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What are the steps to becoming a freelance translator?

“I’m bilingual (or practically bilingual) and have been translating most of my life. Will anyone pay me to translate corporate documentation from home as a freelancer?”

The quick answer is, “Yes, but it’s not as easy as it sounds”. Setting up as a translator is very easy indeed (you can do it within hours), but getting regular work and getting paid enough to sustain the lifestyle that you want might take a little longer.

Here are the keys to becoming a translator in 5 simple steps:

1-Decide what the ideal work/life balance is for you.

There is no magic formula, just decide how hard you want to work. Mornings only? 8 hours a day? Never on weekends? Change your mindset and think of yourself as a business. At the beginning especially, there should be NO balance: you need to work much harder than everyone else just to establish yourself. After that, maybe you can relax and take a holiday or two.


2-Differentiate yourself.

There are 500,000 freelance translators in the world. Give or take. So what makes you different? What makes you stand out from the crowd? Think about what you do best. Do you have a background in finance? Tourism? Science? Can you add other services, such as desktop publishing or transcription? Think of an area you might have a small advantage in and concentrate on selling relevant services. Remember, you can’t be all things to all people!



3-Get used to doing lots of sales and marketing

Most translators hate “selling” themselves, or simply advertising their services. But customers won’t appear out of thin air. The first thing to do is to “segment” the market, i.e., decide what sort of customers might be interested in your services and go find them. You’ll need to spend time finding websites, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, etc. If you work incredibly hard for a couple of years (sometimes longer), you might end up with a long list of projects and customers to choose from, but only a small percentage of translators get to that stage, so don’t expect to get there in a few weeks!


4-Work hard and always go the extra mile!

That’s what customers really appreciate, a supplier who goes out of her way to help them solve their problems. Be careful with discounts, but always give a bit more when it comes to service (linguistic questions, re-writes, etc.) and speed. Remember, you’re competing with others…


5-Keep going; there’s always someone else prepared to offer what you’re offering.

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