I think it’s okay that some agencies want some kind of assurance that you can do what you say you can do, and they send you a translation test for you to complete. On the other hand there surely must be limits to how much energy you’ll have to put into this.
For most of the agencies who have sent me a translation test, it has led to jobs at some point later on. Sometimes it has only been days before an agency has come back and offered me a job, after I had completed a test.
In other cases it has taken them weeks, months or even years to come back with a job offer. It’s okay because it’s not like I’m sitting on my hands, waiting for them to reply, as I work on a first come, first served basis.
It doesn’t really matter that much how long it takes before they return, because I always have something in the pipeline, and the flow of incoming jobs will be an average of your marketing efforts. The one thing you don’t want to do, is sit and wait for the results of a test translation – send, send, send.
There seems to be a common limit on the size of a translation test, which is around 250 words. Frankly, it’s a bit hard for me to see, how this will reveal much about your professional capabilities, when the tires meet the road on a large project, but anything that can help a potential client trust you a little bit more is a good thing.
I mean, it’s not like you can’t get someone else to do the test if you outsource it, and since there’s usually no strict deadline on the delivery, you can get all the help you want.
I suspect it’s some check box that agencies need to check in their system in order to source a freelance translator, perhaps related to an ISO certification. If it makes them happy, and I get closer to a confirmed job, I’ll gladly spend an hour on their short text.
What I normally do though, is refer potential clients to my own samples on ProZ.com. In your profile you can build a portfolio of your own translation samples from your source languages to your target language.
I don’t think there’s any limit on the number of samples you can post, and I have just limited the sample size to around 250 words here too. According to the ProZ staff it’s important to have samples available in your top specialization fields, which makes a lot of sense.
It’s actually also a great exercise because it forces you to really think about what it is that you really want to translate and what your strengths are. You can translate whatever you want, but where is the overlap between your strengths and your preferred types of texts?
I’m not sure how many potential clients have actually used my samples on my profile in their evaluation of me as a potential supplier, but at least they have the option to do so. It would surely save me a lot of time if they could just look at my own samples and say, okay we don’t need another sample from this translator.
It shouldn’t be necessary for them to ask for 500, 1,000 or even more words in order to play this game. Well, of course, if they’re willing to pay you for a 1,000 word test, there’s no problem in that.
You might even get a loose deadline for this so it would be a great way to build trust. On the other hand, there are many clients out there who just want you to do the job, preferably yesterday, and are just glad that they have found you, with or without a translation sample in their hands.
Do you provide translation samples to potential clients? Or do you have better ways of building trust?