How to become a successful freelance translator.

By: Fester Leenstra

After completing their translation training programmes at higherprofessional education or university level, many students can'twait to set up as a freelance translator. However, gaining afoothold as a freelancer in a very competitive translationmarket may turn out to be a pretty complicated business.Translation agencies are not usually keen on contractinginexperienced translators, business clients are difficult tofind without commercial tools, and the tax authorities won'tjust accept anyone as a self-employed person. So what do youneed to do to set up shop as a successful freelance translator?

Translation agencies Most translation agencies are wary ofadmitting new freelancers into their networks. After all, ittakes a while before it really becomes clear whether afreelancer can live up to their expectations: does he/she stickto agreed deadlines, offer a consistent level of quality,consult relevant reference resources, deal effectively withvarious registers and specialisations (commercial, technical,medical, financial, IT, etc.)? Many translation agencies beginwith a 'trial period' in which they closely monitor the worksubmitted by new freelance translators. To reduce the risk of afiasco - and avoid the associated costs - translation agenciesnormally only accept applications from freelance translators whohave had at least two or three years' fulltime experience in thetranslation business.

Business clients In their attempts to introduce themselvesdirectly to companies, freelancers usually find it difficult togain access to the people that matter and, once they are there,to secure orders. Companies tend to prefer outsourcingtranslation services to partners that are able to offercomprehensive solutions. They look for agencies that can filltheir translation needs in a range of different languages, arealways available, can take on specialised texts and have theprocedures in place to ensure that all deadlines are met. Inview of their need for continuity, capacity and diversity it ishardly surprising that many companies select an all-roundtranslation agency rather than individual freelancers. An agencymay be more expensive than a freelancer, but the additionalservice and quality guarantees justify the extra investment.

Tips to achieve success as a freelance translator What stepswill you need to take after graduation to develop into asuccessful freelance translator? 1.After completing yourstudies, it's best not to present yourself on the marketstraightaway as a freelance translator, but first to findemployment at an all-round translation firm and spend a coupleof years there to gain the necessary practical experience. As asalaried employee your income will be less compared to what youmight potentially earn in a freelance capacity, but don't forgetthat without experience you're never going to be successful inthe first place. In many cases, you will be assigned to a seniortranslator who revises your translations, monitors yourprogress, and makes you aware of your strengths and weaknesses.This will enable you to acquire the skills and baggage you needon your way to becoming a professional translator, and will giveyou the opportunity to experiment with various types of textsand disciplines. 2.If you can't find a position in paidemployment, try to find a post as an (unpaid) trainee. Atranslation agency may not have the capacity or resources totake on new staff, but it may still be able to offer you anexcellent training post to help you gain practical experience ina commercial environment. A traineeship may serve as aneffective springboard for a career in the translation business,perhaps even within the same agency that offered thetraineeship. 3.After having whetted your skills at atranslation agency for a number of years, you may decide thatthe time has come for you to find your own clients. Ideally, youshould move on to a part-time contract so that you have enoughtime to recruit clients and work for them, and enough money tolive on. It is important to make clear arrangements with yourboss at this stage, to avoid a conflict of interests. The beststrategy is to send your personal details and CVs to a selectedgroup of professional translation firms and translationdepartments within companies and governmental institutions,explicitly referring to your work experience. Don't forget tohighlight your willingness to do a free test translation. 4.Make sure to register as a self-employed person with therelevant tax authorities and seek their advice if necessary. 5.Once you have managed to find enough freelance work to keepyourself busy for around 20 hours a week, you might considerterminating your employment contract and devoting the extra timeto attracting new business. In 20 hours most experiencedfreelance translators tend to earn around as much as a full-timetranslator in salaried employment.

These are obviously very general guidelines, and your personalcareer may evolve along quite different lines depending on yourpreferences, skills and personal conditions. Whatever yourcircumstances, however, you will find that experience and acertain amount of business acumen are the things that mattermost in a successful freelance career

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