A) BACKDROP – Why true independence may save me from future bankruptcy!




A) BACKDROP: Major reasons, why translating becomes a profession with low income 

  1. The good old days of high standard translations before the Internet and translation platforms arrived
  2. The multiply subspiraling of contracts
  3. End clients being ripped off without knowing it
  4. It is time to reclaim our direct market, to get in touch with end clients
  5. Three times more pay with direct clients
  6. Fickle and unpredictable translation agencies
  7. Direct clients are more reliable and trustworthy
  8. Mass mailings to large pools of translators
  9. Translation agencies: the power house of project managing and exploiting linguists

B) ACTION PLAN: To avoid bankruptcy and accumlation of debts as freelance translator

  1. How do you find end clients?
  2. Contact your prospective end clients via Online Forms of their company websites!
  3. Make an attractive offer
  4. Highlight advantages
  5. What you should avoid
  6. Take it like a spider: Be patient!
  7. Make contacts over the phone
  8. You’ll get the hang of it
  9. Make yourself visible on the World Wide Web!
Many linguists ask me this question. How do you get direct clients? 
This is a tricky question for most of us freelancers, especially for the new kids on the block.

A) BACKDROP – Why true independence may save me from future bankruptcy!

The backdrop highlights in short, why it is so important to get truly independent now, and to free you from translation agencies and translation platforms now, to avoid bankruptcy or accumulation of huge debts within the next 3 to 5 years. It is to show, that with your low rates you permit saving agencies from going bankrupt, without thinking of your safety plan, as you as well, with continuing dumping rates will not avoid going bankrupt in the near future! Let agencies fail, after all, the translation market is awash with translation agencies and needs a neat clearing! Let the best and most professional, the fairest survive, but not those, which live on dumping rates and not innovation and good quality translations. 
Major reasons, why translating becomes a profession with low income:
  1. Translation agencies: further price dumping due to price wars between translation agencies in the West and East (leveling down, rather than leveling up)
  2. Translation platforms will continue to be the hub for scammers and “low-cost = low-quality” agencies (the so called Loc-Loqs) 
  3. Subcontract-spirals: continued multiple subcontracting
  4. Machine translations: Increasing use of machine translations (such as Google) will levelling down quality standards due to massive use of companies wanting to save costs at all costs, neglecting knowingly or not knowingly quality results and ignore deliberately quality control procedures
The good old days of high standard translations before the Internet and translation platforms arrived
Translation business was a happy and respectably business for freelance translators before the advent of the Internet. The world wide web globalized the marked and led to a progressive and increasingly aggressive price dumping with the arrival of the first translator platforms (Proz, Gotranslators, Translators Café…)  With the dumping of prices quality standards dropped significantly, as increasingly the cheapest translator has the best chance of getting the job with translation agencies. Freelance translators became increasingly ‘hooked’ on the new translator platforms, excessively relying on their new job alert by e-mail and depending on translation agencies feeding them with regular jobs that were at first still reasonably well paid.

The multiple subspiraling of contracts

Over only a few years this system, however, led to endlessly subspiraling contracts: End clients contact translation agency A, translation agency A contacts translation agency B until it ends up with a low-rate translation agency somewhere in India, Pakistan or Lebanon or a one-man agency in Ireland. Those fake agencies, or so called ELRAs (extremely low rate translation agencies), are then desperately trying to find the fool, that is prepared to work for the lowest thinkable rates (often newcomers and students or bilingual persons that do translating on the side, to prop up their revenue). Some of these ERLAs do not even stop at using Google or other computer assisted tools to have the text mechanically translated. If the end client is lucky, another non-qualified low-rate translator will proofread this. This way, the end client may pay up to 0.10 USD / word for the job and the translator, the end service provider, will receive only 0.02 USD per word, if at all, as ERLAS do not really stand on honoring payments. 

End clients being ripped off without knowing it

This way, the  end client often gets an atrocious result, most of the times without realizing it, as most clients do not have the means of checking the quality of the work (in most cases they do not speak that target language). Many end clients are thus ‘blissfully happy’ of such brilliantly cheap translations, in perfect ignorance of their poor quality! 
They do not realize that they might have made a saving of at least 40%, in trying to get in touch with a real competent professional translator, and better still; the translation might have been of far better quality. In other words, many end clients let themselves deceive by the incredibly cheap rates and end up with a rusty old second hand car, while they could have had, for a slightly lower price, much better car: a new Mercedes!

