Mar 192013

I realised it’s been a long time since I wrote anything here. I’ve been rather busy reinventing myself.

I still own but I’m not developing it any further. If you want to buy it, I’m open to sensible offers. I think I’ve written everything useful that I have to say about the translation industry – for now. 😉

I’ve been teaching ICT (computers) to Year 5 kids at my son’s school one afternoon a week for the last few years. You know I’ve always been keen on computers, right? About a year and a half ago I heard about a rather cool sounding new computer called the Raspberry Pi and thought it was something I needed to be in on at the start.

So I was one of the “nutters” up early on launch morning 29 Feb 2012. It didn’t arrive until May, but since then I’ve been blogging about my experiences over at my newest venture http://RasPi.TV and making videos like this one…

…on my YouTube channel RasPiTV

I’ve also been involved with software and hardware development and it’s likely there will be a book or ebook in the offing at some point too.

I’ve had a lot of fun at a time when I really needed a change of direction. Sometimes you just have to follow your interests.

I thought some of you might like to know. 🙂

Jan 252011


Hello and welcome to the first tranfree of 2011.

I’ve always thought of macro-economics as a bit boring. But now the world economy seems to be in uncharted waters, watching what’s going on has become more interesting. It does look as though things are going badly wrong in many parts of the world. Although places where they still actually make things, or have natural resources seem to be doing OK (Germany, China, Brazil, OPEC nations).

Of course it’s impossible for everyone to be doing well all at the same time. It’s always been like that. But at the moment, it’s the “leading” Western nations’ turn to have its share of pain.

This leads me to think about how we as translators can limit our own exposure to risk. One of the biggest risks affecting freelance translators is the possibility of not being paid. So this month’s article is about credit control. You do have a credit control policy don’t you? If you don’t, I hope you soon will.

Do please feel free to come and comment on tranfree articles on my blog.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree


Alex Eames

tranfree editor, Author –
Business Success For Freelance Translators, and

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

You Do Have a Credit Control Policy Don’t You?

By Alex Eames

Detestable debt

Any of you who have read my ebooks or been tranfree readers for some time, will know that I am not a big fan of debt. In fact I “debt-est” it (that pun will work better on the podcast edition.) smile I don’t like the idea of being in debt and neither am I keen on other people owing me large sums of money.

If you want proof that uncontrolled debt is a bad thing, look no further than the economies of most Western countries. The United States and many European countries, including the UK, are crippling themselves with massive national debt. This is effectively putting future generations into slavery – or it’s going to result in massive defaults and meltdown of the world financial system.

But some borrowing is helpful to keep things running. In the translation business, clients regularly borrow from freelancers. Instead of paying for work on delivery, payment is made at some future date (often 30 days). You extend your clients credit for a defined period of time (theoretically eek). In an ideal world, they would pay you immediately on delivery. With electronic banking systems, there’s no real reason apart from “established practice” why this couldn’t happen.

Walk out of any shop clutching the goods and shouting “I’ll pay you in 30 days” and see where that gets you. wink You’ll end up in a prison cell pretty quickly. frown
( )

B2B is a bit different

Retail transactions are different from business to business (B2B) transactions. When we do retail jobs for people, we usually get paid on collection/delivery. B2B is different. Sad but true. But if you can negotiate immediate payment terms with any of your B2B clients, go for it. Then you won’t have any issues with wondering when/whether you are going to be paid. smile

But back here in the real world, most business to business customers don’t/won’t/can’t pay straight away. So they expect credit, which is yours to grant or deny – don’t forget that!

It’s not looking good out there (in general)

I’m keeping a keen eye on the world economy at the moment. What I see right now is rather unsettling. I see massive deficits, which are increasing already enormous debts, which can never be repaid. Countries in Europe are lining up (although several have not admitted it yet) to be bailed out by the European Central Bank, which is itself technically insolvent.

We’ve got Quantitative Easing – increasing the amount of money in circulation on both sides of the Atlantic. In the good old days it was called printing money. (Mind you, in the good old days, the QE2 was a ship. eek) Although, these days it may not involve the printing of physical cash, but creation of new money, as debt in the electronic financial system.

