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Thoughts on Being a Freelance Translator

A post dedicated to all freelancers I have met and read, but especially to newcomers to the profession ツ.

What does it really take to be a freelance translator? Let me tell you that it usually requires more than just knowledge about languages, translation theory and CAT tools. If we are to succeed in the translation sector as self-employed professionals, we may need to develop some level of know-how in at least four other fields: information technology, business, accounting, and marketing and social media.

As translators, the first thing we need is a computer that can assist us in transforming a source text into a target text of good quality. Whether we learn to use CAT tools at university, working in-house in an agency or by watching tutorials, that is not the end of the story. Chances are that issues with files, formats or tags, for example, interrupt our ideal world of only thinking “how can I translate XX?”. Being alone at our office, such problems need to be solved on the go in order to proceed with the translation project and meet the deadline. Apart from that, technological advances, the acquisition of a new computer, working with new clients, updated procedures or quality controls for specific projects, among other factors, may require that we buy, install, configure and use new CAT tools very frequently. To do so, to keep up with the changes, we need to study, research, learn to solve problems: all related to IT, computers, software, operating systems.

Once our computer is set, we need clients. To acquire clients, we need to think business. Where do we contact our first client? What happens if we do not have previous experience? Is the virtual world enough? Can we go out and start knocking at people’s doors? How do we prepare our CVs? Is a CV enough? And the questions can go on and on. My modest opinion is that at some point, sooner or later in our career, we need to evaluate carefully where we are and where we want to go as freelancers: independent, self-employed professionals. We need to be brave and design our business plan, with its short and long term objectives. A business plan that is possible and achievable. But one that is in line not only with who we are and what we can do now, but also with what we dream about our future. What kind of professional plan would be worth achieving if challenge is not part of it?

Another important part of any freelancer’s professional life is remuneration ;). We complete our work, deliver it on time and expect payment in return. To be paid, we need to issue an invoice, be tax registered, have a bank account, and take care of all other administration tasks (most of which vary from client to client, country to country). We also need to know how much to save for taxes annually, what social benefits our taxes bring to us, what kind of retirement pension we will receive, what happens with our taxes if we have paid them in different countries, etc.

And after we win our first clients, be it agencies or direct customers, our challenge may be to continue growing and expanding. And it is here where marketing and social media play an important role. Advertising one’s services wisely and managing social media profiles are not easy tasks and it is better to read about some dos and don’ts in this matter. And to develop a marketing strategy that is valuable to us, and makes us feel comfortable and true to ourselves, it may be useful to reflect upon some questions individually: How do I want to introduce myself? What are my limits to social exposure? What story do I want to tell? How important is visibility to me? Do I really need to be on social media? How much time do I want/need to devote to social media and marketing? We need to find what makes sense and works for us.

Last but not least, I should also mention that in order to grow as a freelancer, having business cards, an original CV, a website, a blog, etc., may definitely make a difference and help us get in touch with THAT customer or agency we want. If it is not within our budget to hire professionals to do the creative work for us, maybe the DIY way is a good option. So design is another skill freelance translators may need to develop.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post. It is based on my experience as an autonomous translator during the past years. A time when life and professional decisions have required me to perform all kinds of tasks in the different fields mentioned above. I suppose it is normal to feel lost and a bit insecure at times, especially if we go solo. Sometimes I have felt comfortable and I knew what I was doing, but some other times I had to study, read and learn if I wanted to complete even a simple task in an area I was not versed on, like accounting (especially when living in a foreign country). So as you see, working as a translator on a freelance basis may require a lot more than just an educational career on languages and translation.

Thank you for reading and visiting Homing Words!

Published by Victoria Principi

Victoria Principi
Victoria Principi is a National Public Translator of English who graduated from the National University of Córdoba in Argentina. She translates, localises and reviews texts between English and Spanish, specialising in marketing and business, information and communications technology, and social sciences and humanities. She is a member of IAPTI and has been working as an independent translator since 2012. Currently, she is based in Lucca, Italy, and helps translation agencies and end clients who need to reach a Spanish-speaking audience. She is the creator of this website and the author of the blog.

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