Given as I have little time to write these days — but end up writing anyway — I thought it could be a good idea to share here the lengthy comment I've just left under Corinne McKay's recent post: Selling the freelance advantage. You can read the article where it was posted, and here's the comment with subheaders for convenience. If you're interested in the subject, I also recommend my own Competing against Agencies as a Freelance Translator from April. And look at my oldest two May posts if you're further interested in taking advantage of your unique freelance status and potential in your presentation.
Agency vs freelance differentiation and our difficulty projecting a professional image
Yup. By definition, the simplest USP/UAP between an agency and a freelance translator is that an agency is an agency, and a freelance translator is a freelance translator. Agencies may gain by pretending to be translators, but nromal translators generally don't stand to gain by acting like an agency. Thus, it's a good idea to cut the agency-like rhetoric and just act like a sole practitioner. But I really mean this: a sole practitioner. Not a guy or gal in a jumpsuit who proudly puts 'professional' on his or her website like that's the highest accolade the trade can bestow. (Effectively far less professional than the plumber or car mechanic, forget nurse or PA or cop or soldier.)
Reservations about the use of the first person, how the typical presentation isn't making us look respectable
The above is precisely the reason why I have some reservations about the first person. Solo lawyers rarely use it. Not sure about doctors, but I'd be surprised by a high incidence. I've seen translators use the third person, though rarely, and I tend to experiment with it myself, signing my name somewhere visible to make it look like a letter addressed to the client when I actually speak in the first. Otherwise it tends to look like a student applying for a scholarship or a desperate grad applying for a first job.
And we aren't getting much respect
We need respect, and the traditional freelance translator act isn't giving us much. It takes a celebrity translator to get the hourly rate commanded by the average accountant ($200) or paralegal, forget lawyer or doctor ($300 in the bottom range). The protocol generally follows the pay grade ($30-40, 60 for recognisable translators). Or it can get worse, as we're getting awfully close to becoming a concierge profession due to all the focus on obeying and pleasing and being flexible. Interpreters know more about this, being familiar with situations like receiving no chair or plate or being asked to drive or whatever else a personal vallet would do.
... So we should change something
Suiting up for photos and ditching the typical naïve first-person presentation could help, along with the traditional assurances of itching to work on the client's projects and being amenable to direction from the client's style guides etc. just like our chief value lies in carrying out instructions to the letter.
Limiting and restricting your liability isn't unfair — it's fair to decide how much risk you're ready to assume and on what terms in exchange for a specific, proportionate rate
Regarding full responsibility for your work — that's actually more complicated than it may seem. Legal liability is already a complicated issue, but one needs to look at it also from a more economic perspective, given that civil law is all about the distribution of economic burdens and risks.
In specific situations, it may look like you made the error or otherwise did some offending thing, but on the other hand it was the client's business model and pursuit of risky, corner-cutting savings, which made sure that the error could not be correct and was instead allowed to do damage. Or it may have been someone's incompetence which caused that the damage was allowed to go on instead of being mitigated or even totally averted.
In some other situations, you're assisting a client who's in a tough spot, and you didn't get your client there. You're merely trying to help him out. The law may look unfavourably on the rescuer in such cases, still expecting some sort of insurance-like full take-over of responsibility, risks included, like a good professional supposedly should.
The bottom line is, there's gotta be some contract putting reasonable limits and restrictions on your liability. Which is not actually unfair — that's what your rates buy. If the client wants more, the client can get insurance. Or pay you more. You can treat risk assumption as a service which you either provide or not, or provide it only to a certain extent, finding reflection in the price. Which, again, is fair.
Confidentality, freelance vs agency benefits (restricted circulation vs compliance with standards)
As regards confidentiality, well, circulation is more restricted with a freelancer, but freelancers are generally cash-limited and just can't afford the kind of nuke-proof security measures even some agencies seem to require of their translators. So yeah, there is confidentiality in this, but on the other hand it's impossible to comply with quite a couple of security standards that matter to specific clients. So if it's just about keeping one's mouth shut and not letting too many people know, then the freelancer wins, but if it's about compliance, then the agency wins.