Freelance Translator in 2023 as a Total Beginner: Overview
Updated: Jan 2
Oh? You are just starting and have no idea what to do to succeed as a freelance translator? Most linguists go through university, but most universities around the world do not prepare for freelance translator life well enough, in my opinion. I started with volunteer freelance game translation (doing it for years) and researching on Google everything I now know - from CAT tools to regular expressions, from freelance marketing to online presence. My path is quite peculiar, that's true, but this is to say there's no written rule to break through the language industry. In this blog post series, I will tell you what works for me, and many expert translators would likely agree to it (unless they don't know yet that it works!).
First and foremost, you have to ask yourself why. Why do you want to become a freelancer? And a freelance translator even? Freelance life can be unpredictable, but without any doubt, it's more profitable in the long run than a traditional 9:5 job. The reason is simple: you set your hours, can work virtually anywhere, with multiple clients in parallel, doing multiple tasks, and with different rate ranges (hopefully, always going up, and weeding out old clients little by little as you climb this 'ladder'). It sounds awesome, but you need to grind a lot to become decent, and even more to become successful. It can get stressful for those who are not confident enough in their skills and that fear 'being their own boss' in everything - from taxes to working conditions, from working hours to sometimes having to work under pressure, and with fluctuating income (especially in the first periods). But you know what? The freedom of this life is undeniable. I'll help you succeed along the path, but you'll need to have perseverance and be sure this is what makes you happy - commanding your own life.
Once you have your objective in mind, you need to practice your translation skills. If you're coming from a university background in language studies, you may not have enough practical experience in text translation from, for example, English to Italian - which is my language pair, by the way! You need to practice. A lot - really a lot - of times. Thing is, the 2023 way to go for a total beginner in terms of work experience is via agencies. There are so many, and private clients are better paying but very hard and rare to find. And even then, you need to prove you're already a safe choice for them if they're going to handle you over their work for translation.
In recent years, agencies started popping out like mushrooms - even more than before. Not only COVID-19 did give a boost to online/remote work, but technology in general does. And there are a lot of those agencies around the web. But to get to work with them in the first place, you can't be a beginner - that's the real issue with starting as a translator. 99% of their project managers/human resources specialists (which monitor first contact when you email them to work together), will ask you to take a test (provided, beforehand, that they've received a grammar-free message) and, if requested, a CV with some decent education or otherwise work experiences.
These tests are difficult to pass, but if you pass them, you'll enter the pool of that agency (and hopefully receive work). 'Hopefully' because not all agencies need your particular combination of language pair, fields of experience, negotiated rates, and level of skill at a given period. And that's just how the job market works for us. So, another thing you need to have to succeed as a freelance is A LOT of patience. And motivation. Never stop looking for new clients to improve your actual conditions, and make sure you can pay the bills at the end of the month. You require a constant workload for your financial stability.
Next time, we'll talk about an evergreen topic: ways to hone your translation skills! In the coming blog posts, we'll see how to write an effective resume, search the web for your first agencies, write confident emails & fill forms on their websites, write follow-up emails in case the agency asks for more information, and the icing on the cake - tips and tricks to pass the agency tests (which are full of traps and unwritten rules that every translator should know about). Stay tuned!