Working with individuals: why do so many translators avoid it?

The individual client market–working directly with people who need anything from a birth certificate to a book translated–is a legitimate segment of the direct client market. But still, lots of translators avoid it. Let’s take a closer look.

I do quite a bit of work for/with individual clients; mostly certified translations of official documents, but I’ve also translated business plans, real estate purchase and sale documents, and yes, even a book, for individual clients. I like this kind of work because (in no particular order):

  • It’s gratifying; people need the service and appreciate it. Sometimes they really, really appreciate it–I once received a lovely bottle of wine from an individual client who needed a translation in a pinch!
  • It’s usually very straightforward. For certified translations, I charge a flat fee per page, I do not negotiate that rate at all, and I do not do the translation until the person pays via PayPal. So there’s zero quoting or haggling, and zero risk of non-payment.
  • It’s lucrative as compared to the time investment. These small, one-off projects are generally projects that agencies don’t want, or for which agencies would have to impose a very high minimum charge in order to justify their overhead. As a freelancer, you can also create templates for the kinds of documents that you translate over and over again, to further streamline the process.
  • Not that many freelancers are interested in the individual client market, so you can generate quite a bit of business simply by putting up a dedicated web page for this kind of service.

My sense is that most freelancers avoid the individual client market for two reasons: they’re afraid of not getting paid, and they don’t want to spend a lot of time negotiating a rate and turnaround time for a $100 job. I would argue that the solution is simple: require that individuals pay in advance, and don’t negotiate. If they don’t want to pay your rate, they can look for another translator; or if they don’t want to pay in advance, they can look for another translator. And for the record, even the individual for whom I translated a book did pay in full, in advance.

I do agree that when you work with individuals:

  • You have to have some patience with people who know nothing about translation. Can you also translate my Lithuanian driver’s license? Can you convert my grades from the French to the US system? Can you just leave out the classes that I failed? You can’t blame people for asking, so you have to be willing to explain these things.
  • A fair number of people will ask if you can “just certify” the translation that they already did. “I already translated it, so how much would it cost to just put your certified translator stamp on it?” My response to this is always “The certification statement requires me to certify that I translated the document, so for liability reasons, I cannot certify a document that I didn’t translate myself.”
  • You need a way to take payments online, and that costs money. Lots of people love to gripe and moan about PayPal, and I agree that their fees are annoying on large amounts. But I’m willing to pay $3.50 to collect $100 from someone, and I’ve never had issues with things like chargebacks (where the client complains to PayPal and then gets a refund). Additionally, lots of people already have a PayPal account, so it’s easy for them to send you money. You could also try Square, Stripe, etc. My sense is that the fees for all of the online payment services is about the same.

Readers, any other thoughts on this?

39 Responses to “Working with individuals: why do so many translators avoid it?”
  1. Irene Corchado Resmella April 20, 2016
    • Corinne McKay April 20, 2016
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