Skip to main content

Clients vs translators: how do we show that we're honest?

This is a personal post, and I'd really like to hear the opinion of my colleagues about such situations and how to deal with them.
My situation is kind of like the one described in Mox's blog.
In December a new prospective client wrote to me asking about my availabiility for a new project. When I read the overall description of the project, I got really interested in it. But the client needed to know exactly how much time it would take and how much it would cost. No problem, just send me the text to look through or a part of it so I could get the gist of the style, level of complexity etc. In the reply that person just stated the wordcount, but there was no sample. I thought, maybe they didn't understand me. English is not my native language after all. In my reply, I stated the estimated time and cost based on the client's wordcount, but I repeated the request to see a part of the text. And then the person thanked me and ... disappeared.

I kept thinking about that project and what I could have done differently. Maybe that person perceived my repeated request as some kind of unwanted pressure. I don't know.
Question for translators: what do you do if a client doesn't want to show you the text? I mean, there are non-disclosure agreements that can be signed if they're so worried about confidentiality issues. Generally, we, freelance translators, are so much concerned about our online reputation that we just can't afford stealing a text or using it inappropriately etc (plus there are some moral rules here that I would never break!). But how do you communicate that to your new clients? You know you're honest, but how to prove it to others? Do we actually need to prove our honesty?


  1. Very interesting question, Olga!

    I agree that although we know that we are honest individuals, these clients do not know us and we could be frauds (like it is sadly the case for some non professional translators).

    I think referrals from former clients can come handy there, to prove our skills and professionalism.

    I also wrote in my disclaimer (on my website) that clients have a right to modify the information they share with me, and that I am bound by the French law to respect the confidentiality of their documents, data, etc.

    I don't know if you have equivalent laws in all countries, but anyways, here are some ideas of how to prove that we are professionals and that we know how to respect the confidential aspect of our client's documents.


    1. Dear Louise, thank you so much for such great ideas! I have testimonials on my profile, but I guess I also need them here. I will surely investigate what the Russian law says about confidentiality issues and intellectual property although I am sure I am not violating any part of it ;)

  2. Olga, I think there was no problem with you, but with your 'potential' client.
    How can you say exact values without any reference? No way for that. He/she could at least give you link to somehow relative 3d party text or website to investigate potential issues with translation. And providing samples to translator is perfect chance for client to prove his/her choice of you.
    So I think your part in dialogue was just right.

    p.s. Some time ago I received kinda big sample (paragraph of some manual) from one Chinese company with allusions for upcoming big orders, nice $/word ratio etc. I've done this sample, send it back. And — voilá. Nothing in reply. I've ask another time. Zero. Silence.
    Surely, I've heard about such odious (btw i think word motherf_kin' is much better here) clients, but as always we do thought that this will not happen to me never. Live for ages, learn for ages.
    At least I hope some Chinglish manual will finally have part of good Russian translation, haha.

    1. Oleg, thanks for your comment! Your words "there was no problem with you" are like music to my ears :) I am very sorry for what happened to you. In my freelancing career I also found myself in such situations a few times. My experience is summed up in the post (you can copy and paste it in your browser). I checked the info about the client and it doesn't look like that particular person is a scammer. But who knows, maybe you are right.

  3. Hey, Olga! Nice post!
    I agree with Olga, there was nothing wrong on your part.
    Whenever I receive quote requests, either from individuals or companies, I almost always ask to see the whole text first, or at least a sample. I think there's no other way of really knowing how long it will take you to translate a text, or whether you're charging a fair price. I always explain this to my customers, and they're almost always happy to do this; only a few ask for an NDA.
    But I've had a few experiences like yours, too, and I think there are two possibilites: 1) that "potential" customer was looking for the cheapest possible translator, which I'm sure is not your case; or 2) it was just someone trying to find out how much other translators in that field/language pair are charging, in order to set their own rates (competing on price, not on quality - a huge mistake, IMO).

    1. *I mean, I agree with Oleg... Time to get away from the keyboard for a while... =)

    2. Hi André! Many thanks for your comment! Oleg and Olga is actually the same Scandinavian name, Oleg is a masculine variant and Olga is a feminine version :)
      Thank you so much for your support! Maybe you are right. Of course, it's not the first time when people write to me to just find out about my rates. It's just that this particular project sounded so interesting, so perfect for me, that's why I got upset when I realized it didn't work out. But I'm fine now, lots to do anyway :) I'm sure I'll land quite a few much better projects than that one ;)
      Thank you for sharing your experience! I learned something new from you, and that is priceless!

