Choosing the right client 35

In general, the criteria used by translation agencies and end clients for choosing the appropriate translator or interpreter for a given job are well-known: specialization in a given language pair and field of expertise, years of experience, rate range, availability, credentials and client feedback, among others. But outsourcers are not the only ones in a position to set the parameters for a given job and working relationship. Translators and interpreters too can –and actually should– have their own set of parameters to decide when to accept a job offer made by a new client or decline it.

Most professional translators and interpreters with years of experience have realized that identifying the client before even evaluating a job offer is perhaps the most important strategy to apply. Client identification means checking thoroughly client’s information available:

  • Email address, to confirm that the client is offering the job in the name of a given company (in which case the domain name will include the company’s name and will link to their website, > or to see through a quick search whether this is the client’s regular email address or an invented one (in the case of end-clients). Companies will rarely use email addresses from free email service providers such as yahoo!, Gmail or Hotmail.
  • Website, to learn more about the client, check their contact information, address, phone number, etc. A quick search on yellow pages will help to confirm their details and a call to their phone number will give translators the chance to make sure that such client is really behind the job offer.
  • Google search of the company name and the contact person’s name to learn more about their activity on and offline, and confirm that they are real and part of the industry they claim to be part of (translation industry, if they claim to be a translation agency, or any other industry in the case of end-clients) .

Once a client’s contact and activity information has been confirmed, translators should turn into assessing their reliability as business partners. Assessing a client’s business reliability means investigating a bit further to know more about their payment practices, the type of communication they maintain with their service providers and their business model. Search for translators’ feedback on their past experience with the client. The Blue Board record will help with this.

And when the client has been identified, and their reliability has been determined, translators and interpreters can move into evaluating the job offer. While when receiving the project offer service providers may have already thought about the job details and its implications in terms of size, time available and additional requirements, these aspects of the job should be evaluated carefully and in deep when choosing a client.  The client can be asked for the files –or part of them– to be translated so that a word-count can be performed and the complexity of the project and time required can be determined. They should also state clearly –and preferably in written form– the delivery deadline expected (including time zone details), the rate offered, their payment terms and the payment method to be used. All these are aspects that will tell more about a client (and how they do business) and give the information needed to either accept of decline their offer.

Just as a client’s responsibility is to find a suitable service provider for the sake of the project, when choosing a client, translators’ responsibility is to evaluate the opportunity carefully in pursuit of a successful outsourcer-service provider working relationship. Choosing a client is not simply accepting a job, and accepting a job is not simply agreeing on a delivery deadline and a rate. There is more to meeting a new client than meets the eye and this is an important part in any freelance business.

How do you choose your clients? Do you follow any set of parameters when you receive a job offer from an unknown client? Share below!


  1. Thanks for confirming, FrenchNad! It’s good to know that professional translators are doing their homework and working towards successful service provider-outsourcer working relationships.

  2. Hi Lucia,
    I do everything already mentioned by our colleagues + several payment practices mailing-lists + LinkedIn fora of the same type.
    However, may I remind colleagues that, as freelancers, we are the ones who decide what are the rates, payment terms and payment methods to be used. If the client does not agree with our conditions, that’s his/her right, ours is to choose which client we want to work for, or better : with.
    We are not employees, aren’t we?

  3. I totally agree with you, Catherine, and thanks for reminding everyone of the importance of setting job parameters. Translators are in the best position to determine what they need to charge or the time they need to deliver the requisite quality on a given job. If a client does not agree with this, then it would simply be ok to just say “no”. Thanks again for the valuable feedback!

  4. I agree, the Blue Board is definitely one of the first things I check out, then their website and other info you can find on the web. I also check if the client or agency matches with my specialisation. Being mainly specialsed in Business and IT, I don’t think it’s worth the effort to apply with an agency that focuses on medical or technical translations. Professionalism and respect is another important point. If the client is impertinent, rude, unreliable or has unrealistic expectations, I think twice if I really want to work with them, even if they have an excellent payment record.

  5. The one time I got burnt I had done all of the above, but the client, who I believe was well-meaning, just went under. So I added to my own personal list the one thing I had not considered there: some degree of permanence. Now, I check that my clients not only have a good record but have had one for, say, five years rather than just one year like my failed client. It doesn’t mean I don’t test new agencies, just that I try not to be left waiting for them to pay me big amounts at one go!

