The first steps
Thread poster: Dallas M
Dallas M
United States
Local time: 02:46
Japanese to English
+ ...
Sep 13, 2016

Hello, Proz!

I've lurked Proz off and on for a couple years now; it's exciting to finally start talking to all the awesome people here! I'm taking my first steps towards becoming a translator. Yay! The problem is, like most newbies, I'm not entirely sure what the first step is. So, I decided that the natural first step is to introduce myself.

I graduated University with a double major in Linguistics and Japanese Studies, all eager to begin my career translating. From research I did at that time (largely here at proz.com), I knew that the most important thing for me to do was go live in Japan and swim in the language for a while. And I did. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I returned the States after only 11 months (quite a bit shorter than my original 3 year plan) and have been doing unrelated work for the last year.

Now that I've been laid off from my job, though, it seems a good time to revisit this particular career aspiration. I've gotten onto Gengo and have been earning pennies for a few weeks (mostly because of my confidence in finishing within their time frames), and I haven't done so many flashcards since my last final exam. Beyond these, though, I'm unsure of how to proceed from here.

My biggest priority right now is paying the bills, and my second priority is making this dream come true. Am I in a good position to do both since I don't have a day job anyway? Or would I be more likely to survive getting a part-time at e.g. McDonalds before pursuing clients and/or an apprenticeship?


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:46
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Starting part-time is ideal Sep 13, 2016

Dallas M wrote:
My biggest priority right now is paying the bills, and my second priority is making this dream come true. Am I in a good position to do both since I don't have a day job anyway? Or would I be more likely to survive getting a part-time at e.g. McDonalds before pursuing clients and/or an apprenticeship?

I would definitely advise getting a not-too-taxing part-time job, as well as starting to really push forward your dream of being a freelance translator.

The main problem with going full-time from Day 1 is that you won't have enough clients to provide you with anything like full-time work, or pay. OTOH, the main problem with trying to set up a freelance business while holding down a full-time job is that you can't hope to meet deadlines unless you work yourself to a frazzle and compromise quality and your health. So, a part-time job flipping burgers is perfect. If you can arrange to give every burger-buying customer your business card, so much the better ).

The idea at the start is to spend a high percentage of your time marketing yourself, sorting out your business obligations, training (formal or self-study), building up a portfolio (maybe by doing volunteer translations such as blogs and websites that wouldn't otherwise be translated but which interest you personally), etc. So don't worry if many of your quotes get rejected, or more likely ignored. If you start by needing the work too desperately then you'll be tempted to work for peanuts on any and every job, and that is NOT the route to the top. Choose your rate, and stick to it. Maybe you can negotiate on deadlines etc instead, e.g. if someone wants work at 11pm, offer to do it immediately, but only for a decent rate of pay. In fact, a newbie can get a good foothold in the industry reasonably easily by offering to work all sorts of unsocial hours to start with.


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:46
Member (2008)
French to English
Some suggestions Sep 13, 2016

The first step is to get your profile set up properly and create a marketing CV. Some articles on this step are found at:

http://www.proz.com/translation-articles/articles/4001/1/A-Freelance-Translator’s-Résumé:-What-You-Should-and-What-you-Shouldn’t-Include

http://www.proz.com/translation-articles/articles/72/1/How-to-prepare-freelance-specific-CV

Then the next step is to create a list of potential clients. In the beginning you will likely do best by registering with translation agencies, since they do the marketing and sales for you. End clients often come later in a career, as they require more care. You can find the names of agencies at the associations most of them belong to, such as:

http://www.atc.org.uk

https://www.euatc.org

http://www.atanet.org/

There are also lists on Proz.com and other similar sites.

Next you should establish your rate. The tables at http://search.proz.com/?sp=pfe/rates are a good starting point, but don't sell yourself short by thinking that low rates will attract more business. The opposite is often true, since low rates convey a message to the buyer of poor quality.

You can contact the agencies you have listed by email. Most agencies have a specific procedure to register with them, either a special email address or a sign-up page where you enter your details. These will be shown on their website. Some may require a short test.

Don't count on any results from any agency in particular, but there are thousands out there and if you register with enough and do a perfect job, every single time, you will develop a clientele. Typically, it takes about 6 months to a year of marketing and building up a clientele to earn a living from it. Your results may vary, depending on how much effort you put into it and your ability to maintain quality work.

