Getting started as a freelance translator
Thread poster: Andre Borges

Andre Borges  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
Apr 13, 2016

Dear Forum Members,

Recently I decided to take the plunge as a FT Freelance translator. Formerly, I worked as an in-house translator twice in Chile, first in an Im/Ex company and later as an on-site interpreter and translator in a factory, just last year. I've always had good experiences doing translations, freelance or otherwise, in Chile/Argentina, but in the United States I've always found it extremely difficult. My language pairs are ESP to ENG, CHIN to ENG, and ENG/CHIN to ESP when my arm is twisted to do it. Currently I am only advertising translations into English.

After reading a book about translating in the US market, I started to send out resumes to agencies and quoting rates. I've quoted $0.06 to $0.05, done some tests, and passed the tests, but I've still not been paid for anything. I need to pay my bills. What am I doing wrong? I've sent out about 200 resumes so far. I know I need to increase that to at least 600. When can I expect that these companies that have "hired" me will actually send me work to do, and then pay for it? It seems there is a large translator community that exists here, so it seems it is possible, but I have not quite figured out the trick yet, at all.

Any advice is greatly appreciated. I realize you have no reason to help out.

Thank you,
Andre


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Kelly Neudorfer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:54
German to English
Part-time employee while starting out? Apr 13, 2016

I'm sure others will see this differently, and I know that I have a very high need for job and income security. My advice is therefore coming from that perspective.

Have you thought about getting a part-time job as an in-house translator while you try to build up your freelance business? Starting out FT as a freelancer "cold turkey" has got to be hard. It sounds like you didn't have any kind of client base already built up? If you can find a part-time job that pays at least a good chunk of the bills, then you can use the rest of your time to start building your client base.

Do you have any expertise in a certain area? Technical? Legal? Medical? If so, and if you can document that experience, then I'd say you should contact specialized agencies, not just huge general ones. Having sent out 200 applications I guess it's entirely possible you've already covered that route, but I wanted to throw it out there.

Also, is there a reason you're contacting agencies? Have you thought about contacting direct clients? Everyone has their own preferences, but I find a mix of a couple of solid agencies in my area of expertise plus several direct clients is perfect for me.

I do German to English, so I have no idea about your markets, but you could look into joining professional associations and getting into contact with your language divisions (here I'm thinking specifically of the ATA, but there may be others of interest to you).

Just some ideas - you've probably thought about a lot of this yourself.


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Andre Borges  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your reply. Apr 13, 2016

Hi Kelly,

"Have you thought about getting a part-time job as an in-house translator while you try to build up your freelance business?"

I could try, however the prospects for this are dim in NY compared to Chile from my experience.

"Do you have any expertise in a certain area? Technical? Legal? Medical?"

I translated manufacturing, part production, welding and engineering materials in my last job. Generally I tend to translate technical and scientific documents. This is partially because in my first job in IM/EX I did all the schematics and safety documentation, which was often engineering or chemistry, basically. I also did all the buying/selling formalities, which consisted of contracts and the like.

If I may ask you a question, when do you generally, or did you, start to actually get work from people that "hired" you?

Thanks!
Andre


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Kjetil Holm  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 15:54
German to Norwegian
+ ...
Hi Apr 13, 2016

Hello,

first of all, do you only send requests to US translation agencies? I think you should try any international translation agency (if you don´t have a particular reason not to). Also, you normally don´t get paid for test translations. If you are accepted, they will put you in their database and often send a contract of some sort. Then you just have to wait. I´m not sure for how long you have been sending out CV´s, but the only thing you can really do is be patient and never give up. When you are starting out, it takes a little time to establish cooperation partners. That being said, I´m surprised that you haven´t gotten more response considering your background. Best advice: Keep trying.


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Dani Karuniawan  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 21:54
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Suggestion for new freelance translators Apr 14, 2016

  1. A freelancer is a service seller. Thus....
  2. A freelancer offers a service instead of applying for a job. Try to acquire a buyer instead of being hired.
  3. A freelancer sells his service to his client. Hence....
  4. A freelance translator - client relationship is a seller-buyer relationship instead of an employee-employer relationship. This means....
  5. Their relationship is horizontal instead of vertical.
  6. Try to acquire buyers from your town or city as the first step before expanding to wider market
  7. A freelancer is not a slave. He or she deserves plausible payment for any translation works he or she completes.
  8. Only provide free test translation 50-100 words. More than 100 words should be paid. Why? Because a translator is not a slave.
  9. Create a blog and put your translation samples there (100-200 words per samples) if you don't want to be a slave in the translation industry. I do this on my blog https://danitranslatorpenerjemah.wordpress.com
  10. Never sign anything unless you see with your eyes the source document at your hand.
  11. Create your own workflow, procedure and policy as short as possible so as to avoid from getting played around by parties with malevolent intention.
  12. Try to reach end user as your primary target. Don't be dependent on third parties.
  13. Build your own terminology database. It is your competitive advantage. Never share to all websites because they will use it or sell it and they never share the money they get from it with you. You are not a slave, right?
  14. Watch your steps! Many fake, dark and grey translation agencies, cheaters and TMs thieves wandering around and ready to prey you. The grey ones are more dangerous because they prey freelance translators in subtle ways you difficultly notice. Beware subtle slavery in the translation industry.
  15. If you get good or best buyers/ clients, treasure them.


