How to Break into a Career in Translation: Starting from Scratch

This post is the second (read the first 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.

Starting your freelance translation business from scratch can be a daunting task. Below are a few of the most fundamental questions to ask yourself as you begin to think about building your business.

Do I need further training to become a translator?

There is no one “right” way to become a translator, but most professionals feel it is important to have at least one of the following two qualifications: a) experience (could be from a previous job or volunteer position), or b) training (from an academic program in translation or at least education in another language).

If you are interested in becoming a translator but do not have much experience, taking a course may be a good place to begin. You can find translation courses at many major colleges and universities, some of which are offered online. If you enjoy the first course and want to pursue a career in translation, it may be of benefit to you to meet other translators and get a feel for what it takes to become one. You can even ask them how they got started. If you decide academic training is the best route for you, checking out the schools we have featured in guest posts here at The Savvy Newcomer may be a good place to start.

Academic programs in translation and interpreting range from certificates to PhD’s, and may be either online or in person. No gold standard exists for individuals entering the translation field, and some translators start off with a few years of experience from other sources and then get a degree in the field later on in their careers. It just depends on your situation! Getting a degree or certificate in translation can help to develop your skills, lend credibility to your resume, and give you a network of colleagues and classmates to support you as you get started with your career.

How can I get experience with translation?

There are several ways to get experience when you know another language but have no experience. One is to work with another translator who has at least a few years of work under his or her belt. If you know someone who is willing to work with you and edit your work, this is a great way to learn the ins and outs of translating without worrying about making a big mistake! You could act as a sort of intern or apprentice for this translator, who would provide you feedback and ensure the translation is accurate and ready for delivery.

Another way to get experience as a translator is to volunteer. Some charities and non-profit organizations may have small and low-risk documents that need to be translated (for instance, letters from a sponsored child to his or her sponsor, or brief and informal messages to connections in other countries). It can be hard for these organizations to afford translation of this kind, so they will often seek volunteer translators to help out. Groups like The Rosetta Foundation work to connect organizations with willing translators. Another volunteer opportunity exists in conjunction with the well-known TED Talks, which recruits volunteer translators to subtitle videos into other languages to help inspiration and ideas spread across borders.

How do I find clients when I am ready?

Once you have some experience or training in translation, you are ready to begin looking for clients. For the most part, translators who are just getting started will work with translation agencies that receive requests from a variety of different companies and source each project to the right translator for the job. You may eventually work directly with companies that need your services, but this involves a different level of client education and collaboration. To begin working with translation agencies, consider some of the following techniques for finding clients:

  • Cold emails/form submissions: Find the websites of different translation agencies and search for instructions on submitting your resume to be considered for freelance work. Each company will probably have different instructions—some may ask you to submit a form online, while others will provide an email address where you can send your resume and cover letter.
  • Directories: After you join professional associations such as ATA, NAJIT, or local associations (see a list of local associations here: http://www.atanet.org/chaptersandgroups/index.php), you can usually list your services on the association’s membership directory. This is an opportunity for clients to find you and contact you about your services.
  • Conferences: Many associations hold annual conferences attended by both freelancers and translation agencies (for instance, ATA is holding its 58th Annual Conference at the end of October 2017: www.atanet.org/conf/2017). Oftentimes you can meet agency representatives at booths or networking events and make a personal connection that could lead to freelance work in the future.
  • Contacts: One of the most common ways to find clients is by word of mouth. Translators may refer other translators for work they think suits them, so networking with contacts of all kinds (colleagues, classmates, friends, and family) can help spread the word about your services and let people know you are open for business.

We hope you have learned something new from this post about starting from scratch! Stay tuned for the next article in this series, Services and Specialization.

Technology Considerations for Beginning Translators

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By Tommy Tomolonis

Translators are expected to fulfill many roles in today’s market. In addition to being linguistic experts, translators are also expected to be experts in business, marketing, and, of course, technology, just to name a few. This can be a daunting task, but below are some technology tips and considerations for newcomers to the translation field.

