translation help

People love writing about this topic; after all, we’re all in in for the money. No-one can claim they are still having that much fun doing translations after a couple of years in the business. All things considered, translating is quite a boring, solitary exercise, whichever way you look at it. BUT… it gives you a certain freedom which only freelance work can provide (the ability to travel when you want, the lack of a superior etc.) which more than compensates for these obvious disadvantages. And it usually pays well, too. Even if you don’t always manage to negotiate your desired rate, if a job is reasonably well-paid, you will still earn more in an hour than most people in a whole morning.

So how should you go about getting the money off your clients? Here’s a few things you should consider:


  1. In the initial email, be as clear as possible.

There is a certain temptation NOT to mention the money too much in the initial email correspondence, and to refuse to mention exact payment terms to the client, just because you’re too embarrassed to bring up the topic, and you don’t want to make it look like you’re only after the money, and for a whole lot of other reasons, especially if you’re a young translator and you’re new in the business.

However, if you are not clear about your terms in the beginning, it becomes much more of a hassle afterwards. A client is simply not very willing to discuss payment details after the work has been completed, not necessarily because they don’t intend to pay you, but because it is no longer an urgency for them and they’re already deep into something else. That’s just the way business goes. Paying people is simply the last thing on an agenda when there’s a lot going on.

Here’s how I do it: At the end of the “quote” email (the one where you tell the client how much damage you’re going to do to their budget), include a whole paragraph (3 or 4 sentences) about how you would like to get paid. Here’s an example:

“Payment has to be completed on the same day the text is delivered. Payment options include PayPal, wire transfer, and credit card. All payment details are included in the invoice issued together with the translated text”

You see, this block of text, for example, does not sound overly aggressive and still it includes all the necessary information. By accepting your quote, the client implicitly accepts these terms. You have it in writing and everything is reasonably clear before you even start. Not all clients will read your emails thoroughly, but you can always remind them later just by saying that “we’ve already agreed on this in out initial email correspondence” or something along those lines.


2. Don’t bother with formal quotes.

Sometimes, people will demand a “formal quote”, which is supposed to be some kind of document which looks a bit like an invoice and includes your company details etc. I regard this as a waste of time. If you’re a serious freelance translator, you’re probably working on another project already, and you will barely have enough time to answer all your emails. I have often refused to issue formal quotes, and it has never been the reason for my not getting a job. Again, it depends on how you say it. Try something like this:

“Hi, I am sorry but we don’t do “formal quotes”. We regard email correspondence as perfectly valid for official quotes and to be honest, we are always extremely busy so we try to keep paperwork to a minimum. Please just treat the previous email as a formal quote. Thanks!”

Your clients are after the best service and the best price, so don’t be shy about telling them what you think. They will accept your offer based on these simple metrics and not based on your skills as your own personal secretary.


3. Payment terms: NOW, please!

I have had many a discussion about this particular point with colleagues, but let me get this off my chest. Ask for the money immediately after the delivery. Or if possible, before! General business practice this is not, but, hey, it works for me! It the initial email, clients are informed (see point 1) that they have to pay me immediately on delivery. When the translation is done, I send them an email saying that (a) the translation project is finished, and (b) they have to pay right now in order to receive the document. I include wire transfer and PayPal/credit card as payment options (more about that later) and demand proof of payment to be emailed to me. Most banks include an option to send a confirmation email about a transfer to the beneficiary, so it is usually not a problem for the client to send you proof of payment. Sometimes, a client might insist that it is impossible for them to process the payment right now, because they are out of the office or for whatever reason, but then it’s still up to you… You can either trust the client and send the text anyway, or you can insist that if you don’t get paid, the text will not be sent. As translation projects are usually rather urgent, this leaves them with no option. Even if the client is well pissed off at you by now, it would take them much longer to find someone else to do the job (plus potential legal trouble with you).


All in all, if you’re running a translation business, however small it may be, getting people to pay you on time is essential for your peace of mind and for the proper functioning of your business. It is important to be as straightforward as possible about this, and find the right tone when you bring up the subject.


