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Struggling to establish myself
Thread poster: James Greenfield

James Greenfield  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:41
French to English
+ ...
Jun 23, 2014

I've been working as a freelance translator for quite a while but am finding my reserves of enthusiasm are dwindling. I started off with the belief that I could get a regular stream of interesting work from well paying clients but after failing to make real headway I am now at a stage where I am applying for office jobs as I can't see myself managing to earn a living wage from translation. I did work almost full time for one translation agency for 2 months, which was good but sadly that ended. I believe I am a good translator in my current chosen specialisms but I must be doing something wrong as I am getting no replies from translation agencies that are willing to work with me. I started off specialising in financial and legal translation but now my specialisms better reflect my expertise. My original specialisms were chosen after receiving legal and financial material for my first jobs but now I prefer to undertake work I am more interested in and for which I am better qualified. I went on a course with Corinne Mckay and with her help I managed to refine my CV and cover letter and upon her advice I also now have my own domain email. Therefore I think my marketing materials are solid, so I'm not sure why I'm being ignored. I really do love translation work in my chosen specialisms so I'm not yet ready to give it all up yet. I am also a certified pro and have over the last few weeks started to get involved more with kudoz which has helped to boost my ranking. I'm trying to do everything possible, if anyone has any advice on how to gain more clients I would really appreciate it.

 

Sarah McDowell  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:41
Russian to English
+ ...
A few words of advice Jun 23, 2014

Have you tried contacting clients directly?

Also, you said that you now have your own domain e-mail. Does this mean you also have a website? If not, you should make one.

Another rather petty thing is to straighten the diploma scan in your profile. I saw that it was on the side.


 

Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:41
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Job Jun 23, 2014

Hi James,

It sounds like you are doing the right kind of things and it may just be that translation agencies receive so many translator CVs (both spam and real) that yours is getting lost. Maybe attending conferences and events where you can meet translators and agency owners in person might help you?

On the other hand, getting an office job for a while might actually not be a bad idea - I was forced to do that in the early days when I had sent out my CV to lots of agencies and heard nothing at all back. While I was working, jobs started to trickle in and I was able to build up a small base of customers by working part time. The company I worked for was the English subsidiary of a German engineering company so I was also able to gain translation experience and learn a lot about motors, conveyors, pumps, etc. After about 18 months I was approached by a publishing company to translate a book so I left ... and have been fully booked up since! So if you do go down this route there is no need to see it as giving up on translation.

Good luck,

Rachel


 

James Greenfield  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:41
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Jun 23, 2014

Sarah McDowell wrote:

Have you tried contacting clients directly?

Also, you said that you now have your own domain e-mail. Does this mean you also have a website? If not, you should make one.

Another rather petty thing is to straighten the diploma scan in your profile. I saw that it was on the side.


I haven't yet tried contacting clients directly but that's something that's on my to do list. I plan to get in contact with ski resorts that might that might need translators. Another thing on my to do list is to build a wordpress website. I got so far, but then couldn't manage to replace the original proz created website with the wordpress website. I find it quite complicated but I should give it another go. Also, I will make sure my diploma is facing the right way up. Thanks very much for your comments.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:41
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Do you need to be more pro-active? Jun 23, 2014

I'm hearing you say that you've set up ways that potential clients can contact you, but how will they contact you if they don't know you exist? Perhaps you're doing more than you've told us, but there's bound to be some more you can do to bring yourself to their attention. For one thing, if you're trying to get clients here on ProZ.com then you simply must be active on KudoZ - it's one of the rules of the game here. You've started, but in your very common pairs you'll have to really work at getting points in your specialist areas if you're to get anywhere near the top in directory searches.

How about memberships? Being in the directory of one of the official translators' associations, and maybe active within it wouldn't be a bad move as it would give credibility. And how about more active networking on places like LinkedIn, plus a blog etc, maybe tweet a bit (I steer clear of most of that but then I'm an oldieicon_wink.gif). Do you visit trade fairs and exhibitions - places where direct clients will be thinking about their own image and needs? If you can't get to them in person maybe a small ad in the programme wouldn't be too expensive. All I know is that nobody's going to beat a path to your door - you have to go to them.

As for the image you present here, you do come across as a serious translator, so I doubt that your image, once people find you, is a real problem. There's the small point that maybe having "General" as your principal specialisation in your profile here is not the best way to go. Surely the ones you mention elsewhere (tourism, business, sports, culture) should be highest. But then having tourism as N°1 leads me to one final point: your writing style is factual (I hopeicon_wink.gif) and very presentable and probably worked well for legal and financial translations but maybe it needs to be a little more punchy for your new areas. Maybe you need to present yourself the way you'd present a new hotel, the various works in the Louvre or mountain biking.


