How and Why You Should Diversify Your Freelance Translation Business (COVID-19 Series)

This post was originally published on Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo’s blog. It is reposted with permission.

More and more translators are seeing the need to diversify their freelance businesses these days.

Entrepreneur defines diversification as “a risk-reduction strategy that involves adding product, services, location, customers and markets to your company’s portfolio.”

For many translators, the idea of diversifying their business may have never been a top priority. You may even be thinking, “I’m a translator. I translate. What else could I offer my clients?”

I get it. But being a professional translator doesn’t mean you have to fit into a box of only offering translation services. Yes, you should take the time to hone your craft as much as you can. But as you become more established, diversification is simply a smart business move.

Diversifying your freelance translation business can help you through those bouts of “famine” that so many freelancers talk about.

In fact, the current economic crisis has taught a lot of businesses the lesson of not putting all their eggs in one basket. Those who are thriving are the ones who either pivoted quickly—ƒor example, the businesses that started offering curbside pick-up or delivery or those that moved their in-person offerings to a virtual setting—or those who recognized the importance of diversification before the pandemic broke out and the economy was turned upside down.

Why you should diversify your freelance translation business

If you have not been affected financially by the economic crisis that resulted from COVID-19, count yourself as one of the lucky ones. Maybe your specializations have allowed you to keep your usual workload mostly the same, or maybe you’ve already diversified your business.

I consider myself to fit squarely in both of these categories. And while I couldn’t have foreseen that my specializations (medicine and life sciences) would still be in high demand during all this—and I feel very much for my colleagues who have lost a large portion of their business as a result of this crisis—I did learn the tough lesson of having to diversify my business long before 2020.

Ready for a story?…

About five years ago, I took a bit of a chance (okay, a big one) by letting go of a client that was absolutely draining. I worked for them all. the. time. For many people, this might not seem like a problem. But the pay was not great, and the hours were long. They also didn’t respect boundaries related to weekends and vacation. I was left with no time to market my business to other clients who paid better and respected my work/life boundaries more.

After thinking about it for far longer that I’d like to admit, I made the decision to say “goodbye” to this client. I had a handful of other anchor clients who sent me steady work, and my husband and I were ready to expand our family. While letting go of this client meant that I was also saying “goodbye” to about $50,000 worth of my annual income (yes, you read that correctly), I was confident because I was making enough money at the time that I felt comfortable taking a financial hit for a several months while I looked for new clients to make up the difference in income.

Well, since life rarely works out the way we expect it to, I’ll cut this story short and tell you that my plan didn’t go as planned.

One of my other anchor clients ended up getting purchased by a larger company, and they completely stopped all of their vendor contracts that weren’t considered essential for close to a year while they reviewed their financial structure. Around the same time, I became pregnant with my daughter and my mother became very sick.

Over the course of the following year, I dealt with the challenges of new parenthood while mourning the loss of my mother.

It was a very rough year.

But it was during this time that I also learned to rebuild my business. I had never struggled financially as a freelancer like this until this point, so I felt some confidence in knowing I could find new clients. It would just take some time. I also promised myself that I would never again count on any one client or income stream to keep my business afloat.

Much like the circumstances I was experiencing (which I could not have foreseen), a global pandemic like COVID-19 and an economic crisis of this magnitude are also not something anyone any of us could have seen coming.

But what we can do is be proactive in preparing ourselves for what’s to come in the future (yes, another financial crisis will happen in our lifetimes… at least one more, depending on how much longer you plan to work).

So, instead of kicking ourselves for not diversifying our businesses sooner—trust me, it doesn’t work to keep this up and it isn’t good for your mental health either—we can turn that energy into something more productive by making a plan, even if we don’t know all the steps to make it work just yet.

The answer to the question, “Why should I diversify my translation business?” is simple.

Because it’s just smart business. Diversification doesn’t mean you’re “selling out” on what you’ve studied for years or the reason you became a translator in the first place.

Instead, you’re taking proactive steps to ensure the long-term stability of your business, both during a financial crisis and for the future.

How do you diversify your freelance translation business?

Consider, first, how you can position yourself now for the long term. You may have never thought about positioning yourself, but if you give it some thought and put some strategy behind this process, you can easily be seen and sought as an expert in your specialization/language pair or a complementary skill that you have.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to be known for?

  • What skills do you have that you can offer someone that would help them reach their goals?

Yes, translation can certainly help someone reach their goals, but what else do you have to offer in addition to being a translator?