What are your experiences with good, bad, and non-payers? Which payment methods do you use? Let’s talk about it in the comments.



know translation clients

Knowing who your clients are will give you a decisive advantage when doing business.

One of the major characteristics of running a translation business, no matter whether you work as a freelance translator or in an agency, is this: You often don’t know who your clients are. And I don’t mean, “You don’t know them well”, as you would if you had a normal business, say, if your were a dentist or a hairdresser. In that case, you would know what they look like, who accompanies them, more or less where they live, and whether they tend to be well-natured or rather ill-behaved. It’s rather a lot of information about a person, if you look at it this way. As a translator, however, more often than not all the information we have on a person boils down to one single piece: their email address.

I think most of you would agree that this is a major disadvantage for translators when dealing with their clients. Age, professional background, nationality, etc. play an important role in knowing how to deal with an individual client, and, last, but not least, which rates to charge them. You will talk to a person your age in a different way than you would to an elderly gentleman, right? It is all too easy to offend a client by using too casual a tone in an email; or the opposite: sometimes clients can be intimidated if the language used is too formal.

Now then, here’s how to find out what’s behind an anonymous email and actually get to know your clients. And they don’t even have to notice you’re “spying on them”. Let’s get started.

LinkedIn and Facebook connectors for Outlook

I’ve said previously I am an Outlook fan. It’s mainly because the software is so feature-complete and extendable. It is mostly because of two absolutely essential plugins that I can never use another email program again: The LinkedIn connector, and the Facebook social connector.


Here’s an email from your client… and, look at this! He sent you a photo with it!

Granted, installation of these add-ins is rather complex. In typical Outlook fashion, the whole operation will fail at least one before finally installing. Or… it might never work. Just make sure you get the correct version of these plug-ins (32- or 64-bit) and good luck to you.

However, once they are installed, these little gadgets are incredibly useful. They are actually the two pieces of ingenious software which have helped me the most in making life easier for me when writing emails to clients, and receiving job offers. They do two things very well: Whenever you receive an email, they pull up the respective profile photos from Facebook and LinkedIn, identifying the author of the email by their respective email addresses. And secondly, you can easily add any person you’ve ever had correspondence with to your LinkedIn profile with one click. By just looking at the photo you gain a whole lot of information. You can guess (more or less accurately, at least) a person’s age and the kind of person they are, which makes dealing with them a whole lot easier.


People search engines

There are numerous of those out there, but the most reliable is 123 People. These search engines allow you to enter a person’s name or email address and promise you to find all data on the internet related to these people (or companies as well). Facebook, Twitter profiles, articles etc. They don’t always work as well as they should do, but trying doesn’t hurt, does it?


Will they pay me?

If you haven’t been paid for work at least once in your professional career, hold your hands up! It’s the very nature of translation work that makes us easy victims for non-paying companies: To translate means to work between two cultures, languages, and often, different countries. To go after a non-payer in a country other than your own is a right hassle, and while it is not impossible for us to eventually get our due thanks to a combination of lawyers, government agencies, and colleagues, more often than now it’s not worth the extra hours put in to get what are often relatively small sums of money.

So, if I can recommend one website for a freelance translator, it has toc Payment Practices. You can get a free trial or sign up for a year-long membership which shouldn’t set you back more than a couple of dollars. Payment Practices’ database contains information on 10057 translation agencies and clients worldwide, 6616 total responses and 1891 comments on those buyers. Agencies are rated by the responses of freelancer translators, so you should always look up new clients and agencies on this website before agreeing to work for someone you do not know. Great website and absolutely worth your money! For a couple of quid you might save thousands…


Which strategies do you use to find out more about your clients? Are you worried at all about working for someone you’ve never met? Any solutions to add to the list? Let us know in the comments.

german english email

Email is the main communications medium for translators. These days, because of the popularity of blogs and because it is getting easier and easier for freelance translators to have our own websites, we are likely to receive most of our jobs in our inbox.

