Expert with a translation business, or translator with another full-time activity ?
Thread poster: Michael Mestre

Michael Mestre
Local time: 09:21
English to French
+ ...
Aug 2, 2009

Dear colleagues,

I have a PhD in physics (optics and atomic physics). I am currently employed as a postdoctoral research fellow, which means that I am doing research 'full-time' - with reasonable working hours.
I am also a freelance translator ; I have a small number of regular clients, and I am happy to spend a significant portion of my free time translating.

I have an official status as a translator in France which enables me to be registered as a company, send invoice to clients and pay taxes legally.

For a number of reasons (love of foreign languages and translation, intercultural marriage, life between different countries), I wish to develop my translation business up to the point where I can actually work full-time between my research contracts.

I have to admit that this creates a small marketing problem. Potential clients may not understand what category of professional I am :
-"Is this person a good researcher earning pocket money as an amateur (=bad) translator ?"
-"Is he a full-time translator with a scientific background who gave up research at one point ?"
-"Will he be able to deliver the result that we expect if we give him a translation project ?"

Until now, on my ProZ profile as well as my CV, I had avoided the problem by not writing explicitely "full-time researcher" nor "part-time translator".
I am now creating a website for my translation activities, and this gives me an opportunity to ponder my marketing strategy.

Ideally, I would like to argue that I am an expert in a number of scientific fields ; being a working researcher enables me to have up-to-date knowledge of the scientific terminology (better than translators who have 'only' studied science in the past). And that having a research activity does not prevent me from being a translator with the same quality standards and punctuality as our esteemed colleagues.

Would you have ideas on how I could achieve this, both on my website and on my ProZ profile and CV ?
Are there any colleagues with similar situations (translating alongside a full-time job) who have successfully marketed their skills and expertise ?
More generally, do you think that there might be (currently, from what you can see on my profile) a fundamental problem with how I present myself to potential clients ?

Thank you for your helpicon_razz.gif


Harvey Utech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:21
German to English
Straightforward is best Aug 3, 2009


Why not just be frank and straightforward? Tell your prospects exactly what you say in your note--you have a full-time job now but you want to transition into full-time translation.

Who wouldn't want someone with your background to translate an article on optics or atomic physics? Seems to me they should be begging you. You should not feel (or be) apologetic about your current situation.



Suzette Martin-Johnson
French to English
+ ...
I agree Aug 3, 2009

Go for it! I have worked full-time as translator but my PhD will be in international relations when I get it next year. The only thing I would say is, stick to very general translations or specialized ones in your specific area. I think difficult, specialized translations in areas other than the one you mentioned might spread you too thin - resist the temptation to do this in an attempt to keep occupied (because, believe me, the offers will come). I learned that the hard way - near burnout - and have grown considerably since. All the very best in your career! I think it sounds like a really interesting combination.


Stephen Rifkind  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:21
Member (2004)
French to English
+ ...
Split life healthier Aug 3, 2009

I also have a full time job, a college lecturer (technical English). This year I was off from teaching on my Sabbatical year. I have to admit that I look forward to go back to teaching. While it adds stress to have two jobs, it more than makes up for it by balancing life. Staring at a computer 40+ hours a day without working physically with people is unhealthly even for people who like being monks. I will return in October to my two-headed life joyfully.

In short, the clients understand and you benefit. Win-win.


Local time: 09:21
French to English
+ ...
Another question Aug 3, 2009

Instead of answering your question I'm going to ask some others: Doesn't French administration make it extremely hard to exercise two professions? Won't you have to continue making social security contributions for your work as a translator while you are on research contracts?

I don't see why a client would necessarily object to a part-time translator.


Michael Mestre
Local time: 09:21
English to French
+ ...
French administration Aug 3, 2009

First, I would like to thank all the people who have written extremely helpful and encouraging comments. I will definitely take them into account when writing my website and updating my profile.

JoFP, to answer your question I am registered under the new "auto-entrepreneur" status which is a very simplified status for independent professionals. The main goal was to make sure that people who earn large sums of money by selling products and services on the internet (adsense or ebay for instance) pay income tax.
Fortunately for us, they have also opened it to (technical) translators and a large number of other professionals who sell their services on the net.

