Are You Using LinkedIn to Get High-Paying Clients?

If you are spending all or most of your social media time on Facebook, you are missing out on the chance to meet and impress high-paying clients. While it may be fun and comfortable to network with colleagues on Facebook, the clients you want to attract are spending their time on LinkedIn—the #1 business social network.

LinkedIn Helps Freelancers Get Clients

About half of freelancers who use social networks for business (51%) said LinkedIn was “important” or “very important” in finding clients in How Freelancers Market Their Services: 2017 Survey. But only 7% of freelancers said Facebook helped them get clients.

Freelancers who get clients through LinkedIn:

  1. Have a client-focused profile
  2. Have a large network
  3. Are active on LinkedIn

With increased competition for translating and interpreting work, LinkedIn is more important than ever before. Fortunately, it does not take a lot of time or effort to develop a strong LinkedIn presence. But you do need to know what to do, and you need to understand the massive changes LinkedIn made in early 2017.

Attract High-Paying Clients with Your Profile

Want to be near the top of the search results when clients search for freelance translators and interpreters? Focus on the needs of your target clients and how you meet those needs. A client-focused profile can help you attract the high-paying companies you want to work with, instead of relying on agencies.

Write a Clear, Compelling Headline

Your headline is the most important part of your profile. Clearly describe:

  • What you do
  • How you help your clients.

Headlines like “translator,” “interpreter,” or “translator and interpreter” are generic and boring. But you will stand out—and attract more high-paying clients—with a headline like these:

ATA-certified Spanish to English freelance translator delivering accurate and readable translations

OR

ATA-Certified Japanese to English translator • I help life sciences companies engage key audiences

OR

Bilingual (English/Spanish) freelance translator who partners with large companies, small businesses, and entrepreneurs

 

LinkedIn gives you 120 characters for your headline. Use them to write a compelling description and make clients want to learn more about you. You also want to include the keywords that clients will search for in your headline, like: “freelance,” “translator” and/or “interpreter,” and your languages. Certification is a big benefit to clients, so if you are certified, put this in your headline. Include any industry specialties too.

Write a Conversational, Concise, Client-Focused Summary

Your summary is the second most important part of your LinkedIn profile. Remember that it is a marketing tool, not a resume. So make it conversational and concise.

Only the first 201 characters (45 in mobile) in your summary show before people need to click “See more.” In 201 characters, you can write about the first two sentences. These sentences should flow with your headline and offer a client-focused (benefit-oriented) message.

Think about what clients need from translators and interpreters. General needs include:

  • Accuracy
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to translate the message from one language to another without altering the original meaning or tone
  • Ability to communicate clearly with the specific audience
  • Collaborative working style

In your first two sentences and throughout your summary, focus on general needs and needs specific to the type of clients you work with or projects you work on. State how you meet client needs.

Include just enough key content so that clients know that you are the right choice for them:

  • Relevant experience and background
  • Services
  • Education and certification

“Relevant” means what your clients care about, not what is important to you. Concisely describe your work, and use a bulleted list for your services. Include bulleted lists for the industries you work in and the type of projects you work on too.

If you work in a specific industry, include this too. Industries are no longer shown on profiles, but they are still there behind the scenes, and are used by LinkedIn’s search algorithm.

At the end of your summary, include a call to action and your contact information. The call to action is what you want prospective clients to do (e.g., call, email, or visit your website). Include your contact information and your website in your summary and also in the section on contact information to the right of your profile.

Check Your Photo and Background Image

Profile photos and background images are different now. Your profile photo is smaller and round, and in the center of the intro section, Make sure that part of your head has not been cropped out.

The size of the background image is now 1536 x 768 pixels. Simple, generic background images that look great on smart phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops work best.

Use my free Ultimate LinkedIn Profile Checklist for Freelancers to make sure your profile will stand out from those of other freelance translators and/or interpreters.

Build a Large Network and Be Active

LinkedIn’s 2017 changes made your network and activity much more important in search results. If you want to be near the top of the search results, you need to have a large network and engage with your connections—clients and other freelancers.

Make other freelance translators and interpreters a big part of your LinkedIn network. Building relationships with them will help you get more referrals.

