Business tips for translators #1: CV vs Service offer


This week, our guest Alain Marsol is giving a few tips on freelancing for translators, focusing on how to approach clients and collaborators in a professional manner, showcase your skills and protect your business and reputation (Part 1)

A native speaker of French with a background in computer science, Alain Marsol has been developing his skills according to his desires and goals by working and providing services in computer programming, information systems design, corporate communications, marketing, copywriting, and translation.
Besides his activity as a translator, Alain has created the Guerrilla Marketing for Translators group on LinkedIn, where language professionals can find ideas and advice to do better business, and ask questions to solve specific marketing issues.

TE: Many job offers ask for a CV. You defend the idea that sending a CV to clients is a wrong business approach. Can you explain why and what do you suggest as an alternative?

AM: A classic CV (or résumé) as we know it is a document used by job seekers all over the world, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, when you are a freelance translator, you are not looking for a job, but you offer solutions to the translation needs of your clients in a business-to-business environment. Because of this difference, even though you have a good CV, it is not the right tool to use. Even more so on today’s translation market, where many so-called ‘agencies’ are in fact translation brokers who will use every trick to fleece business-unaware translators. And when you are a freelancer, using your CV alone sends a clear signal about your lack of business awareness.

What you need is another slightly different type of document that I call a ‘service offer’.

As its name tells, your service offer focuses on the services you offer to your clients and present all the key information your client needs to know about what you can do for them. No more, no less. Typically, your headline will tell what you do, you will list your source and target languages, services, areas of expertise, professional organizations and affiliations, and you will briefly address your readers to explain them why they should chose you over your competitors. All this in one single page.
Typically, your headline will tell what you do, you will list your source and target languages, services, areas of expertise, professional organizations and affiliations, and you will briefly address your readers to explain them why they should chose you over your competitors. All this in one single page.

Have a look at what it could look like: http://textworks.biz/files/service_offer/Service_Offer_SAMPLE.pdf

Besides your service offer, it is also essential to send a few other documents. I’m thinking of your terms of service, your portfolio, and your fee schedule, the latter being sent to agencies only.

TE: What is the crucial info to feature in your terms of service and at which stage do you give them to your clients? Some translators are afraid it might scare off customers if it comes with the introduction package.

AM: According to the normal rules of business, the provider sets the rules, not the client. A translator’s ‘terms of service’ document is used for that purpose. Many people will argue that the terms of service are a general document, but my view is a bit different: on mine, I always make clear who is the translator, and who is the client, then I set the rules under which I am happy to work. Within one page, I address matters such as copyright, confidentiality, amendments made once the work has begun, cancellation, translator’s liability, payment, and credit limit granted to the client.

The terms of service are best given at the very beginning of your business relationship, along with your service offer and other documents.

A terms of service document will very likely scare off any potentially problematic client or translation broker, especially the ones who have the intention to take advantage of you from the very moment they meet you. Unfortunately, there are lots of them on the market nowadays, so you may have the impression that the ‘terms of service’ document is pretty much counter-productive. This is not true. I have clients (both end clients and agency clients) who have accepted my terms, and with whom I have excellent business relationships. Typically, my terms of service allow me to filter out nine potential bad payers before meeting one such client.

You can work without terms of service, but you have to be prepared to the possibility of losing your time and your nerves in hunting bad payers, sometimes end up working for no money, and even worse, miss better opportunities.

TE: What about the fee schedule? Why is it for agency clients only?

AM: Once you have given your price to agency clients for a first assignment, and more often than not under the pressure to give your ‘best price’, most of them apply it to anything they will ask you to do in the future. Since different types of documents require different types of skills and effort, and may need different amounts of time to be handled, it is necessary to let your agency clients know that every extra service you provide besides standard translation has a price, and make it clear from the very beginning. In the ‘extra service’ category, I include tricky formats, formats that require not so common technical knowledge, as well as weekend and rush jobs.

