Most translators work with agencies. Translators do work with direct clients, of course, but they often need to create and use their own marketing strategies to find and form relationships with direct clients. However, access to the translation market is quite easy as it mainly exists on the Internet. Thus, many individuals access the market to seek translation services.
When customers access the market, they often search for translators on their own instead of asking for bids on a translation project. Customers will contact a translator via email or phone if they feel this person may be good to work with after looking at translator profiles. Direct clients often provide interesting projects. Many individuals make the effort to translate something because it is personally significant. A woman may want to translate her 100-year-old great-grandmother’s diary. A son may want to translate a Korean book written by his mother who has passed away so that he can read it. A husband or wife may want to have emails written in Korean by their spouse translated out of curiosity. A celebrity may want to translate fan mails written in a foreign language. The list goes on and on.
Though working with direct clients may present the opportunity to work on such interesting translations, difficulties may arise that are different from those associated with agency clients.
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Some of these difficulties are listed below.
Translation rate, price
Many direct clients do not understand how expensive translation services are. If the price or rate is not clearly explained to the client from the beginning, the client may pull the plug on the project on a later stage, saying that he “doesn’t think he can continue with the translation because it’s too expensive.” All the time and effort already spent by the translator will be wasted (assessing the source document alone takes a lot of time).
Some direct clients also do not understand how long translation may take. (There are many amusing anecdotes related to this.) Also, they may not realize that the translator can already be busy with other translation projects and they have to wait their turn.
You can look up agencies on the Blue Board to avoid unpaid invoices (please refer to the post on the Blue Board), but no such board exists for direct clients. Also, if the direct client is an individual, the likelihood of a second transaction is quite low. Thus, there are some risks associated with direct clients regarding payment. This is not to say that all direct clients aren’t good to work with. I had some very pleasant and memorable encounters with direct clients. However, if you don’t receive payment, say, from 1 out of every 5 direct clients, it means there is a 20% risk. That is actually too high a risk. If your car broke down once every five days, would you want to keep it?
Here are some ways to deal with the difficulties mentioned above.
The translator and direct client must understand each other as much as possible. A lot of information can be researched. You will need to provide the client with information about you, because you’ve received personal and important information related to the client. Perhaps you could share a conversation over the phone to make the client feel more comfortable. Look up the client’s phone number, address, etc. and contact them so you can come to an agreement. Think of ways to connect with the client beyond Internet communication.
You can decrease risk by asking for 50% of the payment before beginning the project and the remaining 50% once the project is complete. This may seem a little cold and calculating, but this is a common practice in business. We pay part of the fees up front when we hire a lawyer or when we purchase a house.
As you can see above, a translator must spend a lot of time on other tasks not directly related to translation. It takes time and effort to obtain the necessary information, speak with the client on the phone, and explain the advance payment and the wire transfer or Paypal method. With agencies, you can just send an invoice and they take care of the payment. Direct clients, however, often do not understand the process. They may put in the effort but not get things done correctly on time.
All things considered, I think charging direct clients a higher rate is well justified. I have not taken in any direct clients in the past few years, not because of a previous bad experience, but because I find the process of working with direct clients quite time-consuming. I have not given up on direct clients, though. I am willing to try working with them again sometime in the future. Perhaps a new transaction platform using new technologies will facilitate that.
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