Finding the right email program to suit your personal needs is thus key to efficiently dealing with correspondence with clients and colleagues. Many people swear on GMail, but there’s no doubt also Microsoft has come a long way with Hotmail, and as far as webmail clients go, Hotmail now matches GMail feature-per-feature (if not for speed) and many might argue it is even a bit nicer to look at. I nevertheless recommend the use of a full-blown desktop email client to manage your mail, for the following reasons:

  • They double as a storage solution for your received files and attachments. You might accidentally delete a document for translation (or worse, a translated document) from your hard drive, but chances are you’ll find it by doing a search of your desktop email client.
  • They make all your email available offline. Which means that clean-up and organization can be done on a plane or train, or whenever your internet connection is down. (It’s advisable to clean out your translation inbox every now and then, or use email productivity tactics like Inbox Zero to stay on top of everything.)
  • Plugins and Extensions go a long way to making your life easier. Xobni is a great search extension, for example, and the Plugins for Linkedin and Facebook (which deserve a separate post) are great for a quick lookup on the sender of an email.

Currently, there are not so many email programs out there which satisfy the needs of a freelance translator in terms of function, looks, and ease of use. Apple Mail is solid and nice to look at, but not feature-complete enough to be a valid solution for professional translators. Postbox is a better effort, like Apple Mail, but with bells and whistles, though the lack of proper calendar integration is a great drawback. In my opinion, it’s a toss-up between Postbox and Microsoft Outlook. Outlook 2010 is a lot more satisfying than its predecessors, and while it’s still rather slow and prone to the occasional crash, it is the most complete solution. Try both and decide which one you want to spend your money on. Do not waste your time with any of the thousands of alternative email apps out there; they’re either limited in functionality, or rather behind the times. Take your choice between the two and learn to use them properly. I know what you’re thinking: It’s only an email application. However, it is probably the one software you are going to spend the most time with, so let’s get to the bottom of it and see if we can make email management easier to do and speed it all up a bit.


In the following couple of posts, we will look at some handy ways of attaching and saving files, researching your clients using Outlook, and making sure emails  get delivered not too early, and not too late. Watch this space.

What are your strategies against email overload? Which software do you use and why? Sound off in the comments.




In parts I, II, and III of our Guide to becoming a more efficient Translator, so far we have looked at the design of our offices, the setup of our PCs and monitors, and the perfect web browser to use while translating. Once we have have all that in place, it’s time to think about the actual translation process… and the right software to use. We will talk about receiving project orders, billing, and organizing your file system at a later point in this series, but chances are that, while you’re busy honing your organizational skills, you’ve got some translations coming in. Let’s take a look at how we can get this done more efficiently (and take some of the pain away from translating)…

For all those new to translating, it is important to know that there is amazing software out there which helps you abbreviate the translation process by about 50 %, if you are using it correctly. If you are a young translator, and have only just started work as a freelancer, or for an agency, chances are you still translate in Microsoft Word. I never translate in MS Word; even for the shortest translation, I use a CAT tool, and I recommend that you do the same. “CAT” means “computer-assisted translation”. CAT software works with translation memories, i.e. anything you’ve ever translated is saved in a central database and re-used whenever similar sentences come along. Over the days, years, and months, this allows you to build up a huge knowledge database far bigger than the amount of information you would be able to store in your brain; unless you’re an exceptional talent, of course. It can also become a great lookup tool and as such, really makes translating more enjoyable. Never translate in MS Word again; get the right software as soon as you can.

Translation software is ridiculously expensive, but it’s a worthy investment. The main competitors are DejaVu, Wordfast, MemoQ, and SDL Trados Studio. It’s worth noting that the first two, while they deserve their place in history, almost certainly belong to the past, as they have not been able to keep up with technology developments in terms of compatibility, ease of use, and user interface. It essentially boils down two two alternatives: MemoQ and SDL Trados Studio. MemoQ is to SDL Trados Studio like LibreOffice is to MS Office: much cheaper, in some aspects better, but not as widely used and feature-complete as its rival. If you want to remain at the forefront of translation technology, and make sure the files you produce during the translation process are compatibly with the formats demanded, and delivered by, large clients or agencies, you will almost certainly want to go with SDL Trados Studio. The bad news is: The software is infamous for being overly complicated, buggy, and difficult to work out. The good news: If you know how to work with it, it’s also terribly efficient. And the 2011 version is actually usable in a way the series has never been before.