 

Frankie JB
France
English to French
+ ...
Picture!!! Jun 23, 2014

Change your picture Greenhorn, you look like a drunkard or a junkie, how do you want to instill trust and professionalism with that? It looks like a picture taken at a student party, I can almost guess your cropped the glass you had in your hand! Come on!! There are certainly other things to improve but this one springs to mind...

 

Terence Noonan (X)  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:41
German to English
+ ...
I see no immersion experience with your source languages Jun 23, 2014

Most professional translators have spent several years living in the countries where their source languages are spoken. From your profile page and your CV I don't see any of that. That is a huge burning red flag fluttering atop the highest pole in town. There are some people who can reach an amazingly high level of proficiency without ever leaving their home country, but those people are like golden horned unicorns among linguists, and are nearly as rare as people who can translate professionally into their non-native languages. If you have spent significant time in either France or Spain, or you grew up bi/trilingual, then show it, otherwise it will be very hard to find people who are willing to take a gamble on you. Your translation degree and classroom experience are not going to help you much here when other, more critical prerequisites for entry into this profession are not present. Your degree is icing on the cake, but it is not the cake. If you want to translate you should move to either Spain or France. Go to a few agencies and introduce yourself in your best French/Spanish. If they are impressed enough with you I'm sure you'll get work, as native English speakers with the skills necessary to translate are not exactly a dime a dozen due to the nearly nonexistent focus on strong language skills in the Anglophone world. If, on the other hand, you have the language level typical for someone who has only had several years of classroom instruction without the requisite immersion, you could perhaps consider teaching English in either of those countries until your language level is up to snuff. If you haven't put in the years abroad and are not really willing to do so then you should consider a different line of work, because IMO there is something of a globetrotting lifestyle which goes hand-in-hand with this profession.

 

Sarah McDowell  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:41
Russian to English
+ ...
"general" is not a specialty field Jun 23, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

There's the small point that maybe having "General" as your principal specialisation in your profile here is not the best way to go.


By definition, "general" can never be a specialty field and thus must never be listed as a specialty. It can however be listed among your working fields. Nobody specializes in general texts.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Samples Jun 23, 2014

Hi James. I've looked at your sample translations and IMHO you've done an excellent job with some very challenging texts.

All I can say is:

1) It takes at least 3 years to get any kind of business - such as a translating business - into the black;

2) Focussing on one very specialised field is the right way to go - it could be something you personally are particularly interested in, or in which you can show that you have particular command of the terminology. This might sound like reducing your options rather than increasing them, but it works. Also make sure that this specialism features prominently in your Proz profile (for example, just "MA in Translation" below your name isn't going to attract anyone). Put yourself in the position of a possible client who just Googles for "French to English...brain surgery....translation". That's if your special field is brain surgery. Over time you'll build a reputation as "the guy to go to for brain surgery" (or whatever) "translations".

3) Hang on in there! Giving up is not an option for someone like yourself who is evidently literate with an excellent command of both your languages. That's more than can be said for some "translators".

4) (Added later) and your picture is fine. We can see what you look like and you're smiling. That's much better than hiding behind an icon, which some might find off-putting.

[Edited at 2014-06-24 07:49 GMT]


 

cranium
French to English
+ ...
Direct clients Jun 24, 2014

One problem with proz is that the word "client" usually refers to translation agencies. Remember, you can also contact communication agencies, marketing firms, press agencies, manufacturers, etc. Your local Chamber of Commerce should be able to orient you towards an appropriate business club, either in your field or language pair (like the CCFGB). You can also read business books that are not geared to translation, to pick up marketing and networking tips.

 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:41
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Your picture Jun 24, 2014

You don't look like a drunkard or a junkie contrary to what a previous colleague said, I hope that remark will be censored. However you do look very young (meaning you lack experience). It does look more of a delightful Facebook photo than a professional one. There are translators with that kind of happy smile on their profile photo but they often have a few grey hairs thrown in, so they can get away with it! Young people need to prove that they are serious thoughicon_wink.gif
My son has been experimenting with beards and definitely looks older with one, have you tried that?


 

Sarah Silva  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:41
Member (2008)
German to English
+ ...
Networking and membership Jun 24, 2014

Hi James,

It sounds like you have a good base to start from. I would suggest joining the ITI or CIOL in the UK to start with. I think this gives you credibility as a translator with clients and is a great resource for information, networking with colleagues etc. The ITI have mentoring schemes which might be a great way to get advice specific to your specialism/language pair.

Setting up a website is also a good idea, especially if you have some time to work on it at the moment. It gives clients more information about yourself and has the potential (I'm not an expert on this!) to get you found in search engines. Some clients have found me on Proz.com and then gone to my website and contacted me via that.

If you are not already on LinkedIn, create a profile and join groups related to your specialism so you can be present where your potential clients are. Try posting a question or contributing to discussions to get your name noticed. Put your LinkedIn profile link on your CV that you send out to agencies and maybe your Proz.com profile because it's a great place to write exactly what you want without being restricted by agency form fields.

