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Consider becoming freelance translator: is the money good enough to survive
Thread poster: xxxpavelbb
xxxpavelbb
Local time: 02:45
English to Russian
Nov 13, 2006

I would like to become an English to Russian/ Spanish to Russian or German to Russian translator, I am going to graduate from a russian language uni having studied 5 years, I like the flexibility that frelance translators get, but is it all worth it, can you work 6-8 hours per day and afford to rent a house, pay bills and put a piece of bread on the table?

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:45
English to Spanish
+ ...
Good question Nov 13, 2006

What you ask is a question none of us can answer for you. Can it be done? Of course. Can it be done by you? Only you can answer that, and it will take time and risk.

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esperantisto  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:45
Member (2006)
English to Russian
+ ...
I generally second Henry, Nov 13, 2006

but would like to point to one of ProZ's features, namely, rate calculator. This is a very rough estimation, yet it can give you some hint, if the answer to your question would be yes or no. Just go to the calculator, input your desired income (obviously, taking into account taxes, rent etc) and figures on your ability to work, get the necessary rate and compare to the declared rates of your coleagues (that are, yes, potential competitors in the market). When I compared mine, I decided NOT to freelance

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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:45
German to English
+ ...
University of life? Nov 13, 2006

Henry Hinds wrote:

What you ask is a question none of us can answer for you. Can it be done? Of course. Can it be done by you? Only you can answer that, and it will take time and risk.


If you just are talking about potential earnings/market prices, have a look at this thread http://www.proz.com/post/448920#448920 to give you an idea of what you could earn (assuming you were capable of getting the work and doing it well).

But otherwise, as Henry says, only you can answer the question.

Graduating in languages is good and fine, but going into business on your own as a fresh graduate is not without potential pitfalls.

Have you considered any possible specialised areas that you would like to translate in? Might it not be an idea to consider working within those fields (e.g. engineering, IT, marketing, finance) for a few years and then rethinking the translation issue?

When I used to assign freelancers as an outsourcer, I would usually favour those who had experience in the particular field.

Good luck to you, my friend, and I hope this helps
Chris


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Eventually Nov 13, 2006

pavelbb wrote:

I would like to become an English to Russian/ Spanish to Russian or German to Russian translator, I am going to graduate from a russian language uni having studied 5 years, I like the flexibility that frelance translators get, but is it all worth it, can you work 6-8 hours per day and afford to rent a house, pay bills and put a piece of bread on the table?


After you have "established" yourself, you will be able to "work 6-8 hours per day and afford to rent a house, pay bills and put a piece of bread on the table". That process typically takes some time. In my case I was part-time for about 8 years before I decided to take the plunge and become a freelancer.

So it's typically a slow start, and probably at the beginning you will need something more reliable in the way of an income, unless you can find a free/very cheap place to live:-)

And that usually means a part-time job of some kind that guarantees you the minimum you need to survive.

It also has the advantage of giving you some mental stability (imagine sitting around tied to your computer for days or weeks on end waiting to see if someone will contact you for work-- this is a typical scenario for someone starting out, unless they're dead lucky).

One thing is getting started, i.e. getting your first few jobs. The other thing is putting in the effort to build up clientele, which takes time and will probably mean having to put in more than 6-8 hours a day. It also means being consistently professional, delivering on time, and making a continuing effort to improve and learn.





[Edited at 2006-11-13 19:06]


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Andrea Riffo  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 22:45
English to Spanish
no kidding! Nov 14, 2006

Lia Fail wrote:
It also has the advantage of giving you some mental stability (imagine sitting around tied to your computer for days or weeks on end waiting to see if someone will contact you for work-- this is a typical scenario for someone starting out, unless they're dead lucky).


(Emphasis added)

Oh boy (or rather, girl), do I second this!

