New FT freelance fish in the translation ocean?
Thread poster: L. Russell Jones

L. Russell Jones  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:49
German to English
May 4, 2003

I have a difficult decision ahead of me this week – whether to continue working in my corporate (computer-related) job, which is being moved overseas next month, or take the plunge into the cold water as a FULL-time freelance (German-English) translator.

Regarding my qualifications, my degree is in chemistry and human nutrition. I’ve had no formal education in the art of translation but I do have four years’ experience as an in-house translator (German-English) of patents etc. in the areas of chemistry, pharmacology, biochemistry, medicine, toxicology, biotechnology etc. and several years’ experience as a part-time freelancer (ranging from occasional jobs to approximately 20 hours per week). I have always enjoyed my part-time translation work far more than my corporate job.

My main questions are as follows:

1. It is possible, in the current state of the translation industry, to earn a ‘decent’ living that can support a family? (I currently live in Germany)

2. How necessary would it be for me to obtain a formal translation education? If so, are there any part-time AND online options?

3. Would you recommend establishing partnerships with other translators (in my case, for German-English-German) to reach economies of scale in advertising, marketing etc. If so, what are your experiences?

I think, if I decide to go full-time freelance, I would certainly need to obtain accreditation, purchase a leading translation memory tool (I have somehow managed with MS Word until now) and newest editions of my scientific dictionaries and, last but not least, ‘go platinum.’ Have I missed anything? I would very much welcome your comments, ideas and experiences.


Russian to German
+ ...
You have good chances, but you will have to work hard May 5, 2003

Dear Larry,

Just see this ad:

This is just one example of agencies using translators with a background like yours.

But it\'s a long way to go if you want to support a family (provided you don\'t have regular clients up to this point).

Subscribe to international payment practices lists and send your CV to all the agencies that have a good reputation.

Try to establish contacts with direct clients (companies that work in your fields of chemistry, pharmacology, biochemistry, medicine, toxicology, biotechnology). Offer your services to them! Underline your inhouse experience as a translator. That would be a good basis.

I wish you all the strength and enthusiasm you need.



Local time: 15:49
English to French
Translation kit May 5, 2003

I think you need mainly the appropriate skills and the right clients (and appropriate hardware and software).

For the dictionaries, I don\'t use them anymore as you have a lot of resources ont Internet (ADSL line is essential though).

Personnally, I have no formal translation education, no accreditation, no partnership and earn more than before in the industry.

I think your CV should be sufficient to interest some agencies, especially for patents.

Good luck


Andrea Torre  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:49
Member (2004)
French to Spanish
+ ...
Hello May 5, 2003

Hello Larry,

Have a look at this posting:

Go ahead and good luck !



Marc P (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:49
German to English
+ ...
Yes May 5, 2003

Hi Larry,

With your language combination, experience and location, you are well-placed to get into translation. (Unlike Claudia K., who asked the same question a few days ago - though that is no fault of Claudia\'s.) Whether you can support a family depends to some extent upon your location within Germany and the standard of living you are prepared to accept.

Only you, of course, can weigh up the relative benefits against staying in your current job.

Assuming you weren\'t simply left to your own devices when you worked as a staff translator, your experience is likely to have been at least as valuable as formal training. You might like to prepare for and obtain a formal qualification (such as the IoL Dip Trans) for your own benefit, but don\'t regard it as necessary or useful for marketing purposes. In your case, it won\'t be.

Instead, I would strongly advise you to join a translators\' association.

I have wondered myself about joining up with other translators in order, for example, to place an ad in a professional journal or the yellow pages. That would be well worth doing IF those publicity instruments were effective, but in my experience, they are not.

You don\'t need any form of accreditation unless you plan to translate official documents such as birth and death certificates.

A translation memory tool will cost you between nothing and 1,000 Euro, and compared to what you will need to be turning over from the outset is peanuts.

Dictionaries: post a separate message, saying what you\'ve got and asking for recommendations.

Whether you go Platinum or not is up to you, but don\'t rely upon it as a source of orders.

Other aspects: the whole business of becoming self-employed. Tax, bookkeeping, insurance. By the way, you will cease virtually overnight to be credit-worthy.



Karin Adamczyk  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:49
French to English
Maybe things are different in Canada May 5, 2003


By the way, you will cease virtually overnight to be credit-worthy.


I\'m surprised you say this. My husband and I are both self-employed and have never had trouble when applying for car financing or our mortgage. Our mortgage was a joint application, but financing for new cars has always been separate. A couple of years ago, I applied for a line of credit and was given a 5-figure line of credit on the basis of the bank checking on the computer.

This has much more to do with your credit history than whether or not you are self-employed.


Karin Adamczyk


Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:49
German to English
+ ...
Tide over? May 5, 2003


Maybe something like this could tide you over while you set up your freelance business?


Marc P (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:49
German to English
+ ...
Different in Canada May 5, 2003


Here in Germany, banks can seize (a part of) your salary at source if you default on credit payments. No similar arrangements exist for the self-employed. This is presumably the reason why they regard the former as creditworthy, the latter not.

Examples from my own experience:

I once moved flat at short notice. I needed DM 7,000 for the (rental) flat deposit and to buy a new kitchen. The Deutsche Bank employee sent me away as soon as she saw the \"self-employed\" status on her monitor. I managed to convince the manager of another Deutsche Bank branch to loan me the money, then switched the account to his branch.

For a very small overdraft facility (1,500 Deutschmarks, if I remember correctly), the Commerzbank insisted on inspecting all my accounts for one calendar year. They then granted the facility - and later withdrew it without telling me. The first I knew was when stores began calling to complain about unhonoured direct debits. The first of these was for 15 Deutschmarks.

