How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator

How to Succeed as a Freelance
Corinne McKay
How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator
by Corinne McKay
ISBN 978-1-4116-9520-7
First Edition
©2006 by Corinne McKay. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Two Rat Press, a division of Translatewrite, Inc. No
part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or
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except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review,
without permission in writing from the author. For information,
Disclaimer: This book is published by Two Rat Press and Translatewrite,
Inc., who acknowledge all trademarks. All information
contained in this book is believed to be correct at the
time of printing. However, readers are advised to seek professional
advice where necessary, as the information in this book
is based on the author's experiences. The author of this book
is not professionally engaged in providing legal, financial or career
planning advice. Please send comments or corrections to
For Dan, Ada and my parents, who sweeten
every day.
Introduction 9
Acknowledgments 15
1 An overview of the translation business 17
1.1 What is a translator? ......................................... 17
1.2 What does it take to become a translator? .......... 18
1.3 Improving your language skills ......................... 21
1.4 A translator's working environment .................. 22
1.5 What kinds of work do translators do? ............. 25
1.5.1 Software Localization ............................ 27
1.6 Who do translators work for? ............................ 28
1.6.1 Working for translation agencies ............. 28
1.6.2 Working for direct clients ....................... 30
1.7 A bit about interpreting ................................... 31
1.8 How do translators set their rates? .................... 33
1.9 Professional Associations ................................. 34
1.9.1 American Translators Association .......... 34
1.9.2 National Association of Judiciary Interpreters
and Translators ...................................... 35
1.9.3 Translators and Interpreters Guild .......... 35
1.9.4 American Literary Translators Association 35
1.9.5 Federation Internationale des Traducteurs 36
1.9.6 International Association of Conference Interpreters
................................................... 36
1.10 Certification for Translators .............................. 36
1.10.1 American Translators Association .......... 38
1.10.2 Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination
Program ................................. 39
1.10.3 State Court Interpreter Certification . . . . 41
2 Starting and Growing your Business 43
2.1 Preparing for your job search ............................ 43
2.1.1 The basics of writing a translation resume . 43
2.1.2 A new résumé for a new career ............. 44
2.1.3 The structure of your résumé .................. 45
2.1.4 Your name ........................................... 46
2.1.5 Your summary of qualifications . ............. 47
2.1.6 The body of the résumé ......................... 49
2.1.7 What about a cover letter? .................... 50
2.2 Finding your first clients ................................... 51
2.3 Building up your business ................................. 56
2.4 Starting a part-time translation business . .......... 59
2.5 Business skills you'll need ................................. .....61
2.6 Setting up your office and your business .......... 63
2.7 Maximizing productivity ................................. 65
2.8 For working parents ......................................... 67
3 Home office setup 69
3.1 Preparing for your home office ......................... 69
3.2 The ups and downs of working from home . . . . 69
3.3 Necessary office equipment .............................. 71
3.4 Organizing your business ................................. 73
3.5 Translation home office technology .................. 75
3.6 Non-Western character sets .............................. 78
3.7 Speech recognition software .............................. 79
3.8 Translation memory software ............................ 80
3.8.1 Trados ................................................... 82
3.8.2 SDLX ..................................................... 83
3.8.3 Déjà Vu ................................................... 83
3.8.4 Wordfast ................................................ 83
3.8.5 Heartsome .............................................. 83
3.8.6 OmegaT ................................................ 84
3.8.7 WordFisher ........................................... 84
3.8.8 across ..................................................... .....84
3.9 Choosing a computer system ............................ 85
4 Rates, contracts and terms of service 87
4.1 Setting your translation rates ................................. 87
4.2 Rate sheets ................................................................. 91
4.3 Contracts or work for hire agreements . ............... 92
4.4 Terms of service ........................................................ 95
4.5 Researching your potential clients ........................ 99
4.6 Standard payment terms and methods ............... 101
4.7 Setting the stage for payment ................................. 102
4.8 When things don't go as planned ........................... 104
4.8.1 Arbitration and dispute resolution ............ 108
4.9 Cash flow issues ..................................................... 109
5 Setting up your business for growth 111
5.1 Incorporating and planning for taxes .................. 112
5.1.1 Corporate Entities ....................................... 114
5.1.2 Tax planning ............................................... 115
5.2 Key Questions Before the Project Starts ............... 117
5.3 How to Raise Your Rates ....................................... 120
5.4 Ten ways to please a translation client .................. 121
Resources 125
Glossary 133
Index 139
I decided to write this book because I love my job, and because so
few bilingual people are aware of the high demand for qualified
translators and interpreters, or of the lifestyle benefits of being a
language entrepreneur. In 2002, I was looking for a new career
after eight years as a high school French teacher, and hoping to
find a work-from-home job using my language skills. I thought
back to a translation internship that I had done in college, and
remembered how much I had enjoyed it. At the time, I had
almost no knowledge of the translation industry nor any job
contacts, so I started out by calling every company listed under
Translators and Interpreters in the local yellow pages. Over the
next few months I became involved with my local translators
association, the American Translators Association (ATA), and
began getting some calls for translation work. A year and some
400 résumés later, I passed the ATA certification exam in French to
English translation, and my business continued to grow, while still
allowing me to work from home on a flexible schedule, earning a
healthy income and spending plenty of time with my family.
Although I spent most of that first year marketing my fledgling
business, the effort paid off; after three years as a freelance translator
I earned my highest gross income ever (including when
I worked full-time as a teacher) while working 20-30 hours a
week from home. I developed specializations in legal, financial
and marketing translation, edited my local translators association
newsletter, presented seminars at the annual conference of the
American Translators Association and often found myself exclaiming,
"This is so interesting!" while working on a translation—in
short, I had found my niche.
At the same time, the path from that day with the phone book to
the day I told a client, "Sorry, I'm booked for the next two weeks"
was harder than it had to be, because there is a real shortage of
training materials on how to run a translation business. Most
translators enter the field because they love languages and writing,
not because they love marketing and bookkeeping, but many
translators' businesses fail because they lack basic business skills.
If you'd like to succeed as a freelance translator, it's definitely
important to pursue training in translation techniques, translation
software, and other tools of the trade, but these types of courses
are easier to locate. Part of the reason I decided to write this book
was because, having never run my own business before, I struggled
so much with these basic business questions: how and where
to find prospective clients, how to pursue translator certification,
how to decide whether expensive computer software would help
my business, how to set my translation rates, and so on.
This book is based on the article Getting Started as a Freelance
Translator, which first appeared on my website and was picked
up by several translation websites. Later, I expanded that article
into an online course that has continued to be very popular with
aspiring translators. Following the success of the course, I realized
that there must be many more people out there wondering how
to use their language skills to break into the translation industry,
and the idea for this book was born.
The good news about translation
If you're considering a career as a translator, there's a lot to look
forward to. Given the global reach of businesses in the 21 st century,
translators are employed in almost every conceivable business
sector, from banking to museums to health care to high-tech.
If you have a special skill or interest in addition to being bilingual,
you're almost sure to find clients who will pay for your services,
and you'll get to work on materials that interest you. Overall,
the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics
projects that job prospects for translators and interpreters will
increase faster than the average until at least 2014. Translators are
usually well paid for their work, with the most recent compensation
survey by the American Translators Association reporting
that the average self-employed full-time translator earns over
$50,000 per year. Most translators, even if they work 40 hours
a week or more, live a very self-directed lifestyle and can tailor
their work day around other interests or commitments such as
The good news about virtual work
In publicizing their work-from-home newsletter The Rat Race
Rebellion, the e-entrepreneurship specialists Staffcentrix http:
// estimate that "There is a 30 to 1 scam
ratio among home-based work 'opportunities.' " Although there
are definitely some unscrupulous translation clients out there,
translation itself is a great example of a legitimate work-fromhome
opportunity. The vast majority of translators in the U.S.
work from home, so translation agencies are used to this business
model, and don't think it's odd to employ translators who work
from home. Home work has a lot of advantages for you as the
home worker, and for your community as a whole. By working
from home, you'll probably experience greater job satisfaction
and less stress, since a relatively minor disruption like a dentist
appointment or furnace repair won't derail your entire work day.
Most of the time, you'll be able to structure your work day around
your peak energy times and your family's needs, rather than your
employer's policies. Your commute will be as long as it takes
you to walk from your bedroom to your office and fire up the
computer while still in your pajamas. Not surprisingly, most
home workers experience a greatly improved quality of life.
Likewise, working from home often has a very positive effect
on your community and the world as a whole. Less commuting
means less traffic congestion, less fuel usage and less need for
parking areas. Home-based workers are around during the day,
allowing them to volunteer for school and community activities
and to be available for their families. A study by the International
Telework Association and Council (ITAC) found that home-based
workers are absent from work less than half as often as officebased
workers, leading to greater work productivity in general.
Is freelance translation for you?
Despite all of these positive reports, it's very important to do some
realistic self-assessment to determine if a career as a freelance
translator is for you. Translators need a lot of skills besides fluency
in at least two languages; translators need to be excellent writers
in their native language and need to be interested in and skilled
at terminology research using both paper dictionaries and the
Internet. Translators also need to be avid readers in their native
and non-native languages in order to keep up their language skills
and their knowledge of world events.
Equally important, and the subject that we'll focus on in this
book, is a translator's ability to run a business. When you work
full-time for an employer, you have one job title. When you work
for yourself, you're not only the translator, but also the department
head for sales and marketing, technical support, customer
relations, accounting and facilities maintenance. Unless you're
willing and able to pay someone to do these tasks for you, you'll
be doing them yourself, in addition to your regular job.
Before you launch yourself into a translation career, it's important
to ask yourself a few questions. Are you the type of person
who is often described as highly motivated, driven, a go-getter; or
do you have trouble following through on a plan once the exciting
idea stage is over? Are you consistently able to meet deadlines
with almost no supervision or direction, or do you head off to
shopping websites as soon as the boss disappears? Do you have
the multi-tasking skills necessary to manage multiple clients and
deadlines at once, or does this type of work leave you feeling
overwhelmed and wondering where to start?
In addition, it's important to factor in a start-up period of at
least six months to a year when launching your freelance business.
Of course this is just an estimate, and the length of everyone's
startup period will vary, but for translators who work in
a relatively common language pair (for example French, Italian,
German, Spanish or Portuguese paired with English), it's best
to budget on at least six months of doing a lot of marketing and
working less than full-time. For some people, for example parents
of small children or full-time students who are looking for some
supplemental income, the spotty cash flow of a startup period
may not be a huge concern. If you're planning on translation as
your full-time income, you'll need to either continue your current
employment while your translation business gets up to speed,
or plan on living off your savings or a loan during this time. It
can help to focus on the fact that with a consistent and reasonably
aggressive marketing effort, you'll have years to enjoy your
freelance lifestyle and income after your startup phase ends.
So to all of you out there wondering, "What exactly does someone
with a degree in foreign languages do for a living?," I wish
you happy reading, and hopefully, happy translating!
Very few books are truly solo endeavors, and this book is no exception.
Special thanks go to the people who lent their enthusiasm
to this project when it was just an idea to toss around over coffee
or e-mail: Eve Lindemuth Bodeux, Beth Hayden, Thomas Hedden,
Bruce McKay, LaNelle McKay and Karen Mitchell for their
insights and encouragement, and the students in the first two
sessions of my course, Getting Started as a Freelance Translator for
their excellent feedback on the course materials that this book is
based on. My colleagues in the Colorado Translators Association,
the American Translators Association and Boulder Media Women,
and the readers of my e-newsletter Open Source Update are an ongoing
source of knowledge and inspiration that every translator
and writer should be so fortunate as to have. And Dan Urist...
where to start... spent more hours than a recovering computer
systems administrator should have to on the layout, design and
editing of this book, learning at least two new pieces of software
in the process and lovingly hounding me until the last word was
1 An overview of the
translation business
1.1 What is a translator?
In a nutshell, a translator is a human being who changes written
words from one language to another. If this sounds obvious, take
another look! First, it's important to note that although computers
play an important role in translation, professional translators are
humans, not computers. Second, a translator works with written
words, unlike an interpreter, who works with spoken words. If
you're new to the industry, you've learned something important
right here; that the phrase "speaking through a translator," contradicts
itself, since translators work in writing. While some people
work as both translators and interpreters, most concentrate on
one or the other.
Translators are also, by definition, fluent in more than one
language. In the industry, these are referred to as the source, or
"from" language(s), and the target, or "into" language, which is
almost always the translator's native language. So for example, a
translator who is a native English speaker and learned Portuguese
and Spanish might translate from Spanish and Portuguese into
English. If you work in the most common language pairs, such as
English paired with French, Italian, German or Spanish (known as
FIGS in the translation industry), chances are that you will never
translate into your second or third language. If you work in a less
common language pair, you might find yourself as the exception
to this rule. A client might need a document translated from Thai
into English, a job that would usually be handled by a native
English speaker who has Thai as a second or third language.
However in practice, it's often easier to find a native Thai (or
Lingala, Malayalam, Fulani, etc) speaker who has English as a
second language since there are many more native Thai speakers
who also speak English than the other way around. In this case,
the job might be handled by a native Thai speaker, and then
proofread by a native English speaker.
In the United States, most translators work from one or two
source languages; it's extremely common for translators to have
only one working language pair, like Spanish into English, or
Japanese into English. In other areas of the world where foreign
languages are more widely studied, most translators work from
at least two source languages, and often many more. It's not
at all unusual to find Europe-based translators who work, for
example, from English, Spanish and French into German, or from
Norwegian, Swedish and English into Danish.
1.2 What does it take to become a translator?
Being multilingual isn't the only skill a translator needs, but it's
certainly the most important. Translators learn their languages in
many different ways; many grew up in bilingual households or
countries, some learned their second or third language in school
and then pursued experience abroad, some took intensive language
courses or worked in a foreign country for several years,
and it is also quite common for translators to become freelancers
after working as military or government linguists. Almost all
translators working in the U.S. have at least a Bachelor's Degree,
although not necessarily in translation. As a rule, most professional
translators have at least some experience working and/or
living in a country where their source language or languages are
spoken; many translators lived and worked in their source language
country for many years, or pursued higher education in
their source language(s). In-country experience is a big asset for a
translator, since translation work involves knowing not just the
structure of the language to be translated, but the cultural framework
that surrounds it. This isn't to say that classroom study
doesn't produce excellent translators, but it's important to realize
at the outset that to be a successful professional translator, you
need near-native proficiency in your source language(s); if you're
starting from scratch, a few semesters of part-time language class
won't be enough. As a point of reference, the U.S. Government's
Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center offers a
program to teach Middle Eastern languages to government employees,
and the basic program involves 63 weeks of full-time
Many people wonder how to tell if their language skills are
good enough to work as a translator. While there are various language
testing services that can tell you where you stand, probably
the easiest way to get a feel for your translation readiness is to
translate something. Go on the web and find a legal document,
newspaper article or press release in your source language, then
try to translate it. As we'll discuss later, professional translators
make constant use of reference materials such as print and online
dictionaries, terminology databases, etc., so when you look at
your practice document, don't assume that you should be able
to whip out a perfect translation on the spot. The key points are:
can you understand this document on both a word-for-word and
a conceptual level, and can you convey its meaning in your target
Translators today work in almost every conceivable language
pair; while the market in the United States has historically been
very strong in Western European languages such as French, German,
Italian and Spanish, there is an increasing (and increasingly
lucrative) market for translation in Asian and Middle Eastern
Languages like Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, Thai, Chinese, Japanese,
Korean, Arabic, Farsi, Pashto and Kurdish; Central and Eastern
European languages like Serbian, Czech, Slovene and Macedonian;
as well as the "languages of smaller diffusion" like Nepali,
Hebrew or Somali. In most language pairs, the amount of work
available is proportionate to the number of translators in the language.
While there is obviously a great deal of English to Spanish
translation work in the U.S., there is a correspondingly large number
of translators in this language combination; and while there
may not be a great deal of work in Indonesian to English, there
are also not many translators in this combination, resulting in a
correspondingly small amount of competition for work.
In addition to near-native source language proficiency, translators
need other skills too; probably the most important are excellent
writing skills in their target language, in-depth knowledge
in one or more areas of specialization, and business management
skills. Some would-be translators are in practice not very successful
because they have weak writing skills in their target language,
making their translations difficult or unpleasant to read. Highly
specialized translators are among the highest-earning members
of the profession; for example a bilingual intellectual property
attorney, stock broker or biomedical engineer may earn many
times the per-word rate of a "jack of all trades" translator with
a B.A. in German. Some translators turn a previous career into
an area of specialization, while others take additional courses
in areas of specialization or learn specialized terminology from
more experienced translators. Paradoxically, specializing can also
lead to more work, not less, as the specialized translator becomes
known as the go-to person in his or her area of expertise, whether
it's environmental engineering, textile manufacturing or stage
The translation industry in the United States is moving more
and more toward an independent contractor model, where the
vast majority of translators are self-employed and work for a variety
of clients; in 2005, approximately 70% of the members of the
American Translators Association were self-employed independent
contractors. As such, translators need business management
skills such as the ability to find and retain clients, work on tight
deadlines with little supervision or management, handle increases
and decreases in work flow and cash flow and perform tasks such
as bookkeeping, tax planning and computer upkeep and maintenance.
In fact, most self-employed translators spend 25-50%
of their time on non-translation work, largely involving management
of the day to day tasks of running a business, so these skills
are just as important as translation-related skills in succeeding as
a freelance translator.
1.3 Improving your language skills
If you'd like to work as a translator but your language skills are
not yet up to par, you have a few options. The best, but most
difficult, is immersion: living and working or going to school in
a country where your source language is spoken. If you want to
improve your French, without a doubt the fastest way to do it is
to move to a French-speaking country for a year, work or go to
school with native French speakers, and speak only French while
you're there. If this isn't possible for you, university programs in
translation and interpretation do exist in the U.S., although they
are much less common than in other countries. However, nearly
all medium or large colleges and universities will offer advanced
courses in the more widely spoken foreign languages. The American
Translators Association http : //atanet . org sells several
publications listing translating and interpreting programs, and
also has a mentoring program for its members, although the
program is geared toward professional, not linguistic, development.
If you're trying to improve your language skills, be realistic;
although it's certainly far from impossible to learn a new language
at age 30, 50 or 70, it's also not going to happen with a few
semesters of night classes. If you're starting from a beginner level
or close to it, two to three years of intensive language study in
a college-level program is probably a bare minimum. However,
if you have a solid foundation in a second or third language, for
instance you studied it in school for 10 years including several
trips to a country where the language is spoken, you might be
ready to start translating right away.
As mentioned before, simply knowing more than one language
isn't enough to guarantee your success as a translator. While requirements
for different translation jobs vary, nearly all translators
have at least a Bachelor's degree, and often more education than
this. If you would eventually like to earn certification from the
American Translators Association, you'll need either a Master's
degree or higher, or several years of work experience as a translator.
The rapid expansion of the translation industry, flexible
work possibilities and high earning potential have made freelance
translation an attractive career for bilingual lawyers, accountants,
doctors and scientific professionals, and many translators feel
that specialization is extremely important to their success. This is
especially true as the Internet has opened up work opportunities
for translators who live in countries where the cost of living is
relatively low, and where educated professionals may be able to
make more money by working as translators over the Internet
than by practicing in the professions they were trained for.
1.4 A translator's working environment
The translation industry in the United States is moving more and
more toward the independent contractor model. In the past, many
large companies and even many translation agencies had staffs of
in-house translators, but these jobs are now few and far between,
and when they do exist would rarely be given to a beginner. In
contrast to other professions where newcomers are expected to
pay their dues as in-house employees and then enjoy the "reward"
of freelancing, the translation industry usually works in the opposite
way. Most translators start out as freelancers and may even
remain self-employed for their whole careers, while most wellpaid
in-house translators are hired with years or even decades of
experience. It's important to be realistic about whether the life of
a freelancer is for you. While you'll have a great degree of control
over where, when and how much you work, you'll also give up
the security of a steady paycheck, benefits, paid time off, and a
pension or employer-sponsored 401K.
Most freelance translators in the U.S. work from a home office,
and there is no stigma attached to working from home; translators
who rent office space outside the home are definitely the exception
rather than the rule. The vast majority of a translator's work is
done on the computer, using either a word processing program or
text editor, and possibly a computer-assisted translation program.
Translators make extensive use of reference materials such as print
and online dictionaries, terminology databases, and discussion
with other translators. The almost constant use of a computer
makes repetitive strain injury one of the few work-related injuries
that translators are at risk for.
There are many positive sides to a translator's work environment.
Compared to other work-from-home jobs, translation can
be very interesting and well-paying. Although you probably
won't get lavishly rich working as a freelance translator, translation
industry compensation surveys report that the average
self-employed freelance translator earns about $52,000 per year.
Translators who are highly specialized in technical fields, or work
with in-demand language pairs may earn much more than this,
and in-house translators for certain branches of the U.S. government
or international financial institutions may earn $70,000 a
year and up.
