7 Important Skills Every Translator Should Have
I live in a country where hundreds of translators simply don’t work as such. It sounds weird, but it’s true. Here’s the thing: we learn plenty about how to read texts in one language and come up with a great version in another. We learn little about how to run a translation business.
The following skills, in my opinion, are necessary if you want to work as a freelance translator.
From the first conversation you have with a potential client, you need to show amazing communication skills. You may be thinking… “What’s that supposed to mean?” Besides the obvious business etiquette, the following is also true:
- Be professional. Don’t spam people and learn the name of the person you’re addressing (“Dear Sir or Madam” won’t do.) I’ve been called María, Marina, Marianne, and all kinds of nonsense. Spelling the person’s name correctly is a must.
- Be a good reader. You should be able to understand your client’s needs or instructions. For example, if they ask for a quote, don’t send your resume without discussing money anywhere.
- Be a good writer. Polish your writing and re-read your emails before sending them. Does your email serve its purpose? Is the message relevant? Does it sound good?
- Be nice. Engage with your followers, have conversations with them, and learn about their interests. Don’t try to sell your services the minute someone asks about your day.
- Be a giver. Try to help others; don’t be the person who’s always asking for a favor. Everything you post can help you become a recognized professional.
- Be appropriate. Learn what to post and where. Constructive comments are welcome but being honest doesn’t mean being a hater.
- Be an active listener. Ask questions to understand first, and then try to be understood. Acknowledge your client’s concerns before you propose a solution.
- Be clear and concise. Try not to use words that clients won’t understand and go straight to the point. Be a problem-solver.
- Be respectful. Register, tone, and non-verbal communication are important. You also need to show cultural awareness to reduce misunderstandings.
Project Management Skills
This implies all the administrative work from the first interaction with the client to the project delivery. If you’re planning on growing your business, I recommend using a project management tool.
If you’re wondering why, you simply need to stay organized. You can’t forget about a delivery date or not know how much you’ve made in a given month.
I started using Podio in 2017. It was free back then; I pay 9 USD/month now. The reason is that I feel the need to keep track of the following:
- Project Name: three-letter code for client + three-letter code for project number, together with a small description.
- Service: I separate projects into translation, transcreation, copywriting, localization, update, revision, subtitle, transcription, certified translation, TEP (translation editing proofreading), etc.
- Client: individual or company name + three-letter code.
- Language pair: source and target languages with their appropriate dialect.
- Status: pending, paid, approved, unpaid, and overdue.
- Project total: how much I get paid in any currency.
- Total in USD: the project total in dollars at the current exchange rate.
- Calendar: includes the start and finish dates (sometimes I finish the project before the due date). Podio adds the project automatically to my Google calendar.
- Due date: it may or may not be the same as the finish date.
- Word count: the total number of words/hours I need to write/translate.
- Fee: the price per word.
- PM/individual: the name of the person that will receive the files.
Time Management Skills
Any businessperson will say you’re supposed to manage your time efficiently. If you’re like me, you take breaks all the time and use social media too much, but that’s okay. There are apps such as Screen Time that can help you stay focused.
That said, if you work with international clients, time management also implies finding out at what local time you need to deliver your projects. You can Google the time difference, but I recommend downloading an app such as Timely.
Believe it or not, the most difficult task is figuring out your priorities. A calendar and a to-do list might work for you. Beyond that, the Eisenhower matrix might help you decide your next move.
Reaching an agreement with a client isn’t always easy. When you negotiate, you always feel like you’re losing something. The goal should be to create a win-win situation in which both parties are satisfied.
The problem is that setting your rates is hard at first. If you don’t know how much to charge, it’s useful to consider the type of client. In Argentina, there’s a big difference between local and international clients and how much you can charge each one of them:
- As a contractor:
- As a subcontractor:
- Translation agencies
- As a contractor:
- As a subcontractor:
- Translation agencies
The good news is that our local professional associations usually suggest how much to charge. The bad news is that they don’t consider if you’re being hired as a contractor or subcontractor. That’s why local translation agencies pay about 50% of the suggested rate for direct clients.
What happens in the rest of the world is that there are no suggested rates. Some associations even prohibit this discussion. In this case, you should be open to a negotiation depending on the following:
- Your experience and expertise
- The country in which you’re doing business
- The type of client (as mentioned above)
- The service and volume (charged per word, hour or minute)
- The text type, format, and tool to be used
- The payment method and payment schedule
- The urgency
You should also bear this in mind: most translation agencies pay less for repetitions and fuzzy matches.
By financial skills, I mean the ability to have a plan. Think about how much you make and stick to this budget. Debts are a big no-no. Record your expenses and invest wisely.
We don’t always bear in mind that one thing is being profitable and another thing is having liquidity. Shortage of cash due to unpaid or overdue invoices can become an issue. The following strategies can help you prevent that:
- Plan your cash flow and have a “plan b”: it’s important to know how much money you’ll be receiving each month and to save some money in case there’s a slow month ahead of you.
- Set short payment terms: send invoices as soon as possible and try to accept projects that will be paid within 30 days. If an invoice is overdue, send payment reminders.
- Ask for an advanced payment: this helps both to share the risk and to have cash flow. If the volume of words is too large, you can offer partial deliveries and get paid in installments.
You should also remember to pay your taxes. When you become an individual taxpayer in Argentina, every invoice you issue is subject to scrutiny by our Federal Tax Authority (AFIP). Whether you’re a “monotributista” or a “responsible inscripto”, if you don’t pay your taxes every month, you’ll eventually get in trouble.
Before even getting my bachelor’s degree, I realized I wouldn’t get too far if I kept typing with two fingers. That’s when my journey started. Later on, I learned how to use InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop for basic design, I took programming courses, and I got a master’s degree focused on website, software, apps, and videogames localization.
You don’t need to learn all of this, but you should be able to use the Internet, PDF and OCR tools, software for presentations, word processing, and spreadsheets, among others. There are also free websites such as TypingClub and free CAT tools such a SmartCat, Workfast Anywhere or Memsource that will help you improve your productivity.
The most renowned tools in the market are SDL Trados Studio, memoQ, and Wordfast Pro. Some agencies will provide you with a license but, for your personal use, you may have to buy a license yourself. In my case, this turned out to be a great investment.
Marketing and Sales Skills
Everything you do to “exist” online, make people trust you and, ultimately, hire you is a marketing effort. Developing a personal brand is the first step to promote your skills, experience, and personality.
You should be able to identify your clients’ needs and implement strategies to satisfy them. That’s what marketing is all about in the broad sense of the word. Having said that, every email you send, every conversation you have… it’s all marketing.
But what is marketing without sales? Every entrepreneur should take (at least) one marketing and one sales course to learn how to do the following:
- Discover your Unique Selling Proposition (USP): a combination of what you do well and what your clients want.
- Plan your strategy: think about your SMART goals and how to achieve them.
- Execute your strategy: qualify prospects, contact them, handle their objections, negotiate, deliver value, and keep nurturing your relationships.
This probably sounds like a lot but you need to take it one day at a time. Think about one way in which you can improve every day and never stop trying.
Learning how to cope with rejection may be the hardest part. My mum always says “El no ya lo tenés”. It means that you need to take risks if you want to see results. In other words: no pain, no gain.
At the end of the day, becoming a competent translator (with education, experience, and these skills), makes everything so much easier. And don’t forget to subscribe for free to get more tips!
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.