7 Mistakes Freelance Translators Should Avoid

There are several measures you can take to establish productive relationships with your customers. Delivering high quality translations and keeping up with deadlines will play the most important part of course.

There are many things we have learnt by working with hundreds upon hundreds of translators and clients over the years, which we thought would be good to share with you: avoiding the seven mistakes identified in this article will help you have a long term relationship with your clients, and will more importantly, ensure that you run a stress free business.

7 mistakes you should avoid

1 – Discounting your core service.
Never discount your core service too much in order to get new clients. It will devalue your product and customers may not appreciate it. You can offer free test translations or reduced charges for your supplementary services such as job-checking or for translations of only a few words.

If you reduce your charge too much for your core service in order to get new clients, you will despise them in the long run; and if you charge them less the first time, they will expect you to charge the same rate the next time they work with you. The relationship may suffer when you would, only naturally want to put your prices up.

2 – Being afraid to ask your customer questions.
Do not be concerned with asking your clients questions about the files you are translating: there is nothing wrong with going back to your customer asking for clarification of words that maybe be difficult to read or understand. They will not think any less of you because you asked a question. Be sure, however to ask relevant questions, well in advance of the deadline.

3 – Thinking you will lose your customer if you turn down a project.
If the project offered to you is in a subject you do not know about, or a deadline you cannot meet, don’t be afraid to turn down the project. Whatever the reason may be, being clear and open to your client about it will help you to establish long lasting relationships. Taking on a project which you cannot properly translate, or accepting a deadline which is not feasible will do more damage to the relationship than turning down a project for a perfectly valid reason.

4 – Only getting in touch with your customer when you need work from them.
Keep in touch with your customers regularly. Let them know how you are doing. Tell them about the new tools or software you may have acquired, and any new skills you may have learned since last working with them.

5 – Thinking that you are the only translator your client should work with.
Translation companies need to have multiple translators for each language pair they work with and in particular subject matters. Do not feel threatened if your client uses another translator and asks you to carry out checking or proofreading: this means they trust you and value your opinion.

6 – Not having a specialist subject.
Without a doubt translators need to be able to cover a variety of subjects: they will also need, however, to have a specialism in which they have extra knowledge which sets them apart from other translators. Your niche will help you to become an authority in your particular field and the first port of call with your customers.

7 – Not collaborating with your fellow translators.
The translation community is global and we all have the same aspirations and challenges wherever we are in the world. There are many professional support organisations and associations out there for translators. Most successful translators are the ones that support their colleagues and share information.



Filed under Translation

77 responses to “7 Mistakes Freelance Translators Should Avoid

  1. Reham

    Thanks, and I hope you post your fantastic translation-related articles at http://www.translationgardens.com and Translationgardens group at linkedi .

  2. Cécile Stegherr

    Yes! Thank you very much for remembering us these important truths!

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  4. Alice SADIO

    Very important.
    Thanks a lot and Happy new year.

  5. Some of these tips may sound cliché but there are numerous examples in our industry proving the need of recalling them. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Clara

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks for these precious reminders.
    Ali Ottoman

  8. Patricia Aguilar

    Thanks for the reminder!

  9. #4 and #6 are very helpful; they can actually be applied to many other occupations as well. Thanks for sharing!

  10. JOVAN


  11. Very helpful, thanks a lot!

  12. Really, one must follow these golden rules for surviving and progressing as a freelancer. And one must also remember not to pass on low quality work in order to meet the deadlines, this may even lead to failure.

  13. João Araújo

    Thanks for let us remember the principles that you enumerated. They are indeed truth and must be remembered from time to time… Keep on helping your fellow translators!
    Once again thank you for taking time thinking about other persons needs!

  14. That’s the point! A successful freelance career is a perfect combination of all these factors. I also think that if you are aware of your skills, you will not be afraid to share with your colleagues and to show off your work.

  15. ¡Thanks for your advices!
    Often these little details are not taken into account and are important to get a successful relationship with our customers.

  16. Helena Tavares

    Very interesting theme.Thank you!

  17. Tony

    Put a space in “Break down language barriers”.

  18. etihwttam

    Important and useful information! Sadly, though, I find myself only working through middlemen these days. I hope to remedy that soon.

  19. Great. An outcome of long and thorough experience in the field.

  20. very helpful, thanks a lot.
    all of the above translation work is a qualitative approach.
    I think, your articles will help the professionals.

