Prioritizing investments for getting established as a freelance translator
Thread poster: Heather Chinchilla

Heather Chinchilla
United States
Local time: 07:11
Spanish to English
+ ...
May 16, 2006

Hello, I'd like your advice on a few "small" investments I'd like to make as I work towards getting established as a freelance translator. They are all things I plan on doing, but as funds are limited, I'm trying to decide what I should invest in first.

Some are marketing and some are tools to help me become more efficient. Any advice on what order to do which (or adding or removing anything from the list) with an explanation of how it would be more (or less) beneficial would be greatly appreciated!

1) trados or other cat tools
2) laptop (in addition to my desktop comp)
3) my own website
4) cell phone
5) flyers/brochures
6) membership to translator's associations
7) platinum membership to
8) membership to networking group


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:11
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
One man's idea May 16, 2006

Heather Chinchilla wrote:
1) trados or other cat tools

Use Wordfast initially for free, or use OmegaT.

2) laptop (in addition to my desktop comp)

Quite expensive, and I would wait until you get a nice large job that will pay for it in one go.

3) my own website

Cheap to put up and certainly worth getting it up early.

4) cell phone

Yes, very important.

5) flyers/brochures

Only if it fits your marketing plan

6) membership to translator's associations

Relatively low importance.

7) platinum membership to

Lowish importance.

8) membership to networking group

How does this differ from #6?

If you want to spend money, IMO your order should be as follows:

1. Cellphone
2. Invoicing/accounting software
3. CD ROM dictionary.
4. Fax machine
5. Web site
6. Membership to association
7. CAT tool, etc.


Rosa Maria Duenas Rios (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:11
My experience May 16, 2006

Hi Heather,

Interesting question. I can only talk of my personal experience; I have been a freelance since 2000. I hope it will help you:

From your list, my number one investment would be a laptop. A couple of times, when I have not been able to start my computer for whatever reason, the laptop has saved my life allowing me to receive the files my client sent, work on them, and meet my deadline.

I only recently became a paying member of Proz, and it was not because of the jobs, but because I felt a moral need to contribute with more than words. I have to say I have only got two or three jobs through Proz, but the support from colleagues is priceless. However, if this investment can be postponed, I would.

I have a cell phone, but I do not use it very much (due to my personal style of work); I am usually at my desk during normal business hours; so I only use the cell phone when I am out. In the US there are very cheap cell phones with the "pay as you go" system, which I find the least expensive.

I have been a member of one translator association since 2000, and of two since 2004. A few clients of mine have found me through my directory listing at the ATA, so I can say this investment has paid for itself. However, I have never found any client through my first association (OTTIAQ in Quebec).

I just bought Trados (a month ago or so), and I still have to get up to speed to use it. Even though currently only one of my clients asks for it, I believe we have to be able to work with at least one CAT if we do not want to be left behind. But this is an investment I made in my sixth year as a freelance.

I believe my next step will be to have my own website. Maybe I should have invested in it even before Trados. However, I do not want to have one until I am confident I have the time and ability to keep it updated, otherwise, I will just forget about it and it might become counterproductive.

As for flyers/brochures, I do not think they are the best way to promote yourself, unless you attend a lot of conferences or gatherings where you can distribute them. To be effective if you sent them by mail, you would first have to carefully select your clientele and, once you have done such a thing, I believe a personalized letter accompanied by your resume would work much better. So these I would not use.

And cocerning a membership tp a networking group, I am not sure I understand what you mean. Would'nt you consider as such?

Well, there go my two pesos. Good luck!

P.S.: I recommend you read the article found at the link below, written by an ATA member and published in the January 2006 issue of the ATA magazine, on how to run your own translation business. It is packed with good tips, and very down to earth. I do not think they will leave it there forever, so you might wish to print a copy.


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:11
English to French
+ ...
Funny, we all have different priorities May 17, 2006

Hi Heather,

I am not sure why, it must be the fact that we are all on different markets. Or maybe because we don't all specialize in the same sunjects and types of translation.

