The Why and How of Setting Standards for Your Freelance Translation Business

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I recently heard someone refer to a freelancer's mindset as needing to be split in two parts: the entrepreneur and the freelancer. The entrepreneur tells the freelancer how to work. He/she actually runs the business. The freelancer is the one who does the actual work that is produced as a deliverable for a client. Both parts are needed to bring in the revenue and keep the business afloat.

By allowing yourself to separate these mindsets in your business, it becomes easier to realize that you should be treating your business the way a larger business might operate… with policies or standards set in place in order to keep things running smoothly.

It is essential to maintain a set of professional and personal standards with regard to your freelance business. Ed Gandia has an excellent podcast episode related to setting standards as a freelancer. Just as you set standards around the way you like to work and the type of work you do, you'll want to have some standards in mind when it comes to the clients you agree to take on.

You can set as many or as few standards as you wish. The number is really not important here. What is important is that your standards protect you as a freelancer from business practices you find to be less than ideal for your line of work and lifestyle. Here are some potential standards to consider setting for your freelance translation business.

  • Working hours

    Decide what hours you will work and what times of day or days of the week you will take off. Try to stick to these and accept client work that falls into these hours so that you can use your non-working hours to rest and recharge. The same goes for vacation. Set your vacation "rules" in advance so that you are not tempted to work when you should be resting your mind and getting in a little rest and relaxation.

  • Types of projects you will (and won't) accept

    You know that type of project you took on one too many times, and then you kicked yourself later for taking it? The one that didn't pay well or that left you drained and exhausted, having to turn down all the projects you'd rather be doing? That's the one you might want to consider setting a standard for. If you have certain projects you no longer wish to take on, set a standard in your business to refer that kind of work to a colleague who enjoys it.

And by the same token, set some standards for the work you do want to take on. This could be documents you translate that align with something you believe in, or projects you receive from an organization you truly admire. Of course, there will likely be exceptions to this standard, as it's nearly impossible to always have projects in the pipeline from organizations you strongly value. Impossible? No, of course not. But probably unlikely until you build up a strong set of regular clients you truly value.

  • Minimum rate requirements

This one may seem obvious, but it should be one of the top priorities on your list of standards. If you haven't already set the standard to only take on projects that meet your ideal minimum rates, it might be time to do that. Of course, just like any of these standards, you may need to make an exception from time to time. The key is to be aware of making the exception and to always try to return the standard for the majority of your work.

  • Rush jobs and fees

    I know some translators who simply do not take on rush jobs. If your lifestyle is such that rush jobs are something of the past, then it might be one of your standards to never take on a rush job. Or, if you're okay with taking on the occasional rush job, you could go ahead and set a rush fee for your freelance business and hold yourself to charging that fee every time, no matter how attractive the project that lands in your inbox. It's important to know these numbers before the request is made by a client so that you are prepared.

  • Payment terms

    Go ahead and decide what you find to be an acceptable amount of time for a client to settle an invoice. Your payment terms should be set before you take on a project, but they also shouldn't be different for every client. Yes, some clients may not budge when it comes to payment terms, but trying to get all your clients on the same page as far as when they pay you is key to maintaining cash flow. If you aren't happy with a client's payment terms, it might be time to have a conversation with them and be ready to move on if they are not willing to meet you in the middle.

  • Other qualifying methods for clients

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to the types of clients they prefer to work with on a regular basis. Sit down and make a brief list of the the ways in which you qualify a client. If you find that a pattern comes up in this process, you may want to set a standard for your freelance business with regard to what makes a client ideal for you and vice versa. You should also determine what "disqualifies" a client from working with you. This is much easier than it sounds. Just stick to what you value as a business owner and freelancer, and remember that the goal is to have a long-term working relationship with your clients.


Once you have a list of business standards, review them from time to time in order to see how well you're sticking to them and whether you need to readjust any. As Ed puts it, "The purpose of your list of standards isn’t 100% compliance. The purpose is to have an objective measure for making good decisions."

The best we can do is to hope we take on clients by making good decisions and choosing them carefully. But the truth is, we cannot always control who reaches out to us with a new project or when we will have those inevitable periods of famine in our work. This is when you may make an exception to a standard you've set for your freelance business.

If you do make exceptions, at least take a moment to stop and recognize why you're making them. Is this a one-time exception, or is it becoming a habit? Does the standard still reflect the values you have in your business and what you want to get out of it? As long as you do so intentionally, you can feel confident in the fact that you won't make the exception your norm.