Personally, I wouldn't rely on Proz.com as a source of clients. I do find the Blue Board an excellent resource and Kudoz term search very useful but I think you need to be really proactive at contacting agencies and potential clients. Look locally as well, your local chamber or commerce could be a source of contacts or local companies might need your skills?

The first stage of establishing yourself is always tricky but keep applying to agencies - this is a good time of year as many of your colleagues will be on holiday which means there is work available.
Good luck!


 

Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:41
Member
French to English
+ ...
Specialisms Jun 24, 2014

I agree with several other colleagues that you seem to be doing many of the right things. Since you work in two language pairs where there is no shortage of demand but also no shortage of competition, I would say that specialisms will be particularly important for you. If you worked with, let's say, an eastern European language that few native English speakers translate from, it might be a different story as you would be competing in a smaller "niche" - at least, that was my experience. But I know that when I entered the profession, which wasn't that many years ago, other young translators were finding it hard too, and most of the ones I knew gave up eventually. I'm not saying that to put you off, as I know you're very keen to get established (as was I!); I'm just saying that this is to be expected at the beginning, especially in competitive language pairs. While you're working on building up a client base, taking another job - perhaps just a part-time one - might not be such a bad idea. That's what I did, and the jobs I did dovetailed nicely with the fields I mainly work in now.

You say that you prefer to work on material you're knowledgeable about and find interesting. That's good, but you also mention that legal and financial texts were what you were given to work on at first. I suspect you've already realised this, but what we find most interesting and what the market most wants are not always going to be the same thing, so it's important to be aware of the fields that are most in demand and to try - if possible - to gear yourself towards the ones that will be easiest for you to work in. Remember that accepting a job you might not find interesting from a new client may lead to more interesting assignments relevant to your specialisms later on, which is why it's very important not to turn down work that you're actually capable of even if it doesn't interest you hugely, especially when you're starting out - and difficulty is a point I will come back to in a moment. Later on, you can afford to be more selective. I have a real interest in ice skating and plenty of experience of the sport, but in nigh-on ten years, not one client has ever asked me to translate anything about it (though I live in hope!) So if I had refused everything but that kind of work in my early days as a translator, I would be in a different career now. That's perhaps an extreme example, but you get my point!

Business, which you mention on your profile, is very much in demand, and it overlaps to some extent with law - another field which you know from experience is in demand. If I were you, I would take some kind of part-time or online course in one of these fields, and/or read around the subject extensively as your career progresses. As Sheila mentions, tourism tends to require a certain flair for creative writing. Maybe you have one, I don't know, but that kind of translating can be more difficult and time-consuming than translating the straightforward administrative bumph that crops up a lot in business or legal texts, so that's something to bear in mind. And don't forget that even if you find law or finance daunting, not all texts about them will be difficult, and not all of them will be beyond you even though you're in the early stages of your career. Consider each document on a case-by-case basis. As long as you have a good awareness of your limits and choose your jobs wisely by avoiding the very time-consuming and complex ones, you could still consider working in these fields a bit to help get yourself established.

Good luck!

[Edited at 2014-06-24 09:28 GMT]


 

Tom Gale  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:41
French to English
+ ...
How many agencies have you applied to? (and other ramblings...) Jun 24, 2014

Hi James,

I'm in a similar position to you, having left my project management job two months ago to start up as a freelancer. I had two small jobs in my first week and then nothing until yesterday. From all the translators I've spoken to it really is a case of being as patient as you can (money permitting, of course) and applying to as many agencies as possible (didn't Corinne McKay say you should apply to 250 in your first year?!).

Targeting smaller agencies and single translators who outsource could prove more fruitful than the larger agencies who demand "3-5 years' experience" (a form of seniority which worryingly resembles the teaching profession in France...). They may take longer to get back to you as agencies of this size usually do not have a recruitment person and might not even open your email for weeks!

If money is a serious issue then a part time job would be a positive move. This is advice I have received from a number of different people including PMs, freelancers and lecturers.

One thing I did notice specifically about your case: your CV seems a little thin. I'm sure you can pad it out a bit to make it more "attractive" and professional. When newbies like us don't have the 10 years' experience which can often sell a freelancer by itself, we need to show that we are still highly competent linguists who know what we are doing. For example, have you done any language or translation related CPD courses? If so, stick them in! Marta Stelmaszak runs a translation "Business School" (http://wantwords.co.uk/school/) which could be worth a look.

Finally, if you've been working in a languages environment for over a year, you are eligible to get full CIoL membership, which will certainly put a bit more weight behind your applications.

Keep at it!

[Edited at 2014-06-24 17:07 GMT]


 

Branka Ramadanovic  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 11:41
Member
English to Croatian
+ ...
I agree Jun 24, 2014

[quote]Tom in London wrote:



1) It takes at least 3 years to get any kind of business - such as a translating business - into the black;


I agree with this.


 
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