Do you provide free translation tests? Do you think “reputable translation agencies” always pay translation tests and “non-reputable translation agencies” don’t?

by Manuel Herranz
I’m sure that throughout your career as a translator, you have been asked by small, inexperienced, or non-reputable translation agencies to accept free translation tests. Sometimes even by large translation companies. Typically, the reason given is that the agency is quoting or rather fighting to win a new client. They would like to see how well you do in the field, if you are familiar with the terminology, the company’s writing style, etc.

I have been on both sides of the fence, having worked as a freelancer for several years until a Japanese-UK translation company offered me a remote position with plenty of potential to grow. So I have a pretty good understanding of the reticence of a freelance translator, their business mentality and the good and bad practices of many translation agencies, large and small. I would like to debunk some myths in this post.

Would you provide a free translation sample?

This can happen in any industry. Salesmen carry free samples of their products, from beer to simple medical devices, electronics… You name it.

However, this is very different in the translation industry. Previous translations bear no influence on how good a translator will do next time, particularly in a different, with a different client.

We can call this the first annoyance of the translation industry, I mean having to prove how good you are to in unknown translation agency. Quite likely, they are in the same boat as you. Their resources are fully booked, they are expanding and they need to recruit more translation talent. And the same goes for the client, who having had good and bad experiences already, has to rely on complete strangers to complete the website translations of a new product line.translation sales quote

But whereas we are used to free shampoo samples, a free translation sample will take time and care. Translation being a human activity (despite all automation, CAT tools or machines translation), the best translations are those where no trace of the original footprint can be detected. You will need to invest professional translation time in your free test.

Many Project Managers do not believe in free translation tests. They never tell translators they are facing a translation test. They expect polished work – the same best translators will offer in case the company wins the bid.

As a translator, have you ever been asked by a either a small, non-reputable or inexperienced agency to undertake a free sample test translation because they were trying to win a new client? Or just because they wanted to see a sample of your work? As we mentioned above, translators only get paid for the work they do – so how can a company even imagine that they will win a bid on the back of unpaid translation samples? It makes no sense. It makes sense in the case of a pre-manufactured product like a small flask with perfume, a portion of cheese in a supermarket …. But for a service?

On the other hand, most lawyers will give you a first free hour or ‘consultation’ to test the waters: you tell your story or case and the lawyer can also see if there’s a case. Some psychologists also offer a free first meeting. The translation company is also putting free management and checking time to provide the sample to the client. You may think it is an investment and one hour from your busy schedule may well provide interesting returns. Yes, this unknown, less-than-reputable translation agency is quite likely donating its time to work on the project. So is the sales manager, happy with the prospect of getting a large client. All of them are reducing the number of hours worked on their timesheet but putting in the extra effort because “this is just a sample test translation”.

So, what do you think? Do you think translation tests should always be paid in order to reflect the professionalism of the linguist? Translation tests should be approached as a real job, anyway. Do you think that since the LSP and the translator are working together to get new work, this is an investment and everyone is putting in time in order to get the client? Do you think this depends on the circumstances? We have created a poll, please spend 30 seconds voting for or against! We will share the data via our LinkedIn page.