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What an outsourcer looks for in a freelancer’s website

As a freelancer with a small stable of very fixed customers, I didn’t actively market my services. Agencies usually contacted me about whether I had any capacity to take on work, and I was in an enviable position to respond “Thanks, but no thanks!” So why did they continue to contact me then? Quite simply because I had a website. The website was both up-to-date (in terms of software used and specialist areas) and gave a good impression of whether I was the kind of person that the agency or company wanted to work with.

For potential customers there was information about some of the delivery formats that I was able to offer, that I worked with a CAT tool, the standards that I was familiar with (given that I was in a very niche area), as well as what I absolutely wouldn’t translate (one speciality was close enough to another to suggest that I might also cover the latter). The website was rounded off with information about approximate rates for new customers, general terms and conditions and the necessary information to prove beyond doubt that I was not just a swanky website purporting to be based in Austria as a conduit for getting jobs to be passed on to freelancers based in dumping rate jurisdictions.

To put it coarsely, having a website for me when I freelanced was about conveying an impression of “knowing your sh*t” and ensuring that others “know you’re not (talking) sh*t”.

Indeed, when I hung up my freelancing boots and went in-house, I still kept my web domain, which I have used for translation-related blogging ever since, as well as to present potential topics for speaking opportunities at conferences and universities. My domain name was too good to let go of and my mailbox still allows me to find out about translation blogs, podcasts, calls for papers and mailing lists, particularly when I am commuting into the office. A kind of one-stop shop for my translation-related news fix. Similarly, were I ever to decide to go freelance again, it would remain my brand.

The outsider looking in

After nearly nine years in-house, I needed to compile a list of potential “boutique translation teams” either fully in-house or working in teams with other local translators for language combinations and subject matter that I needed. Effectively I was doing market intelligence – not from a freelancer perspective e.g. to see who and where the competition is, but to see who to contact should I need to do so, A publicly available directory of members from a translation association yielded around 250 results for the combinations I wanted, all randomly ordered and presented in a “business card” format. A single search provided me with the information I needed all nicely shown on a single page, even including the postcodes (Postleitzahl) and contact numbers, e-mail addresses and website addresses.

As an outsider trying to get an impression about individual providers their websites are incredibly useful. Even in 2023, the output from the directory showed that the list of translators with an active website was only a tiny subset of all the records returned in the desired language combination. I was genuinely both surprised and shocked about how few translators did have a website. Where business communications are frequently only online, it surprises me that so few have a website. In particular, given the fact that the pandemic ravaged a lot of face-to-face networking opportunities, a website is still indispensable as a networking tool, even if social media is also on the rise. Some nominally have an office@domainname address, but then the domain name yields a parked webspace. Even a business card-style website would be better than a parked domain page.

Would you look to someone to translate your web content who doesn’t have their own web presence?

Over the last 18 months I have been following the #litranslators hashtag, where the issue of whether or not to have a website has been a recurring one. Many translators struggle to find the time to establish their web presence, and others concede that they struggle to keep their presence up-to-date. For some, it is clear that there are still hurdles to creating and maintaining their web presence themselves, even though out-of-the-box CMS-based websites are easy to set up. Relatively they are far less time-consuming than static sites from days of yore, e.g. created in Dreamweaver and reliant on FTP uploads.

I might be a rare breed as a translator who handles external procurement for translators, so might be more demanding as well as also having an insider’s insight into the industry myself. In my line of work, we are not able to use dumping rate agencies overseas, and I also scrutinise “last mile” issues. I like to have a good feeling from the outset, rather than painstakingly teasing out details from potential providers.

I frequently need to outsource translation that is content intended to appear on a website. I really struggle to outsource web content translation to a translator who doesn’t have their own website. After all your website helps me weigh up if your content sounds authentic.

Five things to consider when putting together a website.

  • If you are an interpreter that also translates, explain which language combinations you interpret in, and which you translate in. In some cases, even mention the cultures of the languages – e.g. Austrian German, Swiss French. This is not such a trivial distinction to make, particular in legal translation.
  • Mention your specialist areas: cite major projects, testimonials and specialisms. It can be difficult to mention who your clients are. You might like to state the size of projects you take on (in terms of pages, lines or words), or to state what kind of projects you have recently completed. (e.g. English translation of a German legal practice’s website (~35,000 words)).
  • Mention the CAT tool(s) you use. Include the versions you run, which can be useful if a customer wishes to send you packages to translate that might be version-dependent. If you use MT, state how you use it including any mitigations (such as pseudonymisation or anonymisation) you use. Be prepared to state what MT engines you use if asked – beware that you might put off customers who are wary of their data leaving the EU if you don’t state how it is guaranteed that this doesn’t happen.
  • Enter where you actually operate from: there is a temptation by agencies to claim to have satellite offices across a country or multiple countries. I use a list of serviced offices and co-working facilities published through a self-employment advice group (Google maps would do the same!) to check these details. Some customers might not like the thought of outsourced work being done in co-working facilities and are reassured about precautions you take.
  • Pricing/rates (you can always specify a “from” price or a price range), should always be up-to-date. I was amazed to see rates listed as “valid from 01.01.2017”. I am aware that translators tend to increase rates annually, and in line with inflation. If you link to market surveys for translation rates (e.g. this one from Universitas), make sure you link to the latest version of the survey. If the latest survey data is two years old, I am naturally aware that it will reflect current levels of inflation.

Prove you are serious about data…

The number of directory entries using free e-mail addresses amazes me. I am sure some translators will say that they only use a “throw away e-mail address for mailing lists”. But this argument doesn’t fly when you have it listed as your primary contact address. It surprises me how many translators are happy to use a gmail, gmx or hotmail account. The problem is that while they are convenient, you may give off the impression that you are not 100% serious about your customer’s data. Expense is no longer a factor. Usually your webspace domain includes mailboxes (and lots of mail forwarding addresses). For everything that impressed me from one website, an elephant in the room remained: a freebie e-mail address. Some approaches you might take are as follows:

  • A data policy page. I had a page on my website explaining my data policy (e.g. server located inside the EU, FTP access for customers to allow larger files, size of attachments that could be accepted, special data options for customers e.g. mails deleted from my mailserver immediately after download, information about security of offline backups, delivery using encrypted USB sticks).
  • Consider a webform with captcha on your website in addition to or instead of an e-mail address for people to contact you. Many forms also come with IP blocking to keep the spammers and trolls away.
  • Ensure you have a secure website with a valid certificate. Also make sure you do regular plugin and core updates to your website. And don’t leave unused plugins in your website. I run five different websites. The upgrades take a few minutes each week – most I can even do from my phone.
  • The same applies to how you store your data – e.g. cloud usage. As secure as off-the-shelf services like OneDrive or DropBox make themselves out to be, think about cloud backup security.

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