I’m a freelance English to French translator who works for a variety of mainly direct clients. Sorry about the lack of third-person, but I firmly market myself as an individual, not a company, hence the first person.
[Introductions were requested in the third-person –interesting take! - Luke]
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I took the Institute of Linguists’ Diploma in Translation, emailed lots of agencies and was lucky to have friends in the right places, which got me two excellent clients in interesting fields, who then recommended me to other organisations.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
I’m not very good at regularly increasing the rate I charge long-term clients, but every two or three years, I’ll check out what my rate should be if it followed inflation, and I send an email to my clients informing them of my new rate. My most successful strategy, however, is to quote higher for new clients.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you've used?
Starting a website with a blog. It’s brought me visibility, an enhanced reputation and the clients I want, which is why I’m stupid to neglect it, but see [the answer to the investment question below].
Do you have a favourite 'type' of client?
My favourite client would be a medium-sized organisation working in the field of international development, with a well-organised person in charge of translator liaison, and clear invoicing procedures.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
I once translated 190,000 words over a few months, where the source text was regularly updated, which meant reflecting the changes in the translation. It all went well because the PM and I kept communication lines open at all times and showed complete respect for each other, even when things were hectic and we both got little things wrong.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
More and more, particularly deadlines. Clients seem to be increasingly reluctant to agree to my rate, so I often have to put my foot down, which means seeing quotes turned down, but it’s better that way. I try and show them the added value I bring them compared to somehow charging a lower rate. For example, a client asked me to quote for a two-day interpreting gig last week and mentioned she didn’t know where to hire interpreting equipment. I got her a quote from a local company, and she gave me the job, as I made her job much easier.
What would you ideally invest in next in order to grow your business?
I’m not really interested in growing my business. I try and make sure that work doesn’t get in the way of friends, family, sports and games, and at the moment, the balance is right. But if I wanted to find new clients, I’d hire the help of an SEO consultant to give my website a boost. I have neglected it in the last couple of years, mainly because I’m a bit bored of blogging after 9 years.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
CAT tools and switching to Mac - no more blue screen of death.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Do the equivalent of what my physiotherapist did last December: put a note on the door saying “From January 1st, consultation price will go from £20 to £25.” No apologies, no explanation. I’m sure nobody questioned it.
[As for pricing on value,] it’s not a strategy I’ve employed, because I’ve been working steadily with the same clients for years and I’ve always used a per word rate, but I would like to learn more about it.
Finally, as you’re such a well-known blogger in the industry, could you talk a little about that?
I started my blog because I wanted to draw visitors to my website and attract incoming links so as to improve my ranking. As marketing my services is my least favourite part of being translator, I was hoping that this would direct potential customers to me instead of me having to find them. I wasn’t sure at all this would be efficient, but I liked the idea of writing about my work, so even if my main aim wasn’t reached, I would at least enjoy the process. The strategy worked, and it has brought me some excellent clients. Despite the fact that I no longer blog as regularly as I used to, the richness of my site (1,174 blog entries in total on both the English and French sides) means that it is well indexed by search engines and that it still comes up reasonably high for keywords I’m interested in, like “English to French translator” or “French interpreter”.
On the subject of SEO and keywords, it’s interesting to see that even entries that aren’t directly linked to my work as a translator can have as much value as a well-written piece on a particular industry issue containing lots of relevant keywords. For example, a 2004 entry on the translation of the song “My way” got picked up by Wikipedia, as well as my piece on Language and Diplomacy (in the France section, no less) earning me the sort of incoming links that Google values highly.
Ideally, we’re told that a blog should be updated regularly. However, after 9 years, I sometimes feel like I’ve said all I have to say and over time, I’ve learnt that a sensible work/life balance is important for my general happiness, and so these days, on a nice, quiet day, I’m much more likely to spend some quality time in the Sussex countryside playing golf than to sit at my desk to write a blog entry. Thankfully, the body of work I’ve accumulated over the years means that this site still does its job, and I still receive regular requests from potential clients, so nowadays, if I’m blogging, it’s because something completely new has attracted my attention. Or because it’s too wet to play golf.