Getting started
Thread poster: Matthieu Daigneault
Matthieu Daigneault  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:12
English to French
+ ...
Oct 10, 2008

Hi, I am trying to get started as a professional translator from English to French and from Spanish to French. I have been applying on potential jobs posted on this website I have been searching every where to get that first contract that make you break the ice for about the last 4 weeks. I try to get involved as much as I can and nothing is happening.

What should I do? Should I get a type of certification? If yes is there a good and cheap certification I can get online or anything? How did you guys got started? Did it take weeks, months, years before you got your first contract?

Thanks for sharing.

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:12
English to French
+ ...
Several tricks Oct 10, 2008

I think that, for starters, your rates are too low. If you are trying to find work within Canada or even the US, your rates may suggest to some potential clients that you are not qualified or that you do shobby work. If you don't want to change your rates, you can always hide them.

Next, you may want to polish your profile. I found a grammar mistake in your About me section. Also, your About me section mentions that you are starting out. That is not useful information for potential clients. What is useful for potential clients to know is how you can help them and why you are the right person to contact for translation work. This should also shine through in your job quotes.

To finish, don't give up. Four weeks is not even a fraction of the time it takes to get a freelance career going. Some of us had to work hard at getting their names out there for two entire years before they could earn a living entirely with translation. In my case, it took me three months, which is exceptionally fast. In average, it takes a year, but this may vary based on language combinations and specializations.

I see your areas of specialization are consistent. That is great. However, it may be that there is not enough work available in those areas. You may want to broaden your horizons and see if you can attract more work that way. If it is the case, you may want to pursue specializations that seem to work better - take courses, read books, chat up people who work in those fields. However, make sure you always pick specializations you already have some qualification in, or that are familiar terrain. Becoming properly specialized comes with experience. You will have to make efforts periodically to get there.

All the best!

[Edited at 2008-10-10 17:10]

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Stephanie Sirot  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:12
English to French
+ ...
Be patient Oct 10, 2008

It takes time to get established. 4 weeks is just the start! As Viktoria suggested, correct the spelling mistake on your profile and polish it. Also put your resume in English. You should actually have a resume in all the languages you are working in.
The majority of communications are in English though.

Since you are a paying member on Proz, you can access the database of agencies. Prepare a good resume and cover letter -i.e. go to the point, only state the relevant info- and contact as many agencies as possible. It can be a bit tedious sometimes, but it is worth it in the long run. Keep biding on jobs, here and on other related websites.

Network locally. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce and become a member if you can afford it. Do research on companies in your city/province that could need your services and contact them. Follow up. Have your own website and business cards.

There is no "quick certification"process. Contact your provincial professional association of Translators, or the national one and see how you can become a member.

It took a month to get my first contract ever. It took me a few extra months to have steady work, and a few more to be able to live solely with translation. If you don't have enough savings, you may have to work part-time before you can "break it" in the industry. You may want to offer extra services such as Proofreading/Editing, Language Instruction/Tutoring.


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Tony M  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:12
French to English
+ ...
It can be a long, hard slog... Oct 12, 2008

I work in a rather common language pair [FR > EN], and I found it took me a long time to get established. It was around 4 years before I was working at what I considered full capacity and earning a full salary.

I am the first to admit that I am not very good on the sales side of things, and so I soon realized that working for agencies was going to be important for me. But it took a mental effort and a change of attitude for me to see them, not as 'sharks creaming off a hefty margin of my earnings', but rather, as 'service providers providing me with a sales and marketing service, for which I was prepared to pay them a percentage'. It's purely a change of attitude, yet for me it was the key to unlocking that particular client sector.

I also found that new agencies were naturally wary of 'giving me a try-out' on a first paid job; I have always on principle resisted doing unpaid tests, but did manage to persuade some people to give me an initial small paid job; another thing I did was to accept proof-reading assignments. I actually think this is paradoxical, since the proof-reader is the final quality control 'safety net', which I for one wouldn't entrust to an unknown, whereas one might safely take the risk with the initial translation, if one was sure of having a good editor behind one. But there you go, that's the way some people see it...

I helped a number of people out with tricky or rush jobs, and by doing them a favour in this way, won their confidence.

I would also guard against too-cheap rates (as Viktoria has said); apart from the fact that you end up shooting yourself in the foot if you try under-cutting established people just in order to 'get a foot in the door', you may also find it is very difficult to impose higher rates later when you want to. At best, I charge my standard rate, but sometimes offer new clients an 'introductory discount', linked to payment terms; this way, we can both get to know each other and establish a working relationship at minimum risk. Again, it's purely psychological — but it's surprising just how much effect that can have, both in my own head, and those of my customers!

I don't personally believe that adding more qualifications is particularly helpful per se; I am far from convinced that is a key factor that potential clients use to assess your likely performance; certainly not as far as those I've polled and/or work for are concerned. As ever when starting out, the one thing you most need is track record! Once you have got your first job, then the client may be able to see from the quality of your work if your qualifications are borne out or not. I have been asked by a number of beginners for advice and help, and some of them (particularly when attempting to translate into a language in which they are not native) I have discouraged on the basis of the sample translations they sent me; it's hard to do, but sometimes one has to be cruelly realistic in order to be kind.

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