Perhaps you’re an expert in patent translation. Your clients know it. Your colleagues know it. But you’re not just a translator. You’re an expert in a very complex field. What can you do with this?

Go back to the questions above and consider the challenges that others face with patent translation—both other translators and your clients. What challenges can you help them overcome? What can you offer, in addition to translation or to complement it, that will help them reach their goals?

Others in our professions are already diversifying their service offerings and taking advantage of their complementary knowledge and skills. I know many colleagues who offer editing, post-editing, transcreation, localization, and more. Even if you already offer several translation-related services, perhaps you’re just scratching the surface. Think bigger!

Here are some ideas to help you brainstorm ways to diversify your translation business

These ideas (in no particular order) are in addition to the typical translation/editing/proofreading services so many of us already offer. For all of these services, I suggest getting training and doing quite a bit of research before you begin offering them to clients.

  • Audio editing

  • Consulting for clients and/or colleagues (on a wide range of topics, depending on your expertise)

  • Content/editorial calendar creation and strategy, especially for businesses that need this in your target language

  • Content for language-learning apps (I did for a while, and I recommend training in teaching and—like most items on this list—truly advanced language skills to do this well.)

  • Copywriting and content marketing

  • Ghostwriting

  • Language teaching (I did this for several years at different universities, and it can help improve your language skills while you earn some additional cash. Like most on this list, I recommend training in pedagogy methods before you ever begin teaching, of course.)

  • Linguistic validation

  • Localization

  • Monolingual editing for academics and researchers, graduate students, professors, etc.

  • Multilingual design/DTP

  • Project Management

  • Social media or blog content creation in your target language

  • Subtitling and dubbing (there are loads of resources available through ATA’s Audiovisual Division)

  • Training and teaching (especially virtually right now)

  • Transcription

  • Tutoring and conversation partner services

  • Voice-over work

Almost all of these ideas require you to tap into your language skills in some way, but of course, you could diversify your business with additional services that complement language-related skills, like design, website creation, etc.

In addition to brainstorming additional services that could help you diversify your business, consider additional specializations for your translation offerings.

Research what specializations are experiencing an uptick in volume right now, and ask yourself:

  • Do any of these complement your current specialization(s)?

  • Can you start working in one of these areas right away, or will you need some additional training first?

Check out this tweet (and the comments) from Jost Zetzsche from early April for insights from colleagues.

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 2.16.17 PM.png

As you can see, there are many opportunities to be had.

While I would recommend looking at your current specialization(s) and skill set first, there’s no stopping you from branching out into a completely different area of translation that is unrelated to your normal flow of work.

Get creative!

The point of diversification is to open new doors and to allow your business to still flourish during times when client work may be lacking in any one area.

To figure out how you can best serve your current clients during an economic crisis while diversifying your business, you could ask yourself these additional questions:

  • What are their challenges and goals right now during the COVID-19 pandemic? What will they be in the future, and how can you be ready to help them?

  • Similar to the previous questions, how can you help position your clients for the future? They will be going back to work and will be working at full capacity at some point (hopefully sooner than later). Many will need to communicate differently or more often with customers or put new protocols in place that may require your skills.

  • How can you create additional opportunities to help your clients while diversifying your business? For example, perhaps you translate websites for your clients. Could you possibly learn more about SEO translation to add even more value for your clients? What about multilingual copywriting?

By diversifying your business, you are empowering yourself to handle future challenges. You also get the opportunity to see what else interests you and where you have additional (and marketable) strengths.

How have you diversified your translation business? Or if diversification is new for you, what are you excited to dive into? I’d love to hear from you in the comments at the end of this post.

Author bio

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo is the owner of Accessible Translation Solutions (ATS), a boutique translation company based in Southern California. She is also a Spanish and Portuguese to English translator, specializing in medicine and life sciences. Madalena’s interest in online marketing and copywriting has led her to write and teach about the benefits of using informational content online to attract and retain clients. After seeing the advantages of intentional and strategic marketing in her own business, Madalena now teaches those same skills to other freelance language professionals. She blogs and teaches courses on topics related to marketing your freelance translation business by deliberately building and shaping your online presence. For more information, visit


Savvy Diversification Series – Diversification into Machine Translation

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times. With this in mind, we’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