At the same time, it is important to be realistic about the time
and effort involved in reaching this level of income. Unless you
work in a language pair and/or specialization that is extremely
in demand, it may take a year or more to develop a regular client
base that will allow you to replace the income from a previous
full-time job, and you will probably need to send out several
hundred résumés during that time. Before starting your freelance
translation business, it's important to determine if you have the
financial resources, time and energy to get through the startup
period to the point where you are earning a reasonable and steady
Starting a translation business is a fairly inexpensive proposition.
If you already have a home computer and high speed
Internet access, you might make do with business cards, computerized
fax service and a modest reference library, for a startup
cost of only a few hundred dollars. To a large extent, freelancers
can determine when and how much they want to work. While it
probably makes good business sense to accept as much work as
possible from your regular clients, on a day-to-day basis many
translators work on their own schedule rather than from 9 to 5.
A translator's eight hour day might run from 7:30-11:30 AM and
4:30-8:30 PM. This flexibility makes translation an excellent career
option for people who have young children, are semi-retired, or
just want to work part-time. Today, most translation work hap24
pens remotely, and translators can live almost anywhere. The up
and down nature of most freelancers' work loads also lends itself
to using free time to take classes, pursue hobbies, travel or spend
time with family.
On the downside (and of course there are some downsides to
all of this!), as with other consulting or freelance work, some aspects
of translation can be stressful and difficult to manage. Many
translators describe their work as feast or famine, with months
of little work and months of working every waking moment and
more than a few moments that should be spent sleeping. Worldwide
business acceleration has affected translation turnaround
times, with agencies eager to have translations returned as soon
as possible, sometimes within a few hours for a short project.
Clients who pay late or don't pay at all can cause major financial
problems, especially for translators who live paycheck to paycheck.
Translators who work in common language combinations
like Spanish<-->English may face pressure to lower their rates in
order to remain competitive, especially if the client can find qualified
translators in countries where pay rates are much lower. In
addition, working from home has its ups and downs; even for
an introvert, the life of the home office can be lonely, and time
spent on (unpaid) non-translation work like accounting, marketing
and maintaining computer systems can become frustrating
when you'd much rather be translating! If you've never worked
for yourself before, succeeding as a translator demands a high
degree of self-discipline. With no boss in the next cubicle and a
list of household errands to finish, it can be hard to focus on your
work, and if you have a family or housemates, equally difficult to
find a work-friendly time and space in your house.
However, most translators enjoy their work and like to talk
about what they do and how they got started. The ever-changing
nature of the job appeals to many people, since no day "at the
office" is exactly like another. Another positive aspect of the job
is that most translation clients value their translators and treat
them as professionals who deserve to be fairly paid for their work.
Even in the most common language combinations, the supply of
qualified and capable (emphasis here!) translators often cannot
keep pace with the industry's demand, resulting in a generally
positive employment picture for translators and interpreters. The
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment
prospects for translators and interpreters should grow faster than
the average for all occupations until at least 2014.
1.5 What kinds of work do translators do?
As cross-cultural and multilingual communication become more
important to the worldwide flow of business, translators and
interpreters are employed in almost every conceivable business
and government sector. From law to health care to finance, entertainment,
information technology and advertising, translators
and interpreters enable global communication. Some translators,
especially those with specialized professional or technical
training, might concentrate on only one subject area, such as
pharmaceuticals, corporate finance, computer software or legal
contracts. There are even translators who specialize in seemingly
obscure areas like fisheries management, shopping mall construction,
stamps, or groundwater hydrology. Still others position
themselves as "jack of all trades" translators with concentrations
in certain areas. In general, the more translators there are in a
given language pair, the more specialization is required, and the
smaller the translator pool, the less incentive there is to specialize.
German to English translators in the U.S. almost certainly
have specializations, but the same isn't necessarily true of the
few Bosnian to English translators doing business in the same
Translators sometimes work in collaboration with other linguists,
particularly if the work involves a large project that needs
to be translated in a short amount of time. Today, translation
teams almost always work together over the Internet, rather than
in person. The size of translation projects can vary widely, from
a single line of text such as a company slogan, to an entire book
or website. Most translators who are self-employed work from
project to project, with the average project taking anywhere from
an hour to several days, and some longer projects mixed in as
well. Most translators working in the United States today work
on business and technical documents, rather than literature.
Although most translators in the U.S. are independent contractors,
full-time jobs for translators and interpreters do exist,
particularly in areas such as court and health care interpreting,
web content translation, software localization, and translating and
interpreting for the United States Government's various agencies
including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence
Agency and National Security Agency. Translators who are experienced
and/or qualified to work in more than one language pair
may have a greater chance of being offered an in-house position.
Literary translators (translators who work on books, poetry or
short stories) make up a relatively small segment of translators
in the United States. This is because literary translation is typically
not very well paid, and because Americans don't tend to
read literature in translation, so there is a small market for the
work of literary translators; in 2004, only 891 of the 195,000 new
books printed in English were adult literature in translation. If
you translate into a language other than English, there may be
a larger market for literary translation services, especially if you
are qualified to work on textbooks, technical manuals, and other
"non-literary" book projects.
Localization translators are a rapidly growing group in the
industry. Localization, or the complete adaptation of a product
such as a web site, product marketing kit, software program
or advertising campaign into another language, used to be confined
mostly to computer software. Now, software localization is
probably the largest segment of the localization market, but it's
certainly not the only segment. Businesses may hire localization
agencies when they want to take a new product global and need
culturally-targeted marketing advice in addition to translation
1.5.1 Software Localization
A sub-specialty within the translation and localization industry
is software localization, the process of translating software user
interfaces from one language to another. For example, when a
large software company produces multilingual versions of its
applications, every piece of text displayed by the software must
be translated into the target language, and in many cases the
graphics must be altered as well. Software localization involves
both bilingual software developers and document translators
specialized in information technology, since the software's user
interface, help files, readme files, screen shots and incidental
files (such as warranty information and packaging) must all be
Software localization is an enormous industry in its own right,
largely because computer users throughout the world now expect
their software to be in their own language, and will naturally
be more interested in purchasing software or visiting websites
that they can access in their own language. Therefore, the software
localization industry is a source of a large amount of work
for bilingual software developers and for translators, and is currently
one of the fastest-growing sectors within the translation
industry as a whole. In addition, localization breeds localization;
a localized web browser automatically creates a need for
localized websites; a localized piece of software demands a localized
manual to go with it. Two useful resources for localization
professionals are the Globalization and Localization Association.
http: //www. gala-global . org and the Localization Industry
Standards Association http: // Software
localization is often completed using different tools than those
that are used for document translation; some computer-assisted
translation tools can cross over between these two types of translation,
and some cannot. So, it is important to investigate what tools
will be required if you would like to look for software localization
1.6 Who do translators work for?
1.6.1 Working for translation agencies
For a freelance translator, there are typically two types of clients:
translation agencies and direct clients. First, let's look at how
translators work through agencies. A translation agency, which
may also refer to itself as a localization agency, translation company,
or translation bureau, has its own roster of clients and
sub-contracts their translation work to individual freelance translators.
The agency handles the project management end of things,
interacts directly with the translation client and (hopefully) pays
the translator and deals with any collections issues. Ideally, the
translation agency should pay its freelance translators when their
invoices come due (normally 30 days after the agency accepts the
translation) whether the agency itself has been paid by the end
client or not.
A translation agency is not an employment agency, and there
is no fee involved for a translator to register with an agency.
However, an agency normally cannot guarantee a steady flow of
work to any one translator, and will normally pay the translator a
good deal less than the per-word rate that the agency is charging
the client, in many cases up to 50% less. Freelance translators
are often required to sign a confidentiality and non-competition
agreement which states that they may not work directly for any of
the agency's clients for some period of time, or may not disclose
who the agency's clients are, or the nature of the assignments that
they work on. Like translators themselves, translation agencies
can be either very general, "all languages, all subjects," or highly
specialized, for instance translating only for the medical industry,
or only translating between English and Korean.
In the uncertain world of freelancing, translation agencies provide
some measure of job security. When you work for an agency,
you don't normally have to communicate with the end client directly,
and in many cases the agency may even forbid you from
contacting the end client. Instead, you translate the documents
that the agency sends you, which means that you spend your time
working instead of managing the project and handling the client's
questions. Also, an agency that becomes a regular client may be
able to provide you with steady work, and will often pay you
even if the client is late in paying them. A good agency project
manager understands the nature of translation work, and asks
the client in advance to clarify potential questions, for example
should currency amounts in Euros be converted to dollars, saving
the contract translators a great deal of time. Many of the best
agency project managers are or have been translators themselves.
Agencies also provide some amount of "disaster insurance" in
the event that you get sick in the middle of the project, suddenly
find yourself in over your head on a very technical document, or
another type of unforeseen event. If something like this happens,
the agency can often find a replacement translator or editor to
step in, which is a responsibility that falls upon the translator if
an agency is not involved.
In exchange for the services the agency provides, you will give
up some freedom. The agencies you work for may have fixed pay
rates, or may ask you to reduce your rates to stay competitive
with other translators. When an agency becomes a regular client,
you want to keep them happy, so it will be hard to say "No!"
when they call you on Friday afternoon with a big project due
Monday, disrupting your planned ski trip or home improvement
project. Also, agencies vary in quality. While a good agency can
effectively hand you work on a platter and deal with all problems
that come up between them and the end client, in practice this
doesn't always happen. An agency may claim (rightly or wrongly)
that you did a substandard job on a project for them, and then
ask for or just go ahead and take a "discount" on the payment
you agreed on. Or, an agency may not have much cash in reserve,
and might not be able to pay you if the end client doesn't pay
them. Agencies also have their own set payment terms, and in
most cases the terms aren't negotiable. For example, agencies
in the U.S. generally pay within 30 days from the date of the
invoice (referred to as Net 30), or 30 days from the end of the
month (30 Days EOM), while agencies in Europe take longer to
pay, sometimes as long as 60 days from the end of the month or
90 days from the date of the invoice.
1.6.2 Working for direct clients
The other main option for a freelancer is to work for direct clients,
meaning working directly for translation customers without a
"middleman" involved. A direct client might be a shoe manufacturer
in Sweden that wants to market its products in the U.S., a
patent law firm in Japan, a university in the U.S. with non-English
speaking visitors, or an individual who wants her high school
diploma translated into French so that she can study abroad. The
income potential of working for direct clients is attractive; in
many cases double the income of working for an agency. Direct
clients may also be able to provide large volumes of work if their
turnaround time allows for it. Whereas a translation agency will
often split a large project between several translators to get it done
faster, a direct client might be willing to let you translate their
entire 50,000 word annual report, resulting in more income and
less administrative overhead for you; or they might be willing
to let you act as a "mini-agency," subcontracting work to other
translators you know and keeping a percentage for yourself. With
a direct client the translator is often more in control of the payment
terms involved; for example, the translator might be able to
request payment in advance for certain services, an option that
almost never exists when working through a translation agency.
There are some disadvantages in working for direct clients as
well. When you work through an agency, it's the project manager's
job to explain the ins and outs of the translation process to
the client. If the client doesn't know what source and target language
mean, or the difference between traditional and simplified
Chinese, or whether they want the company's name in all capital
letters throughout the document, it's the agency's responsibility
to deal with this, not yours. When you work for a direct client, for
better or worse there's no one between you and the client. In cases
involving a small project such as a birth certificate translation, it
might take more time to explain the process to the client than it
does to complete the translation. If the client has an unrealistic
deadline, keeps changing his/her mind about the project specifications,
or wants additional services such as desktop publishing,
it's up to you as the translator to deal with it. If the direct client
doesn't pay, there's no one else to lean on for the money—you
simply have to handle it yourself, or hire a collection agency if
things turn really sour. All of these aspects are worth considering
before you decide whether to work through agencies or for direct
Somewhere between an agency and a direct client is a small but
growing group of freelance project managers. These individuals
function somewhat like one-person translation agencies, and may
be handling outsourced translation for a larger corporation. This
style of business combines some of the advantages and disadvantages
of the agency /direct client model. Probably the most
significant item to discuss up front is what happens if the end
client doesn't pay or is late in paying the project manager who
hires you, since unlike a large translation agency, this individual
probably doesn't have the cash reserves to cover a large bill that
goes unpaid.
1.7 A bit about interpreting
As you explore a career in translation, it's worth considering
whether you would like to focus your business exclusively on
translation, or include interpreting in your range of services. Like
translation, the market for interpreting depends largely on your
language pair(s), and unless you do over the phone interpreting,
is more location-dependent than translation since you need to be
in the same place as your clients.
Interpreting has several "modes," the primary ones being simultaneous,
where the interpreter talks at the same time as the
speaker; consecutive, where the interpreter listens to the speaker
and takes notes, then interprets what the speaker said; and sight
translation, where the interpreter reads a written document in
another language, for example taking a court document in English
and reading it to a defendant in Spanish. Simultaneous interpret32
ing is probably the most common mode, since it is used at the
United Nations, in court, and in various other conference-type
Interpreting demands very different skills than translation.
While translators are stereotypically detail-oriented introverts
who don't mind spending an hour finding the perfect translation
for a word, interpreters must be able to think on their feet and
work with little or no advance preparation. Translators most often
work alone at home, while interpreters are often literally in the
spotlight, standing next to a court witness, hospital patient or
head of state and communicating for him or her.
Until the advent of conference calling, interpreters had to be in
the same place as their clients, and court and conference interpreting
is still heavily dependent on on-site interpreters. However,
over-the-phone interpreting is becoming more popular, especially
in areas where it's hard to find on-site interpreters. Many translation
agencies also schedule interpreters, and courts, hospitals and
schools may employ in-house interpreters.
One major difference between interpreting and translation is
that interpreters often work in both "directions" of their language
pair, so must be highly proficient in speaking their non-native
language; many high-level conference interpreters consider themselves
to have two native languages, rather than one native language
and one or more second languages. Interpreters are paid
by the hour or by the day, and pay varies widely. In some areas
of the U.S., English4-6panish court interpreters might make less
than $15 an hour, while conference interpreters who are members
of the elite AIIC (International Association of Conference
Interpreters) might make close to $500 a day.
If you are interested in interpreting, one excellent way to assess
your skills is to go spend a day as an observer in court. Most
courts in the U.S. are open to the public, and you can sit in the
viewing area and try to interpret as the proceedings go along; better
yet take a notebook and make a list of words and expressions
that you need to research. The major employers of interpreters in
the U.S. are courts, health care settings and schools, so these are all
good places to focus on if you would like to explore interpreting.
1.8 How do translators set their rates?
Translators are generally paid by the word, with some variation in
whether the word count is based on the source or target language,
for a single word (most common in the U.S.) or per thousand
words (most common in the U.K.), although payment is sometimes
made by the line as well, with a line being comprised of a
certain number of characters. For projects where charging by the
word would result in a ridiculously low payment, for example
translating an advertising slogan, translators are often paid by the
hour. Translations of official documents such as birth certificates
may be billed by the page. Many translators have a minimum
charge for small projects, for example a flat fee for projects up to
250 words. It's also common for translators to add a premium for
a rush project, or to offer a discount for a large project or ongoing
The actual per-word rate depends on your language
)c oamndb isnpae-ctioanlizsation(s), and alson what your clients are
willing to pay. Asking "How much do translators charge?" is like
asking, "How big is a ball of yarn?" The variation in translation
rates is enormous; if you visit online translation marketplaces
such as Translators Cafe, or http: //proz . com, you'll see an abundance of translators
willing to work for just a few cents a word, while a highly
specialized medical, legal or technical translator working for direct
clients might make mid-double digits (cents, not dollars!)
per word. In addition, many translators are reluctant to publish
or even discuss their rates for fear of being targeted by antitrust
If you work for translation agencies, there may not be much
room for negotiation on rates, and "setting your rates" may be
more a matter of finding agencies that are willing to pay what
you would like to earn. Agencies will often ask you what your
rates are, but just as often the agency already knows what it can
or will pay for a typical project in your language combination,
and is unlikely to give you work if you charge more than the
"standard" rate. Some agencies will also tell you up front that
you're welcome to specify your rates, but that the agency prefers
to work with translators who charge less than a certain number
of cents per word. Still, translation agencies as a group are not
usually out to get translators to work for an absolute rock-bottom
price, and will usually offer a fair rate for a project. Reputable
agencies may even look askance at translation rates that are more
than about 10% below the average or standard rate in a certain
language combination.
1.9 Professional Associations for Translators
and Interpreters
Professional associations are an excellent resource for both beginning
and experienced translators and interpreters. At the international,
national, and local levels, professional associations allow
you to network with colleagues, pursue continuing education
workshops and attend conferences related to the field. They also
improve your credibility as a linguist. As one agency manager
comments, "If a person is a member of a professional association,
it shows that he or she has a network of colleagues to draw on
and is willing to invest some time and money in the profession."
Especially if translator or interpreter certification isn't offered in
your languages, belonging to a professional association shows
that you're serious about your work. Following is an overview of
professional associations for translators and interpreters working
in the United States.
1.9.1 American Translators Association
The American Translators Association ht t p : //atanet . org is
the largest professional association for language professionals
in the U.S., and offers membership to both individual linguists
and translation companies. The Association also includes various
language or specialization-specific divisions that members can
choose to join. Benefits for ATA members include a listing on
the ATA website, a subscription to the monthly magazine ATA
Chronicle, reduced rates to attend ATA conferences and seminars,
and various professional benefits such as credit card acceptance,
retirement programs, etc. The ATA holds a large annual conference
each year in the fall, and information about upcoming
conferences is also available on the ATA website.
The ATA administers its own certification exams, which are
probably the most widely recognized translation credential in the
U.S. As of 2006, candidates for the certification exam must also
be members of ATA. For more information on certification exam
dates, see ATA's website. 2006 individual dues are $145 per year.
1.9.2 National Association of Judiciary Interpreters
and Translators
The National Association of Judiciary Intrpreters and Translators
http: //najit . org is a professional association for court
interpreters and legal translators. NAJIT holds an annual conference,
publishes the newsletter Proteus, and advocates for positive
changes in the court interpreting and legal translation professions.
NAJIT's website also includes a helpful list of Frequently Asked
Questions (FAQ) about court interpreting. 2006 individual dues
are $105 per year.
1.9.3 Translators and Interpreters Guild
The Translators and Interpreters Guild http : // is the
only national (U.S.) union of translators and interpreters, operating
as Local 32100 of the Newspaper Guild–Communications
Workers of America. The Translators and Interpreters Guild operates
a translator referral service that is open to members, and
offers additional membership benefits such as a union credit card,
life insurance, and legal services. 2006 individual dues are $120
per year.
1.9.4 American Literary Translators Association
The American Literary Translators Association http: // is dedicated to serving literary
translators and "enhancing the status and quality of literary translation."
Members receive a variety of publications about literary
translation, such as Translation Review and ALTA Guides to Literary
Translation, and ALTA also holds an annual conference on literary
translation. 2006 individual dues are $65 per year.
1.9.5 Federation Internationale des Traducteurs
The Federation International des Traducteurs http: //fit-ift .
org is an "association of associations" for translators, which gathers
more than 100 professional associations for language professionals
from all over the world. FIT does not accept individual
translators as members, but does hold an annual conference open
to translators and interpreters throughout the world.
1.9.6 International Association of Conference
Membership in AIIC is open only to experienced
conference interpreters who have worked a minimum of
150 days in a conference setting, and must be sponsored by three
active AIIC members who have been in the association for at least
five years. The AIIC website contains many helpful articles and
links for aspiring and experienced interpreters.
1.10 Certification for Translators
As we discussed in a previous section, for better or worse, you
don't have to have any type of certification to call yourself a translator
or interpreter in the United States. Various organizations
offer certification, but the list of language combinations is far
from comprehensive. For example, organizations in the United
States offer certification only in language combinations that involve
English, so if you translate or interpret German into French
or Japanese into Korean, there simply is no certification available
in the U.S.. Reliable and uniform certification is one of the most
important issues facing the translation and interpreting professions
today. Since no standardized certification for translators
and interpreters exists, there is little agreement on what makes
a "certified" translator or interpreter. In some cases, linguists
who have earned a certificate in translation or interpreting refer
to themselves as "certified," while to others, "certified" means
having passed a nationally standardized examination.
There is a great deal of controversy over whether certification is
a reasonable guarantee of a quality job, or whether non-certified
translators and interpreters are to be avoided. As a linguist,
especially in a common language combination such as English
with French, Spanish or German, becoming certified is one way
to distinguish yourself from the pack of questionably qualified
people offering translation or interpreting services in these languages,
and certification may be required for certain types of
work. In some court systems it is now difficult to find work as
an English —Spanish court interpreter if you're not certified, and
some translation agencies may insist that for certain end clients or
certain types of translations, you have to be certified if the option
is available for your languages. In addition, the American Translators
Association's most recent compensation survey (published in
January, 2006), found that certified translators earn approximately
$6,000 per year more than their non-certified colleagues.
On the downside, there are numerous translators and interpreters
with excellent qualifications who have failed certification
exams, or don't feel that they want to take them at all. As one
translation agency manager comments, "Certification doesn't
mean that the person can meet a deadline, work well with other
translators or respond to client input and questions, and all of
these are crucial to winning and keeping clients." More practically,
the certification exam itself represents a somewhat artificial environment
in which you're asked to demonstrate your skills. For
instance, although the ATA is currently pursuing the possibility
of offering computerized certification exams, the exam currently
must be handwritten, something a practicing translator would
seldom if ever do. Hopefully, the computerized ATA certification
exam will become a reality in the near future.
