Chapter 7

Making It Rain


How to earn more as a freelance translator


So now you have work coming in from a few clients or translation agencies, you’re comfortable with your skills and are loving the freedom that being a freelancer gives you.

If only you could earn more…

Rather than being a generalist, you need to specialise in order to command much higher rates.

However, if you are a generalist, what can you do to earn more?

Besides improving your productivity (see the next chapter), to earn more you need to do one or both of the following:

  • Win more work
  • Charge more

Getting more work from agencies

The best method of getting more work from agencies that you currently work with is to consistently produce great work.

Most reputable translation agencies will have some sort of review process and scoring system for their freelance translators. They are always looking to improve their service to clients so always attempt to select the translators with the highest scores for their clients’ work. This is a policy translation agencies have to employ due to the huge numbers of translators available and the competition that exists between agencies.

Besides being good at what you do, you should aim to be a great resource for an agency. How?

  • By being easy to work with
  • By being reliable
  • By being available when they need you

With time and experience you will be able to increase your credibility, improve your skills and, eventually, command higher rates.


If you haven’t already done so, now it’s time to specialise in order to win better paying jobs or clients.

According to a ProZ 2012 industry report “Nearly 90% of translators are specialising”.

As a general translator, you will eventually reach your maximum earning capacity—no matter how much additional experience you gain along the way.

You can find more “insiders’ tips” on how to get more work from translation agencies in a post I wrote for Translator Thoughts.


Get direct clients

Now may be a good time to look for direct clients. Keep in mind you can always work for both direct clients and agencies. This is a good way to diversify and future-proof your business.

With direct clients you will be able to charge higher rates compared to agency work. The flip side is that you might receive less work and, since you are now a savvy business owner and not just a translator, you will need to factor in the higher cost of sales, as well as the time, resources and money spent on attracting direct clients.

Small businesses are an ideal target, as they are likely to require smaller volumes of translation work which you should be able to handle. More importantly, they are more likely to require fewer language pairs and specialisms. Often, when large organisations need text translated into many languages they will only work with professional translation agencies.

Additionally, bigger businesses often like the fact that agencies act as guarantors for the work and take on the legal liability for work carried out by translators.

If specialising is desirable when working with agencies, it is essential when working with direct clients. A legal firm, for example, will be more likely to work with someone who has a lot of experience providing legal translations.

The reality is that there aren’t that many clients that require general translations in just one language pair.

Growing your client base

The first step to improve your marketing efforts is not to create a website, nor to focus on SEO and social media.

The first thing you must do is to decide who you are selling your services to and tailor your approach accordingly.



Find your target customer

Be as specific as possible. Some questions you might want to work with are:

  • In which field do they operate?
  • How much are they willing to spend?
  • Where are they located? Where are they spending their time on- or offline?
  • How can you help them solve their problems?
  • How does translation fit in with their overall business objectives?
  • What do they look for in a translator or translation agency?
  • Are they willing to pay well for high quality translations, or do they expect a lot of work for very little pay?

Additional reading

Use this resource to create your target persona: Free Target Market Persona

Market yourself

Will you present yourself as a translator who provides the lowest rates or one that focuses on quality and customer service? Either approach is fine. You just need to decide on which one will work best for you (and makes the most of your skillset).

Remember, you can’t be everything to everyone. How you decide to market yourself will, in part, determine the businesses you target and your future success.

Once you’ve identified your target clients — you can start contacting them.

Although some sales people are happy to cold call clients, most translators don’t like the idea (and most prospects prefer not to be cold-called either). So, email should be your primary method of communication.

Once you have targeted a customer segment, it’s all about numbers. Contact as many relevant clients as possible, making sure you keep your target market and objectives in mind.

But, never spam. This will immediately create the wrong impression about you and your translation business to prospective clients.

REMEMBER: Test email formats and content, and optimise your approach….reusing the ones that work.


Be where your customers are

Try to attend events and join online communities where your target customers are – including industry conferences and networking events related to your niche.

This is a very informative post on finding direct clients through industry conferences


Remember that you are not there to sell your services directly. The key is to contribute with useful information and add value with all your posts. Many forums and LinkedIn groups will revoke access if you are thought to be using them to promote yourself

Be selective and identify a list of forums and groups where your posts will be well received and target these with relevant content regularly.

Word-of-mouth referrals

Providing you have a few happy clients, there is simply no better way to obtain new ones than through word-of-mouth referrals.

Firstly, a recommendation from someone you know and trust beats most sales and marketing strategies.

Secondly, it’s the most cost-effective way to get new business. In fact, it’s virtually free.

The best way to get referrals is to have a system in place. After all, why leave it to chance?

To begin with, your work has to consistently delight your customers. If it’s average—or worse still —poor, you’re unlikely to attract positive word-of-mouth referrals.


