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Tips for clients – top 10 ways to keep your translator happy August 18, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

I’ve been ruminating on why I love the clients I have and am willing to bend over backwards for some, while weeding out clients that I have been less than happy with this year. I have talked at length about some of these issues in the past, but here are some tips for clients to keep your translator happy.

1. Pay us a rate that is commensurate with our education and experience. Many translators have advanced degrees and oodles of experience in a variety of different fields. We should be paid accordingly.

2. Don’t ask us to cut our rates. We have a mortgage, rent, phone bills and electric bills to pay. Asking us to cut our rates by up to 25% is the surest way to lose us quick. Educate your client on the value of translation instead.

3. Don’t bother to ask for a volume discount. Words are not widgets. In translation more volume means more work – not less. Most people in the business world get paid time and a half for overtime. If your “volume” means we have to work longer than usual (such as 12-hour days to meet an insane deadline) an offer of one cent (or more) a word more would really be appreciated.

4. Don’t even bother to ask us to translate 10,000+ words a day. It’s simply not possible – nor is it healthy in the long run.

5. Pay us on time in accordance with the standard payment terms of 30 or 45 days. 60 days is unacceptable.

6. Don’t wait for your client to pay you before you pay us. Our contract was with you – not with your client. Get a short-term loan if you have to. My parents did it numerous times for their contractors when I was growing up and their client (the state) was late paying the bills. That said, if money is tight let us know and maybe we can work something out, but don’t just ignore us or tell us the check is in the mail when it isn’t.

7. Be appreciative and give us feedback. Most of us deliver our translations into a void. We assume no news is good news, but clients who thank us for our “outstanding work” and forward client feedback really stand out. I know I for one appreciate hearing feedback – both good and bad – because it makes me a better translator in the long run.

8. Allow the vendor-client relationship to grow with the economy. If the price of eggs, electricity and gas is going up, try to explain to your clients that the price of translation is also affected by inflation. Prices have been stagnant for too long.

9. Don’t pigeonhole us. Don’t just offer us mini-jobs or proofreading jobs all the time. Ask us to translate a text now and then and have the other translator proofread our work. Most translators earn more when they translate. We would appreciate a nice juicy translation every once in a while.

10. Be friendly and communicative. Don’t demand things and assume we are available to accept your job. If you are a favorite client and even if I am busy, I will usually bend over backwards to make time for you if at all possible. A simple hello and thank you is all it takes. It is the simplest way to gain our loyalty.

Feel free to add additional thoughts in the comments.



1. Kimmo Linkama - August 19, 2009

Jill, even though I work in a geographically different market, I sometimes struggle with similar problems. Especially your point #3 is right on: an assignment that means MORE work cannot be sold for LESS.

Your point #6 is also very valid. An independent translator is not a bank and cannot give credit to clients. We need to maintain liquidity ourselves.


2. CerebrisLS - August 19, 2009

Hi Jill,

Thanks for putting it so well.

I’d add to the tenth point on communication that a full translation brief is a godsend – the more I know as translator beforehand, the better I can conceptualise and contextualise when translating.

Thanks for an excellent blog!


3. Tom Ellett - August 19, 2009

I was about to make the same point as Mariènne: Give the translator as much information about the job as possible.

Also: When inquiring about availability, be specific about the nature of the job and let the translator see the text if possible. Don’t send lazy inquiries such as “We have a document in Swedish that we need in English. What will it cost and how long will it take?” Busy translators have better things to do than email back and forth to obtain the information they need to quote on a job.

And: Don’t ask me how soon I can deliver a job and then, when I reply, turn around and say that you need it sooner. If you already have a deadline from the client, tell me about it up front!

4. matthewbennettes - August 19, 2009

Great post Jill!

The only point I still have to resolve in my own mind is number 3 – discounts for volume.

Assuming we’re talking about freelance translators, we walk a fine line between ‘worker’ and ‘business of one’. It’s not like most of us work for minimum wage and, taking away the insultingly low offers from those who don’t know better, I’ve found that my clients appreciate the gesture, although I’ve yet to offer it as standard.

