Translators play an essential role in the modern world, facilitating communication between individuals, businesses, corporations, and non-profits that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. As a freelance translator, your work will involve breaking down borders, freeing the flow of information, and improving people’s lives.
It’s a rewarding profession that allows you to do a lot of good in the world. However, as is the case with all careers, there are challenges that go along with the rewards.
If you’re a talented polyglot who’s seriously considering becoming a freelance translator, the following insider’s secrets will help you hit the ground running on your new career path.
1. Be realistic with your expectations
No matter how talented you are, it will probably take some time before you’re able to do translation work full time. In fact, for many translators, it takes a year or more to make this dream a reality. In the meantime, you may need to stick with your current job or find a part-time role to pay the bills while you pursue your translation career on the side.
It takes time to get everything set up, and more time still to land your first clients and develop a portfolio of work. Don’t stress over the speed of your progress. Instead, be clear about your goals, work hard, and do your best to enjoy the journey. It’ll all be worth it in the end.
2. Maintain your growth mindset
When you start out as a freelance translator, all you’ll be thinking about is growth. Where many newbies slip up is when they’ve finally got enough clients to focus on translation full-time. At this point, they stop their marketing and outreach work to focus on the clients they already have.
While it’s essential to ensure your work is of the highest possible standard, it’s a mistake to rely on just a handful of clients for all your work. Freelancing is an uncertain business. Your clients have no obligations to keep up the steady workflow. And as we saw with the coronavirus pandemic, unexpected events can disrupt things at any time.
To safeguard yourself against the vagaries of freelancing, it’s important to maintain your growth mindset. If you get more business than you can handle, you can always outsource to other freelancers and take a percentage of the fee. This allows you to keep growing your business (and your income), placing you in a far more stable position than if you put the brakes on when you get a couple of big clients.
3. Keep an eye on your competitors
Building from the last point, it should be clear that you need to take some time to get acquainted with other freelance translators. Though they are technically your competition, there are many ways to work collaboratively with them, creating great benefit for both parties.
In addition to outsourcing extra work, you may be able to team up with other freelancers to take on larger projects usually reserved for the big translation companies. However, to do this, you need to get to know people to ensure their skills, work ethic, and core values align with yours.
Keeping an eye on your competitors is also a great way to find inspiration for everything from marketing to web design. Though you never want to copy, it’s important to have your finger on the pulse of the translation industry. This is the best way to ensure you’re not falling behind or missing out on avenues for attracting more clients.
4. Model your business on the big translation companies
Professional translation companies have their processes established in writing, with protocols to follow at every stage of every translation project. This allows them to offer consistently top-tier work, and though it’s inspired by the fact that they’re working with large teams, that doesn’t mean a solo freelancer can’t benefit from emulating their style.
Start with the international standards for translation and build your own set of procedures to follow for every project you work on. Not only will this allow you to guarantee the high quality of your work, but it will also make life far easier when you reach the point in your growth when you’re outsourcing to other freelancers.
5. Never undercut yourself with your rates
One of the most stressful challenges for freelancers in any field is deciding what rates to charge. As a newbie, it’s tempting to offer low fees as a tactic to land your first clients. However, this is a mistake. In addition to the fact that you’ll be selling yourself short and stressing yourself out by working for a low rate, you need to remember that translation is an industry in which quality output is far more important than price.
Clear and accurate communication is essential, so potential clients are more likely to be looking for top qualifications and industry-specific knowledge than a bargain-bin price. With this in mind, a lower rate may actually turn people off.
To determine what’s reasonable to charge, take a look at the industry average earnings. Then do some research to find out what other translators are charging and how they present their fees. From here, take a minute to calculate how much you’d like to be earning and how many hours you’re able to work per week. This will give you a reasonable range within which to set your fees.
6. Find your niche
Though it may seem counterintuitive to narrow down your market of potential clients, having a niche that you specialize in is a great way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. You will likely also find that it’s easier to charge a premium rate for your services if you’re offering additional specialized knowledge.
The top earners in the translation industry usually have a degree in high-demand fields like medicine, law, or engineering. Of course, you don’t need to go out and get a law degree just to be a successful translator. However, it may be worth your while to find a niche you’re passionate about. You should then be able to take a short course, study online, or even leverage previous work experience to give yourself a competitive edge.
7. Don’t be shy about marketing yourself
To get work as a freelance translator, you first need people to know that you exist. Building a platform for yourself can take a lot of time and energy. However, it’s worth the effort to get your name to appear first when “freelance translator” is entered into a search engine.
To get started, you’ll want to tackle the following:
- Develop a strong social media presence
- Create a blog and content creation strategy targeted at growth
- Consider creating a YouTube channel or Quora account
- Develop a subscription list and learn the ins and outs of effective email marketing
- Send your CV to translation agencies and companies that use translators
8. Always ask for testimonials
If you’re doing exceptional work, your clients will be delighted, but few will be proactive in offering you a testimonial. For this reason, it’s worth working a testimonial request into your core processes. Client reviews are one of the most powerful forms of advertising as they lend credence to the claims you make about your services.
You can go about your testimonial request in a number of different ways. Depending on how you advertise your business, you could have clients:
- give you written quotes for your website (adding a picture is a great idea for these)
- write a review for you on Facebook
- add a positive Google review for your business
- Endorse and review your skills on LinkedIn
In addition to endorsing your skills to potential new customers, the review writing process will lock the quality of your work into your current client’s memory. This makes them more likely to come to you the next time they need translation work done.
Freelance translation work: final thoughts
If you’re a hardworking self-starter who loves language learning and thrives on helping people, the life of a freelance translator will be a good fit for you. Are you up for the challenges? Do you feel like the benefits will make you feel fulfilled in your career? If so, check out our guide to getting started as a freelance translator.