Being a freelance translator isn’t just about having the ability to take language from one culture and turn it into another. As I allude to elsewhere in this blog, there are aspects of this career which require negotiation skills and business awareness. When you start off, for example, or have a new agency contact you promising a juicy contract, it can be tempting to bend over backwards to get the job. Experience has shown that there are a few important issues to consider before taking on a new job/client and I’ve put them together below. This is shamelessly inspired by Mark W. Lewis’s Top 10 Lies told to Naive Artists and Designers (via lifehacker) and is called Céline’s 10 Tricky Situations Translators Might Find Themselves In and How To Get Out of Them.
1. "We’ve a got a huge project coming in next week. Make sure you don’t take on any work in the meantime."
If you haven’t received a purchase order specifying timescales, wordcount and price, do take work in the meantime. A lot of projects get delayed and even cancelled, and you might find yourself twiddling your thumbs and regretting turning down other jobs.
2. "You need to take a free test so we can make sure we want to work with you."
If you’ve got experience and credentials (nevermind references), surely this demonstrates that you are a seasoned professional who can be trusted to do a good job. If you’re a beginner, be careful. What some unscrupulous agencies might mean is "Do a section of this for free, we’ll put it together with all the other "tests" we’ve sent round and voilà! Our project is done for free". However, don’t dismiss all tests that agencies may ask you to do. I agreed to do a free test this year because the person who wanted to work with me sounded extremely professional, was offering interesting projects and didn’t haggle over rates. This has turned into a mutually beneficial work relationship. Trust your gut feeling on this one.
3. "We’ve got this 2,000 word really easy document to translate, can you deliver tomorrow?"
Before agreeing to deliver a translation at a certain time, even verbally, you must have a look at it. The 2,000 words might magically turn into 20,000 words (it has happened to me) and the "really easy" prose may be full of technical jargon that only 8 years of study in space science could prepare you for.
4. "Hello, we’re agency X calling out of the blue and we’re great, can you do a translation for us?"
Maybe. First of all, ask for their details and carry out a quick Internet check to make sure they actually exist. Next, use translators’ lists on payment practices to ask colleagues whether they’ve worked for that agency and what their feedback is. Lastly, trust your gut feeling: is the tone of the email/phone call professional? Do they mention terms? Do they give details of the project?
5. "Lower your rate for this job and we’ll give you much more work."
No self-respecting professional would try and get another professional to cheapen themselves. You won’t be respected as a translator by devaluing your own work.
6. "Hi, we’ve got this 5,000 word document, but there are lots of brand names and repetitions in it, so can you not charge us for those words?"
Of course, no problem. I just won’t include those words in my translation, and you can just add them yourself after delivery. Seriously, a text is an entity, and it is not practical or fair to ask a translator to not charge for certain words just because they appear more than once. We still have to type them, and they’re an integral part of sentences. Besides, "can" might well appear lots of times in your document, but just because I translated it a certain way the first time I came across it doesn’t mean that it should be translated in the same way in its subsequent occurrences.
7. "Your rate is too high. We normally pay our French translator xxx."
One colleague’s rates and business practices are nothing to do with me. I charge a fair rate, which allows me to live decently and stay in business. Lowering my rates might mean having to take on another job, which would impact on the quality of my translations, or stop translating altogether and chose a more lucrative career.
8. "A Purchase order? We don’t do purchase orders. Don’t you trust us?"
Business relationships aren’t personal relationship and have to be regulated so that both parties agree on some basic terms. A purchase order protects the client (you’ve signed a paper specifying when and how you’ll deliver your translation) as well as the translator (you have proof that you got commissioned to do work in case of payment delays or problems).
9. "Our proofreader has been through your translation and has spotted lots of mistakes. You must do the translation again."
Can you please send me the proofread translation with annotations from the proofreader? I am fairly certain I sent you a decent document and I would like to discuss any problem that arose at the proofreading stage before I accept to redo the translation.
10. "We can’t pay you because the end client hasn’t paid us yet"
This is none of my business. My business relationship is with you, not the end client. If you agree that I delivered a quality translation on time, then stick to the terms of our agreement and pay.