Setting up from scratch
Thread poster: canadadutch
French to English
Feb 24, 2007


I was advised of this forum by a translator friend and thought I would register as I figured it may well give a lot of useful information.

The question is, how to set yourself up from scratch if you basically have no experience? I did an MA in Translation at Surrey University in 2002 and did not go into Translation afterwards. Student debts were a major part in my choice, and I just wanted to start earning money. I have been in the same, civil-service job for nearly four years now.

Although I have Dutch parents, though having lived in Canada and the UK most of my life, I think I can say my native language is English. I also speak French, German and Dutch. French and Dutch are my better languages and I would describe my German as being a "working knowledge".

With such a combination, what would my chances be? Likewise, with no experience what would my chances be? I would imagine I am not the only one who would be starting out with little experience behind them.

Many thanks for any advice.

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Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:17
Italian to English
Forums Feb 24, 2007

Hi Canadadutch
Welcome to the industry and to the site.
As you can imagine, this sort of question has been asked thousands of times on this site. You will find existing members very helpful but you will get much greater help if you start by exploring previous discussions on the subject in the forums and then ask more specific questions based on what you have learnt.
One essential attribute in this industry is dedication and stamina in using all available resources to search for answers.
All the best.

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:17
English to French
+ ...
Welcome canadadutch Feb 25, 2007

You are right, you are not the only one starting out from scratch. That said, you do have the basic studies for it, so you are not exactly starting from scratch

I fully agree with Russell's post. I just want to add that, since French and Dutch are your better languages and since you consider English to be your native language, you should try translating from French and Dutch to English. You will find many threads on the subject of native languages in translation, and I will not get into that here. However, let me just say that it is a common belief among translators and likewise outsourcers that one should translate toward their native language, as translation is not purely about looking up words in a dictionary and pasting them in, but it is a lot about writing also. It is only logical to believe that given that we are always better writers in our respective mother tongues, it is also better to translate toward our mother tongues. Although I don't always endorse this school of thought, I agree that one has more credibility in the eyes of the outsourcer when one translates into his/her mother tongue. I also think it is best not to have more than two source languages, although once again, if you are really talented, you can pull off more than two.

For other aspects of the question, type a few keywords into the various fields of the forum search form and you will find lots of information.

All the best!

P.S.: I just wanted to add that you may want to try getting certified with a certifying body in the languages you pick for work. This will add to your credibility and ensure that you have a basis to charge sound rates.

P.S. 2: I suggest you search the directory for freelancers working in the language pairs you intend to target. By looking at their profiles, you will get an idea of the rates they charge and an idea of where they get their work form. Just by looking at the number of profiles that come up for each language pair, you'll also see how many people you are competing with By looking at their specializzations, you will get an idea of what specializations are less popular - those could be interesting to target as there are not many translators that have them, so chances are they are more in demand, and also that you will be better paid. Read the profiles you find to see which translators seem to be successful and try to figure out why they are successful. You will get lots of hints just from this exercise.

[Edited at 2007-02-25 02:09]

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Adi Al-Ka'bi
Local time: 06:17
Arabic to English
+ ...
Exposure, exposure, exposure Mar 3, 2007

I don't always read the forums. But I remember none having mentioned what I mention below from those that I've read from.

The word is "exposure". You have to provide maximum exposure for your services.

Some of it would be costly like putting adverts in the local papers or the nearest large city papers.

Make yourself loads of business cards. You can do that yourself. I still rely on them and haven't until now printed any at printers. I'm not sure but the paper is 120 grams I think. It's thicker than normal typing and normal writing paper and same thickness as normal business cards. Long ago I fitted 10 cards per A4 size in a file on my PC and reuse when I need new cards. Buying by the ream is cheaper. A metal ruler and a razor knife will cut them beautifully once you get the hang of it.

Depending on where you live, go to the nearest office block building areas. I've done that three times over the 8-9 years now since taking up freelance translation. You go up to the top floor by lift and come down by the stairs. Visit every door on each floor. Stick a card in any closed door that you come at. If the door is open walk in and give to the receptionist or whomever you meet from that office. Just say something like "I provide translation services. If you need translation in any future time, here's my card". They'll take it and most likely keep it to refer to when needed.

Even if a building block turns out to be residential, stick a card in each door. Most of them living there probably work at some office during the day and may take the card to work the next day to keep for reference.

After doing the whole central area during your free time, redo it again after 3-4 years. Many offices will have moved and been replaced with new ones. Though unlikely unless you've got a locally going pair of languages, you might land with a job during those promotional visits. If you can't imagine what you'll say when stepping in those offices, you'll learn after two days.

I've had people calling me 5-6 years later from those visits.

A web site also helps.

Your profile on needs more info. Mine comes up in searches in top ten results for most combinations of search words that anyone searches for in where I live if they are searching for my combination of languages. If you have a web site, you can add it to your profile and many will visit your site for more details once they look into your profile.

Maybe some of these points have been on forums, but maybe others haven't.

The more exposure you provide the better chances of getting work you'll land with.

There are many more points for setting up, but as mentioned I don't know which have already been put up in the forums. You'll have to look into them as advised above.

The idea of calling in on office blocks may not sound appealing at first, but after a couple of days, you'll get used to it and miss doing it if you take a break off it. I've done it on every occasion where I've gone to collect fees and whenever I'm passing through an area I haven't covered before, whenever time allows it. I always carry a few hundred cards with me wherever I go during business hours.

Many factors may affect your efficiency in distributing business cards and how big an area you can cover. I live in a generally warm area and walking about town at all hours is safe. These mainly may affect how much you can cover per day and season. But wherever it is, it's good exercise. Though I don't own a bike, but getting a bike for such excursions might not be a bad idea. You don't have to worry about parking space and charges when moving about between the building blocks.

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