How to Land Your First Gig as a Freelance Translator

The rise of the internet, globalization, and social media has led to a surge in the demand for translators.

As Statista reported in their global language services review for 2009 to 2021, the industry has grown by USD 5 billion in the past two years alone. This means limitless opportunities for freelancing if you know how and where to look.

While setting up for your first gig as a newcomer may feel like a daunting task, here are five tips to help you get started:

1. Determine how you want to receive jobs

For starters, you can be an independent freelancer working for direct clients, translation agencies, or even both. The main difference is the initial setup required before you can start receiving jobs.

Agencies usually administer a test like this that you must pass in order to begin working with them. Once you’re accepted, they will match you with jobs that fit your skillset.

The whole process saves you the hassle of preparing an extensive portfolio and pitching to potential clients yourself.

Do note that some agencies (and even clients from larger companies) use translation software to manage the projects they assign to their translators.

On the other hand, if you decide to go the independent route, you don’t usually need to worry about software. However, you do need to play a more active role in seeking clients, bidding for jobs, and promoting your services.

2. Build a diverse portfolio

To kick off your career as a freelance translator, you need a strong portfolio to showcase your translation experience.

Initially you might need to do some volunteer translation work to build a portfolio, but remember to be fair to yourself, your time, and your efforts before taking unpaid jobs.

Consider your personal interests or those of the people around you, and look for opportunities there instead. Here are some ideas on where to start:

  • Translate subtitles for your favorite YouTubers
  • Offer to translate the website of your friends or family members for a small fee
  • Translate magazine articles and share them on forums for special interest groups (for example, interviews with athletes are interesting to the users of relevant sports forums)

More information on how to create an effective portfolio can be found in this article.

3. Identify your strengths and specializations

Over time, you should develop a few translation specializations based on your strengths and interests.

Otherwise you might feel compelled to accept any offers that come your way, even if they undersell your time and skills. Being a specialist rather than generalist may help you land clients who value quality over quantity and are thus willing to pay the appropriate rates for it.

In fact, this research by Inbox Translation reports that freelance translators with one or two areas of specialization are generally able to charge higher rates than those who are not specialized.

Remember that not everyone is your potential client. Start by asking yourself three simple questions:

  • What industries do I want to work in?
  • What kind of companies do I want to work for?
  • Will this project add relevancy and value to my portfolio?

4. Check out online translation communities

The internet is a great place to socialize with other freelancers and professionals who have been in the trade for longer.

Some of my favorite online forums and social media groups dedicated to translators include:

They’re informative, entertaining, and more importantly, allow you to build meaningful relationships with other translators which increases your chances of finding new projects to join.

5. Create a profile on freelance marketplaces

Businesses that are not within the translation industry themselves are likely to look for freelancers using channels they are familiar with. These include ProZ, Upwork, Fiverr, and even LinkedIn.

To make the best use of them, you should:

  • Create a profile on several marketplaces (as many as you can handle)
  • Complete a profile with your relevant skillsets, experience, and portfolio
  • Indicate your specializations to ensure the right people can find you
  • Update your availability to “open for work” or anything along those lines
  • Establish a routine of checking your inbox and bidding for jobs on freelance marketplaces

On certain websites, you may have to pay a fee to prioritize your profile in recruiters’ search results. I generally do not recommend using this method, because this can be achieved for free by optimizing your profile for certain specializations, language pairs, or industries.

6. Don’t underestimate LinkedIn

LinkedIn is not just a professional platform where people share work anecdotes and announce major career developments.

Being on LinkedIn as a freelancer allows you to use the job search function and build a profile that highlights your top skills so recruiters will notice you.

To do so use specific keywords in your headline and descriptions, like “German to English Translator” or “Gaming Translator,” so that you’re more likely to appear on internal search engines.

However, since there are many head-hunters on LinkedIn recruiting for full time positions, be mindful of how you brand yourself to ensure that the right job invitations land in your inbox.

For more tips on how to craft a good LinkedIn profile for freelancers, check out this video by Freelanceverse.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Author bio

Shu Ni Lim holds a degree in linguistics and freelanced as an English to Chinese / Malay translator, mostly working with social media marketing content. Now a writer at Redokun, Shu Ni hopes to create useful content for translators and businesses by utilizing her experience in translation, marketing, and discourse studies.

ATA’s Back to Business Basics—Phone and Email Etiquette for Freelancers

How can you use email and phone communication to make a good impression on your current and potential clients? This is one of the questions addressed at the Phone and Email Etiquette for Freelancers webinar presented on February 15, 2020, by Corinne McKay, a French to English translator and interpreter, seasoned trainer, and past ATA President. This presentation was part of ATA’s Back to Business Basics webinar series, which was launched in September 2020. These webinars focus on a small, practical piece of business advice for translators and interpreters at different stages of their careers. The series quickly became popular: typically, a few hundred people attend each live session. Members can access these webinars free of charge, and non-members can purchase each recording for $25.

