How to find well-paying clients

Any translator (practically...) can get work if he/she is willing to work for peanuts. Not that I've checked the current price of peanuts. For all I know, a bag of peanuts may be pricier.
But how do you land those oh-so-coveted customers who are willing to pay you top dollars for your work?

This question keeps coming up on the translator forums I belong to.
On the one hand, we translators and editors exhort each other to charge decent rates for our skills and hard work; on the other hand, a high rate scares away many a potential client.

So I've sat and looked through my Work folders, in search of a pattern.

Rewind to the bad old days:
I've been translating and editing, to this or that extent, most of my adult life. But let's concentrate on the past 9 years or so, ever since I became self-employed. Of those nine years, let's ignore the first 2-3 years, when I worked mainly for translation agencies. When you're just starting out and don't have connections, the only thing to do is sign up with several translation agencies. They don't pay top rates, of course; but some are better than others. Gradually, you gain confidence and build your reputation. Then -- if all goes well -- people start recommending you, passing on your name, referring potential clients to you. Many of those clients, however, are reluctant to pay top $. They have no idea what translation entails; they think it's like "typing in a different language"; or else they're just used to haggling, bargaining, trying to get a "good deal" out of service providers.
So, you want to know: Where are those high payers hiding??? Who are they?

You won't like the answer.

The high payers are those who get well-paid themselves. Professionals who know how much they themselves charge for their work, and who realize that you, too, are a professional who expects to be well paid.

A couple of cases in point:

1. A successful medical equipment company, let's call it In the Pink, needed a Hebrew-to-English translator and marketing writer. The specific product and service were sought-after, and not cheap. The accompanying brochure was very professionally created, both in terms of text and graphics, by a well-known Israeli firm that charges relatively high fees. I submitted a price quote based on NIS 100 per "unit" (=250 words in the target language), which was at the time a bit higher than the unofficial ITA-recommended rate. This was about twice as much as I was getting at the time from translation agencies. But the managers at In the Pink did not blink. They could easily afford it, and were used to paying professionals what they deserve.

Next, the company asked me to give them a quote for original copywriting in English based on an hourly rate. I was at a loss. I knew that I shouldn't ask for the low rate I'd been getting from Yankaleh, the local producer of cheap cosmetics, nor from the no-name pizza manufacturer. The In the Pink boss saw my distress, took pity on me and offered me $100 an hour, saying this is what he pays his other foreign-language writers. That translated to NIS 400 at the time. I was dumbfounded and barely had the presence of mind to nod a "Yes, that'll do," trying to stifle a happy chuckle.

2. A successful educational-software company, let's call it SmartKid, needed a translator for its scripts in math and chemistry. This is a highly specialized field, and since I had relevant experience, having worked for a similar company for nearly ten years, I had no compunction about asking for NIS 120 per unit. Once again, a company that is used to paying its software designers, developers, and educational content writers top bucks, will not rear up or balk when faced with translation charges. They will not risk ruining their product.

3. Other clients who did the right thing by me were, among others: well-established lawyers; senior profs at good universities; upmarket fashion boutiques; high-end skincare manufacturers who charge a small fortune for their products and can't afford to make fools of themselves; successful architects, engineers, designers and graphic artists who charge high fees for their services; public speakers who need to get their message across; and so on.

You get the picture.

Of course, we can't limit ourselves to working only for the well-off. But keep this in mind: If at least half of your clients pay you handsomely, you can afford to be considerate and charge less from people who truly can't afford large sums, but whom you would like to help nonetheless.

Last but not least, and worth repeating: Connections, connections, connections. Network. Mingle. Leave your desk and go meet other translators in person. Be nice to your colleagues. Offer to collaborate. Reciprocate. And cast your bread upon the waters.

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