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.
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?
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.
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.
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!