[Edited at 2016-09-13 16:13 GMT]


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Dallas M
United States
Local time: 02:46
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Mentors/Apprenticeships? Sep 13, 2016

Thank you, Sheila and John!

I've been toying with the idea of doing an apprenticeship, as well. I looked through the mentors here on Proz, but still had some questions about how that works... and perhaps it's a later step, anyway?

Are the mentorships done completely through proz.com? What are reasonable expectations for both parties?


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:46
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Mentoring varies a lot Sep 14, 2016

Dallas M wrote:
I looked through the mentors here on Proz, but still had some questions about how that works... and perhaps it's a later step, anyway?

Are the mentorships done completely through proz.com? What are reasonable expectations for both parties?

The mentoring here, like everything else on ProZ.com, is principally arranged between the two parties concerned. ProZ.com is simply a meeting-place. Because mentors have different levels of availability and specific skills, and mentees have different needs, the actual mentorships can vary a lot. But you will need to take out paid membership of the site if you're to benefit from that service. I think it should probably start as soon as you're ready to start, for maximum advantage. Some of your questions should be addressed in the FAQ: http://www.proz.com/faq/4376#4376 but if there's anything specific not addressed then you can raise a support ticket to discuss it with staff: http://www.proz.com/support/

BTW, there are also the Translation Wikis to help you start off on the right foot: http://wiki.proz.com/wiki/index.php/Main_Page . Ones in the Marketing category, for example, could be helpful way before your first client.

[Edited at 2016-09-14 14:18 GMT]


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Kerlene
United States
Local time: 05:46
Spanish to English
Relatively new translator/volunteer here as well Sep 21, 2016

Hi Dallas M! I'll share what I've been doing since graduation based on my needs and desires; perhaps it will help you with your goals.

I finished school in 2013. Got a call from my professor to translate some documents later that month and was paid at a rate of 5c per word. As a newbie, I didn't complain lol I also got feedback on my work, which was very helpful in making me see where I needed to improve.

I then reached out t a website as a volunteer to translate into Spanish; didn't work out well, as I never heard back if they accepted my work. So I stick to ES-EN only now, which is best practice anyway, and will not do any work unless I get written confirmation that something is needed. I worked as an ESL conversation tutor at the time and stopped when I got pregnant- something I wanted to do- after which I started working for Rev.com part time in 2014. By the way, they accept translators as well, a small number at a time. Rev is how I survive; volunteering with TED and Trommons.org, using iTalki for conversation practice+new vocab, Ankidroid (flashcard system), rtve.es for news and listening skills, etc are how I keep my skills and vocab from getting rusty-- which they DEF did post-grad with only one job and lengthy periods between volunteering. So I agree with Sheila: make money so you can survive, and further your translation career in your down-time.

The links John shared were helpful, and for the next few weeks/months I'll be doing what they suggest. One thing I'd advise is that while you want to put yourself out there, be sure to keep a comprehensive record of all your accomplishments, activities, submissions, samples, websites (and their passwords!), and any other files. Enpass and 1Password are great for secure password maintenance. Remove redundancies, get rid of accounts that you don't really need, and try not to have too many things going on at once or you're likely to get flustered. Make a to-do list and check things off as you go, so can see what progress you are making. Bookmark things you want to come back to. Be consistent and don't procrastinate, but don't try to do it all in one day, either. 25 minutes on a task every day will still bring results.

Another good reason for keeping complete records is for when you pay taxes-- you may be able to write them off as work-related expenses, eg. training seminars, software, website upkeep costs, etc. Find and use whatever is free and works for you, and keep receipts if you buy anything work-related- even if it's paper

So, flip burgers or whatever, build your professional profile, expand your portfolio, create business materials, volunteer, and keep applying to jobs. Someone will bite, sooner or later. In the meantime, prepare well for your dream job.


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Dallas M
United States
Local time: 02:46
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Well, I've found work Sep 30, 2016

So I managed to get hired on at a restaurant to pay the bills. The funny thing is, I am fully expecting another (and possibly another) job offer to come in next week. I think I know what I want to do, but I just need to voice it and see if anyone tells me I'm being an idiot

The restaurant job starts at minimum wage, but because the chain is growing really fast I have the potential to double my income in 12 months, which is pretty nice.