Connect with Clients and Freelancers Personally

Use personal invitations to connect with clients and other freelancers. Most clients do not seem to be very active on LinkedIn, unless they are searching for freelancers. But you still want to connect with them to get access to some of their connections and expand your network.

Plus, you will get notices from LinkedIn when a client changes jobs, gets a promotion, posts an update, etc. Congratulating the client on a professional achievement or commenting on the client’s post is an easy way to stay in touch and help ensure that the client thinks of you first for freelance work.

Share Useful Content and Engage with Your Network

Share your own updates about 1-3 times a week. Most updates should provide useful content, like a blurb about an article, blog post, or report related to your work, with a link. Respond to all comments on your updates, and comment on other people’s updates.

Once in a while, you can post a more promotional update. But make sure your connections will benefit from reading your update. For example, if you publish a post on The Savvy Newcomer, you could do a post with a brief overview of the post and a link to it.

Grow your network quickly by inviting relevant people to join your LinkedIn network. Check out the profiles of people who comment on or like your updates, and the people whose updates you comment on. Invite anyone who could be a good connection to be part of your network. I doubled my LinkedIn network in a few months by doing this. Since then, the number of profile searches and views of my posts has grown exponentially.

You can do all of this in about two hours a week, and you can use the work you do to develop a client-focused LinkedIn profile on your website and in other marketing efforts too.

Image source: Pixabay

Author bio

Lori De Milto is a freelance writer, online teacher/coach for freelancers, and author of 7 Steps to High-Income Freelancing: Get the clients you deserve.

Lori helps freelancers find and reach high-paying clients through her 6-week course, Finding the Freelance Clients You Deserve.

The Savvy Newcomer Year in Review – 2017

The year 2017 has been another great one for The Savvy Newcomer, and we are glad you have been a part of it. We thought it would be nice to wrap up this year with a recap of what we have been up to with the blog in 2017 and what we are looking forward to in 2018. We hope you enjoy it!

As it has been since the blog’s inception in 2013, The Savvy Newcomer’s mission is to be “ATA’s blog for newbies to translation and interpreting.” To fulfill this mission, we have continued to post once weekly, generally with new content from our own team or guest authors, but also reblogs from other sources. By the end of 2017, we will have posted over 200 individual blog posts on The Savvy Newcomer during our four-plus years together!

Our blog team is comprised of eight members from a variety of countries and backgrounds, and we meet by conference call once per month to discuss upcoming topics and make plans for the blog. Over the years, we have seen the team grow from the founding members (Helen, Daniela, and Jamie) to include additional and vital support (Catherine, David, and Bianca). In 2017, we added two new members to the team: Emily Safrin and Flavia Lima. Both of them have made huge contributions to our efforts and they already feel like family!

The Savvy Newcomer continues to be active on social media, with a strong following on both Facebook and Twitter. We encourage reader interaction on these platforms and have enjoyed sharing the content of other individuals and institutions through these media as well. Our readership on both platforms is impressive, surpassing 700 Facebook followers and 1,400 Twitter followers during 2017.

In 2016, The Savvy Newcomer became part of ATA’s Business Practices Committee, further encouraging us to achieve our goals of providing relevant and useful content and resources to newcomers to the professions of translation and interpreting. We provide reports to the committee as needed, and ATA uses this committee to support us as we seek new and interesting ways to share with you, our readers.

 

We have had many excellent posts over the years, some of them reaching thousands of individual page views. The three most popular articles posted on The Savvy Newcomer during 2017 were:

  1. Study Resources for Translation Certification
  2. Questions to Ask Before You Accept a Translation Project
  3. Why Pairing up Is a Good Idea, Especially for Freelance Translators!

Readers, you are a diverse bunch! Our blog audience in 2017 came from an astounding 163 different countries. The top three largest audiences for our blog were in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

Just as you may set resolutions for the New Year, we at The Savvy Newcomer have a few goals of our own for 2018:

  • Manage a better balance of translation- and interpreting-related posts
  • Come up with creative new ways to engage readers and encourage audience interaction
  • Reach even more followers who are interested in T&I around the world
  • Offer fun new ways for first-time attendees to connect at the annual ATA conference
  • Continue to post once a week and meet once a month

It’s your turn, readers! What do you want to see from The Savvy Newcomer in 2018? Do you have any questions we can answer in a blog post? Or perhaps you have a guest post in mind that you would like to write for us. Have you set any resolutions? We would love to hear them!

