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Archive for the ‘Getting started as a translator’ Category

The next session of my online course Getting Started as a Freelance Translator starts on April 1, and registrations are starting to roll in. This is a four-week online course for beginning translators (in any language combination) who want to launch and run a successful freelance business. I take a maximum of ten students per session, and everyone gets individualized feedback from me on four assignments: your resumé and cover letter, your marketing plan, your rates and billable hours sheet and your online presence. In addition, we do a one-hour question and answer conference call every week, and you receive free copies of my books How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Thoughts on Translation. Registration is $350, or $300 if you’re an ATA member. A recent participant in the course commented:

I learned so much about the translation industry and general business practices and the personal feedback from Corinne was absolutely priceless. I would highly recommend this course and I will take another class from Corinne in the future.

You can read the full course description or register on my website. Hope to see some of you there!

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A reader asks: I’d like to apply to more translation agencies, but how do I find good agencies to apply to?

This question applies to a lot of people who want to work with agencies, so let’s talk about it. There are various online databases of translation agencies; for example I launched my freelance business back when ATA still mailed every member a paper membership directory, like a phone book for the translation industry. I opened it to the agencies section, started at A, and applied to a couple of agencies every day. By the time I had gotten to M or so, work started coming in from the As and Bs. It was a spaghetti-against-the-wall system, but it worked. But many translators want to know how to find good agencies to apply to. This is important, and tricky, because you can’t just Google “high-quality translation agencies” or “agencies that will treat me like a professional and value my work.”

If you’d like to pursue a less spaghetti-against-the-wall system, you could use the system I used, but with some improvements. Resources like the ATA directory are great for finding a heap of agencies, but you need to vet them somehow, to determine a) whether they’re hiring new translators, b) whether you fit what the agency is looking for and c) whether the agency is credit-worthy. So, you could:

  1. Use a resource like the ATA directory to find agencies’ names and websites
  2. Never contact the agency directly by using the contact information in the directory (don’t e-mail the person whose e-mail address is there, because it’s often a violation of public directories’ use policies to use them for marketing purposes)
  3. Take a look at the agency’s website: are they hiring freelancers, and do you fit what they might need? If it’s a financial translation agency and you do IT and patents, move on.
  4. If the agency seems like a potentially good fit, then check their creditworthiness. Because when you do a job for an agency without being paid in advance, you are extending credit. My favorite translation agency rating service is Payment Practices (not an affiliate deal, I just love them). A subscription is $19.99 per year, and you can get 25% off and a 7-day free trial through the ATA member-to-member program. Other potential resources are the ProZ Blue Board (some access with the free ProZ membership; full access requires the paying membership or payment with ProZ points), or various industry blacklists (I won’t list those here because I don’t use them and thus can’t vouch for their trustworthiness, but they’re easy to find on Google).
  5. If the agency is hiring, looks like a potentially good fit and is creditworthy, then visit the agency’s website and apply to them. Most agencies now use online forms or even an online vendor management portal, but some still use a dedicated e-mail address where you send your resume.

Or, especially if you want to target agencies in a specific geographic area, you can start with a database like Payment Practices. For example you could search only for agencies in Switzerland, or Boston, or Florida, that are rated 4.0 or higher in both of the categories that Payment Practices rates. Again, do not use the agency’s direct contact information as you find it on Payment Practices; go to the agency’s website and use the application information that’s there.

A few other potential ways to find better-quality agencies to apply to:

  1. Ask translators who work in a different language pair or specialization than you do. Approaching people whose profile is relatively similar to yours is always tricky, because it looks like you might poach their clients. But if you translate German, ask some French translators; if you do legal translation, ask some medical translators (as long as the agencies aren’t medical-only).
  2. Ask translators who work primarily or exclusively for direct clients: what agencies have they heard good things about? If these translators don’t actively apply to agencies any more, or if they charge more than most agencies will pay, they’re not likely to view you as competition.
  3. Look at agencies that exhibit or present at industry conferences. You still want to check them out on a site like Payment Practices, but this is an indication that the agency could be good to work for.

