Take our poll: should new clients test your skills or hire you on trust?

The Institute of Translation and Interpreting’s 25th Anniversary Conference took place in Birmingham on 7-8 May. It was a fantastic event that gave us all lots to think about and plenty of great ideas to put into practice.

One of the workshops, No translator is an island, examined the sort of human interactions translators have to deal with in their work. A scenario that got the group pretty riled up was being asked to do test translations, especially unpaid ones. Yet many professionals and business owners offer a free consultation or trial run before you commit to their service. Marketing consultants or designers come to mind. Even lawyers.

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to do a poll on this subject and compare the views of translators with those of other business owners.

For the record. I don’t like doing test translations but think a new client is justified in asking for one — of around 250 words, say — without charge or else payable on completion of the main project. As long as that project is reasonably long and/or will potentially lead to more work. However, if an agency I’d been working with for some time asked me to do a test — at the client’s behest — for what would end up being the agency’s new client, I’d expect the agency to pay me for it.

But I do see the client’s point of view on this issue. And, as top translator Chris Durban pointed out, translation clients can have a pretty tough time.

So, take the poll and let me know what you think. Or throw rotten tomatoes at me in the comments.

No translator is an island was led — with great professionalism and emotional intelligence (about which more later) — by Isabel Hurtado de Mendoza and Betti Moser.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. Many thanks for this post, Marian!

    I was initially going to say, ‘I don’t mind offering a short test translation’, but I then thought about it and, as I said at the workshop, I think it depends.

    I would definitely expect to do a test translation for a large-volume job, such as a book translation. It is only fair that the client will want to make sure they hire the right person for the job before commissioning 50,000 words of translation work!
    But it’s different if it’s a translation agency. The fact is, I’ve never been asked by an agency to do a test translation. Usually they send me a smallish job first, which they pay me for, even if it’s a minimum charge job, and if they like what I’ve done they will come back to me for more. It seems unnecessary for an agency who has access to smaller-scale jobs to ask for a test translation.

    I also think that there’s a difference between *choosing* to offer a free first consultation or similar, as a special service to your potential new clients, and being asked by a new client to give them something for free. If you see what I mean.

    Perhaps, what gets freelance translators’ backs up is when this sort of thing is taken for granted. Or when it’s being abused. In fact, come to think of it, I have been asked to do a test piece once – but they needed it by a specific deadline and when I said I’m busy right now, can you send it to me tomorrow instead and I do it within the hour then, they said that wasn’t possible… Now, that really did make me wonder!

  2. Sorry I missed the conference. By all accounts it was a huge success and extremely useful.
    I am probably ok with a small test translation but it all really depends on circumstances.
    I tend to be asked to do test translations mainly for creative texts and, although the agency knows I’m good at these, my personal style comes through and a client may or may not like this style. I am always paid for these. With a new direct client recently I offered to do a test piece, again so they could assess my style and to avoid any problems at a later stage.
    In my experience, any unpaid test translations have been for registering with an agency. Although I’m in the fortunate position of not having to do this very often, if at all, translators starting out will probably find themselves doing a lot of unpaid test translations initially. In this instance I feel it is probably just some of the ground work required to get started in the business and is probably good experience at that stage.
    It will be interesting to see what others have to say on the subject.
    I agree with Betti about the test translations with a deadline, though.

  3. As a newbie I gained many good clients thanks to translation tests. To some extent they are a way of showing our worth and proving that we’re not just a pretty CV. Having said that I agree that a short paid translation serves the same purpose.

  4. When I started out five years ago I found myself doing a lot of unpaid test translations for agencies and I just accepted that this was a way of demonstrating that I could do the job;however, my bottom line even then was never to accept tests of more than 250 words. Ironically, but I think fairly typically too, I’ve never had much work from those agencies that insisted on a test.
    I don’t like doing tests for free but the last one I did (for a regular agency client with whom I have a good working relationship) led to a really interesting 45 000 word job so I feel that showing some goodwill definitely paid off on that occasion.
    So, I would say that it all depends on what the test is for, how much you want the work, who is asking and how confident you are that it will lead to an actual job.
    I thought Betti and Isabelle’s session was excellent too!

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