The Role of the Translator and How to Make More Money as a Freelancer

Read any forum about translation and you’ll get a whole bunch of translators whining about how their clients don’t appreciate them (or how they can’t find any):

  • “This client is only paying me pennies. They should pay me way more. Wah, wah.”
  • “I can’t believe my client only wants me to use Trados (or any other TM software). They’re so dumb.”
  • “Nobody wants to hire me even though I have a Master’s degree in three languages. I’m smart and they’re stupid.”

I always wonder why it is that translators (and other “artists”) don’t ever get it.

They don’t understand what their role is in a client-provider relationship. So before you make that mistake of thinking that you’re not appreciated for your translation acumen, let me help you understand.

You’re working for a client.

The client is interested in one thing (and it’s not how well you can “turn a phrase”).

It’s this.

Can you help her make more money?

If you can, you’re hired.

If you can’t, then go log on to some translation forum and do some more whining because you’re definitely not ready to be a translator.

Translators Make Other People Money

This is the simple truth. It doesn’t matter your clients business. He could need a Standard Operating Procedure manual translated.

Or a legal brief translated.

Or a book translated.

In 99% of the cases, the reason for the translation request is because the client believes that having that written material in a language other than the original will eventually lead to more money.

Maybe it will lead to more sales.

Maybe it will create more efficiency in the company, improving ROI.

Maybe it will create more interest in a product, thus increasing profit.

Whatever it is, money is the name of the game when it comes to providing translation services.

So the questions then become:

1) How can you as a translator find more clients?

and

2) How can you find clients that pay more?

Let me answer to the second question first.

How to Find Better-Paying Clients

The simple truth is that in most cases, the client that has more to gain financially from a translation is usually more willing to pay more for that translation.

Here’s an example.

A couple of years ago, I received the following email from someone needing a translator:

“I need a rather quick translation of some proposals for divorce proceedings so that I can explain my position with my soon to be ex-father-in-law who unfortunately has been kept rather in the dark by his daughter.”

So I emailed back and let the person know my per word price range for what the translation would cost and guess what?

I didn’t hear back.

Why?

Because this person didn’t really stand to gain anything from a translation.

And definitely not anything financially.

I get emails like this all the time from people who want a translation done but in the end aren’t willing to pony up the cash for what it would cost.

So if you want to make money as a translator, don’t go after the bottom feeder clients that want you to either a) work for free or b) work for peanuts.

Instead, you find clients that are willing to pay you more money because they stand to gain more financially with their materials in another language.

And this doesn’t always have to be product descriptions or marketing materials.

One of the best paying clients I had when I was just starting out was a beef jerky manufacturing plant. I started out translating their SOP for the plant.

Why was this so important?

Because by providing the plant workers with information in their own language, the plant was able to streamline manufacturing, reduce the number of workplace accidents, thus reducing profits and increasing overall profits.

So, bottom line: Find clients who want to make money. Then you’ll make money.

OK, next question.

How to Find More Clients

Remember at the beginning of the article when I pointed out that clients don’t care how well your “wordsmithing” is or how many ways you can translate a certain phrase.

Finding clients doesn’t take some voodoo sorcery. It’s not a myth. It’s math.

Your job is to make the client money.

And the best way to do that is by providing multiple services.

In other words, don’t be a one-hit wonder.

Let’s look at a typical scenario:

Company X comes to you the translator because they need a marketing brochure translated into Spanish.

So you translate the brochure, send it back, and then don’t hear anything back from the company.

But what you don’t know is that behind the scenes at the company, there are more moving parts that need attention. The marketing brochure might be translated, but now the company needs copy written in Spanish to convince Spanish-speaking buyers to buy the product.

And every copywriter knows you can’t just translate copy from one language to another because it relies so heavily on nuance and the buyer’s perspective.

In addition to copywriting services, the company also now needs to do market research, write white papers, and write press releases in Spanish.

Their new Spanish-language website also needs to be built.

And now the company has to scramble to find 4-5 different service providers to do all these tasks which wastes time and therefore money.

But. . .

What if instead of just being a translator, you were actually a full-on language provider or language consultant?

What if in addition to being a translation provider, you could also write copy in Spanish, conduct market research in that language, or even build Spanish-language websites?

Then your workload would not only increase, but it would be more stable because instead of having to find 3 or 4 clients to make the same amount, you would only have to deal with one.

So bottom line to finding more clients is this:

Don’t be just a translation provider.

Learn how to do other types of writing in the source language you normally translate into.

Offer other services in that language that will complement your translation skills.

Most of all, show your client that hiring you will give them the best opportunity to earn the most money.

And finally, please, for the sake of all that’s good in this world, don’t whine about how your client doesn’t appreciate your language acumen. Unless of course you don’t like getting paid.

3 thoughts on “The Role of the Translator and How to Make More Money as a Freelancer”

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