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Hire a Professional Translator by Starting out on the Right Foot - Part 1

Hire a Professional Translator by Starting out on the Right Foot - Part 1

Finding a translator – or rather, a service provider willing to translate your content – in today’s world is most definitely easier than it was in the past.

Hiring the ‘right’ professional translator for a job is where the struggle still remains, but the truth is, many of the difficulties that usually arise can be avoided before you even send out an enquiry to a professional translator.


The simple answer – provide as much information and detail as is possible.

But what information? What details?

That’s what I’ll outline below in this two-part article.

How to hire a professional translator by enquiring like a pro

By including the job details that translators desire most when considering new enquiries, you’ll be starting out on the right foot – allowing the translator to quickly decide if they’ll be the best fit for your job or not. This saves them, and you, a lot of unnecessary back-and-forth, headache, and ensures that both parties will be happy with the work arrangement you establish.

The following points come from key insights we learned from the survey results of 247 professional translators who described the types of crucial information that is either missing or poorly communicated in the most problematic of job enquiries.

Budget and Pricing

Talking about pricing can be a touchy subject, but here’s what most translators suggested in our survey.

Information to include:

  • Most translators prefer to see some sort of budget information in the first enquiry.
  • Stating your overall budget for the project is probably safer than naming your desired word rate.

Things & phrases to avoid:

  • Don’t justify your budget or try to negotiate a better rate by stating it’s a “long-term/big project,” or by promising “more work in the future.”
  • “Give me your (very) best rate” is a pet-peeve of all translators. Instead of asking for best rates, provide all the information you can. This is the only way to ensure you’ll get their most accurate rate for your job.
  • Check if the translator has published his or her typical word rate range on a profile or website. If your budget is significantly lower, it might be best to consider a different translator.

Payment details

Late payments, and even cases where they don’t receive payment, are issues translators face and want to avoid at all costs.


  • Provide the payment method you prefer, with a backup option, before you ask them to accept a job. Payment method matters because there may be fees associated (e.g. - wire transfer) where different standards exist around the world. For example, clients based in the US expect such fees to be included in the amount to be paid. However, European based translators expect this fee to be covered by the client on top of whatever the project amount is.
  • State the payment schedule clearly. Whatever policy you have (On completion, 30 days after completion, etc.), don’t require the translator to follow up with you. That’s just bad business. Pay when you say you will.

Project details

Always include:

  • Source language. What’s the language of the document as you possess it now?
  • Target language. What language do you need it translated to? In addtion, specify any language variation requirements (British or American English, for example).
  • Document word count. Don’t say how many pages. That’s too relative.
  • Document subject matter. Be as specific as possible. Don’t say, “It’s a technical document.” That is too vague to be helpful.
  • Intended audience: specialists / company staff / general public
  • Purpose of the translation. Will it be published on the web, print, mailing, etc.
  • Translation deadline. If it’s a rush job, expect to pay more or lower your expectations on quality.
  • Scope of the project. Is there proofreading/review or formatting work you’re also needing? Mention this.

Consider including:

  • A preferred style guide if you have one, the date and time format you need, and how to translate headers.
  • TM or CAT tool requirements. Be open to compatible alternatives in software. If a translator’s tool is compatible with, for example, Trados, don’t require the translator to make an expensive investment if it’s not 100% necessary.
  • If your company uses a custom-made CAT tool, remember this is something else the translator will need to learn that affects the translator’s translation speed. Consider offering paid training.


Always include:

  • Formats available, and the desired final format. If there’s a .doc of a PDF laying around, be sure to mention/include that. If the final document could simply be the text of a bunch of PDF text images, that is a different requirement than needing the translated document to look exactly like the original. Be specific.
  • Explanations to non-standard abbreviations.
  • A glossary of terms if you have them.
  • Background context if the document to be translated doesn’t make that apparent (e.g. - a list of words).
  • If possible, always attach a copy of the actual document you need translated.

Common misconceptions to clarify:

  • PDFs are not created equal. A PDF of a scanned document potentially requires much more work than a PDF consisting entirely of text.
  • Be transparent about the state of the document. If the original is not yet final and subject to change, or contains potential errors, make this known upfront. Don’t leave room for surprises.

