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The Challenges of being a Freelance Translator

Considering working as a freelance translator? Inka-Maria Kunz, a professional freelance translator, offers some tips and advice on how to start out in your translation career.


Some simple questions - but suddenly not so simple when it comes to answering. What exactly is your vision? What services do you want to offer as a freelancer? Do you want to offer just translation or just interpreting or both? And if any of these apply, than what language combination, what field i.e. technical, legal, marketing, financial, and medical? Once you answered these questions, the interesting part starts, why should any of the potential customers out there choose your company for these services? Do you know the market extremely well, maybe are friends with the CEO of the prospective client company or are in a position to offer competitive rates?

What makes you stand out in this highly competitive market? Before you go on designing a website claiming all of the above or similar give this some thoughts. If you are not 100 % sure of your marketing idea and 100 % sure & willing to pull this through - no matter what! - it might be a better idea to call it quits now and start looking for an in-house position as a translator / interpreter!

As to the mentioned competitive rates, it might be a good idea to check the various translators' internet portals and see what prices are stated. For example, the International market widely charges per word (source or target) whereas the German market is known for charging per standard line (55 characters with spaces). The market varies a lot when it comes to prices.

Once you have made up your mind as to what to charge, keep to it. Don't try to sell yourself short only because the client or the agency claims he / she will find somebody else to do the job at a much cheaper rate. If that is the case, let them be. It is common knowledge that quality does not come cheap. If the client is after a translation that he can actually make use of and not trash it immediately once he lays his eyes upon it, he will have to pay for it adequately.

As a freelancer or newbie on this market I'd suggest becoming member of any association which is willing to take you on. A membership with major associations as the BDÃo, ADÃo Nord, VDÃo in Germany, and ATA in the States, NZSTI and AASTI on the Australian / Pacific market can literally open doors for you.

In exchange to the membership fee the associations offer constant support and feedback, next to workshops and seminars. Also it is fun to be part of something, since translators and interpreters tend to isolate themselves a lot, working on their own. The associations bring together different people from different cultures and meeting with any of them at some language related conference is definitely one of the highlights in this profession.

Networking in this profession is vital! I have found the feedback of my fellow colleagues and competitors extremely valuable. But please keep it polite and non-abusive!

We are stronger as a group rather than as individuals. Try to create teams of translators and a common web site of professionals who share your interests. Blogging is quite the thing at the moment. Not only will you increase your visibility and credibility on the Net, you will also reduce the fluctuation of your workflow. Instead of refusing a job because of work overload, you can point it out to one of your colleagues who might do the same to you when times are idle. What goes around comes around!

In short:
Be reliable. Meet delivery dates. Know your capacity and never take on too much. Show a responsible attitude to each contract. Notify your client as soon as a problem arises which might jeopardise delivery or quality. Discuss the problem and agree on a solution. Be communicative, helpful and friendly. Be flexible, within reason. Be discreet. Do not disclose your client's business to anyone else. Have your work spellchecked before delivery! Never approach your client's client directly without prior permission. Respond positively to constructive criticism. Be an independent problem solver, spot things like missing pages and don't pretend that the source text is all right if there is a glaring error. Clients and authors make mistakes and you can actually score brownie points by drawing these to your client's attention. Notify your regular clients if you intend to be away or unavailable for work. Attend as many seminars and professional development courses as you can.

Author: Inka-Maria Kunz, CEO of LinguaTransl www.linguatransl.com and/or www.linguatransl.blogspot.com