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On hiatus

Thoughts on Translation is on hiatus until mid-August. In the meantime, you can explore the “Most Popular Posts” sidebar (in the grey box on the right) for some summer reading!

The next sessions of my online courses start on August 20 (Beyond the Basics of Freelancing) and September 24 (Getting Started as a Freelance Translator). Getting Started is for students who want to launch and run a successful freelance business, and Beyond the Basics is for students who have established freelance businesses. Each class is four weeks long and consists of four lessons on which you get individual feedback from me, plus a weekly question-and-answer conference call for the whole class. Additionally, students in Beyond the Basics get a one-hour individual consultation with me.

Getting Started focuses on the basics of getting your freelance business up and running: writing a translation-targeted resumé and cover letter, creating a marketing plan and rates sheet and establishing an online presence (LinkedIn profile, translators association directory profile, website, etc.). Beyond the Basics focuses on marketing your services to high-quality translation agencies and direct clients, creating a professional profile document and identifying ways to meet direct clients on their turf.

Registration for either class is US $325, and after these sessions I’ll be raising the price to US $350, so now is a good time to register if you’ve been thinking about it. All sessions of both courses have filled up before the deadline for the past year, so hop on over to my website and read the full descriptions if you’re thinking of joining one of these sessions! ATA members receive a $50 discount on registration for either course.

Here’s a comment from a participant in the most recent session of Beyond the Basics: “This course really helped me define a path for moving my business forward, as well as giving me some helpful tools for getting there. I received valuable input and tips not only from Corinne, but also from the other students, and it was great to be part of a little virtual community.”

Here’s a common question from beginning freelance translators, and from people contemplating freelancing: how long does it take to start a viable freelance business? The usual disclaimers apply. Is your non-English language Spanish or Japanese? Do you have just a language background, or a PhD in nuclear physics and a language background? Do you live in Tokyo or Montana? And what do you mean by “start”? But here’s a stab at an answer. To me, there are two milestones in starting a freelance business: 1) the point when you know you’re going to make it as a freelancer (meaning that you no longer stress out every single day about whether to plow ahead or just give up and get a regular job) and 2) the point when you basically always have enough work (meaning that you can focus on doing what you enjoy and are good at, rather than whatever pays the bills).

My own answers: 18 months, and three years. After about 18 months of freelancing, I knew I was going to make it as a freelancer. Halfway through year two, I had already earned more than I did in all of year one. One-time clients were becoming regular clients; a “big project” was $1,000, not $200. By the end of year three, I no longer stressed out about where the next project was coming from, because I had enough work almost all the time. I started to ease out some low-paying clients and ease in some better ones. I started to think about what kinds of translation I really enjoyed and was good at, and I looked for direct clients in those areas.

Mostly, I think that the answer to the “how long does it take?” question is, “Probably longer than you think.” Not to be sarcastic or cynical, but when beginning translators ask me this question, I often advise that if you want a booming business within a few months, offer a service that a lot of people need, and that lends itself to direct advertising. Clean houses, walk dogs, do tutoring. Don’t start a freelance translation business if you have to have a full-time income within a couple of months, unless you do a language or specialization that is both very high-paying and very in-demand.

Another question: what percentage of freelancers make it through the startup phase, and with what degree of success? I’ve been teaching my getting started course for beginning freelancers for about eight years, and I’d say, unscientifically, that the graduates I’ve followed up with are about evenly split into three categories. About a third of them launched successful freelance businesses and are doing great; about a third are translating in some capacity, but combine it with another job, and about a third either decided the whole freelance thing was too much work, or were never able to find the kinds of clients they needed to work with in order to make a full-time living.

Readers, your thoughts on the length of the startup phase?

I’d be at the grand opening of Le Parc du Petit Prince (The Little Prince theme park) in Ungersheim, Alsace. An entire amusement park dedicated to The Little Prince! And I’d be wearing my Little Prince watch and t-shirt, and carrying my Little Prince keyring and tote bag. I also have some tiny plastic sheep that came in the watch case, but I might leave them at home. If any blog readers are there today, send me a picture!

This morning I had lots of fun interviewing translation industry veteran Steve Lank (Monterey graduate, former ASTM translation QA standard subcommittee chair, longtime senior-level manager in agencies in the US, Ireland and Spain). Steve is currently Vice President for Translation Services at Cesco Linguistic Services, working from the Washington, DC office.

I put Steve in the hot seat and asked him:

  • Chicken/egg: how can beginning translators find their first clients?
  • What’s up with downward price negotiations? Why do agencies apply them, and how can translators best handle them?
  • What are the top dos and don’ts of translator resumes? What errors pop up again and again? How can a translator stand out among the many unsolicited applications that an agency receives?
  • How about following up on agency applications? How often should freelancers follow up, and using what method?
  • How does a translator turn a first-time client into a regular client, and become one of an agency’s preferred providers?
  • How about the increasing emphasis on specialization in our industry? Is the “learn by doing” mindset OK, or do translators need more formal training in their specializations?

To listen to the episode, cruise on over to the Speaking of Translation website.

I’ve been busy with back-to-back monster projects and am now in recovery mode, catching up on assignments for my online classes. So I’ll pass on a few links to other websites that you might enjoy:

One of the great things about having a blog is that I get to ask questions that I don’t know the answers to, and then people who are smarter than I am will respond and fill me in. Here’s one that’s frequently asked by students in my online courses, and it honestly puzzles me as much as it puzzles them.

We’re talking agencies here: why are agencies willing to pay a per-word rate that effectively equals a much higher hourly rate than they’re willing to pay? Example: if an agency pays a translator 15 cents a word and that person produces 500 finished words an hour, the translator is effectively earning $75 an hour. But if that same agency contacts that same translator for hourly work (editing, proofreading, etc.), the proposed hourly rate is likely to be much lower (or even much, much lower). I can’t say I understand this myself, other than the fact that when an agency pays per word, its costs are completely fixed, whereas by the hour, they aren’t.

Thoughts? What’s up here?

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