Agencies are clients who typically ask you to quote by a quantitative unit (word, character, line, or page) and often in ‘blind mode’. In such a context, your fee schedule helps you not to be tricked into doing difficult and time-consuming jobs for some other service’s (low) price.

With end clients, it is better to quote by project (even if you may do your own word or character-based math in the background), so you do not need a fee schedule, but you definitely need a portfolio.

TE: Do you judge useful to add credentials on your introduction (professional organizations and affiliations, blogs, coops).

AM: Credentials are always good, as long as they are related to your offer. If you are a member of a national translators association, or a member of a professional organization related to one of your fields of expertise, this is something worth mentioning. If you are writing a blog about topics related to your fields of expertise, let your prospects know. But if you have an activity or hobby in a field that is far away from your offer, it is better to avoid advertising it, because it would only weaken your message.

Always keep in mind that a professional translator is always strongly focused on one specialty field or a few of them. The more focused you are, the more prospects will trust your expertise.

TE: What memberships would you recommend to translators starting their career?

AM: Once you have some experience as a professional translator (one year at least), it may be a good thing to become a member of one of the national translators’ associations of the country where your business is based (for example, the SFT in France, the ITI or the CIOL in the UK), or if there is no such association, an international association such as the IAPTI. Being a member of such an association will give more weight to your service offer, especially when dealing with potential end clients. 
At the beginning of one’s career, lack of experience is the (normal) issue. To start gaining this necessary experience, you will typically do some voluntary (unpaid) translation work, for non-profit organizations and/or for a cause close to your heart, which is a good first step to start training your language skills in a professional context, and you will also do paid work for translations agencies. Both types of opportunities will be found on portals such as ProZ, TranslatorsCafé, or TraduGuide.

It is important to keep in mind that bidding on these portals should remain a temporary activity, because the process of bidding itself harms the whole profession in the long run.

Ideally, you would bid a little at the beginning, see which of these portals works the best for you, and possibly purchase a paid membership on this portal in order to make it work for you later.

Let me explain through my own experience: I found my first regular client after answering a job post on TraduGuide, where I had a basic (free) membership, but this is the only ‘catch’ I ever had there. My (free) profile on TC never yielded any result, and I purchased a paying membership on ProZ after a few months of basic membership. Seven years later, I rarely bid on jobsnever at a low feeand my profile attracts a few new clients every year.

Your own experience may be different. The important idea to remember is that translation portals must only be a way to gain some experience at the beginning, and not a system in which you remain trapped, because there is a lot of competition over there, and most of the time, it’s not a fair one.


Crowdsourcing makes a new adept: Lionbridge

Yep. $489 million of revenue a year just isn't enough, LIONBRIDGE is getting into amateurism "crowdsourcing" too... 

Lionbridge is one of these translation mills which don't care much for quality (see this blacklist for further info). This we have established already.
What is new is that they have started seeing opportunities in crowdsourcing (asking random people on the Internet to work for them, for about 10 times less than what a professional would charge). All translation mills have their special way to tell us professionals what they think our work is worth, by telling the crowd that they can be a translator too!
Because after all, we translation agency PMs and CEOs, manage to rule the industry despite the fact we don't speak any foreign languages and have never translated a word! How cool is that? If we can make it and get away with such blatant incompetence, why not you, stranger in the crowd? Together we can make so much cash (well, you'll make some cash, anyway, I'll keep the rest, ha;) 

To learn more about who's behind this fantastic idea, read these informative posts on crowdsourcing all written by the vice-director of Lionbridge, Mrs Martha Crow, who's just OBSESSED by it : http://insights.wired.com/profile/MarthaCrow. That is literally all she's been writing about on her blog for several months, although she as of yet has no readers. Perhaps she should look into other aspects of the business, maybe more fundamental ones, like learning Mandarin.

So if you too think you can be a translator, please visit Lionbridge's website to see what's in store for you. Others, ie translators, don't bother...