Following is an overview of the main certifying organizations
for translators and interpreters in the United States. If you work in
a language combination that doesn't involve English, an Internet
search can help you find certifying organizations in a country
where your languages are spoken.
1.10.1 American Translators Association
The American Translators Association ht t p : //atanet .org offers
certification (formerly called accreditation) to translators in 27
language pairs as of 2006; passing the exam earns you the right to
add the designation "ATA-certified for X to X translation" to your
credentials. As of this writing, the available certifications are (<-->
indicates that the test is available in either "direction"):

• DutchEnglish
• French English
• German-English
• Italian--English
• Japanese-English
• Polish-English
• Portuguese-English
• Russian English
• Spanish-English
As of January, 2004, candidates for the ATA certification exam
must also fulfill an education and experience requirement before
being allowed to sit for the exam. To fulfill this requirement, you
must meet one of the following criteria:
• Certification or accreditation by an organization that is a
member of the Federation Internationale des Traducteurs.
• A degree or certificate from an approved Translation and
Interpreting program (see ATA website for list of approved
programs) or a Master's degree, PhD or equivalent degree
in any field.
• A Bachelor's degree and two years' experience working
as a translator or interpreter (see ATA website for how to
demonstrate your work experience).
• Less than a Bachelor's degree and five years' experience
working as a translator or interpreter (see ATA website for
how to demonstrate your work experience).
While all of this sounds intimidating and does exclude many
people who previously could have taken the exam, it's important
to remember that if you already have a Master's degree or PhD
in any subject area, you meet the requirement. If you don't have
an advanced degree, probably the fastest way to gain eligibility is
to earn a certificate from an approved translation or interpreting
program, but this depends on your financial resources and the
availability of a school near you.
1.10.2 Federal Court Interpreter Certification
Examination Program
The Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination Program .asp is
perhaps the most widely recognized credential for interpreters
in the United States. Passing this examination, most commonly
offered in Spanish English but also in Navajo—English and
Haitian Creole English, earns you the designation Federally Certified
Court Interpreter. The examination is rigorous, necessitating
that the candidate maintain simultaneous interpreting speeds of
up to 160 words per minute, and retain passages of up to 50 words
in length for consecutive interpreting. FCICE candidates must
first pass a written test with a score of at least 75%, and are then
invited to take the oral portion of the exam, on which a score
of 80% is considered passing. At present, the oral portion consists
of a sight translation, simultaneous interpretation, and mock
cross-examination, involving both consecutive and simultaneous
interpretation. The exam is offered on specific dates in specific
locations specified on the program's website, so if you don't live
near one of these cities, you'll have to travel there in order to take
the exam.
A self-assessment of readiness to take the FCICE exam is
included on the program website, and numerous preparation
courses have sprung up in order to meet the growing demand
especially for Spanish—English court interpreters in certain areas
of the United States. Other than the FCICE site itself, an
excellent resource is Acebo, a language resources company run
by highly qualified interpreter trainers. The Acebo website
http: //acebo . com has a section with "Tips for the Federal
Exam," and also sells preparation materials for interpreting exams,
the best known of which are The Interpreter's Edge and The
Interpreter's Edge Turbo Supplement.
The advantage of having the Federally Certified Court Interpreter
credential depends on where you live and what type of
work you want to do. In areas of the U.S. with large Spanishspeaking
populations, courts often have full-time staff interpreter
positions, with standard pay for interpreters in the Federal courts
set at approximately $330.00 per day. As the FCICE credential
becomes more well-known, many interpreters report that private
clients such as conference organizers and law firms are more
likely to insist on using federally certified interpreters. Because of
the rigorous nature of the federal certification examination, it is
usually seen as a reliable indicator of a quality interpreter.
1.10.3 State Court Interpreter Certification
Court interpreter certification at the state level is much less standardized
than at the federal level. Some states such as Washington,
New Jersey, California and Colorado have active programs to
certify court interpreters of Spanish and other languages as well,
and strongly suggest that courts use only certified interpreters.
Other states are moving toward this type of model, while still
others have no certification procedures at all. The best source of
information on what's available in your state is The Consortium
for State Court Interpreter Certification http: //ncsconline.
org/D_Research/CourtInterp.html . The Consortium has
developed interpreter certification tests in Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese,
Korean, Hmong, Cantonese, Laotian, Haitian Creole,
Arabic, Mandarin and Somali, with tests in progress (as of 2006)
for Portuguese and Serbian. Whether these tests are offered in
your state is another issue, but you can find this out by visiting
the Testing Schedule for 2006 link from the Consortium website.
The value of obtaining state certification depends again on
where you live and what type of work you'd like to do. In states
where certification is becoming better known, it may be difficult
or impossible to find work as a court interpreter if you're not
certified. In other states, certification may be almost unknown
even by the people who hire court interpreters.
2 Starting and Growing your
Freelance Translation
2.1 Preparing for your job search
Whether you're just starting out as a translator or moving from
in-house to freelance work, finding your first clients is one of the
biggest challenges you'll face. For most beginning translators, it
will be hard to find well-paying work unless you have either a
degree in translation or some translation experience. If you have
both excellent language skills and work experience in a technical
field, for example if you are a doctor and bilingual in Russian, it
may be worth sending off your résumé even without translation
experience. For the rest of us, it's important to compose a file
of samples and references before applying to agencies or direct
clients. Here are some ways to go about beefing up your résumé
if you're starting from zero.
2.1.1 The basics of writing a translation résumé
Having a translation-targeted résumé is your most crucial first
step in starting your job search. Since some translation agencies
will look only at your résumé, it's especially important to have a
strong one, as your cover letter may never be seen by the person
responsible for delegating projects. If you are e-mailing your
résumé, you should send it in either Microsoft Word format or
as a PDF. Whatever the format of your résumé, it is absolutely
imperative that it is well written and contains no errors in grammar
or spelling. Remember, you are applying for language work—
why would a potential client trust this work to someone whose
own application materials don't show evidence of good language
practices? Let's look at some important features of a well-written
translator résumé.
2.1.2 A new résumé for a new career
As a beginning translator, the number one thing your résumé
needs to do is convince a potential client to take a chance on you
instead of giving the job to a more experienced linguist. Many
beginning translators fail from the get-go because they use the
same résumé that they've been sending out to look for a job
in banking, health care, teaching or sales, wrongly assuming
that they have nothing to write about their qualifications as a
translator. If you are not familiar at all with writing a résumé, or
with writing one for the U.S., large online job search sites such
as http: //monster . com have extensive "career
search help" sections that can help you get started and learn how
to format your résumé. Even if you are familiar with how to write
a strong résumé, spend some time on the Web looking at how
other translators present themselves; online translation portals
such as Translators Cafe and http: / /pro z . com are good places to start.
The first step in the résumé reinvention process is to think
about and research what your potential clients are looking for in
a translator. Obviously they want someone who knows at least
two languages, but on top of that, think about what your clients
are seeking and what skills you can offer that you've already
developed in your current career. For example, translators need
to be able to work independently on tight deadlines without the
oversight of a boss. Translators work on computers almost all the
time, and need to know how to use computers efficiently. Translators
also need excellent writing skills in their target language
and excellent communications skills to work well with clients.
Specialized translators need to know terminology in their areas of
specialization. Some or all of these skills may be transferable from
your current career. Therefore, it can be a good idea to start out
your résumé-writing process by thinking about or even writing
down the key career skills you've developed that will make you a
good risk to a new client.
2.1.3 The structure of your résumé
This section will focus mainly on writing a résumé for use in the
U.S.. However, it is a good idea to have résumés in both your
source and target languages so that you can apply to translation
agencies or direct clients in your non-native language countries.
Make sure to follow good translation practice yourself and have
the résumé in your non-native language proofread by a native
speaker. Following are some factors to consider when preparing
your résumé for use in the U.S. or abroad.
• A résumé for use in the U.S. is quite streamlined compared
to what's expected in many other countries. It is generally
only one page long, two pages at most, and does not include
much personal information other than your name and contact
information, including address, telephone number and
email address. If you are going to be posting your résumé
on the Internet, you might consider removing your physical
address from that version of your résumé. A U.S. résumé
can be organized either chronologically (usually starting
with your current job and then going in reverse), or functionally
(using categories such as Professional Qualifications,
Skills Summary etc.). A résumé for the U.S. is always
typeset (not hand written), and uses lots of active verbs,
promoting the person's accomplishments: "established,"
"created," "managed," etc. A U.S. résumé, as compared
with résumés for other countries, also tends to emphasize
what the prospective employer will gain from hiring the
candidate, rather than what the candidate would like to
gain from the employer.
• A résumé for use in Europe contains much more personal information.
It is common to list your date and place of birth,
citizenship(s), marital status, and sometimes even number
of children. A scanned photograph is also sometimes included.
For a résumé intended for the U.S., note that this
type of information should never be included on your U.S.
résumé since it is actually illegal for employers to ask for
it in most cases. If you send a European résumé through
the mail, it is sometimes seen as a "plus" to send a hand
written résumé and cover letter. Many European employers
feel that a hand written résumé or cover letter lets them
evaluate your language skills and may also be submitted for
an analysis of your personal traits as revealed through your
handwriting. On a European résumé, "chronological order"
normally means reverse chronological order, so you would
start with your first job and end with the one you have now.
European résumés also tend to be less promotional in nature,
and use more passive and descriptive language such
as "responsibilities included..."
• An Asian résumé is much more comprehensive than a U.S.
or even a European one. For example, while on a U.S. résumé
you would seldom include levels of education below
college or professional school unless you didn't attend these,
on a résumé to be sent to Japan or China your Education
section might include every school you attended starting
with kindergarten, which would reveal insights into your
family's socioeconomic status.
2.1.4 Your name
The first item on your résumé will be your name. Assuming
you know your own name, this sounds laughably easy, but it
isn't. Here are some observations on why it's necessary to give
some thought to the name you use professionally, especially when
you're dealing with multilingual and multicultural environments:
• You may want to clarify your gender. In your source language
culture, your name may be gender indeterminate,
making it awkward when potential clients don't know how
to address you. If you want, you can solve this problem up
front by identifying yourself somewhere on your application
materials as "Fouad Tarkari (Mr.)" or "Ms. Poonam
Prakash." Likewise, U.S.-based translators may want to
do this when sending materials to their source language
• Choose one name and spelling, and use it consistently. Especially
if your name involves any transliteration, pick one
version and stick to it. Going by different names can also
present payment problems when the agency writes a check
or tries to complete a wire transfer under a different spelling
of your name.
2.1.5 Your summary of qualifications
This section, which goes below your name and contact information
and might also be called an Objective and Profile section, is
key to getting started as a translator. If the first item on your résumé
is a detailed description of your ten years of work as an auto
mechanic with no mention of language skills, clients may not even
make it to the Education section to find out that you're actually
bilingual in English and Japanese and interested in automotive
translation; with a summary of qualifications you highlight this
fact right away. A good way to research what qualifications your
potential clients want is to read some translation agency websites;
after all, you'll be delivering a good deal of the product that
they're promising their clients. Including some of these desired
characteristics is a good way to start your résumé on a positive
note. Following are some sample summaries of qualifications for
career changing translators.
For that Japanese---->English auto mechanic:
Objective: Freelance Japanese to English translation
assignments for companies in the automotive industry,
using skills in the areas of project completion,
quality assurance and communication, demonstrated by
ten years of profitable self-employment in the
automotive industry.
Profile: Native speaker of U.S. English, B.A. in
Japanese including one year of residency in Japan.
Excellent computer skills including office software
and Internet research. Large collection of
specialized bilingual dictionaries; recently
completed online translator training course.
Accustomed to meeting numerous deadlines per day and
providing superior customer service.
For a bilingual nurse:
Objective: Freelance English<>Spanish medical
translation work, making use of extensive experience
and qualifications in the health care field including
Spanish--English bilingual health care settings.
Profile: Fully bilingual registered nurse, grew up in
Spanish--English bilingual household with numerous
extended visits to Mexico. Registered nurse since
1995 including three years' experience providing
primary care to limited English proficiency (LEP)
Spanish-speaking patients. In-depth knowledge of
Spanish and English medical terminology including
confidential handling of medical records. Excellent
written communications skills including chart and
medical report writing.
2.1.6 The body of the résumé
Next, you'll have to decide whether to structure your résumé
functionally or chronologically. If the type of translation work
you're seeking is somewhat related to your current work, you
might opt for a chronological résumé. For example if you're
currently a lawyer and would like to do legal translation, your
résumé can be structured fairly traditionally. If you're breaking off
on a completely new path, for example if you've worked as a ski
instructor for five years and would like to do website translation,
you may opt for a functional résumé, which in the most extreme
examples doesn't even include your job titles or where you've
worked, just summaries of your skills and experience.
Below your summary of qualifications, for whichever style of
résumé you choose, you should include sections for Education
and Professional Experience or Related Experience; other than
this the sections are up to you. For example, some translators like
to include a Skills and Interests section in case potential clients
have work in one of their avocational areas like sports, music,
cooking, etc. The key here is to structure your résumé so that it
draws attention to what you can offer, not what's missing. You
should also include any professional credentials you have even
if they're not translation related; for example if you're a certified
public accountant, certified energy rater, licensed professional
engineer, etc.
When you're writing your first translation-targeted résumé,
you should highlight any experience you have, both in the areas
of language and subject matter. If you studied abroad in Mexico
in 1975, include it. If you belong to a local translators association,
include it. If you recently attended a conference on estate and
will terminology, include it. If you just taught a French class for
elementary school students, include it. Obviously you can't fabricate
résumé details, but if you're planning to make translation
your full-time or only job, it is fair to refer to yourself as a "selfemployed
freelance translator" (including your language pairs)
and describe the work you are doing now. As your translation
experience grows (and it will!), change the format of your résumé
to reflect this.
2.1.7 What about a cover letter?
Since most freelance translation work is conducted over the Internet,
a formal cover letter really isn't necessary or even appropriate
for most translators. The exception would be if you are interested
in doing direct client work, in which case you might be sending
your materials through the mail or by fax instead of over the Web.
Most of the time, you will either send a short e-mail cover letter,
or include a paragraph or two in the "Additional Information"
field of a translation agency's online application.
Your e-mail cover letter should be short and to the point. Keep
in mind that many translation agencies receive several thousand
translator applications per year, and it's unlikely that whoever
receives your e-mail will take the time to read the usual fiveparagraph
cover letter. Instead, pare down your message to the
essentials, for example:
Sample Cover Letter
To the attention of Name of Prospective Client:
I am a freelance Spanish to English translator based
in San Francisco, California, and I would like to
offer my services to your agency. My specializations
include legal and financial translations; due to my
extensive experience in the banking industry, I have
in-depth knowledge of financial terminology and
industry procedures. My résumé is attached for your
After a successful ten-year career in banking, I
launched my freelance translation business and am
pursuing ATA certification in Spanish to English
translation. Although I am a new translator, I am
not a typical beginning translator. In addition to
my decade of work experience in the financial
industry, I have a B.A. in Spanish and recently
became a member of both the American Translators
Association and the Northern California Translators
Association. I also gained additional insights into
the translation industry by taking an online course
on translation business practices.
My home office computer equipment includes a desktop
and laptop computer with daily backups, high speed
Internet access and electronic fax. With each
freelance project I undertake, I guarantee high
quality work delivered on or before deadline and
prompt response to your phone calls and e-mails.
Please let me know if I can provide you with any
additional information.
In the cover letter above, the individual has little or no translation
experience, but has work experience in an in-demand industry
and probably good language skills. Again, if you have any translation
experience, highlight it: "I recently launched my freelance
translation business after gaining experience as a volunteer translator
for Doctors Without Borders," etc. A cover letter like this
could be easily pasted into an e-mail, or included in an appropriate
field of an online application. For a paper letter, you would
want to expand on the ideas in the letter above, for instance by
providing specific examples of the financial industry terminology
you know, or of your excellent work history at your previous job.
2.2 Finding your first clients
If you're starting out by applying to translation agencies, remember
to play by their rules in order to maximize your chances of
getting work. Most agencies have a translator application form
on their websites; the "Contact Us" or "Opportunities" sections
of agency websites are good places to look for these. Although
it feels impersonal to apply for work this way, resist the urge to
distinguish yourself by sending in a paper résumé if the agency
requests an electronic one; what seems to you like a personal
touch will only create more work for your potential client, and
may get your application materials tossed without a second look.
Along the same lines, most agencies prefer not to be contacted by
phone unless you are applying for a specific position that they've
advertised. If the online application form includes a "Comments"
field, this is the place to ask for an in-person meeting or introduce
yourself as a new translator in the area. For translation agencies in
the United States, the website of the American Translators Association
ht t p : //at anet .org is a good place to find the agency's
web address, and the agency's profile on the ATA website may
also indicate if it is currently accepting applications from new
Whether applying to translation agencies or direct clients, there
are a few basic rules to follow. You're applying for language
work, so your application materials should be error-free. Make
sure that everything you send out is proofed by yourself and at
least one other person. When sending inquiries by e-mail, use
a clear subject line, such as "German—English freelance inquiry."
Don't disguise your intentions or make your message look like a
response to an e-mail from the agency. State your language pairs
prominently. As amazing as it may sound, many people neglect
this simple step. Start your e-mail with a sentence such as, "I am
a freelance English to Spanish translator and I would like to offer
my services to your company."
Looking for work with direct clients has some positive and
negative points for a beginning translator. As a newcomer to
the profession, it can be helpful to have some of the safety nets
that a translation agency offers; for example when you work for
an agency, your work is almost always proofread before being
sent to the end client, which guards against a true disaster if you
make a mistake. However, direct clients, especially those located
in areas where there are not many translators to choose from,
may be more likely than a translation agency to take a chance on
an inexperienced translator. Whereas a translation agency has
a wide range of translators to choose from with no geographic
restrictions, a direct client who wants to work with someone local
has a bigger incentive to work with someone new.
If you'd like to work with direct clients, any large businesses,
hospitals or school systems in your area are worth contacting,
even if they don't have obvious international ties. Probably the
best source of direct client contacts is international business organizations
such as international chambers of commerce since you
can be sure that the member companies use your non-English
language in their business operations. Joining one of these organizations
is also an excellent way to network with potential clients.
Following is a list of the websites for some international chambers
of commerce:
• New York chapter of the French-American Chamber of Commerce
http: / / faccnyc .org
• New York chapter of the German-American Chamber of
Commerce http:/ /
• Chicago chapter of the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce
• United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce http: //
• Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the U.S.
• Japanese-American Chamber of Commerce, Silicon Valley
• Polish-American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois http:
• Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce http: //
sacc-usa .org
• Greek-American Chamber of Commerce http:
• Danish-American Chamber of Commerce in New York
• Spain-US Chamber of Commerce http : //spainuscc .
• Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota
• Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida
• Dutch-American Chamber of Commerce of Seattle http :
• Asian Chamber of Commerce of Arizona http: / /
Whatever route you'd like to take toward finding your first clients
and building up your business, following are some tips that are
applicable to almost every freelance translator's startup phase:
Be realistic. If you've never worked as a translator or interpreter
before, starting out by contacting the United Nations or
accepting a 90,000 word document on nuclear power plant
safety procedures probably isn't the best way to start. Look
for projects that you can do a great job on, and then use those
projects to build up your business. Realize that depending
on your languages and specializations, it could easily take a
year to build up a base of regular clients.
Network, network, network. Although most translators are introverts
by nature, many job search experts identify networking
as the most powerful job search strategy, and starting
your translation business is no exception. Talk about
your business with everyone you know, and give them a
business card; strike up a conversation with the receptionist
in every office you wait in, and leave a business card. Volunteer
for your local translators association and get to know
the experienced translators in your language pair; prepare
an "elevator speech" (a few sentences that summarize what
you do) and be ready to give it to anyone who asks you
about your job!
Think locally. Especially if you present yourself better in person
than on paper, start out by asking for in-person meetings
with every translation or interpreting agency in your local
area. By asking for a meeting to learn more about the agency
and talk about how you might fit in, you'll both benefit from
the interaction. Don't be dissuaded if local agencies "have
no work in your language combinations right now." By
asking for an in-person meeting, you'll position yourself to
step in when their needs change.
Blanket the field. One of the biggest mistakes made by beginning
translators and interpreters is to assume that you'll
be working full-time after sending out five or ten inquiries.
On the contrary, you should expect no more than a one
percent return rate on your cold-contacting efforts. A good
start (emphasis: start) if you'd like to be working full-time
would be to send out 300-500 résumés during your first
year in business. Your prospective clients may include translation
agencies in the U.S., agencies in countries where your
other languages are spoken, and companies in your area
that could use your services.
Join some associations. Membership in a professional association
(see Resources, "Associations for translators and
interpreters") establishes your seriousness as a linguist, and
allows you to make contact with colleagues in your area.