Anyone with basic economic education knows that when you increase the supply of money, if it’s not based on a physical asset – like gold, the result will be inflation. Tomorrow’s dollar, pound or euro will have less purchasing power than today’s.frown So what do governments do? They change from one measure of inflation to another. They fiddle the figures to make it look like this is not happening, whilst simultaneously making loud noises about deflationary influences. But those of us who notice the prices of things we buy every week, like food and petrol (gasoline) creeping up can see that, in reality, inflation is running at 6% already in the UK.

Now how did we get there? Oh yes. I’m not happy with what I see in the world economy right now. And this should make us a little bit wary. With massive debt and inflation, we can expect to see some high profile bankruptcies. I’m talking about all sorts of companies here, not just banks. The trouble is that companies are our clients. You can’t go bankrupt if you owe nothing. Conversely, if you have large debts that you can’t pay back, you are insolvent. Several large translation agency insolvencies have occurred in the past because their clients “went bust” leaving large unpaid bills. It can have a “knock-on” effect. frown

How to protect your business

So you need to protect yourself from the possibility of one of your clients going bankrupt because if they do, it will hit you in two ways.

  1. You won’t be getting any more work from them
  2. If they owe you money, you won’t get it (or if you do, it will be much less than they owe you)

So you need to have a credit control policy. That may sound like a “big business” thing, but you really should have one. You are just as much a business as they are!

If you set your clients a credit limit (e.g. $3000), once they have used it up, you won’t be able to accept more work from them until they have paid off some of their debt. This limits the amount you can lose in the event of non-payment (default).

You will have to set the exact figure depending on your relationship and past dealings with each client. There’s not much point setting a $3000 credit limit for a client you’ve worked with for 10 years, who sends you that much work every month and always pays on time. wink

Setting a credit limit

Set a sensible “standard” credit limit for new clients and adjust it up or down according to what you know about them. Here are a few ideas to get you started…

Starting credit limit: $500

Able to verify contact info: +$500

No negative comments in Google search: +$500

No negative comments in blue board, payment practices, TC Hall of shame: +$500

Able to find translators who work with them and get paid: +$500

Known colleagues work with them: +$1,000

Well known and respected agency/company: $2,000

Allow this credit limit to grow, within reason, as you have successful business dealings with them on an ongoing basis. It would be reasonable to expect that a client you’ve worked with for years should be a good risk. But, do keep an ear to the ground in case you work with a client who may be getting into financial trouble.

Of course if you find any credible negative comments about a potential client, tread very carefully indeed. Ask for 50% payment in advance or extend them a very low credit limit.

Set an absolute limit too

Have an absolute top limit for ANY client (e.g. $10,000 – or two months output). Nobody ever gets more credit than this! No ifs nor buts. If I asked you to lend me $10,000 interest-free for 30 days what would you say? You’d probably invite me to go forth and multiply.razz If you allow clients to borrow this much from you, you may well take a large hit one day – and that would be tragic. frown

Staged payments for large projects

Insist on staged payments or payments “on account” for enormous projects. This avoids the situation where you work 9 months on one project and never see a cent. Use credit limits to justify and enforce this. But agree it up-front.

“I will need monthly payments
and/or 50% in advance for this project”

Chase Tardy Payments

If you chase your clients to pay on time you will reduce your exposure to credit risk. The longer you leave it, the less chance you will be paid. Send a reminder immediately when payment becomes due and follow up regularly.

Diversify your client base

This may not always be possible, but try to ensure that no more than, say, 20-25% of your work comes from any one source. The more established you are, the easier this should be.

Don’t be a pushover

Above all, be firm, be professional and reasonable and stick to your guns. You don’t want to be the one at the wrong end of a defaulted £12,500 invoice (the highest unpaid debt to a freelance translator that I’ve ever heard of).

I nearly called this the “default limit”, but that has an unfortunate ring about it in this context razz

Alex Eames is the founder of, editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

Business Success for Freelance Translators

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

If you liked this tranfree you will love the ebook

business success for freelance translators, by Alex Eames

Business Success for Freelance Translators.

Come and check it out now.

ISSN 1470-3866

***End of issue 77***

Dec 152010

Listen to tranfree 76
tranfree 76 – Four facets of marketing
Download PDF


Hello and welcome to another tranfree.

Since this is the last tranfree of the year, let me wish you all a Happy Christmas. As a Christmas special, I’m offering a 20% discount off the price of Business Success for Freelance Translators until the end of December 2010.