It is time to reclaim our direct market, to get in touch with end clients

The above context shows, why it has become so important for us freelance translators, to reconquer our market that we have given away in such a docile and easy manner! It is important for us and it is important for the end client, too, as they do not only want translations at a competitive price, but what they want most of all are good quality translations! They do not wish to be tricked and pay a full translation price for a Google translation or a badly proofread mechanical translation. They do not wish to be fooled by a translation agency that every translation would be proofread by another independent linguist, although these agencies often have no means to pay them and rarely have proofreaders in house! End clients need to be aware, in spite of all assurances made by big translation agencies, their translations will not be proofread and will be sent straight from the first translator to the end client. Should it go wrong, and the end client complains about the poor quality, the translation agencies, will ‘punish’ and not pay the translator (even if the end client pays).
We need to stop relying on those ever increasingly scammy and spammy job alert mails from translator directories or translation agencies.

Three times more pay with direct clients

 Translators have basically become over reliant on those portals, and are still waiting comfortably for new contracts coming from those translation directories like Proz, Translator Café Gotranslators, Translation Directory, TranslatorPub, TraduGuide and what have you... Modern translators make hardly any effort to get direct clients. If they do, they do not know where and how to start. Translators are thus loosing out on great business opportunities and on better pay! Many translators have never been taught how to acquire their own direct clients or have been discouraged by translation agencies to do so in providing them with intermittent new jobs – at a very low rate. Linguists content themselves with the philosophy 'better than nothing'. Even Indian translators or linguists from other emerging countries may hugely benefit from getting their own direct client! You may get considerably more pay for the same work, if you tried to get directly in touch with a company and not a translation agency, and this at the same or lower price for the end client! Remember: You charge him less than a translation agency would, but more than a translation agency would and could ever pay you.
However, one thing is clear: At start, if you have not yet a single direct client you need translator platforms. At the same time, you need regularly and proactively search for and approach end clients, even if it is not quite the most efficient way, but DO IT! 
You can, of course, make a clean break with platforms or agencies, provided you have enough savings to puffer the void of income during your canvassing period.
I also was relying heavily on platforms and agencies, and waited almost exclusively for the next job offer alerts. I still et lots of mail alerts each day, but as they are all well below the LESR (0.07 €/word), these job alerts have become rather more of a nuisance. (The knowledge acquired through expensive studies and years of income sacrifices, precious work experience made through years of hard work and continued study,  investments on expensive IT equipment, software and professional literature, all that is  not there to be sold off for a song. Five years ago, it made sense, the rate was most of the time reasonable, and most of all you could live on it. Today, prices have slumped by 50% with common translation agencies up to 80% considering dumping rates! 

Fickle and unpredictable translation agencies

Curiously enough, I work no longer with any of the agencies I worked with in the past 14 years!  At some point, there is always a price issue, a disagreement on contested work or other issues. Either they end up not paying, for some flimsy pretext, find my standard rates too ‘expensive’. As for the translation directories: I have tried over 5 translation platforms, and none of them lives up to my price minimum of 0,07 EUR/word (its about 15€ per hour), as their rates keep dropping and translation jobs are ever more frequently subcontracted to multiple intermediate-contractors from Eastern Europe to the Middle East or Far East. On top of that, deadlines become increasingly ridiculous for an extremely low rate. 
So I had to turn to a more direct approach and find direct clients. It is not right that several agencies stand between the direct client and us for one translation job that can be done by one translator within a given time frame. Even less so, when the bulk of jobs you are receiving can be done by YOU! And if you check your order statistics carefully, you will find that more than 70% of the contracts coming from translation agencies are smaller jobs, that could be handled by you alone within the given time line. Such jobs are for example: technical manuals notices, technical documentations, websites, legal texts (most of them corporate contracts, statues, corporate conventions, general terms and conditions…. 

Direct clients are more reliable and trustworthy 

More importantly, direct clients are more faithful and respectful towards your work, and in most cases also more trustworthy,  when it comes to payment. There are exceptions, of course, but in comparison to the wild  jungle of translation agencies, it is incomparably better.
Faithfulness is very important here. While translation agencies hoard a giant pool of linguists who most of the time stay abstract to them, while clients get to know you, your work and your quality. For the translation agency, you remain a number. If you cannot do the job, someone else will. I have been registered with ITC Traductions for over 4 years now, all I get is 4 or 5 mails a year with a small 1000 word job that should be done the same day! Another agency Compass Translation keeps contacting me via mass mailing asking all linguists to update their profile, and …., while doing so, propose “better pricing” and … “of course, this is expected with no sacrifice in quality”, so it reads in one of their most recent circular mails. I am 5 years registered with them now and never got a job from them. All they manage to do is asking me to dump my already low rate I have registered in their database! I bet, they do not even know me!
Translation agencies replace you at the first given moment, either because you have not been available 2 times in a row, or you have not accepted a further rate dump, or (after 100k words successful translation history for several of their important clients) you may have missed out on a comma or you may have allowed yourself two or three typos on a bigger translation and others just do not get back to you for no apparent reason, or their project manager has just changed and the new one does not know you.

