27 may. 2009

How to become a successful freelance translator

By Fester Leenstra


After completing their translation training programmes at higher professional education or university level, many students can’t wait to set up as a freelance translator. However, gaining a foothold as a freelancer in a very competitive translation market may turn out to be a pretty complicated business. Translation agencies are not usually keen on contracting inexperienced translators, business clients are difficult to find without commercial tools, and the tax authorities won’t just accept anyone as a self-employed person. So what do you need to do to set up shop as a successful freelance translator?

Translation agencies
Most translation agencies are wary of admitting new freelancers into their networks. After all, it takes a while before it really becomes clear whether a freelancer can live up to their expectations: does he/she stick to agreed deadlines, offer a consistent level of quality, consult relevant reference resources, deal effectively with various registers and specialisations (commercial, technical, medical, financial, IT, etc.)? Many translation agencies begin with a ‘trial period’ in which they closely monitor the work submitted by new freelance translators. To reduce the risk of a fiasco – and avoid the associated costs – translation agencies normally only accept applications from freelance translators who have had at least two or three years’ fulltime experience in the translation business.

Business clients
In their attempts to introduce themselves directly to companies, freelancers usually find it difficult to gain access to the people that matter and, once they are there, to secure orders. Companies tend to prefer outsourcing translation services to partners that are able to offer comprehensive solutions. They look for agencies that can fill their translation needs in a range of different languages, are always available, can take on specialised texts and have the procedures in place to ensure that all deadlines are met. In view of their need for continuity, capacity and diversity it is hardly surprising that many companies select an all-round translation agency rather than individual freelancers. An agency may be more expensive than a freelancer, but the additional service and quality guarantees justify the extra investment.

Tips to achieve success as a freelance translator
What steps will you need to take after graduation to develop into a successful freelance translator?

1. After completing your studies, it’s best not to present yourself on the market straightaway as a freelance translator, but first to find employment at an all-round translation firm and spend a couple of years there to gain the necessary practical experience. As a salaried employee your income will be less compared to what you might potentially earn in a freelance capacity, but don’t forget that without experience you’re never going to be successful in the first place. In many cases, you will be assigned to a senior translator who revises your translations, monitors your progress, and makes you aware of your strengths and weaknesses. This will enable you to acquire the skills and baggage you need on your way to becoming a professional translator, and will give you the opportunity to experiment with various types of texts and disciplines.

2. If you can’t find a position in paid employment, try to find a post as an (unpaid) trainee. A translation agency may not have the capacity or resources to take on new staff, but it may still be able to offer you an excellent training post to help you gain practical experience in a commercial environment. A traineeship may serve as an effective springboard for a career in the translation business, perhaps even within the same agency that offered the traineeship.

3. After having whetted your skills at a translation agency for a number of years, you may decide that the time has come for you to find your own clients. Ideally, you should move on to a part-time contract so that you have enough time to recruit clients and work for them, and enough money to live on. It is important to make clear arrangements with your boss at this stage, to avoid a conflict of interests. The best strategy is to send your personal details and CVs to a selected group of professional translation firms and translation departments within companies and governmental institutions, explicitly referring to your work experience. Don’t forget to highlight your willingness to do a free test translation.

4. Make sure to register as a self-employed person with the relevant tax authorities and seek their advice if necessary.

5. Once you have managed to find enough freelance work to keep yourself busy for around 20 hours a week, you might consider terminating your employment contract and devoting the extra time to attracting new business. In 20 hours most experienced freelance translators tend to earn around as much as a full-time translator in salaried employment.

These are obviously very general guidelines, and your personal career may evolve along quite different lines depending on your preferences, skills and personal conditions. Whatever your circumstances, however, you will find that experience and a certain amount of business acumen are the things that matter most in a successful freelance career.

Fester Leenstra is co-owner of Metamorfose Vertalingen, a translation agency in Utrecht (The Netherlands). After having worked for several translation firms in paid employment, he took the plunge in 2004 and incorporated his own company.

15 may. 2009



1 al 28 de junio


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0. La macrocompetencia traductora.

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2. Preparación, traducción y registro de tu CV.

3. Herramientas de trabajo (glosarios, diccionarios, manuales de estilo, libros y sitios web de referencia, etc.).

4. Software para traducir. Plantillas.

5. Análisis de mercado. Honorarios.

6. Presupuestos, contratos y cartas de presentación. Contacto con clientes potenciales.

7. Teletrabajo: autoorganización y manejo del tiempo.

8. Trabajo en equipo y con herramientas colaborativas.

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12 may. 2009

Cómo desarrollar la subcompetencia profesional instrumental en los traductores

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Knowing Your Capabilities Is Knowing Your Limitations

About the author: Carla is a freelance translator specilaising in French-English, Portuguese-English and Spanish-English and has dabbled in the field of writing.

Knowing your capabilities is knowing your limitations It is a very good idea to get to the stage where you know what your capabilities are in the area of translation, and at the same time you will know what your limitations are - the two are interlinked. I am talking notably of the volume of work you can reasonably cope with without killing yourself in the bargain, and the kind of translations that you are capable of doing.

But how do you get to that stage? How do you find out these things?

If, like me, you are a language specialist first and foremost, unlike others who are a qualified expert in a field and then go into translation, it can be quite a quandary to try and work out what your field of expertise is.

It does not take a high level of expertise to determine what your translation fields are. It is best not to regard yourself as being merely a 'general' translator who does every type of work that is sent to you. You will find that the type of work you find the most difficult should not be the type of work that you should be doing. Of course, in your appointed fields you will at times encounter difficult translations; however, I am talking about a translation which takes more than the usual effort of research on the topic.

Another indicator of what would be your fields of translation is where your interests lay. Are you, for instance, interested in sociology, the arts? Then it is more likely that this is the type of work that you should be involved in. It is a very good idea to develop yourself in this field, and not just to have an interest in it, and to take every opportunity to read up on the area and even take courses to improve your knowledge. It helps to do a course as you go beyond learning merely what the terminology is and actually attain a deeper empirical understanding of the subject matter.

Knowing your fields takes you to the next level – how many words you can translate in a day. This does not mean the 25 pages you can produce in two ticks of a ducks tail; rather, it should be determined by your daily output – including the research and final proofreading and editing as well as formatting of the document, as if you were to hand it to the client on that very same day. This is a very good indicator for long projects, as it helps you to establish what would be a reasonable timeframe, for clients who need to know when you will revert with the document. It also helps you to organise your schedule, so that you will be able to inform your other clients when you will next be available. You will also be able to know how much work you can take on without killing yourself in the process!

Determining your daily output simply involves making an analysis of the work you have done in the past 2 or so months by looking at word counts and the deadlines involved. Take note, however, that it is possible that in some of your specialist fields, you might take longer to produce a certain output, so this analysis has to be quite precise!

In conclusion, never be afraid to turn down work on the basis of being too occupied with other projects or of not being a specialist in that field! We are not machines (much as we would like to be!!). Do not think that you are limiting yourself; in fact, you are building yourself up and establishing a solid reputation as a translator, becoming more organised, and, more than that, learning not just your capabilities, but also your strengths.