A slight discount is a way of saying thanks for their loyalty (no obligation on their part) and also of saving me the sales, marketing & admin hassle of looking for new clients every time, which would be totally boring and actually costs more according to most studies, as long as you don’t go overboard with your discount rate.

I think there are rates and ways at which a balance can be struck between the psychological desire of the client to receive a ‘reward’ and feel extremely well treated and the desire of the translator to feel very well paid for his work.

Blog on.

5. Bob Kerns - August 19, 2009

Nice post, as usual, Jill. I’ve already posted a link to this on Facebook.

Purely by coincidence, another of my pet hates cropped up again today: An outsourcer who expects me to take on a proofreading job for a fixed price, even though the file isn’t available yet and neither the outsourcer nor I have any idea of how good or bad the translation will be, i.e. how much time I’ll need for the proofreading.

If this was the first time they had asked, I would have politely explained the facts of life (as a proofreader) to them, but they know my policy on this and conveniently decided to “forget” it (again).

Just felt like getting that off my chest in case you ever decide to expand your top 10 to a top 20 😉

6. Ellen - August 20, 2009

Here’s another one for your top 20: Don’t make us believe that a translation is a rush job, and then three months later send us client feedback that needs to be implemented urgently…

7. jillsommer - August 20, 2009

I like all the suggestions so far, but I think I like Ellen’s the best. It just happened to me in fact, but it was more like three weeks instead of three months.

8. fix your relationship - August 20, 2009

Excellent article. Tips are very good. Thank you very much.

9. Kyla Juett - August 20, 2009

I think Matthew has a good point on clients liking to feel special (by being offered some sort of discount), and hadn’t realised that I actually do that, too–though not for volume discounts. I do use a TEnT and discount the repetitions even for agency clients who don’t use the TEnT. I’m just getting started as a freelancer, so I’m quickly learning to appreciate the value of maintaining a good client (vs. not having work), and I think it makes good business sense. Of course, if the same clients were to ask for volume (or other) discounts in addition to what I’m already offering, we may have issues!

10. jillsommer - August 20, 2009

Kyla, do yourself a favor and don’t offer discounts without the client asking. It makes more business sense to work for full price whenever you can. My favorite clients are the ones who don’t use Trados and don’t demand discounts. I only have one or two clients who ask for them. Also, if you do offer a Trados discount be sure it is 30/60/100 instead of some crazy 5 or 6 tier scale. Trados is your investment in your business and ensures your consistency. It was never conceived to be a discount maker for agencies who do not shell out the money for us to have it but expect to benefit from our having it.

11. matthewbennettes - August 21, 2009

I think I must blog more about this. Discount is not a nasty word. It’s the perception of the word that makes it nasty from the point of view of a translator and agreeable from the client’s point of view.

Prices (and discounts) are all about psychology, communication and behaviour: for business to work well (win-win and all that), both the client’s point of view and the translator’s must be properly taken into account.

Ignore, for a moment, the fact that I’m clearly not a mathematician…

What if, for example, you didn’t think of it as a discount but instead decided on an increased rate (compared to your current rate) for clients who didn’t behave in the way you wanted them to?

If you currently charge, for example, €0,10 per word, increase your one-off project price to 0,11€ and keep the €0,10 price for your best, regular, long-term clients who send you lots of work.

This way, you actually get to charge more than you currently do for many jobs (you’ve just given yourself a 10% pay rise!) and your regular clients feel like they’re getting a discount (-9.1%) compared to what you charge everyone else.

There are many variations on this basic idea, of course, and you are free to decide where you can offer your clients more value and for which aspects of your work.

12. jillsommer - August 21, 2009

Hi Matthew, that isn’t a discount. That is pricing policy. Of course I have different prices for different clients. I certainly don’t consider it giving my best, regular, long-term clients a discount. I think of it as “I enjoy working with them so I haven’t raised my rate.”

13. Textklick - August 29, 2009

I love this particular musing! Were it mine, I’d make it sticky and park it at the top as the eternal intro.

I’ve posted your blog to my ‘Ersatz-Blogroll’ on FBook. I’ll send you a PDF if you mail me.

BTW – Happy Birthday!

xx Chris

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