Most of this webinar was devoted to managing email communication professionally, effectively, and appropriately. Corinne talked about the importance of having the right domain name—ideally, your own—and avoiding mail providers that make your messages land in your client’s junk folder. She also talked about your email address and signature as key pieces of your personal branding, focusing on what you may want to include in these elements.

Next, the webinar examined some expectations around email content and response time in the US and Europe. Corinne looked at what an appropriate greeting looks like in these two regions and pointed out that US emails tend to be on the shorter side. In addition, a quicker reply is expected in the US than in Europe. Finally, Corinne shared some tips for managing your inbox, which included scheduling your outgoing messages to avoid sending them outside business hours, using email templates, and setting up an automatic response for your absences.

The final part of the webinar looked at phone etiquette. Corinne recommended having a basic, professional voicemail message and only answering the phone if you can have a professional, noise-free conversation. She pointed out that unless you work in cultures that favor phone conversations, having a dedicated phone line for your business may not be worth the expense anymore.

This overview of communication etiquette will certainly help beginners get a sense of North American and European conventions. However, even seasoned professionals could use these tips to streamline and improve their client communication skills.

Check out the recording of this webinar and share it with colleagues who may be interested!

Author bio

Maria Guzenko is an ATA-certified English<>Russian translator and a certified medical interpreter (CMI-Russian). She holds an M.A. in Translation from Kent State University and specializes in healthcare translation. Maria is a co-founder of the SLD certification exam practice group and the host of the SLD podcast, now rebranded as Slovo. More information can be found on her website at https://intorussian.net.

Getting Started: 10 Tips

This post originally appeared on Translation Times and it is republished with permission.

We oftentimes get questions about how to get started in the profession, and that’s a long answer. Actually, part of this blog is dedicated to answering precisely that question, and we have a long list of articles that we’ve marked for beginners. However, a dear friend of ours recently asked us to compile 10 tips on what one needs to do to get started (he was thinking about becoming a translator). We came up with these 10 tips/ideas, but of course there are hundreds more. These tips have nothing to do with language skills (we will assume everyone has those), but have to do with building a business and a career once you already have the necessary skills.

1) Read some fantastic books that will answer most of your questions about the world of translation. These books weren’t around 15 years ago, so you are in luck if you are getting started now. Our all-time favorite is Corinne McKay’s How to succeed as a freelance translator, and we hear our book The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation isn’t bad, either. These two books should help solve 90% of your initial questions.

2) Invest in your education. There are many fantastic courses available for translators, and many are even online. For the Spanish/English pair, may we suggest UCSD-Extension, where Judy teaches?

3) Become a member of a professional association. Or two. Or three. The ATA has a great membership directory that clients can use to find vendors (read: translators).

4) Read the 650+ entries on this blog to get some good insight into the joys and challenges of translation. Then discover other fantastic blogs. We’ve listed them on our blog roll on the right-hand side of this blog.

5) Build your website and get an associated professional e-mail address. Don’t tinker with it too long–it will never be perfect, and you can always change it later. Done is better than perfect.

6) Attend industry conferences and meet your peers. There just is no substitute, and translators need a network of colleagues to succeed. So go out and build it. Be sure to also join e-mail lists (listservs) that many associations offer.

7) Invest in your set-up. We are in the lucky position that starting a translation services business requires minimal investment, but there will be some (a few thousand, perhaps) you need to buy a great computer, dictionaries, CAT tools, etc.

8) Keep in mind that starting a translation business is no different than starting out any other business, but perhaps with less risk because the investment you need to make is low and you have no overhead. Remember that it will take time to build a business. It’s never instantaneous.

8) Go to where the clients are. You need to get out of the house and network. If you are a legal translator, go to events where there will be lots of lawyers, such as bar association meetings, etc.

9) Create a good pricing structure. Don’t underprice everyone just because you are getting started, as that will affect you and everyone else in both the short and the long run. Do the math to see how much you need to make to have a thriving business, and charge the rate that gets you there. Not everyone will want to work with you, but you don’t need thousands of clients.

10) Dedicate time to administrative and promotional work. Unless you work only with translation agencies, which essentially do all the client acquisition work for you, you must do the sales and marketing functions yourself. In the beginning, this will take up a big part of your time, but as you progress in your career it will be less so.

What would you like to add, dear colleagues?

Author bio

Judy Jenner is a court-certified Spanish interpreter and a Spanish and German translator in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she runs Twin Translations with her twin sister. She is a past president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She hosts the translation blog, Translation Times (www.translationtimes.blogspot.com). You can also find her at http://www.entrepreneuriallinguist.com. Contact: judy.jenner@twintranslations.com or judy.jenner@entrepreneuriallinguist.com.

