Like any career, the path of the freelance translator has its pros and cons. Working from home on a flexible timetable is definitely a plus, but living without a fixed, monthly wage for some people is a frightening prospect.
Building up clients in the freelance translating industry takes time and it is highly unrealistic to expect to be earning the top rates when you’re just starting out. Reputation is everything in this business and the following tips are designed to help new freelance translators gain the necessary experience required to begin growing their client base.
1. Specialize in one area
One of the best ways of acquiring experience as a freelance translator is to specialize in one area. It’s best if you select an area in which you already have a lot of training or knowledge. For instance, if your degree happens to be in Engineering, it’s a good idea to focus on finding interested clients in that industry. Good translation requires more than a detailed knowledge of two languages. It also requires an in-depth knowledge of the industry in which your clients work. Avoid translating for clients who work in industries you know little or nothing about, as it will shine through in the translations that you produce.
2. Volunteer… Work for free
Working for free is a must when starting your career as a freelance translator. Be prepared to devote at least a couple of months to working for free for a few, if not all, of your clients. Reputation is everything in this business and it’s better in the long-run to volunteer for big brand names within the industry than to opt for small paying jobs for small-time clients. Volunteering will pay-off in the end. Your CV will be more convincing and the experience you gain from the translating work you do will be worth the financial risk.
3. Stick to your mother-tongue
Focus on getting experience in translating from your second language to your native language. You are more likely to build-up a more enjoyable and more profitable career in freelance translation when working in your mother-tongue. Avoid wasting time trying to translate in other languages, unless you happen to be bilingual/multilingual from birth.
4. Get advice, stay in touch, broaden your horizons
Network with other translators in the industry as much as possible. Get involved in freelance translation events/seminars and read-up on new trends in the industry on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Freelance translators in direct competition with you might not want to give away their secrets, but those who translate in other industries will probably be open to sharing some of the experiences with you. This kind of advice will be invaluable to you in terms of getting your foot on the ladder and getting experience at the start of your career. Apply to all the agencies that deal with translators in your industry too. Leave no stone untouched. Be ferocious in your approach to networking. It will be one of your most profitable activities.
5. Offer services that experienced translators don’t
Be prepared to do what experienced translators won’t do anymore at the beginning of your career. This will definitely bring you more opportunities to gain invaluable experience to note down on your CV. You will make great contacts by offering extra services too. Services can be anything from working on weekends, offering 12-hour turn-arounds, throwing in one free translation for every 10 paid translations, etc. Be as creative as you can.
6. Take a course in Marketing
Working as a freelance translator means working for yourself and this means marketing yourself, your skills and your services. Marketing is a fast-moving industry, perhaps one of the fastest out there. New approaches are being developed all the time. It’s a really good idea to take a short course in Marketing at the start of your career in order to find the most productive ways of approaching your search for valuable translating experience. Without a solid Marketing Plan, you might end up wasting a lot of valuable time.
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