Mass mailings to large pools of translators

Most of the translation agencies just send you regularly translation requests with ridiculously short deadlines, preferably jobs to be done over weekends. Some other agencies again, often themselves just one-man ‘agencies’, send you job requests with a prefabricated text body used again and again for each job request, and if you call up or send a reply 10 minutes later to inform them about your availability, it has already been attributed to another translator. I had one expert in this that beat all my records: J.L.T. Jörg Löbnau. (Several times I replied to his job offers a couple of minutes after his mail, that I would be available, but only once in a whole year of about 50 mass circulated job offers, it worked out for a small job of impressive 3k words (tongue in cheek!). After this, I asked him to remove me from his mailing list – three times… He assured me that he would take me off. He is still sending me availability requests! In spite of his promise to remove me. And I do not know how to make him understand, that I am sick and tired of his impersonal circular mass mails. He is a German translator himself and I made this request in German… I mention him, because he is a typical example of today’s translation market. Well above 60% so called translation ‘agencies’ are actually just one-man businesses. They have pooled-up hundreds of linguists of all quality-levels and distribute their jobs at the next best and cheapest ‘translator’ available.
Once you have your first client, you will see, it was well worth the effort and time finding one and you will have your direct client for almost the rest of his ‘lifecycle’, in other words, as long as the company exists (provided the company is happy with your work). Translation agencies, however, even if they are happy with your work, will not show their satisfaction with your work (as they often cannot evaluate the quality of your work, as they do not speak the target language of your translation) and praising work might end up in the translator asking for a better rate!  

Translation agencies: the power house of project managing and exploiting linguists

Translation agencies of today consist mainly of project managers who distribute translation jobs and negotiate (or more precisely dictate) rates to the linguists, but they rarely employ translators! Most of the linguists have become project managers (PMs) in translation agencies, and do nothing else but project managing and put pressure on their fellow translators. Many such project managers feel alienated and leave translation agencies because of it, to become again that what they have originally studied for and to do what they are best at and like most: Translation! Finding translators busy translating in a translation agency… Others may have been lousy translators before, making no money with it and prefer going into Project Managing in a translation agency to get a fixed and secure income. They then find themselves comment and ‘correct’ translations or evaluate test translations in house! 
This is what you might expect to see in a modern translation agency, be it just for translators busy doing the proofreading of translations carried out by external translators. But nowadays, you will hardly in any of the existing translation agencies a team of translators typing away their translations. Translation agencies have become formidable project managing machines with highly inefficient and unreliable quality management systems, for which they pride themselves however on their glossy, professionally looking Websites.
With the arrival of portals, especially since Proz, translation agencies employed less and less translators and consist today more of “project managers”.


This chapter explains, how you can find a sound basis of end clients within a 1-3 year period. 
The old and straight forward canvassing method, long forgotten and hardly used by modern translators:
  1. Contact clients via online forms
  2. Target each time a precise group of your specialization
  3. Contact prospective clients and those you have mailed to also by phone

How do you find end clients?

First of all, by trial and error. Do not stay inactive and wait for the miracle to happen. Be ‘born again’ freelancer! Be innovative, be active. Do not just register yourself with an agency or translator directory and wait until you get a mail from them! 
It is hard to find direct clients, but it is not impossible. And most importantly it is worth it. 
Contact your prospective end clients via online-forms of their company websites!
One way of approaching clients is through short mails. But attention: Not via your e-mail box. You need to take your time to fill in their online contact form.  Any direct mails via your Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail  or Outlook or any national e-mail provider account will be chucked out by the spam filter. So do not do it, it is waste of time. Only messages sent via such online forms have at least the chance of being seen and read! 
Note: Create a special mailbox for your canvassing, as you may end up with many spams once you have sent them a mail via their online contact form. After a year or so, you can easily delete this mail.
Find yourself a good company directory, chose the branch that corresponds best to your competence profile. So if you are strong in translating texts on travel and tourism, drill down to hotels and travel operators in the search settings. If your are specializing in legal translations, tick the category legal firms etc. 
Compose carefully your message. Bearing always in mind, that you are most likely  addressing your mail to a busy person or a person that expected a business request, a quote etc.
The mail should not contain more than 200 words:
Introduce yourself briefly. So it is as if it was a request of employment (a job application). You can do it this way, as you are an independent person (you do not represent a company), you speak about yourself, your skills, your experience and qualifications. It is about you! Avoid commercial waffle. 
If you started with a spamy phrase like “Translation XXX services guarantees you the best quality translation at very competitive prices” you are most likely to end up in the dustbin before the recipient finished your first sentence! Do not write “I hope all is fine with you!” or “I hope this mail finds you well.” This is so kitschy and very popular with “agencies” from India, Egypt or Gaza or neighboring countries. 