Here is how I would do it:

1) trados or other cat tools
This is a must! When I started out, the fact that I didn't have one of these actually kept me away from some real nice contracts! Trados (grrrr!) is now a major requirement, in my opinion. It's not that I want to use it, really (sometimes I HATE my Trados), but many clients require it. I think they require it because then they will be able to analyze the files and get themselves rebates (like no pay for repetitions, half pay for fuzzies, etc.). Personally, I hate having to pay for the opportunity to give my client a rebate on my workicon_smile.gif

2) my own website
Yes, this IS a minor investment that will eventually deliver major returns. Another advantage of this is that you will not need to put all your detailed info on your ProZ page - just a link to your site. People will not always bother to spy on you if they need to leave the ProZ site in order to do this. But when a potential client looks at your ProZ page, they LOOK for the link to your website. In my opinion, this is worth a gazillion times more than flyers and brochures (which are useful only if you go prospecting in person, which you might never need to do). I would complete this with some business cards. Make sure your website address is on there, this will turn your business card into a kind of talking virtual Heathericon_biggrin.gif

3) accounting software
I use TranslationOffice 3000, but there's other stuff out there. However, this one is specifically for freelance translators, is easy to use and costs next to nothing considering what it does. I know many people also use Quicken... At first, this is not important, as you usually have enough time to invest in manual invoicing in the first year (we never work full time during the first year), but as you start getting busy, you will feel a nagging need for this.

4) platinum membership to
I find this really handy. I had jobs before I got my platinum, but when I did go platinum, all of a sudden, I started getting a lot more offers. I believe this is because someone who invests in such a membership is more credible (if it's worth USD 100 per year for you, this means you make enough money off of translation for this expense to not hurt your budget, meaning that you must be a decent translator if you get enough contracts to live off of), and also because, when you go platinum, your profile ranks much higher in the translator search than before. I was somewhere around 200 when I was a basic member and now I am 15th in English to French, Canada, technical/engineering. This helps a LOT! Another advantage is you get access to BlueBoard entries - a valuable resource that I have been strongly using ever since I went platinum. I steered clear of a few jobs I knew were risky - and probably avoided not getting paid.

5) dictionaries
I added this one as you will eventually need dictionaries to avoid having to look for some terms for hours - and to confirm terms you already use. A good start is a huge bulky general dictionary from source language to target language - if you can get it on CD-ROM, even better! Analogic dictionaries are next, followed by subject-specific dictionaries. Watch out, this costs a lot! I put it in number 5 for priority, but it is actually the last number because it is impossible to get all the dictionaries you will ever need in the beginning (it's an ongoing process). I've been translating for five years, but I am still buying dictionaries. And I still don't have everything!

The above is plenty to get started. However, in order to offer extras to clients and add a little luxury to your work, the following may be added (but you don't really need them).

6) laptop (in addition to my desktop comp)
This will help when you're in trouble, but it's expensive considering why you want it. You're better off doing serious maintenance on your existing computer and regular backups of anything translation-related (e-mail, memories, translated documents, notes, contracts, invoices). I do have a laptop and I love it, but I actually bought it so my boyfriend can use the other one without restrictions (translators are heavy computer users and the rest of the family can therefore almost never get near the computer) and so that I am the only one using the machine I trust my work onto. This is my main factor - to have total control over my system - no viruses, no popups, no accidentally deleted or moved files. I am on top of my stuff. Otherwise, it's really not necessary, and I would slowly put the money aside for this one and wait until I can afford this luxury. Make it into a one-year freelancer anniversary gift to yourself! Seriously though, once you get the laptop, you'll be addicted!icon_wink.gif

7) membership to translator's associations
This could help with credibility. However, more than these memberships, what may be interesting for you is certification in your language pair. It's no big deal, it's more affordable in the long term, and I find that more importance is given to this than to memberships when outsourcers consider you for contracts. They really only want to make sure that you understand both languages to be able to translate and this is plenty to prove that. Also, please note that these memberships can actually hurt you - you will become a "registered" translator, and you will have to abide by certain rules - rules you may not want to always abide by. Some of these associations, in some countries, believe that the customer's always right, and if you contest the occasional unjust decisions of a customer, your association may think that you are violating this "philosophy".

