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

In Part I I wrote about the different paths to a career in freelance translation, and Part II covered the essential tools you’ll need for getting started. This final installment will concentrate on making sure that clients can find you – specifically in an online environment. Although written for translators, it also applies to any other freelancing you might be interested in.

Shop Window for Freelancers

The first thing you’ll need is a website – your shop window. Some translators prefer a blog, but personally I’ve found that a separate, free-standing website, with a link to my blog, has been vital; particularly in my field. Many of my clients are corporate, such as mining companies and law firms, and blogs are somewhat more informal, even though many are professional, and have been expertly put together. Some, like WordPress blogs, allow you to set up a landing page, which will function more like a website. Take a look at your competition and decide for yourself, then create something that is uniquely your own and suits your needs.

Should you decide to go ahead and create a website, you can either get a web designer, or build one yourself. If you’d like to go it alone, there are many great online website building tools. Most are free, but you might like to pay for their Pro packages. Some of the platforms are Jimdo, Weebly, Yola and Wix.  I built mine using Weebly (great service and support), although I’ve built other websites using these platforms before. In time I might like to develop my site, and may need to hand it over to a professional designer. In the meantime, being able to change, update and fine-tune (at any time), somehow appeals to my slightly control freak tendencies.

I chose a simple design, with a clean interface, and a few pages that give a brief overview of my business and services. If necessary, a single page stating what you offer and how to contact you is a great start. It’s also a good idea to use SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) on your website, and make sure you come up in Google searches.  Using Google’s keyword tool is similarly quite useful.

In addition, if you’d like to create a logo, try Inkscape or other alternatives to Illustrator, many of which are free. I don’t have experience with these, but believe that Inkscape is quite good. You could also ask a graphic designer to create it, and then forward it on to you as a jpeg, which you’d be able to use on your site or marketing material.

Your Street Address

Getting your own domain name is relatively inexpensive and definitely recommended. It’s your street address. You’d need to buy the domain name, through GoDaddy for example (Weebly also lets you buy domain names directly). You’d then also need hosting for your site. A local South African company that I can’t recommend highly enough would be Texo. I’ve been with them for a few years and they’re great.

This will also mean that you get a dedicated email address, rather than a free hotmail or gmail account. Whilst these might be handy, I can’t help but think that having a specific address ie. , is a far better option. For the same reason that you’d do some investigating when you get an email from a potential client using gmail, so would a client want to know that you’re an established business. Investing in this is a great for your business.

Your Blog – The Engine Room

Once your website is set up and functioning as a distinct entity, consider starting a blog. See it as your engine room. It’s great for sending out news about your business and industry, as well as for generating content, which should all tie in with your business and website. This will in time build links between your two platforms, and is a great marketing tool. It’s also a lot of fun, and engaging with virtual colleagues is immensely satisfying.

There are many platforms to choose from. Previously I’ve used both Blogger and WordPress, but have come to rely on WordPress – it’s by far my favourite tool. There are many themes and extra widgets to play around with. It also seems a little less ‘buggy’ than Blogger.

This particular blog is still in its infancy, and I will need to work on having a more coherent feel, and better navigation, between my website and this space, but this will come in time. Figuring out these details is part of working as a freelance translator, and great if you enjoy wearing many hats as an entrepreneur.

Social Media: Engaging with Passersby & Neighbouring Shop Owners

The best part about social media is building a network of people who do or talk about things that interest you. It’s an excellent marketing tool, but mostly it’s also The Great Watercooler. As a freelancer, one can become isolated, and though solitude is a perk, it’s also important to reach out and connect with others. I use Facebook as a personal account, and Twitter for Muse Translation, as well as a separate, more general account. I’ve also recently opened one on LinkedIn, which I’m not enjoying as much as Twitter, but time will tell. You could also look at Pininterest (many are being quite innovative), or Google+ if you prefer. Personally, I would rather chose one or two, and not spread myself too thinly. Social media can become a bit of a time suck if you’re not disciplined about it, and defeats its purpose.

And so we come to the end of this three-part series. There are many other aspects, and I’ll be blogging about these over the course of this month. Hope you’ve been able to pick up some tips for starting your business!


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.]

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.


Freelance Translation: Do You Have What It Takes?

A friend of mine is thinking about making a career change and she recently asked for some tips. The 2012 Blogathon is the perfect opportunity for writing up a few pointers.

In the beginning, like with most things in life, you’ll probably be feeling your way around in the dark. You might also learn some very hard lessons. I know I did.

The best advice would be to read as much as possible and remember that Google is your friend.  There’s the old question of “How do you eat an elephant?” and the answer, of course, is “one bite at a time“. This is fitting for any new endeavour. It’s also the African take on things – and why I love this continent.

As for me, I fell into translation, and was lucky enough to have a mentor, as well as a ‘built in’ specialistion, since I studied law in France. I’d highly recommend finding a mentor, if you’re able to.

There’s no magic formula, but over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting articles for new (and established) freelance translators.

What does it take to become a Freelance Translator? 

First of all, you need to decide on your language pair. Your target language is usually your mother tongue – the language you were raised in, whilst your source language is your second (or third) language. Translators only translate from their source language into their target language ( unless you had a bilingiual upbringing, and are comfortable either way). You need to be fluent in at least two languages, and by fluency I mean that you’re able to fully understand, read and write a second language. And I don’t mean merely getting by – you need to understand your second language on a professional level.

Secondly, you need to have above average writing skills in your target language. After all, translators are writers, and you need to have an excellent grasp (and feel) for your target language. Many translators are in fact closet writers (even though translation is incredibly stimulating all by itself).

Over and above the nitty-griity, and the technical details, what are the essential qualities of a freelance translator? Answering the following questions might give you a better idea:

– Do you love languages and new cultures? Are you fluent in another language (so much so that you’d feel comfortable speaking to the president of a foreign country in this language?)

– Do you enjoy language-related challenges and are you a stickler for detail?

– In fact, are you at times a bit pedantic when it comes to grammar and spelling?

– Are you an eternal student (ie. are you thrilled to learn about new ideas and study new subjects)? Do you enjoy learning new things? Do you love researching?

– Are you an entrepreneur? Are you comfortable wearing many hats? Are you okay with doing admin and marketing and actual translations? In fact, do you crave variety in your work and environment?

– Are you brave enough to stand up for yourself, even when your business is still growing?

– Are you okay with spending time alone? Do you enjoy working independently? Are you inspired by a quiet work environment and would you be content with filling this time with research? Do you enjoy cracking ‘codes’ or figuring out puzzles?

If so, you might be the perfect translator. Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll be posting on the technical aspects of becoming a translator. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts, and thanks for stopping by.

Blogathon 2012

May is the month for Blogathon 2012, and this year I’ll be participating. The Blogathon has been running for a number of years and is the brainchild of Michelle Rafter from WordCount.

The idea is to blog every single day for 31 days, and every year bloggers from all over the world sign up. Here at Muse Translation News I’ll be talking about the business of translating, freelancing, writing (because translators are, of course, writers) and learning languages, as well as posting a few other language – and life – related posts.

You’ve still got a few hours to sign up if you’d like to breathe new life into your blog, or just feel up for a new challenge. You can register on the WordCount Blogathon page.

I’m looking forward to following along and discovering new talents, so let me know if you’re taking part and I’ll be sure to stop by. In the meantime, I’m off to sharpen (a stack) of pencils!