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How to Become a Successful Freelance Translator

Learn how to make money as a freelance translator.

Do you want to make money from home? Are you passionate about languages and speak at least two of them fluently?

Maybe you should consider becoming a freelance translator.

Translating jobs are approriate side hustles for students or 9-to-5 workers. Once you have built your reputation, it is also possible to work full time and earn a decent living.

And guess what? A lot of companies hire freelancers to translate blog posts, legal documents, user guides ect. This is your opportunity to make money as a freelance translator.

With the help of this article, you will learn the basic translation skills, how to grow your client base and get the most out of your translations.

The topics covered are:

Let’s dive in.

Before your start

Here is the deal: starting a translation career may or may not be a good fit for you.

I want to help you make an informed decision. This is why I have gathered some basic information about translation jobs: pros and cons, salary, skills and qualifications required.

Pros and cons of being a freelance translator

The main advantages are:

  • Flexibility – you can work whenever you want and wherever you want.
  • The freedom of working at your own pace.
  • You are paid according to your skills.
  • This job has a good growth potential – experienced translators make a lot of money.

There are also some disadvantages to consider:

  • Translation takes time, effort and skills.
  • The competition is tough; it is difficult to stand out.
  • It can be inconsistent – you have to hustle every day to find translating jobs.
  • You work alone – you can sometimes feel isolated from the world as you do not interact with anyone.
  • Incomes are fluky – sometimes you get a decent salary, sometimes not.

How much do freelance translators make?

Depending on the job, a translator can either earn a petty amount or a very high price.

According to ZipRecruiter, the average wage of translators is $30 an hour. However, there is a big discrepancy between starting level earnings ($7 per hour) and top-level earnings ($60 per hour).

The income in translation depends on many factors. The most influential factor is the source and target languages. According to the American Translators Association (ATA), the highest paying language pairs are:

  • English to Arabic ($0.19 per word)
  • English to Chinese
  • Chinese to English
  • English to Japanese
  • English to Danish

And the language combinations commanding the lowest rates are:

  • English to Italian ($0.12 per word)
  • English to Portuguese

The type of translation services requested (medical, legal, technical, financial or business) is another important factor.

Basic skills every translator should master

The skill you should master to become a skilled translator.

Just because you speak another language, doesn’t mean you can succeed as a freelance translator.

You need training, experience, and familiarity with the subject you are translating. And that’s not all, you also need to master the basic skills:

  • Excellent reading and comprehension skills in your source language.
  • Excellent grammar and good writing skills in your native language.
  • Cultural knowledge in both target and source language.
  • Decent typing speed.
  • Computer literacy – most translators these days work with a computer-aided translation tool.

What qualifications do you need to be a freelance translator?

No degree or certification is required to become a freelance translator.

A bulky portfolio and good references are much more valuable than a degree when it comes to land a translating job.

However, if you are certified, you are more likely to land high-paying jobs. It gives you an edge when applying for translating jobs that involve medical, legal, technical, financial or business matters.

Improve your translation skills

Now that you have decided to become a freelance translator, you need to make sure that your level is sufficient.

Asking an experienced translator to mark your work is a good way to evaluate your level.

In case your level is insufficient, here are the best ways to improve your translation skills:

  • Read newspapers, journals and list to radio in your target language.
  • Consider taking translating courses to improve your writing style.
  • Collaborate with experienced translators and learn the ins and outs of the job.
  • Spend some time talking to native speakers of your target language.

You can also improve your translation speed and quality by using CAT tools. These amazing tools check your spelling, grammar and ensure a consistent terminology throughout a project is especially important in legal and technical translation. The most popular CAT tools are Linguee, SDL Trados, Fluency Now and MemoQ,

Find translating jobs

Now that you are a decent translator, it’s time to find your first job. And believe me, it can be hard to get the ball rolling!

When you have no professional experience, employers are often reluctant to give you a translation project. Here are some ways to get around this problem:

  • Apply for your first jobs on generic freelancing websites like fiverr and upwork (there are more freelance websites below).
  • Consider volunteering, some charities and non-profit organizations are searching for translators. This is a great way to get hands-on experience.
  • Translate books and other mock documents to showcase your skills.

Best websites to find freelance translation jobs

I recommend the following websites for experienced translators:

  • Gengo – the most popular online translation agency.
  • Smartcat.ai – this platforms provides a free CAT tool and job marketplace.
  • Smartling – translate the words on websites, mobile apps and other tech products.
  • OneHourTranslation – an established translation agency.

If you are a beginner, I recommend you build your portfolio on generic websites like:

  • Fiverr – it is the world’s largest freelance services marketplace.
  • PeoplePerHour – small businesses turn to PeoplePerHour and post jobs they need completed, freelancers can then bid on the jobs posted.
  • Upwork – a platform that connects top companies to talented freelance workers.
  • Flexjobs – for about $15 a month, you get access to a list of remote jobs.
  • TopTal – through a rigorous screening process, TopTal identifies the best freelancers and connects them to potential employers.

Applying for translation projects

In order to make your translator profile stand out, you need to craft a powerful pitch.

Here are the most important things to mention when applying for a translation project:

  • Include your portfolio, it is the only way to differentiate yourself from awful translators.
  • If you have some experience, do not forget to list your references in your job application.
  • Personalize your CV to the translation project.
  • Keep your application brief and concise.

Over-deliver for your first clients

It is critical to cherish your first clients.

Why? Simply because if you do a good job the first time, your client is more likely to hire you a second time. You might even be able to convert your relationship into a regular, recurring revenue stream.

Over-delivering for one client doesn’t just impact the amount of translation work you receive from that one client, it also helps you build a strong portfolio that will impress your future employers.

Become a contractor for translation agencies

Another way to find jobs is to work as a contractor for translation agencies, aka LSPs. LSPs usually offer integrated services that include consulting, editing and other linguistic services.

To get a job, all you have to do is find a translation agency in your area, send your CV and pass your test assignment.

Make more money as a freelance translator

Now that you have work coming in from a few clients or translation agencies, it is time to increase your revenue.

Pick a niche

Specializing is the best way to land better-paying jobs.

Here is a list of sectors that actively hire experienced translators:

  • Technical translations of owner’s manuals, user guides, etc.
  • Video games
  • Websites – you can also specialize in a topic: travel, finance, fashion ect.
  • Mobile apps
  • Localization – adapt a product’s translation to a specific country or region.
  • Transcreation – your translation should carry the same emotions and the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language.
  • Legal translations (ignore this one unless you are a lawyer)
  • E-commerce websites
  • Copywriting

Note that the lengths of project is usually linked to the niche. For example, translating a user guide takes more time than translating a blog post. Take it into consideration before choosing your niche.

Build you network

A critical part of learning how to become a freelance translator includes learning how to work with people and meet new clients.

Here’s why: knowing the right people can help you advance in your career. They might refer you to companies that outsource their translation.

Not to mention another benefit of building a network; it makes translating far less lonely.

Final words

Here’s a short recap of how you can start your career as a freelance translator:

  1. Improve your translation skills.
  2. Land your first translation job.
  3. Build your reputation.
  4. Build a portfolio to showcase your skills.
  5. Make more money by picking a niche.

As a former college student, I know how hard it can be to find decent part-time jobs. This is why I want to share my knowledge and help whoever might need it.