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The Number of Clients a Translator Should Have

Today, let’s think about how many clients a freelance translator should have.
 
One of the best things about the freelance translator’s job is that you never have to worry about being out of work. Of course, temporarily not having work for a little while is common, but if you look at it on a monthly or quarterly basis, there is always a somewhat steady amount of work. (Of course, it won’t be like this if you’ve just started translation.) This is because a translator has many clients.
 
As an extreme example, let’s assume that one of your clients suddenly went bankrupt one day. Or, if not bankruptcy, let’s assume that the client suddenly notified you that they wanted to end business relationship with you for whatever reason. If you were a regular office worker, you’d be in big trouble if your company suddenly went bankrupt or suddenly decided to fire you. However, a freelance translator doesn’t really need to concern himself/herself with such things, and that is one of the biggest advantages of this profession. This is because unless you fire yourself, there is nobody in the world who can force you out of your job.
 
Unless you fire yourself, there is nobody in the world who can force you out of your job. Click To Tweet
 
A client can go bankrupt, but that is a very rare case. Also, even if a client decides they no longer want to do business with you because they are unsatisfied with your translation or think that your rate is too high, you have no reason at all to worry because you still have many other clients and can make many more should you choose to do so. (Of course, this kind of thing doesn’t happen at all for translators who are always working to increase the quality of their translation.)
 
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However, there are regrettable cases where the translator himself/herself gives up this amazing advantage of being a freelance translator. These cases are when a translator keeps just one or very few clients. A translator with only one client is usually a so-called in-house translator, but unless you’re doing that because you lack skills and are trying to improve them by learning from someone, I don’t understand why anybody would choose to do such a thing. (If anybody knows the reason why or understands why people might choose that path, please explain it for me.) To give up the freedom of a translator… I just don’t understand it.
 
Another case is doing business with clients from only one or two places even though you’re a freelancer. I’ve seen a case where a translator did business with just one client (the final consumer, direct client) for 11 years, only to be left suddenly in dire straits when that company eventually shut down. In this case, it’s probably more fitting to see his experience as having worked from home as an employee of a company rather than as a freelance translator.
 
The above are cases where the translators dug their own graves, instead of enjoying the amazing benefits of being a freelance translator. 
 
The translators could dig their own graves, instead of enjoying the amazing benefits of being a freelance translator Click To Tweet
 
However, even without going that far, there is still a need to look back on yourself to see if you’re committing mistakes that make your job less stable for similar reasons to the above.
 
I don’t think the earnings from any one client should exceed 30% of your total income. If they exceed 40%, you need to do some serious restructuring. This is because, if a single client becomes that important, your discretionary power and bargaining power in your relationship with the client will obviously decrease because your level of dependence is too high. For example, when you want to increase your translation rate because you’ve become very busy, you will end up being more cautious about a client that makes up such a big part of your income. That’s why you might not even be able to suggest a rate increase or, if you have, you won’t be able to easily gather the courage to tell the client, “You should look for another translator” and leave them when they reject your suggestion of the increase. You might even feel pressured to accept work from that client even when you’re busy with other projects. In this way, you can see that having a client become too important is actually a disadvantage to you. Whether you acknowledge it or not, it’s hard for a translator to maintain an equal relationship with an important client, and such a translator might be easily dragged around.
 
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That’s not to say that the more clients you have, the better. It’s fine to maintain however many clients you think is appropriate for you, but it’s good to make sure that one or two of them don’t become too important to your income. This is because the rule of 20:80 also applies to customer maintenance. Even if you find getting new clients tedious and are very satisfied with your current client, if that client makes up over 40% of your earnings, you need to revisit your business structure and make the necessary adjustments.

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