The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Freelance Translator

By Luciano Oliveira


The first few years are the most challenging and daunting of them all. Follow the instructions below to develop a successful career in translation, and avoid common mistakes seen in this career. This guide covers topics specific to “freelance translators”. Although employee translators, interpreters in general, and other professionals of the translation industry may benefit from the content here, our “target readers” are the freelance translators.


#1 Start your translation career

1.1. The Beginning is Different for Everyone

There isn’t a single path for a successful career as a freelance translator. While a translator in the US may go through formal education even before becoming a translator, people in other countries may need to be a translator first to only then be able to afford formal education.


1.2. Check if a Career in Translation is Right for You

Many translators will be bilingual from birth while others will learn a second language later in life. Translators must be detail oriented and like to work on repetitive tasks. A freelance translator can effectively work remotely and enjoy living in the place of his choice while working to translation agencies around the world. Compensation may reach six figures, but the vast majority of the translators will make up to $ 50,000 per year.


1.3. How Much to Budget When Getting Started

Think about the expenses and investments you will need to make. The main investments will be: computer, software, printer, and furniture. This can range from $ 3,000 to $ 4,590. Of course you can take advantage of your existing computer and home furniture to slash this amount substantially if needed.

Ongoing expenses such as internet & phone, software and association fees, if any, should be taken into consideration as well. If not careful with the financials, you can easily shell out more than $ 1,000 a month.


1.4. Know the Different Jobs in the Translation Industry

While translators are the most prominent professionals in this industry, a variety of translation professionals exist: translators, editors, proofreaders, project managers, vendor managers, desktop publishers, business developers and localization engineers being the main ones. These roles match different skill-sets and personalities so chances are you will find your preferred one.


1.5. Decide between In-house and Freelancing

Then you also need to decide between being an In-House or a Freelancer translator. In-house translators are ’employees’ working full-time for an employer while freelancer usually have more flexibility and work for several clients. Deciding between in-house and freelancing is a key decision for your career.


1.6. Get Your First Clients

Translation companies will avoid hiring translators without a history. Some options for getting start are translating for non-profit organizations (i.e.: Translators Without Borders), working for employers engaged in international business (i.e.: travel agency) or living abroad to honing your language skills while making a living.



#2 Pick the right studies

2.1. Decide on the Subject Matter(s) to Specialize In

Before investing big in translation education decide on what kind of subject matter you will be specializing in. Translators who become experts in a specific area will enjoy higher compensation than generalist translators.


2.2. Get the Most Out of Your Studies

Education in translation is a game-changer. It will help you become a professional and increase your earnings substantially.There are different options for academic studies, online education, professional studies and specialization.

Professional degrees give you the theoretical and practical knowledge you need without grounding you for several years.

Academic studies such as under-graduation, graduate studies and masters will help you learn virtually everything about the translation trade.


2.3. Get the Most from Your Studies

Education helps you understand translation concepts, improve your translation skills and get a stronger resume. We know from experience that while amateur translators will waste much of their time sending spam emails to translation agencies, the real professionals will have fun deciding which job they will take from the many offers they receive daily.



#3 Get your Credentials

3.1. Learn the Meaning of ‘Certified Translator’

One of the questions you hear the most is how to become a certified translator. This said, it is still a must for professional translators to have some kind of professional certification in their credentials. Know some of the relevant associations in the translation industry.


3.2. Become a ‘Certified Translator’

Get a certification from an association or school. It may be an entity close to where you live or you can take a test with the ATA, for instance, that……

Once you have received your certificate, make sure to let your clients know you have it. Your resume is naturally the first place to show your new credential conspicuously. Other less obvious places are your email signature and a business card if you have one.


3.3. Get Your Translator Profile Out There

A few other credentials you may consider getting are: approval by your state court system, a Proz profile with points and a proof of voluntary work with some global organization.



#4 Become a Professional

4.1. Change to Full-time Translator

Most translators will work as freelancers. This will give them the freedom to work on what they want for who they like, and when they want. A freelance translator career is perfect for those dreaming about travelling the world while working. A few tips on the change from a part-time job to a full-time translator life can help you in this transition. Once you are on your own, researching new subjects and terminology, and keeping your language skills are up to you.


4.2. Learn the Tools of the Trade

Every now and then we get surprised by the fact that a translator doesn’t have a decent knowledge of a main tool like Word-fast or Trados. In today’s market it is a must knowing how to use these tools. And, being them so easy to use there is no excuse for not knowing.


4.3. Deliver Quality Translations

Although big translation companies have entire departments in charge of that, it is a great skill for translators to know how to format tables in MSWord and taking care of some minor formatting.


4.4. Become a team-player

Many translators choose the profession to be able to work by themselves. However, in today’s market the best translation projects will require a close integration between translators, and translators and other professionals such as project managers, typesetters and localization engineers. Knowing how to work well with others will make you a much more sought-after professional.


4.5. Get Your Translation Rates Right

Get your rates and schedule right. Your rates and schedule will pretty much define the type of clients you will have. Tweak your rates and schedule to make sure you land and keep the clients you want to have. And, of course you want to be paid quick and easily with the best means of payments for translators.



#5 Manage & Promote your Translation Services

5.1. Use the Best Advertisement Ever

That’s by far the best tip we will ever give you: great translators will rarely need to promote their services.If you are not there yet, you can still do things to promote your translation services. An online presence with social media efforts like Facebook, LinkedIn and twitter can help you a lot.


5.2. Keep your Skills Sharp

Keeping updated with the industry is another great way of promoting your business. You may choose to go to a translation conference every other year or maybe more than once a year. For an industry that has changed so rapidly keeping up-to-date is certainly a competitive advantage.


5.3. Invoice and Receive Payments

Get your rates and schedule right. Your rates and schedule will pretty much define the type of clients you will have. Tweak your rates and schedule to make sure you land and keep the clients you want to have.


5.4. Keep your Financials and Taxes in Good Shape

Keep track of your earnings and expenses and file your taxes on time. Keeping a reserve at the bank is an often overlooked requirement for freelancer professionals.


5.5. Enjoy Life as a Translator!

Being a translator does give you the opportunity to know other countries, enjoy a flexible schedule and work with something you love: languages. Make sure you know how to balance the demanding routine of a translator with all the benefits a career in translation can give you.


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