding this balance of work and rest/social life/physical activity, but I'm getting better in that.

    3. Большое спасибо за пост! Я почерпнула оттуда много полезной информации, хотя согласна с предыдущим комментарием, что нельзя забывать об отдыхе, своем здоровье и семье! Везде нужен правильный баланс.

    4. I like your approach Olga - a commitment to clear and open communications, attention to the client's instructions, observance of agreed deadlines and clarity on payment issues. Business based on such ethical principles will always succeed I believe.

    5. Dear Paul, many, many thanks for your kind words!


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