The offer that I'm sure I'm going to get will be at a bank, and I'll be STARTING with the salary that I could be making next year at the restaurant, but the hours are definitely longer and moving upward will be much harder.

It's sooooo tempting to take the higher salary, but here's my main concern: I'm pretty sure that the bank job will eat up all time or energy that I have to put into building up my skills and my client base as a translator. The restaurant job probably won't. Plus, the lower pay would be an extra fire under me arse to get good quick. On the other hand, restaurant hours are notoriously irregular, whereas the bank job will probably be pretty consistent about giving me weekends. The restaurant is walking distance, the bank will require me to borrow a vehicle until I can afford to get my own.

They say having two options isn't a choice, it's a dilemma. Yep, totally agree.

My goal to become a translator makes me want to take the restaurant job, and that's probably what I'll do. This post is really just about me trying to deal with everyone's favorite Uncertainty Monster. If you have advice, especially if you think I'm making the wrong decision, I would really appreciate hearing (reading) it.


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MK2010  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:46
Member (Jun 2017)
French to English
+ ...
Time windows Oct 2, 2016

I think either job would still give you time to do things like research clients and learn more about the biz, and actual translation jobs can be done during off hours, which is the beauty of freelancing gigs. However, you do need to be able to communicate with potential clients and be available for them, which is one of the drawbacks of having another job. Let's say you're targeting clients in the U.S. for the time being, and they send you an email at 9 a.m. asking if you're available for a rush job due in 24 hours. If you're busy helping customers and can't access the request and respond to it until several hours later, then that job will probably go to someone else. Smart phones make it easier to communicate at all times, but most employers aren't going to let their staff spend their work hours shooting off emails. So while the freedom of freelancing is amazing in terms of schedule flexibility, we do need to set aside a few time windows when we're available to communicate with clients. For instance, I do a lot a work for a client in Paris, and so 6 - 9 a.m. my time is when I need to make myself available. Those couple of hours are the only time we're both at our computers at the same time.

So maybe that can help you decide. If a restaurant job offers evening and weekend shifts, you might be more available to communicate with potential clients during regular business hours.

Then again, stressing over money is never good, so... tough choice!

Good luck.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:46
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Rethink your priorities Oct 2, 2016

Dallas M wrote:
I'm pretty sure that the bank job will eat up all time or energy that I have to put into building up my skills and my client base as a translator.

Yes, the bank job would eat up time and energy BECAUSE it is building up your skills. It's by doing the hard work that you learn things. In effect you would be getting paid to learn about commercial banking and finance, and that is know-how that you could use in translation in your pair.

Without some kind of specialist knowledge I think you will struggle to make decent money in translation. I know of exceptions to this rule in your pair, but they have mostly been translating for decades i.e. they started when the translation market was a very different place. If you acquire specialist knowledge - such as by working for a bank - you will be far more marketable. That means you can actually do more than merely survive as a translator.

ProZ is not short of members writing posts bewailing the parlous state of the industry and how hard it is to make a living. A few of them may have made the right moves and just been unlucky; fair enough. However, I suspect that the majority of the complainers have never learned to differentiate their offerings and/or have failed to push hard enough to get the good clients.

While those people are complaining, some translators who specialise carefully and market themselves assiduously are doing quite nicely. To which of those two groups would you like to belong? If it's the former, keep going as you are. If it's the latter, you should focus on building some kind of specialist knowledge.

My advice would be to take the bank job and throw yourself into it. In a few years or even just 12 months you will have industry experience that will put you in a far better place for translation.

As for your restaurant job (I'm going to assume FOH/waitressing [EDIT or waiting of course]), your potential employer is not guaranteeing that you will double your starting salary a year from now. They're just saying it is possible, which is the oldest line in the book. If you were able to get the job so easily you can lose it just as easily. The barriers to entry are low, there is plenty of competition and wages for waitressing are therefore also low.

Not only are you unlikely to be well paid, but it will likely be harder to use that restaurant background for industry experience because food is inherently more local and less global than (say) finance. As argued above, without the specialist knowledge you will probably struggle to get translation projects that pay decently. So you may just end up working two low-paid jobs in parallel, instead of having a relatively well-paid day job that supports your translation efforts.