Three Points to Consider When Prospecting for your T&I Business

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I'm pretty sure I've never heard a freelancer say, "I don't want any new clients." But if this is you, it might be good to skip this blog post. Having a revolving door of clients means that you can sustain your business for the long haul, especially if you were to lose one of your anchor or highest paying clients. But, as can be the case, it's not always easy to attract one new client after another.

Sure, you can learn to reach out to agencies and direct clients. You can send out your resume, visit trade shows and events where your clients hang out, connect with potential clients online and in person. These are all good ways to attract new clients!

However, if you're not exactly clear about what kind of client is right for your business, it can be easy to simply continue taking on every job that comes your way from any prospect. This is a cycle we should all strive to break. When prospecting for new clients (or when a new prospect approaches you), there are some important factors to think about. Not everyone will be the right fit for you, and vice versa.

Here are three points I believe worth considering when prospecting for new translation or interpreting clients for your freelance business.

  1. Only look for clients who pay more or the same amount you charge your current clients. If you're not happy with the rate you're currently charging, then it's time to search for clients and reach out to those who can (and will!) pay more. As you become busier with client work, it makes sense that you should only take on work from new clients who are willing to pay the same (if you're happy with that rate) or more than what you already make now.

  2. Only look for clients who will respect your non-negotiables or "business standards". What am I talking about? Think about what is important to you for your business and your lifestyle. What hours do you want to work? What kinds of jobs do you want to take on? If you don't want to start working at night or on the weekend, then try to avoid clients who need quick turnarounds or require working extra hours to deliver a job on time. And if you're willing to take on the odd weekend of work, consider charging this client more to make up for missing out on time you could otherwise be spending with your family or friends. If you're tired of translating a certain type of document, or you no longer want to accept certain types of interpreting assignments, shy away from seeking out prospects who frequently offer them.

  3. Only look for clients who can supply the kinds of jobs you want to do. This is related to #2 above. For example, if you are a legal translator and you would prefer to maintain a handful of clients who send you lengthier documents to translate so that you can really sink your teeth into the assignment and necessary research required, then it's best to avoid seeking the type of client who would only call on you to complete quick one-off projects once or twice a year.


Carefully consider those you reach out to before you take the time to do so. Avoid accepting a job simply because your inbox is a little sparse in a given week. Unless you need to make money quickly, accepting lower-paying jobs for less-than-ideal clients can set you up for more disappointment later on. By lowering your standards (and your rates), you are essentially letting a client know you are okay with fulfilling unrealistic expectations or being paid less. It will also be more difficult to change these expectations with this client down the road.

Remember that prospecting is something over which you have a considerable amount of control. You will receive what you put out into the world. So, if you portray yourself as being confident in the type of client you want to attract, it will happen. While it's important to make a habit of prospecting for new clients, it's also vital to recognize that not all new clients are created equal when it comes to meeting your business goals. Seek prospects who offer a mutually fulfilling business relationship and long-term collaboration, while allowing you to meet the goals you put in place for your freelance business.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Translator or Interpreter

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Imposter Syndrome. Everyone has it at some point in their life and career. Even the most successful translators and interpreters experience imposter syndrome from time to time. It's simply a part of being human.

In case you're not already familiar with this term, imposter syndrome is the fear that we are not good enough at something we set out to do or that we are asked to do, coupled with a fear of being called out as a "fraud". Psychology Today notes, "Not an actual disorder, the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have."

Whether it's a tricky translation job or an interpreting assignment that doesn't exactly fit into our typical wheelhouse of assignments, we all have challenging aspects of our work from time to time, as no two days (or assignments!) are the same. Our work is challenging. Heck, if it weren't, then anyone could do it, right? But we know that's not the case. It takes years of training, practice and professional development to become a successful and well established translator or interpreter.

And even knowing that we have these things under our belts, we still fall prey to that feeling of not being good enough at times. So how can we deal with imposter syndrome when it rears its ugly head?

Accept that it's totally normal to doubt yourself at times.

Having Imposter Syndrome is not something that makes you any less of a professional. In fact, it's completely normal to feel like an imposter at some point in your career. Perhaps you want to add a new specialization to your service offerings or study a new language. Perhaps you simply want to market your services better to clients, but you're a bit skeptical about what you could say or do that would feel authentic and not come across as salesy.

Remembering that it's normal to feel like this from time to time is the first step in moving past those bouts of imposter syndrome. In fact, if you ever meet someone who doesn't admit to feeling less than adequate at some point in their career, you might want to start questioning if they are really someone you want to take advice from in the first place. Nobody's perfect, after all.

Choose to be proactive instead of inactive.