1.    Create the profile of your ideal customer – this way clients will refer you to pre-qualified prospects.

2.    Natural referrals happen very rarely so ask your satisfied clients for recommendations. Generally customers tend to speak up more when they are unhappy than when they are satisfied, so make sure you are proactive in seeking referrals from happy clients.

3.    Incentivise referrals – sometimes people need a little push. You can offer a discount on future translation, or a complementary service, for example. Do the maths and make sure the acquisition of a new customer this way makes financial sense.

4.    When should you request a referral? After receiving positive feedback is always a good time, but you can be more organised than that. How about after three days from delivery? Or once a month? Pick a schedule you’re comfortable with, set reminders and stick to it.

5.    Analyse – set some time to look back at your referral initiatives and measure their effectiveness. If they are working well, tweak them to increase the success rate. If the results are disappointing, change your system. Keep a log of all activity and track long-term success – and adapt your approach based on what works, and what doesn’t.

NOW it’s time to create your website

websiteThere is just no reason not to.

Yes, lots of experienced translators don’t have one. But remember that you are operating a remote business and dealing with clients via email/telephone: a website is a great way to attract new clients by advertising your services indirectly.

A website can also be a great way to showcase your expertise.

If you have followed the previous steps in this guide then you will have the advantage of developing your approach and identifying your target clients before embarking on your website development project.

This will allow you to tailor your design, content, and call-to-actions to suit your target client personas.

In general, you want to convey expertise and trust while highlighting your unique selling point (USP).


What can you do for me? Why should I use you? What sets you apart from all other freelance translators? These are the questions your prospective clients will be asking.


A blog is a good way to show off your expertise—but how can you decide on the type of content you’re going to publish? Again, your content calendar should be developed with your target customer personas in mind. The content you produce for your blog should be of interest and provide value for your target customers.


User reviews and testimonials can be a good way to portray trust and influence new customers to use your services. If possible, display a list of your clients and the work that you have completed for them. Or even better—ask your clients to provide testimonials.
For an example of a great translator’s website, with good positioning, design and copy have a look at

For general information about marketing internationally have a look at our guide to international marketing.


Additional reading has a detailed guide that will help you with the process of creating your own website.


A note on SEO

While building your site and creating your content, you really need to consider your Search Engine Optimisation strategy. Luckily, most CMSs and templates, even free platforms like WordPress and Joomla, are now search-engine friendly.

Be aware that ranking for translation related terms is not easy. There’s a lot of competition from translation agencies who can afford to employ entire marketing departments and assign large budgets to their SEO to make sure they rank as high as possible.

Your priority should be satisfying your customers’ needs and using the insights to create content that will deliver you high-quality leads.


How to raise your rates (yes, also for existing clients):

As you get work, and if the quality of your translations stays the same or improves, you can start raising your rates and picking and choosing the jobs you decide to take on.

Obviously the best way to raise your rates is to find new clients that are happy to pay more for quality work. However it is possible to raise your rates for existing clients.

Step 1: try new rates with new prospects:

  • Find out what others are charging—make sure you are comparing like for like—same industry, similar language pair, direct client with direct clients, not agencies, etc.
  • Play around with rates until you find the sweet spot—but avoid doing this with the same clients.

Step 2: Once you have some new clients at a rate you are happy with, contact your old clients and announce the increase.

You may lose some clients, but it will allow for a better work/life balance. Plus, you may be working less, but earning more.

The main barrier stopping you from taking those two steps is likely a mental one.

To get you in the right frame of mind, watch the video below. Yes, translation is a bit different from other freelance professions and no, you won’t be able to use exactly the same tactics, but the information is useful nonetheless.

Just keep what works for you and discard what doesn’t.


There will come a point where you will reach the limit of your productivity and you won’t be able to take on bigger jobs alone.

That’s when you could start thinking of subcontracting some work to other translators.

This will allow you to take on jobs that would be too big to complete alone. You could also begin to offer multiple language pairs (this usually works best with direct clients, as an agency would be reluctant to use a translator for more than one language pair).

You will likely be unable to subcontract agency work due to clauses in agreements that prevent you from subcontracting. And, let’s face it—the rates offered by agencies might not make subcontracting worthwhile.

If you do decide to subcontract, it is imperative that you are giving work to someone you know well and trust. If you have worked with them before and rate their work, that’s even better.

Make sure you have enough time to personally review their translations – after all, your name is on the final deliverables which means your reputation is at stake.

Other points to keep in mind when subcontracting are:

  • Split work intelligently
  • Have an agreement in place before you start
  • Remember, there will be more management involved so factor this into the quote and timeframe

Another way to boost your income is to improve your productivity.

See the next chapter for productivity hacks.


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