I'd spend a few hours thinking about this carefully.


[Edited at 2016-10-02 16:42 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:46
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You can't do everything Oct 2, 2016

Dan Lucas wrote:
Dallas M wrote:
I'm pretty sure that the bank job will eat up all time or energy that I have to put into building up my skills and my client base as a translator.

Yes, the bank job would eat up time and energy BECAUSE it is building up your skills. It's by doing the hard work that you learn things. In effect you would be getting paid to learn about commercial banking and finance, and that is know-how that you could use in translation in your pair.

Without some kind of specialist knowledge I think you will struggle to make decent money in translation. I know of exceptions to this rule in your pair, but they have mostly been translating for decades i.e. they started when the translation market was a very different place. If you acquire specialist knowledge - such as by working for a bank - you will be far more marketable. That means you can actually do more than merely survive as a translator.

ProZ is not short of members writing posts bewailing the parlous state of the industry and how hard it is to make a living. A few of them may have made the right moves and just been unlucky; fair enough. However, I suspect that the majority of the complainers have never learned to differentiate their offerings and/or have failed to push hard enough to get the good clients.

While those people are complaining, some translators who specialise carefully and market themselves assiduously are doing quite nicely. To which of those two groups would you like to belong? If it's the former, keep going as you are. If it's the latter, you should focus on building some kind of specialist knowledge.

My advice would be to take the bank job and throw yourself into it. In a few years or even just 12 months you will have industry experience that will put you in a far better place for translation.

As for your restaurant job (I'm going to assume FOH/waitressing [EDIT or waiting of course]), your potential employer is not guaranteeing that you will double your starting salary a year from now. They're just saying it is possible, which is the oldest line in the book.

Such wise words from Dan! (And I wouldn't believe that salary raise until I'd seen it in happen, either. I guess they're offering to make you a manager; but remember there's only one manager's job for every nn recruits.)

I really don't think it's a good idea to try to hold down ANY full-time job while setting up a business. I think you'd either end up getting sacked from the job or earning yourself a bad reputation for missed deadlines etc., unless you were careful - and then you simply wouldn't get started as a "pro" translator, staying as yet another "€5-an-hour" one. But with a few years in banking behind you, you could appeal to a very different market. Particularly if you take pains to write down all you learn and research the equivalent terms in your other language(s). Is there any mileage for using your languages in the banking job? There often is. Sometimes, an organisation will 'borrow' an employee from a different section if they have an occasional need.


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Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:46
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Bank job Oct 3, 2016

I agree entirely with Dan. Take the bank job if it is offered and spend a few years learning everything you can about banking and doing as much networking as you can. This will give you a specialism and contacts which will be invaluable to your career in translation (assuming you don't decide against it in the end). Maybe you can do a little translation on the side, but I would put that on the back burner for a bit. The translation industry is a much more welcoming place for those who come with specialist experience gained working in another field. As a translator, you really do need to specialise to be successful and it's a hard slog gaining a specialism any other way.

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Elif Baykara  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 12:46
Member (2015)
German to Turkish
+ ...
Other factors Oct 3, 2016

Many factors are involved in being a successful freelancer.Especially when getting established, the most important ones for me are, in addition to the proficiency in your language pair, (1) to be willing to work, (2) marketing, and (3) specialization.

(1) is entirely up to you. When you are a freelancer, you have to take your work much more seriously because you are your own boss responsible for everything. This is not always easy. And never forget planning your vacations - time-offs.

(2) is a long and steady process. You need to learn some basic techniques (I didn't have any idea in the beginning, but you'll learn eventually). You have to gain some insight. And most importantly, since you are offering a continuous service, you need to have something to market. This is where (3) gets on the stage.

(3) is very important. This is one of the most distinguishing features in successful freelancing. The best way to specialize is to actually work in the relevant sector.

Unless there are other factors keeping you from accepting the full-time position, I wouldn't miss it. Just remember why you are there and don't get fascinated with the comfort of a regular job. Keep the position as long as you need to specialize, make connections while you are still there, then gradually start your freelance business.

At least, this is what I would do.

Elif

[Edited at 2016-10-03 12:28 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-10-03 12:29 GMT]


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