Top 10 tips for new freelance translators

Reblogged from Translator Thoughts blog, with permission, incl. the image

If you’ve never worked in the translation industry independently before, it can be quite a daunting world to step into. How do I find work? Where do I advertise my skills? What competition am I facing? But do not fret! Help is at hand. Read our top 10 tips for new freelance translators below to get yourself off on the right foot and create the best possible base for your new career as a freelance translator.

  1. Structure Your Days

When I began freelancing, I found it difficult to settle into a “normal” routine. One of the benefits of being self-employed is that you can set your own hours. If you want to work 12 hours every day for 2 weeks so that you can have a couple of extra days off, you can! However, just make sure that you don’t become inefficient. One of the traps I started to fall into was getting up late, sometimes missing out on work and then having to work until the wee hours to complete projects. I would NOT recommend this! Try and be strict with yourself; get up early, have a decent breakfast, exercise, get some strong coffee and then start a productive day. On the other hand, if you are a bit of an over-achiever, make sure you don’t end up working 24/7. You have to allow yourself breaks as well and spend time with your friends and family. Find a healthy balance and you’ll feel all the better for it.

  1. Set Your Rates

One of the most difficult things about starting out as a translator is figuring out what to charge. Try and think about how much you (realistically) want to earn and how many hours you are willing to work per week. This will help you decide what a fair rate to charge your employers could be.

  1. Don’t Undersell Yourself

However, in relation to the above point – do not undersell yourself! Although it is tempting to charge almost nothing at the beginning, most companies will be happy to pay for high-quality work rather than pay peanuts for something that is not up to standard. If you charge a decent rate for your work, you will be more highly respected and as a result, will be more likely to get more work.

  1. Figure Out Your Niche

A great way to get more work as a translator is to have a niche market that you are experienced in. Indeed, the most highly paid translators usually have a degree in another subject such as engineering, medicine or law. However, not all of us have experience in these fields and if, like me, translation and linguistics has been your main field of study, think about what you want to specialise in and work on pursuing that goal. Maybe our previous article about how to choose your specialisation could help.

Keep in mind that to identify your niche you might want to define first who your target clients are.

  1. Study, study, study!

When you’re constantly working and trying to get new clients, it can be easy to forget about what you’re actually offering. Make sure you keep your language skills fresh and up-to-date so that the quality of your translations does not suffer. There are also lots of other blogs (here we listed for you the top blogs in the translation industry) out there specifically designed for freelance translators like us, and these can be a great way to expand your knowledge of the translation industry.

  1. Invest In Your Career

As mentioned above, it can be highly beneficial to specialise in a chosen subject when offering your translation services. Why not invest in some new courses? This will show employers that you are taking your career seriously and want to improve yourself as a translator. Furthermore, a lot of companies want translators to use CAT tools, which make large projects a lot easier and faster to complete. The majority of these are pretty pricey, but when you’re starting off why not try Omega T, which is free. You can then invest in more expensive software when you are more established.

  1. Provide High-Quality Work

When starting out, it can be tempting to take on as many jobs as possible in order to get paid and build up your portfolio. However, it is much more beneficial to take your time in order to provide your best work and please your employers. One thing about the translation industry is that you get back what you put in. So, if you provide a rushed translation that hasn’t been researched properly, you will gain a poor reputation and could even miss out on payment. However, if you provide a high-quality, professional translation, it is highly likely that it will lead to more work and will certainly help you move forward in your career.

  1. Market Yourself

One of the best ways to get work when starting out is pretty simple: get your name out there! Companies can’t hire you if they don’t know you exist after all. Yes, it takes a while and yes, it can be pretty tedious. But spend some time to identify your target clients and contact them. Learn how to use social media to be found by your prospective clients.

It’s essential that you build a blog in order to start building your online presence as a freelance translator (it is so important that we’ve build a free guide for you here). Your clients cannot find you if you’re not out there!

And in the meanwhile, you can also send out letters and CVs to translation agencies until you have some direct clients. Remember, you’re investing in yourself and your career so it is definitely worth putting in the groundwork.