Whether you agree or disagree with what they’re doing, Wikileaks is making governments look “silly” and causing a lot of people to think about freedom of speech on the internet. I’ve found the whole story quite intriguing, but haven’t yet fully decided in which camp I stand. Publishing stolen information seems inherently wrong to me, but the handling of the situation has made the US authorities look even sillier than the “revelations” did. It’s a classic case of two wrongs make a fight.

One thing is certain though. We’re in for a season of change. With the US taking on more debt and the Eurozone bankrupt in all but name, we’re in for some “interesting times”. We’ve already got revolting students on the streets of London (deliberate ambiguity – interpret as you will).

Times of change bring threats and opportunities. The opportunities for translation continue to grow. I can’t see that stopping any time soon. This edition’s feature article covers four facets of marketing, which I hope will help you think about how to make the most of the opportunities out there.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree smile


Alex Eames tranfree editor, Author –
Business Success For Freelance Translators,
How to Earn $80,000+ per Year as a Freelance Translator

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

Four Facets of Marketing for Freelance Translators

By Alex Eames

Distilled down to its pure essence, marketing is about persuading people to buy what you are offering. It’s a huge subject, but in this article, I’ve chosen to focus on four specific areas that I feel are important to freelance translators. There are many more, but those are for another day. big grin

Marketing is about mathematics

This is a surprising way to start a marketing article, but please bear with me for a couple of sentences. It’s a linguistic pun, which I hope will help you to remember the point better.

In mathematics we use calculus to determine the location of a turning point on a graph. (I can hear you groaning from here at the mention of calculus. wink) This process of calculating δy/δx, is called…


And the reason I dragged calculus into it is that differentiation is a key part of marketing. Once you figure out how important it is, it will be a turning point in your business life.

How you differentiate yourself from other similar providers is key to…

  • Attracting new clients – (why should I choose you and not her?)
  • Being able to justify higher prices – (how can it possibly cost that much?)
  • Targeting the market sectors you are interested in – (ooh they specialise in my field!)

OK, so let’s back up a minute and say what we mean by “differentiate yourself” in the context of marketing. Here are four possible definitions…

  • How do you show yourself to be different from others?
  • How do you stand out from the crowd?
  • What’s different about you?
  • What’s your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?

These are all different ways of saying essentially the same thing. In marketing, differentiation is about differences – the more obvious, the better.

The other mathematical link is that marketing is a “numbers game”. This is particularly true of direct mail, email and web-based marketing. As long as your message is a good one, getting more work and clients is simply a matter of ensuring that it is seen by more and more qualified prospects.

I know. I make it sound easy. In reality, it can be a long hard slog. And so it should be! If success were “too easy”, it wouldn’t be success. I think many western economies are discovering the painful truth of that statement at this time, as they brace themselves for some lean years after a period of “easy” growth fuelled by excessive borrowing. Success requires hard work and lots of persistence. But sometimes a little luck can help speed things up.

Marketing is about constantly looking for new ways to reach people

Wherever there is a large concentration of people, someone will find a way to sell them something. You need to develop this mentality and apply it to your own business. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities to reach people with your message.

Always be looking for connections that others might miss. Be willing to experiment and open to trying new approaches. Adopt the Thomas Edison approach to experimentation.

“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed.
I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is
another step forward.”

Thomas Edison

Experiment with different approaches and don’t be knocked back if something doesn’t work brilliantly straight away, the first time you try it. Change it, refine it, improve it and try again.

Face to face or on line? Try it all and see what suits you best, and what works best.
If you’re a “people person” you might find it best to talk to people on a face to face basis. If you’re a bit timid about doing that, maybe some form of online communication would be preferable for you? The good news is that both can work. Social and business networking sites; online forums and portals; becoming a regular commentator on blogs you follow; these are all ways of getting your name out there. But make sure you set the right tone (friendly and helpful is a good start). This leads us nicely into the next facet.

Marketing is about impression management

In the film “the madness of king George” the king was behaving strangely, so took a break from public life to recover. At the end of it he said that he was not mad, but he had merely forgotten “how to seem”. He had lost sight of the need to pay attention to how he “seemed” to others. He didn’t have a spin-doctor or a PR officer to manage and massage his image.

How do you think you should “seem” to your clients and prospects? It matters less how good, efficient, friendly, quick, reliable and expensive you are. What matters is how good, efficient, friendly, quick, reliable and expensive you seem to be. So think about how can you control, or at least influence, prospective client perceptions of you? If everything you do exudes quality and competence, that’s a very good start.