"Using our innovative cloud technologies, global program management expertise and our worldwide crowd of more than 100,000 professional cloud workers, we provide integrated solutions that enable clients to successfully market, sell and support their products and services in global markets.
Our unique Global Customer LifecycleSM Framework delivers tangible business benefits for our clients such as:

  • 40% increase in top 10 search result listings
  • 30% increase in global website traffic
  • 35% reduction in global campaign cycle times
  • 20% reduction in global marketing costs
As a result, our clients are growing revenue, enhancing brand loyalty and increasing efficiency across end markets and geographies.
We are proud to work with hundreds of global market leaders including:

Adobe, Canon, Caterpillar, CBS interactive, Cisco, Dell, Eli Lilly, EMC, Expedia, Golden Living, Google, HP, LRN, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Pearson, Pfizer, Philips, Porsche, PTC, RIM, Rolls Royce, Samsung, Skillsoft, Studec, US Department of Justice

Fast Facts

  • Founded: 1996
  • Headquarters: Waltham, Massachusetts, United States
  • Employees: 5,000
  • Locations: Solution Centers in 26 countries
  • Revenue: $489 million (2013)

Why would I join the Smart Crowd?

We offer you the ability to earn money by completing small tasks that you can fit in your schedule. You work for yourself, on as many tasks as you choose, from your own device, wherever, and whenever, you want. Plus you are connected to a global community of workers just like yourself!
Most people join us in the Smart Crowd for the opportunity to supplement their income. There is no long term commitment, simply complete the tasks you signed up for. We have a variety of tasks in data research, data entry, language, testing, and more.

What is the pay like?

We offer a competitive rate per task based on the expected productivity to complete a task. Rates are set for each task, and we pay once per month. We provide further details on this during the sign up process.

Do I have to pay to join, or pay for any fees?

No. There is no sign-up fee, no membership fee, nothing. We simply pay you to complete the tasks as specified.

Wow, that is so exciting. You don't need to pay anything to join the smart crowd. Just give us your time, skills, and energy and we'll give you 3 dollars an hour or something. Happy? Isn't it just awesome? And maybe who knows, you'll get to work for Microsoft or the US Department of Justice (just don't mention it in your CV please).
So, smart kiddo, if you know a foreign language, just join our smart crowd, you'll meet plenty of smart people who know languages and stuff. How about that?

Jokes aside, Lionbridge is now one of those cheap suppliers of translation who quite probably rely on the work of the unqualified/undeclared, which includes:

http://mygengo.com/ (pays 3 cts per word, charges...)
http://www.tolingo.com/ (charges about 20 cts/w, pays...)
http://www.lingotek.com/ (? late/non payer)
(no info yet) 
http://www.onehourtranslation.com/ (pay 3 cents, plus 2 if client is satisfied, charge?)
(no info yet) 
http://www.speaklike.com/ (no info yet)
http://tran.sl (crowd sourced translation engine)
http://dixit.com/  (charge 6cts, pay 5cts)

http://conyac.com/  (pay by points, about 10 Eur/DAY, charge?)
http://lionbridge.com (no info yet)

They have a lot in common, besides being greedy bottom-feeders: all charge about 5-10 cents a word for their "services" and pay the crowd, responsible for 99% of the work, about 1 cent, sometimes up to 5cts a word. 
That is between 10 to 5 times less than what a professional translator charges. The hourly wage is below minimum wage and there is no guarantee that the amateur is a native speaker of the language he/she translate into. 

Therefore there is always the strong possibility that a medical, official, highly technical, confidential document is translated by a completely incompetent passer-by :)

Amonsgt crowdsourcing platforms competing against professionals, by providing work to undeclared and unqualified wannabe translators:



http://www.voices.com/ voice over jobs

Rates there are even worse, being erratic and random. 
A consciencious fraud inspector released in there could cause a stir...

