Hidden customers

Hidden customers

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The clients we sometimes forget

How to find more direct clients. Maintaining relationships with agencies. Those advising translators always talk about finding and keeping these two types of customer. But there is another kind, as I was reminded when I recently began the annual task of asking for my tax withholding certificates over the last couple of weeks. This is an indescribably dull chore necessary in Spain which consists of checking that your customers really have paid the tax they are supposed to have done on your behalf to help you avoid mistakes on your income tax return that could cost you time and even money later on.

It does have the advantage, however, of reminding you who your customers are, and, as I was going through the list, I realised just how many of mine are not agencies or direct clients, they are in fact simply colleagues who pass me a considerable quantity of work. I’m sure many other translators, if they look at their own customers, will find a similar situation. Yet we hardly ever mention this important source of work.

I say important because your colleagues can be very good customers. For a start, no-one understands the problems of a freelance translator like another freelance translator. That doesn’t mean they demand any less in terms of the quality of your work or are more flexible with deadlines. But, unlike some other clients, it does usually mean that they realise you can’t perform miracles in terms of deadlines or producing beautiful prose from a hastily scribbled original.


And, while not reaching the rates that can be earned from direct clients, other freelances also tend to pay more than agencies. This is something I have noticed as I have gradually increased my rates. Many former agency customers have fallen away, unwilling or unable to pay higher prices, but I have lost very few colleague clients. Why should that be? Generally because the work they send comes from their own direct clients and they are passing it on not to make a profit but in order to help their clients out and keep them happy. Sometimes they will pay they translator everything they receive for a job, other times they will keep a percentage, but they don’t need to make much money on the deal simply because, unlike an agency, their main work is elsewhere, in the translations they do themselves.

Not only that, in my experience at least other freelances are also quicker to pay than many agencies. This is mainly because they know exactly how important it is for a colleague to be paid on time, and I’ve had some amazingly fast payments from other translators I’ve worked for, sometimes even before I’ve entered the bill in my accounts.


There are four main reasons why other freelances will send you jobs:

1. They are busy and can’t take on any more work.

2. They don’t work in the language combination their client needs.

3. They need a translation for themselves (website, marketing materials, etc.).

4. They prefer not to work in the subject area of the translation.

Knowing this can help you to understand and find this kind of customer. For example, a colleague who sends you work when she’s busy, or because she doesn’t like the subject, is going to be someone who works in your language combination, while a translator passing you a job for reasons number 2 or 3 will most likely be working in combinations which are the reverse of yours.


So how can you go about getting work from colleagues? There are various ways of doing it, but they basically consist of contacting colleagues and getting your name known. Here are a few tips:

1. Join associations. I would say the majority of the colleagues who are also my customers come from my membership of APTIC (the Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters of Catalonia). I’ve also picked up jobs from being a member of the CIoL (Chartered Institute of Linguists).

2.Respond. Many translators post jobs they can’t handle to e-mail lists, sometimes connected with associations. I’ve picked up many jobs in this way. The challenge then is to build these one-off collaborations into lasting working relationships.

3. Go to events. These don’t have to be expensive conferences. The most cost-effective event I’ve probably ever attended was the first APTIC Christmas party I went to. I’m still working for colleagues I met there. Socialising is worthwhile, as well as being fun to do – but don’t forget your business cards.

4. Be visible. This basically means having some sort of online presence so you can be found easily, whether it consists of online profiles (directory entries with the organisations you belong to are a must) or a website or appearing on social media.

5. Get noticed. Comment in forums or on e-mail lists. When colleagues know your name they are more likely to contact you. You could even start a blog. Although finding customers is not really the reason I write it, this blog has brought me more than one inquiry.

6. Be professional. If a colleague sends you work and your translation is sloppy or delivered late, he won’t come back to you with another job. Not only that, he could also ruin your reputation with other translators. This means you must respect deadlines and never let the quality of your work slip, just as you would with any other customer.

7. Be nice to agency PMs. This might seem like a strange one, but agency project managers often go off to work for themselves, and when they need work in your languge combinations, they will turn to freelances they worked with in their agency days. Make sure you’re the one they remember. I’ve benefited from this several times.

8. Bite your tongue. There’s no-one more critical of a translator than another translator. If they have a knowledge of the target language, your colleagues will want to revise or edit your translation themselves, and they may have lots of queries. I work for a fellow translator from time to time who’s one of my toughest editors. But, however annoying it may be to have your work criticised, it doesn’t pay to get offended. Defend your decisions, explain your choices and admit your mistakes. That’s how respect is won.

9. Build a reputation. Just as poor work will ruin your reputation, if the work you do for your colleagues is good, they will pass your name on to other translators. I quite often receive inquiries from people I don’t know telling me I have been recommended by a friend of theirs, who turns out to be a translator I have been working for. Because of the way translators interact in networks, this word of mouth effect happens most quickly and successfully when you work for colleagues.

10. Reciprocate. You will also have times when you have more work when you can handle. If you turn to colleagues rather than turn it down, either by hiring them to do it or by referral, you will help build good relationships.

Happy hunting!





  1. Alison Hughes

    I couldn’t agree more, Simon. Over the last two years I have had a lot of work passed on from colleagues simply by getting to know them at conferences and events and keeping in touch with them through social media. In the past this has also happened through responding to requests on egroups and getting my name known by volunteering for ITI networks. Now that I have more direct clients I’m in a position to refer colleagues too (I generally just give names). I can’t necessarily refer the colleagues who have referred me, which is a shame, but at least I feel I’m contributing to the general goodwill among translators.

    • simonberrill@sjbtranslations.com

      Thanks for the comment, Alison. What I didn’t mention in the post is how satisfying it always is to work with people I like, and I think that happens most often when working with colleagues.

  2. Alexandra

    Bonjour Simon,
    Merci pour ce billet, sur lequel je suis moi aussi tout à fait d’accord !
    Je trouve les échanges de travaux entre traducteurs indépendants toujours bénéfiques et agréables !

  3. Oliver Lawrence

    Hello Simon,
    I agree; colleagues can indeed be a great resource. I went to the World Travel Market in London in 2013 and gained a small amount of business from the travel companies that I approached directly. But the best thing that happened at the event was to meet a colleague who was working as an interpreter. It turned out that he wanted to do more interpreting and less translating, and so he has pointed several of his translation clients my way; naturally, I reciprocate with any interpreting requests that I receive. And the relationship is progressing from purely professional to friendship as well. Everyone wins.

  4. Magda

    Excellent post! This is the right attitude. It might be just one colleague but what you are highlighting here is the core of freelance translation. It touches on the subtle concept of trust. The moment you gain the trust of a colleague (as opposed to a client’s) you are one step ahead, not to mention the things you learn. 🙂


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