Image source: Pixabay

Unraveling Translation Service Contracts

By Paula Arturo
Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission (incl. the images)

Let’s examine what translation is to the law, what type of contracts translators should have, some of the benefits of having a contract, and resources for drafting one.

A common misconception about freedom of contract is that, when it comes to agreements between willing parties, pretty much anything goes. Although freedom of contract restricts government or other forms of interference or control over freely and mutually convened agreements,1 contracts are still limited by law. Therefore, if the performance, formation, or object of an agreement is against the law, the contract itself is illegal.2

In every area of contract law, what’s legal and what’s not depends on several factors, such as applicable law and jurisdiction. Translation is no exception, and translation contracts are far more complex than they seem. Thus, while one may be inclined to think all that’s at stake are deadlines and rates, the truth is that translation contracts govern sophisticated relationships that may cross over jurisdictions or country borders, often involving third parties and even multiple related contracts.

Contracts are a key element of any business transaction, including translation. To better understand how translators operate, I conducted a brief online survey last year, the results of which were also presented at ATA’s 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco.

As you can see in Figure 1, when asked about whether or not they used contracts, an alarming 48.7% out of 156 freelance translators answered “No,” and an even more astounding 64.1% claimed not to have their own terms of service. (See Figure 2.) The results are surprising, especially when you consider that 82.1% of the surveyed group dealt with direct clients and were not necessarily relying on their clients to provide nondisclosure agreements (NDAs), purchase orders (POs), or any other legally binding document.3

Figure 1: Survey Respondents Operating with Contracts

Figure 1: Survey Respondents Operating
with Contracts

Figure 2: Survey Respondents Operating with their Own Terms of Service

Figure 2: Survey Respondents Operating with their Own Terms of Service

Translation as a Service

ATA members are probably familiar with ATA’s Translation Buying a Non-commodity—How Translation Standards Can Help Buyers and Sellers,4 which clearly explains, from a business point of view, what we mean when we say “translation is not a commodity.” But what does that mean from a legal point of view?

Legally speaking, the contract pie is divided into three parts: contracts for the sale of real estate, contracts for the sale of goods, and contracts for the sale of service. Translation falls into the third category. But translation is not just any kind of service. If you look at the United Nations International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC),5 you’ll find translation listed in Section M. This is the section for “specialized professional, scientific, and technical activities [that] require a high degree of training, and make specialized knowledge and skills available to the user [emphasis mine].” Translation is also defined under Class 7490 as “service activities […] for which more advanced professional, scientific, and technical skill levels are required.”

The reason translation is legally viewed as a service is because it makes specialist skills available to the user. Translation doesn’t require the manufacture or production of goods, nor does it rely on raw materials, which are the standard criteria for something to legally classify as a “good” instead of a service.

Problem Clauses

If translation is such a specialized professional service, where so much is at stake for the end client, why are so many translators operating without the protection of a solid contract? One possible explanation based on the responses of the group I surveyed is that many translators refuse to enter into binding agreements that contain “problem clauses.”

When asked specifically about clauses that have stopped translators from signing with clients,6 the following were cited as being either the most problematic clauses or absolute deal breakers from the point of view of translators:

Spy Clauses: By “spy clauses,” I mean any clause in which clients reserve the right to inspect their translator’s computer. While such clauses may not necessarily be illegal, they should be reasonable and limited to situations that justify the intrusion, such as government contracts involving national security or other high-stakes translation jobs. Before agreeing to such clauses, translators need to make sure that doing so doesn’t conflict with or otherwise breach existing agreements with other clients who could potentially be affected by such inspections. If translators agree and authorize the inspections, they’ll need to take necessary measures to protect all private or confidential information and documents belonging to all their other clients.