Anyway, welcome to the club Lionbridge!!!
To read all about how excited Lionbridge is about crowdsourcing, visit:




Censorship of job platforms: comparing Proz and Translator's Café

It's been a while since the last post, so I'll try to make up for it by being quite informative on both these somehow highly popular platforms.  This is a critique of both in light of the recent complaints and desire for change within the profession. I'm not gonna lie, I had hopes for both platforms. High hopes. I even joined Proz for a year and paid a membership. In retrospect, I have only found one job on Proz in my whole career, quite ironically before I started being a paying member. Zero via TC. Sometimes I wish I had a nice normal platform to find real jobs through. It would definitely make my life easier. But I don't. BTW if someone knows one, I'd be very grateful if they would let me know about it...

Translator's Café

Since I heard TC was a bit more ethical than ProZ, I decided to give them a shot, hoping that who knows, someday, a professional like me with degrees in the field would find one tiny decently paid project. I have to say first of all that the fact it's free is a big plus. Since you know there's a pretty good chance it's a waste of time to browse through it, it's comforting to know that you are not wasting your money too. But pretty soon you realise that there is a reason behind this apparent bargain. I learned recently that TC had listened to the complaints and applied a new policy consisting of filtering out job offers lower than 5 Eur cents; and that sounds like a big step towards change. So I went on their forum and found a few jobs in my language pair. 

Today, it felt very third-worldy on TC. Out of five jobs, one was from Morocco (no mention of the rate), one from India (huge project apparently, no mention of the rate), one was from Lebanon and sounded like a big mistake, but with a smiley at the end :)

" This is not a translation job. I need someone to download a large video file - 4 GB. Then I’’ll just need to ask you a quick question about it. You need to have a superfast connection.
If you’’re interested, please let me know 1) what kind of connection you have, 2) how long it would take you to download the file, 3) how much you would charge.
Thank you! ======
Correction: 4 GB, not 4 MB :)"  

Hem. WTF?

The last offer of the day, from France, sounded challenging (6000 w to split for tomorrow morning, but payment after 60 days, despite the European directive 2011/7/EU, according to which  payments should be made within 30 days from the contract signing. No info on the rates, and that's ok, cause we know it's higher that 5 cents right ;)

Then comes offer number five, a gem : 11000 Words in 3 days, and 3 euro cents per word. I therefore report this ad, and it turns out someone else has already done so 4 hours earlier. Now it's been there for 5 hours already and 18 "monkeys" have applied. No need to stress that this Indian agency got what they wanted and got away with more. 

I send a message to the moderator to ask if anyone’s home and is going to do something about it. Ten minutes later the ad is removed... and my message too!

This filthy message was very short and basically asked why they did not filter out those ads before publication rather than afterwards, 4 hours later, when it's too late.

If you too are curious about this, contact Nikita Kobrin, TC Master, who  seems like a nice bloke though too busy censoring stuff and chasing outlaws to reply to questions.

I looked then at yesterday's offers, though it's a tad too late to apply for any of them. One came from India (Scope EKnowledge Center), paid 5USD cent a word. Which is in fact 3 EUR cents. Which is very low too, basically, but I guess it looks almost like 5 EUR so nobody complained. It goes on for the whole page. Best offer found over 3 days is 7 Euro cents and comes from Turkey. That is still very low, too low for most qualified professionals.

So thank you TC, but once again, I will pass on the opportunities.

Let's have a look at their Hall of fame and Shame, which I'd personally rename Shameful hall of Fame. Yes, N°1 is STILL Christian Arno, with his company Lingo24, based in Romania, employing young romanian project managers with sufficient English skills, and refusing to pay his "linguists" over 6 cents per word.  Number 4 is STILL Somya translations, who gets great ratings although the company pays 2 cents a word (read their entry in the Blacklist). And that sums it up I guess. I don't know much about the other ones listed there but feel free to comment in the section below.
Peanut flavoured translator's café


ProZ has completely ditched any sort of transparency. If you don't pay their 120 EUR yearly fee, you don't know who you are wasting your time with. Let's just say that the constant request of advertisers for "Best rates" is a good indication of the kind of attitude one can expect from them. On ProZ, more than ever, anyone can post anything for any price, as long as they are careful and keep their intentions private, so that people don't complain on forums and embarrass them for being greedy bottom feeders. Translators are not allowed to comment on offers, in order to warn others about low prices, poor practices history. You'll just have to find out the hard way.