Do you think the highest earning translators in the world are necessarily the best at translating? I strongly suspect that they are the ones who are best at marketing and justifying high fees. (I bet they’re pretty good at what they do too.) I bet they’re the ones who know how to package a “big picture” value proposition to decision-makers. Of course it helps to have friends in high places, but even that is not enough on its own if your work or approach is lacking.

The best way is to live the part. Professionalism and excellence in all things. Everything you do should reinforce your message. As a translator, this is particularly important in your written correspondence. An occasional typo is permissible in an email, but make sure there aren’t too many – ideally none. It’s all too easy to let things slip when you’re busy. But quality written communications take time. And you’re selling quality written communications, so make sure your communications with your clients shout the QUALITY message loud and clear.

Marketing is a way of life

Excellence in everything. Every contact you have with the outside world is marketing of one form or another.

Being good is not enough. You have to be visible – seen to be good.

Be generous – preferably in a visible way –  it will come back to you. Here’s a recent story to prove this point. I did some unofficial photos at a friend’s wedding in September. They were so pleased with them that I was commissioned to do some commercial event photography for the groom’s employer as a result of it. It wasn’t planned, it just happened that way. I don’t intend to become a professional photographer (although I do have a history of developing self-funding hobbies). This underlines the point that, very often, if you are helpful and generous, you get rewarded – even if that was not the underlying motive for being generous. But you can also be strategically generous if you choose to be.

Be patient. Everything comes to (s)he who waits. Lasting success rarely comes out of the blue. Most “overnight success” stories have years of hard work and hard times leading up to the “big break”. Don’t expect instant miracles. You’re unlikely to get into the top tier of any field without earning your stripes. The world teaches us to want everything NOW. But, hey, the world’s in a mess because of that way of thinking. Instead of “buy now, pay later” try to work your way up to the top in a sustainable way. Instead of “get rich quick”, live well within your means and invest the rest (perhaps in your own property or business?) If you get wealthy by gradual accumulation, you’ll develop the character needed to handle it along the way.

Be direct. It’s easy to target agencies – they are a very precise target market for translators. The best paid translators have a (large) proportion of direct clients in their portfolio. Find as many ways as you can of identifying and targeting clients who are likely to have a need for your services. Trade show catalogues, professional associations and trade directories are great for this.

Be careful with your public persona. If you like to rant or discuss controversial subjects in online forums, make sure your name is not associated with this. (It’s not hard to have an anonymous ID on an online forum is it?) A good way of thinking about this is to assume that everything you ever post on the internet will be there forever. Will it look good for you in 10 years? I’ve lost count of the number of people who made posts on bulletin boards and forums since 1999 and later decided that what they wrote a few years ago is embarrassing now. Not everybody will be willing to delete pages and spoil the linking structure of their site for the sake of covering up your naivety.

Be online. Have Your own web site – but make a real one – don’t just buy a domain name and point it at your ProZ profile – you’re giving the farm away. Why send potential clients to a place full of other translators? Isn’t that kind of dumb? If you’ve got their attention, keep them interested in you and what you have to offer them (remember – your USP?). Your site is also an opportunity to showcase your work and should exude credibility and professionalism.

Be analytical. – My son was teaching me how to play “Card-Jitsu” on Club Penguin the other day. He made the observation that most other people usually start with “fire”.  He was right. I was impressed. We used that observation to win a lot more often than we lost. It’s just the same in real life. Observe, analyse and spot the details others miss. Then win more often than you lose.

Hang out in places where you can meet clients.

Develop useful hobbies, which can either be linked with or used to enhance your business. Join a business or social group or association where other members would likely be in your target market. The best way to become interesting to other people is to be interested in other people.

Be thorough. Most people are fairly sloppy with emails. (I know I’ve mentioned this already – I’m being thorough. razz) Every email should read well and contain no mistakes (if possible). If you are overtly careless in small things, how can you be trusted with large ones? OK, I agree that email correspondence is “less formal” than sending a letter, but you carefully need to manage the impression you put across to others. Remember what I said earlier? Marketing is a continuous process and every contact you have with the outside world should be considered to be some form of marketing.