General Professionalism


  • Sign the enquiry with your full name, with other details about yourself or your company below the signature.
  • If you work for a company, make this known by providing the company name, as well as additional contact methods where questions could be directed on weekends or after office hours.
  • Link to your Blue Board rating if you have one on ProZ.com.
  • Proofread your email for common mistakes in spelling and grammar. Remember, you’re dealing with language professionals.
  • Always answer responses you receive. If you’ve awarded the job to another translator (or the job has been cancelled), follow-up and thank that person for her time and consideration.
  • If you’re unsure of the typical translation workflow, ask for the translator to share her process with you.
  • Have realistic expectations. Don’t expect 4000 words to be translated that day if you’ve just sent the document at 3:00pm on a Friday.


  • Forget a salutation, or use, “Dear Sir/Madam,” “Dear vendor”, “Dear Mr./Mrs.”
  • Use sloppy or informal language.
  • Boast or advertise your company instead of offering useful information.
  • Pass your own lack of planning onto expectations for the translator. If it took a month to create the original, why should you expect a translator to do it in 24 hours?
  • Mass email. Spending a little extra time to find a handful of qualified candidates is the better option. TM-Town’s translator search engine, Nakodo, is a great tool that can do this for you in less than a minute.
  • Change the details of your offer without at least mentioning the changes. If you offer something in your first email, but that is different than your final offer letter, make the translator aware of the change.
  • Use phrases like, “Not much work to be done,” or “This is an easy job.” Translators know best what is easy or difficult for them.
  • Ask for an unpaid test. Translators get scammed all the time by being asked to complete an unpaid test that never leads to any paid work. It’s possible for someone to send out different parts of a project to a dozen translators as ‘unpaid tests’ and simply piece together the separate translations later. The quality and consistency will be horrible, but this is what translators are afraid of. So if you genuinely need more proof to trust that a translator will do a great job, first ask for a CV and look for reputable experience. If that still doesn’t do it, ask if they have any prior work they’d be able to share with you so you’d be able to have its quality assessed. Of course, you could always just offer them a paid test.

The above list may seem like overkill…

But if you’re honestly wanting to find the best translator for the content you need translated, the above gives you a very detailed look into what types of information and communication styles real translators have shared with us.

If you follow this list as a guide to the next enquiry message you write, I’m confident that you’ll not only save time in the long run, but you really will get started on the right foot with a translator who knows exactly what to expect in your working relationship, confident that he or she is the best for the job at hand.

In Part 2 of this article, we’ll share some word-for-word scripts that take the above information into account. Sign up for our newsletter to get those scripts emailed directly to you once Part 2 is available.

Nate Hill at TM-Town

About the Author

Nate Hill
TM-Town Developer

Nate is building TM-Town to help translators optimize their work, hone their art, and find better paying work based on their expertise. More about me

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Comments (13)

topdutch Kenneth van der Vlugt
Posted almost 6 years ago.

An excellent summary. Thank you Nate.

sirajul Sirajul Islam
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Thanks Nate for the issues and concerns you've covered. Most of the things you've mentioned are possibly targeted to the employers of translators, and that's look good.

As a translator of English <> Bengali language pair, I find it difficult to work online because none in the world except my country, and the Indians understand this pair. The market is also limited to two countries, i.e., Bangladesh and India. So, while I tried to bid for translation jobs, I see that most of all employers are either Indians, or working through them. Here I face two problems: 1) Indians want to pay in Rupee, and declines to pay in FC through bank transfer; and 2) Most of the employers ask me to use this or that CAT tools.

So, what's precisely my problem? #1 payment is uncertain; #2 low budget/rate; and #3 usage of CAT tools.

Machine translation has made significant strides in translating some major languages but not Bengali, my native language. So, I simply can't machine translate any piece and then edit that to deliver. So, my job isn't "easy". Bengali is such a language that can't be translated well into English or vice versa by using software. Bengali typing needs time because of its complex nature; and correcting spelling is also an issue. Moreover, the way Bengali is spoken and written can't match English because the cultures are different. It's also true when I translate a source English material into Bengali. I mean, the translations aren't done well if done verbatim because that can kill the spirit of both the languages.

It's also difficult to impress an employer who is a stranger. A few translators are trained linguists, and so the employers. So, there exist mismatches. What more can I say? It's better to stick to the local market than to hover around strangers, and as such, I prefer not to work online.