Indemnity/Limited Liability: Though not illegal, this is yet another clause that should be limited. When it comes to such clauses, a point that often gets overlooked is that clients, brokers (when applicable), and translators are all equally responsible for ensuring that the translator is actually right for the job. Therefore, placing all the burden on a single party may not pass a fairness test.

Notification of Potential Opportunities: This is the clause by which brokers expect their freelance translators to notify them of potential new leads or market opportunities, as opposed to trying to take advantage of the lead or opportunity themselves. Though not illegal, translators must exercise caution in judgment before agreeing to such a clause and make a thorough cost-benefit analysis of the situation.

Non-compete/Non-solicitation/Non-dealing: These clauses are commonly found in agency contracts. Non-compete clauses are legal in the majority, though not all, U.S. states. (They are also illegal in many countries.) In translation contracts, they are basically clauses designed to stop translators from competing with their agency client. Non-solicitation clauses, on the other hand, stop translators from approaching the agency’s clients or prospective clients. The problem with this clause is, of course, the difficulty of knowing who the agency’s “prospective clients” are. Meanwhile, non-dealing clauses are far more restrictive than non-compete and non-solicitation clauses, and are designed to stop translators from dealing with clients or prospective clients, even if the client approaches the translator and not the other way around. All three clauses are only enforceable in jurisdictions where they are legal and when they are for a set period of time, normally up to one year, though some contracts stipulate up to three.

Payment of Translation Contingent Upon End-client Approval of the Translation/End-client Payment of the Translation: Though also common in agency contracts, such clauses walk a dangerously thin line. A translator’s contract with an agency client is a separate contract from that of the agency with the end client. Unless both contracts are legally interrelated because of the complexity of the business transaction at hand, it’s very likely that the clause is unjustified. Interrelated contracts involve specific types of transactions. Contracts don’t become interrelated by the mere desire of one party to transfer risk to another.

Copyright: If a translation is intended as a work for hire, then the contract should either read “work for hire” or make it otherwise very clear that the translation is intended as a work for hire. Under U.S. law (as well as the law of many other countries), if there is any ambiguity in wording, then the translator owns the copyright, which can then be sold, transferred, or licensed out.

Terms of Service

When asked “Do you have your own terms of service,” an astounding 64.1% of translators surveyed answered “No.” When asked why, reasons varied from expecting clients to be the ones doing the drafting to being afraid of scaring clients away. Some respondents claimed email is enough for proof of contract, which is a claim that is only true in some countries.

While one can understand why some professionals are a bit apprehensive of contracts, the benefits of having a solid contract outweigh the hassle or perceived (though unfounded) risk of sending a client your terms and conditions before working on a translation.These benefits include:

  • Protecting Your Business: Contracts provide a description of responsibilities, establish a timeframe for duties, bind parties to their duties, help secure payment, and provide recourse if the relationship falters in any way. Without a contract, you’re unprotected, and if the relationship goes south, it’s your word against that of the non-compliant party.
  • Covering Attorney’s Fees and Court Costs: When a translation is small, the amount of money the contract is for is usually also small. Therefore, if the translator doesn’t get paid, it may not be worth it for him or her to seek out an attorney and file suit. However, your terms of service can include a provision for reasonable attorney fees whereby the prevailing party in any dispute arising under the translation agreement is awarded his or her reasonable attorney fees and costs. This creates a legal incentive to pay by making it riskier for your clients not to do so.
  • Warding Off Deprofessionalization: “Deprofessionalization, in its simplest form, is the process by which highly educated and skilled professionals are first displaced and then replaced with individuals of inferior training and compensation.”7 Both the legal and medical professions are suffering deprofessionalization through the “substitution of standardized practices and protocols for existing methods of production of professional services.”8 It has been argued that the trend toward deprofessionalization is affecting the translation profession as well.Deprofessionalization often results from the notion that no special qualifications are required to do a certain job. The overall lack of entry barriers to the profession, widespread misconceptions about bilingualism and translation, misrepresentations about advancements in machine translation, and other similar trends contribute to the deprofessionalization of translation. Against that backdrop, I would argue that a well-drafted contract that takes into consideration all the complexities and nuances involved in a translation helps increase the client’s perceived value of what we do, creates awareness about what separates professional translators from amateurs, and helps counter the trend toward deprofessionalization.

