‘Don’t undersell yourself.’
‘If the rate is too low, then don’t accept it.’
‘Stop working for the bulk market and look for direct premium clients.’
I expect you’ve heard the above in some shape or form quite a lot in your translation career. If you attend conferences, or see the tweets generated at them, and regularly read blog posts, then rates and translation markets will definitely be on the agenda. You’ve no doubt felt yourself stirring to the rallying cry of seizing the moment and steeling yourself to boldly tread where you have not dared venture before now (in other words at the very least not letting others walk all over you).
But then you return home, or switch the social media off, and wonder what your next step should be. Because unless you’re living with some generous parents or a partner who can support you, or translation does not provide the main part of your income, or you’re not averse to taking risks, then you need to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head. Turning down work that doesn’t pay as well as you would like is a luxury that you might not always be able to afford.
Along the road towards a better-paying market segment you might have to work for some clients you’re not overly keen on. And that’s where the circles come in. My example shows three, but you can limit the circles to two or have more if you wish. The idea is to fill the green innermost circle with the clients you prefer (whether they’re agencies, direct clients or a combination of the two), working at the rates you dictate and the terms and conditions you set. And the emphasis is also on YOU. By all means seek others’ advice, listen to what your peers are saying, improve your translation skills and your business knowledge, but ultimately YOU are the only person who knows your business inside out and who knows what feels right for you. Green represents the all-systems-go clients, the ones you definitely need to keep happy because you don’t want to lose them, the ones you say yes to more often than not when they request your services, the ones you’ll go that extra mile for.
The middle circle contains the clients you don’t mind working for sometimes. Perhaps the rate you can wheedle out of them is not as high as you would like. Maybe the work they normally offer you fails to stimulate your brain cells. They might even take slightly longer than the agreed term to pay you on occasion. But they’re not bad clients and they help fill your time when your favourites don’t have any translations to send your way. They could also progress into the green circle if any of the reasons why they’re not already in it change for the better. But equally, if they suddenly ask you to drop your rate because of the recession or because other translators working for them charge less than you do, they may move into the blue circle. This happened to one of my clients, an agency I used to do quite a lot of work for. I refused to lower my price and so they now only contact me occasionally when none of their cheaper translators are available and they’re desperate.
The last outermost circle is for clients that are not really desirable, but you work for them now and again when nothing else is on offer. The aim is obviously to spend most of your time translating for your preferred clients and hardly any for the merely OK ones, since you should ideally be padding out your schedule with the middle-circle clients when you have gaps. In practice, however, the percentages may fluctuate greatly as you build your client base, or if you lose a client for whatever reason, or a client that used to put a lot of work your way suddenly only contacts you once a month.
I recommend you take a close look at your current clients and see which circle they fall into. If they’re not in your inner circle, then you might find it helpful to analyse why not and what needs to change for you to place them there. And if they’ll never make the inner circle, then it’s probably time to find more clients.
This post was first published on 13/10/2014 on my previous blog.