The first consideration for a professional translator is the home setup. A translator needs to have a reliable computer with enough processing power and memory to efficiently handle some of today’s more memory-hungry translation tools.

A computer is only as good as its support system, however, and the first member of this support team is the anti-virus program. There are a lot of options out there, but the better options are the ones that constantly scan your computer for problems. These typically run in the background while you work and don’t slow down your computer as much as full system scans. Regardless of whether or not your anti-virus is constantly scanning for problems, you should also schedule your computer to run a system scan on a regular basis. If these scans significantly slow down your computer, schedule them for times when you aren’t working. Finally, don’t rely on your anti-virus to protect you from everything. Make sure you are also careful of your activities online. Using a work computer to visit potentially dangerous sites could compromise the security of your system and lead to a number of problems.

The next support member for your computer is the Internet connection. Make sure yours is high-speed and reliable. If you work on a laptop, also remember that wired connections are usually faster than wireless ones. One note of warning: free wireless connections in internet cafés, hotel lobbies, airports, etc. are typically not secure. Confidential information—yours or your client’s—can be hacked when you use these open access services.

The next two members of your computer’s support team are not so obvious, but they can save you a lot of stress when you need them: a backup drive and an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). It’s a great practice to back up your data on a regular basis, just in case something gets by that anti-virus. You can either back up your data to an external drive, or you can purchase space online. Just make sure that you’re not violating any non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements by uploading content to an online site, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. Finally, a UPS is your best friend during storms. A UPS provides protection from power surges, just like a surge protector, but it does more than that: it also contains a battery that will allow you to continue working, even when you’ve lost power. A low-end UPS is only about $50 and can provide you with those precious 10-20 minutes you’ll need to successfully save your work, close your programs, and properly shut down your machine.

With a reliable computer setup, it’s time to talk software. Every translator will need the basics: an e-mail application, an office suite, and a translation tool. We’ve all been using e-mail for a while now, but when you plan to work professionally, make sure your e-mail address reflects it. An e-mail address is one of the first things clients see, and it can be a real deterrent when choosing which translator to select. In addition to a good e-mail user name, start using out-of-office replies, like the Vacation Responder in Gmail. These are useful for times when you aren’t working or when you’re on vacation. Clients and project managers use large pools of translators, so letting them know when you’re unavailable saves them time, and they’ll remember you for it.

An office suite is essential since most translatable file formats are word processing files, such as DOC and DOCX from Microsoft Office. Regardless of which office suite you buy, get used to working with formatting. You can display a document’s formatting in Word by clicking the ¶ button on the home tab on the ribbon. Knowing how a document is formatted will help you on projects where you have to mimic the source formatting and improve the overall look of your documents. Just understanding the difference between soft and hard returns, for example, will greatly help your translation tool segment a file. Learning to work with tables will also prevent spending unnecessary time fumbling with tabs and spaces. Viewing documents with the formatting turned on can take some time to get used to, but it soon becomes second nature.

In addition to an office suite, professional translators today need to know at least one translation tool. These tools, often called Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools or Translation Environment Tools (TEnTs), are an essential part of a translator’s arsenal. The most essential of these tools involve the use of Translation Memory (TM). There are a lot of options out there for TM tools, and your choice of tool should be based on your needs as no one tool is best for everyone. Some tools require larger up-front investments, while others can be purchased on a monthly basis. If you don’t have a lot of work yet, you may want to start with a less expensive option at first until your business grows. Some tools even have free webinars that you can watch to learn how to use them better. Regardless of your choice, don’t be afraid of it. Invest the time to learn your tool, and you’ll soon see the benefits. For more in-depth reviews and comparisons of tools, check out GALA’s LT Advisor and the Translator’s Toolbox, a guide that goes into much more detail than I can cover here. Finally, join the LT Division of the ATA and take advantage of the knowledge of other beginners and long-time veterans.

