Lesson 22: Online marketplaces and translators?

Lesson 22: Online marketplaces and translators?

Rated People – for quality, local tradesmen. I’ve seen it for the first time while enjoying my morning gym session about 2 weeks ago, happily entertaining me on a treadmill. I bothered to think of sending them a note about the lack of political correctness, but gave up the idea in the end. Then it popped out somewhere online, and back again today at the gym. Well, I thought that I will check it out anyway, perhaps it truly is just a rating system. No, it isn’t. It’s just yet another online marketplace.

That started me off thinking about our favourite translation marketplaces, including Proz, Translator’s café, or GoTranslators. There is also a whole range of non-translation specific marketplaces, where freelancers of all sorts can compete for outsourced jobs. For the purposes of this article (and out of my personal interest in online marketplaces and translators), I decided to create my profiles on a number of them. Here’s where you can now find me (apart from Proz, Translator’s Café, GoTranslators, and Language123):

  • PeoplePerHour
  • Skillpages
  • Translators Town
  • Elance
  • Freelancersupport

(the rest was too dodgy to register)

How do online marketplaces work (based on PeoplePerHour)?

Business-to-business and business-to-customer marketplace, match buyers (mostly businesses) with sellers – freelancers, using the electronic brokerage effect (in other words, the internet is to blame!). The factors behind the success of e-auctions are mostly linked with worldwide exposure, lower cost, no time or space constraints, and added multimedia and database facilities to help buyers choose).

Why is that bad?

All these factors lead to the potential for more aggressive bidding, thus creating a heavily buyer-biased marketplace. PeoplePerHour has over 141,171 freelancers registered, and only 47,640 clients, which amounts to almost 3 sellers for every buyer. In wider economy, any marketplace in which there are too many sellers leads to lower, lower, lower prices offered. And bidding on price is not a good strategy for translators, is it?

I was contacted by a nice lady from a small or medium enterprise somewhere in the United Kingdom. She said she found me on PeoplePerHour and kindly sent me a sample text and asked about my rates. Well, she never replied after I gave her my estimated charge for 5,000 words. This very same evening I’ve received a digest e-mail from PeoplePerHour and her job in there. She wanted someone for £120-£180 (for 5,000 words). She already had 5 bidders.

Besides, non-translation specific marketplaces rarely have relevant jobs posted. I usually come across Polish translations once a week.

By the way, have you ever heard of solicitors competing on price at GoSolicitors, Solicitors Café, or Solicitors Town?

Why bother?

I’ve set up my PeoplePerHour account ages ago, when I was looking for someone to practice my Norwegian with. Importing all data from LinkedIn took as long as 10 seconds. After about half a year I was contacted by someone who needed 25,000 words translated in my language pair. I offered him my normal rates thinking that it will be a massive deterrent, but the client agreed and secured a few hundred pounds on the deposit account. We no longer use PeoplePerHour, as our relationship grew and we started to trust each other. One in a million.

With a reasonable amount of time and energy invested, you can hope for:

  • One in a million best client
  • Direct business clients
  • Link exchange
  • Payment security
  • Non-translation exclusive environment
  • Potentially longer relationships

Sample jobs


online marketplace translation

online marketplace translation

online marketplace translation

Your experience?

I’ll keep you updated on jobs posted and my success with offers. I am definitely not going to agree for anything lower than my usual rates, but I may well meet another client ready to accept them. What is your experience with online marketplaces? Are you registered with them? Have you ever received any jobs through them?


  1. Tomasz , on Jan 31, 2012 at 07:58 Reply

    I have an account at Elance – got one or two jobs that way, but at small rates. I am not using them now that often.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 31, 2012 at 08:11 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Tomasz! I know there are some differences in pricing, even in the sample jobs I’ve attached. The Norwegian one sounds fine to me in terms of rates, but on the other hand you can get something like £180 per 5,000 words.

  2. Silvia Ferrero , on Jan 31, 2012 at 10:46 Reply

    Hi Marta,

    Brilliant post!

    My experiences are very similar to yours, I have got some jobs and clients through these portals, but not much because mostly translators are bidding based on price and I’m not prepared to work for peanuts. I can understand why some people do it, especially those new to the industry in desperate need of clients, but I think it’s demeaning for the profession and damaging for all of us. As you said, you would never expect solicitors to do that!

    Kind regards,


    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 31, 2012 at 14:05 Reply

      Thanks Silvia! When I first thought of becoming a translator (and interpreter, because these two are all the same in my home country), I always imagined that translators are in the same group as solicitors, managers, accountants, engineers, etc, because of their responsibilities and skills. However, soon enough I learned that if there are no barriers to entry (“anyone can translate”), there will always be a group of people bringing the whole profession down. Interpreters managed to keep it up, with some difficulties. But translators? We did that to ourselves 🙂 I enjoy knowing that there still are translators who’d rather turn a poor offer down than work no matter what.