Alex Eames is the founder of, editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

Business Success for Freelance Translators
Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

Nov 242010

I received a lovely email yesterday from a translation provider…


Yum, yum, looks great 🙂

We would like to take a moment and express our gratitude to our clients and friends all over the world.
Thank you for trusting us to translate your important documents, manuals, websites etc.
Thank you for recognizing us as your number one resource for your translation needs.
Thank you for your continued business and confidence.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, but the need to look back and give thanks is universal. Everybody here extends a special thank you to all of you, for making our work so interesting. It has been a pleasure to do business with you.

There was also a lovely photo of a yummy-looking thanksgiving dinner (I added the caption) and contact details (which I’ve omitted to avoid embarrassment/aggravation).

This is a lovely thought, and the sentiments in the email were lovely too. There’s just two minor problems with it…

  1. I got two copies of it to different email addresses
  2. I don’t know these people.

So I can’t be customer or friend. So it’s not really a personal thank you, it’s an unusual database marketing attempt. But as a database marketing attempt it is seriously lacking, since it doesn’t even mention what language(s) they do. Yes, I know, I could visit their website and find out, but I can’t be bothered – and neither will most prospects.

I love the sentiments expressed, but I don’t love the deceptive approach, and, I suspect, neither will most prospective clients. You’ll get better results by being straight with people. 🙂

Nov 192010

Crowdsourcing is a very topical and current buzzword in the translation industry. It’s been used in quite a few “Open Source” software projects for localization into other languages. It seems to be a big trend in software development – look at the whole UNIX project. I was doing a pre-university year at IBM in 1987-1988 when the Open Software Foundation was formed. IBM were part of it. The idea was to develop UNIX in an open collaborative manner. In the end, LINUX did it more successfully, but even so, Microsoft – the paid-for equivalent – still won through and became more ubiquitous. (On a little side note I LOVE UBUNTU – were it not for the need for complete MS compatibility for clients, I would dump MS at the drop of a hat.)

Actually, we should all take great cheer from that – even if we “love to hate” MS. It shows you that “paid-for” can win against “FREE”. Translators feeling threatened by crowdsourcing should find that greatly encouraging. 😀

So what about today’s news then? The UK government has released, to the public domain, details of all public spending over £25,000. Part of the idea is to enable the public to scrutinise how our money is being spent – presumably to appear more transparent and accountable. But the other reason given is that…

Full BBC article here

it was part of the government’s plan to abolish professional Whitehall scrutineers like the Audit Commission and replace them with an “army of armchair auditors”.

So the UK government is trying to use crowdsourcing to bring down costs. It’s an interesting idea and almost feels radical. The UK taxpayer in me hopes it works. The business analyst in me thinks it will encourage others to try crowdsourcing. It’s an interesting experiment. Good on the government for having a go :yes: (Although you can be sure they’ve only disclosed what they want to disclose – that almost goes without saying.) 😛

Nov 182010

A translation error at a UK prison labelled an exercise yard as an “execution yard” in the draft of an information booklet for Russian inmates.

An inspection report mentioned the faux pas at Lincoln Prison in a section on foreign prisoners.

The translation was spotted by a member of staff at the proof stage, the Ministry of Justice said.

And jolly good thing too. That’s what proofing is for. Mind you, how anyone mistook “exercise” for “execution” I can’t quite understand. Could it have been a slip of the spell-checker? Are the Russian terms for these words similar? A few years ago we handled some prison manuals into Polish. I remember it being a long and fairly lucrative job. :laugh:

Full BBC story here

Nov 162010

Listen to tranfree 75
tranfree 75 – Upside-down world & Customer Loyalty
Download PDF


Hello and welcome to another tranfree.

It’s been a busy month for me. I’ve spent a fair bit of time reconfiguring a new web server to bring all my web hosting into one place. I used to have bits and pieces of web hosting dotted about all over the place and wanted to simplify things. But I’d put it off for a long time as I knew it would be the computer equivalent of admin work – something many of us leave until we’re forced into it.

In case you missed it last time, I launched an ebook called Business Success for Freelance Translators. The “Crazy launch  offer” will close on 30th November 2010. There’s still some copies left under the offer, so grab yours now if you want to take advantage of it. This offer will not be repeated in its current form after that time.

I’ve also come up with a loyalty discount plan for previous product buyers. See the end of the main article for details of this. (The reasons for this will become clear when you read the article.)

The other ‘eventful happening’ this month was a hugely popular blog article I wrote about LionBridge. In case you haven’t heard about the 5% discount controversy, the blog post is here.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree smile


Alex Eames

tranfree editor, Author –

Business Success For Freelance Translators,
How to Earn $80,000+ per Year as a Freelance Translator

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

Upside-down World

By Alex Eames

To reward or to punish customer loyalty?

