Catherine Christaki has been a freelance translator since 2001 and the co-owner of the boutique translation agency Lingua Greca Translations since March 2012. She translates from English to Greek and specializes in IT, Medical and Gambling texts. She is happily active in social media (especially Twitter, @LinguaGreca) and co-maintains a blog called Adventures in Freelance Translation.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I always knew I wanted to be a freelance translator. I studied Modern Languages and did my thesis on translation. After graduating from university, I did some part-time translation work while having a 9-5 job in the travel industry for a few years. Then, I worked in-house at a translation agency, where I learned how to use CAT tools. In the meantime, I was looking for companies and other agencies to build my clientele, so a few months later began my full-time freelancing journey.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
I'm proud to say I started with relatively high rates (compared to the Greek market rates). That gave me some leeway to negotiate the first few years of freelancing. I raise my rates every 2-3 years on a per client basis, i.e. for some regular clients, I might keep the existing rate for longer, whereas for new clients my rates are usually a bit higher than my existing ones. After a few years of continuous co-operation with some agencies, it’s easier to ask for an increase in rates, given that you can also use the notion of value to your advantage: if you always try to be professional, pay attention to detail and instructions and be available for your clients, in essence you create value for them. That way, they are willing to pay you more in order to keep this flawless co-operation going.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you've used?
The only sales strategy I've ever used as a freelancer was to send a lot of resumes via email in the first few years of working. I didn't have a website, so I updated my translation portal profiles regularly. That's how clients found me or checked me out after having received my application email.
As a company, I try to maintain a good social media presence and a professional website & blog. My next step is to attend expos in the fields I specialize, i.e. IT, Medical and Gambling, bearing impressive promotional material.
Before attending those conferences, I'm planning to research my potential clients as much as possible in order to create a personalised sales pitch for each one. If they already have Greek translations, I'll check their website/manuals to see if the quality is good. If it's not, I'll choose and translate a small text to show them how good my work is. If they don't use Greek translations, I'll prepare a list of reasons why they should market their products in the Greek market and how I can help them do that with my localisation skills.
Do you have a favourite 'type' of client?
Sure. I appreciate it when project managers send one email (and not five or more) with all the instructions, files to translate and the rest of the materials for a job. I like it when they are polite, professional and cooperative. And of course, prompt payment is always appreciated.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
Doing localization work for 'the most admired company in the world' (according to Fortune's list for 2012). It's amazing to see my translations right there in my phone, tablet and computer. The client is a sheer pleasure to work with and the work is super interesting.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
As I work mostly with translation agencies, I rarely negotiate. If their budget doesn't cover my rates, I just recommend colleagues with possible lower rates. Some very nice PMs offer a weekend surcharge sometimes for urgent work, but I don't usually ask (mostly because I prefer to keep my weekends work-free). As for translation memory discounts, I have standard percentages for each category of matches which applies to all my work (e.g. for repetitions, I charge 30% of the full rate). Sometimes the agencies offer different discounts; if they're not far from mine, then I don't mind accepting theirs.
As for the negotiating part, I don't do well on the phone or in-person. I'm a people-pleaser and tend to say yes to everything. But on email, it's very different. Having regular work for the past 11 years has given me the strength to be a strong negotiator. I have proudly won several negotiating 'battles' and stood up to 'we have cheaper translators in our database' threats. My secret weapon has always been high-quality service. I want my clients to choose and pay me for the whole 'package' (education, experience, quality, professionalism), not just for the translated texts I send them. The package is what distinguishes a translator from others.
What would you ideally invest in next for your business?
Promotional material (e.g. flyers, brochures) and then attending more conferences and expos each year. I've read numerous books and useful blog posts on marketing for translators, so I can't wait to apply all those brilliant ideas to find direct clients.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
CAT tools influence my profitability significantly since they offer a number of advantages that save time and increase my productivity. The Web is a great resource for terminology research and saves a lot of time compared to hard-copy dictionaries. And last but not least, conferences and blogs have been an amazing resource with regard to profitability. The tips and advice offered by other translators for pricing, marketing, communication and so much more are invaluable.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Start by creating a pricing strategy: in essence, set a goal that you want to reach in a specific time period. Take into account a number of economic factors, such as inflation, business expenses etc. Most companies raise their prices almost every year, so there should be no fear in asking for something that is a common business practice.
Existing clients are usually the first to learn about the price increase. Send a polite email asking them to update your profile with your new rates. Some of them will do as told and thank you for letting them know. Some will ignore and delete your email (when the next project comes from them, you'll need to remind them that your rates are higher). Some will say, nicely or maybe not, that you're too expensive for them now. In these cases, hold your ground (always politely) and don't be lured by promises of more work or be intimidated by threats that they have other translators in their database. Try to avoid haggling as well, especially if you're not experienced in negotiating, you'll end up agreeing to your old price (if not a lower one).
These aren't the best clients anyway; they treat translation as a commodity and choose providers according to the price, not the value of their services. If I receive a negative reply about my rates from a (polite) client that can't afford my rates, I recommend colleagues with possibly lower rates. Even if that means you're losing them as a client, another colleague gets to benefit from the nice client and they're both happy (they'll find a way to pay you back for your kindness in the future).
The more professional and high-quality the work you deliver, the easier it is to charge highly for it. Be a problem-solver for your clients and become indispensable to them; that way you won't be competing with other translators on price alone, but on the high-quality services you offer.
What’s your take on blogging and social media?
In general, I'm a late adopter. I wanted to create a website for many years and I finally decided to stop with the 'no time, too busy' excuses in 2010 after the annual ATA (American Translators Association) conference. That's where I also decided to accompany my website with a blog and create a Twitter account. The latter was the easiest and quickest to implement. I've written a blog post about my first steps with Twitter (also available in French). The blog started in August 2011 along with my website going live.
Blogging and tweeting have no downsides, honestly. They do require a bit of time now and then (maybe a few hours per week), but that's about it. They're both free, lots of fun and offer translators a nice break from translating and a nice opportunity to bring out the news curator (for finding and sharing interesting links on Twitter) or the creative writer (for blogging) in them.
Both have numerous benefits for marketing your services. Nowadays, a potential client can find out all about you by checking out your social media presence (keep your professional and personal accounts separate!). In our digital age, the easiest way for someone to find a translator is to google it. If you're nowhere to be found online, you're missing out on indefinite opportunities.
Blogging and social media are also excellent networking tools. First and foremost, with fellow translators and interpreters. They give you the opportunity to get to know them and establish a relationship (I'm proud to have real translator and interpreter friends that I met online). Then, with professionals in other fields, like web designers and writers, whose clients might need translation services at some point. All these people are potential 'evangelists' of your brand. When their clients ask for someone offering your services, they'll recommend you. Clients prefer recommendations from their providers instead of looking for resources themselves.
And last but not least, you're able to network with potential clients. Not so much with blogging, that's more to showcase your knowledge and experience and share your insights into your fields of expertise. On Twitter though, you can find your dream clients, follow them, learn the latest news about your industry and contact them to ask for a meeting. If you're not yet comfortable attending traditional offline networking events (like expos), social media offers you the opportunity to network in the safety of your own home. Plus, you can research a great deal about your target clients and thus create the perfect sales pitch when the time comes to meet them either online or offline!