  1. Freelance Websites Are Your Best Friend

So, you’ve sent out hundreds of CVs, studied hard and are ready to work. Sometimes, it will take a while for companies to get back to you so in the meantime why not try out some of the freelance websites that are available. Check out our blog post here to learn about the best ones.

  1. Don’t Expect Overnight Success

For the vast majority of people, full-time translation work does not become a reality for at least a year, and a lot of us actually have to get part-time jobs to pay the bills in order to be able to pursue our dream job on the side. Don’t let this get you down. It takes a while to establish yourself, find the right clients to work with and build up a portfolio of translation work. However, if you’re willing to stick it out and work hard, you will reap the benefits in due course.

 

Hone Your Craft Before You Sell—How I Would Have Practiced as a Newbie in Hindsight

 

I made almost every mistake in the book when I was starting out as a translator. However, I recently reflected on what I would have done differently if I knew then what I know now. This led me to come up with a specific self-practice process simulating real-world working conditions that I wish I had followed before selling my services. The system is also designed to provide valuable feedback and data. Now I would like to share this with readers in the hope it proves useful to others.

This post is inspired by one of my favorite Marta Stelmaszak posts, “A letter to my younger self as a translator,” and conversations I’ve had in my capacity as a mentor in the ATA Mentoring Program. So, here are the steps I would follow if I could go back in time.

Identify realistic source texts

Consider what types of businesses are a good fit for your skillset, meet your interest, and have a demand for your services. What industry or industries are you willing and able to specialize in? What types of texts need to be translated in those industries?

If you don’t know, find out. Ask colleagues with similar specializations what types of documents they usually translate. Or better yet, ask businesses in your field what types of documents they usually need translated into your language. Now go and find these texts online in your source language and save them as practice texts.

Identify good target-language texts in your field and compare

Next, find some high-quality, monolingual texts of the same type in your target language. Studying these will help you get a better feel for conventions and terminology in your field and avoid “translatorese.” Then compare these with source-language material to identify key differences and how some standard terms might be translated.

The source-language material should be as realistic as possible, which means it may not always be perfect or amazingly well written. For the target-language material, you should strive to find the best work possible. Look for well-written texts that you can aspire to and learn from. Good writers read a lot and take inspiration from what they readthe same can be said of translators.

Find someone who is willing and able to give constructive feedback

How will you know if you are making mistakes if nobody tells you? How will you know if your work is worth what you’re charging?

Working closely with revisers on direct-client projects has taught me a lot. The feedback from colleagues has been invaluable, and I regret not getting more of it earlier in my career.

It would be ideal to make an arrangement with someone before you start practicing so you can get feedback on your work as you practice. Here are a few suggestions on how to find someone (disclaimer: I haven’t tried these, but in hindsight, I would):

  • Ask an experienced colleague with the right language combination and specialization if they would be willing to mentor you by providing feedback, at least on a few short practice translations.
  • Find one or more other newbies with the same language combination and specialization to look over each other’s practice translations. It can be easier to spot room for improvement in others’ work, and this would be mutually beneficial.
  • Join or a start a revision club for your language combination.

Set up a time-tracking app and a statistics template

Like most newbies, I struggled to determine what to charge when starting out. It can also be hard to estimate how long a job will take. Tracking how much time it takes you to translate various text types is a great way to solve this problem. This will allow you to more confidently set, accept, or reject a deadline, and determine which types of texts are most lucrative for you.

First, you need to choose a time tracking app. There are many to choose from, and I use TimeCamp. You can even track manually in an Excel file or on a piece of paper if you prefer. The important thing is that you record the time when you start and stop working.

Then you will need a template or method of compiling and comparing your statistics. I use a custom Excel file where I enter parameters such as text type, end client, editor, word count, fee, hours, and an hourly rate calculated by dividing the total project fee by the number of hours worked. If you aren’t an Excel nerd, you can use another method or fewer parameters. Just be sure to set up a system that works for you, so you can make use of your data.