We’ll look at details of the software and how to use it to speed up the translation process next time.

Do you agree that only novices translate in MS Word? Do you use CAT tools for even the smallest translation, like me? And do you agree with my choice of SDL Trados Studio as number 1 CAT tool? Let us know in the comments.

choose the right translation software

In the last two part of our mini-guide Better Translation: How to become a more efficient translator, we looked at physical parts of our setup, i.e. office furniture and hardware (PC and multi-screen setups). Today, let us talk software. The right software makes your life a lot easier when it comes to (1) the translation process, and (2) staying in touch with your clients and/or collaborators.

It is incredibly important to use software that’s efficient, stable, and actually makes your life easier instead of adding even more steps, and mouse clicks, to what are already complex business practices. Today, let us look at research tools.

The main software we use for research is, without a doubt, the web browser. Translators need to use quick lookup techniques. This means that we need to be able to quickly search for a word on multiple sites (we will talk about translation sites, online dictionaries and glossaries in a few days). This requirement excludes two browsers, unfortunately the two browsers which are probably the best, for general requirements, at the moment: Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 9 (and the Metro IE 10 which is part of the upcoming Windows 8). These browsers have a unified address and search bar, which is very handy for casual web surfing but impractical for translation lookup. My choice is therefore Opera, the underdog browser from Norway. It’s a bit more complex and resource-intensive than its competitors, but the search bar is the most customizable of them all, which makes it our favorite. It’s also easy to set up:

Let’s open the LEO English-German dictionary, for example, the old-fashioned way (Type the address into your browser of click on this link). We’ll introduce a word into the search field like we used to do (but it’s the last time we’ll use this approach, ever). Let’s do a search for the word “translator”.


Ok, so here we go. That’s worked alright. Now, delete the word “translator” from the search bar, and what you get is an empty search field. Right-click into the space and choose “create search”. In the next step, you can change the name of the search engine, and I would recommend that you choose something simple which does not take up too much space on the screen and is easily identifiable: say, “LEO DE” (DE for German).


See what we did there? From now on, we can look up words in LEO by following these simple steps:

(1) Open Opera (or activate the window on the second screen if you are using the dual-monitor setup we talked about last time).

(2) Focus on the search bar by clicking into it or pressing ctrl+e

(3) Type your search terms

(4) After typing your search terms, use the DOWN arrow to chose your search engine/dictionary/terminology database previously added to the search box.

(5) You can re-search using a different search engine/etc. just by picking a different option in the search bar’s drop-down list.

You can add multiple, unlimited research sites by repeating the procedure detailed above (click “create search” to add search engine. Include ALL your favorite lookup sites until you end up with something like this:


Suddenly, terminology lookup got a lot easier, didn’t it?

Which web browser do you prefer for your translation research? Have you got your search field stuffed with different dictionaries? Of do you still have ten big fat physical dictionaries lying on your desk? Sound off in the comments.


Step II in our guide to becoming a more efficient translator and making the translation process a little bit less painful is about getting your hardware set up. The classic, still best hardware setup for translators is a desktop computer hooked up to two monitors. If you haven’t tried a dual-monitor set-up, I strongly recommend that you do that tomorrow, and you won’t look back. Promised.

Granted, it’s not always easy to stick to your own rules. I am writing this post from a Sony Vaio laptop with a HD resolution, which means I have to bend over slightly to see the screen, and my eyes tire when I work more than a couple of hours because everything is so small. But that’s because I need the screen real estate in order to fit two open windows side by side (Aero Snap’s your friend), and because I am travelling and working on the road. Once I am back in my office, I will be glad (and my body will thank me) for having installed the classic set-up.