Taking the pulse of the U.S. localization industry demonstrates what should be an economically prosperous period for qualified translators and editors. It’s true that it doesn’t sound great for the industry to be operating in what the Joint National Committee for Languages calls a period of “language crisis” in the United States. The materials distributed to U.S. lawmakers during the February 2021 Virtual Language Advocacy Days give alarming statistics: “9 out of 10 US employers rely on employees with world language skills[, and] 1 in 3 foreign language-dependent employers reports a language skills gap[ and] 1 in 4… lost business due to a lack of foreign language skills” (JNCL-NCLIS, Legislative Priorities). That is to say, at the same time that the U.S. market is feeling repercussions for its lacking investments in multilingual education over the years, qualified language professionals are in high demand, while the roles being demanded by the market are becoming ever more technological in nature. In article “Future Tense: Thriving Amid the Growing Tensions between Language Professionals and Intelligent Systems,” Jay Marciano points out, “The day-to-day work of the translator of today will be hardly recognizable to a language services professional in 2030.”

Newcomers to the industry are at a particular advantage within these circumstances. During Slator’s Briefing for their Pro Guide: Translation Pricing and Procurement, Anna Wyndham noted that experienced buyers of localization services are less likely to adopt new pricing models, while new buyers from the tech industry and beyond are more open to and indeed may expect “human-in-the-loop” pricing models based on full integration with machine translation. Likewise, savvy newcomers to the translation profession are more likely to adopt machine translation as a reality of the role, while more veteran translators may feel less incentivized to go through the disruptive change of integrating Machine Translation (MT) technology into their everyday workflows. Newcomers and veterans alike who are looking to diversify now and have their services remain relevant for decades to come would do well to incorporate machine translation before the learning curve has become so great as to effectively disqualify one from key markets.

This article outlines key MT-related services to include in your portfolio as 21st-century translators reinventing themselves as language technologists. As language technologists, your expertise in translation makes you an asset at MT-engine training, writing content for MT, and post-editing of machine translation (PEMT) stages. This article considers these services in reverse order, starting with the PEMT services that translators are most likely to perform, before shifting further and further upstream, first to writing for MT and then to training MT engines. The discussion of each service type addresses common misconceptions and key competencies so you can start developing the skills needed to add MT services to your field of expertise. Check out the additional resources section for further reading to continue your exploration of this dynamic service area.

Service #1 – Post Editing of Machine Translation (PEMT)

In Episode 49 of The ATA Podcast, “A Look into the Future of Post-Editing and Machine Translation,” Jay Marciano defines post-editing of machine translation as a “step that a professional translator takes to review and make corrections to machine translation output in the provisioning of… high quality translation[s]” (Baird and Marciano). By rights, Marciano believes that this terminology “post editor” adds specialized meaning to what is already a post editing role. To summarize, traditional translation denotes not only the invention of completely new copy, understood to be the translation of “new words,” but also the act of editing translation memory (TM) output at the segment level, the level of work involved depending on the quality of the contributors to shared, proprietary resources, and the level of match of the source segment for translation to existing segments within the TM, generally starting from 75% percent matches to above. Incorporating segments that have been pre-translated using MT adds another segment type for human post-editing, though the term “post-editing” itself is used exclusively to denote work reviewing machine translation output.

The belief that it takes less skill to post-edit machine translation than it does to produce traditional human translation is a misconception that has circulated in the translation field since the advent of MT. This misconception is tied to several factors. Among those is the outdated perception that MT produces poor quality output that is too repetitive to be interesting for humans to review. Older rules-based or statistical models indeed perform better for content that corresponds to lower levels of the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale for translation performance. The ILR scale is comprised of 5 levels, with level 2 and below indicating limited or minimal performance, and level 3 and above indicating levels of professional performance. Traditionally, rules-based and statistical models have been best geared for texts that correspond to level 2 of the ILR scale, or straightforward texts like sets of instructions produced using controlled language that leaves little room for creative interpretation. ATA certification is a mid-career certification that demonstrates that a translator performs at (at least) a Level 3 of the ILR scale, and older MT models could not at all compete with professional humans for content characterized by the abstract language, implication, and nuance that requires a human mind to be parsed. However, machine translation technology has evolved at light speed, and even if MT cannot surpass the quality produced by human translators, the levels of fluency and correspondence it is possible to achieve using artificial intelligence and neural machine translation is remarkable. The linguistic challenges encountered in this work are interesting for those who enjoy studying the intersection of human and machine-produced languages too.

