Among the amorphous goals that many of us have for our freelance business, “I want/need to make more money” often heads the list. It’s often joined by other amorphous goals such as “I want/need more work,” or “I need some better clients.” The problem with “I want/need to make more money” is that most translators pursue it in a brute force way: by simply taking on more of the work that’s not generating enough income to start out with. Instead of translating 3,000 words a day, many people decide to double their income by translating 6,000 words a day. In my online courses, I routinely talk to translators who are *translating* 10-12 hours per day, then doing their administrative work on top of that. That may work for a while; but it’s a grind, a recipe for burnout, and it’s not sustainable. Freelance truth: if you choose to work for clients whose primary decision-making factor is price, don’t be surprised when they drop you for someone cheaper. You knew what was important to them, right?
So, if we’re not going to bump up our income by working twice as much, how are we going to do it? A few ideas:
- Pitch a “make this worth my while” rate to all new clients. When you’re already busy, you have nothing to lose by floating a higher rate to all new clients, especially if you have to work overtime to fit them in. And if/when the new client accepts the higher rate, you know that at least some of your target market will bear that rate.
- Stop looking for work in low-rate places. Online job marketplaces are an entry point into the industry; they may be a good entry point or a horrible entry point, depending on your languages and specializations. But by advertising on, say, Fiverr, you’re inherently appealing to people who only want to spend $5. By bidding on online job boards, you’re inherently dealing with clients whose main decision-making point is price. Quit that. No more reverse auctions for your time, period.
- Look where other people aren’t looking. Lots of freelancers are hanging out with other freelancers and lamenting that they never meet any good direct clients. Hanging out with other freelancers has its appeal: you can learn a lot, you can build a good network, and you can meet people who may refer work to you. Freelance translators are generally awesome people. But the good direct clients aren’t looking at online haunts for freelance translators when they want to find someone to translate their annual report. You have to go to them: join *their* LinkedIn groups; set up a website with information about *what you will do for them,* attend *their* conferences.
- Don’t make translation cheap; make it easy. When I ask my direct clients for feedback or testimonials, I’m always hoping to hear about the quality of my translations; how they got the French message across just right, but in English. And hopefully they do that! But when I get that client feedback, it’s almost always about the ease of the process. “You always respond to our e-mails right away.” “When you say we’ll get it by 5PM, we know we’ll have it by 4:30.” “When we make suggestions, you don’t act like a diva, you give us your honest opinion.” Make your clients’ lives easy, and you’re worth a lot to them.
- Be ready to accept the hard truths. When experienced translators tell you that good clients aren’t going to bang on your door, and you have to bang on theirs, they’re right. When experienced translators tell you that mega-agencies couldn’t get away with pittance rates if no one would work for them, they’re right. When experienced translators tell you that you have to invest in the required tools for the business, and you can’t be using a ten year-old laptop with Windows XP as your main work computer, they’re right. If you want higher-level clients, you have to be a higher-level translation professional.
- Always have your eye on your “next out the door” client. As someone with a soft spot for nearly all of my clients, this is a tough one, but it’s necessary. Identifying the client you’ll eliminate once you get a better paying one at the top of the list is a good motivator. Be ruthless here: what low-paying client could you drop if you had a better-paying one to replace them?
Readers, over to you: best suggestions for making more money while staying sane?