Tracking time this way helps you determine which types of texts go faster or slower, which you’re better at, and which ones you might be better off avoiding. For example, if you spend four hours on a 500-word company presentation in PowerPoint and two hours on a 500-word press release, then you know that charging the same fee based on the number of words for both isn’t a great deal for you.

Start practicing and evaluate

Crack open your realistic source texts, start your time tracker, and get to work! When you’re done, send your translation for feedback and editing, and enter your hours into your spreadsheet. Now carefully evaluate the feedback and data.

Imagine this were a billable project and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Would you and your client be satisfied?
  • If not, what needs to change, or where can you improve?
  • Do you need to brush up on your specialization, source-language comprehension, or target-language writing skills?
  • How long did it take you?
  • Would you be satisfied with your earning capacity translating at this speed?

Be sure to try a variety of different text types to get a feel for which ones you’re better at. Repeat similar text types to see whether the practice helps you improve and produce quality work faster.

When are you ready for the real thing?

I think a good way to measure when you’re ready to not only start on a basic level, but work effectively at a high level in the translation industry, would be when you’re confident in your ability to:

  • Produce accurate translations suited to the client’s needs
  • Be clear about your specialization(s) and the types of texts you’re proficient in (know your limits)
  • Quote a rate that reflects the time and effort you expect to spend on the project based on your experience and data from similar work
  • Quote a deadline that’s realistic based on your experience and that won’t jeopardize quality

Although this process may take time and effort, I believe that this type of rigorous practice regimen is better than attempting to learn on the job or winging it, not least because it can be stressful and time-consuming to accurately quote and sell your services as a newbie—you might end up either wasting precious time and energy trying to figure it out on the spot or accepting projects you live to regret.

One might argue that learning on the job means you get paid while you learn, but this could prove a risky gamble if you get in over your head. If you get stuck doing text types that have little to do with the type of work you actually want to be doing in the long term, you might not be learning the right things or might adopt practices and habits that take time to unlearn later, especially if you receive little or no feedback. Finding what direction you want your career to take early on and working hard to achieve your goals will surely give you a flying start.

Do you plan to try any of these methods or similar techniques or have you had positive experiences with a similar type of practice regimen? If you already have some experience under your belt, how would you have practiced in hindsight?

Image source: Pixabay

Bad Business Practices for Freelancers

We often hear about what a good freelancer should be like. But somewhere in between good advice, we let a bad decision slip in. Having a clear idea of what not to do is just as important as knowing what you should do.

Below is a list of bad choices taken from real-life scenarios of the freelance world.

Accept too much work.

Pretty soon, people will start to say one of these things:

  • Oh, when Joe has too much work he works late hours and rushes the work out with no review. You just can’t trust him.
  • When Joe is too busy he starts to subcontract to lower-priced colleagues and doesn’t check their work. You never know whether you are going to get his good work or something else.
  • When Mary is overbooked, she sends unqualified people to interpret in her place. My agency lost a contract because of that already!

Don’t answer emails.

Whether it is from established clients or—even worse—a prospective client, nothing screams “unreliable” like ignoring an email, or answering a few days later without a decent explanation.

Don’t meet deadlines.

Need we say more?

Be late to appointments.

You should arrive early to ask orientation questions, get familiar with the venue, maybe check the speaker’s PowerPoint, so nobody is worried about their communication. When everyone else is on time, waiting for you… this will be your last job.

Overpromise and underdeliver.

We have heard of some agencies that say they always send certified interpreters, but the doctors notice that the interpreters don’t always understand their English. Another translation company said its work always went through a reviewer, but delivered substandard work.

Don’t keep your clients posted on how your work is progressing with a long project, or if you need to slide a deadline because of a natural disaster, or a family situation (yes, these things do happen). Clients would often be quite understanding if you spoke up, or would tell you that this deadline just can’t be changed, so you could find another way to meet it…

Things always have to be done your way, because the translator knows best.

The client is the expert on how the readers respond to the text, so you have to listen to your client and find a reasonable way to deal with the issues at hand.

Don’t show any interest in helping your client’s mission move forward.

