The Myth (and Math) of Finding Freelancing Clients

The lifeblood of a freelance translator, or any freelancer for that matter, is clients. Without any clients, you’re not going to get paid.

It’s pretty simple.

However, what you might not realize, especially if you’re just starting out trying to get your first few clients, is that you don’t need hundreds of clients in order to make your business a success.

The myth of the freelance client is prevalent among beginning freelancers, who mistakenly believe that without that large number of clients, they won’t be able to make enough money to survive, or even be profitable.

But it’s a myth.

And you’re not like everyone else.

Freelance Math

However, just so you don’t fall into that trap, it’s important to go over the real math of what it means to freelance and the real number of clients that you need in order to make a real go of your new freelancing career.

But first, let’s review an important point:

Your Time is Limited

You and every other freelance translator, freelance writer, or graphic artist has 24 hours in a single day. No more, no less.

Some people think that this limit on time is a curse. But really I see it as a blessing.

Here’s why.

Nobody can work more than anyone else. You’re on the same-level playing field as your competition. And since you have the same time as everyone else, you can excel by working smarter.

And part of working smarter means not running around trying to find every single client you can, but instead finding those clients that give you the most return on investment.

That means finding a smaller number of clients that will pay you more, rather than a large number of clients who pay you less.

Looking at the Math

Say you want to start out by earning $1,000 a month, which is a pretty reasonable amount for a beginning freelancer.

You could look for 20 clients and charge them $50 for a single assignment to get to your $1,000 goal.


You could instead focus on getting quality clients that are willing to pay you what you’re worth and for the service and value that you are offering them. Let’s say that the clients in this group recognize that you bring incredible value to their business, and are willing to pay $200 a month to you to help bring their ideas to life. Charging that much means that you would only have to find five clients.

The money is the same no matter which route you take, but money isn’t everything, as the saying goes.

Instead, think about these questions:

  • Which route is going to give you less stress?
  • Which clients are going to value your service more and recommend you to like-minded clients?
  • Which group are you going to feel more invested in and do better work for?

This is the real value of finding the right clients.

Again, the money is the same but your whole business outlook is going to be completely different. And you will become a better freelancer because of it.

Finding the Right Clients

I know what your next question is going to be.

“How do I find clients that are willing to pay me more?”

But here’s the thing.

The attitude of continuing to look for clients who are only focused on what they have to pay you is a losing proposition. You will never find the right clients if you have the mindset that the client-provider relationship is based solely on a straight dollar amount.

Instead, you need to change your mindset.

You need to start focusing not your hourly wage you hope to earn from clients, but instead the overall value that you are providing your client.

A Freelance Translator Example

Since I started out as a freelance translator, let’s look at that industry as an example.

Most translators I know are completely focused on price, always wondering how little they can charge a potential client so as not to lose out to the lowest bidder, but while still making enough to eat.

That’s a terrible position to be in.

You’re always going to be looking over your shoulder wondering how you’re going to compete with newbie translators, translators in third-world countries, or translators who are treating the whole thing as a fun hobby. These types of translators have no problem bidding as low as possible to get the job.

You will never compete with them on price, especially if you want to make a good living as a translator (or any kind of freelance professional).

If you can’t beat them on price, then why are you still using the same tactics based on price? That worked “in the old days” but it’s not going to get you anywhere today or in the future.

You need to change your focus. Instead of focusing on price, focus on value.

It might seem like a subtle distinction, but it’s not. It’s a huge mindset shift that you have to internalize if you want to compete in the world.

Focusing on Value

The first (and most important) step in changing your freelance focus to offering value over price is to look at every project through the eyes of customer.

What does the customer hope to gain with the service you are providing?

If a potential translation client comes to you with a request for a translation of a website, you need to understand why. What does the customer hope to gain by getting his website translated from Spanish to English?

How many translators are willing to ask that question?

Pretty close to none, according to my count.

I can hear a whole chorus of translators shouting right now coming with pitchforks:

  • Why should I care why she wants it translated?
  • It’s not my job to ask ‘why’.
  • As long as I get paid, who cares?
  • I’m just the translator.

And on and on.

Here’s the thing, though. You think that the client has come to you because they just want something translated, but really, that’s not the reason why she sought you out.

The reason could be a million different ones:

  • The client hopes to tap a new market.
  • The client wants to find business partners or distributors in another country.
  • The client is looking for advertisers to market his product.
  • The client wants to keep up with his competitors.

As a translator, you don’t care what the reason is. You just want to do the job and move on to another client. As a language consultant, though, you deeply want to know the reason because the reason will dictate your approach to solving the client’s problem.

Let’s say that the real reason the client wants her marketing material translated is because she wants to reach a new market. As the language consultant for the project, your job is to help the client achieve this goal. But you need to know what market she wants to enter. If it’s the U.S., is there a specific region? If it’s the whole country, your language and cultural expertise could be used to tailor the material to different regions using different translations.

The client is unlikely to know the cultural nuances of the various regions of the country like you do. As the language consultant, you can provide that for him. You can help him decide which materials should be translated and which ones wouldn’t come across the right way in the target country.

Instead of focusing on the price of a single translation project, you focus on what it is the client really wants and then tailoring your price based on the value that the client has on the outcome.

How much money is a new market for the client’s product worth it to the client? You’re helping to open that new market; you should receive a piece of the compensation. You’re providing real value, not just a mere translation.

If a new market is worth $500,000 to a client, would that client balk at you quoting $10,000 for a language consulting project that included translation of relevant materials and language work focused on that market? That client isn’t going to care whether you charge $0.08 a word or $0.10 a word. She only cares that you provide value by helping to open that $500,000 market.

Sure, there are going to be clients that scoff at your offer and only want to know your “price.” Those are the clients to avoid. Let other translators have them. You should be concerned with finding clients that are focused on big results, and are willing to trust you to help them achieve what they can’t on their own.

The great thing is that this mindset doesn’t just apply to translators. In fact, it is true for any type of freelancer, whether you’re a writer, a web designer, a graphic artist, photographer, or whatever.

Forget price. Focus on value. That’s where you’ll find success.

3 thoughts on “The Myth (and Math) of Finding Freelancing Clients”

  1. Pingback: Everything You Wanted to Know About How to Become a Literary Translator – Translation Rules

  2. Julia Sidor

    Hello Clint. I found your blog yesterday and I want to thank you for your tips – I am reading and reading 🙂

    1. Hi Julia. I’m glad you’re finding the tips valuable. Good luck on your journey!

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