Good Things to Know Before You Go Pro

No. 1: Clients Mark Differently to Teachers

Just a shade over three years ago, I made a big decision. After six years of university education, seven months in France, and a few months of dithering, I officially became a professional freelance interpreter and translator. Well, on paper I became a professional, as you will read later, work came a few months later. Over the past few years, I have learned a whole lot, mostly through doing a lot of things the hard way. Over few posts, you will hear about a good number of those lessons so that, hopefully, you will have a slightly easier ride. If you are already an experienced professional, some of this might be obvious but it’s never a bad thing to go over the basics. If you are a new professional, this is especially for you.

I thought I would start this with a really simple one: clients mark differently to teachers.

What do I mean by that? Well, when you are being examined at uni, all of your teachers are required to mark according to a grid. The idea is that, if the grid is thorough enough, everyone gets fair treatment and an A in French-English translation should be roughly as hard to get as an A in Arabic-Spanish Interpreting.

Quite often, these grids are created to make sure that you will only really be marked on knowledge and techniques that you have actually been taught. If your entire course has covered legal translation, there is no chance that your final exam will be a translation of a comic book. Following me so far? Just remember, the priority for teachers is that you are marked fairly and according to a reliable standard.

Clients don’t mark like that. At all.

For clients there is one important factor and one only: did the service you provided do the job they wanted? Put another way, did it [link]work[/link]? That is it.

In university, if you do a great job, you get an A. If you do a slightly worse job, you get a B. If you do a passable job, you get a C. Clients don’t mark like that. With clients, if you do a great job, they might send you a lot more work. If you do an acceptable job, you might get the odd job or you might not. If you do any worse than that, you will never hear from them again. Even worse, you might have to fight tooth and nail for payment.


In university, if you fail and exam, it’s annoying but there are always resits. There are no resits with clients. You get one chance and one chance only to get it right.


Am I saying all this because the university system is wrong? No, not at all. The university system does the job it was meant to do. The reason I am saying this is that the way clients mark means that every job is a pass/fail exam. Every job needs your best. Every translation, every conference, every appointment needs you to prove again that you are worth the price you are charging.


That is good to know before you turn pro.


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