Your translations are, after all, intended to help your client’s mission move forward. It is your job to see how you can partner with the client to help with language access in as many ways as possible. They may not have considered some issues.

Don’t explain how you set your deadlines.

Explaining the rationale for your deadlines helps your client see that you are respecting the work you do, and you are not a mindless machine.

Don’t offer improvements on the source text when appropriate.

If there is typo in the copy, they want to know so they can improve it. If there is an ambiguous phrase, they would like to clarify it in the next edition. This does not make you their copy editor, but we do catch a few issues as we translate. We should point them out.

Don’t explain your translation choices.

Sometimes a translation choice may not appear obvious to some bilingual speakers. Explaining it helps your client understand the process of translation better.

Don’t ask questions about your work.

If you never have any questions, your client can’t see much difference between working with you and an automated service.

Have you heard of any of these issues? This is not an exhaustive list. We would love to hear some stories in the comments.

Image source: Pixabay

The Confidentiality Dilemma in the Language Profession

Where should interpreters and translators draw the line?

Last month, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee proposed to subpoena the American interpreter present at the private meeting between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and President Trump on July 16, 2018. Although it sounds like a blow to the profession, it may actually be good news that Congress turned its attention to the occupation of translators and interpreters.

Republicans did their thing: They blocked the request, and professional translators and interpreters everywhere were able to breathe again. The question remains, however: Are interpreters, like attorneys and priests, bound by confidentiality at all costs and under all circumstances?

The answer is neither clear nor simple. For one thing, no specific regulations exist for interpreters or translators. There are no state or federal standards of accountability, no governing bodies or professional oversights at any level, no board exams or education requirement of any kind. In other words, it is a completely self-regulated profession. Anyone can practice as an interpreter or a translator regardless of their background or knowledge.

Unlike attorneys or doctors, translators do not have to prove their qualifications to anyone or operate under any particular professional standard. It is truly up to the person or entity contracting the service to check credentials and provide any non-disclosure agreements required for the particular job or relationship. If this is not done properly, however, the consequences can be disastrous. Let’s recall the story out of Tampa, Florida last December that made national headlines, where a woman claiming to be an American Sign Language interpreter “signed” nonsense at a police press conference announcing the arrest of a suspected serial killer who had been terrorizing the city for months.

Despite all this, for every unqualified person out there, there are dozens of truly dedicated and educated language professionals who operate with integrity. Of course, it only takes one questionable experience to create mistrust within the profession. So, while some of us may have been outraged at the idea of subpoenaing the interpreter at the Trump-Putin summit last month, it may be a good idea to start filling in the gaps of the profession, looking more closely at ethics and confidentiality, including diplomatic settings under the protection of the U.S. Department of State.

Now, whether Congress can really subpoena the interpreter is another question. Surely, this interpreter was bound to secrecy under an iron-clad non-disclosure agreement. And even if not, the rules of conduct and ethics for interpreters and translators require confidentiality in the language profession. The American Translators Association (ATA) Code of Ethics states that language professionals must “hold in confidence any privileged and/or confidential information entrusted to us in the course of our work.” However, this statement cannot be absolute or understood as such, nor is it even legally binding alone. It is merely a guideline set forth by a professional association in an attempt to unify an unregulated profession.

Consider this: In 48 states, physicians, counselors, mediators, and other designated professionals are compelled to file a mandated report when they suspect child abuse, harm to others, and harm to oneself. These are all logical and reasonable exceptions to confidentiality, and interpreters should not be the exception in that regard.

In the case of one state, the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, in accordance with Act 172 of 2006 (42 Pa.C.S. §§ 4411(e) and 4431(e)), has established a confidentiality exception for interpreters: “In the event that an interpreter becomes aware of information that suggests imminent harm to someone or relates to a crime being committed during the course of the proceedings, the interpreter should immediately disclose the information to an appropriate authority within the judiciary who is not a party to the proceeding and seek advice in regard to the potential conflict in professional responsibility.”