Blue Board: there is no way for a non-payer to read the comments, but from what I hear from others it is not POSSIBLE to give a ZERO to an agency. You have to try, try and give up, give a 1, maybe a 2. Hence the not-suspicious-at-all lack of Bad eggZ. Even the worst companies, such as Transperfect or the BigTurd have 3 or 4, which doesn't look too bad. Therefore, when venturing in this directory to find potential clients (if you're unlucky enough to have to) the common recommendation now in this business is to ONLY contact the ones with 5/5 stars.

Ex: Transperfect has a record of 4.1 out of 5. It makes them look almost respectable. The latest ratings it got were: 1, 2, 3, 5, 1, 5... No zero. Some brave souls out there giving a 1 or a 2... fair play to you. However, if you look up their name on the Internet, or on Glassdoor, you'll soon find reviews such as "Worst company ever".

Report on Glassdoor: "The WORST company in the world" 

So much for the accuracy, ProZ. 

Discretion of Proz: they don't have much notion of it, since they sell (or stupidly offer?) their repertoire of Certified ProZ Members to brokers such as Dixit (France) who then claim loudly on their website that their network of translators is from this qualified and experienced crowd, implying that these professional don't mind their crappy 5 cents a word. 

(Let's add that since this was discovered, they have taken off the CPN logo, just advertising their bought affiliation to the ProZ network, read this previous article).


Between TC and ProZ the choice is clear. I'd go for neither of them.

Let us say that both Platforms are useless to real professionals, degrading, fishy with unclear policies that do not really take into account the suggestions of their users and censor them. Let’s also mention that bidders are somehow (will we one day know why?) able to publish their so-called "ridiculous" (more like insulting) offers and are moderated hours later after a few complaints from users, when it's too late. Then, they just do the same thing the next day (TC masters don't take this literally, it's a metaphor). As for decent, normal offers, they are the object of massive flows of applications as a direct consequence of this job drought.

As for their rating systems I would not say they are flawed:  corrupt is more appropriate. They reflect a mix of censorship on the moderators part, of self-censure, conflicts of interest, or compromise on the translators' part (when they find themselves forced to give 1 stars instead of zero as they intended to), of a blatant lack of ethics from some companies who quite shamelessly ask for feedback from their CURRENT employees freelancers (i.e. Lingo 24 and Somya).

Communication-wise, TC performs much better than the other one. At least they make an effort. Here is the reply from TC. It is still a tad evasive, and did not allow me to reply, but it is a nice attempt to clarify things. Thank you:
"Dear ...
Thank you. It was night in Canada.
The outsourcer did not use the Rate box to enter the rate. Therefore the system could not filter this job and sent notification to you. Sorry about that.
If the outsourcer fills out the Rate box on the job posting form during posting a job, it is possible to filter jobs by their rates. However, sometimes outsourcers do not show rates or just mention them in the job description. In this case filtering is impossible. We tried to make the Rate field mandatory. It did not work. Outsources simply selected 0.05 there and explained in the job description that their rate is lower.
Best regards, X
TranslatorsCafe.com Support Team"
Unfortunately our communication was interrupted there since I used up my quota of 3 questions, but if one of you TC insiders is reading these words, could you tell please me: why do you not simply ban outsourcers who break the rules, instead of allowing them to pull the same trick soon after. Wouldn't it teach them good manners? After all does this world not need better manners? And while you're here, could you also let us know why Somya Translators is still in your opinion the fourth best translation agency in the world although it's an Indian sweatshop paying its linguists 2 cents a word? 

Many thanks,
Translation ethics