Book review: Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator

The translation and interpreting industries have been blessed with a plethora of new books in the last few years. The book I’m going to talk to you about is mostly for new translators and interpreters, curious to explore and eager to learn more about their communities. Let’s see the basics of the book first.

Title: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator
Authors: Oleg Semerikov, Simon Hodkinson
Published: March 25, 2017
237 pages
More details: Translators Book or Amazon

Chapters
1: Getting on your feet
2: Client relationships
3: Marketing yourself
4: Languages and you
5: Practical matters
6: The lighter side of translation

The author starts by listing some types of linguistic services, including a few less “traditional” ones, like copywriting and desktop publishing. That list briefly outlines all the exciting opportunities awaiting recently graduated linguists, seasoned translators looking to specialize in a new type of service, or even non-linguists looking for a career change.

In “Getting on your feet,” Oleg explains what being a freelance translator entails and what it takes to be a freelance translator (being fluent in two languages is not enough, sorry). I quite like that part; it’s useful for all those second cousins and my mum’s friends’ children who ask if they can be a translator like me. Instead of spending 20 minutes on the phone explaining why it doesn’t sound like a good idea (because not one of those people ever had anything to do with languages and no future whatsoever as a translator), I could have just recited the following list.

To be a freelance translator, the following is required: native speaker of target language, fluency in source language, specialist subject knowledge (you can’t just translate anything and everything), advanced training (university, classes, qualifications, accreditations), working experience, key skills (linguistic and others), professionalism (you’re a business after all).

In “Client relationships,” Oleg starts with explaining the difference between translation agencies and direct clients. The focus then stays on agencies: how to maintain a good relationship, how to research them to avoid non-payers, how to trust them. There’s also a part about rates with specific examples, which is quite rare to find in books about translation; however, it mostly covers translation agency rates and only translation, not the other types of linguistic services.

This chapter closes with a very interesting section: what to ask your client before starting a translation project. I remember creating a checklist like that already four or five years into my translation career, a standard template to include in emails or to ask over the phone during initial client enquiries. Apart from this first set of questions, Oleg also focuses on the importance of asking questions during translation projects and provides examples.

“Marketing yourself” starts with an important principle: being a freelance translator means running your own business. And believe me, this, along with knowing your own value, takes a while to sink in, especially at the beginning of a translator’s career. This part includes tips on building a translation portfolio, how to use social media for business, and how to find your USPs (unique selling points, which means the combination of features that make your business special).

In “Languages and you,” the author describes some of the different markets or niches a translator can specialize in: video games, technical (including tips for readable technical translations), marketing, literary. Then, he explores ways of keeping up with our source and target languages and mentions some reference tools for English.

“Practical matters” starts with a few tips from freelance translators. My favorite was Clara’s secret to a happy work life, the four Cs: composure, calm, caffeine and cake. Have you seen that image of a cityscape at night and an apartment building with only one light on? That’s probably a translator working! In the first three to four years of my translation career, I spent more nights and weekends working than I want to admit. Then, I finally learned how to say no and how to put family time and my health over work. Oleg calls this “capacity management” and offers helpful tips. Next comes a section on SEO (search engine optimization), another quite interesting niche for translators, especially for marketing translators and website localizers.

“The lighter side of translation” includes a brief history of translation, how to work from home away from home (digital nomads), and how we can beat the loneliness of freelancing (co-working is on the rise and the options are endless).

An important part of this book is the appendix, which includes useful resources for translators. I’m a big fan of lists; I love to explore resources and this section was like Christmas morning for me. Quick list of the resources mentioned: CAT and QA tools, online glossaries, thesauruses and encyclopedias, dictionaries and glossaries by subject, translation blogs (The Savvy Newcomer is there too; thanks Oleg!), podcasts for translators, popular LinkedIn and Facebook groups for translators, webinars and annual conferences, worldwide associations for translators and interpreters, and a list of the 100 largest translation companies according to the Common Sense Advisory 2016 report.

Overall, I liked the book. I think it’s a good read, especially for newbies in the translation industry. Nonacademic books that focus on the translation business can be overwhelming in some cases, because they cover so many aspects and you might think, “How am I supposed to do all that, fresh out of university?” The writing style in this book feels more personal, like reading a blog.

Have you read the book? Did it help or inspire you in any way? Any other similar books that you enjoyed reading and would like to recommend for our future book reviews?

Capacity management tips for freelance translators

By Oleg Semerikov (@TranslatFamily)
Reblogged from 
LinkedIn with permission from the author (incl. the image)

Capacity management tips for freelance translatorsSo your translation business is going well. You’ve got a reliable set of customers who you like and work well with, and projects are coming in on a regular basis. You’re living the freelancer’s dream of steady self-employment. And then one morning, you look at your to-do list and do a double take. You have to do how much work today?