Setting a Fair Price: It’s All about You

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

We are freelancers. We don’t need to maximize profits for invisible stockholders, who tend to only care about their dividends or capital gains and not a whit about language or what we do. For us, the definition of being rich is not to want for anything. We don’t define our wealth in terms of having more toys than the next person. Therein lies the secret to what I call breakeven pricing: making enough money for ourselves and not worrying about whether anyone else is making more or less.

A simple definition underlies what this article is about: the breakeven point is that price above which we are making a profit and below which we are losing money. In other words, the cost of delivering the product or service equals the money taken in for delivering it.

To price any product or service, one simply has to charge more than the breakeven point. How much more is completely irrelevant. This is because if we have calculated the breakeven point correctly, we don’t want any more; the profit is only a safety margin (accountants call it the “gross operating margin”).

In absolute terms, every transaction (whether a translation, an interpreting assignment, or even a piece of pottery at a craft fair) has its own unique breakeven point because the costs of each transaction differ over time, along with the countless variables that go into it. We could go nuts trying to calculate that. Fortunately, we don’t have to. Here are some simple steps to help you calculate your breakeven point.

Step 1: Add Up Everything You Want or Need—Everything

Do this for one year. Include what life is costing you now, but also everything you want for the future. Do this for yourself and your family. Involve your partner and family, and especially anyone who is or may soon be contributing to the family budget. After you make your personal budget list, it’s time to make one for your business. You really should develop a business plan so you know where you want to take your business, but that is the subject for another day. For this first time, just imagine what your business needs to run the way it should, especially if you know you need some items that you don’t have now. (See Figure 1 below for a sample itemized budget.)

Now, add it all up. This is not the time to worry about whether you can afford it or earn enough. This step is for dreams. After all, a plan is just a dream with a due date. You have to start with the dream.

Step 2: Figure Out How Much Time You Have to Make the Money in Step 1

Generally, there are about 2,000 working hours in a year. That assumes an eight-hour workday and a two-week vacation. Human resources experts use 2,000 to figure hourly wages in their heads. For example, $25/hour equals $50,000/year; the minimum wage is only $7.25/hour, which equals $14,500/year.

The problem is that you cannot work 2,000 hours in a year. There are holidays, and you get sick sometimes. As freelancers, we can take time off for more important things than our jobs, but we have to subtract those hours. As an example, a public sector job in Virginia would give you 11 holidays (88 hours) and 80-120 hours of sick leave. That would take 10% (200 hours) off your 2,000 hours right there.

Also, you cannot work on billable, paying jobs all of the time. You have to run your business: get the mail, deposit checks, attend conferences, meet with clients, travel, etc. It’s valid work time, but you cannot assign it to any one client, so it becomes a business expense that is not reimbursed. We call this overhead (or indirect costs). You make each client pay their fair share by taking those hours out of the equation so that your rate goes up enough to cover the overhead. If you’re doing one hour of indirect activity for every two hours of direct work (most businesses are not that efficient), you have an overhead of 33%. If you take a third off the 2,000 hours, or about 667 hours, you’re now down to about 1,133 available hours.

Step 3: Divide Step 1 by Step 2

This will give you the breakeven point, which is the amount of money you need to charge each hour. If Step 1 was $50,000, and the time available was 1,133 hours, you would need to charge at least $45/hour for your time. That is your breakeven point, which becomes your secret number. This means that you will always charge something above that number or walk away from the job.

Step 4: Set a Fair Price

This is where reality sets in. Now that you know how much you need to be making, you can do some serious planning to achieve it—or relax because you’re already charging enough (it happens).

The first thing to do is to get over the shock if you discover that your breakeven point is a bigger number than expected. Some of your dreams may be unrealistic, but you now have the power to look at them and to decide whether to put them in a plan for later or admit that you don’t really need/want them. After all, you don’t have those things now, so it’s not like giving up something.

Similarly, maybe you have more time to make money than you allowed in the first draft of your plan. You could plan to work on Saturdays (like the owner of a retail store) and add 400 hours to your calculation. This is the point where you start to make those adjustments.

Avoid the temptation to cut your holidays or eliminate sick days; leave them in the calculation. If you don’t get sick, or you find yourself alone on a holiday with a job to do, the extra time you put in will be banking cash that you will need someday.

Be conservative and prudent. Remember, these are estimates, not hard figures. When doing your calculations, round up to the next higher dollar, even if it’s only one cent over an even number (e.g., for $44.01/hour, think $45/hour).

