How to build up a translation career from scratch
You've decided you want to work as a translator. Congratulations! But where do you go from here? If you're wondering how to become a professional translator or how to get translation experience, you're in the right place. Below we'll cover everything you need to know about the nature of translation work, from how to start getting projects from firms that render translation services to landing those big clients as a freelancer. Read on to learn how to launch your translation career and then take it to impressive new heights.
How to be a professional translator
There is no single route into becoming a professional translator, though a language degree can certainly help you get a foot in the door. Obviously, you will need to be fluent in two languages. After that, it's up to you to build up your career by marketing your services and gaining clients.
Getting your first translation experience
There are several ways that you can approach starting out in translation. One is to contact translation agencies, as many will be willing to give new translators a chance. You can register online for multiple agencies and use jobs sourced through them to build up your initial experience. The work may not be too highly paid at first, but as you build up a good reputation and become a trusted, reliable source of high-quality translations, there's plenty of scope for that to change.
Another way to gain experience is to volunteer your professional translation services to local community and voluntary organisations. The work may not pay well – or even at all! – but it should provide you with a valuable opportunity to hone your skills. Plus you can enjoy the added bonus of feeling you've contributed to a worthy cause. If you do volunteer in this way, be sure to ask for a glowing testimonial about the quality of your document translation services, so that you can use this to demonstrate your experience to other potential clients in future.
Working online as a freelance translator
These days, there are plenty of opportunities to work online as a translator, through freelancing platforms such as Upwork. Here, too, you can expect low rates of pay until you've built up some positive feedback, but once you've paid your dues you can set the rates you want and then choose the jobs that you like the look of. Just bear in mind that such platforms can take a fair chunk of your income – Upwork, for example, takes a 20% cut of new freelancers' earnings for every client (reducing to 10% once you've earned $500 with the client).
Online translation services and opportunities also include crowd translation, though this is usually unpaid, so again is more of a way to sharpen your translation skills than earn anything significant.
Social media and translation
Social media can be quite the time drain when you're supposed to be working, but it can also be a land of opportunity for freelancers. Join a range of translation and localization groups to be part of the community. You may well see job adverts pop up from time to time, which you can apply for. You'll also have a network of people available to help with any queries that you have as you find your feet in your new career!
Marketing your translation services
One thing that will help you to snare those all-important first clients is having an online presence. Whether you choose to set up a website, a LinkedIn profile or an online portfolio, be sure that it is professionally written and that it demonstrates not only your expertise, but also the advantages that clients can gain by using your services.
If you offer the English-Spanish language pairing, for example, don't simply state that you translate Spanish to English, or English to Spanish. Instead, tell readers that you can help them to achieve their business goals, develop new partnerships, engage with new audiences and build up their customer base by providing them with expert translation services.
Be sure to include testimonials as part of your online presence. If you're new to translation, think creatively about where you could source these. For example, do you have any positive feedback about your language skills from your university professors that you could include as evidence of your abilities? Remember to list your qualifications too.
If you have your own website, you could also include some sample translations, or blog posts about translating, to show your understanding of what's involved and help to establish your authority. Here's an extremely informative article by Forbes that provides you with even more tips on how to build more credibility as a freelancer .
Remember to include your prices and a list of services as well. If a client can see at a glance that you provide certified translation services, or how much you charge for legal translation, they will know from the outset what working with you will be likely to cost. As part of this, you can also include introductory offers on your website, to tempt new clients to give your translation services a chance while you build up your experience.
Do some local networking
Of course, it's important to appreciate the value of local networking as well. If you live in a town or city, why not print a few fliers or business cards and then pop into local businesses to introduce yourself. If you live somewhere more remote, remember that you can do the same thing via email, with a bit of research time spent finding contact details for the companies you would like to target.)
Local business and freelance networking events are also a great way to meet people who may need to use a translation service. The more people that know about what you do, the more chance you have of connecting with those first few clients. You can sweeten the deal with special introductory rates – just ensure that clients are clear that the reduced rates are time-limited and that they will be paying your standard rates before too long!
Ultimately, it's up to you which of these approaches you take to establish your translation career. You can mix and match these methods to find the right combination to suit your personal preferences, enjoying the thrill of gaining your first clients and starting out on an exciting new career in translation.
Ofer Tirosh is CEO of Tomedes, a translation agency that has been working with translators and clients around the world for over a decade, providing specialist services such as legal translation and video translation.
Published in October 2019.
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