Translation and Language Industry Observations

Let’s start with a few basic facts: the translation industry is huge and generated over US$45 Billion in 2018. The world has several hundred thousand translators who are making a living in this industry.  It is clear that there is a lot of money out there and freelance translators can do very well in today’s market. There are translators who make over $100,000 a year. And most of the freelancers can work out of their home and at their own hours. Sounds good right?

The downside is that there is a lot of competition out there and the barrier of entry is low. Anyone with a PC and Internet connection can open her/his own freelance translation business. So how can you fare better than the competition? This post provides a few pointers that can help you on the road to success.

Love your work. This point is banal and can be said about any profession. If you don’t get excited about your work then you won’t be successful. Words matter! While you are working, consider that the words that you are writing may be seen by millions of people. MILLIONS! With this is mind, your translation work should be crafted carefully and joyfully. And when you love your work, you will do your best to constantly hone your skills which will drive you to improve in your chosen profession.

Be Professional: the most important thing you can do is have a professional attitude about your business. A freelance translator will need to invest money in setting up her/his business. This includes buying a decent PC and purchasing software licenses. Buying a CAT tool is a must. It would behoove a professional translator to have licenses for all software products and not steal copyrighted products. Don’t skimp on other expenses which will make you look better to potential clients. Invoices, letterheads, mailers, web pages and your CV should be designed so to appear as professional as possible.

Be Quick. Another no brainer but needs to be said. You can make more money delivering 5,000 words a day then if you only deliver 3,000 words. Speed can be achieved without compromising quality. CAT tools can help speed up the process. Translators have been known to use other software aids in their work, like speech-to-text software, all in the interest of increasing throughput. The best paid translators are the ones who can work fastest.

Prepare a kick-ass CV. Your resume should be ready to go. The CV should be written in the language that your customers understand (in our case this would be primarily English). A good quality photo on your resume is recommended. Avoid listing previous jobs which are not relevant to your objectives. A resume that includes jobs as a phone receptionist, waiter or lifeguard at a summer camp are not going to make you more attractive as a freelance translator so leave them out. Likewise, avoid listing hobbies that have no relevance to your objectives. Finally, distribute your CV in PDF file format and not in Word. CVs in Word format can get messed up when viewed by your customers.

Maintain an Online Presence. There are several ways you can do this and it is highly recommended. A website will show your potential customers that you mean business. There are good low cost options for publishing a 1-2 page website in which you can tout your skills ( and are examples). Register on freelance translator directories like and translatorscafe.  Once you have profiles in these websites, send them to clients in your proposals. Sign up on online translation company websites that are looking for translators. Click here to sign up as a freelance translator on GTS Translation website.

Be Social. Be available to answer questions raised by your peers on the various forums and social networks. This will raise your profile online and get you more exposure. If will also show customers that you are an expert in your field.

Price yourself industriously. When you are out of work, bid low. When you are busy, bid high. The main thing is to keep busy and stay in business. Did you ever pass by a restaurant with people waiting on line to get in? The food is probably good there. Did you ever pass by an empty restaurant? The food is probably bad. The same with translators. The good ones are busy and often unavailable. The poor ones have plenty of time on their hands.

Follow the money. The translation business can be highly sporadic. Feast to famine. So take work when you can because it may dry up tomorrow. Try not to tell your customers that you are too busy because then they may find a replacement and cut you out of the loop in future jobs. Work 16 hours days when you can and rest during the slack times. When you are rich enough, then you can turn down jobs.

Be timely, polite and flexible. Answer all emails quickly. If you don’t have a smartphone with an email account then get one, that way you can be on top of your emails. Be polite to your customers and try to use the word YES more than the word NO. At the end of the day, your customers want to order from someone who is not only competent but is also a nice person to deal with. Be grateful to the people that provide you with work, as it will ingratiate you to your clients.

Try to solve problems on your own. Translation PMs don’t like to be besieged by pesky questions. It wastes time and delays delivery. If you have a pressing issue which you can’t solve on your own then fire away. But if it is something you can solve on your own then do so (and consider adding a translator note to the finished text).

Be a stickler for quality. This is key. Proofread your material carefully, run a spell check as much as needed. Try not to assume that someone else will catch your mistakes and avoid making any.

Deliver on time and never make excuses. If you can’t deliver on time (which is in itself a cardinal sin), then at least notify the customer of the delay in advance. NEVER make excuses and provide reasons for the delay (my mother-in-law is in the hospital, the work is in my office PC and I am now at home, etc.). These excuses just make you appear to be a liar and better just to apologize for a delay and offer a price discount if you can afford to.

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