Last year, I asked the Kölner Bank for a loan for 5,000 Euro to buy a house (that\'s half what the average person spends on a used car). They wanted an accountant\'s report on the state of my business before considering it. (In defense of the KB, they do at least talk to me nicely.)

The Citibank doesn\'t give accounts to the self-employed on principle, but in 2000 I managed to talk them into it. They regularly write to me to offer me loans, and troublemaker that I am, I regularly call them to take them up on the offer icon_wink.gif. When I tell them that I\'m self-employed, they go beserk. They tell me I\'m not even supposed to have an account. I know salaried employees who have never had any contact with the Citibank but are regularly offered a 7,000 Euro loan by them.

The Hypovereinsbank somehow got my name and offered me a loan in February. I called them to take up the offer. When I told the woman I was self-employed, she giggled as if I\'d asked for the money as a birthday present.

None of these banks has ever been remotely interested in my credit history, which is A1. Judge for yourself.

Incidentally, the German government recently launched a scheme to get the unemployed back to work. Called \"Ich-AG\" (translates roughly as \"Me Inc.\"), the idea is that they go self-employed. I sometimes wonder just how far removed from reality these politicians really are.



Local time: 09:49
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Another aspect to consider May 5, 2003

Hello Russell,

I\'m in the reverse position to you: Last month my husband and I had to consider moving to another city for a full-time teaching job offered to me.

Having reviewed the pros and cons, we decided that the money, a very important part of the equation, is better where we are, with me doing full-time freelance translation and part-time teaching, instead of the other way around.

Part of the debate certainly involved the destination. In our case, it was only a couple of hours west of our home on the 401. In your case, it\'s overseas. How will your family adjust to the move? what is the language in the country of destination? The climate? The landscape? the culture? The cost of living?

Friends of mine, now living in Southern US, had to consider a job in their native UK a few years ago. She was in favour of going home to be near her family; she wanted to raise her children (as yet unborn) in the UK, with her culture and traditions and climate. But he preferred sun to rain and two cars to only one, a large comfortable house and property and access to ski hills and sunny beaches without using a passport. They stayed. Now they have two children and are very happy in their adopted home (as I witnessed a few years ago when my family and I took the three day drive to their place).

This is a huge decision, and the last thing you want to do is face recriminations from yourself, your better half, your children, your parents, in the future. It\'s a fork in the road of your life. You want, ultimately, to be able to put your head on your pillow at night, and sleep peacefully, knowing you are in the right bed. icon_wink.gif

All the best, Russell. Keep us posted.


Nancy Lynn Bogar

[ This Message was edited by: NancyLynn on 2003-05-05 15:16]


Todd Field  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:49
Member (2003)
Portuguese to English
Your qualifications sound outstanding May 5, 2003

Dear Russell,

Sounds like you have expertise that is very well suited to your language pair, not to mention great experience. Many freelancers start out with a lot less than this. Just be prepared for the grueling part, which is getting started. Once you push the boulder up the hill, you can usually roll it over the top, and from there it keeps going more or less on its own.

Networking with other translators is one good way to get your foot in the door. In your case, focus on the OPPOSITE of your language pair (i.e. English > German) and offer some sort of commission for any references that actually land you a job. Similarly, when you are offered a job for which you are not qualified, you can quickly refer it to one of your non-competing English >German buddies, and everyone is happy.

Regarding CAT tools, think about buying TRADOS Freelance. It may not be regarded as the best by some seasoned pros, but it is the industry standard.

As far as whether or not to take the plunge... if you are self motivated and actually enjoy translating (which it sounds like you do), go for it. If you prefer security and predictability, or if you hate sitting for hours in front of a computer, best think again.

Either way, good luck to you!

Todd and Monica


L. Russell Jones  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:49
German to English
Besten Dank.... May 5, 2003

THANK YOU for all (each and every one of)your kind and encouraging responses. It\'s comforting to know others have been (or are) there, too. I hope that not only those of you who succeeded will comment but also those still \"pushing the boulder up the hill.\" [Field et al.]

Besides the creative and freedom factors etc., it is partially because of the sense of security (as odd as it may seem) that makes full-time freelancing so attractive to me. With a corporate job I would have all my eggs in one basket. With full-time freelancing, once successful, I\'ll hopefully have several baskets with eggs in them. Losing one basket to a corporate restructuring or bankruptsy will not put me out of business.

Again, thanks for the valuable feedback ... and happy translating!!



L. Russell Jones  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:49
German to English
Six months later.... Oct 28, 2003

...and having taken the "plunge," I can probably answer my own question now, that is, confirm most of your answers above.

Starting out has, indeed, been tough but this translation 'machinery' I have set in motion is beginning to roll. Last week, I had to actually turn down a job to avoid over-extending myself. A few jobs were referrals from ProZ (and have already more than paid for the Platinum membership). However, funny enough, none of my (10+) ProZ bids have landed me a project, although they resulted in 'invitations' to possible future projects.

This is turning out to be an interesting longitudinal study!

Any comments on how your first steps went...


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

New FT freelance fish in the translation ocean?

Advanced search

Protemos translation business management system
Create your account in minutes, and start working! 3-month trial for agencies, and free for freelancers!

The system lets you keep client/vendor database, with contacts and rates, manage projects and assign jobs to vendors, issue invoices, track payments, store and manage project files, generate business reports on turnover profit per client/manager etc.

More info »
SDL MultiTerm 2019
Guarantee a unified, consistent and high-quality translation with terminology software by the industry leaders.

SDL MultiTerm 2019 allows translators to create one central location to store and manage multilingual terminology, and with SDL MultiTerm Extract 2019 you can automatically create term lists from your existing documentation to save time.

More info »

  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search