Even for established linguists, referrals from colleagues are
an important source of work. If you're very resourceful and
very lucky, you may even find a colleague in your language
combination who is willing to take you on as an assistant or
send some extra work your way.
Keep in touch. Instead of just firing off e-mails or making phone
calls and then waiting to hear back from your potential
clients, keep a log of the person you talked to or e-mailed
with and what his or her response was to your inquiry. As
you get more experience, periodically contact these people
to let them know that you're still interested and available.
Let them know what types of projects you've been working
on, and let them know that you would be happy to help
them out with similar jobs.
2.3 Building up your business
Once you've landed your first few clients, marketing yourself
becomes easier in the sense that you have something to tell new
prospective clients about, other than the fact that you're looking
for work. In general, even a successful freelancer must spend at
least ten percent of his or her time on marketing; for beginning
translators this figure may increase to as much as 50 percent,
and for those who have been in the business for many years,
the need to market may fall by the wayside. However, many
marketing experts caution that, "If you're not marketing, you're
dying." While this advice may seem extreme, it's important for
even experienced translators to prepare for the loss of a major
client or a downturn in the economy by keeping up a steady flow
of outbound promotion.
It's also important to distinguish between marketing for more
work and marketing for better work. After a few years in business,
many competent translators are busy most of the time, and
do not need to market for more work. However, many of these
people make the mistake of stopping their marketing efforts because
they don't need more work. Here's where it's important
to realize that marketing can lead to better work as well; work
that pays a higher per-word or hourly rate, work that is more
interesting, more flexible, or more ongoing, thereby lowering the
translator's administrative costs. In reality, being busy all the time
is a powerful lever to use with prospective new clients, since you
can honestly tell them that in order to work for them, you will
need to raise your rates. Following are some ways to keep the
checks rolling in once you've gotten your business off the ground
Please the clients you've got. While marketing to new clients
is a worthy and even necessary endeavor, it's far easier to
keep your existing clients coming back. If you're interested
in building a sustainable business and a healthy income,
regular clients who come to you, rather than the other way
around, are key, since they allow you to spend your time
working rather than looking for work. Doing a great job
on every project, responding promptly to phone calls and
e-mails, never missing a deadline, and being there for your
clients in a pinch will help turn new clients into regulars.
Ask for referrals and testimonials. Preferably after you've just
done an "above and beyond" job for a client, tactfully let him
or her know that your business continues to grow thanks to
referrals from satisfied clients. Better yet, ask your happy
clients to put their experiences with you in writing to be
posted on your website or included in future marketing
Spread the word. As mentioned in the previous section, keep a
log of all of the professional contacts you make, and periodically
update these potential clients on your recent projects.
The definition of "periodically" is up to you, but an appropriate
frequency might be every one to three months; more
often and your messages will grow annoying, less often and
the agency representative may not remember you at all. It's
possible to accomplish this task with a minimum of effort,
by using a personalized e-mail such as this one:
Dear Name of Contact:
I am a freelance French to English translator
registered with your agency, and I'd like to update
you on some of my recent projects, in the event that
you have similar needs in the future. In the past
few months, I translated and managed the editing for
a 90,000 word computer literacy manual, translated
two large documents of international airport
construction specifications and translated an auto
parts manufacturing quality manual. In addition, I
recently completed a course entitled "French for
Lawyers," which covered the terminology of French
legal institutions. I've attached my updated résumé
for your consideration, and I look forward to the
opportunity of working together in the future.
Keep cold-contacting. Many experienced translators estimate
that of their new clients, approximately half come from cold
contacts and half from word of mouth referrals. Whatever
your level of experience, cold-contacting is important. If
you're looking for agency clients, most agencies allow you
to enter your information into their online database through
the agency's website, and for direct clients you're probably
best off contacting a project manager in the department
you'd like to work for, for instance a localization project
manager or international sales manager. If you're actively
trying to build your business, set a goal of making 25 or
more cold-contacts each week. Don't fall into the trap of
expecting too many responses from too few contacts.
Keep networking. In a profession largely populated by independent
contractors, networking gets you in touch with your
colleagues and clients, either in person or electronically. Attending
events for linguists is a great way to meet colleagues
who may be in a position to refer work to you. If you're after
new clients, consider joining a professional association in
your target industry, whether this is signmaking, auto parts
manufacturing, health care or law. Other networking endeavors
worth considering are speaking to high school and
college students considering careers in translation, teaching
a class on getting started as a freelance translator or interpreter
or taking on an intern from a local high school or
college foreign language program.
Get creative. Sending your résumé to potential clients is important,
but other marketing tactics can be as effective or more
effective, especially with direct translation buyers. Put together
a file of work you've done for previous clients (with
their permission) and send it to prospective clients, offering
to do the same for them. Present a compelling reason for
potential clients to spend money on translation, i.e. "Are
Spanish-speaking Internet users finding you, or your competition?"
"Few Americans who visit France speak French, yet
few French hotels and restaurants have websites in English,"
etc. For a potential "big fish" client, show your work—
translate the prospect's brochure or website homepage, lay
it out attractively, and ask for a meeting to discuss how
you can help the client's business grow by making it more
international. Starting an e-newsletter of interest to your
clients and prospective clients is another useful marketing
tool, since you're providing your clients with information
they want while keeping your name fresh in their minds.
Become an expert. Writing, speaking and consulting about
translation and interpreting are great ways to get your name
recognized. Contact professional journals in your specializations
and offer to write an article about translation issues in
their industry; write a booklet on Tips for Translation Buyers
and send it to potential direct clients; speak at professional
conferences; post an article on How to Speak Successfully
When Using an Interpreter on your website—by now you've
got one, right?
2.4 Starting a part-time translation business
Depending on your financial and time resources, it may not be
possible for you to make freelance translation or interpreting your
full-time job right away. Starting a part-time business is a viable
option, as long as you are careful to run your business in a professional
way. Part-time freelance businesses can be split into two
categories; taking on part-time translation or interpreting work
in addition to another job, and taking on part-time translation or
interpreting work as your only job.
If you already have another job and are interested in sideline
work as a translator or interpreter, it's possible, and many successful
freelancers start out this way, waiting until the translation
or interpreting work can pay the bills before quitting another job.
In this situation, you have the advantage of taking as long as
you need to build your business up to the point where it replaces
your current income. However, you also have the challenge of
staying productive and available to both your full-time employer
and your translation clients. Translation, like all international
business, is often a fast-paced industry, and clients who contact
you may need a response to their inquiry immediately, whether
they're contacting you about working for them, or about doing revisions
to a translation you've already completed. For this reason,
if you'll be combining part-time translation work with a full-time
job, it's important to choose your clients carefully so that you
don't end up being unavailable when they need you. You may
be better off taking lower-paying work that doesn't have a tight
deadline, rather than higher-paying work that requires you to
communicate with the translation client during your work day at
your full-time job.
If you either don't want or don't need to work full-time, starting
a part-time freelance business as your only job is a possibility as
well. Depending on your geographical location and language
pairs, your main challenge may be limiting your workload to your
desired schedule. In theory, the on-call nature of most freelance
translation and interpreting work lends itself well to part-time
work, since it seems like you should be able to simply accept or
turn down projects as your schedule allows. In practice, this isn't
always the case. When a regular client calls, it's hard to say "No,"
since you want to help them out and keep them as a client; when
no one calls, you can't do much about it. Still, many freelancers
can and do make a go of it part-time. The main guideline to keep
in mind is to organize and run your business just as professionally
as you would if you were working full-time; your clients don't
need to know that you work part-time unless they ask, so don't
give them a reason to suspect that you're less committed than
someone who works 40+ hours per week.
Part-timers of all flavors should pay special attention to business
expenses as related to income. If you're interested in earning
a healthy income even as a part-timer, keep in mind that all of
your expenses are distributed over a smaller number of billable
hours than they would be if you worked full-time. In this case,
it's worth considering options that allow you to stay competitive
and professional without spending top dollar; for instance trying
a free or low-cost translation memory program, using a custom
ring number instead of a dedicated business phone line, forgoing
a laptop computer and cell phone unless you would use them for
other reasons, and looking for second hand office furnishings.
2.5 Business skills you'll need
As a freelance translator or interpreter, you'll be exchanging the
freedom of self-employment for the responsibility of finding your
own work, charging a fair rate for this work, making sure you get
paid, tracking your own tax liabilities, and many other tasks. In
this section, we'll take a look at the non language-related skills
that make for a successful freelance business.
Marketing. Unless you have a pre-existing client base, for instance
a former employer who is interested in hiring you
as a freelancer, you'll need to be able to market yourself.
"Marketing" sounds like a scary and imposing concept at
first, but if you've ever applied for a job, you've marketed
yourself. Working as a freelancer is just a matter of applying
for work over and over again until you build up a group
of regular clients. One of the most important elements of
marketing yourself as a translator or interpreter is to determine
your comfort level with various sales techniques such
as cold-contacting, networking, and public speaking.
Communicating. People do business with people they like, so
while you don't want to grovel, it's important to hone your I
communications skills where your freelance business is concerned.
First, you have to actually do the communicating;
answer all business-related phone calls and e-mails as soon
as possible, always within the same business day and preferably
within an hour, and change your voice mail message
or e-mail auto-responder when you'll be out of the office
for more than one business day. Be honest about your availability
and don't promise miracles that you can't deliver.
Second, you need to communicate in a way that is positive
and professional. Answer the phone cheerfully; when someone
contacts you for work, thank them for thinking of you.
When you call a client back and they've already found another
linguist, thank them for contacting you and ask them
to keep you in mind in the future, rather than getting angry
that they didn't wait for your response.
Accounting. Like marketing, this is a concept that sounds frightening
if you've never done it before. Especially if you've
always worked as a salaried employee, working as a freelancer
will require much more record-keeping than you've
done before. However, at its most basic level, accounting for
a freelancer consists of keeping records of your income and
expenses, something that is definitely within your grasp. As
with communicating, the most important aspect of accounting
is to do it; record every payment as soon as you receive
it and save receipts for every business expense in order to
minimize your headaches at tax time.
Using technology. For translators, the days of pen and paper
work are long gone, and you'll need to know how to use, at
a minimum, the Internet, e-mail, and office software such
as word processing and spreadsheet programs. Translation
memory software can increase your productivity, and
depending on your languages and specializations may be
necessary to running a viable business, since some clients
require it.
Billing and Collections. As a freelance translator or interpreter,
you'll usually be responsible for billing your clients yourself
and following up if they can't or won't pay. For most
freelancers, a simple system of sending invoices by e-mail is
enough, and you can keep track of your invoices either with
a spreadsheet or on paper. Billing is the fun part, because
your work is completed, and the expectation is that you'll
be paid on time. When this doesn't happen, the situation is
less sweet. You'll need to learn how to deal with clients who
won't pay because of disagreements about issues such as the
quality and timeliness of your work, and with clients who
can't pay because of their own poor financial situations.
Dealing with highs and lows. While this is more of a psychological
skill than a business one, it's one of the most important
assets that a freelancer needs. Whether you're translating,
interpreting or selling siding, the market goes up,
and the market comes down. Unless you're either very
lucky, a great planner, or both, you'll have weeks where
you want to unplug your phone so that clients will stop
calling, and weeks where you feel like you'll never be called
by a client again. To make it as a freelancer, you'll need to
deal with these peaks and valleys on several fronts. Most
practically, you'll need to develop a budgeting strategy that
keeps you from spending too much when your checking
account is full and going into debt when work is lean. Mentally,
it's important to be productive even when you don't
have much paying work, for instance by contacting new
potential clients, updating your website, or catching up on
your accounting.
2.6 Setting up your office and your business
While it's possible to spend many thousands of dollars setting up
an office for your freelance translating or interpreting business,
it's equally possible to get going with a minimal investment while
maintaining a professional image.
Having a dedicated place to work is good for business on a
few fronts; it helps you stay focused and organized in your work
environment, and at tax time it helps you claim office space as a
business expense. At least at the outset, your office will probably
be located in your home. Many translators and interpreters work
from home for their entire careers, while some choose to rent office
space once their businesses are on firm financial ground. Unless
you have absolutely no space to set up an office in your home
or have access to free office space outside your home, working
from home is the most cost-effective option. As more libraries and
places of business start to offer free or low-cost wireless Internet
access, it's also an option to set up a very minimal office in your
house, and do most of your work at another location on a laptop
computer, although you may forgo the tax benefits of having a
full-fledged home office.
In order to field inquiries from clients and research new client
prospects, you'll need a phone with voice mail or an answering
machine, and a computer with e-mail and Internet, preferably
via a DSL, cable or satellite broadband connection that allows
you to be on the phone and on line at the same time. Translators
and interpreters at all levels will want to invest in a variety of
general and specialized dictionaries, both print and electronic.
You'll also need, at a minimum, office software on your computer.
Translation memory (TM) software, also called CAT (computerassisted
translation) software is fast becoming a necessity as well,
with prices ranging from free to several thousand dollars. A fax
machine is convenient to have, but as e-mailed PDF files replace
faxes, not a necessity if you live near a copy shop that offers
incoming fax service; services such as Efax ht t p : //efax . com
that deliver faxes to your e-mail inbox are also a good possibility.
If you're looking to field client inquiries immediately and win a
maximum number of assignments, a cell phone and/or wireless email
device will help keep you in contact, especially if you prefer
the flexibility of working from a café or library when the walls of
your home office start closing in!
Especially for translators, who often spend 40 and more hours
a week at the computer, it's important to consider comfort and
ergonomics when setting up your office. While you don't have to
call in a consultant to correctly position your monitor, it's worth
investing in a good-quality office chair, a computer desk that is
correctly sized for you, and a monitor that is large enough that
you're not constantly scrolling up and down pages all day. If cash
is an issue, consider purchasing these items used. Put a bookshelf
with your most commonly used reference materials within arm's
reach as well.
2.7 Maximizing productivity
While one of the advantages of self-employment is flexibility,
many translators and interpreters struggle to remain productive
without the structure offered by a full-time job for an outside
employer. All too often, what could be a successful freelance
business founders when the translator or interpreter opts to clean
closets, organize the basement or take an exercise class rather than
Following are some suggestions for staying on task when you're
on your own time clock. If you already have above-average time
management skills, you may be able to establish a productive
routine without putting any of these measures into practice. If
you're constantly overcome by the temptation to do anything but
work, consider putting these systems into practice from day one!
• Strike a balance between enjoying the flexibility of freelancing
and not letting it take over your work time. Too little
flexibility will leave you wondering why you're freelancing
in the first place, too much and you won't be earning any
money. For example, block out certain times during which
you allow yourself to do non-work activities such as exercising,
grocery shopping, going to medical appointments,
or getting together with friends. Limit non-work activities
to these times only and consider yourself "at work" the rest
of the time.
• Set quantifiable goals. Instead of amorphous targets such
as "contact more new clients," draw up a list of concrete
objectives that you must meet, such as "send out 20 résumés
per week and follow up ten by phone."
• As much as possible, consider yourself "at work" when
you're working from your home office. Close your office
door. Don't answer your home phone unless you're expecting
an important call, and let your family know that you are
not to be interrupted except in an emergency.
• Limit the time you spend reading and responding to e-mail.
This can be a huge time drain for freelancers, especially
translators who are often contacted to provide quotes on
translation projects. Unless you're expecting an important
message, give yourself a set time to check e-mail, for example
every hour on the hour for a maximum of ten minutes.
A corollary to this is keeping separate personal and work email
accounts so that you are never tempted to spend work
time on personal correspondence.
• Take a break by doing something useful. When you've had
as much oil and gas terminology as you can stand, decompress
for a few minutes by reading articles on a translators'
website, writing a "tip of the day" for your website, or emailing
a client to check in.
• If you're contacted frequently for the same information by
prospective clients, make this available with as little effort
as possible. Post your résumé on your website so that you
can refer clients there. Keep a list of questions to ask new
clients (rate, word count, subject matter, time of appointment,
deadline, payment terms, etc.) within eyesight in
your office so that you don't have to think about it when
prospective clients call or e-mail you.
2.8 For working parents
Especially as compared with other types of freelance work, translation
and interpreting are great career options for working parents.
Although a freelance translation or interpreting career won't
free you from the need to be available when clients call or to find
reliable child care, it does allow flexibility, good income potential,
and the freedom to expand or contract your working hours
according to your other commitments.
Translation and interpreting offer several advantages for the
working parent. In contrast to professions where freelancing is
seen as the reward for years spent working as a full-time employee,
most translators and interpreters start out as freelancers;
the few in-house translation and interpreting jobs out there would
rarely be offered to a beginner, so there's no stigma in starting
out working for yourself. In addition, the project-based nature
of most translation and interpreting assignments lends itself relatively
well to part-time work on a flexible schedule.
For freelancers who have already built up a thriving business
before having children, keeping the business going is primarily a
matter of finding reliable child care, whether by paying a provider
or by working when a partner or other family member can take
over the family responsibilities, and of finding the energy to both
work and take care of a small child.
If you're starting your business and your family at the same
time, deciding if and when to schedule child care is a significant
concern, as paying for child care when you're not earning money
can quickly turn into a money-losing proposition. One translator
who started her freelance business three months after her
daughter was born comments:
When I started out, I worked mostly at night and on
weekends so I didn't have to pay a babysitter when I
had no idea how much I would be making. After my
first year, I hired a sitter four mornings a week after
estimating conservatively on the financial side, and
after two years my husband was able to quit his job
and work part-time, so now he takes over when I'm
As a working parent, one of the keys to a successful business
is to capitalize on the advantages of your situation; rather than
seeing your time constraints as a problem for clients, look for
ways in which you can use them to advantage. As an interpreter,
you might offer to work nights and weekends at weekday rates,
minimizing your need for expensive child care and giving your
employer an incentive to use you more. This could be especially
valuable in settings such as hospitals, where interpreters are often
needed outside of regular business hours. As a translator, you
might offer to be available after hours, so that clients can get a
jump on the next day's business by sending you a project to start
as their work day ends, or you might look for clients in other time
zones who will appreciate your unconventional schedule as an
addition to their own work hours.
3 Home office setup,
technology, and translation
memory software
3.1 Preparing for your home office
While it's possible to spend many thousands of dollars setting up
an office for your freelance translation business, it's equally possible
to get going with a minimal investment while maintaining a
professional image. Most translators work from home, so there's
no stigma attached to doing so. At the same time, working from
home poses its own set of challenges, including but not limited
to: knowing how to manage your time so that your business is
profitable; knowing when to take breaks and how to get enough
exercise; resisting the temptation to work either too little or too
much; setting rules for kids or other people in your household;
staying on task and setting priorities.
3.2 The ups and downs of working from
Especially if your current job involves a long commute, inconvenient
hours or an unpleasant work environment, the thought
of checking your e-mail in the morning while still wearing your
pajamas and drinking a cup of coffee can seem like a slice of paradise.
For many translators who work from home, the situation
is an all around win, allowing them to be more in control of their
schedules, work at times of the day when they have the most
energy, and spend more time with family. At the same time, other
freelance translators fail at self-employment primarily because
they cannot work productively from home.
It's important to realize that there are jobs for translators that
don't involve working from home as an independent contractor,
for example you might find translation or project management
work with a translation agency, technology company, hospital,
school, etc. However in most cases you'll find the most work
opportunities and highest pay by working for yourself. Many
work-from-home consultants identify a few key personality traits
that successful independent professionals share, for example: they
are self-starters or "go-getters" who need very little external motivation;
they understand their own positives and negatives; they
are able to make good decisions quickly; they are energized by
healthy competition rather than feeling intimidated by it, and
they have a high level of self-discipline and will-power.
You'll want to assess where you stand on the issues presented
by these questions, and also consider how well your current life
situation lends itself to working independently from a home office.
For example, do you have a location in your home that can be
used as a home office? Keep in mind that in most (but not all)
cases, in order to tax-deduct your home office expenses, your
office must be a separate area that is used exclusively as an office,
so if you set up your computer in a corner of the guest room, it's
not an office. Does your family or living situation lend itself to
working productively from home? Can you set guidelines for
your spouse, room-mate, children, etc. on times that you are "at
work" and not available except in the case of an emergency? If
you have small children, can you afford to pay for child care while
you work, even if you're not making a lot of money at the start? If
you're planning on translation as your primary source of income,
do you have six to nine months' income in savings to live off
while the business gets going? It's important to consider these
issues before you find yourself in a bad situation, and to see the
relationship between planning and business success.
3.3 Necessary office equipment
Even if you need to purchase some pieces of computer or office
equipment startup expenses for a freelance translation business
should be relatively modest. If you already have an appropriate
computer and a place to work from, your expenses might run
only a few hundred dollars. Whether you have them already or
not, here are a few items that make up the basic translation home
A computer is absolutely essential to a translator's work, and for
backup purposes you may even want or need more than one
computer. If you're prone to repetitive strain injury from
typing, you may want to consider an ergonomic keyboard,
although opinions differ on whether these work for everyone.
If you live in an area where wireless Internet access is
available in public places, a laptop with Wi-Fi capabilities
can be a great way to escape the home office when you get
lonely or claustrophobic.
