Through one of my earlier posts (Translation Market: Where It is and Why This is a Good Time to Be a Translator), we’ve learned about the structure of the online translation market, why it’s structured that way, and what such a structure means for translators. In this post, we will be learning about practical steps to get translating jobs from the online translation market. First, I will introduce two very good marketplace businesses where you can meet your first clients and show you how to register with them. Second, we will learn how to bid for translating jobs in the market place business.
Section 1: Go to the Marketplace!
Although the final consumer occupies a very important place in the translation market structure, encountering the final consumer as a translator trying to set foot into the market for the first time is, while not impossible, a very difficult thing. Honestly, even getting a whiff of a final consumer is a very difficult thing. The kinds of clients that a rookie translator can meet relatively easily are agencies.
Of course, once a translator gains influence or adopts the right kind of marketing strategy, he/she might be able to make final consumers his/her clients in the distant future. However, for now, a new translator must gain a firm foothold as a single translator, and has no choice but to use agencies until he/she can make a living out of translation. (I will discuss how to directly connect with the final consumer, otherwise known as direct client, once I am done with the core contents of this blog. *sigh* I’m not sure when that will be… Just quickly putting what’s in my head into writing alone is taking much longer than I thought. But I will plow through and continue writing.)
So how exactly can you meet with an agency? You know how if you go to any traditional market the merchants spread out their display stands and wait for customers? Such a place is called a marketplace.
Unlike the abstract meaning of a market that I explained in the earlier post, this is a specific place of meeting. Your task is to go to this marketplace. In the online translation market, this marketplace itself is made up of businesses. These businesses are always researching and promoting themselves to make the marketplace bigger and more convenient. They do this to satisfy both the party buying translation and the party selling it, and they try very hard to lead more merchants and buyers to do business with each other at the marketplace. They then derive profit from receiving a set commission or membership fee from the sellers and buyers.
Although it’s characteristic of the Internet world to continuously change, from what I can see, around 5-6 main marketplace businesses are currently in a heated competition with one another. I don’t think it’s my duty to analyze and introduce each of these businesses one by one in detail and, more importantly, I don’t think any of you would enjoy that, either. If you’re curious, search for “translation jobs” or something to that effect on Google and click on the first 100 search results and you will start to get a sense of it. You can even pick one that you like from the top 100 and use it. New rookie companies are continuing to pop up and enticing consumers and producers alike with their low prices or new types of services. However, searching for and registering with all these marketplace businesses is neither wise nor possible. So, I will introduce just two of these places to you.
The first is a place called TranslatorsCafe (www.translatorscafe.com). I will start by showing you a screenshot of the site.
This is the place that I used for my very first time. It’s a Canadian company (Go Canada!) and has a lot of very good materials and statistics. Pay a visit to it. Even if you don’t end up registering as a member, the site has lots of useful information and materials you can refer to. Even though I am no longer a paying member of this site (they call such members “master translators”, but the nickname doesn’t really mean anything; it’s just something they name you automatically once you buy a subscription), my profile is still on there, and even though it’s been years since I’ve been a paying member of the site, there are still clients that contact me through that profile.
The second is a place called ProZ (www.proz.com).
At one point, I was registered to 4 different places at once including TranslatorsCafe, but I narrowed it down to just one site: ProZ. There are two decisive reasons I chose this place in the end. The first is that, while most marketplace businesses give off the impression of caring more about the agencies’ perspective, ProZ seemed like they also placed great importance on the translators’ perspective. The most important factor was that ProZ has a function called Blue Board through which you can read reviews of agencies that translators have written over many years.