Resources for Drafting Contracts

Whether you’re among the 64.1% of translators who don’t have their own terms of service, or you have terms of service and want to update them, some excellent resources include ATA’s Translation Job Model Contract,10 PEN America’s Translation Contract for Literary Translators,11 and PEN America’s Translation Contract Checklist.12 Of course, these models will need to be adapted to your local law, jurisdiction, and particular business setting, so seeking appropriate legal advice from a lawyer in your area is also recommendable. While standard clauses are available online, the way the courts interpret such clauses may vary from one jurisdiction to another. A qualified legal professional in your area can help you adapt them to your particular needs. 

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice or as an offer to perform legal services on any subject matter. Readers should not act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of any information included herein without seeking appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in their state or country. 

Notes
  1. Freedom of contract is “a judicial concept that contracts are based on mutual agreement and free choice, and thus should not be hampered by undue external control such as government interference.” Black’s Law Dictionary 
(10th edition, 2014), 779.
  2. Atiyah, Patrick S. An Introduction to
the Law of Contract, third edition
 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981).
  3. Here is the link to the Translation Contracts Survey: http://bit.ly/
contracts-survey.
  4. Translation Buying a Non-commodity—How Translation Standards Can Help Buyers and Sellers, www.atanet.org/docs/translation_buying_guide.pdf.
  5. United Nations International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities, http://bit.ly/ISIC-classification.
  6. In this section, I use the term “client” in its broadest possible sense to refer to both direct clients as well as brokers and agencies.
  7. Dionne, Lionel. “Deprofessionalization in the Public Sector” Communications Magazine, issue 1, volume 35
(The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Winter 2009), 
http://bit.ly/Deprofessionalization.
  8. Epstein, Richard A. “Big Law and Big Med: The Deprofessionalization of Legal and Medical Services,” International Review of Law and Economics, 
Volume 38 (Elsevier, June 2014), 64-76, 
http://bit.ly/law-deprofessionalization.
  9. Pym, Anthony. “The Status of the Translation Profession in the European Union,” 
http://bit.ly/deprofessionalization-translation.
  10. ATA Translation Job Model Contract,
 http://bit.ly/ATA-model-contract.
  11. PEN America’s Translation Contract
for Literary Translators,
 http://bit.ly/literary-translation-contract.
  12. PEN America’s Translation Contract Checklist, http://bit.ly/contract-checklist.

Paula Arturo is a lawyer, translator, and former law professor. She is a co-director of Translating Lawyers, a boutique firm specializing in legal translation by lawyers for lawyers. Throughout her 15-year career, in addition to various legal and financial documents, she has also translated several highly technical law books and publications in major international journals for high-profile authors, including several Nobel Prize Laureates and renowned jurists. She is currently a member of ATA’s Ethics Committee, the ATA Literary Division’s Leadership Council, and the Public Policies Forum of the Supreme Court of Argentina. Contact: paula@translatinglawyers.com.

Breaking into a Career in Translation and Interpreting: What Next? Services and Specialization

This post is the third (read the first post here and the second post here) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

What services should I offer?

Many translators provide more than just translation services. Since many are self-employed, it can be helpful to offer related services in order to differentiate yourself, serve customers’ needs, and bring in extra income.

Here are some of the many ancillary services translators may offer:

  • Bilingual editing: Reviewing another translator’s work by comparing the source and target texts for accuracy and consistency, and checking the target text itself for precision, structure, and flow.
  • Monolingual editing: Reviewing a non-translated document for all of the above-mentioned characteristics.
  • Transcreation: Translation of a text that involves recreating part or all of the document for use in the target language and culture.
  • Proofreading: Reviewing a monolingual or translated document for proper writing conventions, including grammar, spelling, sentence structure, agreement, and punctuation.
  • Transcription: Creating a written transcript from a spoken audio or video file (may be mono- or multilingual).
  • Interpreting: Orally rendering communication from one language to another (https://najit.org/resources/the-profession/).
  • Content/copywriting: Writing text (creating new content) for advertising or marketing purposes.
  • Localization: Adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market (https://www.gala-global.org/industry/intro-language-industry/what-localization).
  • Copyediting: Reviewing raw text for issues such as errors and ambiguities to prepare it for publication in print or online (https://www.sfep.org.uk/about/faqs/what-is-copy-editing/.
  • DTP (Desktop Publishing): Formatting and adjusting the layout of a document for publication in print or online.

