A step-by-step guide to hiring your first crowdsourced translators

In the 2003 movie “Lost in Translation”, Bill Murray plays an American celebrity who comes to Japan to film a whisky commercial. He encounters a wide variety of cultural shocks every day in Tokyo, from not understanding what the commercial’s director says (accompanied by a very poor translation) to accepting a talk show gig where he had absolutely no idea what was going on.

Freelancers and employers also have a different culture. Without clear communication you may not know what is going on with the other person. For example, employers may feel it is normal to post a short description on a crowdsourcing website, discussing details over a phone call or a Skype session later with freelancers to establish initial contact and to negotiate the terms of the agreement. Freelancers don’t always appreciate that. In fact, a lot of us try to avoid it. We want to know what what we are getting into so we ask employers to post a more detailed project brief.

Employers might find those freelancers a bit demanding, but, trust me, they will give your the result you want. They ask only because they care. Those who say “Yes” to everything will not give you a quality translation.

In this article, I will show you to how to have a harmonious relationship with your freelancers while getting exactly what your company needs.

Post detailed project descriptions

As I mentioned earlier, freelancers often try to avoid phone calls to discuss the details of a project. Employers might find that unusual or even annoying. We freelancers are aware that we are demanding, but we need to do it to protect ourselves from three possible scenarios:

  1. After having a lengthy consultation, freelancers might not get the project from the employers for an agreeable rate, so they lose the opportunity to work for a paying client,
  2. Lengthy consultations represent non-billable time for freelancers, or
  3. Vague descriptions in and of itself are already red flags because it’s a sign that the employer does not have any experience working with freelancers, or the employer is insensitive to those three needs of freelancers.

How to write project descriptions to save time and money

In general, all translation projects need the following information:

  1. Language pair (e.g., English to Japanese)
  2. Word count
  3. Deadline
  4. File format (pdf, docx, pptx, po, ai, psd, html, php, etc.)
  5. Subject (medical, financial, chemical, business etc.)
  6. Media to publish to (company website, affiliate blog, iOS app, contract, financial report, product label, Amazon store listing, Google AdWords, etc.)

Counting words in not as difficult as you might think. For example, when a project is for website content localization, you first need to open all web pages to be localized, copy all the text, and then paste all of it into a new Microsoft Word or Google Doc document, and use the “count words” function from the menu.

From a freelancer’s point of view, I don’t trust employers who don’t even mention word count. Word count is an absolutely essential piece of information for quotes, but counting words can take a real big bite of freelancers’ time, and they might not even win the project. Only employers who want to make freelancers work for free or don’t care about the time that freelancers have to spend ask freelancers to count word.

Always deposit to escrow

Before starting a project, freelancers might ask you for a milestone payment, which might sound to you like “pay whole amount upfront.” But that is not what freelancers want. They simply want you to pay a deposit to escrow. Escrow works as a mediator of payments as well as a guarantor of the quality of deliverables from freelancers. If quality is not what was agreed upon, employers can get their money back from escrow. However, if quality is good, employers cannot disappear without paying for the job that freelancers have done because money has been deposited into escrow.

Making a milestone payment does not represent a risk for employers, so when employers disagree to deposit that milestone payment, it’s a serious red flag for freelancers.

Keep in mind that your project is probably not your freelancer’s only project
You might find it frustrating that your freelancers are not available for phone call so often or that their response is late, because it is normal to expect round the clock service from b2b transactions. However, keep in mind that freelancers are only one person, and they have many clients, and private lives with maybe 3 kids. It is impossible for them to have spontaneous call with you because they may have other commitments.*1

I understand that you sometime want a consultation, or you need an urgent response. Those kind of things need to be agreed upon before the start of work, and you need be careful with urgent calls because too many can be a deal breaker, and you end up looking for a freelancer again.

*1 Professional freelancers don’t take phone calls when they are working on other clients projects. Not taking your phone call could mean that they are not taking phone calls from other clients when they work on your projects.

You may find it troublesome to follow all three points, but I can assure you that it’s totally worth spending one or two hours of your valuable time. Getting your work translated by freelancers is like getting a kanji tattoo: you may think you got “soul” or “spirit”, but you might end up making a huge commitment to “chicken noodle soup” on your back. Getting quality translation requires some effort and money, but it eventually saves time and money if you don’t have to hire different translators after the fact.

*Edited by Amy Erickson

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