No matter the complexity of the content that a machine translation engine is designed to pre-translate, MT engines are far from replacing humans. According to the ATA Position Paper on Machine Translation, this is because “Computers can be very sophisticated in calculating the likelihood of a certain translation, but they understand neither the source nor the target text, and language has not yet been captured by a set of calculations.” While the results of MT are getting better all the time, when confirmation of any degree of accuracy or polishing is needed, a professional post editor is the one to do that job. According to ISO 17100 Translation Services – Requirements for translation services of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the professional competences of translators are: translation, linguistic and textual competence in the source and target language, research, information acquisition and processing, and cultural, technical, and domain competences (3.1.3). Professionalism is a competence added to the translator competences indicated in ISO 17100 for MT post editors according to ISO 18587 – Translation services – Post-editing of machine translation output – Requirements. That professionalism entails a knowledge of MT technology, common linguistic errors produced by MT, and Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools, and the ability to carry out linguistic analysis, provide structured feedback to improve MT output over time, and interact with terminology management systems (“5 Competences and qualifications of post-editors” ISO 18587).

To undertake the linguistic challenges that post editing of machine translation presents requires a thorough understanding of key post-editing concepts and how those concepts relate to post-editing specifications. To review, specifications outline the requirements of buyers and expectations of target users that change how localization services are produced. With regards to machine translation, the value proposition of the content being produced will determine whether light post-editing or full-post editing is needed, that is, whether what the TAUS MT Post-Editing Guidelines refers to as “good enough” or “human translation” quality is needed. If light-post editing is called for, such as in circumstances in which speed of delivery takes priority over fluency and stylistics, the post editor will intervene minimally in the raw MT output to make corrections to inaccurately rendered meaning, grammar and spelling errors, and culturally offensive content. If full-post editing is called for, greater checks for consistency in terminology, product names, and mechanical aspects of the text are also employed.

Within either light or full post-editing models, discipline is key, and in post-editing, discipline is demonstrated by using the least number of keystrokes to make only the necessary corrections. Experienced post-editors can quickly distinguish among segments that are good enough, segments that require minor edits, and segments that need to be started from scratch.  Localization managers use post-editing distance – or the measure of the change between raw MT output and post-edited content – to gauge the overall quality of the MT engine and the post editor’s work and to identify instances of over-editing and under-editing. According to Silvio Picinini of eBay, low edit distances can be an indicator of both quality and productivity, since if both the MT engine and the post editor have been well trained, that should result in lower edit distances. For those who are interested in working as post editors or in training post editors, Sharon O’Brien recommends the following curriculum in the 2002 paper “Teaching Post-editing: a proposal for course content”; “Introduction to Post-editing, Introduction to Machine Translation Technology, Introduction to Controlled Language Authoring, Advanced Terminology Management, Advanced Text Linguistics, [and]Basic Programming Skills” (103).

Service #2 – Writing for Machine Translation

In a world in which more-and-more data is being authored on a daily basis than could ever possibly be translated by humans, the authors of a great percentage of that data may not be good writers at all, much less good writers of content intended for translation. Within workflows that incorporate MT, professional linguists have an opportunity to get involved before any content is even imported in the engines that produce the raw output for PEMT. Just like workflows built around human translation benefit if the source content is written for translation, workflows that incorporate machine translation benefit from increased efficiency and quality if the source content is written expressly for that purpose. Localization workflows for human translation already incorporate copy-editing of source content to promote smooth processing during translation, especially where multiple target languages are involved. This copy-editing stage decreases the need for clarification mid-workflow and prevents the extensive rework that results from misunderstandings and poor comprehensibility by identifying and correcting ambiguities and inconsistencies in source content prior to sending that content for translation.

Once post editors have a good sense for the errors that are common to a language pair, subject field, and text type, they will be more equipped to customize recommendations for how to best write for machine translation, and for certain text types and subject fields, the professional recommendation may just be that MT will not suffice. Ambiguities and inconsistencies that should be flagged prior to both human and machine translation include unclear referents, the use of synonyms, long compound nouns, and the misinterpretation of homonyms, among many other textual features. Examples of some common sources of translation errors are provided below.

  • Unclear referent: Group A and group B compared their results, and they [Group A, Group B, or Group A & B?] decided to make changes based on finding C.
  • Potential synonym use: The drying process should take so many days. Once the dehydration process is complete, do this next. [Are drying and dehydration separate processes, or do both refer to the same process?]
  • Misinterpretation of homonyms: Our earnings for this quarter are as follows. [Depending on the context, the best equivalent for “earnings” may be an equivalent that conveys one of these senses: pay, profits, returns, income, etc.]