It’s an upside down world. So many things are not the way they ought to be. But one thing I found vaguely encouraging this week was the slogan for the recent G20 summit. “Shared growth beyond crisis.”

What I found encouraging about it was the fact that it included the word “shared”. As a species, human beings haven’t always been very good at sharing. We’re innately selfish – it’s a regrettable part of our nature. frown Couple that with the fact that most of us instinctively want to…

  • have nice things
  • be safe and secure
  • live a prosperous life

Those are good, normal and healthy things to want. big grin But it’s easy to lose sight of the wider picture. There’s only a finite amount of tangible resources available in the world to go around. So if you are going to be rich, someone else is going to be poor. (Probably more than one “someone else” – that’s the way it is.) If you want to share a cake between 10 people, but one person gets half of it, the others will all have less. That’s a basic dose of economic reality. It sucks, but that’s the way it is and it’s not going to change. If you’re doing well because you’ve worked hard to get where you are, you’ve nothing to feel bad about. smile

Do the right thing(s) and you will prosper

Those people, businesses and countries which do the right things – create innovative, useful products and services which are in demand, will do well. It cannot be any other way. Let’s take a look at the field of translation.

Globalisation, travel, increased communication, technological developments and the internet have created a long term growth trend in the demand for translation. Naturally, there are competitive forces working against rates and for increased productivity. Obviously when people hear about those who have done well in translation, they want to join the party. You’re always going to get that in any field.

But those who truly do a good job and do it well will float to the top. It’s a kind of commercial justice. If you meet your clients’ needs willingly and well and charge a fair price – demonstrating your worth – you will do well. I call that natural growth. It comes out of being honest, ethical, competent and reliable.

Growth at all costs?

Where I think the world economy has gone seriously wrong is in the basic premise of striving for growth at all costs. We’re lucky in translation because our field is still growing. So there are still opportunities. But surely common-sense and clear thought shows that it’s not possible to grow all the time? An economy will have periods of growth and periods of shrinkage (like Japan in the last decade). A lot of the “growth” in the UK over the last decade has been fuelled by heavy borrowing, both by state and consumers. One day, that money has to be paid back. It’s a one-off situation that can’t be repeated. Or put another way, the economy has been propped up artificially by borrowing against future earnings. If excessive borrowing to fund spending is a bad way to run a household, it’s an even worse way to run a country. The US doesn’t fare much better and neither does debt-ridden Europe. frown

One day it’s got to shrink back to “reality”. When it does, the squeeze will be most profoundly felt by those at the bottom. It can’t be any other way. If you have floated to the top and have good clients, who know the value of your services, you will be secure. If they know that your translation of their product manuals or marketing literature is a vital part of their export process, you’ve made yourself indispensible. They might try to squeeze you a bit, but you won’t be cut out altogether. If you have become truly essential you’ll be in a powerful position to resist the squeeze. Some of your clients might go bust, but you have others to fall back on.

It’s the people working for low rates at “translation workhouses” who will be the ones getting squeezed. We’ve seen this recently with LionBridge’s 5% discount demand, swiftly followed by a poor set of financial results.

Economic growth cannot go on forever.

The point I want to make here is that growth cannot go on forever. Once the resources in the world are all allocated, there’s nothing more to grow. Look at history. Great civilisations come and go. It’s always been that way and it’ll carry on being that way. The democratic capitalist model still has some life left in it, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s something else dominating the world in 100 years time.

Whilst there may not always be enough work to satisfy everyone who wants to be a translator, there will always be enough work for the best people, who are offering a good service and are a pleasure to deal with. The hard part is finding enough good clients to fill your order book.

Customer loyalty

The best way to build on your success is to try and keep all your good clients. This is another area where the world is upside down. In the area of rewarding customer loyalty, big business has it wrong.

In all sorts of big business areas, customer loyalty is despised and distained. A lot of expense and effort goes on getting new customers by poaching them from the competition.

I’ll give you a few examples.

We have insurance to cover our house and car against accidents and unforeseen disasters. For many years we stayed with the same company, but each year the cost seemed to go up disproportionately. So a couple of years ago I decided to get some quotes from the competition. I was surprised to find that, by shopping around, I could get equivalent cover for a much lower price. The surprise was doubled when I found out the cover was underwritten by the same company I was with already. Double standards! Because I was a “new client” going through a broker, I could get ~30% discount.