Finding yourself over capacity is something that happens to every freelancer occasionally. It’s a bit of a mixed blessing, to say the least. On the one hand, you know you have work – and therefore money – coming in. But on the other, it can be difficult to look on the bright side when you’re forced to keep working late into the night, fretting about missing deadlines or making mistakes because you’re in a rush. So, in hopes of helping you deal with the problem next time it comes up, we’re here to offer a few handy tips on how to manage your capacity and maybe even de-stress a little.

Although our very first tip is to clear your current workload before settling down to read this article, we hope those of you with a few minutes to spare will read on and enjoy!

Don’t panic!

Yes, we know that’s the last thing a panicking person actually wants to hear. Yes, we know that on-time delivery is a key part of quality customer service – but it’s going to be OK. Trust us. You’re a professional, which means you have the expertise and the skills needed to handle this problem. And even if you do overshoot the deadline slightly, it’s not the end of the world – and we’ll discuss how to handle that situation later in this article.

At the moment when you realise you’ve taken on too much work, it can seem like a disaster, but there’s no sense wasting time by beating yourself up over it. The best thing you can do is make yourself a hot drink, sit down and put those translating skills to work.

Don’t compromise on quality

If the deadline crunch is looming and it’s looking like you can’t get everything done in time, it can be very tempting to rush through a translation, sacrificing quality to get it done quickly. That’s almost never the correct decision. After all, a translation’s life cycle doesn’t end when you deliver it; it still has to be usable by the customer.

A better solution would be to keep the customer in the loop. Apologise, notify them of the delay, and give them a revised estimate of when the document will be ready – and do this as soon as you can, so that they can make a decision about how to handle the situation on their end.

Ideally, of course, you don’t want to let it get to that stage at all. So what can you do to avoid missing deadlines in the first place?

Know your capacity

Observe your own working processes over a period of days and weeks, and keep track of how quickly you’re able to turn a translation around. Measure your results in terms of words per hour or day. Chances are, you’ll start to see a pattern emerging which will allow you to determine how quickly you actually work. Needless to say, this is a much better approach than just guessing, or assuming that a customer’s suggested deadline is feasible without checking it for yourself. Measuring your actual output rate will make it easier for you to provide quotes and estimate how long a given translation will take to complete, which will come in very handy when negotiating rates and deadlines.

Keep an organised calendar

Make a list of everything you’re working on. Write down every job you’ve been given, when it was assigned to you, when it’s due, and how large it is. Then, based on your translation-speed calculations, allocate a block of time in your calendar for working on it. This could be a paper calendar hanging on the wall, but a digital one is even better for updating details, moving projects around, and finding items with a simple search. These days, there are plenty of software products that can help with this. Most modern email software includes calendar functionality, including the reliable old standby Microsoft Outlook, or alternatively you could use a free cloud-based solution like Google Calendar.

However you choose to organise your work, keeping it all together in one place will help you plan ahead and understand how much spare capacity you have for other jobs that come in.

Don’t be afraid to say no

If too much work does come in and you simply don’t have the time to handle it all, don’t be afraid to turn the occasional job down. Most agencies would rather that you be honest with them and tell them when you don’t have time to handle a specific project, instead of accepting it now and having to delay delivery later. Think of it the same way as you would if you were offered a job you couldn’t take because it was outside your field of specialisation: saying no is sometimes a sign of professionalism, and worthy of respect. Besides, if they really want you, specifically, to take the job, then they may be able to offer you an extended deadline. It never hurts to ask!

In the end, it all boils down to a simple rule: think ahead. If you’re aware of your responsibilities and able to plan your work beyond your next few hours and days, you shouldn’t have to deal with these kinds of problems very often – if ever. But tips like these may help even if you’re already the fastest, most organised translator on Planet Earth. After all, one of the great benefits of being a freelancer is your flexibility: if you feel like earning a little extra money, you can always put in a few extra hours here and there. Planning your work ahead of time lets you manage those extra hours, as well, keeping stress levels down and productivity up. And your customers receive the translations they need, exactly when they need them – so everybody wins!

Author bio

Oleg SemerikovOleg Semerikov started as an English to Russian freelance translator ten years ago. Nowadays, he runs his own company, Translators Family, a boutique translation agency specialising in Russian, Ukrainian and Polish, with expertise in English, German, and other European languages. Many long-term customers of Oleg as a freelancer became the permanent customers of his agency. Translators Family on social media: FacebookTwitterGoogle+