How to avoid being played for a fool as a professional translator

April 1, 2014
How to avoid being played for a fool as a professional translator

Professional translators, as with all freelancers, are susceptible to being played for a fool from time to time by unscrupulous clients. This April Fool’s Day, we look at ways in which translators have been played for a fool in the past, to ensure that you can learn from their mistakes and avoid it happening to you in the future. 

The ever-lasting job

Some clients just seem to demand more and more for their money. You agree a job and price, but then they throw in a little something extra that they ask you to include free of charge. If you do agree, another little extra is proposed, again without additional payment attached. This is a slippery slope that takes advantage of the translator’s wish to not be seen as difficult and thus jeopardise the payment agreed for the original job. 

This technique is one used by clients looking to obtain far more translated text than was originally agreed, at no extra cost. 

How to avoid being fooled? Be clear and firm that any additions to the job will be at additional cost. 

The huge job

A common way to try and fool translators is to promise a huge job in return for lowered rates. The translator, tempted by the promise and security of the big job, quotes a preferential rate that is far lower than normal. The client then assigns one or two small jobs, with the promise of more to come, but nothing further materialises. 

Thus the translator has completed the smaller jobs at a far lower rate than usual and the client has received a professional translation service for a rock-bottom price. 

How to avoid being fooled? Know the value of your time and don’t compromise unless you already know the client well and have a strong professional relationship with them. 

The trial job

Many professional translators have been fooled by ‘trial’ jobs over the years. Some clients demand that a trial translation be undertaken before they commit to any paid work. While a paragraph or so may be reasonable to undertake, some trial jobs extend to several pages of text, with the client actually just using numerous translator ‘trials’ in order to have his entire document translated for free. 

How to avoid being fooled? Avoid being sucked into lengthy, unpaid trials by setting a limit on how much text you are prepared to translate for free in order to try and win a new job. Having an online portfolio can help in this respect, as potential clients can be referred to copy that you have already translated as a means of circumventing (or at the very least, complementing) the trial. 

The job that’s just too good to be true

Sometimes, avoiding being made a fool of comes down to instinct alone. If a translation job sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Clients who offer enormous rates, but aren’t prepared to pay a deposit, should be handled with care – they may just be promising high rates with no intention to pay once the work has been completed. 

In fact, unusual payment arrangements of any kind should be avoided unless the client is particularly well-known to the translator. This is an area in which translators need to learn to listen to their instincts and behave accordingly. 

Don’t be a fool this April Fool’s Day – know your worth and trust your own judgement!

Have you been taken for a fool at some point in your professional translation career? Please share your experiences via the comments box to help others avoid the same fate.