As those of you who have read this blog from the beginning in order would already know, a translator shouldn’t approach this line of work with the mindset that he/she has to beg agencies for jobs. Unless you change that mindset, you will be stuck wandering the low price market, accepting pathetic jobs for pathetic pay, and will have to work in unfavorable conditions. You will not become a happy translator this way. Agencies are in charge of marketing translators, so translators must approach agencies with the mindset of picking and choosing the right one for themselves. You should want an agency that is able to get work from a good final consumer who is willing to pay a good price for quality translation, an agency that can get a good price for your translation and actually gives you the money for it, an agency that is clear and effective as a broker during the translation work, an agency that knows to sometimes scold their own clients for bad source files (original untranslated documents), an agency that understands that translation work takes considerable time and energy and so secures you an appropriate deadline according to the content, quantity, and format of the project, an agency that communicates clearly… The list goes on, but my point is that you have to “pick” such an agency yourself. First of all, you have to be able to recognize and avoid con artists that are all over the Internet, and then you have to refuse to work with low-quality, idiotic agencies that don’t treat their translators well and are busy cutting your translation fee so that they can get more short-term profit for themselves. A translator must do this to be able to continue working healthily, happily, and with future prospects. This is something that’s very important to both the mental health of a translator as well as his/her financial stability.
The problem is, there aren’t a lot of ways you can recognize these good agencies. If you visit agencies’ websites, they’re all bragging and bluffing like they’re the greatest agency in the world (well, translators aren’t so different in that regard…). Because of this, for translators, meeting agencies is a lot like blindly walking into an arranged marriage. It’s a really difficult thing to be able to recognize which agency out of the endless number of agencies is a good one that you can collaborate with long-term. For a translator, taking that first step is difficult.
The thing that completely improved this situation is the Blue Board. This is the most important reason why I chose ProZ.com. I will discuss the Blue Board in more detail in a separate post.
The second reason I chose ProZ is that it lets you accumulate relatively objective assessments (reviews, evaluations) regarding your translation work. Some examples of this are the “Pro” title that is given to skilled translators through a meticulous evaluation process and the accumulation system of feedback given to translators by agencies (WWA or willingness to work again). (This is also too complicated to fully explain in this post, so I will write a separate post about it.) It is because of these features and characteristics that I recommend ProZ to you. Other translators might have a different opinion, but in my opinion, if you think yourself to be a translator with enough aptitude, talent, and motivation, I want to recommend choosing ProZ and building your reputation there.
I am by no means telling you to register to just this one site. Actually, when starting out, it’s not a bad idea to register to multiple sites (if your finances allow it) and trying to get jobs and experience. But even so, you’d need a main one to concentrate on, wouldn’t you?
I think the registration fee was around $150 a year for both sites. By registering to sites like ProZ and TranslatorsCafe, you are taking your first step into the online translation market. And this is an important first step.
Section 2: Be a Smart Bidder in the Marketplace!
In the previous section, I talked about registering to marketplace businesses and recommended two of those places. The actual detailed procedure for registering to these kinds of marketplace businesses is clearly written on their websites, and those of you who have chosen translation as your career must be able to register without my guidance. That is why I won’t be going into detail about registration procedures. Simply put, once you register, you must then create a profile. (I think creating a profile alone took me about a week to do. Finding pictures, selecting this and that option, and decorating the profile took much longer than expected. During that process, I encountered a lot of terminology that I didn’t know, so I was kind of in a daze. But of course, if you keep taking one step at a time, you will eventually finish the process. It’s all about patience and perseverance.)
Now, in this section, we will be learning about how to bid for translation jobs online.
To explain using ProZ as an example, if you go to “My email settings” and select “Job settings,” you will see something called “Job notifications”. Make sure both “classic job posting notifications” and “turnkey translation notifications” are switched on. If you do this, you’ll start getting notification messages the next day. This is an agency (and in rare cases, a final consumer) sending notices to translators through that marketplace business. If you click on the link provided in that email notification, you will be able to see details about that particular project (also sometimes called a job).
Obviously, you aren’t the only one to receive that notification. Because the main reason one would register to such a marketplace business is to get these kinds of projects, the same notification will already have been sent to countless other translators. (Of course, you first have to select the option to receive such notifications and the kind of field and budget scope of projects you want to receive. Notifications are only sent to translators if they meet all those criteria.) Because of this kind of system, there will be several or maybe even a few dozen translators competing for one project. It’s like the agency is shouting, “Hey, we have this project. Is there anyone available to do it?” and translators everywhere are responding back, “Hey, I am available and I can do it!” (This is not a literal example, of course. We don’t actually gather in one place to do this.) This is called bidding.
