Six Issues to Consider as a Freshman Freelance Translator
Know the market.
This is a different mindset that you should adopt from the get-go. It’s hard to make a living at the bottom end of the industry and there’s real competition at the top. Low rates at the low end have pushed, and we believe will continue to push, more translators toward boutique agencies, direct clients, and types of work that probably won't be touched by machine translation. If you desire to become a freelance translator, you will probably not overcome such forces on your lonesome; might as well embrace them.
Know your act and be versatile.
Don’t expect agencies to need a translator specializing in Middle Eastern history or a translator who takes whatever job there is. Agencies simply seek translators and interpreters who are proficient in profitable industries such as the legal, financial, medical, IT, patents industries etc.
Take advice from translators who know what they’re talking about.
This is a tricky one, because as a beginner, you don’t know what you don’t know. However, you should seek out advice from experienced, professional translators, not any random person with an opinion about your career path. Case in point: when I was in college, I gave up on the idea of a translation career entirely, because a French professor told me that you needed to know more than one foreign language, which I didn’t. That’s totally incorrect–perhaps she was talking about a very narrow slice of our profession, such as UN interpreters? Who knows. But at any rate, I took it as gospel. Later on, other people told me that all translation work would be taken over by computers really soon (this was in about 2001), that all translation work was outsourced to low-wage countries, and that there was no market for into-English translators in the US. Also false. But how was I to know? The best defense here is to join something like a local translators association where you can rub shoulders with people who know what they’re talking about from first-hand experience in our profession.
Build the right pricing model.
The average translators would not be able to tell you how many billable hours per week they need to reach their desired income, or the amount of words per hour that breaks down to.
Makes strong and concious decisions as a small business, not as a "freelancer".
You probably will not be earning a full-time income right from the start, like any small business. It can take you 24 months before you could find your place in the market. Think of how you set your finances in advvance, like a savings buffer, part-time job or making the smart decision to work for agencies like Phoenix Translations that will provide you with as much as you can handle. Whatever you do, be adamant: less panic waves when the bills are due, more tight-knit financial planning, at least a year in advance.
Start working like a hellcat.
We are all so gobsmacked with working more efficient that we don't really put any work. It’s true that you don’t want to waste effort or be inefficient. But it’s also true that when you are in an uncertain situation, out-working everyone else isn’t a bad strategy. A new freelancer does tons of things veteran freelancers do not: unpaid tests for any agency if there is even a whiff of imminent income; ATA conferences normal translators barely afford to enjoy etc.. All in all, all of these 'unworthy' tasks are beneficial; we encourage others to try them as well.