If you would like to subcontract for translation agencies, be proactive and contact them. Most agencies have hiring information on their websites, and many have web portals or online forms you can fill out. However, simply supplying an agency with your information may not get you very far. That’s why you should get in touch with someone at the agency personally. Generally, translation agencies have a vendor manager in charge of recruitment.
Vendor managers are busy people who don’t have time to read a whole manifesto about how great you are. With that in mind, keep your message short and to the point: send a brief introduction with your Curriculum Vitae attached. Your CV should contain all the relevant information about your qualifications and services, as well as your rates for said services. This way, the vendor manager will know your price range straight away.
Additionally, if you know people working for translation agencies, make sure to tell them you’re available. Project coordinators may not be able to hire new translators without the vendor manager’s permission, but a familiar face may be able to speed up the process.
Translation agencies often wish to test new translators, so be prepared to translate a short (200 to 300 words at the most) test text. In addition, end clients may sometimes require test translations. In such cases, agencies tend to pay for them. You should be wary if a translation agency wants you to produce a very long test translation for free and on a specific schedule. While test translations are standard procedure, the industry is home to all sorts of people, some of whom may try to take advantage of you for free labor.
Once your test translation has been approved, the next step is price negotiations. Even though the agency has your CV, with your rates, the vendor manager will often still negotiate. As such, you should decide in advance the lowest possible price you’re willing to accept, and remember: you are not obligated to reduce the price of your services. Once you’ve reached an agreement and the agency is prepared to offer you work, you will most likely translate only short texts at first – taking on a new translator is always a risk, after all. Furthermore, keep in mind that the agency is not obligated to offer you commissions, so you should remind the agency of the availability of your services from time to time – without becoming a nuisance, of course.
Marketing to direct clients is largely the same as with translation agencies. However, acquiring direct clients may take more time and effort, and, in some cases, money (buying ads on Google or LinkedIn, for example). In the end, it’s all about reaching the right audience and customizing your pitch to appeal to them.
There may come a time when you realize you’ve been underpricing your services. If you have a steady client base, but you notice you’re not making enough to make ends meet, it may be time to switch clients. On the other hand, you still need the work, so you can’t just get rid of all your old clients in one fell swoop. Instead, you should calculate a better price for your services and then market them to new clients with that price while continuing to work for your old clients. Bit by bit, you’ll be able to replace your old clients with newer, better-paying ones.
You should also consider raising the fees you charge your old clients. As an example, charging just a half-cent more per word can increase your revenue by as much as 250 euros a month. The average daily work output of a translator is, based on some estimates, roughly 2,500 words. 2,500 x €0.005 = €12.50 a day. There are 20 work days in a month, so €12.50 x 20 = €250.