Accepting the constraints of the market(s) you’re in

It starts with frustration

I receive lots of e-mails from freelancers along these lines:

“I did a marketing campaign to agencies and found a few new clients. But they’re so price-sensitive, and everything is a rush, or by the time I respond, they’ve assigned the job to someone else. Every project involves haggling over my rate, or the deadline. I like the steady flow of work, but I feel like a cog in the machine.”


“I did a marketing campaign to direct clients and found a few new clients. But they can be really high-maintenance to work with. I have to explain really basic things, or they send an updated version of the document after I’ve already started working, or I ask questions and they tell me to just use my best judgment.”

These dilemmas, and others like them, have a simple, one-word answer: Yup. If you want freelancing to be your “forever job,” one key is to achieve a healthy–or at least sustainable–mindset about the job. And part of that is accepting the realities of the market(s) that you work in. Expecting a certain type of client to act like a completely different type of client is like any other unrealistic expectation: the object of your frustration is unlikely to change, and you’re likely to remain frustrated. You wouldn’t get a pet cat and then complain that it refused to play fetch, or walk on a leash, right? So, don’t do that to your clients. There’s a better way.

Every type of client has pluses and minuses

This is a simple but very important truth: every type of client has pluses and minuses. The same is true of language combinations, and also of specializations. For example, if you do legal translation, you have the advantage that there’s tons of work, perhaps more content than you could translate in a lifetime. But you have the disadvantage that most legal translation clients aren’t interested in word artistry, and are only having the translations done because they must. They’re mostly interested in a fast, accurate translation, not a work of art. And either you accept that, or you don’t work with them; you don’t expect a law firm to act like a publishing house.

Different markets, different realities

The main frustrations I hear are from freelancers who are trying to make a particular client into something they’re not. Whoever you work for, I think it’s important to be realistic about the realities of that market rather than trying to fight them. As an example, I’ll do that type of analysis on the three types of clients I work with: agencies, direct clients, and writing clients (for whom I write only in English). Let’s go:

Translation agencies:

  • Are easy to find and apply to
  • Definitely need translators
  • Understand what translation is and how translators work
  • Understand the basic parameters of a translator’s work: for example that we generally translate into our native language only, that industry expectations for volume are about 2,000-3,000 words per day, that if we are working from a non-editable document like a locked PDF, we have to talk up front about how the translation will be delivered, etc.
  • May send you tons of work if they like you, and may allow you to eliminate almost all non-translation work and focus on the translation
  • Are price-sensitive, and sometimes very price-sensitive
  • May sometimes ask or expect translators to do non-translation work like prepping files for use in a TM tool, or recreating source document formatting, without an increase in rate
  • Are rarely willing to put their translators in contact with the end client, and may be reluctant to forward questions to the end client unless the translation truly cannot be done without the question being answered
  • May send out mass e-mails with project offers, or may contact multiple translators and assign the job to whoever responds first
  • May not desire a personal relationship with the translators they work with

Direct clients:

  • Are often less price-sensitive than agencies, and are often more willing to agree to extra charges (for rush work, formatting, DTP, etc.)
  • Are often more likely to want a personal relationship with a freelance translator who they see as an external team member
  • Are often willing and even eager to discuss word choices, the purpose of the translation, different options for things like headlines, etc.
  • May know little to nothing about translation and how translators work, and thus may need a fair bit of client education, or may make unreasonable requests simply out of a lack of information
  • Are often harder to find and market to than translation agencies are; require the translator to first ask, “Who would need a translator in my language combination/specializations?”
  • Are more difficult to turn down; if you are the direct client’s only translator in your language combination, they may find someone else if you’re not available
  • Are often “captive audience” clients; they absolutely must use a translator, either for legal reasons or business purposes, and it’s just a question of who they’re going to use

English-only writing clients:

  • Are not very difficult to find, if you enjoy content marketing writing (given the current “advertising is dead, content is king” boom)
  • Understand how you work and speak your language, which allows them to be more involved in the process than many translation clients can be
  • Can often assess the direct results of your work: more web traffic, more inquiries, etc.
  • As opposed to translation clients, may just decide to DIY it. “We’ll have the intern write our blog posts.”
  • May need to be convinced that a more experienced, more expensive freelancer is worth the investment, because there are lots of really cheap writers out there
  • Are usually hiring a writer because they want to, not because they have to, which has its pluses and minuses

You can run this kind of analysis on your own clients. It’s important, at least in your own mind, to be realistic about the markets you work in, so that you’re not endlessly frustrated over aspects of those markets that will never change.

Readers, over to you: any thoughts on the realities of the markets that you work in?

12 Responses to “Accepting the constraints of the market(s) you’re in”
  1. Becky March 22, 2017
    • Corinne McKay March 22, 2017
  2. Daniela March 23, 2017
    • Corinne McKay March 23, 2017
  3. Andrea Bernard March 26, 2017
  4. Kenny March 28, 2017
  5. Jana April 4, 2017
    • Corinne McKay April 4, 2017
  6. Max Neilson April 6, 2017
  7. Itzaris April 6, 2017
  8. Sofia Gutkin April 9, 2017
    • Corinne McKay April 10, 2017

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