“I want to become a freelance translator – I will get a website and start working over the Internet.” Right? Wrong. There are a lot of small steps to be taken from the initial idea to really starting to work. Before you get a website, you need a name, a logo, content and much more. This article gives an account of my experience setting up a translation business. Maybe some of the points are not relevant to you, but if you are trying to find a starting point for your business, you might find some good points and ideas here.
This article comes in two parts: The first one is concerned with general business issues, such as legal forms and company types, as well as names and graphics, while the second part deals with websites and social media and ends with a short and sweet case study.
General Business Issues
You decided to become a freelance translator and want to start your business. The first big question you need to ask yourself is: Do I want to start my business alone or not? Freelancing is all about being your own boss. You can still be your own boss, even when you are not working alone. Maybe you want to start a business together with a partner or form and lead a team of individual translators? Or maybe you even want to start a company?
There are upsides and downsides for all those forms of businesses. As a team, you can divide costs for marketing, websites, etc. and multiply the workload you can handle, thus earning more money. You will also be able to accept bigger assignments that you could not handle on your own. On the other hand, you also have to share the responsibility and cannot make all decisions on your own. You have to choose your partner or partners carefully because you will need to work and communicate with them on a daily basis. You have to have a good relationship not only on a professional level but also on a personal level in order for a team to work out in the end.
Based on this decision you will then need to inform yourself about possible forms of enterprises that are fitting for your business. Different countries offer various legal forms, each with varying regulations about liabilities, responsibilities, taxation, distributing the money etc. Some of those legal forms might even require a start-up capital. In Germany, for example, we have a business form that is designed particularly for freelancers that want to work in a team, which is called Partnerschaftsgesellschaft and in England, the Limited Company or Ltd. is a commonly used business form. For individual freelancers, this is a rather easy issue, because they are usually just working on their own and do not need to choose a specific legal form. Think carefully about how you want to distribute and share your rights, responsibilities and liabilities with your partner or partners and then choose a legal form that fits your needs and supports your business in the best possible way. It is often advisable to get some help from a tax advisor or other institutions specialised on such questions to help you with your decisions.
After you have cleared those two issues, it is advisable to write a business plan to define what you actually want to do. You should get a good picture of the market situation you are about to start working in and especially in respect to the place you are working at. If your town is already brimming with freelancers for your languages, you might have a hard time getting your business to work. Think about what distinguishes you from all those other freelancers and what you can offer that no one else can. Write a list of the services you want to offer depending on your knowledge and also on the market situation in your location. What can you do besides that usual translation and proofreading offers?
Are you an interpreter or can you create subtitles for videos? Write down all services you are confident you can provide to customers at a professional level. Have a look at translation sites like Proz.com or Translatorscafé.com and browse through the listings of freelancers to get an idea of the prices offered for certain services in your language combination. Adjust the prices according to your expectations, location and market situation. Lastly, a very important point for business plans is to define certain goals you want to reach within a certain time. This helps you to measure if your business is actually working the way you want it to work. This does not have to be money-related. In the first few months you might want to acquire a certain amount of new customers, be registered with a number of agencies to get regular jobs, or be able to afford an office or marketing activities. Write those thoughts down so you can check back after a few months to see whether you have reached your goals or whether you need to adjust something and work harder on a particular point.
Name and Graphics
“Namen sind Schall und Rauch” – not really. After you have developed your business and have an idea what you want to do and how, you need to name your business. Freelancers often simply go by their own names, but why not choose something more powerful? Cleverly chosen names can often attract customers without them knowing what you actually do. They can give hints to what languages you serve (Lingua Greca), where you are doing it (RainyLondonTranslations), or even your approach to your profession (Word&Sense). It can be short and concise or a bit longer and more revealing. Think about your name carefully as you have to stick with it for a while and want to build a successful business under this name.
You might also want to check whether this name is already taken or registered. I found that this is actually a bit tricky, because some good names are already taken and it might take you a while with something good that is not yet registered. The Internet makes it very easy to check for existing names, so make sure you have a name that is not yet given away to avoid confusion with other companies you are not associated with. Don’t settle with a solution you’re not 100% happy with – the name is one of the most important parts of a business and one of the first things your potential customer will see and read: Work on your name until it really is what you are looking for.
As important as your name is the visual image your company has. Don’t even start without a logo. Most of us aren’t professional graphic designers, so you probably want to get some help on this. Think about how much money you are willing to spend for a good result. The logo, same as the name, is something you will stick with for quite some time, it is worth to invest some money here. I had a look around on behance, which is a site for graphic design freelancers, until I found something I liked and then I got in touch there. The prices may vary a lot between young freelancers and established companies.
Another site worth looking at is websitesfortranslators. You will get help with your logo and general design there as well. Customers usually will not remember you if you simply print your name and logo on blank pieces of paper or white business cards. I think this is a good area to invest some more money and get a corporate design and have a visual identity. This creates an image about your brand that is more than just a name and a logo, but also letterheads, e-mail signatures, and business cards and will help your brand to get recognised by customers and set you apart from other companies. Be sure that once you have a visual identity to include it on all documents and emails you send and on all profiles and sites you have on the Internet.
How did you deal with the aforementioned issues in your business? What is easy coming up with your name and logo? Stay tuned for the next part in the First Steps For Your Translation Business series, where I’ll talk about Internet presence and social media.
I am 24 and studied translation at the University of Applied Sciences in Zittau and at the University of Salford, and have worked at a translation agency for half a year. Three years ago I founded and was part of a team of translators under the name of “lingoprime”. After this team broke up, together with a fellow student, we decided to establish a translation business called “Word & Sense”. I am currently writing my final dissertation and working part-time as a freelance translator, while getting our business ready to able to start working once I finish my studies this autumn.