A good sized computer monitor is also important, in order to
minimize the amount of time you spend scrolling up and
down. A 21-inch monitor is ideal, and some translators
even install two video cards in their computer in order
to accommodate two 21-inch monitors, one for the source
document and one for the target, or one for the translation
memory program and one for an online reference.
A comfortable desk and chair. You're going to be spending 90%
or more of your time sitting at your desk, so make it comfortable
and correctly sized for you; using your kitchen table
or a card table isn't a great idea. Without a desk and chair
that fit you, it can be tiring and uncomfortable to sit in the
same position for hours at a time.
A phone. Whether or not you want or need a dedicated business
phone line, it's crucial to be able to identify which calls
are for your business so that you can answer the phone
professionally. One option offered by most phone service
providers is a custom ring number (sometimes called a distinctive
ring number), which is an additional phone number
that runs over the same physical line as your existing phone
number. When a call comes to your business phone number,
the phone will ring differently (normally two short rings
instead of one long one), so that you know that the call is
work related. A hands-free telephone headset can be really
helpful when you need to type and talk at the same time,
and you can purchase one inexpensively at an office supply
A way to receive faxes. Many hard copy documents are now
scanned and e-mailed, so you may not receive faxes every
day, but you do need some fax capability. A standalone fax
machine is an obvious choice, or a fax modem connected
to your computer, or a service such as Efax ht tp : / /e fax .
corn that converts faxes to e-mail. If you get very few faxes
and live near a copy shop, the cheapest option of all is to
receive your faxes at the shop and pay the per-page charge.
If you have a fax machine or a fax modem, it should also
be able to use a custom ring number, since most phone
companies can assign at least two custom ring numbers to
your existing phone line. If you want a fax machine, you
might also consider a "multifunction machine" that acts as
a fax machine, copier, printer and scanner.
A place to keep files. You'll need a filing box or cabinet to keep
invoices, check stubs, tax information, hard copy translation
documents, client information, etc.
Internet access is another essential element of the translation
home office. For most translators, broadband Internet via
cable, DSL or satellite is fast becoming a necessity. Especially
if you use online dictionaries, you'll be connected to the
Internet for most of the time you're working, which means
that you can't make or receive phone calls if you have only
dialup Internet access. In addition, many translation project
files are very large and can take a long time to download
over a dialup connection. In the event that your high-speed
Internet access goes down, it's definitely helpful to have
an Internet service provider that also allows dial-up access,
giving you a backup method of Internet access when there's
an outage.
A bookcase for dictionaries. Ideally, this should be within
arm's reach of your desk so that you're not constantly getting
up to get a book.
3.4 Organizing your business
When setting up your office, prepare for your business to grow.
Following are some tips for organizing your translation business
for maximum productivity.
Keep track of your assignments. When you only have one or
two clients, it's relatively easy to remember what assignment
is due when; add in five or ten others, and it's impossible.
In order to avoid missing deadlines, make sure to
log every project as it comes in, ideally in more than one
place. For example, you might keep a spreadsheet using
different color codes for each client, and record the project
description, due date, and rate of pay. Then you could also
keep a calendar next to your desk, with upcoming deadlines
written in it. With this double-entry system, you're
less likely to forget a deadline.
Keep track of your billings and collections. Without this simple
step, you will soon have no business at all. Every time
you issue an invoice, record the date, client's name, invoice
number, amount of the invoice, and date due. Again, you
can record this information either electronically, by using a
spreadsheet or accounting software, or on paper. When a
client pays you, note this wherever you recorded the invoice
information, and also file the check stub or invoice marked
"paid" in a folder for that client.
Know where your time goes. Especially if you're hoping to freelance
full-time, it's crucial to know how much you're working
and how much you're actually making per hour. This
can be as simple as writing on your calendar how many
hours you worked and for which client, or can be done electronically
too. This also helps you calculate your overhead
expenses by showing how much time you're spending on
non-billable work such as marketing and accounting.
Keep track of your business expenses. Depending on your
tax and living situation, some or all of your business expenses
such as office supplies, Internet access, auto mileage,
phone bills, and even home office expenses like a portion of
your mortgage payment and utilities may be tax deductible.
However, you can get in serious tax trouble for deducting
these expenses without having accurate records such as
receipts and an auto mileage log.
Choose a reliable accounting system. There are a variety of
ways to do your office bookkeeping, from a paper ledger
book to a spreadsheet to a full-spectrum accounting software
package. Whatever you choose, the key is to use your
system consistently so that you don't end up wondering
how much money you actually made or how much you
spent on office expenses.
Keep only one calendar. One of the beautiful things about working
from home is that you're not usually on a set schedule;
one of the downsides of this is the tendency to double-book
appointments or deadlines so that you end up scheduling
a phone conference and a dentist appointment at the same
time. Keep one calendar with personal and work appointments
and deadlines to avoid conflicts.
Use a prioritized to-do list. One of the keys to remaining productive,
especially in a home office setup, is to avoid interrupting
your work to perform the many small administrative
tasks that come up. When you remember something
that you need to do, such as send out an invoice, respond to
an e-mail, or update your website, don't perform the task
right then unless absolutely necessary. Instead, record it,
either on paper or electronically and prioritize it, for example
as low/medium/high, or today /this week /when time
allows. Then when you need a break from working, tackle
the tasks in order of priority.
File! Instead of piling things on your desk to be lost, recycled,
etc., force yourself to file anything that you're not using immediately.
For example, keep a file for receipts to be entered
into your business expense log, then transfer the receipts to
a file for that year's business expenses once you've entered
3.5 Translation home office technology
Aside from translation memory software and possibly speech
recognition software, the translation home office does not usually
include out-of-the-ordinary technology. If you already work in
a career where you use a computer, you probably know most
of what it takes to run a translation home office. If your current
job does not involve computer use, you may want to invest in
a library or community college course in basic computer skills.
Regardless of what your translation specializations are, every
translator should know:
How to use advanced e-mail features. You should know what
a read receipt is and how to request one or send one; how to
carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC) someone on an
e-mail and when to use both of these features; how to send
and receive attachments; how to copy a text document and
paste it into the body of an e-mail, and how to use reply all
and reply to sender on e-mails that are sent to more than one
Sending and receiving attachments. You will receive and return
most translation projects as e-mail attachments, so it's
important to know how to attach a file to an e-mail and
how to download an attachment when you receive one. It's
also important to know where to find an attachment if your
spam filter catches the message it's attached to. In addition,
you should know how to use a program such as WinZip to
zip groups of files into one attachment, and how to unzip
these attachments when you receive them.
How to format documents. Often, clients will want their translated
documents to look as much as possible like the source
documents, so that the reader has the impression of looking
at the same document in another language. To achieve this,
it's important to know how to use different fonts, text boxes,
tables, etc. in a word processor in order to properly format
How to fill out and submit an online form. Especially if you
will be applying to agencies, it's important to know how to
use drop-down menus and text fields, how to paste your
resume into the appropriate field on an online form, and to
remember to hit that Submit button only once! You should
also know how to use browser features such as cookies,
without which you won't be able to navigate certain websites.
How to use Track Changes in a word processor. In the translation
industry, the standard word processor is Microsoft
Word, so if you use another word processor such as Word-
Perfect or, make sure that the program can
save files in Microsoft Word format. For sending and receiving
editing comments on your documents, you should
know how to use Microsoft Word's Track Changes feature to
make corrections and insert comments.
How to effectively search on-line. Often during a translation
assignment, you'll come across a term that isn't in any dictionary
you use. The next step is to search for the term
on-line and see what you find. You should know how to
evaluate the trustworthiness of a website, how to use bilingual
websites, and which search engines work best for you.
How to use web browser bookmarks. For sites you visit all the
time, or visit once and want to remember, it's important to
have a system of organized bookmarks stored in your web
How to organize folders on your computer. Starting out with
a folder called "Translation" isn't a bad idea, but once you
have multiple clients with multiple projects, your files will
quickly become impossible to find without a system of organized
folders for each client and project.
How to rename a file. When you perform a translation, the
client will often want you to translate the file name as well.
How to find a file. Once you've been translating for a few years
or maybe even a few months, your hard drive will be filled
with hundreds or thousands of files. Knowing how to effectively
use the advanced features of Find—File or the equivalent
on your computer is crucial.
How to back up your computer. This certainly isn't the most alluring
aspect of home office computing, but it is arguably
the most crucial. Since a translator is nearly 100% dependent
on having a functional computer in order to work,
think about what you would do if your computer simply
wouldn't turn on one morning, if the hard drive died, or if
the computer itself were destroyed by a flood or fire. A simple
backup system might entail e-mailing yourself copies
of projects in progress so that you can work on them from
another computer. More advanced systems, which are an
excellent idea, involve using some sort of removable device
like a USB flash drive, Zip drive, CD-RW/DVD-RW, external
hard drive or even another computer to back up your
primary computer. Whatever backup system you choose,
it is extremely helpful to have one that runs unattended,
meaning that you don't have to remember to start it. You
should also test your backups periodically so that you don't
end up with a whole spindle of carefully marked backup
CDs that turn out to be blank!
3.6 Translation technology and non-Western
character sets
For translators who work from or into languages that use a Western
character set, it is relatively easy to use software, view web
pages, or create, edit and save documents in the non-English
language. For translators working from or into languages that
use non-Western character sets (i.e. Greek, Russian, Thai, Hebrew,
Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and others), the situation can be
more complex, and requires more planning of your computer system.
There are three basic ways of implementing a non-Western
character language on your computer.
First, you can use an operating system that is localized for the
non-Western language; for example, Red Flag Linux, a Chinese
Linux distribution, or the traditional or simplified Chinese version
of Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X. If you use a localized
operating system, all of the text that your computer displays will
be in the non-Western language. This type of setup is a good
option for translators who translate into a non-Western language,
or who work in software localization, since it is helpful to see all
of the messages generated by the computer in the non-Western
A second option is to use an English operating system with
helper kits for your non-Western language. For example, Apple
produces several non-Western language kits, which enable software
such as word processors and web browsers to display and
handle input of non-Western characters.
Finally, advances in Unicode technology have made it possible
for many pieces of software to handle non-Western languages
natively, meaning without the use of a helper program. Unicode
is a standard that encodes the underlying characters in a language,
rather than their visual representations, which enables almost
all scripts and writing systems to be displayed on a computer
through the use of code points, which are numbers that represent
a language's characters. In this way, Unicode makes it possible
to display languages with non-Western character sets, including
right to left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew.
Before deciding what type of operating system you would like
to use, it is important to think about what you will be using your
computer for, other than standard tasks such as web browsing
and word processing, which are now relatively accomodating of
non-Western character sets. Especially if you translate between
two languages with different character sets (for example French
and Japanese), your needs may be very different from those of
a translator who works between English and Spanish. It's also
important to research the support offered for your language by
the software that you would like to use. If the software has a
relatively small market, is it fully localized, with the help files and
documentation translated into your language, or is just the user
interface localized? If you will be working in software localization,
will clients want you to use an operating system in a language
other than English? All of these are important items to consider
when planning your computer system.
3.7 Speech recognition software
Depending on the type of translation you do and your stamina
for typing, speech recognition software is somewhere between
totally unnecessary and completely indispensable. For translators
who don't mind doing a lot of typing, are relatively fast typists
and don't have problems with repetitive strain injuries, speech
recognition software is probably not necessary. If you have poor
touch-typing skills, hate typing or have problems with your hands
or arms hurting when you type a lot, speech recognition software
can be a lifesaver.
Probably the most popular speech recognition software used
by translators is ScanSoft's Dragon Naturally Speaking http : / /, which starts at about
$200. If you translate primarily from electronic format documents
and use a translation memory program most of the time, speech
recognition software may be of limited use. However, many legal
and financial translators do a good deal of their work from hard
copy or scanned documents and thus spend a lot of time typing
directly into a word processing program. On projects like this,
speech recognition software can help you work faster and with
less strain to your hands and arms.
3.8 Translation memory software
Probably one of the most frequent topics of conversation among
translators is whether to purchase translation memory software,
which software works best for a particular application, how much
the software costs, and on and on and on. Conceptually, translation
memory software is not very complex. The most important
thing to understand is the difference between translation memory
software (TM; sometimes also referred to as computer-assisted
translation software, or CAT) and machine translation software (MT).
Translation memory software doesn't do the translation for you,
rather it helps human translators work faster and more accurately
by recycling material that has already been translated and suggesting
a match between the old translation and the current one.
Machine translation software is translation done entirely by a
computer. Machine translation is currently the subject of a great
deal of research and development, and it sometimes works well
enough to get the basic idea of a document, but often produces
comical or totally incomprehensible translations otherwise.
By definition, translation memory software only works with
electronic documents; you can't take a piece of paper and run it
through a translation memory program unless you retype it or
scan it first using optical character recognition software (OCR),
so if you translate mostly from hard copy or scanned documents,
translation memory software is not very helpful. However, most
translation memory programs can pull the text out of spreadsheets,
HTML files, etc. Translation memory software works by
segmenting your source document, meaning that the program
breaks your document up into smaller chunks, normally sentences
but sometimes paragraphs. Then, when a segment is ready
to be translated, the program checks to see if you already translated
a similar segment, and if it finds a match it suggests the
match to you, theoretically resulting in a faster and more consistent
translation. For example, if you already translated the
sentence "This is a cat," and the next sentence was "This is a black
cat," the TM program would suggest "This is a cat" as a match, so
that you only had to type "black" in the target text box, instead of
typing the whole sentence. Most TM programs display potential
matches as percentages, for example the sentence "This is a dog"
would be a 75% match with the sentence "This is a cat," since
only one of the four words is different. This matching feature can
be particularly helpful when your translation client has specific
terms that they want you to use throughout the document, for example
to always use "President and Chief Executive Officer" for
the chairman of the company. Most translation memory packages
use the file terms uncleaned and cleaned; an uncleaned file contains
the source text and the electronic codes used by the translation
memory program, while the cleaned file contains only the target
Another use of translation memory tools, although a task that
some TM tools don't do very well, is alignment. Alignment means
taking the source and target versions of a document, and matching
them up so that you have pairs of sentences, one in the source
language and one in the target language. This way, you can
create a bilingual glossary out of your old translated documents.
In practice, this function can be annoying to use; if the source
and target sentence pairs don't match up exactly, it requires a lot
of time on the translator's part to manually fix the mis-aligned
Translation memory software is also somewhat controversial
among translators. One of the reasons for this is that translation
clients who are aware of TM software's capabilities will often
ask for discounts on repetitive documents; for example the client
will use the software to analyze a document, and tell you that
although the document is 2,782 words, they only want to pay
for 2,582, because there are 200 words that are repeated in the
document. Or, a client might ask you to reuse the translation
memory file from an old translation, and want to pay only for the
new words translated; for example if the client is putting out a
new version of a software manual, they might want to pay you to
translate only the updated parts. Some translators are completely
opposed to giving discounts for the use of TM software, on the
grounds that they pay to acquire and maintain the software, they
do the work on the translation, and even if a segment is a 100%
match with a previously translated one, the translator still has
to read the segment and sometimes make other adjustments as
well. On the other hand, translation agencies and even some
direct clients are very familiar with the potential cost savings
of translation memory software, and they in turn want to reap
some of the benefits too. Many translators rightly point out that
when there are cost savings from using TM, three players in the
situation want to benefit: the translator, the translation agency,
and the end client, and obviously someone has to forgo his or her
percentage of the savings.
One issue with translation memory software is that there are
a variety of programs available at different price levels and with
different features, and these programs are not always compatible
with each other. The TMX (Translation Memory eXchange) and
XLIFF (XML Localization Interchange File Format) standards are
changing this situation somewhat, and some newcomers to the
market, such as Heartsome, use these open standards, and guarantee
that translation memories generated by their software can
be re-used with market leaders such as Trados, SDLX, and Déjà
3.8.1 Trados
Trados http : / /t ran slat ion zone . corn is the market leader
translation memory tool, and probably the tool most requested
by translation agencies. It works from within Microsoft Word, so
you must also have a current version of MS Word to use Trados.
Trados is, by most freelancers' standards, expensive: $895 for the
freelance edition of Version 7, although group buying discounts
are sometimes available through translation websites. Trados, like
many translation memory programs, is not always easy to learn to
use, and can require additional training outside the resources that
come with it. Two terms that you'll need to know when working
with Trados: uncleaned files are the files generated by MS Word
that have the Trados segment markers still in them, and cleaned
files are the files that have the markers removed.
3.8.2 SDLX
SDLX http:/ / is produced by SDL, which acquired
Trados in 2005. As of this writing, the standard edition of SDLX is
$695. You can also download a fully functional 30-day trial copy of
SDLX for free. SDLX has the reputation of being somewhat more
stable and easier to use than Trados, but this depends on the user's
level of computer skills. Note: Due to SDL, Inc's (the makers of
SDLX) purchase of Trados in the summer of 2005, these two tools
have been merged into SDL Trados 2006. For more information,
see TranslationZone
3.8.3 Déjà Vu
Déjà Vu http:/ / is very popular with European
translators and is becoming more so in the United States. Unlike
Trados, Déjà Vu (sometimes referred to as DVX since it is now in
version 10) is a standalone application that runs by itself, rather
than from within Microsoft Word. The standard edition of DVX
costs $603.
3.8.4 Wordfast
Wordfast is a TM application that is
quite similar to Trados in look and feel; it also works from within
Microsoft Word. Wordfast costs €180 for a license that is good for
three years of upgrades.
3.8.5 Heartsome
Heartsome http : / /heart some . net, developed in Singapore,
is a relative newcomer to the TM industry, but has gained a lot
of attention lately. Heartsome uses the XLIFF standard and is
currently the only commercial TM application that will run on
a Linux computer system and support the free
office suite's file formats. Heartsome is also quite affordable; the
translation editor is $88 and the full translation suite is $398.
3.8.6 OmegaT
OmegaT is the best-known free TM application.
It is developed by a team of volunteers and has a very
active user community. Like DVX, it is a standalone application
that does not require Microsoft Word. And it really is free!
OmegaT runs on Windows, MacOS X and Linux, and will also
work with files from the free office suite.
3.8.7 WordFisher
WordFisher http: //wordfisher . com is another free translation
tool, written by a Hungarian translator, that has a lot of
features for the price! WordFisher is a small-scale application for
translators who find that the higher-priced translation memory
applications are overpowered for what they need to do. For translators
who don't need the functionality of a high-end TM tool,
Wordfisher is very easy to learn to use and has some excellent
features. It requires a current version of Microsoft Word.
3.8.8 across
across http: / /across . net, produced in Germany, is another
tool that integrates a translation editor, translation memory engine,
terminology system and some project management tools.
Like many other programs, across offers several editions; the Personal
Edition for freelancers costs €399. across is a standalone
application running on its own, rather than from within another
program such as Microsoft Word.
3.9 Choosing a computer system
Probably the most popular computer setup for freelance translators
is a desktop computer with a Windows operating system
and Microsoft Office. However, translators do also successfully
use Mac OS X or Linux systems as well. While some translation
clients will want their translators to run a certain operating system,
most clients don't have strong preferences as long as the
completed translation files are delivered in the correct format.
Before selecting a computer system, it is important to decide what
additional software you would like to use. For example, while
most of the market leader translation memory applications such
as SDL, Trados and Wordfast do not officially support OS X, their
applications will often run on it with some fine-tuning, without
using any additional software. Applications such as Heartsome
and OmegaT are relatively platform-independent, and will run
on Windows, Mac or Linux systems. In addition, CrossOver
Office http : //www . codeweavers . com enables Linux users to
run a wide variety of Windows applications (such as Microsoft
Office) on Linux without a Windows license. For example, the
Wordfast translation memory application, which runs from within
Microsoft Word, will run on Linux using CrossOver office.
4 Rates, contracts and terms
of service
4.1 Setting your translation rates
Possibly the most anxiety-provoking aspect of launching your
translation business is deciding how much to charge. Charge too
much and you'll be priced out of the market; charge too little and
you'll be working overtime just to make ends meet. The easiest
way to remove some of the anxiety from this decision is to gather
some objective data such as how much money you would like to
make, and how much it will cost you to run your business.
Every language combination and specialization has a range of
rates; for example, translators of Asian languages into English
will almost invariably earn more than translators of European
languages into English, although there are individual translators
who will always be the exception to this rule. In addition, how
much you need to charge depends on your cost of living. An
English to Spanish translator living in rural Mexico can afford
to work for lower rates than his or her colleague who lives in
Manhattan. Some translators get very angry about these global
outsourcing possibilities, but the reality is that they are just a
function of the variation in global costs of living; in a developing
country, someone earning $15.00 an hour can live quite well, while
someone making $75.00 an hour in Geneva may be barely getting
Adding to the pricing confusion is that most people are used
to calculating their wages by the hour, while most translation
projects are paid by the word. Depending on the language combination
involved, individual translators will want to be paid either
by the source or the target word. For example, Romance lan-
guages such as French and Spanish take about 30% more words
than English to communicate the same text. So, translators of
French or Spanish into English will usually ask to be paid by the
source word, whereas translators working in the opposite direction
will earn more money by being paid by the target word. If
there is an industry standard, it is often to set payment based on
the source word count, since this lets the client and the translator
know how much the project will cost before it has even begun.
