One of the most appealing things about becoming a freelance translator is the freedom and flexibility that comes with it. Of course, freelancing has its own set of challenges, time management being one of them, but we thought it might be wise to backtrack a bit and provide some food for thought to those who are interested in becoming freelance translators, but haven’t yet taken the plunge.
5 Tips for Becoming a Freelance Translator
1. Don’t quit your day job just yet
To work full time, you’ll need a lot of clients; this will take a bit of time and tenacity, so it’s best to ease into the profession, supplementing it with another income source. In her book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, Corinne McKay reveals that she contacted as many as many as 400 translation agencies in her first year as a freelance translator. If you browse translation message boards and other blogs, you’ll notice that it is not uncommon for beginning translators to send out five times that.
Although lots of translators—including Corinne McKay—earn the ATA estimated income average of $50,000 (not bad for working 30 hours a week and taking at least 4 weeks of vacation), it was not always so: In McKay’s first year of freelance translating, she earned a mere $9,000.
2. Put together an informal business plan
Don’t let “business plan” intimidate you. Yours doesn’t have to be complicated. Just keep in mind that freelance translating is a business venture, so it’s best to think of yourself as a business owner—not simply a linguistic athlete.
Consider supply and demand, for example: Say you want to be a court interpreter. The first thing you need to do is determine the supply and demand of the market and then compare that potential revenue stream to your immediate (and long-term) financial needs. But don’t stop there: consider other “revenue streams” that are associated, but not directly related to court interpreting. There are places outside the courtroom where you can put your judiciary-translation chops to good use, but you have to be proactive if you want to find them.
3. Find an accountant
As we said in our last post, a freelance translator is also a business owner, so you’ll want to be sure that you’re maximizing your deductions. Keep a detailed list of records, invoices and receipts so that you can deduct part of your house, your cell phone and internet connection expenses…amongst others. Don’t wait. Don’t wing it. Find an accountant. If you’re not sure where to find one, try Angie’s List; you’ll find reviews and verified reports for accountants in your area.
4. How Much are You (and Your Translations) Worth?
Like all of us, the freelance translator needs to eat. Since you’re new to the trade, you may need to be flexible when setting your rates and wooing new clients. Freelance translators are usually paid by the word and the going rate is around 7 to 10 cents a word for translating a foreign language into English and 8 to 12 cents a word for translating English into a foreign language.
This doesn’t sound like much, but if you maintain a strict adherence to deadlines, do good work and slightly undercharge clients the first few times, you will be pleasantly surprised when the same client comes back, this time with another job and an urgent deadline. This is the time to charge a higher rate. It may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many freelance translators don’t do this.
5. “How Long Should a Translation Project Take Me?”
Every translation (and translator) is different. Experienced freelance translators will obviously translate more quickly than new translators. We’ll defer to Corinne McKay, who estimates that translators who are relatively quick on the keyboard or use speech-recognition software can translate 400-600 words per hour or 2,000-3,000 words per day. This is only a rough estimate, of course, as projects vary in difficulty. If you are, say, translating a technical document, McKay explains that you might only translate 150 words per hour. If you know how to find the right work, though, you’ll balance the technical stuff with the easier stuff. Calculating your translation speed/pay rate ratio should all factor into your business plan.
In addition to considering these 5 tips, you might read one of our other blogs, 5 Golden Rules For Finding Entry-Level Translation Jobs and pick up Corinne McKay’s book (amongst others). It should also be said that there’s no one way to become a freelance translator, but something that will give you the necessary experience and help distinguish you from all the other freelance translators is Marygrove College’s online program in Modern Language Translation. Our online translation certificate programs expose students to the linguistic and cultural aspects of language transfer; we also use a hands-on approach to translating journalistic, commercial, legal, and scientific texts that will give you an advantage over other uncertified translators.