Corinne McKay, CT, is an American Translators Association-certified French to English translator based in Boulder, Colorado (USA). She translates primarily in the areas of international development and law, and is the author of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, a career how-to guide for beginning and experienced translators alike. Her past leadership roles in the industry include serving as President of the Colorado Translators Association, administrator of the ATA French Language Division and chair of the ATA Public Relations committee. Corinne was elected to the ATA Board of Directors in October, 2012 and also teaches in the University of Chicago's translation certificate program.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I have a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in French. After a first career as a high school teacher and a few translations on the side, I wanted to find a job that would allow me to work from home and use my language skills. I knew very little about the business side of working as a freelance translator, and on my first day in business for myself, I sat down at my dining room table with my baby and the phone book, and started looking for translation companies to call on the phone and apply to. That was 10 years ago, and fortunately my business strategy has improved since then!
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
My main strategy is to raise my rates for new clients when I am very busy. I'll try a rate that is 10% or 20% higher than what I currently charge my highest-paying clients and see what happens. That way, I'm not in a bad situation if the prospective client refuses that rate, because I have enough work as it is. Also, I focus on a fairly narrow specialization - international development - and I get faster and more consistent over time, which allows me to earn more money as well.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you've used?
For work with other translators, such as promoting my book and online course, my blog is absolutely the best marketing strategy I've used. For work with agencies, many of them find me through my online profiles. For work with direct clients, I get a lot of referrals from other translators, and I also do some "cold" marketing by send out letters in the mail.
Do you have a favourite 'type' of client?
Clients who are passionate about their work are always great to translate for. They care about the quality of the end product because a lot of work went into preparing the source document. I enjoy working with direct clients because I can communicate directly with the person who wrote the document, or with the person who is going to use my translation.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
I really took a chance when I wrote my book on how to become a translator. Even my husband, who is normally my most enthusiastic cheerleader, said "Do you really think people would buy something like that?" Well, five thousand copies later, I guess I proved him wrong! Mostly I theorized that if I really struggled with the business aspects of working as a freelance translator, a lot of other people probably did too!
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
I do negotiate quite a bit on rates, but mostly in terms of trying to get potential clients to see the value of hiring a professional. In the end I think clients see that high-quality translators save them time and money because their work needs very little editing and they know what questions to ask (and for that matter, what questions not to ask). I don't give translation memory discounts other than offering not to charge for repetitions if the client doesn't want me to read them. I dislike rush work, so I often negotiate for more time so that I can provide the kind of quality I want to provide without feeling stressed for time. I also charge direct clients higher rates than agencies because I do more non-translation work for them, and because I hire my own editor to thoroughly review my work.
What would you ideally invest in next for your business?
I think that subject-area knowledge is the next wave in our industry. First, it was enough to know another language (let's say 20 years ago). Then, you needed another language and knowledge about translation technique and translation technology (say, over the past 10 years). Now, I think that the pendulum is swinging toward people who have some sort of real training in their specialization areas. So that's what I'm pursuing: I'm taking an online course in public health starting in January, and I would like to pursue more subject-area coursework in the future. I'm also a tentatively aspiring interpreter, so I'm working on that too!
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
Marketing myself to clients who value quality and see me as a partner in the business relationship, not just a service provider. Attending conferences such as Translate in the Catskills which are geared at a small group of premium-market translators. Having multiple revenue streams (translation, books, teaching) so that my income is not concentrated on one or two main clients.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
There are a lot of translators out there, but the demand for high-quality translators and interpreters still exceeds the supply. Don't worry about what "most clients" will pay, or what "most clients" want (for example high volume, fast turnaround and low rates). Focus on finding the amount of work that you need to generate a healthy income. Don't be afraid to talk and think about money; hopefully you enjoy your work, but presumably you wouldn't do it if you weren't getting paid, right? It's fine to want to earn good money, or even a lot of money, as a translator or interpreter, and the high end of the market is waiting for you!