Do translators need portfolios?

Lots of translators (beginning and experienced) wonder if it’s a good idea to create a portfolio. Something with excerpts of your translations that you can show to potential clients as a marketing tool. My take: a portfolio probably isn’t worthwhile in the way that most translators envision it, but could be helpful in other ways. Let’s take a look:

Most translators think of a portfolio this way: go through your old translations, pull out some excerpts from the source and target text, and make it into a PDF or post it on your website. That has a few problems:

  • The work might be covered by non-disclosure agreements
  • The client might not understand one of the languages involved, so may not be able to assess your translation skill in the way you envision
  • Meanwhile, you’re thinking that the portfolio will help you leapfrog over requirements such as an agency’s tests, which it probably won’t

I do think that a portfolio can be useful to:

  • Show examples of your published work. For example, I have a web page highlighting my French to English translations of non-fiction books.
  • Give examples of “signed” translations that have been published with your name on them. For example, a few years ago I did some translations for a Swiss museum, and they put my name in the exhibition credits. I then sent that photo to a few other arts-sector clients, for credibility purposes
  • Show your writing style, and show examples of the *types* of things you translate
  • Attract clients who are very writing-style conscious, such as clients who need content marketing translations (blog posts, tip sheets, e-books, etc.) where there is a strong emphasis on catchy writing
  • Include reviews of your published translations, or testimonials from clients

Bottom line, I think that most agencies will still require you to take their tests, and most direct clients will want to see an example of your work on *their* materials. For most translators who want to work with direct clients, I think that doing a “teaser” translation of a high-profile item like the client’s home page or Twitter profile is more effective than a portfolio. If you’re interested in using bad translations as a marketing tool, check out this post, and make sure to read the comments for lots of great tips. But for most translators, I also think that a portfolio of excerpts from legal contracts, financial statements, or pharmaceutical documents is unlikely to be useful. Additionally, it may create an expectation that you’ll be able to avoid agencies’ application requirements by using it.

If you enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my Marketing to Direct Clients course, starting May 8, 2017. A past participant commented, “I now have the knowledge and confidence to market myself to direct clients. It was the best investment I made for my freelance business. I regret I didn’t take this course sooner!”

15 Responses to “Do translators need portfolios?”
  1. palomnik April 17, 2017
    • Corinne McKay April 17, 2017
  2. Sherif Abuzid April 18, 2017
    • Corinne McKay April 18, 2017
  3. Melissa Harkin April 18, 2017
    • Corinne McKay April 18, 2017
  4. Ben Karl April 18, 2017
    • Corinne McKay April 19, 2017
  5. Paulo Mendes April 19, 2017
    • Corinne McKay April 19, 2017
  6. Martin Hemmings May 4, 2017
    • Corinne McKay May 5, 2017
  7. Jayne Fox May 5, 2017
    • Corinne McKay May 5, 2017
  8. Sharon James June 24, 2017

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