For character-based languages such as Japanese and Chinese, the
word count is most often based on the number of English words
regardless of the direction of the translation.
Beginning translators often don't know how to estimate how
long a translation will take; so they don't know how to set their
per-word rates in order to reach their target hourly rate of pay.
Whereas an experienced linguist knows approximately how many
words per hour he or she translates when working on various
types of documents (general, technical, highly technical, handwritten,
hard copy, HTML, etc.), there is no way to know this
if you haven't done much translation; you simply have to time
yourself while you translate to see how fast you work. In general,
a translator who is a relatively fast typist (or uses speech recognition
software that works well) can translate 400-600 words per
hour or 2,000-3,000 words per day, but this is only a ballpark
figure. When working on a highly technical document with few
repetitions, or on a handwritten document that is difficult to read,
even an experienced translator might produce just a few hundred
words per hour.
Non-billable time is another variable in the pricing equation.
When you have a full-time job for an employer, you are normally
paid to work 40 hours a week, whether or not all of those hours
are spent working productively. As a self-employed freelancer,
you will be paid only when you are actually translating. Tasks like
marketing, billing, collections, e-mailing back and forth with current
and prospective clients, providing rate quotes for upcoming
projects, and downtime when you have no work, are all off the
clock—work time that you have to put in but that you don't get
paid for. When all of these tasks are added up, most freelancers
will spend at least 25% of their time on non-billable work, and it's
not unreasonable to estimate up to 50% non-billable time when
you add in work slowdown times when you would like to be
working, but aren't.
Completing the following two charts will help you determine
how to set your rates for translation. In the Sample column are
example figures to use for comparison. Fill in your own figures in
the right-hand column.
Sample Your
Hours per week you would like to work 40
Weeks per year you would like to work (subtract
vacation weeks)
Total working hours per year (hours per week x weeks
per year)
Sick hours per month x 12 months 96
Legal holiday hours (7 days per year) 56
New total working hours per year (previous total,
minus sick and holiday hours)
Non-billable time (25-50% of total: marketing,
accounting, etc)
Billable hours per year 1,068
Sample Your
Your salary goal $40,000
Taxes (15-50% of salary) $6,000
Internet, website hosting, phone, fax, cell phone
(sample= $100/mo x 12 mos)
Memberships and professional development (including
association dues, conferences, etc.)
Marketing and advertising (could be much more or less) $500
Office rent (no total given since most translators work
from home; if you plan to rent office space, write it here)
Office supplies (envelopes, printer paper, pens, etc) $500
Computer hardware and software (depends heavily on
what you need to purchase)
Auto and travel expenses (could be $0 if you never
travel for work, or several thousand dollars if you
attend multiple conferences or travel to visit clients)
Total cost of business operation $50,750
Profit goal (to be reinvested in business; sample is 10%) $5,000
Total revenue required $55,750
Required hourly rate (Total revenue divided by
billable hours from chart above; sample is
Once you have this hourly rate worksheet completed, you've
completed a major step in pricing your translation services. Your
next step is to determine how you're going to arrive at that hourly
rate. For example if you want to earn $60.00 an hour, you can
achieve this by translating 600 words per hour at 10 cents per
word, 400 words per hour at 15 cents per word or 300 words
per hour at 20 cents per word. In order to do this, you need
to know how fast you work (the only way to figure this out is
to time yourself while you do some translations) and what the
range of rates for your language pair(s) and specialization(s) is.
For example, you might look at rate surveys on Translators Cafe
http:/ / or http://proz.
com, or look at websites of translators in your language pair to
see if they publish their rates. Some translators, although not all,
are also willing to discuss rates with their colleagues.
4.2 Rate sheets
Whether or not you publish or discuss your rates, it's important
to have a rate sheet somewhere, even if it's just for your own use.
Your base rate will cover most jobs, but clients will also ask about
other types of services, so you should have the following in mind:
Standard rates. These are the rates that you apply to most translation
projects that come across your desk. Generally, this
would include projects that are in one of your usual areas
of specialization, are in a format that you normally handle,
and don't involve working overtime to meet the deadline.
Volume discount. Many translators offer a lower per-word rate
for larger projects, since a large project allows you to spend
your time working instead of looking for work, and decreases
your administrative overhead for things like billing
and collections. The flip side of this (and why not all translators
offer a volume discount) is that in the worst case
scenario, a large project can actually cause you problems
if you have to turn down work from other regular clients
who contact you while you're tied up with the big project.
Large projects are also problematic if the client pays late or
doesn't pay.
Rush charge. Nearly every translation project is a rush in some
sense, but not infrequently something is a real rush. For
example a client might ask you to receive a document at
4PM and return it by 9AM, or to work on a weekend, or
to translate a 4,000 word document in 24 hours. Normally
these jobs are charged at a higher rate than your base rate,
although for a regular client some translators waive their
usual rush charges.
Minimum charge. Even if a translation involves only a few words
(and these projects come up; for example when a company
wants their marketing slogan translated into fourteen languages),
you still have to communicate with the client, issue
an invoice, deposit the check, follow up if the client doesn't
pay, etc. For this reason, most translators have a minimum
charge of somewhere between $20 and $50 for projects that
are under a certain word count, such as $25 for 200 words
or fewer.
Editing rate. Most reputable translation agencies will have every
translation proofed by another translator, so you may be
interested in offering this service. Editing rates are normally
one-quarter to one-third of your usual translation rate.
Translation memory discounts. Some of your clients will want
to make more money for themselves or their clients by asking
for a discount when you use translation memory software
on a document that is very repetitive. Whether you do
this or not is up to you. Some translators offer no discount at
all, others only for 100% matches, still others offer a stepped
pricing plan for fuzzy matches, for example charging 60% of
their regular rate for 75-99% matches, 80% of their regular
rate for 50-74% matches, etc. If you choose to offer this type
of discount, most translation memory packages have tools
to report the match percentages in your document.
4.3 Contracts or work for hire agreements
Many clients will ask their freelance translators to sign contracts
or work for hire agreements before beginning work. While these are
often quite harmless in nature and not something to be concerned
about, it's important to read what you're signing and to make
sure that you're not agreeing to a clause that you will later regret.
These contract clauses are mostly applicable if you work through
translation agencies. For example, you should carefully consider,
possibly with the advice of a lawyer, whether you will agree to
terms such as:
• Agreeing not to get paid until the end client pays the agency.
Of all the terms that translators are asked to accept, this is
probably the most difficult. In one sense, it's understandable
that an agency doesn't want to take the risk of having to pay
tens of thousands of dollars to translators for a project that
the agency itself is never paid for. In addition, if a translator
returns poor quality work, the agency doesn't want to be
responsible in the event that the end client refuses to pay. On
the other hand, the agency's role as a middleman between
the translator and the end client involves some financial
risks, such as non-payment on the part of the end client. If
you agree to this type of clause, it is important to realize
that you are accepting some risk of non-payment yourself.
• Agreeing to indemnify (hold harmless) the client against
lawsuits and/or claims resulting from your translation. If
you sign a contract with this type of clause, make sure that
you carry your own professional liability or errors and omissions
(E&O) insurance in case one of your clients is sued
because of an error in your translation. The client should
have a quality control system in place so that an error by
one translator doesn't have a disastrous effect on the final
project, but not every client will have this. This type of
contract clause is more of a concern if you work for direct
clients, who may be less likely to have your work edited or
proofread before distributing it.
• Agreeing not to accept or solicit work from the agency's
clients. Most intermediaries between end clients and freelancers,
not just translation agencies, require this type of
non-compete agreement. It's perfectly reasonable to ask that
you not go behind the agency's back and ask the end client
to hire you to translate for them directly. However unless
you and the agency compare your client lists (something the
agency will probably be unwilling to do) you can't really
know that you're not working for one of them.
• Agreeing not to subcontract work to another translator. This
is another fairly common and reasonable clause, just make
sure you read it before signing, and if you commit to doing
all the work yourself, don't share it with someone else.
• Agreeing to abide by confidentiality standards. Especially
if you work in legal, financial or patent translation, you will
probably come into contact with trade secrets, confidential
financial information, patent applications, etc. If you sign
this type of document, again it is important to read and
abide by its provisions. For example, financial translators
might be required to agree not to engage in insider trading
as a result of their knowledge of a company's financial information
before it is released to the public. This type of
document is often referred to as a non-disclosure agreement
or NDA.
• Agreeing to submit to a credit check, criminal background
check or financial review in order to be bonded. Like the
confidentiality agreement described above, there are good
reasons why some translators have to be bonded (insured
against stealing because of information that they have access
to). For example if you work with a bank's clients' financial
information, or translate information about a mutual
fund's identity verification procedures, you have access to
information that would allow you to steal money from the
company or its clients. In order to be bonded, most insurance
or bonding companies will investigate your financial
records and/or criminal background. Just make sure you
are clear on what you're agreeing to when you sign this
clause, and that you understand what information about
you the company is going to collect or ask for. If you have a
past criminal background, make sure you understand what
types of charges, arrests or convictions must be reported.
If you find a clause in a contract that you don't want to sign, you
have a few options. You could cross out the clause in question,
modify it, or refuse to sign the contract completely. Whether or
not this is successful depends on the client. Some agencies will
agree to a change, others will refuse to work with you if you don't
sign their contract. The most important thing is to realize that
if you sign a contract, its terms are legally enforceable, even if
an agency employee tells you, "I can't imagine we would ever
really enforce that..." If the client wouldn't enforce the clause,
it shouldn't be in their contract. Remember that although it is
intimidating to be presented with a contract as a prerequisite for a
certain job, you are an equal party to the contract and are entitled
to object to terms that are unfair to you. Also, although contracts
don't appear to be negotiable most of the time, they often are
negotiable, and in any event you are highly unlikely to lose a
client simply because you have questioned one of their contract's
4.4 Terms of service
Just as a client may ask you to sign a contract, so you as a translator
may ask your own existing or potential clients to agree to your
terms of service. Before accepting any work, it is important to
agree on terms of service with the client; some clients will tell you
what their usual terms of service are, but there is often some room
for negotiation as well. Depending on who the client is, you might
ask them to sign a printed copy of your terms of service, or you
might send an e-mail summarizing what your terms of service
are. Your agreement with the client should first summarize the project,
per-word rate, whether the word count is based on the source or target
count, the project deadline, the file format, and the delivery method.
Even with a client that you work for regularly, you should always
summarize the basic elements of the project so that everyone is
in agreement before you start work. With a regular client, this
would probably take the form of an e-mail confirming the project's
due date and payment rate, along with any special instructions.
Although you should decide your own terms of service, following
is a sample letter that a translator might send to a client to confirm
the details of a project before beginning work.
Sample terms of service letter
Dear Name of Person assigning you the project:
Thank you very much for contacting me about your
upcoming translation project. So that we are in
agreement about the specifications for this project
before I begin work, I am sending you a summary of
the project as I understand it, along with my basic
terms of service. Please either reply to this e-mail
indicating your agreement with these specifications
and terms, or let me know if there is anything to be
Description of project: Translate ABC, Inc. annual
report from English to German
Approximate word count: 26,000 words
Rate: X cents per source word (always specify if the
word count is based on the source or target word
Deadline: 9AM EST on May 1, 2007, as long as project
source files are sent to the translator by the close
of business on April 5, 2007
File format: Source files in PDF, translation to be
delivered in Microsoft Word, respecting the format of
the source document as much as possible
Special instructions: (request that the client
provide you with any special instructions about the
Terms of service: Payment will be made in full by
check in U.S. dollars drawn on a U.S. bank, within 30
days of delivery of the translation. Late payments
may be subject to a late fee of X dollars per day.
Following this summary of the project specifications, you should
include your own terms of service, in addition to payment terms
as shown above. Following are some of the more common terms
of service used by freelance translators. Not all of these terms
will apply to every translator, so it is important to chose the ones
that are important for you, and to modify them to your particular
• No claims will be considered after X days from the date of invoice.
You need to set a time frame within which the agency can
ask you for revisions, tell you that there's a problem with
the translation, etc. You don't want an agency coming back
several months later to complain about a project that you
barely remember working on, but you do need to give the
agency time to solicit feedback from their end client. So, a
time limit of somewhere between two weeks and one month
is probably reasonable.
• Within the limits of the law, all claims will be limited to the
amount of this invoice. A clause such as this lets the client
know that if they're not satisfied with your work, the most
they can do is refuse to pay you; they can't, for example,
ask you to forgo your own payment and reimburse them for
the cost of additional editing of your translation. However,
especially if you translate for direct clients, there may be
situations where the client is legally allowed to sue you for
damages if they are sued as a result of errors in your translation.
Make sure you are clear on this before accepting work
from a client that is not a translation agency. Translators
who work for direct clients should strongly consider carrying
professional liability /Errors and Omissions insurance,
in the event that a client pursues a legal or financial claim
against you for errors in your work. The American Translators
Association offers this type of insurance through an
affiliated insurance agency, and independent agents may
sell it as well.
• The client's terms of service are not in effect until approved in
writing by the translator. This prevents the client from holding
you responsible for abiding by a contract that you haven't
signed. For example, the client cannot come back to you
after the project and say, "Our translator contract specifies
that you don't get paid until the client pays us."
• If the client is employed by an end client or third party, the translator's
business agreement is with the client only. The client must
pay the translator as agreed upon, regardless of the end client or
third party's payment policies. In essence, you are letting your
client (a translation agency or freelance project manager)
know that if the end client doesn't pay them, the client still
has to pay you. The end client is not your client.
• The translator retains copyright to the translation until the invoice
for the translation has been paid in full. When you contract
with a client to do a translation for hire, you give up your
copyright to the translated work, unless the contract specifies
otherwise. However, if the client never pays you or
doesn't pay in full, they haven't upheld their end of the
work for hire agreement. Basically, this clause gives you
the option of pursuing the client or end client for copyright
violations if they use your translation without paying you.
• If the translation project is canceled after a project assignment
has been made, the translator will be paid for all work completed
up to the time of cancellation. Sometimes a client will send
you the wrong file, cancel a project or scale a project down
in size after you have already started working. While you
shouldn't expect to be paid for the entire project unless
you've completed it, you should be paid for the part of the
work that you've already done, since you obviously can't do
anything else with the translation. With a reputable client
this shouldn't be a problem as long as the reason for the
cancellation is clearly the client's mistake.
• If the client is not satisfied with the translator's work, the translator
must be given an opportunity to correct the translation before
payment terms or rates are changed. No matter how skilled
you are as a translator, some clients will not be fully satisfied
with your work. Including this type of clause will
(hopefully!) protect you against clients who say that they're
not happy with your work, and will not pay you, or take a
discount on the agreed-upon price. Before the client brings
up any change in the agreed-upon payment terms, they
should let you know specifically what is wrong with the
translation, and give you the chance to correct it.
4.5 Researching your potential clients
As we'll discuss later in this chapter, some problems with clients
are unavoidable; no matter how well you set things up in advance
and how well you know your clients, issues come up and you'll
need to resolve them. In the case of payment and contract issues,
the best defense is definitely a good offense; it's infinitely easier
to lay the groundwork correctly for a project than to chase after a
client for months for your money, or lose a valuable client because
of a misunderstanding.
The most important first step in making sure you get paid is
to know who your client is. Dealing with someone who gives
you only an e-mail address or cell phone number as contact information
is a setup for non-payment, since you will have no
recourse if the cell phone number or e-mail address in question
is discontinued when you need to get paid. At the very least,
you should get every client's full name or business name, website
address, mailing address (if the address is a P.O. box, ask for a
physical address as well), and phone and fax numbers. If you're
suspicious about the client's legitimacy, this information should
let you do at least a brief search; for example you could Google
the client, call directory assistance and see if the phone number
you get matches the phone number the client gave you, etc. If the
client has a website, you can also find out the information that the
client provided when they registered their website domain name.
The easiest way to do this is via a website such as Whois.Net
http: //whois . net, where you can enter the client's domain
name and immediately find out who the technical and billing
contacts for the domain are. For this reason (ability to trace a
client through a third party), it is also wise to beware of clients
who will only provide you with a free e-mail address, for example
Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, etc. Although webmail is very useful for
some purposes, one of the unfortunate attractions of free e-mail
accounts is that you don't have to provide any verifiable information
about yourself to get one. Therefore it is very easy for
someone to use a free e-mail address and then cancel it and simply
disappear, which is impossible if your e-mail account is through
a paid Internet service provider who has your contact and billing
information. For clients who are established businesses or large
translation agencies, you may also have the option of doing a
credit check on the client through one of the large credit bureaus
such as Experian
Another truly excellent way to investigate potential clients is
via a translation industry payment practices list. Probably the
most widely-used list is Ted Wozniak's Yahoo Payment Practices .
htm. On this list, and others like it such as the ProZ Blue Board (available only to paying members), you
can post a query about a potential translation client, and other
translators will respond to you and tell you their experiences
working with this client. Based on the information given, the
client will receive a score; on Ted Wozniak's list the score is on
a one to five scale with five being the best rating. This is mostly
applicable if you work with translation agencies, but sometimes
you will get responses about direct clients as well.
It is also acceptable and even advisable to ask a potential client
for references from other translators who work for them. You
might be uncomfortable or feel impolite doing this the first few
times, but it's important to remember that if you work for a
client who promises to pay you when the project is done, you
are extending credit to the client by working without an up-front
payment. Since you cannot resell the translation somewhere else
if the client doesn't pay you, you are effectively loaning the client
your time for the promise of future payment. Don't do this lightly;
set the situation up so that you have the best possible chance of
getting paid.
4.6 Standard payment terms and methods
In the United States, the most common payment terms when
freelance translators work for translation agencies are that the
agency will pay you within 30 days of the date of your invoice,
referred to in the industry as Net 30. These payment terms are
good for translators (or at least better than Net 60 or 90!) because
your cash flow is only a month behind your work flow; if you
send in an invoice on March 30, you get paid by April 30, at least
in theory. In practice, many agencies will pay a little later than
Net 30, or may ask you to invoice them once a month for all of
your work, and they will pay you 30 days after that, referred to
as 30 Days End of Month or Net 30 EOM. Most U.S. agencies will
pay by check in U.S. dollars, so you just deposit the check at your
bank. Some will pay by PayPal, and this is a good way to ask
clients who aren't established agencies to pay since you receive
the money right away. Some U.S. agencies are starting to pay by
ACH transfer, for which most banks will not charge a fee.
In other parts of the world, payment terms vary widely. Payment
terms in Europe are almost invariably longer than Net 30.
Many European clients will want to pay you Net 60, 60 Days
EOM, or even Net 90, and may not be willing to pay sooner. As
long as you get paid eventually, the only issue with these payment
terms is that you wait a long time for your money, and if
there is a problem with the payment you may wait even longer.
For example if you work on a translation project from March 2-5
with terms of 60 Days EOM, you send the invoice March 31 and
the payment is scheduled for June 30, by which time it is almost
three months since you started the translation. If you live in the
U.S., most agencies in Europe will pay by wire transfer, so it is
important to find out what kinds of fees your bank charges for
wire transfers. Normally an agency will ask for your bank's routing
number (also called ABA code), Swift code (call your bank to
get this) and your account number in order to complete a wire
Currency exchange fluctuations are another issue to consider if
you work for clients outside the U.S. For example, as discussed
above, many agencies in Europe will pay up to three months after
the project is completed, which can leave quite a bit of room for
exchange rate fluctuation before the job is paid. If you're dealing
with clients in a country where the currency could potentially
fall against the dollar, or with a very large project where even
a small fluctuation could make a big difference in your pay, it's
important to plan ahead. For example, you might agree on a rate
in dollars, which effectively asks the client to absorb the risk or
benefit of a currency fluctuation. Or, you might keep a separate
foreign bank account in a country where you do a lot of business;
if you do this, make sure to check with an accountant as to your
tax responsibilities for accounts held outside the U.S.
Some clients will tell you up front that due to either the size
of the project or their own cash flow situation, they cannot pay
you until the end client pays them. If you agree to work for
this client anyway, you are going into the situation knowing that
there is a chance that you will not be paid on time or maybe at
all. If you loan a friend money until his or her next paycheck,
you know that you may not be repaid—the friend could lose the
job, the paycheck could bounce, or other expenses could be more
important than paying you back. Likewise, if you agree to get
paid when your client (usually a translation agency) gets paid,
you are knowingly taking a risk, so resist the urge to blame the
client if you don't get paid!
4.7 Setting the stage for payment
Maximize your chances of getting paid on time by billing your
client in a timely manner and using a well-organized invoicing
system. Following is an example of what a translation invoice
looks like; if your freelance business is incorporated, you will
have an Employer Identification Number (EIN); if you are a sole
proprietor, you would include your Social Security number (SSN)
here, which the client needs in order to send you a 1099 form if
you earn more than $600 from them in a year.
Sample Invoice
Name of Translator d/b/a
Your Business Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code
Phone number
Email address
Please make checks payable to: Your Name or Your
Business Name
Invoice Number: Include an invoice number that has
some logic to it; for example the year and then a
reference number (200501, etc) or your initials and
then a number (JGF01, etc).
