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Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (March 2009)


Grow Your Client Base, Increase Your Rates, and Make LSPs Love You: A How-to
By Terena Bell and Madalena Sánchez

“About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage. But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them. Miss Ward, at the end of half a dozen years, found herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr. Norris, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely any private fortune, and Miss Frances fared yet worse.”
—Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

We start this article with a vignette from Jane Austen to illustrate one thing: some things never change. Even though Austen wrote about marriage in the 19th century, the situation she outlines above appeals to us in the language services industry today. If you re-read the quote, thinking of wives as translators and husbands as language service providers (LSPs), you will see that a woman catching a husband in Jane Austen’s time is a lot like a translator catching an LSP today. The basic principles are still the same:

1) Sometimes someone less qualified than you will get the man (or the job).

2) Sometimes the person who gets the job does not do what she promised she would.

3) There are more women (er, translators) than there are husbands (um, make that LSPs), so simply being qualified is not enough.

4) Sometimes a good reference is not enough to get the job either.

5) Working smarter and faster is not always rewarding.

6) Be it in fiction or in real life, some folks have all the luck.

Unfortunately, it is this luck principle that wins out most of the time. Maybe the LSP awarded the job before they received your résumé, or your e-mail was down and you never got the message from the project manager (PM). Granted, there is a lot to life we cannot control. The unfortunate part is that the uncontrollable often impacts the bottom line.

Grow Your Client Base
What can we control? We can control how good we are at what we do, how well we present ourselves and what we know, and how hard we try. If you sincerely want to grow your LSP client base, you must control these things.

Since a successful contact begins with a favorable first impression, the way you present yourself and your work is the most important area to consider. How do you make the PM think you are the best person for the job? Try keeping these four presentation pointers in mind:

1. No one will hire you if they do not know you are there. You already know how to fix this:

• Google LSPs in your area and send them a résumé.

• Develop and detail your online profiles on sites such as and

• Attend a PowWow or other networking session. If no one in your area is hosting a PowWow, host one. This will certainly get your name to pop up in the Results fields of Internet search engines.

• Speak with freelancers in other language pairs whom you know, and offer to refer one another.

• Become certified and make sure the state in which you are certified lists you in its public database.

• Join professional organizations. Members of ATA can have their contact information and services listed online in the Association’s professional services directories.

• Have real business cards printed and pass them out. Put them in the bowls near the register in local restaurants or post them on the bulletin boards of coffee shops and carwashes. You never know who will pick one up. The main thing is to get your name out there. This takes time, but distributing your business cards is a good first step.

2. No one will hire you if they do not know you are able to do the job.

• Make sure your résumé is a true testament to what you are able to do.

• Do not forget to list your languages! Also note which languages are your native and/or heritage languages.

• Keep your résumé and any online profiles updated and detailed, and check them again and again for errors.

• Look as competent as you truly are.

3. No one will hire you if you do not follow directions. All LSPs have résumé submission guidelines that are unique to their business. Follow them.

• Do not cc: everyone at the company hoping someone will get it.

• Do not send a résumé as an attachment because you are too lazy to cut and paste when the guidelines say no attachments.

• If there are no directions on the company site, call and politely ask if there are submission guidelines for résumés.

Remember, it is one thing to be aggressive; it is another to annoy people. If you cannot follow directions when submitting your résumé, how will a PM know you will follow directions on the assignment?

4. No one will hire you if you are clearly overestimating yourself and your abilities. If you have been out of school only a year and translate Spanish, you may not merit the higher rates paid to more seasoned translators. You simply are not experienced enough yet.
If you have been translating a year and list that you completed a large project for a Fortune 500 (say, a keep-your-finger-from-getting-cut-off manual for Dow Corning), an LSP may not believe you. To put it more simply, if you are even amazed that you were hired for a particular job (hey, we said a lot of this was about luck, right?), briefly explain how you got it. Give the PM a reason to believe you.

Increase Your Rate
Once you have the job, how do you get paid more for it? The following tips might help:

1. Start low enough so that you have somewhere to go, but high enough so that you can eat. Start low enough that you have a reasonable chance of beating half your competition. Make sure your rate is a true reflection of your actual work. If your rate is too low, however, PMs will wonder what is wrong with you. Translators who offer themselves at too cheap of a price just seem, well, cheap. We work in words; understand the difference between “cheap” and “inexpensive.” Be inexpensive, but not cheap.