When deciding what services to offer, you may want to consider tasks you have performed in the past—perhaps a previous employer had you interpret, or colleagues and friends have asked you to provide summary translations of newspaper articles or other documents. You may have been the go-to proofreader for your office or done some desktop publishing as a side job or for other purposes. Along with your past experience, think about particular strengths you may have that could pair with certain services: If you are a good creative writer, then transcreation may be up your alley. If you have a keen eye for mechanical errors and grammar, perhaps you are well suited to proofreading and copyediting services. If you prefer to work with the spoken word, then interpreting is more likely to be for you.

You may also want to consider your current software and hardware setup when deciding what services to offer. Translators often use an array of software tools to assist them as they work. These will be addressed at length in a later post, but translators often use CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, editors may use computerized proofreading assistants, and transcribers often use audio editing software and transcription applications to aid in their work.

What should I specialize in?

The first question to ask yourself when it comes to specialization is, “What area do I know a lot about?” Many translators focus on just one or a limited number of areas of expertise rather than attempting to be a jack-of-all-trades. Having and stating specialization(s) gives your clients confidence that you are knowledgeable about the material you are translating, and it can even help you command higher rates as a result.

Specializing can be as simple as having had a previous career in the legal field or volunteering as a candy striper in the hospital for many years. Some ways to develop your specializations or continue to learn about them include attending university classes (online or in person), following journals on the subject matter, and reading in order to develop specialized glossaries.

A few common specializations in the translation industry include:

  • Medical (e.g., clinical trials)
  • Legal (e.g., partnership agreements)
  • Business (e.g., sales proposals)
  • Marketing (e.g., brochures)
  • Software (e.g., computer programs)
  • Tourism/hospitality (e.g., guidebooks)

When you are just getting started, you can choose to indicate your preferred subject areas by listing specializations on your business card, résumé, and/or LinkedIn profile, or you can choose to work with more general topics until you have gained more experience and feel comfortable stating a specialization.

Readers, do you have any other services or specializations you offer that weren’t mentioned here, or tips on how to decide when you’re just getting started? We’d love to hear them!

Image source: Pixabay

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Maryam Abdi

In this second installment of our “Linguist in the Spotlight” interview series, Maryam Abdi, Somali-English translator and interpreter specializing in law, reminisces about how and why she ultimately chose a career in translation and interpreting (T&I) over law school, the elements of successful entrepreneurship for translators and interpreters, why she encourages new translators to think beyond their passions when it comes to specializing, and the pros and cons of working in a language of lesser diffusion.

Law-school hopeful turned translator-interpreter

In my third year of university, I interned at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and I found myself—like many aspiring lawyers—stuck doing clerical work. I wanted to get a “taste” of the legal profession before making the big investment of attending law school. I figured the best way to get my feet wet was to work as a court interpreter and legal translator. I had an excellent grasp of my language pairs (I grew up bicultural and bilingual) and proceeded to research how to become a freelance translator and interpreter. To launch my translation career, I applied to translation agencies while simultaneously working on my translation and interpreting skills.

After several months of experience, I enrolled in the California Court Interpreters Program to take the exam and get registered as a court interpreter. The learning curve was steep, since I was building my interpreting skills from scratch. It was challenging, but I loved the process every step of the way, because I was determined to succeed. After I graduated from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) with a year of interpreting and translation experience under my belt, I came to the decision to not go to law school. At the time, the market was flooded with new law school graduates, and jobs for attorneys were on the decline. There was high demand for my skills as a Somali translator and interpreter, and the outlook of employment in the translation industry was very promising.