Billed to: Name of Client
Client Contact: Name of the Person who assigned the
project to you
Date: Date you are issuing the invoice
Payment due: Make sure you and the client agree on
the payment terms
Agency Project Number: Many clients will give you
their own job number to include here.
Description of Project: Include a short description
of the project, such as "Translate market research
surveys from English to Spanish"
Word Count: Include the number of words, and make
sure you and the client agree on whether you are
charging by the source or target word count
Rate: Include the per-word or per-hour rate here
Total Amount: Include the total amount the client
owes you.
The easiest way to send your invoices, unless the client has another
system, is to send them with the translation when you
submit it. This way, if the client received your translation, you
know that they received your invoice too. Some clients may want
you to invoice them at the end of the month, or to submit your
invoice to a special e-mail address just for invoices. If this is the
case, just make sure that the client confirms that they received
your invoice. Some agencies outside the U.S. may have other
invoice requirements, for example that your invoice has to be
signed by hand and sent by postal mail. Normally, the client is
not expected to pay your banking fees (such as a fee that your
bank charges when you receive a wire transfer), so don't add
these to the invoice unless you have cleared it in advance with the
client. Likewise, the client should not charge you for their bank
fees (such as the fee that they have to pay to wire money) unless
they have cleared it with you in advance.
4.8 When things don't go as planned...
If you haven't received the client's payment within the specified
time frame, wait an appropriate amount of time and then politely
remind the client that the payment is due. An "appropriate"
amount of time is up to you; if the payment terms are Net 30,
most translators would wait one to two weeks before contacting
the client. Nine times out of ten, the problem will be resolved
immediately; the client will respond right away and tell you that
the check is on its way. That one time out of ten, things will not
go so smoothly, and you'll have to do some conflict resolution.
There are two types of non-paying clients; clients who can't
pay and clients who won't pay. For a client who won't (or doesn't
want to) pay, the typical non-payment situation arises at some
point after you submit a translation. The client lets you know
that your work was not of the quality they expected, and because
of this the client incurred unexpected costs. For example the
client may tell you that they had to have the project re-translated
entirely, or that your work required more editing than they had
budgeted for, etc. Ideally the client should give you the chance
to correct your errors and be paid the full amount you agreed on,
but the project's deadline may not allow for this. The client may
ask you to discount your rate of payment in order to make up for
the extra cost of editing or re-translating your work.
If or when this happens, it is truly horrible and painful to
have your translation skills criticized. However, it's important to
remember that the client is already anxious and angry; denying
that any problem could have existed will probably only make the
situation worse. Before you try to defend yourself, make sure that
you followed the client's instructions to the letter. If the client
provided a list of terms, make sure that you used them. If the
client asked you to format the translation as closely as possible to
the original document, make sure that you did this. If the client
asked for the document in a certain font, make sure that you
used it. If you are completely convinced that you completed the
translation to the client's specifications, ask to see a copy of the
edited or re-translated translation so that you can see your real or
perceived errors. Then, decide if you think that the client's claim
is valid or not. In some cases, this may require going to a third
party, such as another translator selected by you or the client, to
make a decision as to whether the translation is high quality or
not. Although it is sometimes painful to do this, it's important to
acknowledge that there is some possibility that the client may be
right and that you did an unsatisfactory job; insisting otherwise
will probably not lead to a satisfactory outcome for you.
How much you press the quality issue with the client depends
partially on how big the project is. If your fee for the project
is only $50.00, it probably isn't worth arguing with the client
over whether you did a satisfactory job; with the time it would
take to go over the revised translation, submit a list of points
that you disagree with, etc., you're probably better off simply
letting go of the $50.00. If the project is $5,000 and the client is
refusing to pay, it's a different story. As of this writing, there is no
industry standard dispute arbitration process for translation; for
example the American Translators Association does not intervene
in disputes between translators and their clients, so it's up to you
as an individual to work things out.
The second type of non-paying client, the client who can't pay,
presents more of a problem. This type of client may start out with
excuses that seem reasonable: accountant is on vacation, payment
will be made by a certain date, large client is late on paying
your client, invoice was lost/never received /sent to the wrong
person/accidentally deleted, etc., but soon these explanations
will prove to be untrue. The client may come out and admit that
they are having cash flow problems, or may string you along
indefinitely, or go out of business and/or file for bankruptcy.
The first step with this type of non-paying client is to send a
series of three to four increasingly serious reminder letters, known
formally as dunning letters. You can start out by politely reminding
the client of the terms you agreed on and asking them to pay, then
escalate the situation to include copies of the letter to higher-ups at
the agency or company, then finally threatening to involve a third
party. This third-party involvement may be in the form of taking
the client to small claims court, hiring a third-party collection
agency, or contacting the end client for the translation and letting
them know that you were never paid for your work, and that
because of this, they may be violating United States copyright
law by using your translation. If you send this type of letter, it is
very important to consult a lawyer or at least familiarize yourself
with the legal requirements in order to make sure that you are
not breaking the law by saying something untrue or misleading.
Following are some examples of first, second and final notice
dunning letters.
Sample First Notice
Dear Name of Person who assigned you the project:
According to my records, I have not received a check
for Invoice # for which was due for
payment on . Please let me know the status of
this payment at your earliest convenience, and thank
you again for your business.
Sample Second Notice
Dear Name of Person who assigned you the project (CC
to this person's Accounts Payable Department or
I recently contacted you regarding an overdue payment
for Invoice # for which was due for
payment on . As of today I have not received
this payment, and I do need to hear from you
regarding its status, as the payment is now
considerably past due. Please reply to me as soon as
possible and let me know the date on which you will
be mailing this payment, if it has not already been
Sample Final Notice
Dear Name of Person who assigned you the project (CC
to this person's Accounts Payable Department or
Despite my two previous notices to you on and
, I have not yet received your overdue payment
for Invoice # in the amount of . Please
understand that you have had sufficient time and
notice regarding the status of this payment. Failure
on your part to pay this seriously overdue invoice by
may result in my posting information about
this transaction to translation industry payment
practices lists, referring this account to a third
party collection agency, and/or contacting the end
client of the translation in question to inform them
of the non-payment situation. I trust this will not
be necessary, and look forward to receiving your
payment as soon as possible.
If you need to involve a third-party collection agency and you
are an ATA member, you can investigate the services of ATA's
affiliate program with Dunn and Bradstreet Receivables Management.
They handle both U.S. and international unpaid accounts,
and normally take 25-50% of what they collect. Other third-party
collection agencies exist, but make sure that the agency is legitimate
before you hire them; for example call the Better Business
Bureau where the agency is headquartered and find out if there
have been any complaints against the agency.
If you get to the point of sending dunning letters to a client,
there is unfortunately some possibility that you will never get
paid in full. Many translators feel that if more than four months
have elapsed since the original payment deadline, the client is
probably not going to pay without some serious outside incentive
to do so. Dunning letters can motivate a client who is either trying
to delay payment, or trying to see who complains most loudly
about not getting paid. However, if the client absolutely doesn't
have the money to pay you or goes bankrupt, there may not be
much you can do if your dunning letters don't get a response;
further proof that you're much better off investigating the client
up front than fighting for months to get your payment after the
4.8.1 Arbitration and dispute resolution
Another avenue to pursue with a non-paying client is arbitration,
a non-court proceeding involving an independent and neutral
arbitrator. Arbitrators are often attorneys, and you may choose to
have your own attorney represent you during arbitration. One
important element of arbitration is that unlike filing in small
claims court, you normally cannot file for arbitration without
the cooperation of your non-paying client, since they are usually
required to fill out the arbitration submission agreement along
with you. For more information, see the website of the American
Arbitration Association http : / /www . adr . org .
4.9 Cash flow issues
Happily most translators go for long periods of time without ever
dealing with a non-paying client. The larger and more common
problem is clients who don't pay on time. Some clients only issue
checks on certain days of the week or month, so if you contact
them on June 10 to let them know that the payment due June 1
didn't arrive, they may not be able to issue a check until June 15.
With the time needed to mail the check, you might receive this
payment three weeks late.
It's up to you as a freelancer to decide how to deal with cash
flow issues. When you have a full-time job, it's a pretty safe bet
that your paycheck that's due on the 25 th will be inyour account
in time to pay your mortgage on the 1 st, but a freelancer would
be unwise to take this kind of gamble. This is an important issue
to consider before you start working as a freelancer. If you are
planning on translation being your primary source of income,
make sure that you have enough of a cash cushion that you're not
left scrambling when a check doesn't arrive as planned.
5 Setting up your businessfor
When you're putting together your first translation résumé and
wondering who your first clients will be, it's hard to imagine the
day when you'll be turning down work, or kept consistently busy
by a slate of regular clients. In today's translation climate where
many translators have never been busier, it's important to look
a year or two down the road and see where you'd like to be and
how to set your business up to get there.
One of the most important steps you can take at the start of
your business is to log all of the business contacts you make in an
organized format. Over the course of your first year in business, if
you market yourself aggressively, you will probably have contact
with 300 or more potential clients. Rather than counting on your
memory to remind you who these people are, or deleting their
"thanks, but no thanks" e-mails, you can save and organize their
contact information in order to make use of it later. There are
various ways to do this; on paper, using an index card file; or
electronically, using a spreadsheet or more sophisticated contact
management software. The key element is to keep track of the
name of the person you e-mailed or spoke with, all of his or her
contact details, and a reminder about what you communicated
about. This way, if a potential client tells you, "We only work
with translators who have more than three years' experience,"
you can contact them again when you meet their requirement. If
a potential client tells you that they're not taking applications in
your language pair right now, contact them again in six months
to a year to let them know you're still interested. You can also
use this list of contacts to build a mailing list for your own enewsletter
or other promotional tools.
Setting up a semi-automated invoicing system is another way
to set your business up to grow. Once you're working steadily,
billing takes a great deal of time if you do it manually, since a busy
translator could generate 100 or more individual invoices during
a year. Here you have several options such as using accounting
software that includes an invoicing tool or setting up an invoicing
system using a spreadsheet program such as Calc.
Whatever option you choose will take some time to set up initially,
but will save time when you don't need to enter a client's contact
and billing information manually on every invoice.
If you're looking for even more office automation, you can use
a company such as MyBizOffice
or others that will bill your clients for you, deduct taxes from
what you make, and funnel money into a 401K plan. Most of
these services, also called umbrella companies or employers of record,
charge about 5% of your gross income. If you are incorporated,
you can also hire an accountant to process your payroll for you
and calculate the amount you owe in taxes.
Even if you're not interested in running a translation agency,
another step toward scaling up is to find other translators in your
language combinations and specializations with whom you can
share work. Especially if you would like to work for direct clients,
it can be a big asset to offer a team of two or three translators if
the client needs fast turnaround on a large project. Your local ATA
chapter and the annual ATA conference are an excellent resource
for meeting people like this.
5.1 Incorporating and planning for taxes
Some translators operate their businesses as sole proprietors for
many years, while others incorporate immediately. It's a good
idea to talk to an accountant about whether incorporating would
be a good idea for you. While the best option here is to contact
a qualified accountant or small business consultant, following
is an overview of some of the advantages and disadvantages of
Separation of finances. Incorporating forces you to keep your
business and personal finances separate, since your clients
pay the corporation and then the corporation pays you
wages, even if you're the only employee. In this way you
are always sure how much the business is earning and how
much you're spending on the business. However, as a sole
proprietor you can achieve the same effect by having a business
bank account and a personal one and carefully tracking
how money flows between the two.
Limitation of liability. Since a corporation is its own legal entity,
incorporating gives you some protection against personal
liability. In most cases, your personal assets cannot be seized
to pay the corporation's debts or legal judgments. If you are
planning to work for direct clients or subcontract work to
other translators, this alone can be a good motivation for
Tax relief. Some corporate structures, such as S corporations, can
save you money on taxes, since an S-corporation's profit is
not subject to self-employment tax. Incorporating may also
allow you to take more tax deductions than you do as a sole
Capital. If you need to raise capital, for instance by taking out a
business loan, it is often easier to do so if you are incorporated.
However, so few translators take out business loans
that this is not a major concern.
Expense. Depending on where you live, setting up a corporation
may be extremely inexpensive or very expensive. For example,
in some states it costs as little as 99 cents to file your
articles of incorporation on-line, while in other states the
fee may be much higher. Likewise, some states will require
corporations to pay a filing fee for their required annual report,
while others will not. Incorporating can also result in
higher accounting expenses, since some corporation types
must file payroll taxes every quarter.
Paperwork. Incorporating definitely requires extra paperwork.
At the very least, you have to file Articles of Incorporation in
your state, probably file a Trade Name Registration in your
state and receive a Federal Employer Identification Number
that you provide to clients instead of your personal Social
Security number. If you hate doing accounting and don't
want to hire someone to do it for you, this is definitely a
5.1.1 Corporate Entities
If you would like to incorporate, there are various corporate
structures to choose from, such as an S corporation, C corporation,
or limited liability corporation (LLC). Before incorporating, it is
important to talk with an accountant or small business consultant
about selecting the entity type that is right for you in your state;
following is an overview of the most common entity types chosen
by freelance translators.
Many large businesses are C-corps, but small businesses can
choose this structure as well. One of the major advantages of
a C-corp is that it allows you to deduct 100% of your health insurance
premiums as a business expense. C-corp profits below
$50,000 are also taxed at a lower rate than a comparable amount
of taxable income.
This is possibly the most popular structure for a one-person corporation.
The main advantage of an S-corporation is that as long as
you pay yourself a "reasonable wage" (as defined by the IRS), you
can pass some of the corporation's income on to your individual
tax return, which can avoid you having to pay self-employment
tax on it. For example if you have net income of $60,000 and pay
yourself wages of $30,000 (which are subject to self-employment
tax), you can then pass the additional $30,000 on to your individual
tax return as profit, where it is subject only to regular income
tax, not self-employment tax. One disadvantage of an S-corp is
that all shareholders must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents;
nonresident aliens cannot be S-corp shareholders.
Limited Liability Corporation
The "Single Member LLC" is probably the second most popular
corporate structure for freelance translators. Like an S-corp, an
LLC is a flow-through entity, allowing you to pass profits and
losses on to your personal tax return. In addition, LLC owners
may be nonresident aliens. In some states, LLCs have a limited
duration, for example 30 years or less, so if you are incorporating
early in your career, be sure to investigate this in your state.
Sole Proprietor
A self-employed person whose business is not incorporated is
referred to as a sole proprietor. Being a sole proprietor has its advantages,
including very little administrative overhead. In many
states you do not even need a business license to operate as a sole
proprietor, and all of your income is simply reported on Schedule
C of your individual tax return. However as a sole proprietor, you
have no liability protection in the event of a lawsuit or financial
claim (meaning that at least in theory, your personal assets can be
seized), and all of your income is subject to self-employment tax.
5.1.2 Tax planning
Whether you incorporate or not, tax planning is a crucial element
of being self-employed, and one that catches many people by
surprise. When you have a full-time job, you accept the fact that
some of your salary goes to taxes, but you usually don't have
to write out a check to the federal or state government for that
amount. As a freelancer, you will be responsible for tracking and
paying your taxes, normally done four times a year. If you are
incorporated, you will probably have to pay payroll taxes, and if
you are a sole proprietor you will probably have to file estimated
taxes every quarter to avoid owing a large amount plus penalties
at the end of the year.
The most important element of paying your own taxes is to
meticulously keep track of your income and expenses. Whether
you do this on your computer or on paper, it is imperative to
write down the date and amount of every payment you receive
and every purchase you make for your business, and to save
all receipts. The amount of tax you will pay depends of course
on how much you earn and your overall tax situation, but it is
important to factor the additional tax you pay as a self-employed
person into your projections. The self-employment tax, currently
15.3% of your net earnings from self-employment, consists of
12.4% of your income for Social Security, up to a maximum of
$10,788, and 2.9% of your income for Medicare. The reason these
taxes can come as a shock is that when you have a full-time job,
your employer pays half of these taxes and you pay half; but
when you're self-employed, you pay the entire amount. Also
keep in mind that you pay the self-employment tax in addition to
regular income tax, not instead of it, so for most freelancers, this
will mean allocating approximately 40% of your income for taxes.
On the up side, as a self-employed person you have many
more opportunities than your salaried friends to reduce your tax
burden through deductible business expenses. Here again, it's
important to talk to an accountant or tax preparer to find out
what is deductible in your particular situation. However, most
self-employed translators can deduct home office expenses, computer
hardware and software, Internet and phone costs, travel
expenses, professional association memberships, continuing education,
office supplies, business-related travel, professional journal
subscriptions, books, dictionaries, even meals out that are
work-related. Following is an overview of the basic entity types
to consider; but note that these business entities are regulated in
the U.S. by individual states rather than at the federal level, so be
sure to research the laws of the state you live in.
5.2 Key Questions Before the Project Starts
Landing your first few clients will be one of the most exciting
experiences of your freelance career; after all of your hard work
planning and preparing, the day will come when a client will offer
you a real live paying translation job, and it's incredibly exciting.
At the same time, it's important to keep a level head and realize
that being offered the project doesn't mean that you just say "Yes,"
without even knowing what the work consists of. Sometimes,
saying "No" can be a better decision for your career in the long
run. It is critical to remember that it takes a lot of hard work to
build a good reputation, and just one poorly done project to spoil
that reputation.
Before accepting a project, ask yourself...
• Am I comfortable with the subject matter? Along with failing
to investigate a potential client's trustworthiness, this is
probably the biggest mistake made by beginning translators.
If you don't know the difference between AC and DC
power or what a solenoid is or how to change a spark plug,
you'll be even more lost when trying to understand these
items in one of your source languages. At the start, stick
to material you feel very comfortable with. If you'd like to
branch out into a more technical specialization, take some
courses on the topic in your native language, and consider
paying a translator who is experienced in that particular
specialization to edit your work until you feel confident in
your skills.
• Can I finish this translation on time? Tight deadlines are the
reality of the modern business world, but you have to train
yourself to recognize the difference between tight and impossible.
2,500 words due tomorrow is a tight deadline;
10,000 words due tomorrow is an impossible deadline. For
a tight deadline, it's fair to charge a higher rate to make up
for the fact that you have to work overtime; for an impossible
deadline, the only course of action that will preserve the
quality of your work is to say "No!"
• Am I confident that this client will pay me? If the client has
a good track record of payment, the chances are that your
money will come through. If the client is not an established
business, it's up to you to judge and deal with the consequences.
Just as you will be asking clients to take a chance
on you as a new translator, you may need to take chances
on your clients, but make sure to follow the steps previously
discussed for investigating your clients before you work for
them. Get full contact information and a written guarantee
of payment before you start working.
• Am I getting paid fairly for my work? As a new translator,
some of your prospective clients will be low paying, and this
doesn't make them bad clients. Still, working for impossibly
low rates devalues your own work and the work of other
professional translators. If you agree to work for less than
your usual rate, it should be for a good reason, for example
the client is a non-profit organization, or the project is very
large and has a flexible deadline.
Before accepting a project, ask the client some or all of the following
questions. For small jobs from regular clients, you may not
have to go through the entire list, and clients who have done their
homework will often volunteer the answers to these questions
before you ask.
• What type of document is this? What format is the document
in (hard copy, hand written, PDF, Word, Excel, HTML, etc.)?
• What is the subject matter?
• How many words or pages is the document?
• What is the deadline? Once you've asked this, make sure that
you can make the deadline!
• May I see a sample of the document before accepting the project?
This is always a good idea, and even if the material is highly
confidential, the client should be able to e-mail or fax you
something like the table of contents or the index. Seeing a
sample helps you decide how long the translation will take—
is it 20 pages of barely legible handwriting, or 20 pages of
neatly typed copy? Does the document contain complex
formatting that will have to be reproduced?
• What will the translation be used for? You need to know if the
advertising text they're sending you is intended as a "for
information only" document for their sales team, or to be
published in a highly visible place. This is a critical question
that many translators skip.
• What format should I deliver the translation in? You need to
know what file format the client wants; in some rare cases
the client may also want a faxed or mailed hard copy.
• Should I reproduce the formatting of the source document? In
most cases, clients will want the translation to look as much
as possible like the source document. Sometimes, they just
want to know what the documents say, so the formatting
doesn't matter.
• Who will answer my questions about this translation? Many
beginning translators are afraid that asking questions will
make them seem unequal to the task at hand. On the contrary,
it's important that if you don't understand what a
term means and can't find the answer in any of your usual
resources, you don't just guess and hope that no one will
notice. The client should tell you up front who will answer
your questions and how to submit them.
• My rate for this translation would be... It is absolutely critical
to settle the question of rates and payment terms before
you accept any translation work. Make sure that you agree
on a per word rate, and whether the rate is charged on the
source or target word count; in some cases the rate will
be hourly. Then, clarify what the client's payment terms
are, and if the payment is not by check or direct deposit,
clarify who is paying for costs such as wire transfer or credit
card fees (normally the client pays their fees and you pay
yours, but if you don't specify, some clients will deduct their
bank fees from your payment). Some clients will tell you
what they're willing to pay for a specific project, but most
will ask what you'll charge. The first time this happens
is incredibly anxiety-provoking, as you have only a few
seconds to come up with a price that isn't insanely high or
low. If you've done your own homework and made a rate
sheet in advance, your nerves will be considerably calmer
when you get to the point of discussing rates.
