Suggestions on How to Become Established as a Freelance Translator

Marketing Freelance Translation Services

The principle of marketing freelance translation services is easy: To get freelance translation work you need to get yourself known. In my case, to be known to translate English to German for example.

Translate English to . . .

There are various ways to go about achieving this aim: You can advertise, create your own website, network, contact agencies, send mail shots, cold call, even visit prospective customers, to name but a few options. Whatever you decide to do, research your target markets thoroughly.

Where to start

A good starting point is to register with the online Yellow Pages, Thompson's local business directory and other online hubs for local service providers as soon as possible. Don't delay. If no one knows you are now offering a service as freelance translator, no one will ask you to provide this service. You have to promote your business, otherwise you won't get any!

Surf the net looking for "translation agencies". Try to find agencies that are actively looking for translators in the language pair(s) you provide, fill in the online forms which are often provided - and don't expect an immediate response. I have had replies twelve months and more after my original application. It may be frustrating in the short term but in the long term your efforts will pay off. Translation agencies usually want experienced, qualified and cheap translators. They will often ask for references (I don't believe that these are always checked, though). Your chances of catching their attention are higher if you have specialised skills or experience.

Do some research

Don't just apply to any agency, there are many rogues out there! Start by researching those listed in the Association of Translation Companies (ATC). It's also advisable to check the payment record of any agency you are interested in on Proz Blue Board. You don't have to be a full member to get restricted access to the information there.

Research the name of the person to write to, don't just start your email with "Hi,...''. In your cover email mention your name, address, qualifications, professional memberships, source and target languages and areas of specialisation. Agencies receive hundreds of general applications every week. You have to stand out as a professional if you don't want to end up in the recycle bin.

Attention to detail

Marketing freelance translation services is more effective, if you target your campaign.

When you are looking for work, read the ads/web pages carefully. A freelance translator is not very likely to want to employ you. So go for the large agencies. Think big! How do you know if an ad or a web site is by a freelancer or an agency? One excellent indicator is how many languages they offer: The more language pairs in their advertisement, the more likely they are to be an agency.

Increase your chances by being proactive

Being a member of a professional body increases your chances of finding work with translation agencies (see the page "Getting external help"). All reputable agencies require it. Additionally, The Institute of Linguists, for example, has a Find-a-Linguist-Page and offers Job Opportunities. Opportunities for you to find a situation or be found. Last but not least, attending meetings will enable you to network: Make yourself known to fellow translators, join in with the networks offered by your translation association, and someone may remember you or pass on your name.