If you’re proficient in at least two languages, then you have a marketable skill that is presently in demand and sought out by countless businesses around the globe. Freelance translation services are a fast-growing segment of the freelancing world, and according to the American Translators Association, the average full time self-employed individual undertaking translation work in the United States is earning more than $50,000 per year.
Because of the commonality of global business market today, translators are needed within numerous different industries, therefore making this field one with ample opportunities. It’s a great option for foreign language teachers and other professionals who are adept at a second language and wish to earn supplemental income, as well as those who want to become a full time self-employed professional.
What should I do to prepare for a career as a freelance translator?
As with any freelance career, freelance translation takes self-discipline and good amount of preparation to get moving. However there are several things you can do in order to help prepare yourself for this line of work.
- Gain some experience – Many companies that hire freelance translators are seeking someone with relevant experience. If you’re just starting out in the field of freelance translation and need to gain experience, try a pro bono translating job for a local charity or volunteer organization. This is a great and worthwhile way to build up your resume while you are getting started. According to CILT (The National Centre for Languages), informational technology, finance, and legal services are the three business sectors from which providers currently find the most work. So while seeking out jobs, keep in mind that these industries may offer the most opportunity.
- Keep up to date with technological developments – Translation, like many industries, is a field that is constantly changing and growing due to technological developments. Before beginning your career as a freelance translator, it’s wise to look into what kinds of technology and software are commonly used within the field. You may wish to familiarize yourself with CAT (computer assisted translation) tools, which are computer software tools that require a human translator to facilitate the process. Some notable types of CATs include GlobalSight, OmegaT, Trados, Memoq, MemSource, and Wordfast.
You may also wish to consider how online global communication today has created new opportunities for freelance translators. For example, becoming a multilingual SEO expert may allow you to market yourself to companies that wish to improve their search engine rankings across numerous global search engines. Additionally, many companies today are utilizing social media outlets in several different languages, so it’s to your advantage to not only have an understanding of popular social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, but also a knowledge of social, linguistic, and cultural references in your second language in order to make yourself marketable in this area.
- Consider related fields to expand your experience – If your goal is to work from home full-time, then translating is an excellent career option for you. However, if you’ve always wanted to see the world, you may wish to consider picking up some gigs in the related field of interpreting. Today, 26 percent of interpreters working in the field are self-employed, and if you enjoy interacting with others, interpreting can not only be a cool way to travel and see the world, but also the perfect way to improve your translation skills by allowing you to improve your language conversational style, fluency, and grammar.
- Obtain professional credentials – The American Translators Association is a valuable organization for any freelance translator. It is considered to be the top organization in its industry, and offers a wealth of helpful resources to its members, including a variety of publications, an online careers directory, and mentoring program. Plus, it’s non-profit. Furthermore, a certification from this organization means that you have met certain professional standards, and therefore is a valuable credential to potential clients. ATA certification is separate from membership, and the fee to take the certification test is approximately $300.
- Market yourself – If there is one thing that many full-time freelancers are surprised to learn abut freelance translation, is how much time must be devoted to marketing. When starting out as a freelance translator, it’s imperative that you market yourself adequately. Remember that in today’s market, you have local, national, and international marketing opportunities:
- Look and apply for translation jobs on the Job Stock website.
- Register to be a part of the ATA’s Directory of Translation and Interpreting Services.
- Attend local business networking events and hand out your business card to at least three interested parties.
- Attend an international translation conference, such as ijet, the International Japanese-English Translation Conference.
- Utilize translator social networking sites such as Proz and Translators Café.
- Send your resume and cover letter to local businesses that may be able to use your skills.
- Create a website, and consider keeping a blog.
- Google “translator” plus the name of your state to find a translator and interpreter association that is local to you, such as CATI, the Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters.
Tips for the beginner freelance translator
Once you have a little bit of experience under your belt and have become a member of the ATA, make sure to keep the momentum going! Take the time to follow these tips for advancing your career as a freelance translator.
- Be realistic – As a beginner, you will have to market yourself consistently and faithfully. Don’t expect to get the perfect job right away. As in any profession, you may have to work your way up the ladder. It often takes freelance translators one year or more to gain a full list of clients, and achieve full-time, 40-hour-per-week translation work.
- Continue to update – As you begin to gain experience, make sure to continuously update your resume, website, and online presence. Your resume should gradually move away from focusing on your previous job history, and include more and more of your translation experience. As you complete jobs, ask a pleased client if he or she wouldn’t mind writing you a brief testimonial and place this on your website. As you learn about what translation services are frequently requested, consider listing a pre-packaged service package on your Job Stock account.
- Revise your earnings potential – The question of what to charge is one of the things that freelancers often struggle with. And many often forget that their pricing scheme should not be stagnant. When you start out, you may need to charge 10-20 percent lower than your ideal rate in order to gain a clientele base. However, as you gain experience, your rates should evolve. Remember that when you’re self-employed, you still need to reward yourself, give yourself raises, and account for cost of living increases. Determining a rate is something that all freelancers struggle with, but remember that as long as you deliver the exceptional service you promise, your clients will see that you are worth every penny.
- Never stop marketing yourself – All those marketing tips you just read above? Keep doing them! If you truly find yourself in a position where you cannot keep up with your workload, it may be time for you to subcontract another freelancer. However, many freelancers find that they lose clients with about the same frequency that they gain new ones. It’s very normal for work flow to rise and fall, whether you’re working directly for companies that need translation services, or for translation agencies. Therefore, continuously marketing yourself is essential.
- Keep in touch with potential clients – As you apply for different jobs, you are bound to receive some responses from business owners who say, “I can’t afford you at this time” or “I will keep your application on file for the future.” From time to time, look through your file of prospective clients, and follow up with these individuals. Let them know that you are still here and you are still available. Let them know if you are offering a new service package. Following up with people really shows attentiveness and care. Additionally, if you receive an email or phone call from a prospective client, always return it within one day.
- Go above and beyond – As you advance your translation business, ask yourself: how can I make myself stand apart from other freelance translators? What service can you offer that few others can? Perhaps you can offer an impressively fast turn-around. Or perhaps you can guarantee that your work will have a certain percentage of accuracy. Always show an interest in your profession, as it will allow you to appear as a true professional (even if you are working from home in sweat pants).
- Don’t make false promises – Above all else, it’s imperative to finish a translation job on time, accurately, and on budget. If a client suggests that you take on a translation job that is in your third (fourth, etc.) language, and you may not be able to complete it accurately or without great difficulty, politely decline the job and offer a referral. It may be easy to think that a client will not spot a shoddy job if he or she does not speak the language to which you are translating. But somehow, at some time, it will come to light, and dishonesty will greatly tarnish your business reputation.
Knowledge of a foreign language (or multiple foreign languages) is a major selling point and a highly valuable skill in today’s global market. There are numerous local, national, and international opportunities for work as freelance translator, and now is a great time to take advantage of these opportunities and begin your career.
Register with the Job Stock Freelance Marketplace to find freelance translation jobs today!