• Please send me a purchase order, contract, or written confirmation
of the guidelines for this project. If the client is not a regular
one, it's important to have some written evidence of your
business agreement with them. Without this, it's your word
against theirs as to what terms you agreed on.
5.3 How to Raise Your Rates
At some point in your translation career, you'll realize that your
translation experience or specializations can command higher
rates than what you're currently charging. Also, you might be
interested in either earning more money or in working less, so
you might need to charge more at some point.
Unfortunately, the answer to the question, "How do I get my
existing clients to pay me more money?" is almost always, "You
can't." Most often, the best way to raise your rates is to look for
new, higher paying clients. For example, if you've worked for a
translation agency for two years, making 12 cents a word, your
client might be willing to go along with a rate increase to 14 cents a
word, but it's highly unlikely they'll agree to pay 25 cents a word.
In some easily outsourced language pairs such as English into
Spanish, there may even be pressure on translators to decrease
their rates over time. On the other hand, if you land a direct client
who is used to paying 30 cents a word for translation through an
agency, your offer of 25 cents a word may strike them as the best
deal they've gotten all year. You simply have to eliminate your
lowest paying clients and look for higher paying ones to replace
One of the best strategies for raising your rates is to look for
clients who themselves earn a healthy income, or orient yourself
toward higher-earning specializations. Not surprisingly, business
sectors that are big earners in the U.S., such as law, financial
services and pharmaceuticals, are correspondingly well-paying
for translators who work in those areas. So, part of the key to
raising your rates is to find clients who can pay what you'd like
to earn, and show these clients that your services will help their
businesses run faster, more effectively or more profitably.
5.4 Ten ways to please a translation client
The easiest way to keep your translation business profitable is
to cultivate a core group of regular clients who will fill your inbox
with translation projects, allowing you to spend your time
working rather than looking for work. Implementing some of the
tips below will help you keep a regular stream of work coming
your way.
1. Meet every deadline. If you can't consistently meet deadlines,
you're not well-suited to being a freelance translator.
Remember that your clients have deadlines too, and are
sometimes waiting for your work as part of a larger project.
As one experienced translator comments, "8:00 means 7:50,
not 8:10."
2. Be easy to reach. Put your contact information in your email
signature file, so that a client never has to look up your
phone or fax number. Realize that many times, if clients
cannot reach you immediately, they will contact another
translator. Since over 90% of contacts from clients will be by
e-mail, put an auto-responder on your e-mail if you will be
out of the office for even a few hours.
3. Follow directions. While it can be time-consuming to follow
many different clients' particular ways of doing things,
you will save the client time and money, and thus get more
work from them, by following their instructions to the letter.
If the client asks you to put your initials in the file name, do
it. If the client asks you to put the word "Invoice" in the
subject line of the e-mail containing your invoice, do it.
4. Don't waste your clients' time. It's acceptable, and even
encouraged to ask questions when you need to clarify something.
However, it's also important to show respect for your
clients' time, and for the fact that yours is probably not the
only project they are handling. Keep your e-mails short
and to the point, and make your questions clear and easy to
5. Provide referrals. Many translators worry that providing
referrals to other translators in the same language combination
will lead to less work for themselves, but in fact the
opposite seems to be true. Clients like to work with freelancers
who solve the clients' problems, and when you're
too busy and can't handle their work or are going on vacation,
it's a problem for them. Have the names of two or
three translators in your language combination who you
really trust, and provide these names to your clients when
you aren't available for work.
6. Be easy to work with. This isn't to say that you should
be a pushover or let clients take advantage of you, but for
your regular clients, it's worth putting in some extra effort.
Thank them for giving you their business; be friendly and
polite if a payment is unexpectedly late; fill in for them in a
pinch when another translator lets them down.
7. Ask for constructive criticism. It's important to see feedback
as part of your quality assurance process, not as an
attack on your abilities as a translator. If a client asks for
changes in your translation, make them politely and immediately;
if you decide later that the changes are unnecessary
and you don't want to work for the client again, it's another
matter. With your regular and trusted clients, periodically
ask what you can do to better meet their needs, then implement
these changes.
8. Appreciate your clients. Your regular clients are the people
who make it possible for you to earn a healthy income while
living a flexible and self-directed freelance lifestyle. A small
gift at the end of the year is always appreciated when a
client has given you regular work.
9. Don't bicker. If a prospective client offers you a project at a
ridiculously low rate, politely decline it, possibly sending
them a copy of your standard rate sheet if you have one.
Don't insult them for offering such low pay or make negative
comments about their business; just courteously decline
to work for them and let them move on to someone else.
10. Charge what you're worth, and earn it. There will always
be another translator out there who is willing to work for
one cent per word less than you are, so don't compete on
price alone. Giving your clients a little more effort than
necessary proves to them that often, they get the level of
service they pay for.
U.S. Government agencies employing
translators and interpreters
Central Intelligence Agency
The CIA http : / /cia . gov offers a number of opportunities
such as Foreign Language Instructor, Language Specialist, Foreign
Media Analyst and National Clandestine Service Language
Officer. Requirements and salaries vary, but most positions are
full-time and the largest number of opportunities is in the Washington,
DC area. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and willing to
complete a medical and psychological exam, polygraph interview
and background investigation.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The FBI http : / / fbi . gov offers salaried Language Analyst positions
as well as full-time or part-time Contract Linguist positions.
Positions are located at the FBI's Washington, DC headquarters
or at regional Field Offices. Applicants must be U.S. citizens
and willing to complete a polygraph interview and background
check. Language Analyst applicants must be willing to travel on
temporary assignments for 30 days at a time.
State Department Office of Language Services
The State Department ht tp : / /state . gov employs staff translators
and interpreters and maintains a roster of freelance translators
and interpreters. Application is by competitive examination;
interpreter candidates must be willing to travel internationally
for at least three weeks at a time.
National Security Agency
The NSA http : //www. nsa gov is especially interested in hiring
Language Analysts for Asian and Middle Eastern languages,
but employs translators and interpreters in a variety of languages.
The NSA also administers the Language Enhancement Program,
which re-trains French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian or
Spanish linguists to work in Asian and Middle Eastern languages.
Associations for translators and interpreters
American Translators Association
The ATA http : //atanet . org is the largest association of translators
and interpreters in the U.S.; offers its own translator certification
exam to members, publishes the monthly ATA Chronicle,
and organizes a wide range of professional development activities
including an annual conference. The ATA website also lists
numerous local ATA chapters.
National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and
NAJIT http : //najit . org is a professional association for court
interpreters and legal translators. Publishes a quarterly journal,
Proteus, and organizes an annual conference. Website includes
helpful information about the court interpreting profession.
Translators and Interpreters Guild
TTIG http : / / t t i g . org is the only nationwide labor union of
translators and interpreters. Offers a translator and interpreter
referral service as well as other membership benefits in cooperation
with the Newspaper Guild–Communications Workers of
American Literary Translators Association
The American Literary Translators Association http://
lit erarytranslators . org is a professional association for
translators of literature in all languages. Publishes a newsletter
and the Translation Review, website also includes a list of
university-level literary translation programs.
International Association of Conference Interpreters
Membership in the AIIC http: //aiic . net is open only to experienced
conference interpreters who are sponsored by current
AIIC members. However, website includes helpful information
for those who would like to pursue conference interpreting opportunities.
Selected training programs and home study
courses for translators and interpreters
In general, translator and interpreter training programs are not
language courses, and applicants are expected to have a high,
degree of fluency in English and at least one other language before
applying. Most colleges and universities and even some
community colleges and adult continuing education programs
offer foreign language skill development courses. For a list of
translation degree and certificate programs that are approved
by the American Translators Association to fulfill its education
and experience requirement for translator certification candidates,
visit the Certification section of For more information
on translator and interpreter training programs, see the publication
Park's Guide to Translating and Interpreting Programs in North
America, published by the American Translators Association.
Monterey Institute for International Studies
Located in Monterey, California, Monterey Institute http: //
miis . edu offers graduate programs through its Fisher Graduate
School of International Business, Graduate School of International
Policy Studies, Graduate School of Language and Educational
Studies, and Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation,
as well as intensive language courses. As of this writing, candidates
for the two-year M.A. degree in Translation, Translation and
Interpretation, or Conference Interpretation must have fluency in
English and at least one of: Chinese, French, German, Japanese,
Korean, Russian or Spanish.
Kent State University Institute for Applied Linguistics
Located in Kent, Ohio, the Institute for Applied Linguistics http:
//appling.kent .edu offers undergraduate and graduate translation
degrees; a B.S. in Translation and an M.A. in Translation.
Current language combinations offered by the program include
English paired with French, German, Japanese, Russian or Spanish.
University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for
Interpretation—Translation Studies
The CITS http: //cits .hawaii .edu does not offer a degree
program, but conducts a summer certificate program for translators
and interpreters who work in English paired with Japanese,
Mandarin Chinese or Korean. During the school year, the CITS
offers a General Skills Training program for translators and interpreters.
Logos free online translation theory and practice
Logos http: //logos . it, which is also a language services
provider, offers two free self-paced translation courses on its website.
One course covers general translation theory and practice,
and one course covers literary translation. Although the courses
do not provide any practice exercises or feedback, they are excellent
starting points for beginning translators.
Bellevue Community College
Located in Bellevue, Washington, BCC http: //bcc . ctc .edu
offers the only translation and interpretation certificate programs
in the Pacific Northwest. Language combinations depend on
student demand, and students can take courses toward either a
certificate program, or for continuing education.
Brigham Young University
Located in Provo, Utah, BYU offers a B.A.
degree in Spanish Translation.
Rutgers University Department of Spanish and
Located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University http:
//span-port . rutgers . edu offers a Certificate of Proficiency
in Spanish—English and English—Spanish translation, which
may be taken on its own or in combination with an M.A degree
in Spanish.
Southern California School of Interpretation
With campuses throughout California and Nevada, Southern California
School of Interpretation http: / /interpreting . com
specializes in short (4-11 week) courses to prepare students to
take State and Federal interpreter certification exams.
ACEBO interpreter training products
ACEBO http: //acebo . com offers the popular home study
course The Interpreter's Edge, which helps court interpreters prepare
for certification exams. The tape set is currently available in
a generic (non-language specific) version, or for English paired
with Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Polish,
Russian, Japanese, Portuguese or Arabic.
Florida International University
Located in Miami, Florida, Florida International University offers a certificate
in Spanish<-->English translation studies and a certificate in
Spanish -English legal translation and court interpreting.
Binghamton University Translation Research and
Instruction Program
Located in Binghamton, New York, this campus of the State University
of New York http : //trip . binghamton . edu offers a
certificate in translation, an M.A. in comparative literature with
a concentration in literary translation, and a Ph.D. in translation
The Graduate School of the College of Charleston
Located in Charleston, South Carolina, the Bilingual Legal Interpreting
Program http: / / co f c .edu (not offered during the
2006-2007 school year) offers both a Master's degree and a certificate
program in Spanish English bilingual legal interpreting.
American University
American University, located in Washington,
DC, offers certificate programs in French, Russian and
Spanish translation.
New York University School of Continuing and
Professional Studies
With both on-site (New York, New York) and online courses, NYU
http: scps . nyu . edu offers a certificate in Arabic, French,
German, Spanish or Portuguese translation, paired with English.
Courses that are offered online only include German-English,
English-->Portuguese and Arabic-->English.
The National Center for Interpretation at the University
of Arizona
Located in Tucson, Arizona, NCI http: //
offers training for Spanish court and medical interpreters, and
through its Agnese Haury Institute for Court Interpretation, offers
a three-week intensive Spanish —English court interpreter
training program every summer.
University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
UWM http: // offers both an M.A. and a graduate
certificate in French, German and Spanish translation.
The University of Geneva School of Translation and
Known worldwide for training high-level translators and conference
interpreters, the ETI http: // (School of
Translation and Interpreting), located in Geneva, Switzerland,
offers programs in German, English, Arabic, Spanish, French, Italian
and Russian translation at the undergraduate, graduate and
certificate levels.
Middlebury College Language School
In business for nearly 100 years, the Middlebury College Language
School, located
in Middlebury, Vermont, is not specifically geared toward
translation, but offers intensive summer classes in Arabic, Chinese,
French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and
Spanish. Students must commit to speaking only their target language
for the duration of the program, and the Language School
also offers graduate programs overseas.
American Translators
CAT tool
certified translator
cleaned file
Known by its initials, ATA, the largest organization
for translators and interpreters in the
United States.
The process of pairing source and target documents
to create a database of bilingual sentence
A translation of a translation, translating the
target text back into the source language.
In the translation industry, a term often used
for a person who is a native speaker of two languages.
Computer-assisted translation tool; a piece of
software that helps a human translator work
faster and more consistently be recycling previously
translated material. Also referred to as a
translation memory tool or translation environment
Normally, a translator who has passed the
American Translators Association certification
exam, although this designation is sometimes
used for various other credentials, such as having
completed a translation certificate program.
A file containing only the target language text,
with the source text and translation memory
program codes removed.
computer-assisted Often referred to as CAT tools, this software,
translation tool under ideal circumstances, helps a human translator
work faster and more consistently by recycling
text that has already been translated
and suggesting possible matches with text to be
dominant language
heritage speaker
The language in which a person is most comfortable
speaking or writing. This may be the
person's native language, or, in the case of a
person educated primarily in a country where
his/her native language is not spoken, may be
different from the native language.
End of month, often used in combination with
payment terms such as 30 days EOM, meaning
that the translator will be paid within 30
days from the end of the month in which an
invoice is issued.
French, Italian, German and Spanish, the most
commonly translated languages in the United
In the U.S., a person who learned a non-English
language by being exposed to it at home.
A person who has a high degree of knowledge
in two or more languages and changes spoken
words from one language to another.
A statement from a translator to the translation
client or translation agency, listing the services
the translator performed and the amount that
is owed for the services
language pair The two languages in which a translator works.
literary translator A translator who works with novels, stories,
poems or plays.
Net 30
native language
localization The process of adapting a product, piece of software
or text document for use in another target
market. This may involve translation, converting
units of measurement, adapting graphics
and other processes.
machine translation Translation done by a computer.
The most common payment terms in the U.S.,
meaning that the translator will be paid within
30 days of an invoice being issued.
A person's first language, which may also be
the person's dominant language, or, in the case
of a person educated in a country where their
native language is not spoken, may be different
from the dominant language.
non-compete An agreement stating that a translator will not
agreement seek business from a translation agency's clients
for a certain period of time.
non-disclosure Often referred to as an NDA, an agreement
agreement stating that a translator will keep certain pieces
of information confidential.
passive bilingual A person who has excellent comprehension of
a language, but speaks or writes the language
poorly. Many heritage speakers are passively
per-word rate The amount of money that a translator is paid
for each word translated.
project manager A person who coordinates the administrative
aspects of a translation or localization project.
register The level of formality or informality in a piece
of writing or speech. A translated document
should be written in the same register as the
source document.
source language The language from which a translation is done.
source text The text from which a translation is done.
specialization A subject area in which a translator has indepth
knowledge; for example a former accountant
might specialize in financial translation.
TMX Translation Memory eXchange, an open standard
for the exchange of translation memories.
target language The language into which a translation is done.
technical translator A translator who works with scientific, computer
or engineering materials. Sometimes used
to mean a non-literary translator, regardless of
the translator's specializations.
terms of service The conditions under which a translator or
translation agency will provide services.
translation agency A company serving as an intermediary between
a translation client and a translator, often
adding services such as project management,
proofreading, and desktop publishing.
translation memory Often used interchangeably with computertool
assisted translation tool, a TM tool creates a
database of previously translated text that can
be used again.
translation unit
The "chunks" or segments into which a translation
memory program or CAT tool breaks a
source document; normally a translation unit
is one sentence.
A person who has a high degree of knowledge
in two or more languages, and changes written
documents from one language to another.
Unicode A standard system for the electronic representation
of characters and symbols from all languages.
uncleaned file A file containing the source and target translation
units, along with the tags inserted by the
translation memory program.
word count The total number of words in a document,
which may be based on either the source or target
text, and may be calculated using a variety
of methods.
XLIFF eXtensible Localization Interchange File Format,
an open standard for the exchange of localisation
ABA code, 101
localization, 26
translation, 28, 136
AIIC, 32, 36, 127
alignment, 81, 133
ALTA, 35, 127
American Literary Translators Association,
35, 127
American Translators Association,
9, 10, 20, 34, 38, 52, 108,
126, 133
arbitration, 108
joining, 55
ATA, 34
back-translation, 133
billable hours, 89
bonding, 94
C-corporation, 114
cash flow, 109
Central Intelligence Agency, 26, 125
certification, 36, 38, 39, 41
certified translator, 133
cleaned file, 81, 133
clients, 30, 51
finding, 51
potential, 99
code points, 78
cold-contacting, 58
collections, 106
computer system
choosing, 85
contracts, 87
cover letter, 50
direct clients, 28, 30
dispute resolution, 108
dunning letters, 106, 108
sample, 106, 107
E&O insurance, 93
office, 71
Federal Bureau of Investigation, 26,
Federation Internationale des Traducteurs,
FIGS, 17
government jobs for translators, 125
home office, 22, 24, 63, 64, 66, 69-72,
75, 116
billable, 89
incorporating, 112
errors and omissions, 97
errors and omissions (E&O),
International Association of Conference
Interpreters, 32, 36,
International Telework Association
and Council, 11
interpreter, 134
interpreting, 31
invoice, 103, 104, 112, 134
sample, 103
language pair, 134
languages of smaller diffusion, 19
limiting, 113
Limited Liability Corporation, 114,
Linux, 85
literary translator, 26, 134
localization, 26, 27, 135
software, 27
Mac OS X, 85
machine translation, 135
marketing, 61
minimum charge, 33, 92
NAJIT, 35, 126
choosing, 46
National Association of Judiciary
Interpreters and Translators,
35, 126
National Security Agency, 26, 126
NDA (non-disclosure agreement),
94, 135
networking, 54, 58
non-compete agreement, 93, 135
non-disclosure agreement (NDA),
94, 135
non-payment, 104-106
office equipment, 71
business, 73
working, 67
part-time, 59
payment terms, 29, 101
maximizing, 65
professional associations, 34
project manager, 135
résumé, 43-45, 49
Asian, 46
European, 45
United States, 45
Rat Race Rebellion, The, 11
rate sheet, 91
rates, 33, 87, 120
raising, 120
referrals, 57
routing number, 101
rush charge, 33, 91
S-corporation, 114
segmenting, 80
self-employment tax, 115, 116
machine translation (MT), 80
OCR, 80
speech recognition, 79
translation memory (TM, CAT),
software localization, 27
Sole Proprietor, 115
source language, 17, 18, 20, 21, 46,
81, 117, 136
State Department Office of Language
Services, 125
summary of qualifications, 47
swift code, 101
target language, 17, 19, 27, 30, 33,
44, 45, 81, 136
taxes, 112
technical translator, 136
terms of service, 87, 95, 136
testimonials, 57
TMX, 82, 136
training programs, 127
translation agencies, 28
translation memory discount, 92
translation memory software, 80
Translators and Interpreters Guild,
35, 126
umbrella companies, 112
uncleaned file, 81, 137
Unicode, 78, 137
virtual work, 11
volume discount, 33, 91
wire transfer, 47, 101
work for hire, 92
XLIFF, 82, 137
About the author
Corinne McKay is an American Translators Association-certified
French to English translator specializing in legal, financial and
marketing translations. After earning a B.A. and an M.A. in
French and teaching high school French for eight years, she
launched her home-based translation business and has never
looked back! Based on her own experiences as a freelance translator,
Corinne developed and teaches the popular online course
Getting Started as a Freelance Translator, and has been selected as a
presenter for the annual conference of the American Translators
Association. She is a frequent contributor to translation industry
publications, speaker for groups of aspiring translators and edits
the e-newsletter Open Source Update, for translators interested in
free and open source software. She lives in the foothills of the
Rocky Mountains with her husband and daughter. Corinne can
be contacted at
This book was produced entirely with free/open source software
running on Debian Gnu/Linux. The text was written in Writer and typeset with LyX using the KOMAScript
book class in the Palatino font. The cover was produced
with Scribus and GIMP. The cover graphic is from an Illuminated
Manuscript of the Arthurian Mythos from the Beinecke Rare Book
and Manuscript Library, Yale University. The two panels portray
King Henry requesting Walter Map to translate the Death of
Arthur, and Arthur and his knights setting out for Winchester.
To order additional copies of How to Succeed as a Freelance
Translator, visit http: //www.
translatewrite .com.
For volume purchasing inquiries or to contact Corinne
McKay about a media or speaking engagement, e-mail
books@translatewrite . com or call 303-499-9622.
Hungry for more? Corinne McKay's online course Getting
Started as a Freelance Translator builds on the concepts in
this book and gives you six weeks of personalized coaching
on starting your own home-based translation business.
For more information or to register for the next session,
visit http: / /www . translatewrite .