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Overcoming 10 worst business mistakes. Best practices from freelance translators worldwide.

Fist of all, I am amazed at how popular my previous post became. There have been over 5000 views of it already. It has never happened to any of my posts before, which tells me that the article really struck the chord with my colleagues. We need to be honest and open about mistakes we make! That's how we can learn from one another! Thanks for all your comments here and in social networks. Your opinion and your experience matter!

One of my readers asked to render an account of the ways to remedy those mistakes. I think it's a great idea, and, besides my experience, I am also going to use the experience of my colleagues, shared publicly in their blogs or in comments to the previous post.

1. Mistake: Failure to search the info about new clients.

Remedy: Now I Google their personal names, company names, sometimes even their email addresses and other contact details and see whether there are any negative comments about them, especially shared by fellow translators. And I try to listen to my intuition. Even if the client seems fine, but my intuition tells me to run, I run. There have been a few times when I didn't trust my intuition, and that mistake cost me a lot of nerves, lost time and money!

Vicente Victoria shared some tips on LinkedIn that I think can be helpful for everybody:
"An indicator for scammers is they normally send direct e-mails with free addresses (like gmail or hotmail accounts) as opposed to their own name (such as They offer/order you a project without even checking your credentials, CV, or asking for a free sample or a quote from you. Normally they don't send a PO, and want the project finished soon (rush).
After a couple of this frustrating experiences I learned that there is a good tool at Proz, called blueboard, it's not the perfect solution as some scammers start paying on-time and then they become late payers or non-payers, but at least is a good reference."
Here I must say that not all colleagues trust Blueboard at because, as Josephine Bacon says, "determined scammers have clever ways of getting round it, such as getting their friends to write supportive comments." But still I think such "fame and shame" boards can be very helpful. I never agree to cooperate with a client who has a score less than 4.0 on Blueboard, because it's not safe. And there were a couple times when translation agencies suddenly saw all my messages and remembered about my payment only after a note left on Blueboard. Of course I never worked with them after that. I think that translation agencies and direct clients should be as religious about payment deadlines as freelance translators are about project deadlines. I work only with agencies that pay promptly. And although it may seem offensive to some people, it's true that translation agencies from certain countries have "earned" a very bad reputation for their countries, so I never accept any projects from those countries. Again, sorry if it sounds offensive, but it's the reality that many translators live in.

2. Mistake: Working at the lowest possible rates.

Remedy: Know what you are worth. There is no single recipe that we can use to determine what rates to charge. What is good for me might be absolutely unacceptable for you. Fortunately, a number of respected translators posted very good pieces of advice on rates. Here are some best links:
Corinne McKay:
What is the "right rate" for your translation services?
Paid by the word or paid by the hour?

Ewa Erdmann:
Translation rates: what you are paying for

Judy and Dagmar Jenner:
Lower rates + pressure: bad combination
ATA pricing webinar questions: answered (part 1)

Rose Newell:
Translation isn't getting cheaper

Like I said before, I am still working on the financial side of my freelance career. And looks like I will keep working on it for some more time.

3. Mistake: Not marketing your services.

Remedy: How do I make sure I don't make this mistake? I market my services :) I live quite far from major cities where various offline events are held. I was planning to attend a conference this year in Yekaterinburg, but had to change my plans. However, I do everything I can to market my services online through blogging and social media, and sometimes, when I see an interesting project at ProZ, I send quotes there, too. Some are accepted, some not. The main thing here is to market your services consistently. Social networks are great tools for that. It takes only about 15-30 minutes a day to schedule my messages on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and the result is a growing online presence, great networking experience, and new clients, too!

