Elaine is a French to English translator working mainly with organisations/companies operating in West Africa and legal documents (contracts, etc.). Currently focussing on outsourcing, mainly French to English work but also other language combinations, with a view to setting up an agency in the near future.
How did you get started in freelance translation?
I applied to be an in-house proofreader for a translation agency. They chose someone else for the job but asked me if I would be interested in doing translations for them on a freelance basis. From there, I sent my CV out to a huge number of agencies, registered on Proz, etc. and built up my contacts/clients over time.
What have you done to increase your rates over time?
Firstly, I invested in new translation tools (e.g. Trados Studio 2011), which made it possible for me to ask agencies for more money.
Secondly, I let go of low-paying clients to concentrate on higher-paying clients. It’s tough to take that leap of faith that the work will be there from the higher-paying clients, but in my experience, it pays off in the long run. I also raised my rates with one agency/client at a time, so as to reduce the risk of losing work due to charging higher rates.
What has been the single most effective sales strategy you've used?
The thing that has worked the most for me in terms of finding new clients has been simply talking to people and seizing every opportunity to tell other people what I do and offer my services. All of my major clients come from having given my business card to someone I met at a party/event and from word-of-mouth, clients passing on my details to other companies, etc.
Do you have a favourite 'type' of client?
Clients that are available to answer questions, that don’t take the work for granted (e.g. thanking me for work!) and that pay on time.
What was your most successful project ever, and why?
My most successful project was a multi-lingual translation of marketing materials and packaging texts for a start-up cosmetics company. It was an important step for me because it was the first time working with languages that I didn’t speak. From there, I have managed more projects in my non-working languages and that has enhanced my CV considerably, improving my credibility.
Do you ever negotiate on rates?
I do negotiate on rates – offering lower fees for large jobs, requesting more money for weekend work, and doing deals on first jobs for new clients (10% discount). I have also learnt that it is important to ensure that deadlines are realistic. If you need more time, ask for it.
What would you ideally invest in next for your business?
A shiny new website! And an accountant.
Which tools have most impacted your profitability?
CAT tools in general, especially now that Google Translate can be incorporated into most CAT tools (although shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily!). Making sure that you really understand how to use a CAT tool is also important so as to really make the most of the functionalities on offer, and so I have also invested in Trados training.
Do you have any advice for others looking to raise their rates?
Don’t be afraid of asking for more money. In my experience as both a translator and outsourcer, charging too little actually creates a bad impression, casting doubts on the ability of the translator to do the job. You have a choice as a translator wanting to make ends meet between charging little and working a lot or charging more and working less. I know which I would rather do!