Top 10 tips for new freelance translators

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

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

  1. Structure Your Days

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

  1. Set Your Rates

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

  1. Don’t Undersell Yourself

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

  1. Figure Out Your Niche

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

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

  1. Study, study, study!

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

  1. Invest In Your Career

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

  1. Provide High-Quality Work

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

  1. Market Yourself

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

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

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

  1. Freelance Websites Are Your Best Friend

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

  1. Don’t Expect Overnight Success

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

 

9 Useful Questions by New Professional Translators

Training and earning credentials in translation are a massive part of becoming a successful professional translator. But once you’ve finished your training course, then what? In this article, I’ll share nine of the most popular questions that budding professional translators ask me when they complete my Spanish-to-English translation course.

  1. Should I Think about Working In-house?

If you like the idea of being an employee and you’re in a suitable location, this option is worth considering. By working in-house you get solid experience, guaranteed work from the get-go, and ongoing technology training. You learn methods for dealing with clients and managing projects, not to mention how to perform proper quality control.

  1. Do People Actually Make it as Freelance Translators?

Yes. After singing the praises of in-house, I should disclose that I’ve never actually done it. I went into freelancing from TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) in 2009, and am still a freelance translator today. You have to work hard and be self-disciplined. You also have to learn to run a business. So, besides your translation, specialization, and technology skills, you’ll need training on digital marketing, selling, negotiating, customer service, accounting, and time management.

  1. How Do I Choose a Specialization?

Three words: follow the money. If you have a degree or work experience in another subject, then that may be a good place to start. It’s essential to make sure that there’s market demand for your chosen subject. Look for industries where you know the end clients are profitable. That means they’ll have the budget to work with professional translators.

  1. Should I Join a Translation Association?

Yes. As I wrote about in this article on how accredited translators get more work, being a member of a translation association, like the ATA, is a great way of showing your dedication to the profession. It’ll also help you network with other translators, which can result in new projects.

  1. How Do You Get Your First Clients?

Start by making a great CV and building strong online profiles on ProZ.com, LinkedIn, and your translation association. Most freelance translators begin by looking for work with translation agencies. It’s best to go after a client who has a job in hand. So, if they’re putting out ads on translation sites like ProZ.com, or advertising on LinkedIn, you know they need somebody right now.

If you can’t find any immediate opportunities, send out your CV while you keep looking. You must have a good cover letter, realistic prices, and a CV that contains the information the agency needs. For guidance on this, read How Do Translators Showcase Their Talent to Translation Agencies?, which was reblogged on The Savvy Newcomer.

  1. How Much Should I Charge?

Translation agencies will have price brackets they accept for each language combination. They pay at the lower end of the bracket for less-experienced translators and non-specialists, and at the higher end for specialists with more experience. You can get pricing guidance by asking a sample of agencies you would consider working with what they pay freelancers in your combination. You could also try asking a sample of professional translators working in your combination.

Remember that when you set your rates you need to consider all your business costs and the time you spend working. That way you can make sure you offer prices that are competitive and sustainable.

  1. How Do I Learn How to Quote and Invoice?

If you’re talking to good translation agencies, they won’t mind guiding you. Before you quote, read the agency’s terms and conditions, to make sure you’re happy to work under them.

The project manager will normally agree prices with you by email. Mention whether your price includes sales tax, and any other details you want to state, e.g. USD X.XX per source word + sales tax.

There will be official requirements in your country of residence on what an invoice has to contain. You could consult the tax authorities, or visit freelancer forums to find out the requirements. The agency will probably check your invoice to make sure it’s legal for tax purposes, and ask you to make amendments if necessary.

  1. Can I Start Sending Out My CV Without a Translation Qualification?

If you’ve not yet completed your translation qualification exam or program, you can still start marketing yourself. Include your translation studies on your CV and say the results are pending. That’ll give you an excuse to follow up with the potential client a few months later when the results come out, hopefully with good news. I help translators prepare for the UK’s IoLET DipTrans exam, which has three papers. Sometimes candidates fail to get the qualification, but get a letter of credit. Include anything like that on your CV, as it will differentiate you from unqualified translators.