While some of this information may seem basic, you’d be surprised how often it is overlooked. No PM wants to hear the dreaded “computer problem” excuse to explain late deliveries, so make sure your setup is reliable and you know your tools well. Your technological reliability can be one of many reasons that clients come back to you project after project.

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About the author: Tommy has an MA in Translation (Spanish) from Kent University and is working on his MSc in Multilingual Computing and Localisation from the University of Limerick. He is certified in SDL Trados Studio and currently serves as the Assistant Administrator of the ATA’s Language Technology Division. Tommy is also an active participant in ASTM standards. He has worked as an interpreter, translator, and project manager, and he now works as the Quality and Technology Manager for CETRA Language Solutions in Philadelphia.

 

Finding your first translation clients

By Corinne McKay

Reblogged from Thoughts On Translation with permission from the author

I receive a lot of inquiries from people who would like to become translators, and most of these e-mails have something to do with finding those first few elusive translation clients. If you ask 100 translators how they got started in the business, you’ll probably get at least 50 different answers. Some picked up the phone and started cold-calling, some turned an old business connection into a client, some volunteered, some went back to school, some were just in the right place at the right time. Following are some tips on how to break into the translation industry, depending on your interests and level of experience.

As a freelance translator, your two basic categories of clients are translation agencies, companies that serve as a middleman between an end client and various freelance translators, and direct clients, where you work directly for the translation buyer with no middleman involved. Each of these approaches has its benefits and costs; translation agencies can sometimes provide a steady flow of work to their regular translators and provide value-added services such as marketing, collections, proofreading and project management, but in return for this, the agency takes a portion of the total fee they collect for the translation. Direct clients can offer higher earning potential, but often require the translator to perform tasks such as quoting jobs, editing, proofreading, etc. that are usually handled by agencies.

If you’re starting out by applying to translation agencies, remember to play by their rules in order to maximize your chances of getting work. Most agencies have a translator application form on their websites; the “Contact Us” or “Opportunities” sections of agency websites are good places to look for these. Although it feels impersonal to apply for work this way, resist the urge to distinguish yourself by sending in a paper resume if the agency requests an electronic one; what seems to you like a personal touch will only create more work for your potential client, and may get your application materials tossed without a second look. Along the same lines, most agencies prefer not to be contacted by phone unless you are applying for a specific position that they’ve advertised. If the online application form includes a “Comments” field, this is the place to ask for an in-person meeting or introduce yourself as a new translator in the area.

Whether applying to translation agencies or direct clients, there are a few basic rules to follow. You’re applying for language work, so your application materials should be error-free. Make sure that everything you send out is proofed by yourself and at least one other person. When sending inquiries by e-mail, use a clear subject line, such as “German-English freelance inquiry.” Don’t disguise your intentions or make your message look like a response to an e-mail from the agency. State your language pairs prominently. As amazing as it may sound, many people neglect this simple step. Start your e-mail with a sentence such as “I am a freelance English to Spanish translator and I would like to offer my services to your agency/company, etc.”

Use translation industry directories wisely. Translators associations and translation client rating lists are great places to find the names of agencies to apply to, but make sure not to misuse or abuse these resources. For example, once you find an agency in a translators association directory, never (never!) use the contact information that is listed in the directory. Simply go to that agency’s website and follow the application process listed there.

Looking for work with direct clients has some positive and negative points for a beginning translator. As a newcomer to the profession, it can be helpful to have some of the safety nets that a translation agency offers; for example when you work for an agency, your work is almost always proofread before being sent to the end client, which guards against a true disaster if you make a mistake. However, direct clients, especially those located in areas where there are not many translators to choose from, may be more likely than a translation agency to take a chance on an inexperienced translator. Whereas a translation agency has a wide range of translators to choose from with no geographic restrictions, a direct client who wants to work with someone local has a bigger incentive to work with someone new.