There is a side to bidding that we have to keep in mind. Up until now, you’ve paid the registration fee, worked hard on your profile, opted to receive job notifications, and you’ve finally received a notice regarding an available project, so it’s obvious you should take the project and do it, right? Unfortunately, things aren’t as simple as that. Let’s think for a minute. Let’s say you’re walking down the street when a stranger approaches you and says “I heard you’re a translator. Please translate this.” What would you do? Would you accept that job right off the bat, thinking, “Nice! A new project has come to me!”? I doubt it. Wouldn’t you first find out what the project is, whether or not you can do it, whether or not enough information is provided about the project topic for you to do the job well, when the deadline is, whether the pay is good considering the difficulty or quantity of work, when you will get paid, how you will get paid, and most importantly whether the person offering you the project is someone who keeps promises, is polite, and easy to work with?
In a nutshell, I’m saying that you have to participate in the bidding only after sufficient consideration and investigation. Someone once said that the most important and difficult decision of a manager isn’t deciding what to do but what not to do.
The most important and difficult decision of a manager isn't deciding what to do but rather what not to do. Click To Tweet
Jobs that you’re not sure you will get paid for, jobs that will take too much time and effort to finish because they’re from a field you know little about, jobs so difficult that you can’t guarantee a good quality translation, jobs with such low-quality source files that it’s frustrating or impossible to translate (believe me, there are quite a lot of these cases), jobs that an agency hands over to a translator without properly understanding them (ill-defined jobs), jobs where your questions go unanswered and you’re told simply to start….
Taking on these kinds of jobs is worse than not bidding for them at all. Bidding is also something that takes time and effort to do, you know. I will elaborate on some of the factors mentioned above in more details
Who is behind this online translation job?
Out of all these factors to consider, what do you think is the most important one? Or what is the thing that you should consider first? I firmly believe you should first consider the person or agency itself that posted the project on the marketplace business.
The biggest mistake that new translators frequently make is hastily starting work with anybody without considering this. (I’m advising you about this now, but I also learned this lesson only after paying a pretty expensive tuition fee. You will guess what happened.) If you do this, your entire work process will be difficult, it will be difficult trying to receive payment after your finish, and in the worst case scenario, you might not even get paid at all.
You remember that we’re talking about the virtual marketplace on the Internet, don’t you? This is a very difficult thing even in the local market where you can actually meet the other party. So it goes without saying that it’s much more difficult to properly assess potential clients only through online communication in a situation where you don’t have a chance to meet them personally. It is for this reason that I recommended ProZ to you in the previous post. If you go to the search section of ProZ, click Blue Board, and then enter the name of an agency, you will be able to see a numerical score of that agency rated by translators from all over the world.
If you’re trying to bid through ProZ, you can just click the link regarding the relevant agency’s Blue Board score page on the screen as shown in the image below.
That’s how you can make a judgment based on the overall score as well as the score over the past 12 months, and if there was a bad score, you can read what the reason for it was and how the agency responded to it, etc. and then make your final decision. Now, once you’ve finished judging the company and if you’ve decided that it seems like a good company that you want to work with, you must then look at whether the project they’re offering is something you want to or are able to do. (I am emphasizing this one more time: you can’t mix up this order. You must judge the agency first. Then, if the judgment is negative, just give up on the project no matter how attractive the project may seem. That is the wise thing to do.) Sometimes, they provide a sample text for this. Or sometimes, they provide background information about the project (who the final consumer is, what the field is, etc.).
Are they offering at least a reasonable rate?
Next, you should look at the budget info to make sure they’re not proposing a reasonable or desirable rate. There is often no such information. There are also cases where people ask translators to bid with their lowest possible price in their job notification. They sugarcoat it by calling it “competitive price”, “agency-friendly price”, or “best price”. How I hate these expressions! If you see such a request added on to a job notification, you might want to rethink working with the agency that sent it. If it’s the kind of agency that exposes its intention to get a translation for a low price (in other words, more than its intention to have a relationship with a good translator) even before thinking about the quality of translation, working with them long-term will be difficult and tiring. Let’s say for argument’s sake that you decided to take on the project at a low rate anyway because you really liked the project or had no other project at the moment, started the project, and finished it. From that point on, that low rate that you accepted or suggested becomes the standard between you and that company. Once the rate is set like that, it’s not easy to raise that low rate. It’d actually be easier to end your relationship with that agency and start working with a new one than to convince this current agency to slowly increase the set rate. (I am not saying it is impossible to do. This is such an important issue so I will write about it separately.) Another thing is that a relationship centered on your low rate is going to end the moment someone offering a lower rate comes along.