There are many other considerations that you can bring into the mix now. For example, if you’re charging well below your breakeven point, you need a strategy for boosting your rate back into a profitable range. You can learn strategies for raising your rates by joining ATA’s Business Practices Yahoo group and going through the old message threads. Once you have your breakeven point, I think that some of the books and articles you read will make more sense. Any “business” advice you receive that causes you to charge less than your breakeven point is nonsense.

In the range that most language mediators work, it would be reasonable to charge about $5 above your breakeven point. So, for example, if my breakeven point were close to what I’m charging now, I might charge $5-10 over the breakeven and then come back in six months to review how well my initial data looks.

Step 5: Setting a Piece Rate

Most professionals charge by the hour, but translators, potters, bootblacks, painters, fruit pickers, and many others must charge by the item. This is known as a “piece rate.” For translators in the U.S., the piece rate is customarily cents per word; elsewhere, it might be per line, per character, or per page. Converting the hourly price that you have set is a matter of knowing how fast you can work. That requires keeping track of your time as you work. Once you know your average speed, your piece rate becomes your hourly rate divided by the number of words (lines, characters, pages, etc.) that you translate on average. For example, if your hourly rate is $50/hour, and you translate on average 500 words per hour, then you should be charging at least 10¢/word.

You can do this exercise using your breakeven point (your secret number) to obtain the per-word rate below which you should be turning down the job. For example, if your breakeven point is $40 per hour and you translate 500 words per hour, your breakeven piece rate is 8¢/word.

Final Step: Have Fun

There are many reasons you might want to take a job below your price range—maybe even below your breakeven point. When you work below your breakeven point, however, know it for what it is: a pro bono, in-kind contribution to a charity or a church, a personal favor, a hobby, or an avocation. You’re not in business under these circumstances, but that doesn’t mean that what you do has no value. Armed with the breakeven point, you can make sound economic decisions for business or personal reasons. In either case, I hope that you always enjoy what you do.

Author bio

Jonathan T. Hine Jr, Scriptor Services LLC

JT Hine translated his first book, a medical text, in 1962 and worked as a translator and escort interpreter through high school and a naval career. A graduate of the US Naval Academy (BS), the University of Oklahoma (MPA) and the University of Virginia (PhD), he is ATA-certified (I-E) and belongs to the National Capital Area Translators Association. He was the founding Secretary-Treasurer of the American Translation and Interpreting Studies Association.

When not writing his own books, he translates book-length fiction and non-fiction from Italian. More at https://jthine.com. Contact him at: jt@jthine.com

ATA’s Back to Business Basics – Effective and Pitch-Perfect Marketing during and after COVID-19

Marketing is a task that even experienced translators and interpreters dread, and it can feel especially daunting during difficult times, like the current pandemic and financial crisis. Should you still be marketing your services to clients? And if so, how can you do that without coming off as salesy and opportunistic? What if your clients are in an industry that was hit hard by the crisis?

You will find answers to these and many other questions in ATA’s Back to Business Basics webinar “Effective and Pitch-Perfect Marketing during and after COVID-19.”

ATA launched its new Back to Business Basics webinar series in September 2020. These webinars focus on a small, practical piece of business advice for translators and interpreters at different stages of their careers. The series quickly became popular: there are usually a few hundred people attending each live session. Members can access these webinars free of charge, and non-members can purchase each recording for $25.

In this first webinar in the series, Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo, a freelance ATA-certified translator working from Spanish and Portuguese into English and ATA’s President-Elect, shared how to deliver pitch-perfect marketing during difficult times.

The first step is finding the right mindset: you need to understand what your ideal clients are going through, what their challenges are, what is coming, and how you can help. As with the stages of “new normal” during the pandemic, businesses will be experiencing different stages of reopening and adjustments and will have to reinvent themselves as the pandemic evolves. The key is to stay informed and be able to make projections on what your clients’ priorities will be and how you can support them.

In her presentation, Madalena showed examples of how some areas that have been hit the hardest (for example, travel and hospitality, education, immigration) are adapting, and how some translators and interpreters have successfully responded to the needs of their clients.

Madalena demonstrated how checking in with clients and offering to help can be done in a tactful and non-obtrusive way. She also gave some ideas on reaching out to both current and new clients during difficult times.

When so many people have been affected by the global pandemic and economic crisis, it may feel that marketing your translation or interpreting services is not a priority. But it is important to continue growing your business, and you can (and should) continue marketing. You may just need to adjust your approach, and this webinar will give you some great strategies on how to do that.

Check out the recording of this webinar and share it with colleagues who may be interested!

Author bio

Veronika Demichelis, CT is an ATA-certified English>Russian translator. She is chair of ATA’s Professional Development Committee, member of ATA’s Membership Committee, blog editor for ATA’s Slavic Languages Division, and co-host of the Smart Habits for Translators podcast.