  3. Anna Kurzajczyk , on Jan 31, 2012 at 13:09 Reply

    Very interesting post Marta! I was just wondering… What about someone like me? I’m in the middle of a translation course and haven’t got any work experience. Wouldn’t be worth to register and bid low just to start working and get any possible experience?

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 31, 2012 at 13:58 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Anna!
      It reminded me of one thing that was said during a webinar on conference interpreting. In the Q&A session, someone said that newly-graduates can’t charge as much as experienced and established interpreters, because they don’t have that experience and that knowledge. Well, the presenter’s answer was straight to the point: you’d better live up to the experience and knowledge of others than spoil the market with your low rates.
      Easier said than done! But I do agree with that. Lowering our rates always works against us, in the long term. But you can always try negotiating with clients on marketplaces, or even suggest a higher rate, but convince them that it’s worth it.
      You could also try contacting local businesses, offering them translation or proofreading services at a reasonable rate. These jobs usually don’t bring too much profit, but build up experience and pile up references. I believe in direct clients much more than in agencies!

      • Anna Kurzajczyk , on Feb 1, 2012 at 12:17 Reply

        Thanks! I’ll keep that in mind!

  4. Marina Sandoval , on Feb 3, 2012 at 03:51 Reply


    I also have an account on PeoplePerHour and Elance, but no work for me so far. I think it is because I refused to work for €0.02 per word, but hope never dies hehe

    Marina Sandoval

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 23:42 Reply

      Glad you refused – you’ll find better prospects 🙂

  5. Catharine , on Feb 28, 2012 at 06:16 Reply

    I’m on Translator’s Town and Elance. I very occasionally get an e-mail from TT (“new project matching your languages”) but it’s never led to anything.
    I get a weekly e-mail from Elance but what I don’t like is that unlike specialised translator websites all the translation jobs are jumbled together, so you have to sift through all of them just to find jobs in your language pair! I’ve occasionally been contacted directly via their site, but it’s never led to anything. Having said that I keep my accounts open with them as I consider it all to be professional exposure and it can’t do any harm. If a job is below my rates nobody is forcing me to accept it.

  6. Stefano D'Amato , on Jun 3, 2012 at 18:11 Reply

    Hello Marta and fellow colleagues! I realize that I am posting a reply to your original post of January 30, 2012 about four months late, so perhaps nobody is even still subscribed to this thread and it will go unread. I have been searching for discussions such as this one, highlighting the negative impact of translation marketplaces (proz.com and translatorscafe.com) on the industry. I must have been performing my searches using incorrect keywords as I never seemed to hit the nail on the head. Today I found your post. After I finish replying here, I’m going to continue searching. I know that globally the economy pretty much is in bad shape regardless of your profession. Personally, I got my B.A. in 1997 in Spanish and Linguistics and followed a childhood dream – I taught high school for six years. Six years was just about all I could take. Sadly, education, especially pubic education, at least in the U.S., has a lot to be desired. I realized that after six years I was burnt out. I think I lasted one year longer than most new teachers, as burnout usually occurs within five years. One of the statistics that stand out for me is that within the first five years of teaching, 50% leave the profession. I want to say that I got his from an excellent mock documentary entitled “Chalk.”
    So, I decided that I wanted to continue to work with language but in a different capacity. Since college I have done freelance translation but never had a credential nor was it something I actively sought out. There were always a few jobs here and there that found their way to me. Now, at 41 I went back to university, did a certificate program in translation studies, racked up more debt in student loans, and I a struggling to make ends meet. I used to earn more money casually translating 15 years ago than I do now with a university credential, membership in both a national and a state professional organization for translators, and a having set up an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).
    As you pointed out above, it comes down to the simple economic principle of supply and demand.
    When I first formed my LLC in July 2011, I joined both proz.com and translatorscafe.com, as a paying member. Within a few weeks, it was made crystal clear that these so-called translation marketplaces were actually the driving forces that devalued the profession. Ok, I should also give credit where it is due. Machine translation tools, such as Google Translate, changed the mentality of the layperson. In countries where English is considered the universal language and knowledge of a second or third language isn’t exactly a priority, I would venture to say that the majority of the general population truly believe that all you need to to is type some text into a box, identify the target and source languages and hit enter. Within seconds you’ll have a translation. Not only is it fast, it’s also free!
    By paying to join two popular translation marketplaces, I thought that it would be a good way to get my foot in the door. Within a few months I began to favor ProZ over Translators’ cafe. It had more to do with the forums than anything else. I believe that the true value of these sites are their forums where you can ask any question and within an hour or two, you usually have a few answers to your query. The ironic part is that the questions are normally answered by the fee-paying users like myself. Seeing translators help other translators is truly a selfless act. I applaud myself and all of the other translators out there who share knowledge and expect nothing in return but the satisfaction of having helped someone else. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about ProZ.com:
    Registration is required for most services. It also provides discussion forums and online glossaries.[5] Although much of the website requires paid membership in order to be used, and the website receives income from paid advertising, the site has been developed with the help of unpaid volunteers. One remarkable feature are its terminology questions, asked and answered by users; more than 2 million term translation questions have been answered via the site.[6]

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