Now, in cases of suspected child abuse, the line is pretty clear. The safety and well-being of a child trumps any non-disclosure agreement, without question. But what about when an interpreter is being asked to disclose the nitty-gritty of a private meeting that may expose risks to our national security interests? Perhaps that should become another concrete exception.

Yes, the nature of a bilateral meeting is based on privacy. The interpreter is not a microphone to the public nor a reporter of the meeting. The interpreter is the voice of the participants, who, typically, citizens trust to represent them. The interpreter is not a spy for the American people, nor should he or she be compelled to disclose any details of a meeting… that is, unless the interests of the American people are not being faithfully represented. And to that effect, the U.S. Congress should most certainly issue a ruling.

So far, this matter has been handled from the political perspective. But interpreters in all settings should be prepared for more incidents like this during the next few years. If this issue comes up again—and it very likely will—what happens with this situation in Congress will set a precedent for us all.

Image source: Pixabay

About the authors

Salua Kamerow works as a Spanish linguist for Penn State University – Berks campus. She is a Colombian Esq., Master of Laws from Penn State University, and Master of Science in Translation from New York University. Her interests vary among contrastive stylistics and terminology. She has extensive expertise in the fields of law, energy, community justice, and alternative dispute resolution.

Nikki DiGiovanni is an Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French translator, specializing in financial translation, with a Master of Science from New York University. She currently works as a quality manager for the Italian translation and interpretation provider Intrawelt S.a.s. and volunteers as a translator for Translators without Borders.

Focus on: New Translators (Part 1)

Reblogged from Silver Tongue Translations blog, with permission

You know, the title of this blog post is a bit misleading (arrrgh! I’m breaking my own rules!) I’ve aimed it at “new translators”, but really, these tips serve any translators, be they fresh as daisies or been-around-the-blockers, the only requirement is that they want to improve. (This is all of us, right?)

I got asked to mentor two new translators over the summer, and, once I’d finished my bulk order of anti-aging cream, I decided to view it as a positive thing. I also started to think about how I could be of best service. What would my “tips” be? What did I wish I knew at the start of my career? The video at the end of this post, lovely colleagues, is what I came up with.

In a nutshell (as I’m aware that my videos are more coconut shell than pistachio in size), these are my top ten tips (if you can’t be bothered scrolling to the video):

  1. Translate every day

It doesn’t matter if it’s the back of the shampoo bottle you bought on your last trip to your source language country, or whether it’s an extract from an article you loved (I know what I’d go for), translating every day sharpens your translation skills, makes you a better writer and keeps up your source language proficiency (this last one is especially important if you don’t reside in your source language country).

Translating every day has the added benefit of increasing your productivity because, usually, the more you practise, the quicker you get. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that if you’re working quickly and accurately you’re able to complete more work in a shorter period of time (which leaves you more time for checking, of course!). Whether you pass these savings on to your client is up to you though….

  1. Work out how much you must earn

….then how much you want to earn. Only you know your essential outgoings every month (I’m thinking rent/mortgage, utilities, phone, food….) so only you know how much you’ll need to cover those expenses. Don’t forget to pay yourself a salary! Then have a look at how many days a week/month/year you’re going to be working. Be realistic.

It is simply not feasible to work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, so don’t pretend that it is.

Use these calculations as a basis for working out how much you need to charge. Don’t forget to take into account the total time for a translation – from initial contact, through to translation and then on to editing and checking. It all counts.

  1. Find your “I’m special because…”

Do you have a hobby that you’ve enjoyed for years? How about a part time job or family business you’ve been a part of?

Don’t discount all past experiences which aren’t obviously related to translation as irrelevant.

You have skills, knowledge, experiences and expertise (we all do, we’re not one-dimensional creatures). It might not be sustainable to only work in an area that relates to your interests and pastimes, but if it can form a part of your business it’ll sure make a 25,000 word document more pleasant to pull an (occasional) all-nighter for.

