Client Circles

‘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.

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4 thoughts on “Client Circles

  1. A great post. I could immediately identify with it, Nikki. It’s heartening to see that more and more of us are taking responsibility for our rates and client relationships but it’s also unrealistic to think we can suddenly dump the lower paying agencies and find premium clients overnight for all the reasons you mention. That was the rationale behind my talk at the ITI Conference this year.

    Through taking ‘baby steps’ and some more major strides I have managed to create an ‘inner circle’ but the bottom line is that these ‘better’ clients don’t have the same workload to offer. After thinking I would move away from all my old clients I realised I have one pretty good one in my ‘yellow’ circle who offers interesting work, is nice to work for and can offer me larger, bread and butter jobs when my green circle goes quiet. They pay a couple of Euro cents less but I can work faster for them.

    I even have one lurking in the blue circle who every now and then will accept my rate. They were my main client just three years ago and constant price pressure from them gave me the ‘kick up the backside’ I needed to make changes.


    1. Hi Alison, thanks for dropping by and for your comments. I wish I’d been at your talk. I’ve heard it was very interesting. 🙂
      I addressed the idea of earning more by working faster on easier texts in my post “Let’s Talk Money” (see link above). Sometimes a perceived “good rate” entails working on challenging texts that then drastically reduce your per-hour rate to silly levels. I always get annoyed with myself when I fall into this trap. I guess it’s also a case of knowing yourself well, what you are and are not capable of doing and setting limits and sticking to them (i.e. not allowing yourself to be persuaded otherwise by a desperate client).


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