Two passions are better than one, and recognition for her pro bono work as a translator-interpreter

In primary and secondary school, I would spend hours teaching myself languages. In university, I decided early on to pursue a career in law. What I love about working as a court interpreter and legal translator is being able to combine my two passions: law and languages. Besides the perks of being location independent, I find the most gratifying part of my work is helping Somali speakers navigate the legal system and exercise their civil rights. I’m passionate about language access for persons with limited English proficiency. Since 2009, I’ve been volunteering my interpreting and translation services to pro bono attorneys representing victims of human rights abuses. One of my proudest moments was being awarded The State Bar of California Wiley W. Manuel Certificate for Pro Bono Legal Services for my interpreting and translation volunteer work. In one year, I volunteered over 100 hours in my spare time while running a full-time translation practice.

In hindsight, the importance of entrepreneurial skills for translators and interpreters

Instead of trying to figure things out on my own, I wish I would’ve reached out to more freelance translators in the beginning to learn from their experiences. Some of the biggest challenges I dealt with early on stemmed from my lack of entrepreneurial skills. Universities prepare students to become employees and don’t teach the skills necessary to run a business. The number of freelancers, contractors and temp workers is on the rise worldwide. According to the personal finance company Intuit, by 2020 more than 60 million members of the US workforce alone will be contingent workers; full-time jobs are on the decline. Translators who strive for success and longevity in their careers must aim for mastery in their profession and learn to negotiate, build a network, sell, and effectively communicate with clients.

Advice on how to avoid pitfalls in one’s early career and choose a specialization—wisely

Besides working on the mastery of translation and interpreting skills (which is a lifelong pursuit), my tip to newbies is to carve out a lucrative niche for themselves so they can find quality clients. On average, a lot of new translators spend too much time tweaking their website, designing business cards and agonizing over their rates; these are all important components of running a successful translation business, but they aren’t what should be focused on initially.

Instead, translators and interpreters should test their specialization to see if there’s sufficient demand for their language pairs in their specialization. This requires them to “listen to the market” by talking to others with the same language pairs, project managers or potential clients in order to gauge demand. Choosing a specialization haphazardly by following a passion is how many translators find themselves struggling to find clients. It’s difficult to create demand. Strategically selecting an area of expertise takes more work up front, but helps many translators avoid “dead-end” specializations and clients that don’t have the ability or the desire to pay for quality translation services.

The challenges and rewards of working in a language of lesser diffusion, and the growing competitiveness in T&I

I work in a niche language. Unlike widely spoken languages, there are limited resources available in the Somali language. For example, most of the dictionaries are outdated and haven’t kept up with modern Somali. This poses a challenge for many Somali interpreters and translators who want to improve their language skills. In the beginning of my career, I tried to enroll in interpreting and translation certificate programs, but realized they were all created for more prominent languages. I also noticed there was a limited number of online and offline courses available to translators and interpreters of languages of lesser diffusion. Although this may appear to be a disadvantage, working in a less common language has helped me think outside of the box when it comes to maintaining my interpreting and translation skills.

Over the years, I’ve created a number of glossaries for my specialization that I’ve shared with other Somali interpreters and translators. Creating glossaries and reference guides has significantly boosted my translation and interpreting skills. Collaborating and consulting with other Somali translators in my specialization and having my work reviewed by colleagues has also been tremendously helpful in refining my professional language skills.

I also try to learn from other industries as much as possible, especially from my target market. I do this by taking continuing legal education workshops, which have dramatically improved my background knowledge in my niche. The barrier to entry in the translation industry is low, and the profession is only going to get more and more competitive in the near future. I have found that high-value clients want to work with translators and interpreters who are experts in their industries. Simply being “good enough” as an interpreter or translator isn’t sufficient to break into the premium market. By taking continuing education courses created for my target market, I’ve not only positioned myself as an expert in my specialization, but I’ve improved my professional language skills.

Maryam Abdi is a registered Somali court interpreter and the owner of Expert Somali Translations, a boutique firm offering Somali > English translations and cultural consulting services to legal and government sectors. Maryam holds a bachelor’s degree in political science/international relations from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She is a recipient of the State Bar of California’s Wiley M. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Legal Services, for her volunteer work as an interpreter and translator for victims of human-rights abuses.