  1. Do I Need to Buy a CAT Tool and Learn About Machine Translation?

CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools are the norm in the industry and serious professional translators own at least one. You may like to read this CAT tool digest published on The Savvy Newcomer for more details.

Machine translation is growing and is set to get bigger. So, it’s definitely worth learning about it. My guest post 10 Things Translators Need to Know About Machine Translation on ProZ.com is a good place to start.

All this may feel overwhelming when you’re starting out. But if you break it down into a to-do list and work through your priorities, you’ll be surprised how quickly you get a handle on it all. None of these issues are worth worrying about. Enjoy the challenges of climbing the learning curve.

Image source: Unsplash

Author bio

Gwenydd Jones is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator and translator trainer. She has two MAs, the first in translation studies and the second in legal translation, and the IoLET DipTrans. A freelance translator since 2009, Gwenydd specializes in legal, business, and marketing translation. She is also a copywriter. You can read her blog and discover her Advanced Spanish-to-English Translation Course, which includes DipTrans exam preparation, at translatorstudio.co.uk. Twitter: @Gwenydd_Jones.

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Corinne McKay

This fourth installment of our “Linguist in the Spotlight” interview series features Corinne McKay, French-to-English translator and current president of the American Translators Association (ATA). If Corinne’s name is familiar, it may be thanks not only to her visible role in the ATA, but to the fact that she is a regular contributor to The Savvy Newcomer and also the author of what many consider to be the quintessential guide for aspiring freelance translators, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. Read on to discover why you could say Corinne was born to translate, how her time spent in Nepal and Switzerland ended up benefitting her translation work years later, and why the formula for freelance success may be simpler than you think.

A birthday to match her calling, and her long-term dedication to the profession at large

In 2002, I had a master’s degree in French literature, a baby, and the desire to find a job where I could use French and work from home while my daughter was little. I quickly gravitated toward translation, and found my calling (proof: my birthday is International Translation Day!). In those early years, I really relied on my local translators’ association—the small but mighty Colorado Translators Association—and on the contacts I made in ATA. I became ATA-certified in 2003 and attended my first conference in 2004, and then began moving up the volunteer ranks, serving as Colorado Translators Association president, ATA French Language Division administrator, and finally joining the ATA Board in 2012.

Mountaineering and the unlikely connection between time spent in Nepal and a French book translation

My favorite project from the past several years was being selected by Mountaineers Books (a US-based publisher of outdoor adventure literature and guidebooks) to translate two mountaineering memoirs. The first was Ang Tharkay and Basil P. Norton’s Sherpa: The Memoir of Ang Tharkay, and the second was Erhard Loretan and Jean Ammann’s Night Naked: A Climber’s Autobiography. These projects were fascinating from a few points of view: I was able to combine my love of and interest in languages and mountains (my husband and I spent four months in Nepal after we got married, and he’s also half Swiss, so I’ve visited many of the places mentioned in Erhard Loretan’s book), and I was able to help bring to life the words of two authors who are no longer alive. Ang Tharkay died of natural causes, and Erhard Loretan was killed in a mountaineering accident. So that was gratifying: to be contacted by Ang Tharkay’s family members who had never really heard his story before. Night Naked was also shortlisted for the 2017 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature; although it didn’t win, it is actually an honor—to me at least!—just to be nominated, and I was proud that it was the only work in translation to be nominated.

A word of advice on success, from the person who wrote the book on the topic

So much of succeeding in your first few years as a freelancer is just showing up. You need excellent language skills; you need to be a good writer (or speaker!); you need to target specializations that are marketable and that you know a lot about and/or enjoy researching and reading about. But in addition to that, you just need to do the boring, tedious, repetitive work that allows you to develop a steady base of regular clients who send you work, so that you can spend your time working rather than looking for work. I get so many emails from translators who say something like, “I’m so discouraged! I’ve sent out 25 emails to potential clients and only two have responded! What am I doing wrong?” To which I respond that during my first year as a freelancer, I contacted over 400 potential clients (and tracked them on paper… I still have the index cards to prove it!) and still, it took about 18 months until I was earning anything close to a full-time income. If your mindset is that you would be so great at this job, if only someone would consistently funnel you a steady stream of high-paying, interesting work, then you should find an in-house job instead of trying to be a freelancer. That sounds harsh, but it took me a long time to accept that very few translators enjoy marketing or looking for work in general; but an ability to force yourself to do that is what differentiates the happy and successful people from those who are just translating what lands in the inbox.