If you’d like to work with direct clients, any large businesses, hospitals, or school systems in your area are worth contacting, even if they don’t have obvious international ties. Probably the best source of direct client contacts is international business organizations such as international chambers of commerce since you can be sure that the member companies use your non-English language in their business operations. Joining one of these organizations is also an excellent way to network with potential clients. Try Googling the chamber of commerce for your language pair, i.e. “German-American Chamber of Commerce,” “Korean-American Chamber of Commerce,” etc.

Think locally. Especially if you present yourself better in person than on paper, start out by asking for in-person meetings with every translation or interpreting agency in your local area. By asking for a meeting to learn more about the agency and talk about how you might fit in, you’ll both benefit from the interaction. Don’t be dissuaded if local agencies “have no work in your language combinations right now.” By asking for an in-person meeting, you’ll position yourself to step in when their needs change.

Blanket the field. One of the biggest mistakes made by beginning translators and interpreters is to assume that they will be working full-time after sending out five or ten inquiries. On the contrary, you should expect no more than a one percent return rate on your cold-contacting efforts. A good start (emphasis: start) if you’d like to be working full-time would be to contact 300-500 potential clients during your first year in business. Your prospective clients may include translation agencies in the U.S., agencies in countries where your other languages are spoken, and companies in your area that could use your services.

Keep in touch Instead of just firing off e-mails or making phone calls and then waiting to hear back from your potential clients, keep a log of the person you talked to or e-mailed and what his or her response was to your inquiry. As you get more experience, periodically contact these people to let them know that you’re still interested and available. Let them know what types of projects you’ve been working on, and let them know that you would be happy to help them out with similar jobs.

Once you’ve landed your first few clients, marketing yourself becomes easier in the sense that you have something to tell new prospective clients about, other than the fact that you’re looking for work. In general, even a successful freelancer must spend at least ten percent of his or her time on marketing; for beginning translators this figure may increase to as much as 50 percent, and for those who have been in the business for many years, the need to market may fall by the wayside. However, many marketing experts caution that “if you’re not marketing, you’re dying.” While this advice may seem extreme, it’s important for even experienced translators to prepare for the loss of a major client or a downturn in the economy by keeping up a steady flow of outbound promotion.

How do I get my first paying gig?

By Giovanna Lestermoney-42955_1280

Let’s start from the premise that you already have some training, you know the language and culture you will be working with, and now what you need is some exposure, some clients. Where do you go from here? The answer is multi-tiered and demands determination.

These are my recommendations to anyone about becoming a freelancer:

1. Identify your limitations – I can carry on a conversation in Spanish, but I do not bill myself as a Spanish interpreter. I do not have the training or the breadth of vocabulary.

2. Identify your passions – As a freelancer, you have the ability to say no to jobs you do not like.  Make sure to seek and be available for those jobs you do like.

3. List any work you may have done in the field, including internships – People view experience differently, and internships can afford you a variety of experiences; one of them might be a match.

4. Gather some letters of recommendation – Do not forget to ask for letters of recommendation or permission to refer prospective clients to your internship supervisor. That is a solid referral and you should use it.

5. Rework your résumé focusing on 1, 2 and 3 above – Your résumé should reflect what your customer is looking for. I have three résumés ready to provide to prospective clients. One focuses on translation, the other on interpreting and a generic one for good measure.

Trying to break into any market is hard. One cannot gain experience without a job and you cannot get a job without experience. But you can break the endless loop.

Exposure or introducing yourself

The first order of business is to get your name out there. An effective way to do so is by joining professional interpreting associations or following their blogs, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, for example. By participating in conversations – whether asking questions or contributing answers – you will get your colleagues to notice you.

Also, monitor the associations your clients belong to. If you are interested in working in the courts, for example, find out when the Bar Association in your city is having a social gathering. Make sure to have plenty of business cards on hand, sign up for the event and be in the mood to meet potential clients.