I started as an occassional freelancer in 2003 (I was a full-time translation student) and decided to make it on my own instead of applying for an inhouse position right after graduation... the result was days, more days, weeks and even months glued to to the computer... if I went out for even a couple of hours, I started thinking what if someone decides to contact me...?. If I decided to relax with a good book, I couldn't help but check my e-mail every 1/2 hour anyway, so I couldn't really concentrate...

Finally it paid off, but if I had known back then what I do now, I would've probably gone for the part-time or full-time inhouse job at first to save some money and gain experience. I actually did take an inhouse position for a whole year and started freelancing again just recently, only now I am not starting from scratch, because I never lost contact with my first clients during the year I was cooped up in an office... fortunately!

My two cents

Andrea

[Edited at 2006-11-14 00:25]


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:45
Dutch to English
+ ...
When established, yes the money is good Nov 14, 2006

I just thought I'd add a positive note.

Once you are established and have a number of customers, yes the money is good. It is, in fact, better than having a job at a company. My option would be to teach.

It took me 3 years to get established. I was lucky. I found a customer who actually needed a translator 30 hours a week for nearly 2 years. Basically, I took responsibility for all their language needs during this period. During this time, I established myself full-time and, when the job finished, I could just carry on. I have never looked back.

I should add that I did not do this straight from university. I had several jobs before going down this route (mainly teaching).


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Ruxi
German to Romanian
+ ...
It depends Nov 14, 2006

From my experience I would say that local translators have it easier than expats (and you seem to be an expat), at least for some pairs of language.
From what I have read on this site, there are people who have a lot to work as freelancers and get a lot of money.
It depends on the languages they work on and on the country, on the speciality.
Russian is still a very important language, but I don't know if it is needed in UK or other countries.
You may not find easy agencies abroad offering jobs for Russian, but in the ex. URSS there may be more offers.
When I lived in my native country I used to haver lots of offers, in another country my language is not needed and there are almost no jobs.
It is also about speciality and other factors.
Generally speaking the market is full of translators and jobs are fewer and fewer, at least this is my feeling.
More and more people discover this profession and want to use its advantages.
This makes the competition very hard and the profession becomes more and more the object of handle and business and less and less an art.
Ideally, translators who really do it out of a passion and talent, should either be employed (in-house), or have an aditional secure income/job to be able to survive.
About graduating a language university: the pro is you have may be a more accepted credential in many fields.
The cons:
1. You have only one special field for translation (literature) and this is the most delicate and with the less prices/income
2. You are not (as far as I know, but I may be wrong) be prepared for real business, do not know accounting-financial amtters aso.
I would suggest you to start working in-house (in a company or translation agency, the second possibility being though very limitated). Work in company even on another position than translator, so that you can learn more practical things which such an university does not offer ( a specialisation field, business matters, computer aso).
To start directly with freelancing is a huge mistake.


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xxxpavelbb
Local time: 02:45
English to Russian
TOPIC STARTER
What qualifications will allow to charge good rates Nov 14, 2006

Thank you very much for your replies, I also would like to ask what matters most to clients offering a job, is it primarily the benchmark qualifications (for example, English DipTrans) or the experience in a particular area (engineering books, novels, poems)?

And if I still consider jumping in the deep end of the pool, what could be an effective tactic of getting clients, how besides price variations can you convince them you are good and make them come back for more, what is the most important thing in the success equation with this line of work?


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xxxreebecca
Local time: 03:45
English to Dutch
+ ...
Don't take the step too soon! Nov 14, 2006

Hello!


I started working as a freelance translator about two years ago. (Actually when I was still in translation school).
But I chose to combine it with a fulltime day job.

If I were you I wouldn't take the step to become a fulltime freelancer too soon.
Most of the times, clients demand some translation experience (and most of the time the exercise at school won't be enough) and when you just finished translation school you simply don't have that experience.

During the past two years there were months where I earned a nice amount of extra money, but unfortunately there also were months where I simply earned nothing through my translation work.

Now, little by little I get more clients, so maybe within a year or a year or two I will consider looking for a part time job and start translating part-time.

