Starting a new career from scratch or going self-employed after years of employment can be daunting, and there’s lots of advice wafting around that might not be useful. Here’s some tips from real freelancers on what they wish they’d known back when they were starting out.
‘Don’t worry that specialising will cut down your options.’ Kate (French > English)
Kate’s quite right. Although it can be tempting to apply for every single job that pops up on ProZ, top paying clients do not want a jack of all trades and master of none. This doesn’t mean you have to only take legal texts, for example, it just means you need to stop trying to convince people you are both an engineering expert and a marketing maestro – no one’s falling for it!
‘Check out clients before you work with them.’ Michael (Dutch > English)
Ah, getting stung by unscrupulous clients. We’ve all been there. One way to guarantee you’ll get ripped off is to not take time to research a client before you take work. Use the Blue Board and your web sleuthing skills to spot the bad apples before you take a bite!
‘Don’t undersell yourself!’ Olivia (English proofreading)
Underquoting for jobs is a typical rookie error that does nobody any favours. Sure it might win you the client, but do you really want to be working for slave wages on a long-term basis anyway? It’s up to the entire translation community to ensure we charge a fair and feasible rate for our work, so that translation remains a tenable career choice for us all.
‘If you’re not sure you can do a job justice, walk away.’ Marilena (Greek > English/French)
A controversial one this, as many translators would argue that stretching yourself is a good thing. Nonetheless, if you have no medical training and end up trying to translate a medical diagnosis you have the potential to do real harm. Try to be honest with yourself when assessing whether or not you really can translate a text to an acceptable standard.
‘It takes time to build a full-time career as a freelancer, so be persistent.’ Aleksandr (Russian/Ukrainian > English)
This is very true, although it doesn’t seem to be at the time. When starting out many translators feel like they’ll never have enough clients to make real money. At first jobs can be few and far between, but stick at it. With enough hard work and a thick skin to cope with inevitable rejections you’ll get there in the end.
‘Carve out a space for yourself online. I didn’t do this and really regretted it.’ Kajsa (English > Swedish/Danish)
As soon as you decide to go freelance it’s important to snag all your desired user names, domains and other online space. Even if you’re not convinced you want to use Twitter at all, it takes just a few minutes to set up an account in your name or your company name, and then it’s yours should you ever change your mind.
‘Watch out for occupational health hazards! Nobody takes RSI seriously until it happens to them.’ (Danielle, US project manager)
As a freelancer you’re likely to spend long hours typing, and this can wreak havoc on your health. From the start be sure that your workstation is ergonomic, and look into computer programs that can help you work more healthily. From dictation software to programs that prompt you to stretch at certain intervals, we have the technology!
Finally, as Clara, a very experienced German > English translator reminded us, remember the secret to a happy work life is ‘the four C’s’: composure, calm, caffeine and cake. Sounds like a recipe for success!
Oleg Semerikov is a translator, copywriter and manager. He is also a founder and CEO of Translators Family Sp. z o.o., a translation services company with focus on English, German, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and other European languages. Follow Oleg Semerikov and Translators Family on social media: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+