  4. Well, of course no self-respecting professional translator could accept a job without having seen the text. You need to see if it is legible (many scans are not) and if it is really in your field.

    In terms of demonstrating your honesty, you can refer to your obligation to comply with the code of conduct/ethics of your professional translators' association, like the UK CIoL, in my case, and that association's right to subject you to its disciplinary procedures.

    But in any case, any customer must realise that they cannot have a document translated if they are unwilling to let the translator see it!

    1. Thank you Oliver! Frankly speaking, I am pretty sceptical about such associations. The only "association" I am a paying member of is which is not exactly a professional assiciation, though I do like it there (I know many translators wouldn't agree with me, but I do like this place a lot!) What other benefits do you see being a member of UK CloL for instance?

    2. Hello Olga,

      Mostly I think it is worth it for: access to a discussion forum containing only qualified and/or experienced colleagues; the stamp of approval from a respected body that is happy to have me as its member; and peace of mind for my clients that I have this endorsement, that I am required to abide by its code of conduct, and that I am therefore to a certain extent accountable and 'above board'. Other benefits like a listing on the institute's directory of freelancers and reduced rates on events and professional indemnity insurance also come into it, to a lesser extent.


    3. Thank you Oliver. I'll definitely investigate this opportunity.

  5. Hi Olga:

    If a potential client is vague, whether intentionally or unintentionally, you can reciprocate by being vague too, for example by giving a wide range for everything: I can translate one thousand to three thousand words a day depending on the text, I charge 0.1 to 0.25 cents per word depending on the type of text, it would take me from 1 to three weeks, etc.

    And always add: I will be happy to provide a binding estimate once I can see the text.

    That's what I do.

    Many clients want translators to commit themselves to a project before they see it, which is also known as buying a pig in a poke.

    A smart translator would never do that.

    And thanks for tweeting my posts!!!

    1. Hi Steve! Thank you for stopping by! First of all, you are very welcome. I came across your blog a few months ago and have been looking forward to every new post since then :)
      Thank you also for sharing your experience. I actually do the same as you, identifying a range of rate and time/speed. Good to know that my more established colleagues do the same, that means I am on the right track!

  6. I was in such situations, but I cannot give any advice, because I don't know what kind of advice it may be. Maybe it was just some kind of 'marketing research' the client wanted to conduct? Anyway, I think you don't have to worry about it. It was just not really 'your' project.

  7. I was in such situations many times and already have got accustomed to it. And when it happens again I never overreact and don't have illusive expectations about such projects. My experience tells me, that a person, who really wants you to translate this project makes his choice after first 1-2 letters. Otherwise I don't see any certain decision in such quotation research - just waisting time in useless corresponding.

  8. Thanks for your comment, Elena, and welcome to my blog :) In my career, there have been many cases when people would come to me already determined that they will work only with me. But there were also cases when there was quite a bit of correspondence between me and the prospective clients because they wanted to hire THE right translator to work with them. Sometimes they came to the conclusion that it's me, sometimes not. I guess this time I was too sure that we're all settled. That's what made me write this post. And I am very thankful for all the feedback I got. It lead me to some very good decisions.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

10 interesting facts about the Russian language

In my previous post  I promised to follow with the  interesting info about some other languages. So here are 10 facts about the Russian language which might be of interest to those who are studying it. If you would like to have this list in Russian, please contact me and I will send it to you by email. So, what do I find interesting about my native language? 1. Russian has about 500,000 words, but only 2,000-2,500 of them are used frequently. 100 most frequently used words make 20% of all written and oral speech. A high school graduate's vocabulary usually has 1,500 to 4,000 words. Those who have graduated from a higher educational institution normally have a richer vocabulary consisting of approximately  8,000 words. 2. It's compulsory for all astronauts in the international space station to learn Russian, so we can call it an international language of space :)

15 interesting facts about the English language

I prepared this list for one of my English classes. And then it dawned on me that I can share it with you, too! So here are 15 facts about the English language that I find very interesting. Hope you do, too ;) Rudyard Kipling was fired as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. His dismissal letter said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language. This isn't a kindergarten for amateur writers." No language has more synonyms than English.