No matter where you are on the beginner-to-advanced freelancer spectrum, you’re likely to get requests for work that you can’t fulfill. You may get requests that you could theoretically accept, but you’re too busy, or you’re on vacation, or you may get requests that are for services you don’t provide: a different language pair, specialization, or type of language service. An important part of running a freelance business is never turning down a client without giving them a referral. Even if I get a request for a client for something completely out of my wheelhouse, I never just say, “I don’t do that,” or “I’m not available,” unless I really have no idea who else might be able to help that client. Following are a few tips for referring work to other translators or interpreters:
- Most importantly, unless you never want to take vacation, or you plan on never getting sick or having a family emergency, you need at least one very trusted colleague to whom you can refer your current clients when you can’t take on their work. Better yet, put this person’s contact information on your e-mail autoresponder when you are out of the office (with their permission, of course). It always surprises me when I get other freelancers’ autoresponders that simply say, “I’m out of the office until X date, I’ll respond to you when I return.” And in the meantime, that person’s regular clients are supposed to…????…perhaps find another freelancer and never come back?
- Second most importantly, it’s good to have a couple of go-to referrals for a) freelancers who do what you do, but in the opposite direction (for example, I get a lot of requests for English into French official document translation, so I have a couple of people who I typically refer to), and b) freelancers who do your specializations, but in another language pair (for example, my international development clients will often ask for referrals to someone who does English into Spanish, or Spanish into English).
I follow a few guidelines when I refer work to other people:
- I never ask for any sort of commission or referral fee from other freelancers. I think this is a “what goes around, comes around” situation, so I never ask for money.
- I always specify to the client whether I know this translator personally, whether I know the quality of their work, or whether I’m just looking them up in a directory to save the client that step. I think it’s a good idea to spell this out, so that the client knows your level of trust in the person you’re referring them to.
- In some, but not all cases, I’ll then e-mail the freelancers I referred the client to, and let them know that the client might be contacting them. I typically do this in two situations: if I want the freelancers to know that this client is trustworthy and good to work for, or if I want to let them know that I have no knowledge of this client. I think this is a good step, because many freelancers who receive an e-mail saying, “I was referred to you by X,” will assume that the client already works with X, when that may not be the case.
- If I refer another freelancer for a job for one of my clients, and that freelancer then contacts me and asks how much I charge the client, I always tell them, with the caveat that I am not recommending that they charge the client the same rate as I do.
I think the most important element here is to never send a client off into the ether without pointing them in the direction of someone who can help them. Even giving them a link to a reputable professional association directory is a step up from a simple Google search. I hope these tips are helpful for the next time you need to give a referral!