If you have a way with languages, and the idea of working from anywhere in the world and being your own boss appeals to you, then you might consider becoming a freelance translator. But how do you get started?
“Translation work is a real vocation; it takes a lot of time, dedication and patience. You have to be very good at researching and writing” says Caroline Dennis who worked as a freelancer for seven years before opening her own agency a year ago. After many people asked her how to get into translation, she found there was too much information to pass on. So she started the Facebook group “Succeed as a Freelance Translator” to share as much as she could.
Taking the big leap into freelancing can be daunting, and full disclosure: there is no ONE way of doing it, but there are factors that will increase your chances in this competitive market.
Start with thinking of yourself as a business: you need goals and a plan for how to achieve them. But because you’re the only “employee” of this business, all tasks fall on you: promoting yourself, negotiating rates, the translation work itself and admin.
Translating is more than just switching words around: you should only translate in a language that you know perfectly, usually your mother tongue(s). A translation should ideally read like it was written in the target language to begin with. Although you don’t necessarily need a degree or to be certified to become a freelance translator, it requires some training and practice. In addition, familiarity with the subject you are translating will save you time, attract clients and increase your pay.
Finding your sector:
For this reason, many freelance translators decide to specialise in a topic such as engineering, medicine or law. “I am currently studying part-time to achieve a BSc in biomedical science, which I hope will help me specialise in medical translation” explains Luca Balestra who has been freelancing for eight years. You need a passion for languages but also a sector.
Consider investing both money and time in CAT tools (Computer Aided Translation), it’s worth taking a while to familiarise yourself with them. While some are free, the most popular ones can cost up to £600, so before purchasing one, you may want to play around with free trials first. Choosing popular tools may help in getting more clients who might request them.
So how do you find clients?
“Register with online translator portals such as www.proz.com to gain access to job ads in your language combination. Apply to reputable translation agencies” says translator Seong-Ho Kwak. Be prepared to do some tests: some companies will ask you to do some sample translations for free but this should always be a short text. Registering on portals also helps in getting an idea of how much work there is for your language combination, the type of projects out there and the rates. Developing a strong online presence is important. Create profiles on different portals, register with professional associations, brush up your LinkedIn profile, create your own website, and use key searchable words in your profiles, such as “DE>EN audiovisual translator” or “FR>EN transcreation expert”.
You should also join several Facebook groups for freelance translators to see job ads and learn from others. Part of being a business is the ability to promote yourself!
It’s not just about what happens online though, networking is a great way to find work. “I would encourage anyone just starting out to attend events held by professional and industry associations. I know of many translators, myself included, who have gotten their first break by networking at professional events”, explains Luca.
You might think when starting out that it’s a good idea to undercut the market, but this won’t be sustainable. Remember you’re a business and you want to make money. “Don’t dump the price! You can check with colleagues who do your language combination on professional organisations or people you meet at networking events.”
But there is also the dilemma of getting experience. “Some lower paid work to begin with is fine but make sure the client knows your rate goes up after a certain time” explains Eva-Maria Lohwasser who’s been freelancing for five years. Most translators have a “per-word rate”, try to find the right one for your language combination and experience. You might also want to provide different rates depending on the type of work and document being translated.
A common mistake new freelancers tend to make is to accept every project they are offered thinking this will grow their client base and earn them more money. It is better to work out the maximum amount of work you can do while sticking to deadlines so you don’t burn out. “
Remember that you can say no. That’s the sacred right of a freelancer so don’t forget to exercise it to protect your work/life balance and to safeguard the quality of your work”, explains Seong-Ho. Some of your clients might be in different time zones, so you will need to take this into consideration: you can’t work 24 hours a day.
As for the actual translating work itself, it’s also important to be confident about how far the client would be happy for you to veer away from the original. You will probably receive feedback from the client and it’s important to stay positive.
Often it’s just a case of different stylistic preferences. Once you work with the same client several times, you will understand more what they like and this process will get easier. But there are three golden rules to follow: spellcheck your work, be responsive, and don’t miss deadlines.