How to survive as a freelance translator

Big stupid monkey ape orango with idiot girl

© The Shortlisted

If you’re about to start freelancing in the translation industry, you’ll want to get the right mindset in order to avoid the most common mistakes that most freelance translators (including me) are prone to make all the time, especially at the beginning of their career.

As for me, I can perfectly remember feeling like: I have no previous experience… nobody is going to hire me :( , so I ended up working for the lowest possible rates.

But I can guarantee that this is definitely not going to work, and if you lower your rates to compensate for your lack of experience, you’ll get stuck in a tunnel without end: always remember that top translators work for top clients.

Another thing to consider is that if your client needs a translator, this is because they probably don’t know much about translation, so don’t expect them to dictate your value.

Prefer quality over quantity, make a clear decision about how much you want to charge for your freelance work and finally start looking for better jobs.

The 10 best tips to work and survive as a freelance translator

1: Translation agencies or direct clients?

  • First, decide whether you want to work for translation agencies or direct clients – but just don’t start with both of them at the same time as they require different approaches. Translation agencies are mainly looking for financial, legal, medical and IT translators, so they might be worth a try if you wish to specialise in such fields.

2: Specialise in… whatever

  • Try to sell the most competitive language pairs and specialisations you have to offer, but don’t feel discouraged if you have just one language pair and no specialisation whatsoever; remember that specialising in a narrow niche might mean less competition to get translation assignments.

3: CAT or not CAT?

  • Some clients may claim discount rates for matches and repetitions that actually don’t save you any time; so, before investing in Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools, make sure that they will increase your productivity for sure. In any case, before purchasing any CAT tool, always try the free trial version first.

4: The 5 elements

Every translation assignment involves at least 5 specific elements in order to determine the rate of pay:

  • Pricing method (hourly rate or a per-word rate?)
  • Deadline
  • Language Pair – supply & demand
  • Field of specialisation
  • File format

Warning: If the client suggests a per-word rate (which is fairly common), remember that you can either get paid per source word or per target word, which might make a substantial difference depending on your language pair. For example, English to Italian translations often comes with a 15% – 20% increase in length.

5: Have you said deadline?

  • Only you can decide a reasonable deadline for yourself, so don’t hesitate to tell your client that rough-and-ready translations won’t guarantee them any real benefit if not coupled with a series of necessary and time-consuming implementations such as keywords research, external proofreading, local market research, etc.

6: Argue!

7: Raise your rate

  • Raise your rates: when you are busy, for rush projects, for weekend work and for any optional services you offer, but avoid raising your rates out of the blue with your existing and repeat customers.

8: Get your rates of pay right

  • When researching your competitors on the Internet to determine what you should charge for your translation work, take stats with a grain of salt: they’re never 100% accurate and will rarely include the best professionals on the market – who, at the end of the day, are the ones you will want to learn from.

9: Bear this in mind

  • When you apply for freelance translation work, don’t just list your skills and certifications; the client will barely know what you are talking about. Instead, highlight the benefits they would obtain by picking your services. You are not just translating content, you are actually solving complex communication and transcreation problems.

10: About going solo

  • Remember to refresh your accounting skills: by going self-employed you’ll be responsible for paying your own taxes and contributions. Excel can do the hardest part for you. Watching a free tutorial on YouTube on how to use Excel will make your freelancing life easier.

★ If you found this article useful and want to read more resources about freelancing, we also have a freelancer’s life survival guide, a post for UK freelancers after Brexit, one article on the pros of Upwork and another about the cons of freelancing platforms

About The Author

Freelance localisation specialist

Roberto Popolizio is an Italian localisation specialist. Online marketing and audiovisual content production are his bread and butter. He's been helping e-commerce stores, web developers, and video producers improving their translation processes since 2011.