Starting translator
Thread poster: SarahVPT

SarahVPT
Belgium
Local time: 02:25
Arabic to Dutch
+ ...
Feb 2

Hi everyone!

I'm a starting freelance translator and I was wondering if you have some ideas for me how I can find work?

I've subscribed to many websites, but for most of them I have to pay and this is difficult as a starting translator..

Please let me know if you have any tips on how to start my business!

Thanks in advance!


 

Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:26
Member
French to English
+ ...
Networking! Feb 4

Forget the sites where you have to pay to APPLY for jobs —the likelihood of actually GETTING one is pretty low, especially for a beginner.

I have been a member of ProZ.com for many years — at the beginning, I never got a single job from the job posting system — and even now, it is extremely rare!

However, the majority of my work over the years has come as an indirect result of my belonging to ProZ.com!!

Make sure your profile is as strong as possible — you may care to refer to my own to give you some ideas.
Make the most you can of all relevant experience — but don't fall into the trap of lying, or hyping things up in an over-the-top American way — which usually diminishes your credibility anywhere else in the world! Don't hesitate to talk about relevant prior work experience — which in my view is highly to be recommended: merely leaving Uni with one or more degress in translation studies isn't enough to make you a good translator, you need to have proper experience in some fields for people to take you seriously and yo make your translations credible.

Participate in KudoZ, first perhaps as a listener / watcher, and later as a contributor, if you are able to... but beware of becoming the 'new broom' that comes in and thinks they can take over, but does so from a position of high confidence but low knowledge!

KudoZ serves several useful purposes: it lets colleagues and others see not only how good your knowledge is, but also, how you analyse translation problems, consider the issues, and your general approach. Also, in the way you comment or answer, it says a lot about your personality, what you might be like to work with, etc. People who are constantly crabby, bitchy, putting other people down, or over-sensitive to dissent are unlikely to be good or at least pleasant people to work with. And do be aware that outsources (often translation agencies) do keep their finger on the pulse of KudoZ, so they see who makes fools of themselves, who helps others, and can get a feel for your knowledge in this or that subject area.

The very day I reached the top of the KudoZ points 'league tables' in certain fields, I started getting flooded with people asking me to work for them — most of whom were however only offering rates that might be applied by others several 1000 points lower down the list! If you are a paying member, you are presented higher up the list of results when someone searches for a translator, after the ranking by points. Of course, it is difficult for a beginner to quickly amass that many points — but it does illustrate the way people can be aware of and use your KudoZ performance.

The majority of my work has come through other translators, either introduing me to agencies they work for, or recommending me for jobs that they feel are more in line with my own fields than their own; occasionally, paying me the compliment of even passing work onto me in their own fields, when for example they are overloaded.

Don't fall into the trap of charging too little! Yes, as you are lacking experience and "track record", you may not be able to command as high a rate as a senior translator like myself. At the start, there is an understandable tendency to think "I'd be better of earning even a very low rate than nothing at all!" —but you end upshooting yourself in the foot, firstly, because this tedns to have the effect of pushing rates down across the industry; and secondly because, if YOU don't value your work, you can be sure the CUSTOMER won't either! So don't sell yourself too cheaply! One dodge I use is to always invoice at what my 'normal' rate should be, but then apply a ('introductory', 'special', whatever) discount — this not only leaves people remembering what your 'proper' rate should be, but also psychologically lets them think they have 'got something special'!

Beware of doing free test translations — though just starting out, you may have to do a few. Firstly, these are sometimes scams: a customer splits up their text into many small chunks, then sends those out as 'tests' to be done free by different translators (who are not usually in a position to compare notes!) and then simply tells eveyone they didn't get the job, while they got their whole document translated for free! Sometimes, people find out about this, because different translators ask terms on KudoZ, and other people realize they are from parts of the same document.
Secondly, IMHO most translation tests are pretty useless — taking a tiny extract from a document only gives a very cursory idea of how bad a translator is... but rarely allows them to show how good they are. I get asked to assess quite a number of these tests, so I understand a bit of the dynamic that goes on...
And thirdly, in my personal experience, I don't think I have ever, or extremely rarely, got a job as a result of doing a free test. Now, assuming that doesn't simply mean I'm a lousy translator (and I don't think so, judging by the many satisifed customers who keep coming back for more!), it probably says more about the kind of customers who think tests are necessary; and they may not be the kinds of people I want to work for! And I have no hesitation in telling them this! Of course, very often, the test is for subsequent approval by their end customer, and it is simply that the job doesn't materialize.

What I do do is to suggest they entrust me with a few small try-out jobs to start with, where they will be taking minimal risk; I also soemtimes offer to do proofing for them, so they can get an idea of my work. But I have to be careful, because people think they can get "Tony quality" by paying peanuts for a cheap translation, and then paying me the lower rate just to proof it and of course improve the quality; but soemtimes this backfired on them! So now, I don't any longer do proofing jobs for customers unless they are also giving me a healthy proportion of properly-paid translation work. But when I was starting out, I helped a customer out of a whole with a very tricky proofing / correction job, and that has led on to a long and mutually fruitful relationship.