This status is equivalent to creating a business, so I don't think that it prevents you from having another job.
I found the following article (in French) which says that it is legal to establish a business while being employed :

But it might be true that the administration makes it difficult for you to be employed in two different companies (this is definitely the case if you are a civil servant).


Klementina Shahini
United States
Local time: 03:21
Member (2009)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Go for it Aug 3, 2009

Hi Michael,

I have been teaching English as a full time job for the last 24 years and translated for the last 18 years. I love my teaching job and I love translating as well. I cannot quit either.There have been years that I had both of them as full time jobs and I really enjoyed both of them. Actually, I work as a full time translator for two agencies that have been very understandable and flexible with me. After the clients get to know you and see the quality of your job they will beg you to work with them. It is a matter of trust and proffessionalism as well. Teaching is my call and translation is my passion. I think you are in the same position. Go for it.


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:21
French to English
+ ...
Logistical issues and allaying fears Aug 3, 2009


In principle, I don't think there's any problem with what you want to do. Some things to think about:
- practically every academic I know does some sort of extra work "on the side", be it writing textbooks, starting a little company, doing private research projects for other companies... or indeed translation. If you're concerned about the tax/admin situation, I'd speak to your colleagues and see how they handle it. Without knowing much of the details, I can't see why you can't be an auto-entrepreneur and also have a salaried job.
- you'll have to somehow manage both your clients' expectations re your availability, and your university department/colleagues expectations: what will you do when (a) colleagues ask you to stay late to finish that experiment for an important conference deadline, and (b) a good translation client really needs a their document as soon as possible
- if your formal qualifications are all in physics rather than language-related, you may need to allay clients' fears about your actual *language* competence: some clients will have had bad experiences with people who, although experts in their field, have not actually studied the source language in question to a very high level and aren't actually *translation* experts, despite posing as translators. Maybe you do this by pointing out that you regularly write papers in English, or that you regularly read physics literature in English as part of your day-to-day job... but it's an issue you *may* have to think about, depending on your potential clients.


Maria Karra  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:21
Member (2000)
Greek to English
+ ...
two jobs Aug 3, 2009

Wow, Michael, all this sounds so familiar! We've got quite a few things in common: physics / optics background, two full-time jobs, love for science and for languages, and a certain ambivalence which in my case persisted for almost 10 years. In the end I chose full-time translation. (It was full-time before as well, the only difference is that now I can actually sleep, go out, and have a life.)
I'll write to you in private about my experience and I'll give you some suggestions that might be of help.


Michael Mestre
Local time: 09:21
English to French
+ ...
Allaying fears & two jobs Aug 4, 2009


Thanks a lot for your very insightful post.
I am going to reply to each of your paragraphs in the same order :

1) That's right, a lot of academics do "on the side" work. I haven't seen many working as freelance translators, though.

2) This might be a big issue for PhD students who are expected to work "one and a half" full-time, but otherwise it is manageable in research teams led by people who have a family life. Then they rarely stay or ask you to stay until dawnicon_razz.gif
Actually, if my translation business becomes sufficiently developed, it may even become my main source of income and enable me to work part-time in the lab without having to find external funding (funding is always an issue in developing countries but also in developed countries where you don't have a "stable" position).
In that case, I would become an expert translator with a research activity, just like there are university lecturers with a secondary research activity (in France for example, there are full-time researchers but also university lecturers who can be part of a research team and have heavy teaching obligations).

3) Thank you for pointing out this issue. As you said, clients may have doubts about my language competence.
Do you think that adding a few lines to my CV (and a few paragraphs to my website) about how I have acquired my language skills would help allay those fears ?
Besides, don't past projects and WWAs indicate that I am not posing as a translator ?
(I would even add : are there any details or missing information on my profile that may lead to think that I am posing as a translator ?)

Klemi : A big "thank you" for your extremely encouraging post. I will do my best to follow your example.

Maria : I looked at your profile, yes, the similarities are striking ! I would love to exchange emails with you. I may actually contact you first and ask you a few things that I am curious about.

[Edited at 2009-08-04 08:29 GMT]


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