And have you googled yourself yet? This is the 21st century, and that’s one of the first things your potential clients will do. Your professional online profile is usually your first introduction to a potential client. So, make sure the information they can access online complements what you told them and invites them to give your services a try. It is time to streamline your online persona: review or create your online profile.

Making yourself known

Professional events – networking, conferences, symposiums, seminars – are great opportunities to meet colleagues and future clients. More importantly, your presence at these events tells them you are serious about your career, you are looking to improve your skills and you are dedicated to your profession. These are all positive attributes that will count in your favor next time they need an interpreter.

Now you get the picture. But, are you ready to sell yourself? I have a colleague who is a wallflower in network gatherings. That won’t do. Make sure you have your introduction speech ready. It should be concise, casual sounding, informative but not boring, and end with someone taking your business card.

Hope you are ready to go client hunting. The prospects are good!

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About the author: Brazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester has worked in the translation and interpreting fields since 1980. Gio is very active in her profession and in the associations she is affiliated with: ATA, NBCMI, IMIA, NAJIT, IAPTI, and the new ATA Florida Chapter, ATIF, which she co-founded in 2009 and served as its first elected president (2011-2012). As an international conference interpreter, Gio has been the voice of government heads and officials, scientists, researchers, doctors, hairdressers, teachers, engineers, investors and more. She loves to teach and share her experience.

Dear newbie,

By Jamie Hartznewbie

We’ve been in your shoes.

In fact, I’m personally still in your shoes. Last year was my first time at the ATA annual conference, and let me be the first to tell you: it’s overwhelming. But take heart! “Buddies Welcome Newbies” is here to help.

I was a first-time attendee and an undergrad student looking to learn more about this “American Translators Association” I kept hearing about. You may be a student like me, or a mom looking to earn some extra money, a business professional interested in a second career, or a professional translator/interpreter who has just never been to a conference before. Wherever you’re coming from, as a newcomer you will have a lot of questions for the real experts: the people who have made it in this field. Here’s how Buddies Welcome Newbies works:

  • On the Wednesday of the conference there will be a Buddies Welcome Newbies intro session where buddies and newbies will be paired up to swap contact information, do some role-playing in preparation for all the real-life networking both parties will do during the conference, and hear some practical advice from me and Helen Eby, my partner in crime (and a very knowledgeable translator/interpreter).
  • During the four-day conference you will be expected to attend one session with your “buddy,” and to have one meal together. This isn’t a lifelong commitment to be mentor and mentee for as long as you both shall live; it’s just for the conference. The experienced translator will be excited to share their knowledge and expertise with you, and you’ll be glad to have a familiar face in the crowd.
  • On the Saturday of the conference there will be a Buddies Welcome Newbies wrap-up session. Here, you’ll reconvene with your buddy to talk about how the conference went and we will provide you with some helpful instruction about how to follow through on the progress you will have made over the previous few days.

Our goal is to provide you with an experienced translator/interpreter who will help you to make the most of this conference and get a good, strong start in your career. With that said, let me point you to two sites that I know will enhance your understanding of the profession and your preparedness for the conference (that is, in addition to this blog, which you should definitely subscribe to—just click “+ Follow” at the bottom right of the page):

  1. The ATA newbies listserv is an online forum that you can join to post any questions you may have before the conference gets underway. It’s easy to join, and you’ll benefit from the questions that your peers ask on the forum as well. Click here to see the group: http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/atanewbies54/info. You can subscribe by sending a blank email to atanewbies54-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.
  2. The ATA conference website has a page devoted to the newbie/buddy sessions where you can register for our event (this will allow us to pair you up with a buddy, and it will give us an idea of how many people to expect). Click “SIGN UP NOW” at http://www.atanet.org/conf/2013/newbies.htm.

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Next week: Why be a Buddy? From Helen Eby.