When it comes to selling our services, most translators call themselve a freelance translator. And so they are: they are translating on a freelance basis, selling their services to clients and enjoying the freedom of choice that a freelancing job brings with it. But they are more: they are in business, acting as an entrepreneur. The real entrepreneurial translator therefore is looking for opportunities in his/her business, for improvements in the way s/he works and – in the end – for a little extra earnings (or for more than a little if that’s possible). Chances enough then, but at this point it turns out that not every freelancer is an entrepreneur.
To be honest, I’m writing this blog post because it happens to me regularly: freelance translators are requesting my services in order to translate a text for a client. In fact they are a little translation agency then. They manage their client, the project and the payments and are dealing with much more work and money than if they only did freelance translation jobs in their respective pairs.
However, it happened a few times that my client – the freelance translator – received the invoice and told
[quote style=’1′ cite=”]Dear Pieter,
Thank you for your invoice. I will pay the amount as soon as my client has paid the amount.
The freelance translator[/quote]
That’s quite frustrating. As a freelance translator I expect to do business with a professional colleague who is prepared to stick out his neck in order to grow or to earn a little more. That’s what I love in my work as a freelance translator: the chance to improve my business; to deliver some extra service, convience, and quality to my end client; the calculated risks involving in dealing with clients; and the profit it returns. Of course there is a risk involved that a client will not pay, but to cascade it to your colleagues is frustrating for more than one reason. First, it will never give an incentive for risks, and secondly it is bad for the industry as a whole and for our economies if we endlessly pass down the risks we should bear. What would have happened if I had asked a colleague to translate my text and I wasn’t paid?
That’s a matter of ethics too: should we take a risk or should we play safe for ourselves and pass down the risks to others?
I believe a freelance translator with ambitions to grow or to earn a little extra money should be prepared to take some (well-calculated) risks. That’s how it works in business. Furthermore in the end s/he is the one who is incenticived for the risks taken.
How to mitigate your risks as a freelance translator
I believe that a freelance translator with some little aspirations should bear the risks – and the incentives for his/her entrepreneurship. But how can you do that without taking too much risk? I will share some tips.
- Share the risks with your end client.
In many cases the end client already has a more or less established business. He needs the translations to grow his business and freelance translators are in many cases cheaper than translation agencies. The end client therefore has plenty of reasons to ask you to take on a multilingual translation project.
Business is based on mutual trust and on fair deals, so it would be bad to put all the risks to the end client. However, you can ask him for an advance payment or agree on milestones. In that case you will have some extra security – and the money.
- Contracts, contracts, contracts
Contracts bring a lot of paperwork and management with them, but in the end they are indispensable – and unavoidable. Draw up contracts for your end client and linguistic service providers (or look up for them on the Internet) and make sure everything is covered. A contract cannot avoid that an end client won’t pay, but it offers you at least some added security.
- Make sure the quality is top-notch
A major reason why end clients wouldn’t pay your invoice is the quality of your work. As a translator in a certain language your probably unable to judge the quality of another translation, but in many cases your client is able (or at least pretends to be). To mitigate this risk you should have a rigorous hiring process: ask translators for samples and references. Don’t they have one or do you have little time to find a translator? Invest in a proofreader or editor then to make sure the quality is top-notch? No time or money for that? Calculate your risks and take them. In the worst case you will loose your money and your end client, but that was the risk you calculated – wasn’t it?
Ah, and here comes a last tip – which I don’t like too much, but which is reasonable to some extend: agree on discounts for complaints with your LSP. If s/he really did a bad job, s/he doesn’t deserve to get the full amount paid until the problems are solved.