Why you should never call yourself a freelance translator (And what to say instead)

“So do you do this as a hobby?” That’s usually the question I would get asked when I would tell clients that I was a freelance translator.

I could see the bewilderment in their faces as they wondered to themselves, “Does she have a real job?”

Then I would go on a long winded explanation of my alternative lifestyle, trying to convince clients that I was still a professional.

But the more I was asked this question, the more I started to reevaluate what ‘freelancer’ meant from the perspective of clients.

So that’s when I decided to test different responses anytime I was asked about what I did–and this is what I discovered.

Response #1: Freelance translator

Most of us refer to ourselves as freelance translators, which is totally fine amongst colleagues. But this is problematic when it comes to a client.

Here’s why…

Freelance in general implies temporary worker and in some cases, unemployed. This is an issue because it lowers the perceived value of our work from the get go.

A freelancer is usually seen as someone selling work hourly on a per diem basis scrambling from one gig to another.

Many people unfamiliar with freelancing  picture someone working out of their parents’ basement working in their PJs.

Clients think of freelancers as workers providing commodity services and they’ll most likely try to deal with you in a ‘one time’ transactional way.

So then I tried the second response, and this is the reaction I got from clients.

Response #2: Linguist

I’ve tested this response several times and was met with intrigue. Usually the follow up question was, “Who do you work for?”

Although this response sounded better initially, it didn’t address the fact that I was running a business. It was too nebulous and clients would assume I was working for someone else. Somehow my response was signaling that I was an employee.

And after much testing and tweaking I tried the third response. Which is what I refer to myself professionally today.

Response #3: Translation consultant 

Calling myself a freelancer was a credibility killer and linguist had me looking like an “employee” to my clients.

Translation consultant is the response that piqued the most interest.

The client’s eyes would widen and then they’d ask more about how I got into translation consulting, my services, and so forth. It was a conversation opener.

Translation consultant is what suites my line of work the best since I work with clients that charge hundred of dollars an hour, some even up to $1000/hr for their services.

They want to work with an expert that can consult them because in many cases they have a lot to lose and they don’t want to take the risk of working with a ‘freelancer’.

Around my colleagues, I still call myself a freelance translator, but with clients I’m more careful and calculating about how I want to be perceived.

I’m curious, what has your experience been calling yourself a freelance translator? Has the reaction from clients and other people been generally positive or negative? Share your comment below.

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