A few steps to go before starting to work - advice needed
Thread poster: Salithealbo
Dec 21, 2013

Hello, everyone.

It has been a year and a half since I've been gathering information about becoming a freelance translator and there are some things that are holding me back from stepping up and getting started. I can't tell what these things are, but I only think it may be "the fear" I have to take on the first job?!

I read the "Getting established" forum, daily, and I already know a lot of the advice for new beginners. I'm aware that it's a difficult beginning with not enough work for up to one year. Another advice often given is "starting out as an in-house", but this is something I can't do. I'd like to start out as a part-time freelance translator.

I plan to start out by working with agencies but I'm afraid they are not going to have enough work for me since my language combinations are kind of some rare ones (English, Spanish and French into Albanian) and I don't know how to use a CAT tool (are CAT tools/Trados hard to learn how to use?).
Neither do I have experience or a college diploma, however, I do have passion/talent for languages and I believe I will make a good translator.

I also know that having a good CV, website, professional ProZ.com profile, being a good writer, computer skills, knowing how to run a business, being good at marketing and researching, are all important for a freelance translator. Becoming a member here on ProZ is also something I'm looking to do in the future and I will be trying to amass Kudoz points as they make you stand on the top of the crowd.
Since I mentioned Kudoz, I'd like to use the opportunity to ask if non-members can amass Kudoz points, too?

I want to admit that I don't know how to invoice yet, but I do know that there's the invoicing tool on this site I can use to issue invoices (I wonder how hard this is for one to learn how to do it).

Thanks for everyone that took the time to read my story, and as you can probably tell I'm confused and unsure of why I'm not able to go ahead and get started. Any advice of what to do is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.


Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:03
Dutch to English
+ ...
Don't dwell on the negatives Dec 21, 2013

Don't highlight the negatives, highlight the positives. To your (potential) clients and to yourself. So, you don't have a college diploma, but what DO you have? Have you got a sense of style, do you like to read a lot, do you have particular knowledge? My point is that, unless you are dealing with a language you can't master unless you've done a course in it (like Dutch sometimes) or you are moving in a market dominated by people with diplomas who will know a lot more than you, you are a native speaker and that's what matters.
As long as you are sure that you can adequately understand a text and render it in your mother tongue, then who cares about proving it? Put a few samples on your profile and be done with it.

As to Kudoz, of course you can get Kudoz points as a non-member! We started out like that, but you have to bear in mind that you will be ranked after all the members with Kudoz points in the directory, even if you have more Kudoz than many of those. But I'm not sure how many people there are in your pairs, so you could be lucky.

Invoicing is easy. Basically, you just tell the client you are sending the invoice to, what you've done. They will often give you a job reference/official PO which you put on the invoice, then the number of words, the word rate you agreed with your client, and then the total that makes. And of course any deductions if they apply. If you are not charging per word, but with a flat fee, then of course you don't list the number of words or word rate (speaks for itself). There are other requirements for invoices such as address and name of the ussuer and addressee, both VAT numbers (if this applies) and some kind of bank account number if you want to get paid (PayPal is of course not a number in the strictest sense).icon_wink.gif You have to see what is necessary in your country, but otherwise people are perfectly happy to point out any issues they have with your invoice. It's not a problem.

As to clients, your language combinations are indeed not so straightforward, but there is always work to find, I imagine. The only thing is that you'll need more of those regulars than others do. But your plan of starting out part-time is a good one.

In terms of CAT: I personally find Trados unwieldy (it's a monster on your computer), but it's got fans of its own. However, don't get blinded by the overwhelming presence of Trados. Most clients, I think, see it as a mark of professionalism. It's perfectly possible to work without. You'll just get different work. Personally we use MemoQ, which is essentially the same thing but much smaller. The point of CAT is that you can store translations you have done or put terms into a term base, so you can remember them for later. Although, I think it's better to remember things with your brain, I can imagine that after many many months, you can't remember something you just know you looked up at some point. THEN that termbase will be a godsend. From the other side, I have noticed it eats away at your memory, because you don't really NEED to remember things. The work with CAT is most often technical or it can be legal like tenders and things. They are typically looooooooong documents with a lot of repetitions or similarities in them. Personally I'm not a fan of just running everything through CAT, as it ruins your style to a certain extent (depending on the differences in sentence writing between source and target). German to English, for example, will be more likely to feature sentence-splitting in the target. Modern Dutch to English is the opposite and working across segments is a pain. You can start consequently joining them together, but that takes time. More importantly, though, there is a psychological barrier there, which is not so easy to get over. When I read an export of a press release, for example, which is a typical text that should be short, snappy, should flow easily and not grate, I always marvel at the absolute tripe I can write in a CAT. You just don't see how the sentences interconnect. In contracts, manuals and questionnaires, that's of less importance, as the former two will have a natural development of their own and the third one is naturally not interconnected anyway.
Also don't let anyone bully you into reductions for so-called 'fuzzy matches'. State that clearly from the start. BUT you can offer them other perks like repetitions for free for projects above 5,000 words or whatever. Always mention that fuzzy matches take time too and that it shouldn't be assumed that they don't take any work.
It does take a while to learn to use CAT tools properly. That is not to say that you won't be able to get any translation out of them whatsoever (it's not that badicon_wink.gif), but you won't be using them to the full, because you just don't know what is possible.