If you’re interested in what happens after you do this marketing campaign and get some bites from good agencies, check out our Speaking of Translation podcast, Insider tips for working with translation agencies.

Readers, any other thoughts on finding quality agencies?

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Over at Speaking of Translation, we’ve posted a new podcast for your listening pleasure: Tips from a project manager turned freelance translator.

Eve Bodeux and I recently caught up with freelance French<>English translator Angela Benoit. Angela earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in France (from the same school where I did study abroad…Grenoble pride!) and then worked as a translation project manager in New York for over six years. About a year and a half ago, Angela decided to cross the aisle and launch her freelance translation business; in this podcast Angela shares what she’s learned from this career switch. How can a translator move from an agency’s database to actually getting work? Are rate negotiations just about the money, or are there other factors? Who gets picked for an agency’s plum assignments? And how can project managers find the best translators out there, or help the best translators find them? Give it a listen, and let us know what you think! Thanks to Angela for sharing these valuable tips with our listeners.

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A student in my online course asks: How do I decide if a translation specialization is viable?

Hmm, interesting question, and one that nearly all freelancers have to grapple with at some point. Short answer: nearly any specialization is viable, depending on your marketing zeal and income needs. Longer answer follows.

When you’re looking at potential specializations, here are a few factors to consider (and readers, please add your thoughts in the Comments):

    1. What’s your knowledge of/interest in this specialization? That’s undoubtedly the most important factor, and one that outweighs most other factors if you’re looking at a technical subject area.
    2. What’s the demand? Some specializations (like legal translation) are so content-heavy that having enough work isn’t much of a concern. Others (restaurant menus) may have a lot of demand in terms of the *number* of clients, but not in terms of the size of each individual project.
    3. Who are the clients? This is one that a lot of translators overlook. Some specializations (software, pharmaceuticals) are almost exclusively the domain of agencies, because most of the end client companies are so huge that they tend not to use individual freelancers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there an infinite number of niche specializations that are almost exclusively the domain of direct clients. I’ve met translators who specialize in horses, cross-country skiing, stamps, cookbooks, and so on. If you’re outside the scope of the big business areas like legal, financial, medical, pharmaceutical, IT, patents, etc., you need to consider whether you are OK with working only or primarily with direct clients.
    4. How much are you willing to market? Again, this is a big one. Law firms and legal translation companies are easy to find, and there are lots of them out there. Cookbook publishers that need a Russian translator? They’re out there too, but you’ll have to work harder to find them.
    5. What’s the income potential? Of course, there’s a huge variation within every specialization. But in general, you can’t translate poetry if you need to make money from it, and you wouldn’t translate financial documents just for personal enjoyment.
    6. How much do you care about doing work that is meaningful to you? Again, mileage varies widely. But many clients in, say, legal or IT translation are only translating because they have to, not because they really want to. But one of the things I particularly enjoy about international development translation is that the documents affect real people’s lives, and are commissioned by clients that really, really care about the quality of the translation.

Readers, your thoughts?

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It’s been interesting to read people’s reactions to my post about translator rants, and I always love a good and lively discussion. Here’s a followup: it seems to me that many translators look at “successful freelancers,” (with varying definitions of that), and think, “It’s easy to sit around and tell other, less successful freelancers what they’re doing wrong, without saying what you, the successful freelancer are doing right in order to be so successful.” So, since I’m into contentious topics lately, let’s have a go at this one: is freelance success mostly a matter of luck, connections, and external factors, or is it mostly a matter of working like a fiend until you make it?

Short answer: it’s a combination.

