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6 Things We Wish We Knew When We Started Translation

Most translators start their freelance ventures without solid guidance.

If you studied a bachelor’s or master’s in translation, you’re probably (hopefully) well-equipped to start the actual translation process. But even if you’re officially educated, that doesn’t mean you know how to run your own business and create clients.

There’s no straight path to follow, and lots of us have gotten by with trial and error. In an attempt to reduce your learning curve, even if only by a little, here are 6 things we wish we knew when we first started becoming translators:

1. Find out how much you need to charge

Figuring out what to charge is a challenge for all translators. It’s not really enough to just ask your peers what they’re charging. Not only is every translator different, but every job and scope of work is different too. You need to figure out the right rate for you.

To start figuring out the right amount to charge, we recommend tracking your time for every task. Even if you’re charging per word. You need to understand how long it takes you to perform tasks (and how profitable they are). You can do this easily with

Then you need to calculate how much you need to make to survive and add some for profit. Remove all your non-billable hours (the time you spend doing things like invoicing, professional development, marketing, and creating proposals that lead to nothing).

Unless you find an in-house job (salaried, not freelance), you are going to have non-billable hours.

As an estimate, start calculating that 50% of your work hours will be non-billable.

Work backwards from there to get your hourly and per-word rate.

2. Connect and collaborate with other translators

Don’t fear other translators.

Even if you got into the profession so you wouldn’t have to interact with other people.

Even if they’re in the same language pair and specialization and you’re scared they’ll compete with you.

Other translators are your friends, and you’ll have a hard time going at this alone.

Not only can you partner up with them to take on larger projects, have your work reviewed, or just get support, but they’re also a great source of work. Translators often get asked to do things that aren’t in their language pair or specialization, and they’re usually happy to recommend someone they know and trust.

You can find other translators on Facebook Groups, in associations and at events.

3. Learn other skills

Yes, translation and writing need to be your greatest skills. But there are other important skills to learn if you’re going to grow this business.

Learning non-translation skills, like time management, marketing and sales will help you get a consistent flow of clients and mitigate the famine period, which every freelance will experience at some point in their lives.

Make sure to spend some time learning these skills (they won’t teach it to you in your M.A. in translation), as well as staying on top of translation and other technology.

4. Listen to podcasts in your specialization

Listening to podcasts in your industry is sometimes even more powerful than reading in it. With podcasts, experts or professionals in your subject matter area speak. A lot of the time it’s candid, and you can get a good idea of what kind of language people use in your area.

How do they talk about their goals? How do they measure success?

This will help you not only translate better, but will also help when you’re approaching clients. If you can talk like them, they’ll be more likely to trust that you can help them translate too.

5. Work with a reviser/partner with another translator

Marketing may help you bring clients in, but marketing can’t save you from bad translation. Quality is everything if you want to keep your client portfolio. One of the best ways to do that is to make sure you have an extra pair of eyes on every translation.

If you’re just starting out, chances are that your clients don’t have the budget for you to pay a reviser. You have a couple of choices, here:

  • Cut your own rates to pay one (this is obviously not sustainable but consider it an investment to help you build a strong portfolio), or
  • Team up with another translator and revise each other’s work for free. This only works if you have a similar volume of work, so that one person isn’t carrying the load of the other.

6. Always ask for feedback

This is something you should do throughout your whole career! Always, always ask your clients for feedback. Not all of it will be constructive. Sometimes clients will say a translation is horrible when it’s fine. But no translator was born perfect, and oftentimes the feedback is a hard truth that you need to hear to improve.

If the feedback is bad, try not to take it personally or get defensive. Just see if any of it is useful, and what part of it you can use to improve.

Start doing these things now and you’ll be lightyears ahead of your peers

If you start tracking your time, collaborating with other translators, learning non-translation skills, listening to podcasts in your subject matter industry, partnering with a fellow translator to revise each others’ work and always getting feedback, you’ll be already far ahead of your peers.

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