  6. Good one, Veronica! Just as outsourcers may look for experience when looking for translators or interpreters, service providers may also consider the number of years a given outsourcer has been in the industry before making a decision. Thanks for posting and hope to see you in the next powwow!

  7. When considering taking on a job for a company, I also do as much of the above-mentioned things as possible. However, as a translator in the academic community, I often have individual clients as well as company clients. On this point, I have to strongly agree with Petra: interpersonal communications are at least as important as the other factors, and sometimes just plain old “gut feelings.” A recent almost-client reminded me of that: the more communications we had, try as I might, the less empathy I had for her. She was abrupt, rude, and demanding, although I tried to be as accommodating as I could. The more I communicated with her, the less I wanted the job. She finally hit my line in the sand when she said she absolutely did not want a contract. That set off all kinds of warning bells in my head, and I told her if she wouldn’t sign a contract, then she would have to look elsewhere for a translator.

    • It seems you made the right decision, Linda. Would you say that the strategies applied when meeting a new client are different depending on the type of client, agency or direct? I ask you because you say you work for both types of clients.

  8. I agree with everything already mentioned by our colleagues and lets face it the Blue Board is a great help, however I notice lately that even old customers and good customers in the past, delay payment to me and to many colleagues. I suppose the economic crisis hits everyone.

    • I’m sorry to read that you have been facing delays in payments, Stam. Remember that you can also use the Blue Board record to report non-payment issues and so alert colleagues. And don’t give up!

  9. I always try to have a look at Blue Board record if a client has a good entry level, before accepting any translation work. Usually I don’t trust in many Indian and Chinese agencies because of their very low rates. It’s also true that there are some agencies which are not in and they are honest but I prefer taking a look at the Proz. com site to see if it appears. Then I look if this agency has my language combinations otherwise I might know that my resume will be rejected. I totally agreed with Catherine above, we must not be exploited and be slaves personally I don’t like writing my rates on my resume. It seems that more and more agencies want only to know if your rates are very low, you do a lot for a low reward. Is that right? We decide our rates we sell our professional service!

    • Dear Federico, I fully agree with you to be very careful if accepting the very low price level of Asian countries like India and China and I feel to add this: We should consider that we live in Europe with an European tax and price level, which is already very different among our countries, but completely different compared to Asian standards. We buy and pay our food and goods here and not in India and should try to work accordingly to European, but not Asian standards. Best regards, Anja.

  10. If I get contacted by an agency that is registered on Proz and has a Blue Board record that´s my research work half done. If they´re not registered on Proz, it might take me bit more time to assess their competence and credibility by checking their website, Linkedin etc… I´m sure there is a risk factor in all freelance jobs but surely it´s a minimal one here.

    • You said it, Maryse. There is a risk factor in all freelance jobs, so it’s up to those involved to take the necessary steps to prevent or at least mitigate them. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I always have many doubts whether to accept a job if the agency/company is not in the Blue Board. ProZ is the most important site for freelance translators, and if that bunch does not know a given client, then it is almost as if that client does not exist! Of course you can add such clients and ask for feedback, but when receiving a job offer there is seldom that much time to decide and wait for others to give their feedback. Then I check the various payment lists on the net and see if the name of the client shows up in a google search. I chanced it a few weeks ago with an unknown client, and I simply hate to have to wait 30 days to find out whether they are okay and will pay my invoice!

  12. True, Dinny. In general, there may not be enough time to investigate a client fully. Still, within the time available, checking the basics always helps. Thanks for supporting the “Google search” strategy and for sharing your experience!

  13. I guess the hints are good, but the problem is that one can afford that luxury. But always is better if one tries to investigate a bit, intuition might help too.

    • Please correct me if I’m wrong, Nicoleta, but I guess you meant that one cannot afford taking the time to investigate a potential client in depth. Still, I believe that not taking the time to do so, and not doing so carefully, could turn out more expensive (non-payment of invoices, excessive client demands, uninteresting projects, low rates, you name it!). I do agree with you in that intuition may help and I would also add that the more experience you gain, the more intuitive you get. Thanks for posting and sharing your point of view!

  14. The blueboard is the very first place I go to when someone new approaches me with a project.
    I think it is the best tool ever and thanks proz for it. Thank you Lucia for giving the link for adding companies to the blueboard, I didn’t know there was such a thing.
    I must however say that I often also used the blueboard to share the great experiences I had with some agencies!