[Edited at 2016-04-14 07:14 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-04-14 08:41 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-04-14 08:52 GMT]


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Romina Navarro
Argentina
Local time: 11:54
English to Spanish
Great input, Dani! Apr 14, 2016

All your suggestions are clear, simple and brilliant!
The main idea I always tell myself and others is that we are NOT job seekers.
Our mindset is the first thing we must change if we want to succeed as freelancers. That's the starting point.
Andre, you have worked in-house for a long time and it is natural to get used to it, but now this is a different story. Freelancing is not easy but it's not impossible either.

I also find Kelly's point really wise.
We have bills to pay, bills that cannot wait. And if you get at least some fixed income for your basic expenses you will be able to devote the rest of the day looking for clients, doing marketing work, networking, translating, and so on.
And the most important thing: you will be able to set your rates and say NO to agencies that pay peanuts, because you are not despertate.

BTW, I think the rates you have quoted are too low. You should raise them.
Of course, most agencies will not want to pay more, but as Dani said, you're not a slave.
Try to find better clients instead.

Best of lucks!


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Andre Borges  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Hi Apr 16, 2016

Thank you everyone for your replies.

@Kjetil Holm. In the past I got work mostly from S. America agencies, when I worked with agencies at all and not with clients directly. N. America agencies seem to work in an entirely different way, and culturally it is quite frustrating. It seems like goes through a lot of process without making a sale, ultimately. If I may ask, how long did it take you to get any kind of decent cooperation partners? This sounds gloomy, but there it is.

@Dani Karuniawan. Thank you for the rundown. Yes you are quite right, in terms of translations I certainly think of it the wrong way. The website with samples is a very good idea. I will certainly do that if I manage to make any headway.

@Romix. I radically reformatted my CV and changed some of my marketing materials to reflect those that are more successful than me on Proz and Translator's Café in terms of presentation and flow of information. I also increased my rates, slightly. Clearly, whatever I am doing, I am not doing it correctly to generate a sale.



[Edited at 2016-04-17 13:38 GMT]


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Kelly Neudorfer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:54
German to English
Response Apr 17, 2016

Andre Borges wrote:


If I may ask you a question, when do you generally, or did you, start to actually get work from people that "hired" you?

Thanks!
Andre



I slid into translation while doing my MA and doctorate in International Relations. I also taught ESL during that time, and my first direct clients were people I knew from those areas (e.g. people in my IR field who needed to publish in English, course participants who had business translation needs). Then my next group of clients came from word of mouth recommendations. Finally, I got further qualifications in translation (NYU certificate, ATA certification) and contacted a couple of select agencies specializing in academic and/or legal translation.

After getting my doctorate, I was lucky enough that a half-time position as an in-house translator opened up very close to where I live. I applied, got the job, and absolutely love it. Together with my husband's income, it's enough to pay the bills, and all my freelance income goes to our "extras" (vacation, dining out, saving for house improvements, etc.). So basically I have a combination of a fixed income as an in-house translator, some direct clients, and a couple of agencies.

I love the combination of income security plus the flexibility of freelance work. I know this situation isn't everyone's ideal, or even it is then it's hard to realize it.


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Andre Borges  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Update May 16, 2016

Well, so far it has been quite an interesting journey. I really never understood the extent to which I have been trained to be in-house. Doing things as a translator, although it seems cliché to say it, is entirely different in a multitude of ways too complex to succinctly describe.

Learning the hard way, I've started to get a few jobs here and there and build relationships with agencies. I've learnt from trial and error that working with an agency is about establishing a relationship that makes sense for both of you, meaning some offers have to be turned down because they won't go well and you know they can't go well the moment you look at the project. I am still far from perfect at making these quick decisions, as is the demand in a freelance context, but at least I know it is an issue I need to work on getting better at, rather than an "unknown unknown" thing.

I've also discovered some very good translation coordinators out there who are conscientious, helpful, and provide context. Unfortunately, because this is the internet of course, there are scammers and exploitative people as well.

Going into this, I felt as if all I had to do was try my best on a given first translation and that would be it, but putting together an effective marketing campaign, communicating well with the coordinators, agreeing on prices and fundamentals like delivery, and of course inspecting the project you are about to do to determine feasibility and fit all changed the very naïve first assumption about freelance translation I had.

Also, I didn't realize the extent to which I had really become a technical translator. One one recent test, I found myself wondering about how best to describe a hotel in language that was aesthetically pleasing, going back and fourth between alternatives. The next day, I received a test regarding a highly technical topic in Chinese and rocketed through it because I had done similar technical/sci stuff a thousand times before.

All of these things are things I had read in previous discussions of transitioning from FT to Freelance and the like, but experiencing it and reading it are two different things, I suppose. I guess I also have to thank all the commercial engineers and scientists over the years who have answered my (many) questions, and put me in a position to at least have stronger technical skills.

So now I know I have a lot to learn about doing this thing of freelancing in the translation word, interacting with people, choosing projects, and negotiating prices. The individuals who have responded here also helped me to open my eyes a bit - thank you.

[Edited at 2016-05-16 19:29 GMT]


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