Translator in Wonderland


Guest post by Teresa Cavalla***

When I first started moving into freelancing, I attended thousands of courses on how to stand out in the profession.

So I started to realize that I was facing an amazing world in which I could choose when, where, and who to work with. I had to find my niche, to market my brand, to apply to translation agencies (a lot of agencies on the market!) or to contact private clients and… everything seemed so easy!


But when I started facing reality, things turned out to be a little more complicated. So, as many other newbies, I sent many curriculum vitae without having a strategy. My core thought was that I had to accept everything in order to make my new profession start. So every time I could get in touch with a translation agency I felt like a 6 years old child waiting for the mark from her teacher.

Now, some years and a lot of experience later, I understand all the mistakes I have made. The first one was not understanding that the relationship with a client is a mutual alliance where you have to be trusted as well as trust in.

There’s no point in accepting to work for an agency that does not correspond to what you expect and what you think would fit in with your daily routine. And there is no opinion that can count for that, since we are all different and what I rate as a five star outsourcer, may be considered only two star by someone else.

One of my main first clients, for instance, was a 5 point rated agency (based on ProZ blueboard). I was really happy with them. However, the more experience I gained, the more I got in touch with good professionals, and the more I realized that there was something wrong. To me, at the beginning, being paid on time and having a regular workflow was something good. But later, these points were not sufficient to offset PM absolutely absent in case of problems, extremely tight deadlines, extremely low rates and very poor source texts (both for language and formatting).

So now I have started collecting the most amazing replies I’ve received, just to demonstrate to myself that professionalism can’t be taken for granted.

The best one, in my opinion, is the following: I had been contacted directly by the translation agency which asked me to take a free test (which I normally do). I delivered the test and then heard nothing from them. After a couple of months I contacted them to know if they had reviewed the translation. The translation agency answered that they were really sorry but since they had to pay the reviewer (the test was 200 words) they hadn’t had enough money to do so, up til then. But they would and they let me know asap. It was a 5 points rated agency in Europe. I am still wondering why they would expect me to work with someone not able to pay 200 words review

Secondly,  there is a very kind agency in Asia. Well, I know that rates differ based on the country. So, I expected my rates to be discussed. But I was kindly asked to low them till a 0.004 USD/source word (yes, there were 2 zeros after the dot, and I had to convert USD into Euros) plus match discounts.

And on the podium, there’s also an agency I had to sign pages and pages of NDA for. Then, they finally sent me a translation request from German to English. I immediately replied that there was something wrong as I normally translate from English to Italian. No answer. Few days later another request: German to English. This time I wrote to the PM and to the HR office to say they had probably made a mistake in inserting my name in their database. No answer. Now, years later, I still sometimes receive requests German to English. But I am not answering, any more!


So, to sum up…business is not only business, it’s a matter of respect. Respect for yourself, first of all. Which means working carefully, with diligence, specializing in your niche.  But also respect for your client, who deserves the right of relying on you and on the quality of your job, and from your client, who must give you support, instruments, information and a fair rate, in order to allow you to fulfil your task at your best.  This results in respect for the relationship you create. Working with someone else may be challenging and stressful. Having the same view and sharing the same values is crucial.


***This guest post was written by my colleague and friend Teresa Cavalla ( who, after years working in-house at an Italian bank, decided to explore the magic world of freelancing and collected a series of hilarious experiences with translation agencies and potential clients. I a.k.a. Financial Translation Hub share her values of trust and mutual respect. And what about you?

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