Don't be surprised if it takes quite a while to get going... it took me several years before iw as up to full capacity; and do learn about time management: at first, iw as afraid of taking on too much, as I really had no idea how long it was going to take me; but I was also afraid of saying "no" to people, in case they never came back!

And last of all, the very best of luck, hope it all starts going swimmingly for you icon_smile.gif


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:26
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Just one clarification Feb 4

Tony M wrote:
IMHO most translation tests are pretty useless — taking a tiny extract from a document only gives a very cursory idea of how bad a translator is... but rarely allows them to show how good they are. I get asked to assess quite a number of these tests, so I understand a bit of the dynamic that goes on...
And thirdly, in my personal experience, I don't think I have ever, or extremely rarely, got a job as a result of doing a free test.

I can certainly believe that being the case with technical translations, but my own personal experience in the field of marketing is that clients can tell a lot about a translator's style from just a short sample of their own material. By comparing the samples of several translators - all of whom have delivered a perfectly accurate and error-free translation - a client can choose the one they feel will give readers the best impression of whatever they're selling. Many of the potential clients who contact me ask me for a short sample, and most then go on to give me the job. Of course, I'm talking about the serious contacts, not the ones that need five pages (normally of something way outside my comfort zone) dashed out before the end of the day. I learnt long ago to just give them my rate and tell them I'm fully booked for the weekicon_smile.gif.

Forget the sites where you have to pay to APPLY for jobs —the likelihood of actually GETTING one is pretty low, especially for a beginner.

I wouldn't waste time on any of the ones that offer all types of jobs to all types of freelancers, where you aren't even allowed to contact the "employer"icon_rolleyes.gif outside of the site. 99% of the suppliers on those sites aren't actually self-employed professionals, so they don't have to pay taxes on their income. Mind you, there are a fair few of those here too icon_wink.gif, which is one reason to consider paying for membership. Of course, some of the "registered users" are indeed both professional and competent, but on the other hand very few of the "hobby translators" will invest in their hobby year after year.

Talking of investment, there's no business in the world that doesn't require some. If you were opening a shop you'd need to buy stocks; if you were going into hairdressing, even as a mobile one, you'd need to buy your styling equipment. I think it's very short-sighted to expect to do well in a profession if you're not prepared to invest any more than a hobby translator. Membership here is around a hundred euros - really not a fortune. But beware that making this site your shop window will require a lot more than financial investment. If you pay and just sit back waiting for the clients to arrive, you'll have wasted your money. You have to work hard to make yourself noticed. And when they've noticed you, they must be impressed with what they find. Tony has already spoken about that. Basically, whether it's here or elsewhere, do everything to ensure you get a great ROI. It is possible, believe me.


 

Mair A-W (PhD)
Germany
Local time: 02:26
Member (2016)
German to English
+ ...
test translations Feb 4


And thirdly, in my personal experience, I don't think I have ever, or extremely rarely, got a job as a result of doing a free test. Now, assuming that doesn't simply mean I'm a lousy translator (and I don't think so, judging by the many satisifed customers who keep coming back for more!), it probably says more about the kind of customers who think tests are necessary; and they may not be the kinds of people I want to work for! And I have no hesitation in telling them this! Of course, very often, the test is for subsequent approval by their end customer, and it is simply that the job doesn't materialize.


fwiw, I would distinguish between the situation where all interested translators are asked to do a test and then "one will be chosen" - I have also never got work this way - and the situation where an agency who doesn't know you has a specific - large - job that they would like to assign to specifically you, but is wary to allocate it to a new unknown translator without an obvious track record without seeing *something* of their work first. I have done a couple of these and always then gone on to complete the job. (of course, ideally such a test would be paid, or an extract from the actual job, but... )

of course there is a third case where you do the test simply to get onto the agency's books, and subsequently the agency may or may not have work for you, depending on things like your specialism, rates, responsiveness, ...


 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 08:26
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Tests Feb 5

Secondly, IMHO most translation tests are pretty useless — taking a tiny extract from a document only gives a very cursory idea of how bad a translator is... but rarely allows them to show how good they are

That is often exactly what they are intended to do - to filter out translators who are unsuitable, careless, or thoroughly incompetent. I recently failed one test for egregious misuse of a word and another for generally not using terminology suitable for the locale, and I have no doubt whatsoever that I will see even worse tests in the future.

That said, this has the effect of making one more conservative when doing a translation test, since itt's more important to be not wrong than to be great. So one becomes more mechanical and literal, taking less liberties than one would in practice, since you never know if the person reviewing it would appreciate it, and this becomes a problem in more creative content.


 

Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:26
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
Welcome SarahVPT Feb 5

For starters you can fill out your profile page. No one knows anything about you or what you offer or why people should engage your services, wht you have to offer that others don't, not even your native language

 


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