8) cell phone
I have one, and ever since then, I got ONE client call all in all. Not worth it! Also, if I don't answer my home phone nor my e-mail, that means I am not working right now. In my free time, I don't want to answer client calls. It's not for nothing they call it an electronic leashicon_biggrin.gif

9) membership to networking group
I don't think you need this. If you have a website and at least a free ProZ membership, you have all you need. You may want to become a member of other ProZ-like venues, but I don't recommend you become a paying member of each of them.

I hope this helps!

Good luck - and have fun shopping!


[Edited at 2006-05-17 06:09]


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:11
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
It all depends on you personally May 17, 2006

One possibility is to go and visit some translation offices in your neighbourhood and chat with the owner or the staff. Perhaps they have jobs for you or advice.
Consider who would need your services - direct clients. Contact them!
I use only mobile phone, though I do not carry it anymore with me. Haven't used a wired phone for years. Good mobile phones cost only less than 100 dollars nowadays. Yesterday I recieved my phone bill for the last 5 months: 23 Euro!
But broadband net connection is the most important investment, consider also Skype and other services. Fax belongs to yesteryear.
A multifunktion printer!
If you need CAT you can evaluate them for free first, also Trados and SDLX.



Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:11
Swedish to English
+ ...
Different priorities... May 17, 2006

This is just my experience - I work about 50/50 with direct clients and agencies and both have their pros and cons...

CAT tools: I agree with Samuel, use Wordfast for free to start with. I only have one client where having a CAT tool is an advantage, so I can't justify investing in Trados. It does depend on what sort of fields you will be working in - but try Wordfast to start with.

Laptop: I love my laptop and it is definitely worth the investment - I am able to go to my clients' offices and work there when necessary... An extra keyboard and screen and it works just fine at home too.

Website: Definitely good to have. Mine was designed for me for free by a satisfied client and is hosted for free by another company I work with. It doesn't have to be a major expense and it's a good way of establishing a professional image.

Cell phone: (mine's a mobile!!!) Invaluable - encourage clients to text you about urgent jobs, especially if you sometimes have problems checking your e-mail regularly.

Flyers/brochures: Again I agree with Samuel - only if it fits your marketing plan. Meeting people face to face has been of much more value for me. Business cards are worthwhile though.

Membership of translators' associations: Tricky one this - I have been a member of SFÖ for about a year and so far it has generated enough work to pay my membership fee for the next 20 years... so yes, it was worth it. However, this may just be due to local factors. But don't just think in financial terms - will it give you the opportunity to go to conferences or on courses? These could simply add quality to your working life, even if you put more money in than you get out as a direct result of membership.

Platinum ProZ: Not much of a priority, but I felt the same as Rosa - I get an awful lot out of the site, so I should put something back in. I do get a reasonable amount of work through here, but again this could be due to my language combination rather than being a paying member (I got jobs before I started paying too). The BlueBoard is worth it.

Membership to networking group: I am going to differ from everybody else and say absolutely - this is one of the most worthwhile investments (but I may have understood you differently to everyone else as well). Translators should not just network with other translators, but go out and meet local businesses - they are your potential clients after all... These business people will also network in other directions away from you and may just be able to mention you to someone else who needs a translator. Go to lunches or lectures, join a marketing association... if nothing else, getting an insight into how other people run their businesses can help you market your services to them in the most appropriate manner.

Other things... dictionaries and a printer. I don't have a fax machine but I want one! If you work from home and have children - make sure your office has a door!

Good luck - and whatever you invest in, make the most of it!


Nicolette Ri (X)
Local time: 13:11
French to Dutch
+ ...
My priorities May 17, 2006

1) good ergonomic conditions: a computer table (the keybord should be a little bit below your hands) and a typist chair.
2) a good laptop instead of a desktop pc, with a separate mouse and keyboard
3) a printer who also does photocopies, faxes and scanner(a "combined" one). They are cheap nowadays (about 150 €/$) and save you lots of time.
4) business cards, essential to hand out to your friends. Flyers etc. are too expensive.
5) time - to visit trade fairs and to specialize yourself.
6) membership of a translators' association.
7) documentation of all kinds.
8) Wordfast.
Good luck!

[Edited at 2006-05-17 20:29]


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