Freelance Translation Starter Kit: A Guide to Setting Up Shop – Part. I

So you think you might have the personality traits of a freelance translator and you’re interested in starting up a translation business,  but what would you need to set up shop?

At the very least, you’d need to be fluent in two languages, have excellent writing skills, and feel you might actually be good at it. But what kind of training or experience would you need?

Training vs. Experience

There are many different paths leading to the translation industry. Some translators take specific courses, whilst others get into translation more organically and by means of professional experience. At this stage the industry isn’t highly regulated, so there’s a relatively low barrier to entry. This is the good news and bad news unfortunately; you’ll need to work very hard to distinguish yourself, because in theory anyone can set up shop.

If you’d like to get formal training, there are many excellent degree programmes and a short online search should be able to pull up any programmes in your area. Contact your local or national translation organisations for more information and feedback on the courses you might be interested in, or at least be able to point you in the right direction. For example, in America you could contact the ATA  and if you’re South African, you should contact SATI.

That said, there are many excellent translators that haven’t had any formal translation training, just as there are many trained translators that do not have the makings of professional translators, and vice versa.  You need to decide what the best route would be for you in terms of your current circumstances and professional journey to date.

Having a degree would certainly help you find your first job, build up your portfolio and network, and allow you to gain knowledge about the industry. On the other hand, translators who have pre-existing professional experience are often able to specialise quite quickly. For example, corporates working in a specific, niche industry in a foreign country (using their foreign tongue) often become de facto translators, and have a great head start when the decide to make a career change.

Finding a mentor is also particularly valuable, whether you’ve trained or entered the industry by experience. Many professionals are happy to share their knowledge, since business has always been about professional relationships, and the wheel spins a full circle.

Then research and read as much as possible, and ensure that you’re absolutely ready before you start selling your services. There can be a lot at stake for your clients, as well as yourself. I’ll be following up on this in Part II tomorrow.


4 Comments on “Freelance Translation Starter Kit: A Guide to Setting Up Shop – Part. I”

  1. Megan Onions says:

    Hi Marie-Louise,

    Thanks very much for linking to my blog. I look forward to reading more from you during the Blogathon!

  2. […] Freelance Translation Starter Kit: A Guide to Setting Up Shop – Part. I […]

  3. […] Part I I wrote about the different paths to a career in freelance translation, and Part II covered the […]

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