Longer answer: I like illustrative examples, so let me give you one. My husband and I are really frugal. As I wrote about in 2009 and again in 2013, our frugal lifestyle has netted some significant advantages, namely that are completely debt-free including our mortgage, despite the fact that a) we’ve only ever had “regular” jobs;  b) we’ve lived in places (Boston, Boulder) with fairly high housing costs and c) we have a kid. When people ask us how we did this, we tell them: we bought a fixer-upper house and renovated it ourselves; the house didn’t have a shower for 3 months and we showered with the hose after the neighbors went to bed; we’ve never bought a brand new car; we use bicycles for the majority of our in-town transportation; we’ve never bought a brand new piece of furniture; we cook the vast majority of our meals from scratch; when we’re going to make a major purchase, we first comb Craigslist and eBay to see if we can get it used, and so on. At times when we’ve been really broke, we’ve gone ever further into blackbelt frugality territory: my husband cut my hair for a couple of years; when our daughter was little, I regularly worked for 3-4 hours every night, even on weekends, so we used very little childcare; most of our vacations involved camping. You get the picture.

Here’s the thing. By the time we get halfway through the “how we did it” spiel, most people decide that this is not something they’re willing to do in order to live a financially secure, debt-free life. Fair enough: but they asked how we did it, and we told them.

You can tell that I’m about to draw a parallel to freelancing. Sure, most successful freelancers, myself included, have some advantages that some other people don’t have. Some worked their connections in industries in which they had experience; some live in places where their language combination is in unusually high demand; I guess that the fact that my parents paid for my undergraduate degree and my employer paid for my graduate degree could fall into that category too. But, it’s also rare that I meet a freelancer who claims to be struggling and is doing everything possible to change the situation.

Illustrative example: here’s a snapshot from my first day as a freelancer. Sitting in my kitchen with my newborn daughter, I theorized that if I wanted to work from home and use my academic and professional background in French, translation might be a good bet. So, literally, I opened up the yellow pages (!) and started cold-calling agencies and asking for work, or what I would have to do to get work from them. Later that year I joined the Colorado Translators Association, then ATA, and when my ATA member directory came in the mail, I started at “A” and sent my resume and cover letter to every single agency in the directory, until I started getting some work. My first year as a freelancer, I made US $9,000 (total), and I was thrilled with that. I set a goal to double my income every year for the next four years, and I met that goal.

Over time, I did make a lot of connections, but looking back on it, I made a lot of my own luck as well. I volunteered as the Colorado Translators Association newsletter editor, which allowed me to meet pretty much everyone in the association. After I attended my first ATA conference, I e-mailed every single presenter whose session I attended and made a contact with them. Every single time a colleague referred me for a job, I sent them a handwritten thank you note. Every single time a potential client responded to my inquiry, even with “We’ll keep your materials on file,” I sent them a handwritten thank you note and then followed up in another month or so. I served in various volunteer roles within ATA; I started this blog; I started helping newbies as soon as I had half a clue more than they did.

Luck? Hard work? Right place at the right time? Probably some combination of all of those factors, but here’s the takeaway: if you’re smart, and you work hard, and you’re good at this job, you can be one of the successful people too (really).

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The next session of my online course for beginning translators, Getting Started as a Freelance Translator, starts on September 24, and there are currently three spots left. This is a four-week course for translators in any language combination; we focus on four targeted assignments (your resume and cover letter, marketing plan, rates and billable hours sheet and online presence), and every week we also do a one-hour question and answer conference call. Every student receives copies of my books How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Thoughts on Translation.

A recent participant in the course commented, “Neither in my undergraduate classes in education nor in some of the more practical classes I took as part of my MA in English (including the course connected to my assistantship as a writing consultant) did I ever experience one course that delivered as much precise and helpful information as this course.” If you’d like to join us, registration is US $325, with a $50 discount for ATA members. Visit my website for a full description or to register! And if you’re a more experienced translator looking for a nudge toward your business goals, registration is also open (same page) for the next session of Beyond the Basics of Freelancing, beginning November 12.

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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.”

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