One of the greatest pitfalls I found when we were starting out was looking like a beginner. Never explicitly state you are a beginner. It deters people. Always come across as knowledgeable. Before you ask a question, look for the answer yourself (which you have been doing big time!). Learn from your mistakes (I'm still learning). We got thrown off our high pedestals a few times: the first one was a 2,000-word translation with 7 typos (the acceptable number would be 2). I always do a spellcheck before I send a translation now, even if there are no red lines. The second one was assuming my husband read and edited everything thoroughly. Not always. We got two translations back that had to be edited by the proofreader. I always read our translation again (even several times) before we send it. The third one was recently. Missed sentences/words/even one whole paragraph (eek!). I always check what I've typed against the original text. See it as continuous improvement. The ultimate goal is perfection.
The other pitfall is taking on too much because you are not aware of what is reasonable in the beginning. It sounds awful, but our very first job was a court case about unfair competition of 10,000 words in 2.5 days. I was pretty chuffed I got it, but I realise now I could have messed it up big time. I didn't thoughicon_smile.gif.

Also always treat your customers as you would like to be treated if you were one: you want to have an answer quickly because otherwise you's get stressed (in the beginning the cut-off point of acceptability is about 30 mintues to me; if you realise it doesn't matter to the client, because they are not quick either, then extend the time), always be friendly, always confirm receipt, always be gracious in defeat and help your customer if he comes with something the client wasn't happy about. If you are unsure about anything, then tell your customer (if it's an agency), the proofreader can look at it.

Research depends on your target language. If there is a lot of stuff online for you, then you can rest assured that you can find terms pretty easily. Otherwise you have to study your subject or buy dictionaries.

The key thing is: be a perfectionist. Rather think about what could be wrong with your translation than what's right with it.

And take a look at the e-book How to Earn 50,000 a year from Translation. It's a bit simplistic and it won't make you a good translator if you don't have any talent (it doesn't contain a magic potion), BUT it lists a few things that allow you to make a good impression and that's the key to forging a good relationship with first-time clients.

And that was my storyicon_wink.gif.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:03
Member (2007)
+ ...
Things you can start doing today Dec 21, 2013

1) Collect invoices produced by others in your country: plumbers, graphic designers, website developers are people that you or your friends/family may have dealings with, and their invoices will provide an idea of what you need to say. When the time comes to issue your first ones, you can either design them yourself or use the ProZ.com interface.

2) Download a free CAT tool and start finding out how to use it. Some are free as long as you don't have too big a memory, others are free for a limited period, a few are simply free. You don't have to use a CAT tool to be a translator, and as Kirsten says there can be disadvantages, but I think all new translators should know how to use one, if only to explain why you don't use one.

3) Find out how to do other things that a translator has to do. Make sure you have a system for backing-up your hard disk; make sure you can use Word's Track Changes function and all the other functions of Word; make sure you can convert PDFs to editable files; find out how to get at all the text in Powerpoint presentations...

4) Start answering KudoZ questions. You may or may not find you're awarded some points. Even if you aren't, it's a useful exercise for both you and the asker. Just don't be too competitive about the points side.

5) Complete your profile. Even though you aren't working yet it doesn't stop you filling in your profile details with your language pairs etc. It will make you feel you're making progress, and it will help us to help you.

All of these suggestions are to avoid sounding like a beginner. As Kirsten says:
One of the greatest pitfalls I found when we were starting out was looking like a beginner. Never explicitly state you are a beginner. It deters people. Always come across as knowledgeable.


Thanks so much. Dec 22, 2013

Thanks for your great advice Kirsten and Sheila.

I'll definitely start to follow those steps and I've thought about getting into the mentoring program in order to get some help with the translation work as a practice and maybe practise everything else that I haven't, yet.


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