The Entrepreneurial Journey
I started out working in-house three days after sitting for my last final exam. I felt so lucky! I was doing what I loved and that was good enough for me.
Imagine my surprise when, almost two years later, the whole office closed! I was two-months pregnant so that wasn’t fun. In other words, I was FORCED to discover my next move.
It took me about 18 months to start working full-time as a freelance translator, but it was totally worth it!
- You can make X times more money if you work on your own (I made 3 times my in-house salary as soon as I started working full-time)
- You can choose when and where to work (if you’re bad at saying “no,” I’ll welcome you personally to the workaholics’ club)
- You can finally ditch that temporary job that keeps you busy but unhappy (that said, you should consider having a safety net at first)
Changing Your Employee Mindset
Tweets and LinkedIn posts sharing your CV to get hired probably won’t take you anywhere. Stop thinking about becoming an employee and start thinking about getting clients.
I was an in-house translator once so changing my mindset was hard. I told myself, “I’m a service provider now. I don’t need a job; I need to get clients.” And that’s what I did.
Another thing is to stay positive: these things take time. If you’re willing to spend eight hours a day working for someone else… why aren’t you willing to spend a few hours of your time every day growing your business?
How to Enter the Market
Working as a contractor or subcontractor is more than possible (and completely up to you.) It boils down to this: acquiring a certain level of competence to shine in the translation industry. To achieve this competence, you’ll need the following:
- Education (find out more below)
- Experience (How to Become a Freelance Translator: Part II)
- Skills (How to Become a Freelance Translator: Part III)
Is a Translation Degree Necessary?
Many translators are engineers, lawyers or marketers first (to name a few examples) and then choose to become translators. That’s a good option in many countries where you can get certified without a translation degree.
As you know, it’s more usual to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation (or similar) instead. Since I’m from Argentina, this was always my first choice. The problem is that most people think this degree is the end of the journey.
Here’s the catch: when you try to enter the market as a freelance translator, your university degree isn’t enough. That’s why I joined professional associations (plural), became a certified translator, and never stopped learning new skills.
How to Become a Certified Translator
This depends on the country. In Argentina, you need a certified/legal translation degree to become a certified translator (traductor público). What’s more, you need to register at a certified translators’ association before you can sign and seal official documents.
In the US, to give another example, there are no translation studies as in Argentina. You can get certified without having a translation degree. However, you need to prove your competence before a translators’ association.
The most widely recognized credential in the US is the ATA certification. Since the pass rate is below 20%, it proves that you’re a professional and experienced translator.
Continuous Professional Development
Some degrees focus on a broad specialization (legal/certified, literary or technical translation). Others allow you to provide any of these services.
Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is any sort of program beyond this initial degree. There’s a vast offer of courses and master’s degrees that focus on different services such as the following:
- Interpreting: transfer of one spoken language into another
- Localization: linguistic and cultural adaptation of multimedia products
- Copywriting: writing copy for advertisements (or content writing for other forms of marketing)
- Transcreation: creative translation for advertisements (or marketing translation for other types of marketing copy)
- Transcription: converting audio into a written text document
- Captioning: converting audio content into written text on the screen.
- Subtitling: audiovisual translation of spoken dialogue into written text on the screen
And these are only some examples. Here’s the deal: one thing is to be specialized in a given service; another thing is to be specialized in a given field.
How to Become a Specialized Translator
Studying to provide a specific service (e.g. localization) is important but specializing in a given field (e.g. IT) is crucial. The idea is to find your minimum viable audience.
A specialized translator is one that focuses on a given field such as marketing, finance, IT, law, among many others. It’s okay to focus on more than one field, but the more specialized you are, the easier it is for clients to trust you.
You may think specializing will bring you fewer clients. Think about it this way… when you have a toothache, you don’t go to an eye doctor. The same applies to translation clients.
Finding your niche
If you’re still struggling to find a field of expertise, start translating right away, even as a student. I’m not talking about homework, though.
Start translating texts to figure out what you’re good at, what you like, and why:
- Talent: you’re tech-savvy so you translate user manuals like a boss but you can’t understand legalese -> specialize in technical translation (e.g., for the IT field.)
- Passion: you read about 100 fiction books a year and write novels as a hobby -> specialize in literary translation.
- Reasons: your parents are doctors and you’re familiar with certain diseases -> specialize in medical translation.
Reaching for the Stars
The truth is that a new mindset and studying beyond a bachelor’s degree is usually a game-changer. If you don’t know where to start, search for free online courses and see where that takes you.
Next, start getting experience and new skills. You’ll need to make some efforts in terms of marketing, but you’ll get there. You can also subscribe for free to get some tips!
If it seems overwhelming, slow down, but keep hustling. For example, learn one new thing, interact with three prospects, and write three emails every day. After a while, double the numbers. Once the fear disappears, the sky is the limit.
Hi, I’m Mariana! I help executives and entrepreneurs scale their businesses by using words that sell. My services include English to Spanish translation, copywriting, and localization.