This is a challenging time to be a freelance translator. On the one hand, our industry seems to be poised for continued steady growth.
On the other hand, this growth doesn’t necessarily trickle down to the independent translators on the front lines, where competition and bulk orders can put downward pressures on prices.
In such an environment, one of the best career moves a person can make is to simply stand out. By doing good work and cultivating strong relationships with bigger agencies, you can position yourself as a go-to professional when someone needs work done.
Here are 10 tips for becoming any agency’s prefered translator.
Don’t Prioritize Volume Over Quality
Hands down, the most important step in a career in freelance translating is to provide high-quality work always. While this might seem obvious, life happens. People get stressed and strapped for time, which is reflected in the quality of their work.
Translator Jennifer Lee discusses how when starting out it can be tempting to take on as many jobs as possible. After all, you’re trying to get paid and trying to build up a portfolio. She advises, however, that while it might look good to have a well-rounded portfolio, having a smaller one with only high-quality work is even better.
“Organized” means different things for different people; some will divide their work project by project, and others will chose to work in hourly increments. The manner in which work is divided, the Transpanish team says, can impact things such as the types of projects you will take on and how much you’ll charge for your services.
Overall, organization will help to ensure that you’ll know exactly how much work you can take on at a time, and ensure that all projects are completed by the appointed deadlines.
Treat Deadlines As Sacred
Tom Robinson from UK agency Translate Plus stresses that deadlines are important to both the freelancer translator and the agency. Therefore, perhaps the most important part of being a successful freelance translator is to make sure that you have a complete understanding of exactly how long it takes you to complete your work.
So, this tip speaks to the advice on getting organized — your level of organization will largely determine your ability to do quality work within a set amount of time. As you develop a working relationship with a given agency, you will know and be able to clearly communicate whether you can accept or turn down an assignment.
Be honest with your clients, Robinson says. If you tell an agency that you can give them something that you actually can’t, the chances are that you’re going to get caught. And if you’re caught in a lie, there’s a very high chance that you will not only lose the job, but future work from other agencies — this is a closely knit industry, after all.
When you have a specialty, especially one that not many other translators have, it stands to reason that you be more in-demand for an agency looking for that specialization. For example, if you do well at translating legal documents, then it would be smart to look for jobs with legal offices.
Your specialty can make you stand out, translator Chiara Grassilli writes. The more in-demand you are, the easier it will be to become someone’s go-to freelance translator.
Continue to Develop Your Skills
As a translator, you should always continue your professional development. According to freelancer Sarah Dillon, this means, “systematic maintenance, improvement and broadening of knowledge and skills, and the development of personal qualities necessary for the execution of professional duties throughout your working life.”
Following this method is a way for all translators (freelance or otherwise) to be proactive and take control of their careers in a deliberate way. This also demonstrates to potential clients that you are always willing to learn new things.
And while certification isn’t always mandatory, it’s a good idea to get certified, ALTA Language Services writes. Certification helps you look more professional and it also shows an agency that you have the necessary skills to get the job done.
“Succeeding and networking are inexorably intertwined,” freelance translator Jorge Reparaz says.
This means reaching out to various professionals in the field, even other translators at your agency. After all, your freelancer colleagues aren’t competition. Instead, they can open doors to you via referrals. Networking is a great way to get your name out there and to open yourself up to more opportunities.
Set a Competitive Price For Your Work
Don’t set a premium price for your work until you know you can command it. In the beginning, this might mean some lean months. “If you have no experience at all, then you should actually start working for next to nothing or for free (or as a volunteer) and have your documents proofread so that you can learn how to actually translate before you start trying it professionally,” linguist and author Benny Lewis says.
He recommends one of two methods of pay for translators: a certain amount per word, or a monthly wage. He says he prefers to charge per word so that his pay scales with how much work he puts in.
Be Open to a Variety of Translation Projects
When you’re just starting out, a good place to find volunteer work is at nonprofit organizations. Chiara Grassilli has a helpful rundown of the various types of organizations where translators can find work. This is a good way to get on the radars of other agencies while doing some potentially very rewarding work.
Stay In Communication with the Agency
Another important part of freelancing is improving your communication. Keep in contact with the agency throughout the course of translating a project for them. By doing this, you can preempt any chances for miscommunication.
Freelance translator Tess Whitty says the most frequent cause of problems with clients is poor communication. Many of these problems can be solved through basic communication with the agency you are translating for, even if it’s just to give an update on your progress.
Remember: As a Freelancer, You’re the CEO of Your Own Business
Finally, consider the bigger picture of what it means to be your own boss. Corinne McKay says this is one of the best parts about working freelance: The clients that you do for work, how much time you spend on each project, when you work, and how much you charge are entirely up to you.
However, this also means that you have to be responsible and manage your time wisely. This means prioritizing what’s important. You can’t become an agency’s go-to translator if your personal life gets in the way of getting your work done.
The best way to do this is to think of your freelancing career as a business. Freelance translator Simon Akhrameev recommends organizing your freelancing work into an actual business model, complete with outlined operations, revenue streams and customer relationships.
If you don’t run your business professionally, as a business should be run, you won’t have the capacity to handle being an agency’s No. 1 translator.