These days I like to check the market every year for the best deal. Companies are cutting their own throats to try and steal business from each other. So it pays to look around. But let’s stop and think for a minute. Wouldn’t it be cheaper for those companies to look after their existing clients better instead of charging them more to subsidise acquisition of new clients? Perhaps it wouldn’t? I don’t know the figures. Perhaps the majority of people stick with the same company for years on end without considering other options?

But surely the best way to go, in our business, is to keep hold of the good customers you’ve already got and build on that. It costs time, effort and money to market to new clients.

It’s the same with software. The laptop I bought last year came with McAfee Internet Security pre-installed. It costs £40 to renew the annual subscription for just 1 machine. But if I go to Amazon and buy the new 2011 version of the same software, I can put it on 3 machines and it only costs £15. So that’s an eighth of the price per machine. But if I take the easy option of ‘click the link and give the card number’ it’ll cost me £120 to protect those three machines. This is another example of customer inertia.

Look at this from both sides!

As a customer, if you take the easiest path it will often cost you. From the provider’s perspective, though, it shows you how, if you make life easy for people they will keep buying from you. You need to walk the knife-edge of making life easy for your clients while charging good prices and delivering excellent value. But be sure you don’t punish your clients for their loyalty like in the above two examples.

If you look around, you see this systematic client-abuse behaviour in all kinds of large businesses…

  • Banks using “bait and switch” interest rates to attract savings funds. (Although I pine for the days when money on deposit actually earned some interest frown)
  • Utilities giving discounts for direct debit payments, then debiting far more than they need under the guise of “estimated bills”.
  • ISPs – many of which offer much better deals to new customers than those who have been with them for years.

What I want you to take away from this is to ask yourself two questions…

1) Am I rewarding customer loyalty or do I bite the hand that feeds?

Think about ways you can reward customer loyalty. Build the relationship. But it goes without saying that you only want to do this with profitable clients you enjoy doing business with.

2) Am I jumping through too many hoops to get new clients?

Do you accept deep discounts to get a new client who promises to make it up on the next one? If you give a deep discount to acquire a new client, chances are that when you quote your normal rates at them next time, they’ll be like me with my insurance and look elsewhere.

I’ve provoked myself with this article

In writing this article I provoked myself to consider how I am rewarding loyalty in my own business. As a result of that, I am offering previous buyers of my products a 40% discount on the new Business Success for Freelance Translators ebook package. If you want to take advantage of this offer, it will have to be processed manually as I have no automated verification method. Please send me an email to upgrades (AT) stating your name, email address and approximate year of purchase. I will then verify you in my database and email back purchase instructions.

Alex Eames is the founder of, editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

Business Success for Freelance Translators
Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

Oct 312010

At the end of last week, LionBridge sent out an email to their “vendors” (freelance translators) demanding a 5% discount because of the economic climate and currency problems. It hasn’t taken long for people to comment in the blogosphere. Translators are understandably annoyed about this behaviour.

We’ve never been on the books of LionBridge as a vendor, but have received this kind of email from other large translation agencies in the past. What seems to have got on people’s goats about this particular email is…

  1. blatant inaccuracies in the claimed reasons for the demand
  2. the fact that LionBridge has recently reported record quarterly profits

Oops. Not very diplomatic corporate communications there. :no:

So, if the economic situation is still going down the tubes, why is there growth being reported in Europe and the US? If the dollar has depreciated by about 3% against the Euro in October, why does the email say it has gone down by 5%? (You could argue that profit is retrospective and they are projecting forwards, but it doesn’t really wash – I’m just playing attorney-at-law-to-the-fallen-angel :devil: here).

But even disregarding these inaccuracies, the point remains that, as a client, you can request a discount, but vendors are free to say NO. And in this case, I hope they do. Just say no to thugs!

Reference blog link 1
Reference blog link 2
Reference blog link 3 (includes full text of email)

If you haven’t seen this video yet, you’ve got to watch it. It’s really funny…
[stream provider=youtube flv=http%3A// img=x:/ embed=false share=false width=550 height=310 dock=true controlbar=over bandwidth=high autostart=false /]

Oct 272010

Whilst it may seem a little unkind to tear into someone’s marketing efforts, this email, which I received this morning, is rather poor. For a company that claims localization skills and works with Fortune 500 companies, you would have thought they could afford to get a native to look over their marketing emails. Even a spell-checker would have spotted the two typos. That’s inexcusable!

