As a relative newcomer to the world of freelance translation (having previously worked as an in-house translator for several years), I find myself increasingly using social media to keep on top of current trends in my industry.
I particularly like the “Things Translators Never Say” group on facebook. Although it takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the issues freelance translators and interpreters face on a daily basis, it does provide valuable insight into industry practices that are/are not acceptable. I would certainly recommend this group to other new freelancers, as there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of common issues, with real-life solutions from experienced people in the profession.
One subject that seems to crop up fairly regularly in online translation fora is whether or not to complete test translations. Some freelance translators are willing to, whilst others vehemently oppose these tests in principle.
Personally, I do not have a major issue with completing test translations, provided that no abusive practice is involved. A lot of people claim to be translators, and tests enable customers to be selective with respect to the translators they choose to work with. In my humble opinion, customers who ask for such tests often genuinely want to check that translators are specialised in the areas they claim to be. In any case, test translations should not pose a problem if a translator has the necessary qualifications and/or is really specialised in certain areas.
However, I fully appreciate the argument that you would not ask professionals from other areas (lawyers, for example) to prove their competence before hiring their services. Usually qualifications and experience suffice. Test translations do take up a lot of time, are not usually paid and do not always provide a new source of income.
To find a middle ground, my advice would be as follows:
1. Ask the customer if they are willing to pay. Customers who are genuinely interested in hiring your services quite often are – but if you don’t ask you won’t get!
2. Only accept tests in your specialist area. Good customers will often ask if you are comfortable with the context. Do not lie – there is no point wasting time over a test you find to be completely outside of your comfort zone. You run the risk of failing the test and wasting your time in the process.
3. Do not accept tests longer than 200-300 words if you do accept to complete a test for free. You do not want to be spending hours on unpaid work.
4. Set your own deadlines. One customer asked me to complete a timed test on a specific day. When I refused, saying that I give priority to current customers and complete tests when I find the time, the customer was actually pleased that I gave this much consideration to my customers.
Deciding whether or not you want to go down this route can be testing in its own right. Setting your own standards is important for this kind of issue. Take advice from people with more experience, but remember – it’s your business and your rules.