When getting started with writing for MT, the principles from controlled language and plain language have good general rules that can be applied too. Uwe Muegge’s Controlled Language Optimized for Uniform Translation, for instance, includes such guidelines as expressing only one idea per sentence, using simple yet complete grammatical structures, limiting the use of pronouns by restating nouns instead, and using articles so that nouns can be easily identified; and Plain Language Association International recommends that jargon be avoided and that simple words be employed (“What is plain language?”). The rules for controlled language and plain language may imply that these forms of communication are easy to use, but even identifying the myriad of textual features encompassed by these principles takes a great deal of study, practice, and experience. The Simplified Technical English, a controlled language of the AeroSpace and Defense Industries Association of Europe, for instance, consists of sixty-five writing rules in nine different categories and a dictionary of nearly 1000 approved words.

Service #3 – Training Customized MT Engines

The invention of machine translation has largely remained in the realm of programmers and engineers. Despite the noticeable lack of linguists involved in MT development, so much high-quality data is needed to train customized MT engines that getting corpus linguists involved before undertaking what can be expensive, manual data collection processes makes perfect sense. A corpus is a collection of texts that have been selected for a specific purpose. A general language corpus will include many millions of words, while a corpus of specialized texts written by experts from a specific subject field may include only hundreds of thousands of words to start. Parallel corpora of translated and aligned segments are most frequently sought when training MT engines, whether rules-based, statistical, or neural models. However, high-quality parallel corpora take a long time to build and are exceedingly hard to find in any off-the-shelf format. Because high quality parallel corpora are so hard to find, those training MT engines may turn to comparable corpora, or collections of similar texts in multiple languages, for languages with less resources.

When building monolingual corpora, linguists will be able to identify the characteristics of the most representative data to collect for each corpus upon which the MT engine will be trained. Corpora might include one technical corpus of general content written by subject matter experts in a specific subject field per language and one client-specific corpus of proprietary product documentation per language. Since MT is trained using human produced language, it therefore replicates human biases. Linguists can help identify and mitigate the race and gender biases that manifest in large data sets by identifying specific populations, geographical regions, or language dialects not adequately represented in a corpus. They can help by eliminating any content from the corpus that is not fit for use too. Thus, MT users will not be made to feel insulted by offensive language produced by an MT engine and MT developers can avoid alienating MT users. Salvador Ordorica gives several examples of high-profile manifestations of racial and gender bias in MT and how to overcome it in the article “Avoiding Bias and Discrimination in Machine Translation” published via Forbes.

Most would-be localizers need to look no further than the translation memories under their command to start getting practice managing parallel corpora. Translation memories that contain high-quality content are highly sought-after while being hard to find, and this makes quality TMs exceedingly valuable. When a single person is contributing to a TM, each segment should be tagged with anonymized client and project identifiers so that individual clients’ data can be later isolated as necessary, in keeping with any confidentiality agreements that govern the use of content produced. Linguistic patterns will emerge from overall TMs used to train MT engines if multiple clients’ content is mixed together, so producing distinguishable copy from that content is a challenge that needs to be taken into consideration as well. Linguists can help with the style and terminology guides that make producing distinguishable copy from MT possible. If multiple people are contributing to a TM, keep the number of people contained and their identifiers clearly documented with proper protections over copyrighted assets that include the ability to rate the contents according to the quality of the producer of the source and target segment and revoke access rights, as necessary. Again, take these precautions because high quality TMs make the training of MT engines much more efficient, and these TMs therefore fetch a very high price.

Pricing MT Services According to Skill

In summary, to diversify into the MT services that are already a nearly ubiquitous part of the provisioning of human translation services, translators should develop advanced skills in CAT tools, technology in general, and linguistic post editing, the ability to match services rendered with the quality expectations conveyed in specifications, and knowledge of controlled languages, corpus building and analysis, TM management at scale, terminology management, and data security. Regardless of the wide range of competencies necessary to work in MT, be aware that traditional buyers accustomed to per-word pricing models tend to see the incorporation of MT as an opportunity to purchase translation services at further discounts to TM-pricing models. As Slator emphasizes in the Pro Guide: Translation Pricing and Procurement, new buyers mean that new pricing models are possible. When working with new buyers, shift to value-based pricing models that more adequately compensate you for your rich expertise where you can. Above all, remember that in the design, implementation, and review of MT, teaching the parrot to talk is among the goals, but it is much more valuable if you can teach the parrot to say the correct thing.

Works Consulted & Recommended Resources for Further Reading

Aslan, Şölen. “9 Types of Data Bias in Machine Learning.” TAUS, 2021 Mar 22, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

“ATA Position Paper on Machine Translation: A Clear Approach to a Complex Topic.” American Translators Association, 2018 Aug. 13, Accessed 2021 Apr 1.

