Not so long ago, I wrote on LinkedIn that, as students, we relied on our university to learn all there was to know about becoming professional translators. Yet, our university failed us. Guess what? Everyone agreed!
But this is especially true in Argentina. Professors barely address the issue of how to become freelance translators, even when so many students end up becoming freelancers. Worst case scenario, they tell you to become a professor instead.
For this reason, I started giving lectures at my local professional association. Students were eager to know how to start working the minute they got their degrees. The first thing I said was… “Why wait until then?”
Education versus Experience
When you join Facebook or LinkedIn groups with professional translators from all over the world, you realize that not all of them have a formal education as translators. They rely on experience instead.
So it stands to reason that the first thing we have to do is gain experience BEFORE even finishing our studies. This is very possible, by the way. I’ve recently met a group of students who have either found clients or started translating as volunteers.
Multiple websites can help you get started. On sites such as Upwork, Freelancer or Fiverr, you’ll probably get $5 for 700-1000 words. Not cool. I recommend working with colleagues or volunteering instead.
Volunteering with a Specific Specialization in Mind
My first piece of advice is that you figure out what you want to translate even before you start your first project. If you want to be a subtitler, having translated Wikipedia articles on Biochemistry may be a bit irrelevant.
To get both specialized education and experience, you may not know where to start. That’s fine. Translate whatever comes your way until you find your niche. Having said that, you should always translate projects responsibly even if you dislike their topic.
There are many sites where you can work as a volunteer depending on the specialization you choose. Just keep in mind that you should be able to provide ready-to-use translations:
- Wikipedia: translate software, announcements, documentation, articles, etc. Specialization: it depends on the materials you choose to translate.
- Amara: subtitle or transcribe all kinds of videos for different fields. Specialization: it depends on the materials you choose to translate.
- Mozilla: translate or localize help articles. Specialization: IT.
- Global Voices: translate newspaper articles. Specialization: Journalism.
- Kiva: edit/proofread or translate loan profiles. Specialization: Banking/Finance.
- United Nations: translate education and other materials. Specialization: it depends on the materials you choose to translate.
- Translators Without Borders: translate texts for non-profit organizations. Specialization: it depends on the materials you choose to translate.
Translators’ Portals: Is Proz.com Good or Bad?
We tend to assume things are black and white. I think there are many shades of gray… In this case, Proz.com or other portals can be good, bad or great depending on how you use them.
In particular, at Proz.com, I think most bids represent a search for the lowest possible fees. However, once you’re on the site for some time, and if you put time and effort into making your profile stand out, good agencies start finding you.
There are other useful features: you can ask questions at forums, enquire about industry-specific terms, attend courses, buy CAT tools at good prices and use the Blue Board to find out if an agency is worth working for and take it from there (this last option is available for paying users of the site only).
Getting Agency Clients
Once you find the agencies you’d like to contact (e.g., listed in a professional association or a translators’ portal), the first step is to get the email of the person in charge of receiving your resume (usually a vendor or project manager) to try to avoid “Dear Sir or Madam”.
The second step is your pitch. The key is to treat every email as a cover letter so finding out all about the agencies and how you can help them grow their business by working with them is very important. The information you write on your email should also match the information on your resume.
I consider that finding vendor or project managers on LinkedIn and building a relationship there is better than simply sending them cold emails. In any case, attaching a good resume with the following information is the final and most important step:
- Contact details: include your email, phone, Skype, and links to your social media, website or profiles in translators’ associations or portals. I don’t consider your age, marital status or your photograph so relevant.
- Language combination: even if you consider that you provide amazing reverse translation services, an agency might prefer contacting you for translations into your native language.
- Specialization: it’s important to distinguish between the service you provide, the industry you serve, and the type of documents you translate (for example, technical translation -> IT field -> software manuals). The more specialized, the better.
- Profile: detail your years of experience, daily workload capacity, and nationality.
- Experience: highlight previous positions, employers, clients (but be careful with confidential information), past projects, and samples.
- Education: include institutions and dates in reverse order: Ph.D., master’s and bachelor’s degrees, courses, memberships, licenses, and certifications.
- Other relevant details: software and CAT tools, grants, scholarships and fellowships, research or teaching experience, publications and lectures, awards and honors, dissertations and theses.
Getting Direct Clients
I know it may sound scary, but getting direct clients is far from impossible. In my opinion, local clients are easier to get because you’re usually a native speaker of their language and this helps you connect with them at a deeper level.
In addition to local versus international clients, you also need to differentiate between individuals and companies and choose whether you’ll act as an individual or a company yourself for all legal and tax purposes (the last option might be more expensive if you’ve just started working as a translator).
Whatever options you may choose, social media and digital channels have made it possible to reach out to potential clients anywhere. Remember: it’s all about building relationships. You should try networking instead of selling yourself and your services every time you make contact with a prospect.
The Whole Picture
As you can imagine, getting experience as soon as possible is only one of the aspects you need to cover before entering the translation world.
For example, in How to Become a Freelance Translator: Part 1, you’ll find out more about education and CPD, and Part 3 deals with skills and behavior.
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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.