Business tips for translators #1: CV vs Service offer


This week, our guest Alain Marsol is giving a few tips on freelancing for translators, focusing on how to approach clients and collaborators in a professional manner, showcase your skills and protect your business and reputation (Part 1)

A native speaker of French with a background in computer science, Alain Marsol has been developing his skills according to his desires and goals by working and providing services in computer programming, information systems design, corporate communications, marketing, copywriting, and translation.
Besides his activity as a translator, Alain has created the Guerrilla Marketing for Translators group on LinkedIn, where language professionals can find ideas and advice to do better business, and ask questions to solve specific marketing issues.

TE: Many job offers ask for a CV. You defend the idea that sending a CV to clients is a wrong business approach. Can you explain why and what do you suggest as an alternative?

AM: A classic CV (or résumé) as we know it is a document used by job seekers all over the world, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, when you are a freelance translator, you are not looking for a job, but you offer solutions to the translation needs of your clients in a business-to-business environment. Because of this difference, even though you have a good CV, it is not the right tool to use. Even more so on today’s translation market, where many so-called ‘agencies’ are in fact translation brokers who will use every trick to fleece business-unaware translators. And when you are a freelancer, using your CV alone sends a clear signal about your lack of business awareness.

What you need is another slightly different type of document that I call a ‘service offer’.

As its name tells, your service offer focuses on the services you offer to your clients and present all the key information your client needs to know about what you can do for them. No more, no less. Typically, your headline will tell what you do, you will list your source and target languages, services, areas of expertise, professional organizations and affiliations, and you will briefly address your readers to explain them why they should chose you over your competitors. All this in one single page.
Typically, your headline will tell what you do, you will list your source and target languages, services, areas of expertise, professional organizations and affiliations, and you will briefly address your readers to explain them why they should chose you over your competitors. All this in one single page.

Have a look at what it could look like: http://textworks.biz/files/service_offer/Service_Offer_SAMPLE.pdf

Besides your service offer, it is also essential to send a few other documents. I’m thinking of your terms of service, your portfolio, and your fee schedule, the latter being sent to agencies only.

TE: What is the crucial info to feature in your terms of service and at which stage do you give them to your clients? Some translators are afraid it might scare off customers if it comes with the introduction package.

AM: According to the normal rules of business, the provider sets the rules, not the client. A translator’s ‘terms of service’ document is used for that purpose. Many people will argue that the terms of service are a general document, but my view is a bit different: on mine, I always make clear who is the translator, and who is the client, then I set the rules under which I am happy to work. Within one page, I address matters such as copyright, confidentiality, amendments made once the work has begun, cancellation, translator’s liability, payment, and credit limit granted to the client.

The terms of service are best given at the very beginning of your business relationship, along with your service offer and other documents.

A terms of service document will very likely scare off any potentially problematic client or translation broker, especially the ones who have the intention to take advantage of you from the very moment they meet you. Unfortunately, there are lots of them on the market nowadays, so you may have the impression that the ‘terms of service’ document is pretty much counter-productive. This is not true. I have clients (both end clients and agency clients) who have accepted my terms, and with whom I have excellent business relationships. Typically, my terms of service allow me to filter out nine potential bad payers before meeting one such client.

You can work without terms of service, but you have to be prepared to the possibility of losing your time and your nerves in hunting bad payers, sometimes end up working for no money, and even worse, miss better opportunities.

TE: What about the fee schedule? Why is it for agency clients only?

AM: Once you have given your price to agency clients for a first assignment, and more often than not under the pressure to give your ‘best price’, most of them apply it to anything they will ask you to do in the future. Since different types of documents require different types of skills and effort, and may need different amounts of time to be handled, it is necessary to let your agency clients know that every extra service you provide besides standard translation has a price, and make it clear from the very beginning. In the ‘extra service’ category, I include tricky formats, formats that require not so common technical knowledge, as well as weekend and rush jobs.

Agencies are clients who typically ask you to quote by a quantitative unit (word, character, line, or page) and often in ‘blind mode’. In such a context, your fee schedule helps you not to be tricked into doing difficult and time-consuming jobs for some other service’s (low) price.

With end clients, it is better to quote by project (even if you may do your own word or character-based math in the background), so you do not need a fee schedule, but you definitely need a portfolio.

TE: Do you judge useful to add credentials on your introduction (professional organizations and affiliations, blogs, coops).

AM: Credentials are always good, as long as they are related to your offer. If you are a member of a national translators association, or a member of a professional organization related to one of your fields of expertise, this is something worth mentioning. If you are writing a blog about topics related to your fields of expertise, let your prospects know. But if you have an activity or hobby in a field that is far away from your offer, it is better to avoid advertising it, because it would only weaken your message.

Always keep in mind that a professional translator is always strongly focused on one specialty field or a few of them. The more focused you are, the more prospects will trust your expertise.

TE: What memberships would you recommend to translators starting their career?

AM: Once you have some experience as a professional translator (one year at least), it may be a good thing to become a member of one of the national translators’ associations of the country where your business is based (for example, the SFT in France, the ITI or the CIOL in the UK), or if there is no such association, an international association such as the IAPTI. Being a member of such an association will give more weight to your service offer, especially when dealing with potential end clients. 
At the beginning of one’s career, lack of experience is the (normal) issue. To start gaining this necessary experience, you will typically do some voluntary (unpaid) translation work, for non-profit organizations and/or for a cause close to your heart, which is a good first step to start training your language skills in a professional context, and you will also do paid work for translations agencies. Both types of opportunities will be found on portals such as ProZ, TranslatorsCafé, or TraduGuide.

It is important to keep in mind that bidding on these portals should remain a temporary activity, because the process of bidding itself harms the whole profession in the long run.

Ideally, you would bid a little at the beginning, see which of these portals works the best for you, and possibly purchase a paid membership on this portal in order to make it work for you later.

Let me explain through my own experience: I found my first regular client after answering a job post on TraduGuide, where I had a basic (free) membership, but this is the only ‘catch’ I ever had there. My (free) profile on TC never yielded any result, and I purchased a paying membership on ProZ after a few months of basic membership. Seven years later, I rarely bid on jobsnever at a low feeand my profile attracts a few new clients every year.

Your own experience may be different. The important idea to remember is that translation portals must only be a way to gain some experience at the beginning, and not a system in which you remain trapped, because there is a lot of competition over there, and most of the time, it’s not a fair one.


Unknown said...

My suggestion would be to follow all of these tips, because only this way you can become professional translator. I would also add some tips from my side- Tekstų vertimas :) Believe me, if you want to become a specialist you have to work hard on this :)

Unknown said...

I did come across this idea of service offer instead of a CV and it was like a revelation... I tried once to explain to an agency that I cannot work for the set rate especially as it was a technical project even though the words "large project" were meant to sound like an incentive... well it didn't. I wasn't getting anywhere so I said quite simply: "when you go to the supermarket do you tell the lady at the cashier desk how much do you think their products are worth? or how much you can pay?" Obviously there was a silence... "well, you see this is how I feel about my work and I think it's worth more than that... and actually you are not paying per word but for all the years of experience, of studying, of CPD etc." it's such an obvious and simple concept that it's surprising so many 'broker agencies' still struggle with the concept.

Unknown said...

these tips are awesome and unheard stuffs. this post answered many questions of mine regarding translators. thank you for such a wonderful post.