A work in progress: On constantly honing one’s skills and discovering new territory

I always ask clients for feedback on every translation. Some of my clients have in-house translation departments, or the clients themselves speak enough of both languages to give feedback. I stress that even if their feedback is negative, it helps me improve. I also commit to ongoing professional development: taking Coursera classes in my specializations, participating in ATA webinars, and attending lots of sessions at the conference every year. I’m currently working on improving my interpreting—in a sense, that’s not difficult, because I’m starting from close to zero!—but it’s a good way to maintain and improve my spoken French, which is a critical skill since I work with lots of direct clients who don’t speak any English. My “baby” daughter who was my motivation to start a freelance business is now a sophomore in high school, so I’d like to actively pursue interpreting when she goes to college in a few years.

For clients not already knocking on her door, an experiment in handwritten notes

I have a pretty active web and social media presence, so I’m fortunate in that a significant percentage of my clients have found me online. I also actively network with other translators and we refer work to each other. Finally, I try to send out at least one marketing contact every day or every few days to a client I don’t know but would like to work for. My primary marketing method is warm emails, but I’m currently experimenting with handwritten notes. I can report back on how that goes!

Image credit: Pixabay

Corinne McKay, CT is an ATA-certified French-to-English translator and the current president of ATA. She has worked as a freelancer since 2002, translating for the international development, corporate communications/content marketing and non-fiction book sectors. Corinne also writes and teaches for other freelancers; her book How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator has sold over 11,000 copies, and her blog Thoughts on Translation was voted the best blog about translation in the 2016 ProZ.com community choice awards. She will serve as ATA president through 2019.

Email Best Practices: How Not to End Up in the Recycle Bin

It’s bound to happen sooner or later in our careers. That moment when someone thinks you have enough seniority and may be interested in subcontracting. Or your email address somehow ends up on a mass-distribution list. Or you just become the target of scammers.

Whatever the case may be, a message like the one below pops up in your inbox:

Complete with 14 attachments, this is a truly exceptional message that triggers an involuntary reaction in the recipient to hit “Delete.”However, it makes a great specimen to learn about the traits of a fraudulent message, as well as what NOT to do when reaching out to potential clients.

Let’s dissect this message together, but first, a disclaimer: I know our readership spans at least six continents, and perhaps the formulas in this message may be acceptable in your culture. But for the sake of this exercise, I will be analyzing this message from the standpoint of an American-based recipient.

  1. Email address. You’ve probably heard a million times that having an email address from a webmail provider as your work email doesn’t look very professional. But sending a message from email address X, and asking the recipient to send responses to email address Z is a clear indication that a) this message is spam, and/or b) that this is a phishing scam. Notice the domain on the sender’s email address is “@163.com”, which is a known spam transmitter domain.

Result: Hit “Delete”.

  1. Subject. It is true that the purpose of our email should be clear in the subject line, but when approaching potential clients or prospecting, we need to be a little more creative. How about: “Professional interpreter looking for collaboration opportunities in Miami”? Perhaps I would not hit “Delete” so fast, and at least give them credit for coming up with a personalized subject.

In our sample message, notice how the subject was written. Capitalization is off and there are extra periods. That kind of sloppiness is another indication of a fraudulent message.

  1. Being creative doesn’t equal being weird. I’m big on creativity, and I’m all for doing things differently. But opening your email with a strange statement (quote?) that’s supposed to be inspirational (or something) doesn’t cut it.

