A reader, Alena, offered an interesting perspective on marketing translation services when you already have enough work. In our post, we suggested that it was strange for translators with big-name clients to look intensively for more. Alena replied that it was not a matter of having enough clients, but of ensuring that you have a constant stream of work in the future. I think that perspective may represent an ethical issue, which I consider in this new post.
A common-sense recommendation
Marketing your services even when you are already busy is a common recommendation from freelance translation gurus. It makes a lot of sense, because it helps you flatten out your work curve by eliminating periods of little or no work. Put simply, you prepare for winter during summer. Unless you market your services, a day will come when your existing clients go elsewhere or even out of business, leaving you with no work whatsoever.
The other side of the coin
What some people seem to forget is that there is always someone on the receiving end who might not be happy about your policy. Imagine that you have found new clients, but now they come to your door, and you do not have the capacity to service them, because you are too busy. This is the ethical dilemma I am talking about: on the one hand, you want to protect yourself from downtime by finding new clients, but on the other hand, you disappoint your new clients who have come to rely on you. You are extending an offer that you have limited capacity to fulfill. Look at this from clients’ standpoint. After receiving your offer, clients invest time and energy into evaluating you, and then contacting you with work and waiting for your reply. However, what they hear back from you is a refusal to work. No wonder they feel you let them down, especially because you made the offer yourself.
We have run into this situation many times. A freelance translator contacts us with their services, but when it comes down to first projects, she is constantly busy with other work. This looks completely illogical from a client’s standpoint. Moreover, the process may halt even at the evaluation stage, with the candidate not having enough time to provide samples or complete a questionnaire.
I would try to strike a balance between marketing your services and your translation capacity. Too little marketing is obviously bad for your business. However, too much means misrepresenting your capacity to clients in an unethical way.
Remember that the worst thing you can do is to refuse the evaluation stage and the first project. This strikes clients as illogical and unethical. It is more or less okay to turn down second and future projects, but make sure you take the first project, because otherwise, the marketing effort just does not make sense.
It is a good idea to market yourself in an ethical manner, offering your translation services only when you have capacity to provide them. Otherwise, your prospective clients waste time on someone who does not have the ability to service them in the first place.