My advice to you is: try it on a part time basis to start with, untill you have enough regular clients and enough experience!



Rebecca x


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 20:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Depends... Nov 14, 2006

pavelbb wrote:
Thank you very much for your replies, I also would like to ask what matters most to clients offering a job, is it primarily the benchmark qualifications (for example, English DipTrans) or the experience in a particular area (engineering books, novels, poems)?


Really, there are as many different kinds of clients as there are translators and "translators." To some clients, price is paramount and quality is irrelevant. Presumably those are not the kinds of clients you seek.

Some clients are impressed by qualifications. Unfortunately qualifications are no guarantee of quality either.

Specialization in a particular area is good, but only if accompanied by good translation skills. Also, there are a good many texts that do not require so much special knowledge of a particular field, as general knowledge of cultures and an ability to write well.

pavelbb wrote: And if I still consider jumping in the deep end of the pool, what could be an effective tactic of getting clients, how besides price variations can you convince them you are good and make them come back for more, what is the most important thing in the success equation with this line of work?


These are actually two issues: 1) getting clients, and 2) keeping clients, or repeat business.
For #1, see some past posts on the topic, such as these:

http://www.proz.com/topic/52854
http://www.proz.com/topic/53338
http://www.proz.com/topic/37980
http://www.proz.com/topic/56850
http://www.proz.com/topic/51746
http://www.proz.com/topic/53728
http://www.proz.com/topic/49742
http://www.proz.com/topic/49102
http://www.proz.com/topic/45459
http://www.proz.com/topic/42295
http://www.proz.com/topic/39165
http://www.proz.com/topic/38999
http://www.proz.com/topic/37763

For #2, the "secrets" are a) translate well; b) follow good business practices (don't be a "difficult" service provider); and c) be reachable.


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xxxpavelbb
Local time: 02:45
English to Russian
TOPIC STARTER
Brilliant, thank you Nov 14, 2006

Thank you all very much, very useful advice, I will try it part-time and see if I can get into it seriously, meanwhile I will get myself a full-time job somewhere else.

Thank you, this really helped


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Olga Simon  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 03:45
English to Russian
+ ...
Hard to say....... Nov 14, 2006

The UK is overwhelmed by the Russian-speaking minority, both professional translators and those who declared themselves ones after not having been able to find a job as per their qualifications. You can always try, good luck with that! I, myself, when we used to live in London for a short period of time, had started as a freelance translator, but very soon joined an oil company in Westminster where I could combine both - my language skills and a far more attractive salary package!

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xxxNMR
France
Local time: 03:45
French to Dutch
+ ...
In addition Nov 14, 2006

I think you should concentrate in the first place on the products the UK exports to Russia. Take the customs statistics and try to find out which kind of products (food? industrial products?). And then visit some trade fairs to know them, to collect information and to make contacts. You can do this even before you will be established as an independent translator. For me this approach worked very well and I find the expat situation comfortable.

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Vesna Likar
Macedonia (FYROM)
Local time: 03:45
English to Macedonian
+ ...
Some things to add, though.... Nov 15, 2006

pavelbb wrote:

Thank you all very much, very useful advice, I will try it part-time and see if I can get into it seriously, meanwhile I will get myself a full-time job somewhere else.

Thank you, this really helped


Well, I thought I should add one small thing I've learned from my own experience; I've been working as a translator/interpreter for 13 years now, and have always had a full-time job; freelance thinking is good, yet one should also consider the existence of so-called "closed circles"; namely, in my country (Macedonia), freelancers in our field do earn a lot, but only if they belong to "circles" - you know, a "friend-of-a-friend" type. It is hard to break through in such circumstances, no matter how good, qualified and willing/needing to work you are. Here, one should really be lucky to get where translations pay well. I guess it is because the mentality is still such that real qualifications do not really matter. It remains to be seen whether things here will change.
I wish you all the best.


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