2. Do not be afraid to negotiate. If you do not include a rate range with your résumé, a PM will not call because she has to get extra information from you that she does not have to get from other people. A good PM will contact you to get a precise amount for that particular project. You should never quote anything sight unseen, but you still should have minimums and maximums for what you charge. If a PM offers a rate that is too low, do not say you will not do it—counter, negotiate, and deal. You never get more if you never ask for more.

3. Develop client-specific rates. Think twice before charging two clients the same thing. Study and research the client. How much do you think you can get out of them?

4. Consider all the factors. Is this a large project or a small one? Always have a minimum project charge. LSPs do, so you should, too. It shows you respect your time and work. Do not be afraid to ask the LSP if the assignment is for a repeat client or if the PM is hunting for a permanent translator for the client. Just make sure you ask politely. If the current translator for this is on vacation and you are a fill-in, this means less work. If the PM is looking for someone to work permanently, this means more work.

5. Keep your word. As many political incumbents have said, “Never change horses mid-stream.” In our world, this means do what you say you are going to do. Be who you say you are. While written negotiations, including the rates you offer, are legally binding in most states, there is a larger issue at work here. Growing up, folks called it “your word.” Once you have given a PM or an LSP your word, keep it. On that note, never raise your rate in the middle of a project, and if particular payment terms are agreed upon, do not try to change them after you have already started or completed the job. If you say up front that PayPal is fine, do not ask the PM later for a bank wire.

All this being said, how do you truly raise your rate? Gradually. Do it in increments. If your rates jump all at once, particularly right after being offered an assignment, the LSP will think you are trying to cheat them. You have to build in raises for yourself gradually, a cent or so at a time, over time, just like an employee would. When you do change your rate, notify the LSPs you work with and the ones to which you have applied so that the PMs can update their records.

Make LSPs Love You
How do you get an LSP not to like you, but love you? Well, here is the secret. When you send an LSP your résumé, it either gets thrown away or added into a database. A PM might not tell you that you have been added to the database. Many times, she will simply contact you when an assignment matching your qualifications arises. Names entered into the database tend to sit there; however, when a PM uses you the first time, one of three other things happens: 1) You remain in the database and pass into obscurity; 2) you are put on the unalterable, fatal “Do Not Hire List”; or 3) you do such an outstanding job that the PM brags to the secretary, the assistant PM, the chief executive officer, and her mother. The next time that language comes up, everyone in the office says “Why don’t you call him?”

So How Do I Get on That List?

1. Be professional. This, above all other things, will get you work. There are lots of qualified translators out there who are bright individuals, but a PM would rather let the project go undone than work with them again, simply because they act unprofessionally. Be nice to the PM. Make sure your delivery arrived, and not just through a read-receipt. If your translation is being proofread, ask to see the proofread version so you can learn how to do a better job for the LSP next time. In other words, cooperate.

2. Do a dynamite job. Know your stuff. No matter how professional you are, an LSP will not use you again if you do not do a good job.

3. Remind the LSP every now and then that you still exist. Do not be annoying about it, but stay in touch. If you are going to be on vacation, send out a generic notice to the LSPs you work with that you will be out of the office, returning on X date, and will be unable to take assignments until then. Send a Christmas card to the PM, or add him or her to your LinkedIn contact list. If you are going to an ATA or other professional conference, send out a notice to your clients. It lets them know you are continuing your education, which speaks to your capabilities for future assignments. This might also provide the opportunity for you to meet them in person. Ask to get together at the conference for coffee. Get to know your clients so that they remember you.

This brings us back to Jane Austen. In our early example, luck may have worked for Maria, but as anyone who has read Jane Austen will tell you, luck is always one of the biggest factors. You have got to be in the right place at the right time, but that is still not enough. More times than not, someone else is at the right place at the right time alongside you. That means you have got to be the prettiest, the coyest, stay up-to-date on etiquette, and bustle your butt to catch the man (LSP).

Useful Links for Freelancers


ProZ (create an account)

ProZ (find a PowWow)

Translators Café

ATA (become a member)

ATA (conference page)