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

The material requirements for getting started as a freelance translator are relatively low, and this is one of the many great reasons for choosing it as a career. Since we provide a service and are not in the business of manufacturing or selling physical ‘things’, we really don’t need much space or capital to get going. But as with most new businesses, you’ll need some help in getting started.

Tools of the Trade

So what exactly do you need? As with most questions, there’s either the long answer, or the short one. The (very) short answer is that all you’d need is a computer and a high-speed, yet steady, internet connection.

That said, although I’m frequently able to work in different environments, especially on longer term projects (yes, it is possible to work on your laptop in a café), the daily reality is actually very different. Tough deadlines are often the norm. You’d therefore need a few things to help you deal with fast turnaround times, assist you with accuracy, ensure you’re contactable and of course, being comfortable is key.

So you will need a reliable computer. Laptops are useful for moving around, although some translators choose to work on two separate screens, so you might consider getting a second monitor. I haven’t found a need for this, but you’ll quickly figure out what suits you best.

A wireless internet connection and hotspot will enable you to work from anywhere in the house (having a separate dongle for travel is great, too). With mine I can sit outside on our front porch on balmy days. It overlooks a river, and we live in a pretty wild place, so it really appeals to the slightly rebellious side of me that is ever-grateful for not working in an office or cubicle. The irony is that much of the work I do is incredibly stimulating, and often from corporate clients, but I’ve managed to find a balance that works for me.

A Room of One’s Own

The porch is only a few paces away from my office, which is fully equipped. I realise that I’m incredibly lucky to have an entire study, and know that many might not currently have space available. I would however suggest that, at the very least, you set up a corner somewhere, with a table and a few shelves. No-one will be the wiser, and it will help you, and anyone you might be living with, to take your business seriously. Knowing that everything is in one place is also a big sanity saver.

Bells and Whistles

So the office (or dedicated corner), needs to have a few extra things. I find my printer invaluable, as well as my scanner. Since I specialise in legal translation, I often need to sign documents, such as non-disclosure agreements, so I can’t live without it. It’s also great being able to print out your final work as hard copy, as this is really the best way to do your final editing, for me anyway.

A fax number is also useful, although I don’t have an actual machine. You can get a free ‘fax to email’ number online. It’s a service that enables clients to send you faxes, which then get sent to your email address as an attachment. If you need to then sign these documents, you can print, scan and send it back via email. Should you ever need to send an actual fax (to a fax number, if your client doesn’t have access to internet for example, you can still use the fax to email service (email to fax in this instance), although there is usually a small fee.

You will also need a phone. I choose to only use a mobile, since one of the perks to the industry is the fact that it’s location independent, and I want clients to be able to reach me even when I’m travelling. Having a phone that allows you to access email, as well as social media sites, is also very handy. If you decide to work with any agencies, you might lose out on an assignment if you step out for a few hours and didn’t manage to pick up their email. Yes, it does sometimes move that fast. Setting up a Skype account is also handy if a client ever wants to have a ‘face-to-face’ meeting.


You would then also need some software, such as the usual MS Office packages, to be able to read and receive any client documents,  as well as things such Adobe Acrobat for PDFs and so forth. You might also like to look at OpenOffice, as a free alternative to office software.  A good anti-virus is also highly recommended. You might also want to look at getting a CAT tool. I use Wordfast and OmegaT, although at heart, I still prefer translating old-school style. That said, CAT tools are undeniably useful, and I’ve found them especially great when it comes to formatting – ie. making sure your client’s document looks exactly the same in the target file as it does in the source document. I’m thinking about getting MemoQ, but will post more about this once I’ve decided.

Reference Material

Translators also need reference material. Even though you will be able to do a lot of online research (for terminology and concepts), good quality dictionaries and glossaries are vital. You will also need a thesaurus, as well as any other industry-specific glossaries, should you decide to specialise. For example, if you do legal translations, you will need a number of legal dictionaries, glossaries and lexicons. Start small, and slowly build up your library as you grow.

Finally, translators also need to be found, and for this you’ll need a website and an email address (or several, if you choose). But more on this in Part III.

Seasoned translators, what have I left out? Are there any tools you simply can’t live without?

[This is Part II of a series. Part I is available here.]

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