  1. Get yourself a buddy

Friends are important. We know this. In your professional life, it’s no different. I recommend two courses of action for buddying up with a translator:

  1. Find a colleague (perhaps of similar experience to you) who is willing to check your work.

Another set of eyes is always helpful, and you will feel much happier submitting to your client if you know that it hasn’t just been your coffee-fuelled brain working on the document.

  1. Find a mentor.

By mentor, I mean a more experienced colleague who is willing to share some of their knowledge and experience with you. They don’t have to have the same specialisms as you (although that is enormously helpful), their experience in translation and running a business will more than suffice.

  1. Keep moving

It’s easy to stay at our desk. Eat lunch over the keyboard (gross, but we’ve probably all done it), slurp coffee (and probably spill it) over the aforementioned keyboard and generally only get up from our desks when our bladders are threatening to stage a walkout. Take breaks, get outside for fresh air (and perspective, inspiration and Vitamin D). It’s easy to play the role of martyr and say things like “I’ve been translating for 9 hours straight.” That’s not something to boast about. It’s just unhealthy.

Keeping moving means something else too. Keep your business moving. Every day, make some form of forward motion. Some progress. It could be setting your goals for the year. Doing a bit of marketing. Sending out some pitch emails. It might seem that it’s not getting you anywhere, but it is.

Momentum will make a difference.

  1. Give and receive help

I talk about being helpful a lot. I’m a big believer in it. The translation community is open and responsive. Just last week I was having Trados issues and several colleagues (Sheila, Caroline and David to name but a few) jumped in to help me out. David even ended up testing out my document on his version, re-saving the target file for me to use and then later that evening, converting it back for me, just in case I’d had more technical issues. When I thanked him, he said,

“No problem. You shared something months ago and I am a great believer in “pass it forward”.”

This isn’t encouraging you to help people only to get something in return, it’s to say that we’re an appreciative, helpful bunch. And we don’t forget.

  1. Systems are your friend

It might seem like a lot of hassle to have spreadsheets for everything right from the start. It can feel like Excel is mocking you, with your client list filling up only two lines of the cells on the worksheet of your grandly titled “Clients_Master Database”. Equally, calendar reminders for when to invoice may also seem a little…unnecessary for new translators at the beginning. I faithfully set them up and by the time they pinged to remind me to remind the client to pay I had already done it (it’s not hard to remember when you only have one client…)

But you will get more clients.

And when you do, you will be happy to have a list of invoice references, so you don’t have to faff around finding the last one you sent. There are even systems that do this all for you, and link up to your emails and take away the coffee cups from your desk before they walk away on their own (I made that last bit up.)

  1. Sort the essentials

I hate to break it you, but you have to pay tax. You’ll probably also want to retire at some stage with some form of savings and/or a pension. These are two items on the “essentials” list for everybody, not just translators. The difference when you’re self-employed (or even working in a self-employed capacity on a part-time basis) is that you don’t have someone else, i.e. an employer, to handle it for you. Sort this stuff early.

As in the tip above about systems, I know it feels silly to be putting money away for tax when, at the beginning, you don’t feel you’re earning much, but getting into good habits at the start of your career is so much easier than trying to adopt good habits when you’re a more established translator.

  1. Don’t stop learning

Read widely in your source and target languages. Subscribe to magazines in your niche. Talk to fellow translators. Take advantage of CPD offered by colleagues and institutions. Attend events. You never know when a piece of knowledge or a chance encounter will give rise to an opportunity. Apart from the potential business benefits, don’t forget what we all knew as children….

Learning is fun.

  1. Integrity is everything

It’s tempting at the beginning to try and be all things to all people. Accepting that impossible deadline might curry favour with a PM, but it probably won’t be conducive to producing high quality work. Changing your CV to say you’re an expert on quantum physics is only a good idea if you’d somehow forgotten studying for that PhD back in high school.

Some jobs are worth going the extra mile for, some jobs are worth pushing yourself beyond what you’d previously thought you could achieve. But don’t push yourself too far away from what is possible and practical.

Your reputation is worth much more than a single “impossible” job.

Do you have any tips for new translators? Would you be interested in mentoring a colleague? Let me know in the comments!

Image source: Pixabay