If a relationship was formed and continued because of your translation quality, working style, good communication skills, etc., that relationship will continue to prosper and make your work and life easy and comfortable. On the other hand, a business relationship formed because of low price is probably one that both parties want to end.
A business relationship formed because of low price is probably one that both parties want to end. Click To Tweet
This is because the agency will leave for a lower price and the translator for a higher price. So if you can, try not to form a relationship with this kind of agency in the first place. Forming a relationship with one agency through bidding, signing and sending a scanned contract, figuring out what kind of projects the agency usually gets, understanding how and where to send an invoice, etc. actually requires quite a lot of time and energy.
Bidding is not something you should be doing all the time
Finally, I’m going to say something a little strange. Those of you starting translation for the first time must increase your workload enough so that you can maintain your basic livelihood through translation. This is very important to your ability to continue translating long-term. The only way to accomplish this is by registering to marketplace businesses and participating in the bidding. But there is something you should know. The party on the other side of the bidding, in other words the agencies that come out into the marketplace businesses to make translators bid for their projects, aren’t particularly good agencies. Disappointing, isn’t it? There’s nothing we can do about it. I will explain why. Really good companies (agencies) secure a skilled translator they can trust for long term collaboration first before even getting a project from the final consumer. To do this, they approach translators first (that is, not through the bidding system) because they can see the profiles that translators upload on the marketplace business. They introduce their company over the phone or by email and propose collaboration. They follow procedure and write up a contract and an NDA (I will explain it later…) and get you all set up to work. Only then do they take that outstanding translator’s profile to the final consumer and obtain projects.
Not doing this and instead coaxing a final consumer into giving them a project and then asking hundreds or even thousands of translators, “We have this kind of project; is there anybody who can do this right now?” is actually a really irresponsible thing to do to the final consumer. Don’t you think so? (I also wonder whose profiles they use to approach their clients. Are their clients so rich or so careless that they just assign important translation to random agencies?) They’re not really taking quality into consideration. Looking back on my own experiences, the good agencies that I’m working with right now have mostly contacted me first (there are exceptions, of course). On the other hand, most of the agencies that I’ve met through bidding have been sifted out because I gradually increased my rate. The price was not the only factor, though.
This, however, doesn’t mean good agencies don’t come out into the bidding market at all. If the translator they usually work with (agencies call them their primary translator) is on vacation, busy with another project, or has suddenly retired, they would have no choice but to find someone else fast. As a translator searching for a good agency, this is a golden opportunity to form a relationship with a good agency. Now, I’ve written quite a lot about bidding so I’m going to write a short summary in lieu of conclusion for this post.
- As someone new to translation, you have no choice but to depend on bidding.
- To avoid getting involved with a bad agency, you must check Blue Board on ProZ.com before bidding.
- After checking if an agency is good through the Blue Board, you must consider other factors and decide whether or not to participate in the bidding.
- After receiving the project through successful bidding, you must put in the effort to produce a good translation so that you can form a long-term collaborative relationship with that agency. (By the way, this is the best marketing strategy!).
- If the agency posts another project up for bidding even though you tried your best and produced a good translation, it means the agency was either not satisfied with your translation quality or they only valued low prices from the beginning. In either case, ending the relationship with no regrets is the wise thing to do.
- In the end, bidding is just a translator’s first hurdle, and your long term goal should be getting to a stage where you can just work with your existing loyal agencies without having to participate in bidding (becoming the primary translator for top agencies).
Now, attention please!
I created a course for starting translators: How to Participate in the Internet Translation Market E-Course. This course will guide you step by step to register yourself with different companies on the internet marketplace, and teach you the strategies to grow your translation career stably long-term. To check out the course in the context of other courses, please visit my Translation Courses Overview page.