Try not to let having the occasional bout of Imposter Syndrome get the better of you. Instead, choose to be proactive. Write down why you feel like an "imposter", whether it has to do with your language skills, your specialization or something completely different. Then, write down what you believe will allow you to feel like less of an imposter, and more like someone who "belongs" or "walks the walk".

Instead of letting Imposter Syndrome take over, you now have the ability to tackle it head on. Keep learning, marketing, and translating or interpreting the hard stuff. Take the items you wrote down that you believe will make you feel like more of someone who "owns" their work and waves their translator/interpreter flag proudly. And continue to nurture those items while you continue your practice.

While recognizing the fact that you feel like an imposter is part of the battle in the first place, the other piece of this puzzle is to keep working and honing your skills as you confront the issues that make you feel like an imposter. The rest will follow!

My top tips for battling imposter syndrome as a translator or interpreter (in no particular order)...

  1. Sign up for more professional development in the area in which you often doubt yourself. This could be a semester-long course in a given area or specialization, or you could take a trip to a country where your target language is spoken in order to immerse yourself in the language on a daily basis. Continue to work while you do these things so that you can immediately apply what you're learning to your work.

  2. Ask a colleague to mentor you. If you're an ATA member, there is a great (and free!) mentoring program you can join. You might also consider paying a colleague to mentor you for a year. When you surround yourself with others who know more than you with regard to an area in which you feel lacking, you can only improve.

  3. Read! Yes, I know you probably read for work, but try to set aside time to review articles by others in your field, topics in your subject matter area(s), etc. The more information you consume related to an area in which you feel less than adequate, the more confidence you will gain.

  4. Make time to think. This is a big one. Don't just accept all the input or information you're consuming without also setting aside some time to produce your own output. It is important to give your brain a chance to think through the information and input you consume so that you can decide what is best for you going forward. This also helps you to keep a check on what you're learning and apply it to your life and work.

  5. Talk to others to discover ways they have found to better themselves in the area in which you feel like an imposter, and surround yourself with these people. Not only is it a good idea to place yourself in the company of others who already do the things you want to do, but it's the best way to learn. And you'll likely have something to offer them as well. Remember, input balanced with output!


In what areas do you feel like an imposter at times? How do you cope with this feeling and turn it around to improve yourself as a professional translator or interpreter?

How to Land Your Next Translation Job in Less Than Five Minutes

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Have you ever heard that it's easier to market to existing clients than it is to market to new ones? I completely agree with this statement. It makes sense, right? Existing clients already know us and have some experience working with us. New ones have yet to enter the business relationship, so it's understandable that it would be bit more difficult to market to new clients.

But many times, because we already have existing clients, it can be easy to forget about or neglect them, albeit unintentional of course. One might think, "But I've already landed this client. Why would I continue to market to them?"

This way of thinking and handling existing clients is both a mistake and an easy issue to fix.

I like to stay in touch with my existing clients for many reasons. First of all, it's essential to stay top of mind with them. This can be as simple as letting them know when you have some availability for new projects (more on that in a moment!).

Getting in touch from time to time shows your care for the business relationship. It's also a really easy way to market and keep yourself informed about any changes your client has made since the last time you worked together. Perhaps there is a new contact person. Or maybe your client has a new position or title. It takes no time to send a brief handwritten note of congratulations. In the process of staying in touch, you can also get a good idea of any new projects in the pipeline. This gives you an overall idea of future project-related income as well.

But while I say this is a good marketing habit already, I am just as human as any other translator in the business. At times, I've found that I wasn't doing a great job of staying in touch with some of my best clients, or at least not as well as I could have been. Fixing this issue is really quite simple and doesn't take a lot of time.

I usually like to write to my existing clients with some offer of value. This could be an article I read that I think they'd be interested in as well, something new I've prepared for them that I believe will help them in their work, etc.

But from time to time, I may not have anything new or of concrete value to send them. This happened recently, in fact. So, I decided to test out a method that I read on Jennifer Gregory's blog and in her book. She suggests writing to clients to say hello and them know that you've recently finished a large project and have some availability in the coming few weeks.

I tested this only once… and it took me less than five minutes to write and send the email. I received a response almost immediately with a "I have a few things in the pipeline that we're waiting for approval on first, and then I'll let you know". This type of response is a positive one! I made a note to follow up a week later. But within three days, the client had already responded, offering me a translation assignment worth $1,250. That's an excellent return for something that took me less than five minutes to do!

As my good friend and colleague Emily Safrin puts it, "No fun, big return!" It may not be fun to sit and think of how to authentically craft an email to a client without coming across as salesy or pushy. But boy, when you do it right, the return can be big.