Thanks for the blog again. Wish you all the best.

tarroyo7137 tarroyo
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Great article Nate. One of the things I have mostly found in clients enquiries for translators, is that they ask for best rates, and want to lower them, once you offer the client your range of rates.

As to payment details, I prefer clients to give their rates per word for a project. That way it is easier to see if it fits in my range of rates.

User Avatar Ramon Somoza
Posted almost 6 years ago.

You have covered most of my major complaints with translation companies, but I have a couple of additional ones:

1) If the company has specific terms and conditions or style guides, these should be a) reasonable and b) short.
I got once for a 500-word job a 35-pages T&C document which I was supposed to read, scan and sign every page. When I had read six pages I wrote them a mail sending them to hell. Basically, they were asking for absolute slavery, so I never bothered to read the rest. I have also encountered styles guides where the guide was several times longer than the text to be translated!

2) State the amount of work correctly.
I remember that I was sent a "100k word" document that was "partially translated" and the company asked for a special price. The actual text to be translated was... 700 words, but I was supposed to provide a special price and provide them with the translation memory. Needless to say, I never worked for them again.

3) Special requirements.
I often translate classified documentation. In this case, it's not just a matter of confidentiality - you need to maintain the environment secure, have special erasure software and mail encryption or submission by secure means.

4) NEVER change the conditions!
I recently had a row with an agency on a 100k+ word assignment. They asked for a discount because of the volume, got it, and on sending the invoice they also wanted Trados discounts, which they had never mentioned before. The statement "that's our standard policy" is not an excuse - they should have stated that up front, and they would not have received a discount. (They paid after I hinted that I would sue them for fraud).

5) Trados discounts.
Once thing that pisses me off as a translator is that I have paid for the tool, and the agencies want to reap the benefits without paying a dime (ever tried to get a discount for a dishwasher because the manufacturer has bought new machinery?).
Even worse, they try to impose you discounts such as "100% match free" when in a language (e.g., Spanish), the sentence might change depending on context (e.g., because you have to change the gender), so you DO need to edit the text. If they insist on that kind of shit, I plainly tell them that I will NOT review such matches, and that they will be liable for any mistakes that arise from that. I have a special price when the text is highly repetitive, but I really hate it when they try to get a few cents or dollars off because of "Trados discounts". Often the added complexity of preparing the invoice is greater than the "savings" they get!

macq6r763qzz Suhail Sabbah
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Great article, that covers most intrinsic translators' sufferings! Thanks Nate. Waiting for part 2.

patferreira Patricia María Ferreira Larrieux
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Thank you for this article, Nate, and for trying hard to "educate" our clients.

In my language pairs (IT, EN> ES) and specialization fields (Medical Device regulatory affairs, clinical trials), there are two things that I need to know and, most of the time, I need to ask:

  • the specific country of destination, as regulations change from one Spanish-speaking country to another; and
  • if the English "you" needs to be translated in a formal (Usted) or informal (tú) way.

Receiving a glossary or reference material is something that I appreciate a lot, but seldom happens.

natanio Nate Hill
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Thanks everyone for your comments and further contributions!

lucatutino6652 Luca Tutino
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Hi Nate,
I liked your article thanks!

A possible addition:

  • If an agency uses a "Translator Portal" "PM System" etc, please include a link (better if autologin) and clear instructions on how to download any materials in EACH message. These systems are mostly complicated, unclear and a serious hindrance to collaboration and to getting paid. Free-lance work for a number of different agencies, and should not be expected to learn and remember login and complex details for all of them.

I look forward to read part 2. :thumbsup:

dancor Roxana Danco
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Thanks Nate for describing the complexity of the subject.
I worked for different companies in the past (as an employee) so I have not had to cope with this issue so far...as I have just recently become a freelancer. This is all new to me. And it's good to know. Thank you for all the information!

rody_correa_avila Rody Correa Avila
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Thanks Nate. Very good article. I hope outsources and agencies take it seriously into account. All very good points. And the additional comments are great. Thank you fellow translators.

annacribs Anna Cribley
United Kingdom
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Excellent summary Nate! The time you took to round up this information and put it into an efficient article for us all to work together effectively, is really appreciated! Thank you! :smile:

nathasitha17405 nathasitha
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Useful article, real things which translators meet.

natanio Nate Hill
Posted almost 6 years ago.

Thank you for the continued comments and contributions. Really happy to hear this has been helpful :smiley:

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