Here are some useful posts on marketing:
Tess Whitty:
Podcast series "Marketing tips for translators"

Neil Payne:
Marketing your translation services through Twitter

Marcela de Vivo:
Using social media and blogging to find new clients

4. Mistake: Failure to diversify your income streams from the beginning.

Remedy: Diversify your income. You can do it in multiple ways. Here are a few suggestions:

* You can widen the scope of our services and offer not just translation, but also editing/proofreading, voice over, localization, consulting, foreign language teaching etc.
* You can go a little further and write an e-book (or a book), make an e-course (or offline course), or a webinar (webinar series or offline workshops), or sell one-on-one training courses on a subject you know really well.
* Totally unrelated to your work, but helpful: if you have two apartments, you can live in one and rent out the other one.
* Getting a day job is another way to diversify your income. For some reason, we, freelancers, avoid talking about it, as if it is shameful. It is not. It helps you survive and build your financial stability, so it's not shameful at all!
* The number of regular clients is also closely related to the number of income streams. As Leon Ivanihin shared, there are some mathematical calculations which prove that the SAFE number of regular clients is 10 (not a couple!). Leon says, "This number is pretty well confirmed by my own freelance practice. So I try never to wait 'reaching the bottom', and start to increase my marketing activity, when clients number falls down less than, say, 7." I think it's a very good advice.

Of course, this list of income sources is not exclusive. You can basically do anything you want. Be creative :)

5. Mistake: Not backing up your files.

Remedy: Back up your files. There are numerous ways and tools available. In 2012 I wrote a post with a list of useful links all about data backup.

6. Mistake: Inability to say "no" to clients.

Remedy: I think saying "no" is an integral part of building a work-life balance. Being overworked and tired is bad not only for you. Your loved ones suffer, too. So your well-being, your health, and your relationship with other people are at stake here. And I mean cases when all your projects are good and you get paid for them. But if you agree to do anything, sooner or later you will start running into scammers, and they will use you more and more because they are good psychologists and they can identify a person who doesn't know when enough is enough. That can easily lead to depression and even bankruptcy!

That's why I believe that saying "no" is a useful skill to learn. Here's a post I wrote about reasons to say "no" to a project and to a client. There's also a great post in Brave New Words blog on this topic.

7. Mistake: Inability to handle criticism

Remedy: The sooner you learn to accept criticism, the better it is for you and your business. We often complain about bad editors and how they correct even unnecessary things as a matter of personal preference. I agree, there are some bad editors out there, but I haven't yet met a single editor who would be 100% wrong. I still remember the first time when I sent my translation and got it back filled with remarks and corrections. I was ashamed, confused, and furious at the same time. Then the PM suggested, "Make a table with four columns: the first column will have a text from the source file. The second column should have your translation, and the third column should have the editor's version. In the fourth column you will write your comments. If you think the editor is right, then admit it. If you think your version is better, then write your reasons for choosing that term/phrase etc."

I accepted that piece of advice and it helped me to grow, because analyzing the text like that helps you see it with different eyes. I realized that I needed to work better! And I kept personal notes about corrections I liked, phrases and terms that I wanted to use in future etc. I also learned to express my point of view calmly, without letting my emotions rule. I still often take the editor's corrections personally, but I am also able to admit when I am wrong, and calmly explain when the editor is wrong in my opinion.

8. Mistake: Spending everything you earn.

Remedy: As I already said before, financial matters are my pain. I accepted the fact that I am not good at managing my finances. But I am gradually changing my ways and habits. Some time ago I wrote a post "What has my freelance life taught me about finances" and shared things I do to ensure my financial stability grows.

9. Mistake: Not treating freelance translation as your business.

Remedy: This is a major mistake that leads to all the other mistakes. If you don't treat your freelancing as a business, then you are not serious about it. This position can lead to the following:

* If you treat freelance translation as a hobby you will either work for very little money or for free all the time. You will feel tired and overworked, and frustrated.
* If you agree to work for little or no money all the time, you will run into many scammers and people who use you, but don't value your work and time.
* If you treat freelance translation as a hobby, you will rely on other people and organizations to bring you work. Thus you won't market your services, and nobody will know that you exist!

I can come up with a few other outcomes of this mindset, but I think the picture is clear. So change your mindset! And the sooner you do that, the better it is for you.

10. Mistake: Having no vision for your translation business.

Remedy: You need to have a goal for your business in order to make sure it develops! You need to know where you want to be in a month, in a year, or in 5 years. And you need to figure out steps which will help you to achieve your goal. Otherwise, you won't know whether your business is successful or not. I love Marta Stelmaszak's article about setting goals. So check it out! I am sure you'll find it useful!

That was a long post. Are those remedies helpful? Let me know what you think! And if there's a piece of good advice you can offer to freelance translators concerning these 10 points, please share it in comments!

Olga Arakelyan,
Your Professional Translator

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