How to become a Freelance Translator

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If you are proficient in a second or third language, you may have thought about putting your skills to use and becoming a translator. Translation can pay well if you market yourself and have an in-demand language pair and niche, but it isn’t for everyone. Simply being proficient in a second language isn’t enough to make you a good freelance translator. Like all freelancers, translators need to be self-motivated and organized in order to produce quality work in a timely manner. If you love working with languages and have the qualities of a solopreneur, then freelance translation might be the right career for you. Here is some information and a few helpful tips to get you on your way to becoming a freelance translator:

The Basics:

Translators should only translate into their mother-tongue and not into their additional language. If you are lucky enough to be fully bilingual, having been raised in bilingual household, receiving education in 2 languages, then you can translate from one to the other and vice-versa. However, most of us do not have native-speaker level proficiency in more than one language and should stick to translating from our additional language into our mother-tongue. Successful translation requires a grasp of the nuances and subtleties of the target language that is beyond the abilities of most non-native speakers. In addition to translating into your mother-tongue, you should stick to translating only in fields that you are competent in. If you do not have a background in medical technology, translating research papers in that field is beyond your ability and you likely won’t be able to deliver a quality product. Figure out what areas you are familiar with and work within them to find your niche.

There are different types of translation and the type you choose to specialize in will determine what you steps you need to follow in order to become a successful freelance translator. For example: Localization involves adapting a product to a local market; things like video games and other entertaining content require this type of translation, requiring the translator to be familiar with the target culture and language of the genre. Transcreation involves capturing the message and emotion of the originally text and transferring it into the target language, to be successful a translator should be creative and an excellent writer. Certified translation entails obtaining the proper certifications to work as a professional translator in a specific region or industry - this type of translation may require the most work upfront to obtain the proper credentials but can end up paying quite well.

Obtain Skills:

Having a working knowledge of a second language isn’t going to be enough to make you a good translator, there are a few more skills you’re going to need to be successful. You should study translation methods, by taking academic courses, reading appropriate books or taking online courses. You should also hone your writing skills in your native language and expand your vocabulary in the subject matter you want to work with, so you can do a good job writing in the target language. While you’re studying vocabulary, you can start compiling a glossary of terms in your niche, things that will come up repeatedly such as: abbreviations, jargon, organization’s names etc. With all that studying it might be useful to take a proficiency test in your additional language to provide proof of your abilities to prospective clients.

In addition to translation methodology and language skills, it is helpful to become familiar with Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) programs and Translation Memories (TMs). CAT tools help you stay consistent and improve speed and accuracy. TMs are databases of translated text so that you never have to translate the same sentence twice. CAT suggests sentences based on translation memory and are very helpful when working for repeat clients and on large projects. OmegaT is a free CAT tool you can check out, the most popular CAT tools is Trados, which is expensive but really useful.

Once you have built up your language, writing, and translating skills and have become a master at using CAT tools, the only thing left to do before landing freelance translation work is to get certified. Check into what certifications the country you want to work in requires and what the standard industry certifications are in the niche you plan to work in.

Get Experience:

Practise translating and have your translations checked and edited by a fellow professional translator if possible. This can help you improve your skills and build a sample portfolio to show to potential clients. You can also get experience by doing practice tests, such as the kind found on translation agency websites - you might even consider working for a contract translation agency for a while to prove you can do the work. Agencies may be a good stepping stone when starting out, before you are ready to work directly for clients. However you should always check the agency’s reputation before you sign-on with them, some pay terribly.

A great way to improve your skills and make connections in your field of translation is to apprentice or intern for an established translator. Join join translator associations in order to train or find a mentor. Even if you are unable to find a mentor, networking is an essential part of any successful solopreneur endeavour.

Once you’re ready to strike out on your own, but are unsure of where to land clients, you can start by looking at the job boards on translator social networking sites such as Proz and TranslatorsCafe. Working directly for clients is likely to be the most lucrative path for freelance translators.

Make a Business Plan:

In order to be a successful freelance translator for the long haul, you’re going to need a plan. Making a business plan seems daunting and complicated but it doesn't have to be. There are a few step-by-step guides available online and plenty of books written on the subject. An easy way to get started is to outline your short term, medium term, and long term goals using the S.M.A.R.T system of goal setting, in which your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. At this stage it is also time to examine your finances and determine how much work you need to do and what rate you need to charge to keep your business afloat and have you living a comfortable lifestyle.

When assessing your finances, do not forget include important items your plan and budget, such as insurance and taxes. While you’re making your business plan you should think about whether you might need a business license you might need to operate in your area, or if you need to renew your credentials annually and plan accordingly. All solopreneurs need to figure out how to deal with taxes or they need to budget for an accountant. If you have the funds to meet with an accountant early on in your endeavors, they will be able to tell you what type of business you should set yourself up as for tax purposes and such. If you do not have the money to hire an accountant, plan to spend some time researching small business taxes.

You will want to have competitive pricing, which may be low to start but once you build experience and your portfolio, you can earn better rates. You should make a long-term plan of how you plan to transition from beginner rates to professional. Translators commonly charge per word, with their rate depending on training, experience, their language pair and their niche. Finding your niche early on can set you up as an expert in that field and you will be better able to charge within it accordingly.

Market Yourself:

In order to get attention from potential clients your new translation business will need a professional website. If you aren’t confident in your website building abilities, it might be worth it to hire a fellow freelancer to do it for you. Or you can check out some online resources for advice and guidance, but whatever you do: be sure that your website is professional looking and includes an explanation of your services, experience, and credentials to entice clients to hire you. Your website should make clear what type of translation you do and how you help clients get their message across in the target language.

At this point you have already worked-out the nitty-gritty aspects of how you’re going to run your business when you made your business plan, so you can include all the necessary information on your website such as: your process for working with clients, what your fee will be and how you will collect it. A good business website includes the following: what it is that you do, what makes you stand-out from others who also do what you do, where you are located, what your rates are, how you can be reached, as well as a few personal touches to draw people in.


The road to becoming a successful freelance translator can look daunting but we hope these tips will help you on your quest. We do not have many translator profiles yet on SageGroupy, the freelancer’s friend. Why not sign up and make a profile to start reaching potential clients today?

Author: S.Suzuyama

Posted in Freelancing For Beginners on Nov 26, 2018

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