By Dan Bradley, an independent Japanese to English translator based in Edinburgh, UK.
Having your own Terms of Service in place can be an excellent way to introduce your services to potential clients while ensuring business is carried out in the way you want. If you’re lost at T&C when it comes to translator agreements, terms and contracts, read on to find out how to draft your own clear, professional and effective Terms of Service.
Why do I need a Terms of Service Agreement?
The key to creating a focussed and effective Terms of Service is knowing why you want one in the first place. Perhaps you’ve been stung by several late-paying clients and want to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen again, or maybe you want to set your own terms with the kind of clients you deserve. Knowing why you want a Terms of Service will help shape the structure, content and tone of the finished document.
A detailed Terms of Service clarifies exactly what you and the client can expect from each other. This includes your language services, payment terms, client confidentiality, cancellation procedures, and how you resolve any questions and issues that may arise. An effective Terms that clearly lays out your and the client’s expectations right from the start can head off potential communication or payment problems early and allow you to focus on producing your best work.
A polished and professional agreement shows your Ideal Client that you take your business seriously and, just like your website, blog or marketing material, is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills.
Who is it for?
If the majority of your clients are agencies with their own agreements in place or private individual clients who may be put off by what they see as unnecessary paperwork, insisting on a signed contract each time may lose you more work than it gets you. Instead of an agreement that needs to be printed, signed, scanned and sent by each and every new client, create a read-only Terms of Service that functions as an introduction to your business and how you operate.
Tailor the language to your audience. Are you dealing with international legal firms in your source language country or private individuals based locally? My Ideal Client, for example, enjoys legalese about as much as I do so my Terms of Service is stripped of jargon, long sentences and passive constructions.
Where are your clients? If you have clients in different countries, you may need to accommodate the payment system they already have in place or adhere to the payment terms that apply in that country.
Rather than try and produce a multi-page document that targets all clients and protects against every eventuality, create a Terms of Service that outlines the basics and establishes the trust and lines of communication that will put you and the client in a position to address any issues before they become problems. I have outlined a simple framework in ‘My Terms of Service’ below.
Where do I start?
Collect examples used by linguists in and out of your language pair by searching databases like ProZ, Translators’ Café and Google. Review the things you like and don’t like about each translator’s decision and consider dropping them an e-mail to discuss the reasons behind their choices.
You can find comprehensive templates for linguists from the ITI and the American Translators Association. It can also be useful to see how non-translators approach the same challenge. Freelance Switch, for example, a site aimed more at bloggers, writers and designers than translators, is a great resource: check out 8 things you should include in your terms of service agreement, Safer client contract and What should be included in a design contract?.
The Terms should focus on building trust by foregrounding the importance of the project, client confidentiality and meeting their expectations, and by highlighting your accountability, transparency and professionalism.
My Terms of Service
Bearing these points in mind, I start my Terms of Service with my full contact details and the times I can be reached. If you or your client are put off by a long document, you could draw up a simple checklist or letter stating your essential services and conditions. My Terms then begins with a simple summary:
This Terms of Service details the definitions of services, client confidentiality, procedures for payment and for cancellation of language services provided by Dan Bradley, hereafter referred to as ‘the Translator’.
I then use the following section headings to separate the material in a clear, logical way:
Definitions: Explain your different services, confirm the delivery format, dates and whether or not you will subcontract.
Confidentiality: Who owns the copyright? How will you handle client information and supplementary documentation supplied by the client? Do you reserve the right to remove your name from the translation if you’re unhappy with post-project changes?
Payment: Explain the rate structure for your different services, payment methods and terms, who will bear transaction fees, specify terms for advance payment, late charges, long-term projects and any additional fees incurred.
Cancellation: Outline what will happen if things don’t go to plan. This may depend on whether the client drops out, you fall ill or there are other reasons outside of your control.
Signature: I conclude the agreement with a personalised summary inviting the client to get in touch with any further questions about my services, experiences, rates and availability.