  21. Jessie Ndjeya Nkouetchou

    Thank you very much. I will try to put in practice

  22. Nadia-Anastasia Fahmi

    3 – Thinking you will lose your customer if you turn down a project.

    A wise advise, and to take it a step further, don’t be afraid to turn down any project from clients who are unable or refuse to cooperate, who are arrogant and are deaf to suggestions/recommendations and, in short, who are only a source of frustration.
    That’s what I just did today when I was asked to implement some revisions made by the client’s reviewer which were not marked up properly resulting in my having to check every single sentence in a large file. Considering the extent of the effort required, the deadline and the budget for this job, I politely told the agency (my most valued customer) that I will no longer accept assignments from this particular client and, to be honest, it felt SOOOO GOOOOD, especially when they told me they understand and respect my decision and that it will have no impact on our collaboration.
    Try it some time, it is so rewarding!

    • Hi Nadia, I hope your translations since then haven’t caused as much grief! I recently rewrote my post and included two more mistakes on TTCwetranslate’s website, please take a look and leave a comment there if you found them helpful.

  23. Marna Renteria

    I once accepted a volunteer assignment from a non-profit organization to proofread a Spanish-to-English translation. However, the translation was so poor, and was getting worse as I proceeded, that I was two weeks late! I work full-time as a process quality tech and even took a couple 1/2-day vacation to try and finish. I didn’t feel I could reject the job mid-stream, but finally I had to stop with about 5 pages to go because they really needed it. It was a re-translation, basically. The translator was not a native English speaker. Would it have been inappropriate to reject the job as soon as I learned this fact, which was after I had already started?

    • This is a hard one really. You have already made a commitment and keen on getting the job done. However the organisation has clearly changed the specification by giving you a poorly translated document. Therefore your assignment is now turned into a editing and revision assignment. Perhaps you could have gone back to them as soon as you received the job and explained the problem. Often end clients are not aware of the challenges translators have. One future remedy would be is to state what your proofreading entitles and what it doesn’t. We actually have a checklist that we give it our clients for the translation standards expected in order for the proofreading to be productive. I hope the above is useful.

  24. Hi Mr Yildizgoren,
    most wonderful advice, this is. In fact, I just tried point four on one of my potential clients and we are already negotiating a deal now. However, on point 6 my experience seems to go against the industry convention. I believe in performative translatology: meaning that with adequate research anyone can translate on any topic, so the issue of specialism is really a matter of how much terminology research input the translator is willing to make at the given price of a project. More to that, the boundaries between specialisms are not distinct and there is no guarantee that if a translator is translating in their specialism, they will do a good job. Back to my experience: I hold a BSc. in environmental management but have not been the best in that domain among members of my virtual agency while I consistently perform better in literary translations though I never studied literature anywhere. Yet, I cannot bid for literary translations because I have no references in the domain.

  25. I amended the first mistake as ‘Discounting your core service’ which explains my point more clearly.

    Please do let me know any questions or comments..

  26. Very useful advice which I most definitely will return to. I think one of the most difficult things for any translator starting out is knowing the value of your services. I am new to the business and am still gaining self confidence in my own abilities. Having these guidelines will help me sell my services. Thanks once again.

  27. Zhang

    Definitely useful and helpful for me to balance my life and work, the profit and promotion.

  28. Khaldun

    I fully agree with the article … I already have these principle in my work relationship

  29. Abdul Maksud Mahmud

    Thanx for yr advice. I share totally. When I face such situation saying is there any discount for large volume? My answer is: Every single word and sentence I translate consume something from my brain, eyes, etc. It is not as selling potatoes or tomatoes that the more tons u buy better economic conditions u have. Salaams to all, DR Abdul Maksud

  30. muhieddin

    Thank you very much.. great useful and practical tips.. every translator should keep them in mind.

  31. Myriam Merhy

    Thanks for sharing, those tips should be kept in mind..

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  33. Raj IT Services (P) Ltd. [Leading Data Entry, Translation & Web Designing Co.]

    Boss this is really a great advice and hope you will keep posting such comments.

    Omprakash Mali – 91-9829116505

  34. Mulushewa Metekia

    This is a practical advice every translator should know.Thank you for your efforts in sharing your ideas with us!

  35. Thank you for all your comments. There is an updated version of this article with 2 more mistakes added on http://www.ttcwetranslate.com/9-mistakes-freelance-translators-should-avoid/

  36. Narimene

    I think that most of translators agree with you in point 2.
    Thank you for sharing

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