Relative Director?
Interrpreting? (looked like interrupting on first read) 😀

No, sorry. :no: School report says “Could do better”. Also, all the weird characters you can see in the quoted email appeared in the original. Would you hire these guys? :clown:

Whilst I realise that their English is a lot better than my Chinese, I would hasten to point out that I am not asking them for work. If I was, I think I’d do the smart thing and hire a native.

Dear Relative Director,

Thank you for taking the time to read my email.

My name is XXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX, I am writing you to introduce Translation and Localization services.

Our company is a professional localization service provider with 15 years experience, an ISO 9001 certified company. Our clients include world famous Fortune 500 companies such as IBM, GE, NCR, Nokia, and more. We can offer translation services in 60+ languages, and DTP services in 80+ languages. We are the members of GALA & TAC for many years.

Our major services include the following:

� Docuument translation: technical and marketing material, brochure, flyer, manual, etc

�& Software and Website localization: Software GUI, OnlineHelp and Documentation.

� Multilingual Desktop Publishing: Support Quark Xpress, InDesign, Illustrator and more than 60 languages.

� Interrpreting: Mandarin interpreting services in China and UK.

� Voice-Over : localization process of voice and text information in audio and video files.

� p; Training: Translation CAT tools training, DTP tools training, Chinese training

We have very good experience in various translation and localization projects, some of our project examples can be found from here:

(link removed for anonymity)

We guarantee to provide quality, fast and cost-effective services. If any requirements or enquires, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thanks & best regards,

Oct 192010

Fed up of staring at your screen? Listen to tranfree 74

tranfree 74 – Business Success for Freelance Translators

You can also download this edition of tranfree 74 as a PDF


Since the last edition I’ve been very focussed on a “top secret” winkproject. Now it’s completed, I’ll tell you a bit more about that in the first article.

The second article in this edition is a review of the recent online virtual conference for translators that ProZ arranged. It was a lot of fun and very worthwhile. I recommend you “attend” the next one.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree smile


Alex Eames

tranfree editor, Author –

Business Success For Freelance Translators,

How to Earn $80,000+ per Year as a Freelance Translator

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web.

Business Success for Freelance Translators

By Alex Eames

This week sees the launch of my new eBook…

business success for freelance translators, by Alex Eames

Business Success For Freelance Translators

This is a complete update of my previous “How to Earn” eBook. I have ripped out outdated sections and written a lot of new material as well. I’ve even given it a new title, which is a lot less controversial than the old one, and better reflects the content of the eBook.

Thank You Beta Readers

I’d like to say a big thank you to those who gave me feedback and comments at the Beta stage. I name names on the acknowledgements page. But I won’t do so here as I haven’t asked permission to use names in this way.

Ridiculous Launch Offer

I am launching this ebook with a crazy special offer. The first 200 buyers will get a free copy of Selling Your Professional Services on the Web, which sells separately for almost twice the price of Business Success For Freelance Translators. (I told you it was crazy. excited)

Buyers will also qualify for an exclusive 25% discount on AIT Software products (Translation Office 3000, AnyCount and a whole host of others).

First Review Out Already

Sergey Rybkin was incredibly quick off the mark. I tweeted about Business Success For Freelance Translators on Friday afternoon (just after finishing the website). He’d bought, read and reviewed it on his blog by Saturday. Now that’s quick! One of the comments he made was…

“There are a few new ideas, but they are of great worth. For example, how NOT to set your rates, how to cope with isolation, how to get the life balance right, how to use the job portals and others.”

Free Update for 2009-10 buyers

If you bought “How to Earn” in 2009 or 2010, you qualify to get this ebook free of charge (without the crazy launch bonus).

I will be sending out an email to all these ebook buyers with details of how to get hold of the new ebook. (Hopefully towards the end of this week. I need to write a PERL script to make this possible.) If your email address has changed since you bought “How to Earn”, please send me your new data.


This is our first new product launch since 2004. I’m really excited about it, which is probably why I’m giving away such a crazy launch offer to the first 200 buyers.

Come and have a look at…

In the other half of this tranfree edition I published the review of the translation3 virtual conference. Since this has already been blogged, I won’t repeat it, but link to it here instead.