10 Secrets for Freelance Translators for Success with Agencies

Last updated Jan 22, 2024
By Gwenydd Jones

Freelance translators should make an effort to understand the needs of translation project managers. By knowing their needs, you can identify how to fulfil them. If you solve the agency’s problems, they’ll want to make you one of their regular freelancers.

Here are 10 things freelance translators can do to become desirable collaborators for translation agencies.

1. Keep to the point in emails

Project managers don’t have the time or interest to read a rambling cover letter or pour over irrelevant comments about a job. Be friendly in your emails, but keep it as short as possible.

If you’re applying for a job, put your language combination in the subject line (eg ES>EN). That way, the project manager can immediately see if you offer the service they need. Including other key words about your services and qualifications in the subject line and email body text is also a good idea. It’ll make it easier for a project manager to find you further down the road if they search their email archives.

If you’re sending your CV out cold, don’t just write “see my CV attached”. The project manager won’t want to open your CV unless you tell them why they should in your email. For more on sending your CV to agencies, see my article “How to Write an Effective Email for a Translation Agency”.

When writing emails about projects, consider what the project manager needs and wants to know. Freelance translators who think about the project manager’s agenda will be more successful than those who focus only on themselves. Delete sentences that don’t add anything constructive to the communication and that distract from the main point.

2. Be a freelance translator who responds quickly

The translation buyer may give the go ahead to the agency at any time. They may take an hour, a month or even longer to confirm a quote. Orders can come in unexpectedly or suddenly be urgent. Texts on a large project may come in one by one, and some may be sent late. Translation project managers can find themselves working under a lot of pressure. 

You can alleviate this problem for them by responding to their emails quickly. Even if it’s just to do them the courtesy of telling them you’re not available. Freelance translators that respond quickly are desirable collaborators.

Freelance translators, check out these useful secrets to make sure your collaboration with translation agencies is a successful one. #t9n

3. Respect the deadline for the translation

If you have a problem: communicate! Be aware that the project manager may have changed their personal plans to wait for your delivery. They’re relying on you and have placed their trust in your word. If you break that trust just once, the relationship could be destroyed.

Your support and helpful attitude could make the difference in their day.

4. Be honest about your translation limitations

If you haven’t got the right skills to translate a certain text competently, then tell the project manager. Nobody can do everything and it’s fine for freelance translators to be specialists in certain areas and refuse work in others. Your honesty helps the agency ensure translation quality and avoid getting complaints from their customers.

5. Establish and run your own translation quality checks

Beyond the basic spelling check, run a search for double spaces, double full stops and any typos you know you commonly make. Always look over the document in its final form, not just from inside your CAT tool. If you don’t do this, the project manager or proofreader will have to do it.

A simple quality routine will save time for project managers and proofreaders. This represents added value compared to other, less conscientious, freelance translators. It also means you don’t have to spend time dealing with corrections after delivery.

6. Read the agency’s payment terms before taking the job

Agencies normally write their payment terms on the translation order or discuss them with you by email when they contact you for work. Always check them before taking work. If you don’t want to accept them or want to ask the agency to make an exception for you, negotiate.

If you’re invoicing a company in a different country, make sure you understand the tax and invoicing requirements beforehand. Spain, for instance, has strict legal requirements regarding invoicing and the agency has no choice but to comply with them.

Small agencies have limited resources and may have to wait to get payment from their clients. This is the reason for payment on 30 days as standard, and why some agencies request 60 or even 90 days to pay freelance translators. You don’t have to accept their terms, but if you do, then you have to abide by them. You can’t suddenly demand payment before the agreed time (just as the agency should respect the due date). Unnecessary payment disputes cause stress for conscientious agencies, just as they do for freelance translators. Don’t get into a fight if it can be avoided through good communications and due diligence.

Freelance translators who think about the project manager’s agenda will be more successful than those who focus only on themselves.

7. Tell the translation agency (politely) if you’re unhappy about something

Good translation agencies care about their freelance translators. If something has upset you or you’re being asked to do something you don’t think is fair then tell them. Honest communications are at the heart of all good relationships. Not discussing your issues could lead to greater problems further down the line. Any agency worth its salt will address the issues you bring up. They may even make changes to their internal processes if your feedback is constructive. And remember: innocent until proven guilty. Don’t go in all guns blazing! Assume that whatever the project manager has done or failed to do, they weren’t deliberately trying to upset you.

8. Address complaints and do what’s required to put things right

If the agency has had a complaint from a client about one of your translations or a proofreader has raised problems, don’t go on the defensive. Showing the agency that you take negative feedback seriously and strive to improve can only be positive. It may also be that your response to a complaint can help the agency address a client issue, which means your collaboration is very important. If you’ve made a mistake, apologise. It happens to everyone.

In a business where everything we do is in writing, there are bound to be differences of opinion on how “good” a text is. If the customer insists on a change you don’t like, don’t waste time getting into an email battle. Make the change they’re asking for and explain briefly in writing why you don’t agree and what you suggest. Then, let them decide for themselves at their leisure. In the meantime, you can forget about it and move on to your next job.

Don’t miss these super-useful tips to help you in your relationship with project managers. #translators Click To Tweet

9. Ask if you’re unsure

Don’t be scared to ask the project manager if you have any questions about the text. You can also provide added value by listing any source-text errors you spot, so they can pass them to their client. You could ask them whether they prefer you to send questions one by one, or wait until the end and send them with the delivery.

Different project managers have different ways of working with freelance translators. Getting a bit more information about how your project manager likes to work can help you adapt your service to them. This may mean they’re more likely to choose you next time.

10. Be a good colleague

From wishing the project manager a good weekend to thanking them for their help on a project, a good colleague gives. If the project manager asks for a favour, then helping them out that day may strengthen your bond with them. This can lead to more work later down the line. While they might not tell you, they may be dealing with a difficult customer, a problem or a lot of pressure. Your support and helpful attitude could make the difference in their day.

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Written by Gwenydd Jones

Gwenydd Jones is a Spanish- and French-to-English translator, an SEO blogger and a course creator. She is the founder of The Translator's Studio and the lead teacher on its courses. Connect with Gwenydd on LinkedIn or contact her through this website.

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