Some people like citing famous authors, or including interesting quotes in their messages, and I think that’s great and might work, depending on your audience. But it cannot be the first thing your reader sees when opening your email. Find a way to include it in the body of your email or at the end. Such messages should act as tasteful decorations to your main message.

On the other hand, scammers love to include intriguing quotes—often completely unrelated to the actual purpose of the email. I don’t know if it’s the shock factor, but I must confess that I’ve found myself staring at such quotes and trying to make sense out of them. But your prospective client won’t waste their time; they will just hit “Delete”.

  1. Different fonts and colors. Due to the difference in color in the text, there is no doubt that this message is a Frankenstein of fragments. I don’t like to realize that the sender might have copied and pasted the very message he is sending to me 50 times to 50 other people. If you want to make a good first impression, you need to make your recipient feel special.

I get it, we all draft templates that we then modify. And that’s perfectly fine. But your reader can never find out that the message she is reading has had many incarnations before. So, be careful when you copy and paste your template in a new message. Some email clients change the font or its color when you copy and paste directly from another message, or when importing from a word processor.

  1. Make it or break it in your opening paragraph. A memorable quote from our sample message is that this person is a business consultant who also acts as a translator, who then also provides market research. What?

Briefly stating who you are and what you specialize in is perfect. But then going on and on about yourself and the awesome things you could do is a big turn off. You must have a reason to send that message (a reason other than wanting a job, of course). That is, you must have something in common with that person. Why did you choose to send that message to Mary and not to Joe? If you are unable to answer this question, then I invite you to stop and think about it.

Sending messages out of the blue, without a clear purpose and for no reason other than distributing your résumé, is just as ineffective as going outside right now and handing out your résumé to any passerby.

See below for a simple checklist on what to include in your message.

  1. Spelling and grammar. If you’re reading this, then it’s safe to assume you are a linguist, and I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will anyway: Check your message multiple times and use the spellchecker.

This is another classic feature of spam emails: They’re poorly written and plagued with errors, punctuation issues, broken sentences, you name it.

  1. Attachments. The gentleman of the sample message sent 14 attachments, including his résumé, a few sample translations, a couple of inspirational memes, and so on. Needless to say, I didn’t open any of them. Even if he had sent just one, I wouldn’t have opened it either.

Nothing screams “spam” louder than receiving an attachment from a stranger. It’s just a big no-no in today’s netiquette. Even if the rest of the message didn’t raise any red flags, I would never open an attachment from a sender I don’t know.

Repeat after me: Thou shalt never send an unsolicited attachment.

What should you include in your message?

Here is a simple checklist to craft that very important first impression:

  • State your name, what you do (translator, interpreter, both), and briefly mention your areas of expertise.
  • Mention what you have in common with that person (i.e., you attended the same conference a few weeks ago, you both belong to the same group on LinkedIn, you read an article he wrote, etc.) This is your “hook”, that is, something that catches the other person’s attention and makes you stand out. It’s the personal connection you have with that person or organization.
  • State the purpose of your email (to follow up after the conference, to connect, to learn more about the topic of his article).
  • Make sure to include how you think you can help, or your previous experience in the field, or any other piece of information to pique your reader’s interest. It should provide additional information related to your opening paragraph.
  • If possible, include a call to action, that is, a question for your reader (i.e., “Is your agency interested in hiring in my field of expertise?” or “Are you looking for a French language editor?”)
  • Include a link to your website, blog, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, etc., and invite your prospect to learn about you and what you do. Remember: No attachments!
  • Close your email (i.e., “Looking forward to hearing from you”).
  • Include your contact information in your signature.

The above recommendations apply not only when approaching other colleagues, but also if your target is an agency. Recruiters receive dozens of emails daily from people looking for opportunities. Your message should stand out, but in a positive way.

What would you do if you were on the recipient’s end? If you received such a message, would you be interested in reading more about this person?

Think about these simple questions and ideas the next time you send a prospecting email. I promise it will make a world of difference and will increase your odds of achieving your goal. Let us know how it goes!

Image source: Pixabay

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): 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.