  15. Lucia, I do agree with your standpoint of 25 April 2013, you are so right there. Checking before accepting a translation job is a prevention from any bad surprise later, especially with not being paid for the sent translation. It may be sufficient, if a known translation agency may have changed their policy, for example, in getting the translation done by another translator, probably at lower costs for them, saying that the client would have cancelled his translation order. How do you deal with that, what kind of remuneration for the time lost for work & time invested in preparing for a certain translation might be adequate? Or have you never met with such a case? Sure, if the translation agency gave a new client a higher price, or a longer time, then no wonder that this client had the translation job carried out by somebody else. Lucia, what I also appreciate is that you respond to every contribution and very fast.

  16. Hi Marta! Thanks for your feedback. Interesting case you describe, and one that I’ve personally never had to deal with fortunately, but heard from a few translators. If a client cancels the assigned project while the translator is working on it, the translator may demand payment for the part(s) completed and perhaps an extra percentage for the inconvenience (a translator may usually decline a project for having committed to another, the canceled one in this case). In any case, even these conditions must be stipulated and agreed before the project starts so if and when there are issues, both parties know what’s to be expected. Hope this clarifies fast enough! ;)

  17. Hello Lucia, thank you for a fast answer and suggestions. You are again right with assessing the inconveniences in case a translation is cancelled. Yes, compensation for the parts translated is usually a practice, only the time spent on preparing by getting insight into a technical translation, both in source and target languages, for example on Google, hopefully that’s legal :-) is very difficult to prove and to be paid for. So, I am afraid it may be seen just as an investment in getting another translation from the same translation agency…: – )

  18. Hello everyone. You have all mentioned the Blueboard feedback on Proz. but not everyone uses it well. I lately accepted a job from a company which had good feedback on Proz. but to date, despite repeated emails and invoices sent through ProZ, and having been promised payment by the end of April, have not received payment. Now I will continue sending invoices and then will put either a negative entry or give a 1 and give the reason, so other freelancers will know that this company does not pay -or maybe takes longer than most, some 60 or so. The amount was not much, so there is no question of legal action, not even a letter. I wonder if I can put note on other sites too since the job was on ProZ. It has been a very bad month since I did the work for the agency which wanted the work very quickly. another thing, these agencies in India and China make a lot of money despite their low rates so consider this as well, but are measly with payments.

    • Hi Josephine, I support your idea of using the Blue Board consciously, and for this I’ve shared above the link to an article that explains how to use it so that it remains effective for everyone ( Regarding clients in India or China, I would suggest focusing less on the client’s location, and more on their activity, history, contact details and the other tips mentioned in the post. After all, there may be good and not so good clients all around the globe, and it’s up to those doing business with new clients to assess risk in advance, using the Blue Board, but also applying other strategies. I truly hope you get that non-payment issue solved soon. Have a great weekend!

  19. Yes, I agree with all points. Especially the 1st one – if I see the client is using eg. gmail or even some obscure freemail address, I automatically ask for an upfront payment. A good client cannot afford their own website/email address for just a couple of euros per year? Suspicious. No need to risk anything.

  20. “Suspicious”, that’s exactly the word, Jan! Trust your instincts and be a bit suspicious / curious when it comes to working for new clients. The more you know about your client, the less chances you may have of being scammed. Thanks for sharing!

  21. This may be a little controversial, but I pay some attention to the language used and especially the logic. Poor spelling or grammar is one thing, but if you see some really weird syntax that prevents understanding, then it’s not going to be easy to communicate – and communication is key in legal, business, financial, technical, medical and other translations where you need precise information, precise answers.

    The above is all the more important when it comes to end client instructions rather than PM correspondence. If the client has trouble wording his essential requirements (not expectations on which satisfaction depends and future loyalty may hinge but essential requirements of the job), but especially if they are at the same time vaguely and sternly worded, then you should worry and perhaps skip the job. At least I generally do.

    There are exceptions: some people realise they’re being vague or the concept is hard to grasp. But those are not the people who use ‘have to’, ‘must’, ‘absolutely necessary’ etc. all the time throughout the message. Speaking of which, if the language is stern enough to come off as a boorish actually, then I generally skip unless I have some serious guarantees or there are some mitigating factors in the writer’s background.

  22. Good approach, Luke. I fully agree with you in that communication is an essential part in a translator-client relationship. So skipping a job if you cannot communicate with your potential client very easily and right from the very beginning makes sense. Thanks for sharing your comments!

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s