Greater than 7 minutes, my friend!
This post is dedicated to all those who are starting out as freelance translators/interpreters or looking for inspiration.
Actually, I’m a newbie myself. I started freelancing full-time about one year ago. Still, I already met so many inspiring people and gathered so many ideas during this time, that it would be a pity not to share them with you.
I’m really grateful to Dmitry, the initiator of this project, whose passion and enthusiasm I profoundly admire, for giving us all the opportunity to share our thoughts in this uncomplicated way.
I don’t really believe in one-size-fits-all solutions, so I won’t tell you what you definitely should do or do not. I just want to share a few ideas that worked out for me so far and a few lessons I’ve learned throughout this first year.
1) Freelancing: How FREE are you really?
Let’s start with some good news: FREE-lancing is great! As a FREE-lancer You’re FREE to…
– work in your pajamas
– get up anytime from your desk to make some coffee or practice your favourite yoga position
– work from your bed or sofa
– refuse jobs or clients if you feel uncomfortable with them
– decide when, where and how to work
On the other hand, this means you have to be self-disciplined and well-organized, if you want to get some work done.
Find out what your most productive hours are. For me it turned out to be 6.30 to 9.30 a.m., before I start getting any phone calls, e-mails or social media notifications. Many of you might prefer to work late at night. Try to schedule tasks that require more concentration (translation, creative writing etc.) in your most productive hours.
Even though you are FREE to leave your office anytime you should make sure that phone calls and e-mails from clients reach you. At least, if you want to get paid jobs and be perceived as a professional.
One day, just a few weeks after I started freelancing and moved to Aachen, I got out to register at the local Town Hall, which took longer than expected. Unfortunately, I forgot my phone at home. When I came back 2 hours later and checked my e-mails I found an enquiry for a well-paid big translation project in my field of specialization. I called the contact person, just to find out that the job had been outsourced to another freelancer 1 hour before. I felt stupid for missing the first job enquiry that I had received in weeks.
2) Developing your USP
The first time I read about Unique Selling Points I was quite confused. How am I supposed to be different from my competitors? I offer translations into Italian, specialize in Legal and Marketing like hundreds, thousands of other professionals. And I’m less experienced than most of them. Why should buyers want to chose me?
I have to guiltily admit that after a year I’m still not able to express my USP(s) in a few compelling sentences (working on it).
But asking colleagues and clients for feedbacks about me and my services helped me gain a better idea of what makes me unique and a preferred supplier to some of them. Just to name a few:
– I always try to schedule translation projects so that I can deliver half a day before deadline. Not all competitors do. Outsourcers just love it.
– I am friendly and open in communication with others; if I have a question I don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask POLITELY
– I offer Search Engine Optimized translations
– I’m one of the few translators in my region who offers the combination English > Italian.
I’m sure you can come up with at least as many USP(s) for yourself.
3) The importance of charging fair prices right from the start
Of course you should calculate your desired income before you set your rates. At the end of the day you should earn enough to cover all your business and your living costs and put some money aside to make a living out of it. That’s what we learn at price calculation webinars and that’s completely right.
But hey, I’m ok living in a 30 square meter flat. And travel mainly by bike. I eat meat just once a month. I have a very low cost standard of living. Can I now please lower my rates, so that I can get enough jobs to make ends meet? What the hell, I’ve just started out! I promise, I will increase my rates as soon as I get more jobs…
That’s what I thought at the beginning.
Fortunately I found out soon enough that you’d better charge fair, market oriented prices right from the start, no matter how high your costs of living are. I can think at least of 2 reasons:
1) It’s quite hard to increase your rates afterwards
2) Working for peanuts will earn you a bad reputation among established colleagues as you “damage the market”.
So, go ahead with your calculation, but don’t forget to check market prices for translations in your language pair(s), field(s) of specialization and country.
Ok, but where can I find information about market prices?
1) Look for information on collected and made available by professional associations (I think you should join at least one, but that’s just my personal opinion).
Ask who? You need to ask someone you trust. Translators platforms and forums are a great thing, but… (once again, my personally opinion) I’ve always preferred to ask someone I know personally, who knows who I am and what my goals are. Someone who’s sincerely determined to help me succeed and not afraid competition. Do you feel the same?
Then you need to find a good Mentor. Some professional association offer mentoring programs matching, mentors with mentees that specialize in the same language pair(s) and live in the same area. I promise I will write more about my mentor in one of my next posts.
4) Looking for jobs and clients
Now that you’ve set your rates, you can start translating/interpreting. Just one thing missing: Clients. People willing to buy your services.
When I started out, I thought the world of translation buyers was divided between two major categories: high paying but demanding direct clients and low paying, unreliable translation agencies.
So I followed a bunch of CPDs about marketing your service to end-clients and I’m still trying to put into practice all the ideas I gathered. But guess what? I found out it’s pretty hard to market your services to direct clients. If they don’t have experience working with PROFESSIONAL translators they might find your rates ridiculously high and in the beginning you might not feel confident enough to carry out a negotiation successfully.
Of course I was able to get some good end-client assignments in this first years, but I got a lot of disappointment too.
So what shall we do, to make my end meets, while we gather the skills required to deal with our dream end clients? Are low paying translation, unreliable translation agencies the only option? Well the truth is…
1) Not all agencies are low-paying and unreliable. There are fine ones, especially the small owner-managed agencies, which not necessarily compete on price. You might find a bunch of them on the ProZ Blue Boards
2) There are some fantastic creatures out there called OUTSOURCING COLLEAGUES: They pay better than agencies and might send you jobs on a regular basis, if one of their biggest clients decides they want to have all their copy translated into your target language from now on.
But where can I meet colleagues who believe in me and are happy to work with me?
I might tell you about translators platforms like ProZ.com, social media groups and forums.
But since I definitely prefer offline, face-to-face communication I’d rather encourage you to join translators gatherings, CPD, translators conferences (believe me, you’ll have the time of your life at these events!), local translator meetings or become active in one or more professional associations.
And… how am I supposed to pay for this? Translation conferences are expensive…
Well it’s really up to you, but I’m afraid all solopreneurs need to make some investments at the beginning of their career.. I personally prefer to save money in my personal life, whereas I’m not that tight-fisted when it comes to my professional development.
I buy my clothes second hand or in sale
I go out for dinner ehm… like once every 4-6 weeks? (But when I do it’s something special and I really enjoy it); luckily, I love to cook too 😉
I DO live in a 30 square meter flat
But hey, no one touches my CPDs, Powwows and translators conferences!
Let me share one last word of wisdom with you:
5) Give before you take
This is a mindset and an attitude you should take right from the start, if you want to be successful. Just a few ideas of what you can do:
– share useful information with your client and/or colleagues on your blog and/or social media profiles
– become active in a local business network or in a professional association
– recommend colleagues for translation/interpreting jobs you cannot accept
– give a speech at a translator conference (how scary! I’m a … beginner, what should I talk about? Well.. Maybe the project of your last internship or the topic of your Master Thesis, your favourite social media platform, your field of specialization.. be creative!)
Then publish a post here on The Open Mic. Tell a story about YOURSELF and share what you’ve learnt so far. That’s how we want to grow stronger together and #ShapeUpTheFuture of our profession.