Baird, Matt and Jay Marciano. “E49: A Look into the Future of Post-Editing and Machine Translation.” The ATA Podcast, Episode 49, 2020 Sept 24,

Berger, Carola F. “An Introduction to Neural Machine Translation.” American Translators Association, ATA 59th Annual Conference, October 2018, Accessed, 2021 Apr 10.

“ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Translation Performance.” Interagency Language Roundtable, (Links to an external site.). Accessed 2021 Mar. 30.

ISO 17100:2015(E), Translation Services – Requirements for translation services, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015,

ISO 18587:2017, Translation Services – Post-editing of machine translation output – Requirements, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2017,

Legislative Priorities of the Language Enterprise-177th Congress. Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), 2021 Feb, handout.

Marciano, Jay. “Future Tense: Thriving Amid the Growing Tension between Language Professionals and Intelligent Systems.” The Chronicle, American Translators Association, July/August 2020, 29-32, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Massardo, Isabella, et al. MT Post-Editing Guidelines. TAUS, 2016,

Muegge, Uwe. Controlled Language Optimized for Uniform Translation (CLOUT). Bepress, 2002,

O’Brien, Sharon. “Teaching Post-editing: A Proposal for Course Content.” European Association for Machine Translation, 2002.

Ordorica, Salvador. “Avoiding Bias and Discrimination in Machine Translation.” Forbes, 2021 Mar 1, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Picinini, Silvio. “Going the Distance – Edit Distance 1.” eBay blog, eBay Inc., 2019 Aug 8, Accessed 2021 Mar 31. See also “Going the Distance – Edit Distance 2 & 3.”

Pro Guide Briefing: Pricing and Procurement. Slator, 2021 Apr 7, Webinar.

Pro Guide: Translation Pricing and Procurement. Slator, 2021 Mar 19, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Simplified Technical English Specification ASD-STE100. AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe, Issue 7, 2017. PDF.

“What is plain language?” Plain Language Association International (PLAIN), 2021, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Zetzsche, Jost, Lynne Bowker, Sharon O’Brien, and Vassilina Nikoulina. “Women and Machine Translation.” The ATA Chronicle, American Translators Association, Nov/Dec 2020, Volume XLIX, Number 6. Print. Also available via:

Author bio

Alaina Brandt is a Spanish>English translator with an MA in Language, Literature and Translation from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Her professional experience includes roles in terminology, vendor, quality, and localization project management. Alaina is currently an assistant professor of professional practices in the Translation and Localization Management program at the MIIS at Monterey. In 2017, she launched her own company Afterwards Translations to offer localization consulting and training services. Alaina is membership secretary of ASTM International Committee F43 on Language Services and Products and serves as an expert in Technical Committee 37 on Language and Terminology of the International Organization for Standardization. She has been the Assistant Administrator of ATA’s Translation Company Division since 2018.

How to Land Your First Gig as a Freelance Translator

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

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

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

1. Determine how you want to receive jobs

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

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

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

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

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

2. Build a diverse portfolio

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

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

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

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

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

3. Identify your strengths and specializations

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

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

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

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

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

4. Check out online translation communities

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

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

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

5. Create a profile on freelance marketplaces

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

To make the best use of them, you should:

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

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

6. Don’t underestimate LinkedIn

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Author bio

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

Savvy Diversification Series – Don’t be scared! How to Add Ghostwriting to Your Portfolio of Services

“It was a dark and stormy night. A strange figure appeared in the window of the haunted house on the hill as a bloodcurdling scream echoed in the distance…”

Let me start with the bad news: today’s blog post is not about how to craft a spooky story to tell around the campfire. Instead, we are going to look at the other kind of ghostwriting. And there’s plenty of good news to go around.

Behind the Scenes

Put simply, ghostwriting is where one person writes a piece of copy that is published under another person’s name. It’s long been standard practice in the world of celebrity memoirs. But more managers and thought leaders are also outsourcing their writing to professionals, commissioning anything from press releases and blog posts to opinion pieces and speeches. These extremely busy executives might not have the time, the writing skills, or the inclination to put pen to paper. And that’s where ghostwriters come in.

Perks and Pitfalls

As a type of copywriting, ghostwriting is an attractive field for translators looking to diversify their business. Before we dive deeper into the skills that successful ghostwriters need to master, it’s essential to know some of the benefits and drawbacks.