So, here’s the deal. Forget about fancy laptops, tablets, netbooks etc. Get a good old desktop PC. If you assemble it yourself, you might spend as little as € 300 on a quad-core powerhouse with a decent graphics card. Then, get yourself two flat screen monitors, which shouldn’t set you back more than € 180. You see what we did there? We got a great, comfortable, powerful workplace for less than € 500. Once you have your two monitors set up, you might want to have a look at this guide about how to work with a dual-monitor setup, and then find your own preferred usage patterns. Bill Gates uses two monitors, with Outlook on one of them at all times, for example. I use the following technique: During the translation process, I have Trados Studio 2009 on the right hand-side monitor, and the Opera web browser on the left (replace these with your own preferred software. We’ll talk software in the next chapter of the guide for efficient translators.) The reason why the CAT software is on the right screen is that the right side of the brain is the creative one while the left side of the brain deals with things like memory and repetitive tasks. I for one find it much harder to work with a CAT tool or text editor on the left side rather than on the right, while I find the web browser for terminology lookup much more practical on the left. At least for me, that’s how it seems to work. While I work on my websites or blogs, I replace Trados Studio with Outlook in order to stay on top of things at all times.

One more thing: You can be just as efficient with one monitor, thanks to Windows’ Aero Snap feature, which enables you to easily pin two windows side by side, as I am doing at the moment. But that means you would have to have a very high resolution in order to fit enough functions on the screen for this setup to be useful, which in turn will harm your eyes. The main advantage of having two screens, each one dedicated to one activity, is that you can still have everything displayed nice and big, while being able to run at least two programs at the same time.

What do you think of the dual-monitor setup? How many monitors do you use, and which programs do you run on them? Let us know in the comments.



In Part one of our guide to becoming a better translator, let’s talk workspaces. Many of you translators probably work on laptops or desktop computers. I doubt you have considered working on an iPad, for example. And it surely will stay that way, at least for a few years. In this mini-series, I would like to give you some advice in order for you to become a better, more efficient, and more relaxed translator. They key to becoming a successful translator is  to get your work done. Simple as that. Translation is boring, but if you can do your job efficiently, and to a reasonable standard, it pays very well. So what we are going to try to do in this series of articles over the next couple of weeks is make the translation process less painful, make you spend less time on it, and help you be more productive when you’re at it.

Before we go into things like software and actual translation techniques, let us set you up with the right equipment.

Step 1: Get a proper chair and table

No-one says you can’t take your laptop and lie down on the sofa, if you feel like stretching your legs for a bit. But most of the time you should be sitting on a proper table in an office, or at least a space you’ve set aside to do your work. That way, you can leave what you’re working on in that space, you won’t have to see your work when you’re actively trying to relax, and it’ll take you 10 to 15 minutes less to start and finish work every day.

Make sure you get a more than decent desk. Money should not be too big an issue here. I’ll tell you why: If you buy the right furniture to start with, you’ll be using it for years and years. Make sure your table is high enough. Keyboard drawers are great, ergonomically: It’s great to have your arms a bit further down, under the table, and type away comfortably. But at the same time, there is nothing worse than not having space for your legs. I am 1.86 meters tall and have long legs, so even if I do buy a desk with a keyboard drawer, it is typically the first thing that comes off. Your screwdriver’s your friend. Make sure it’s in a quiet and well-ventilated room, and you might position the desk a meter or so away from the wall so that you can stretch your legs. Even sitting, they are the first part of your body which will feel numb, and you can enter a tired state as a result. Get a high enough desk, make sure you can stretch your legs, and you should be good to go.

Once we have the desk set up, let’s try to find a proper chair. A lot of people swear on those modern, barstool-like office chairs which are supposed to help you sit correctly. I had one as a kid and hated it. Again, spend the necessary money, make sure it’s high enough and allows you to sit at a good angle, and don’t worry: You’ll recover this money be being more productive, and you’ll find work much more enjoyable.

Getting an adequate desk and chair might well be the most expensive part of our set-up. Tomorrow, we’ll look at monitors, keyboards, and computer hardware. Meanwhile, let us know in the comments how and where you sit while translating, and how much you would be willing to invest in a good desk and chair.