New England Translators Association
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Useful Tips for T & I

Translator Do’s and Don'ts


1. Always Make Your Deadline
If you say you'll have a project done by a certain time, make sure you deliver. Your clients don’t want excuses. They want on-time results.

2. Get Referrals
Always pump clients for referrals from within their company or elsewhere. It’s much more promising (and less stressful) than making cold calls.

3. Stay Visible
People don’t want to hunt very hard for a translator/interpreter, so stay “visible” by phone, mail, Internet, or in person as much as possible and you’ll get the work.

4. Keep Sowing the Seeds
When you’re busy it seems like the work will flow forever. It will end eventually! Therefore, even when you’re snowed under, read the job list, make a few calls, and send a few resumes. If you skip on this now, you will be hungry later.

5. Trust the Law of Averages
In God and The Law of Averages We Trust. Call enough people, send enough resumes, join enough organizations for translators, register on enough websites for translators, you’ll find the work. Guaranteed.

6. Go Out and Press the Flesh
Early in my translating career, someone shared this: 1 in 10 prospects you contact will hire you. 1 in 3 you meet will hire you. Enough said.

7. Project a Good Attitude
People like to do business with those who are pleasant to work with. Be a good experience for your client, and you'll get work again.

8. Listen More, Work Less
Listen carefully to what the client wants (i.e., don’t decide you know what they need) and you’ll spend less time translating...and retranslating.

9. Keep Your Word
Do what you say you’re going to do, show up when you promise to, deliver on time, and you’ll instantly put yourself ahead of about 95% of the pack.

10. Share It Forward
If you get a job you can’t do, refer it to a colleague. If you find a job you can’t do, post it on the job list. If you can spare some time regularly, volunteer for a job search. If somebody finds a job thanks to you, he/she will pay it back by referring something to you sooner or later.

(The above information was reprinted with the permission of the author, Radek Pletka.)


11. Do Not Accept Projects beyond Your Abilities
It is perfectly professional to turn down jobs if you have no experience in the field covered. Turning down such work will not automatically disqualify you for other work in your language pairs for which you are qualified. It shows you know your own limitations and that's good. Alternatively, hire a good editor to review your work if you're developing a new area of specialization.

12. Do Not Accept Jobs with Impossible Deadlines
Dare to negotiate! You can take measures (such as charging higher rates) to discourage or compensate for jobs with extremely tight deadlines. You may often find that the job turns out to be not quite so urgent after all. Besides, the quality of your work may suffer under the pressure of an unreasonable deadline.

13. Do Not Hesitate to Ask Questions
When asked, agencies may be able to provide you with past translations or other documentation to use as reference material. If you have done considerable research on a term to no avail, point it out to the agency. Most translations contain at least one ambiguity. A common beginner mistake is to try to be "good" and not ask questions.

14. Do Not Accept a Job without Seeing the Text
What someone might describe to you as a business text may turn out to be medical. Someone might say the text is 1500 words, but then you find it's 1500 words of difficult to read handwritingundefineda nightmare! It's always best to see the text before committing to it.

15. Do Not Accept Work without Knowing Who Your Client Is
Check out the person or company who is offering you work. Get full contact details, not just an email address. A little research now could save you tremendous problems down the road.

16. Do Not Proceed with the Job Until You Have Agreed on the Rate
No one likes surprises when it comes to the bill, so make sure you and your client are clear when it comes to the cost. You may charge different fees for different projects or you might have a couple of different fees for the same project (a per word rate for translation plus an hourly charge for formatting, for example). For small jobs, you may have a minimum fee rather than a per-word rate. You may have surcharges for handwritten texts or for weekend work. Some jobs require a great deal of formatting or might require you to work with different types of software. These are projects that can be charged by the hour rather than per word or per line. A general guideline is to have an hourly rate that reflects what you normally earn on average for an hour of translating.

17. Do Not Sell Yourself Short
Emphasize the experience you do have, don't focus on what you don't know. Rates vary for different countries, language combinations, and types of translation, so take all these factors into account when determining a fair market price for your services. Make sure you charge enough to make your business profitable. If you start off with low prices, make sure you raise them gradually as you gain experience.

18. Do Not Throw Out Business Records and Correspondence Too Soon
Keep important papers for at least 12 months. This includes every email sent to and received from your clients, every fax, invoice, contract, purchase order, translation file, and any other correspondence. It’s simply good business practice to keep good records.

(The above information was reprinted with the permission of the author, Chantal Wilford.

Other Useful Tips

• It’s not about blanketing the world with résumés. Rather, it’s about personalizing a connection with potential clients in order to make a name for yourself and then prove to be so trustworthy that you inspire repeat customers.

• Consider sending personalized postcards, maybe with a photo you have taken, to current clients and/or to project managers at agencies in order to keep a connection alive and foster further business.

• Think of a few niches you want to work in, hyperspecialized if your language pair is more common, and carve out the space for yourself there. Lawyers specializing in immigration might not be enough if you work in Spanish; perhaps lawyers working with transgender immigrants could be a superspecialized niche.

Ed Gandia, blog on marketing for the self-employed

Corinne McKay, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator


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