If you think freelance translator jobs are all about knowing languages and being able to write well, I have some news for you: you’re sorely mistaken.
It takes a lot of different skills to be a professional translator, freelancer or not. Of course, you need to be fluent in at least two languages, as well as possess some great writing skills, but there’s much more to it than that. You have to be gifted with technology, know how to manage projects, speak with clients constantly and be very committed to your deadlines.
Because there are so many varied skills involved with translation work, it makes sense that a lot could go wrong. As much as I love my life as a translator and linguist, that’s not to say I haven’t had my fair share of freelance translator nightmares.
Here are three possible scenarios – you may never find yourself in these positions, and that’s great! However, you may one day encounter one of these situations, so we have provided some tips on how to avoid them.
1. Incorrect project briefings
I say “incorrect” to keep things vague. Sometimes this is as simple as a client misunderstanding the language needed to convey the project in detail, but other times it’s the act of a scammer. You accept a job to translate a 10-page e-book, but suddenly you’re on the hook for a much larger e-book and the associated print and marketing materials that go with it. That’s definitely not what you signed up for!
Whether because of a miscommunication or a malicious act, this can cause you a lot of stress and strife, especially if you have other projects on your plate. The common mistake translators make is accepting the job without the materials or a sample of the materials.
If a client doesn’t want to give you the materials without confirmation for privacy reasons, that’s sometimes understandable, but ask for a screenshot of the materials or a list of the exact materials needed to complete the project. This helps you avoid misunderstandings and can also alert you to a scammer if they have are trying to trick you with their request.
2. Clients from hell
Like I said, you have to be able to talk to people and negotiate if you want to be a translator. As a professional translation agency or as a freelancer, dealing with a client can be taxing work. It’s never a good idea to speak ill of a client, but sometimes you may encounter clients that are controlling, inflexible or otherwise difficult.
As is always the case, you have to take the good with the bad – but it’s wise to get to know these clients as best as you can before taking on their project. Schedule a phone or Skype meeting and have a conversation. It is always easy to tell who could be a potential client from hell even before you even accept the project. This will help you avoid around the clock emails or impossible requests.
3. System Failure
Most translation work is done on a computer now, which is great! Technology and translating go hand in hand. However, technology isn’t infallible. Electricity can go out, hard drives can be corrupted, etc. Relying solely on your laptop or desktop for your translation work is a recipe for disaster.
Make sure that you have a backup measure in place. Sites like Dropbox can store your files in a way that’s easily shareable, making it easier to sleep at night knowing your progress and projects are protected.
4. Not getting paid on time (or at all!)
Probably the worst of all freelance translator nightmares – having to chase up payments with clients that you should have received months ago. Of course, you’d hope that this won’t ever happen to you, but in the unlikely case that it does, the best way of avoiding this is to be clear with your clients from the get-go.
This entails sending your invoice as early as physically possible, outlining your contract with clear and precise vocabulary, and perhaps even highlighting or underlying key points for your client to remember. If you are polite, concise and clear from the beginning, then the client should respect your intentions as a freelancer and be more than willing to send your payments on time, as your professionalism and clarity will make them feel comfortable in doing so.