Let’s get the biggest downside out of the way first: You do all the work but get none of the credit. Not only does your name not appear on the final copy, but you also generally cannot use this work in your portfolio or to build your business. Many clients will have you sign non-disclosure agreements so you cannot claim any connection to your brilliant piece of writing, either. Like translation projects, ghostwriting assignments often require quick turnaround, and time is of the essence.

On the upside, though, ghostwriting is usually better paid to compensate for the fact that you don’t get any of the glory. Ghostwriting projects help you forge close relationships with executives. If they are happy with your work, they might well refer you (discreetly) to other big names in the industry. And you will also build soft skills, such as asking good questions, listening with empathy, and understanding different viewpoints.

Write Like a Chameleon

Beyond crafting outstanding prose, good ghostwriters master two main skills: They fully understand the topic they are writing about and can nail the client’s voice. Specialized translators with subject-matter expertise are ideally positioned to work as ghostwriters. If you spend your days translating about contract law, you probably know enough about recent landmark rulings to write an opinion piece for a legal expert. If logistics is your niche, you could likely knock out a blog post about the latest trends for a shipping company’s CEO in no time.

Capturing the client’s voice is a different cup of tea, though. To be a good ghostwriter, you have to have empathy, put yourself in the client’s metaphorical shoes and walk around in them for a while. Just like a chameleon changes color to blend in, you need to take on the client’s persona and perspective. The bottom line is that whatever you are writing, it must sound like something that could have come from their mouth or keyboard.

Get (and Craft) the Message

Executives who use ghostwriters are busy people. Nonetheless, it is important to arrange a phone or video call to learn their voice. Email just doesn’t cut it. Ahead of the meeting, you should have received information about the brief: what will you be writing, what is the topic, how long should the piece be, and when is the deadline?

The call is the time to listen and ask questions. If possible, ask to record the meeting. If that’s not an option, make sure that you take copious notes and sum up what they have said before the call ends to make sure you have understood properly. Be curious and dig deep to learn more about their opinions and outlooks. Ask if there are any words or phrases that the client does not want you to use.

After the call, you can identify themes and consider how to structure the piece. And then it’s time to write. Think about the wording the client might use. Would they use longer or shorter sentences? Would they inject humor or keep things prim and proper? If it’s a speech or narrative piece, you should also read the copy aloud to see if it ‘sounds’ like the client. Once you have submitted your work, it is not unusual for the client to change things here and there. That is part of the process of creating copy that the client can literally put their name to.

Next Steps

If this sounds fun, you might be wondering how to land your first project. As with translation, it’s all about building your brand. An excellent way to begin is to author well-written articles in your specialist field (for the above examples, perhaps an essay on the impact of a ruling on contractual law or a blog post on the top 10 logistics trends in 2021). Nowadays, anybody can showcase their writing on LinkedIn and platforms like Medium, but you should also consider pitching to magazines in your area of specialization.

Don’t forget the importance of word of mouth, either: add the phrase ‘ghostwriter’ to your social media profiles and consider creating a separate page on your website dedicated to ghostwriting.

If this sounds interesting, try and take one small step today. I’m sure it won’t come back to haunt you later.

Author bio

Abigail Dahlberg is a German-English translator and writer specializing in environmental issues, primarily recycling and waste management. She has completed a number of ghostwriting projects (but she can’t tell you who for!). After completing an MA in Translation in 2001, she worked as a staff translator in Germany before relocating to Kansas City and launching a freelance business in 2005.

Over the past 15 years, she has helped dozens of direct clients in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland communicate with an English-speaking audience via her business, Greener Words. You can reach Abigail by emailing her at or visiting

Savvy Diversification Series – How I Became a Translation Editor

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times.

With this in mind, we’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

I was born and raised in Panama. My exposure to foreign languages began at an early age. From kindergarten through high school, I was taught in English, Spanish, and French. I went to university in the United States and graduated with a degree in Languages and Linguistics. My career as a translator began in Panama and continued overseas in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. I had just started working for an LSP in the United States when an unexpected move overseas threatened to derail my nascent career. It actually turned out to be quite the opposite and I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime! As it turned out, the LSP I had been working for in the U.S. reached out to offer me a job as Managing Director of its new translation division in São Paulo, Brazil. In hindsight, I have no idea what they were thinking when they hired an ill-prepared 29-year-old to run a startup operation… But somehow my boss in the US thought I was the right person for the job and it all worked out in the end. At the time, I had been contemplating the idea of returning to school but this seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Over the next six years I would work for this LSP in Brazil, Canada, and the United States. I will always be a linguist at heart but working at an LSP taught me the hard lessons of running a translation business. It taught me to be efficient in producing simple as well as very complex multilingual projects. I remain incredibly grateful for this experience and to this day I feel that most translators starting out could benefit from a stint as in-house linguists.