Make an attractive offer

Make an attractive offer. “Nobody wants to buy the pig in a poke. In order to give you a chance to appreciate the quality of your work. You could write something like: “I would be glad to carry out a free translation of the main pages of your website”.
There are many ways to attract the interest of potential clients. Find your own way. Write naturally and concise. 

Highlight advantages 

Highlight advantages working with you as independent translator and not a translation agency:
  1. consistent quality
  2. no hidden commissions or admin fees
  3. direct contact (very important in case of problems)
  4. transparent working relationship and translation processes and so on

What you should avoid

  • URL of your website (most forms detect www. and are rejected, so you have more chance with ““). 
  • percentage signs (%) about price reductions. Avoid currency symbols “$” or “£”. 
  • commercial adjectives like “cheapest”, “bargain” and such like. 
  • don’t waste time on multi-nationals, they have often their own national divisions, concentrate on small and medium sized companies

Take it like a spider: Be patient!

Very important: do not be disheartened, if you do not get replies straight away. Some replies come a few days later. I had some clients that contacted me 2 months later! 
Take it like a spider! Continue building your web and once done, wait patiently in continuing with your work (translating for translation agencies… until you do not need them any longer.) Remember: You need to get independent from agencies and translation portals as they soon will only offer low wages from which not even an Indian translator could subsist in his home country! 
Free yourself from translation agencies and platforms! If you do not start today, in 2 or 3 years time, you will be out of business and may have accumulated huge debts!
Instead of accepting insultingly low rates you may consider to do an acceptable side-job in the tourist industry or working in an office of a multi-lingual company. Some translators even exercise occasionally as travel guides in their hometowns and get reasonably well paid for it. If translation continues to be increasingly unprofitable or rather the future profession of poverty and despair, you and we all may have to think about finding another job with a more decent remuneration and leave the translations to machines and low-rate unqualified translators.
But in the meantime, continue trying. Send your mails. Always adapt your mails, re-read them once more before you start copying and pasting your sample text to a load of addresses. You often find here and there things that can be put more eloquently, briefer, more concisely, more interestingly. Sometimes you get another idea, which you may wish to add or replace. Important: Adapt them for each industry: tourism, IT, machinery, electronics etc.
It is a tedious work, and you should not do more than 30-50 such online forms a day, when you have no other translation jobs to do, of course. Otherwise, you may soon loose the courage… 
How many replies you will get, depends very much on the way you wrote your mail, your qualifications and experience. If all of that is on the bright side, you can expect 5 replies in 100 and 2 of them being interested by your proposal. This seems to be frustratingly little indeed, but remember: Sometimes you need only 3-5 returning clients, to have a reasonable revenue!

Make contacts over the phone

You may also telephone clients directly. But, have always a follow-up mail ready to send, to recap on your conversation and make a more detailed offer. 
Prepare a standard line for your introduction on the phone. But do not sound like an agent from a call center, raddling down her or his often-rehearsed catch phrase. Introduce yourself first. Again, to get the attention. If you go like a bull at a gate, they will hang up, before you can finish the word “translation”. You are independent, not a company, you speak for yourself. You offer your services not those of any other company you represent! It is you who can provide all that stuff! Reason enough to be confident! Reason enough to be proud. Reason enough to sound like it on the phone!
Here again, do not expect miracles. Many companies will not require your services. But more importantly, some will!  

You’ll get the hang of it

Never forget, you can only get better with time. Marketing is something that you will learn while you go along. You will find your own style, a style that will distinguish yourself from others and make you special and more interesting to prospective clients. Get better by trial and error and determination.
Make yourself visible on the World Wide Web!
If you have no website yet, it is always very useful to consider that investment. Simple 4 page Websites are affordable to most people today. To have a simple presentation website, a vitrine (“shopping window”) is always handy. This way, clients can easily find you, read about you and your services. A website allows you to communicate better your professional image: Someone having a business without a Website has more effort to be convincing and credible. 
Good luck!
If you have any queries, or you would like me to check your canvassing mail, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can of course also share with your peers how you found yourselv a solid end-client base.  
(C) 2013 Frank MÖRSCHNER