To give you another perspective, I had the tables turned on me recently by a fellow translator. If you've been reading my blog for a while, or if you follow me on Twitter, you know that in addition to being a freelance translator, I also own a boutique translation agency. This translator had applied to work with my small agency about a year ago. At the time, I told him we'd let him know when something came up that fit his language pair and area of specialization.

Well, he followed up with me about a month ago just to say hello and to give me his holiday availability. And lo and behold, his timing was perfect. We had a current project that fit his qualifications and language pair perfectly. And just like that, he landed a project from us that paid out several hundred dollars.

Of course, I knew that he was making a marketing "move" (and a smart one at that!), I didn't mind at all. He was friendly, authentic and didn't come across as pushy or salesy in his message. And it paid off. He's now someone we will call on more frequently. In this process of working with him once, we were able to see that his work is superb, and he's very pleasant to work with. All that just from being consistent and writing an email that probably also took him less than five minutes to write!

So, you see? It very well may be easier to market to existing clients. The key really is consistent and authentic messages, offering value whenever you can. Have you tried this approach before? How did it work for you?

Finding (and Losing) Translation Clients: Why It's Important to Do Both

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There is the saying that when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. I've found this to be true in the translation world, and I know a lot of colleagues who have as well. So, while it's very important to take steps to attract clients (more on that here and here), it's just as important to repel clients who are not a good fit for you and your business.

I don't hear many people talking about how essential it is to turn translation clients off. But in reality, it's just as important as finding good translation clients.

Once you can pinpoint who your ideal clients are, you can quickly point out the ones who are not a good fit for you. This may sound a bit odd, but it is just as important to repel the wrong clients as it is to attract the ones with whom you prefer to work. So, how can you do both effectively and respectfully? Here are my tips on how to make sure you do this well.

  • Be very specific about your niche(s)/specialization(s).

In other words, don't call yourself a generalist, even if you believe yourself to be one for the most part. Just because you may have a variety of clients from more than one industry, you can still narrow down the type of work you do into a couple of specialized areas. By doing this, you are setting yourself up to work only with clients in those main areas. Of course, if one comes along who does not fit these areas of specialization, you can make the call to work with them or not. But the sooner you specialize, the sooner you can repel the clients who don't have a decent budget, who have unreasonable expectations or who simply don't fit the area(s) in which you work. By being very clear about what you do and for whom you work, it will be easier to repel those clients who are less than ideal.

  • Avoid mentioning the type of work you don't wish to do.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I've seen so many translators who advertise an area of specialization or a type of client work on their website that they would actually prefer to stop doing. They tell me that they continue to mention it because they don't want to seem inexperienced or close any doors. "What if that's the only type of work I have right now?" And here's where I'd say, "If you don't want to take on a certain type of translation work, then stop talking about (and accepting) it. The longer you do, the longer you'll attract that kind of work." This concept can be carried over to one's résumé, too. If you prefer not to handle certain types of documents or niche areas, it's best not to even mention them on your CV. Instead, focus on what you do want to do and you'll start to attract more of it.

  • Talk directly to the type of client you wish to attract, and avoid talking to those who no longer serve your career goals.

I mention this a lot on the blog and in my T&I Website Blueprint course. It is vital to direct all your marketing efforts, including your web copy and design, to speak to your ideal clients. Talk directly to them, addressing their challenges and pain points and show how you can help solve them. Just as you should avoid mentioning the type of work you don't want to take on, you should also avoid talking to clients with whom you don't wish to start a business relationship. Again, this may sound obvious, but if your web copy is attracting clients you no longer wish to work with on a regular basis, then it might be time to review and revise it. Pay attention to the language you use, and make sure it's fitting for the type of client you want to attract more of in the long run.

  • Check your mindset.

If you're going to attract your ideal clients, you have to come to terms with repelling clients, too. Not everyone should be a good fit for you. So, the next time you're at a party, and someone asks, "You're a translator? So, who are your clients?", try not to give the answer I've heard time and again: "Anyone who needs a [target language] translation." Please. "Anyone" is not your ideal client. The more specific and specialized you are when you describe yourself and your work (both in your marketing copy and when you discuss your work in person), the more you will attract your ideal clients.

It's okay that not every client is the right fit for you. This is a good thing. It means that you don't serve everyone. And honestly, who can?! It's important to recognize this and decide how you will start to actively attract (and repel) clients. By making a conscious effort to market to clients by appealing to them directly, you will inevitably start to repel those who are not your target audience. Instead of worrying about losing potential work or income, use the time you would be spending on that client's work by looking for better clients or handling jobs for clients you already value.