Top tips for professional translators

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Are you still a freelancer or already a business owner? The last time someone you just met asked you what you do for a living, what was your response? I work from home? I’m a freelancer? Oh, I’m just a translator and sometimes I teach a bit on the side?

All too often this is what we tell others about what we do. But then how do we expect to be taken seriously as professionals? It’s time to dust off our “I’m only a freelancer” image and start thinking and acting like business owners! We certainly don’t all need to become the next Donald Trump, but the sooner we become solopreneurs, the better for us all individually and the language industry as a whole.

Being great at our core activity – translation – is fantastic, and I dare say the bare minimum each one of us should bring to the table. But it’s by no means enough to succeed in today’s challenging marketplace. The rise of the Internet, social media and online translation portals, coupled with emerging new technologies like CAT tools and machine translation affect every single one of us, and locking ourselves away is not a solution.

So what other skills do we need to become successful translation professionals?

  1. Business Skills If you’re not a natural business whizz – and few of us really are – I strongly recommend you start developing your business skills as soon as possible. Companies such as eCPD webinars,, Wordsmith University and of course most national translators’ and interpreters’ associations and other business organisations, for example, offer a vast range of online and offline courses and workshops that will assist you in establishing and growing your business. Many of these are cheap or even free, so there’s no excuse for not taking advantage of these great sources right away.
  2. Marketing & Client Acquisition You may be a fantastic translator delivering world-class work – but if clients don’t know you exist, how are they going to give you business? I strongly believe that every self-employed translator should set aside a certain period of time each week for marketing activities. Very often we tend to neglect marketing if we’re busy and don’t notice that we didn’t invest any time in finding new clients until our regular clients go quiet for a while, and then the panic sets in. My personal tip is to market yourself to potential new clients whenever you are very busy. During those periods, your confidence is at a high and you have nothing to lose because you’re fully booked anyway. As a result, your negotiations with potential new clients are much stronger than during a dry spell when you may accept any rate out of sheer desperation.
  3. Translating I’m listing translating in third place because I consider myself a business person first, and a translator second. Once the business side of things is taken care of and we have ensured a steady flow of income through targeted client acquisition and marketing, then we can focus on our core activity of translating.
  4. Admin Unfortunately, as solopreneurs we can’t just do what we enjoy (hopefully translating!), but we also have to deal with a host of other business activities, whether we like it or not. Admin is the stuff of nightmares for many of us, and I’m no different. If you find it is really taking up too much of your time, you may want to consider hiring someone for a couple of hours a week to help you out. But the best option is of course to always stay on top of your administrative tasks: file away invoices and important paperwork right away, log your expenses daily, schedule 15 minutes in the morning for checking your bank accounts and allocating incoming payments, etc. This will ensure you don’t end up spending an entire day (or three) in great frustration at the end of the month cursing at your hole punch when you could spend this time earning money.
  5. Finance & Accounting If you’re like me, you simply hate anything finance-related. I’m lucky enough to have an accountant husband, but even so I’m still struggling to motivate myself to keep up with money matters. Last year, I therefore invested in Projetex (similar to Translation Office 3000), and I have found that it is making my life a whole lot easier. Rather than logging everything in Excel and struggling with formulas and time-consuming manual entries, my software automatically adds the pre-configured rates for each service I offer, issues invoice at a click of the mouse (rather than fiddling with Word templates and copying and pasting) and generates reports for each client or time period as needed. This has freed up so much time for me and lets me focus on other activities I enjoy a lot more, so I’d highly recommend investing in such an accounting program for translators – or marrying an accountant.
  6. Other Services – Diversification Lastly, let’s not forget that the market is changing all the time. New technologies are emerging almost every day and the pace at which this industry is steaming ahead is dizzying. Many of us are worried about what the future will bring and if translation will remain viable with machine translation, crowdsourcing and other new technologies gathering momentum. The clear answer is, yes! It is entire possible to survive and even strive in the language industry as a translator today. But what we may need to do is look beyond our computer screen and realise that to survive, we need to adapt. We can’t ignore CAT tools and machine translation, for example, but should investigate additional sources of income in addition to our translation activities. The magic word is diversification! I’m a keen advocate of diversification, and the many successful examples out there are very encouraging. Diversification can mean generating passive income through publications, or offering online training and CPD sessions for fellow translators, or adding additional services for clients to our portfolio, e.g. post-editing (yes, I said it!) or DTP. Let’s all make it our goal to investigate our own skill set and come up with at least one idea of an alternative service we could offer in addition to mere translation.

So, what do YOU do for a living? Are you still a freelancer working from home or already a small translation business owner?

by guest blogger, Nicole Y. Adams, Translator, Editor and PR Consultant                                                                                                                                                             
NYA Communications

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