Some life/work lessons I learned along the way that have served me well over the years.

  1. Understand the business, even if it’s difficult.
  2. Be a good communicator with your clients, your team, and your colleagues. You can never have enough patience!
  3. Mistakes happen. Own them, fix them, learn from them, and move on.
  4. Success takes flexibility, creativity, and problem-solving skills.

After six years, my company decided to sell its translation operations. I wanted to return to freelance work but I felt my experience no longer fit the role of a translator. I wanted to remain a linguist but in a different capacity. I wasn’t sure what exactly I would end up doing, so I needed to take stock of what I loved best about my job. I knew that I wanted to stay in the production side of the industry (as opposed to the business side). There were two production aspects that stood out: the quality assurance process we followed and training sales and production personnel. Could I turn these two aspects into a career? It took many years and many ups and downs to develop my niche specialty.

I currently work as a translation editor and a production consultant for small to mid-size LSPs.

Some of the tasks I perform as an editor are:

  1. Review translations to ensure they meet client specifications.
  2. Post edit MT output.
  3. Work with the client’s internal reviewers to make sure that their changes are appropriate.
  4. Website Language Testing (not functionality testing) that involves reviewing the target language screens in a static or live website and then either reporting or correcting errors.

As a consultant, I found my niche in production consulting for small to mid-size companies. I discovered that smaller companies often have difficulty growing because they don’t have production processes in place to handle larger projects without additional personnel. I help them in the following areas:

  1. Training in project management, costing, and editing techniques. I provide training for sales and production staff.
  2. Internal Process Manuals. I write procedure manuals for internal use by production staff.
  3. Preparing complex documents for translation, writing specs, style guides, and glossary mining and creation.

Developing a niche specialty as an editor

If you are thinking of developing a niche specialty in editing, first determine if this is something you truly enjoy and have a knack for. Good editors possess the following skills:

  1. The ability to analyze a text critically and efficiently and separate oneself from stylistic preferences one may have.
  2. Excellent language skills (grammar, style, punctuation, etc.)
  3. Good communication skills in order to work in collaborative environment (as part of a team).
  4. Superior organizational skills and a detail-oriented nature.
  5. Curiosity and eagerness to learn. Become a proficient researcher.

So where would you start?

  1. Research the current “need/market” for editing services among your established and potential clients.
  2. Trade editing services with a colleague to test your abilities. Compare your approaches.
  3. Sometimes it may be good to have a specialty within a specialty. In my case, about 80% of my editing work is in the field of Life Sciences. Research a few sub-specialty fields that might interest you and determine the demand in this particular domain.
  4. Identify your resources in those fields. They can be your colleagues, local, national or international associations. Attend trainings, webinars or courses to learn more about your new specialty and to network.
  5. Develop an editing methodology (step-by step process).
  6. Start by working on small assignments for the clients you already have.
  7. Make sure you understand the specifications and time involved.
  8. Certifications bring prestige and recognition. Get certified in translation, interpretation, project management, etc.
  9. Grow your network. Opportunities can come not only from your clients, but also from colleagues, joining your local ATA Chapter (or translation organization), attending industry conferences in your niche field and using social media.

Having a niche specialty does not guarantee smooth sailing!

Freelancing in a niche specialty has kept me humble at times.  The translation industry is dynamic, fascinating, and volatile. Clients can come and go through no fault of your own. Their needs change, they can be bought by other companies that have alternate language providers or they may decide to outsource cheaper translation providers overseas. These issues are all beyond our control. The onus is on us to be ready to face these challenges by keeping abreast of trends, technology, and anything that might affect our business.


Society for Editing (ACES)

Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)

Center for Plain Language

Author bio

A native of Panama, Itzaris Weyman is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Languages and Linguistics and an ATA-certified translator from ENG>SPA. She served as Translation Production Director in São Paulo, Brazil and Multilingual Production Manager in Toronto, Canada for Berlitz Translation Services. Her most recent article “Preparing Documents for Translation” was the feature article in the Sept/Oct 2020 edition of the ATA Chronicle and was also reprinted on-line by the Colegio de Traductores de la Provincia de Santa Fe, Argentina.

Ms. Weyman has served as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of FLATA (Florida Chapter of the American Translators Association – now ATIF) and on its Nominating and Bylaws Committees. Contact: