Freelancing: a way of life

  By: Sofiane Madani

Becoming a successful freelance translator is a long and difficult journey. This journey starts with a rigorous language training program, the translator should at the end of this training have all the proficiency and necessary skills to translate texts from the simple to the most complex ones from a foreign language to his native or work language. To acquire these competences, the candidate to this career not only needs to improve their language skills, but has to receive training courses in translation techniques too. This will help the translator to deal with different type of texts: general, specialized or technical.

Many schools at diverse universities in the world offer various programs for future translators. In general, a bachelor degree is sufficient to start a career in translation. However, not all professional translators followed an academic training in translation; some of them are professionals who came from other fields. They might be specialized in some field, but should be at least bilingual, and this is enough to make this career move. This move toward a new career does not happen as smoothly as we can imagine, it takes time to learn all the tricks and gain the necessary confidence to become a professional translator. These professionals who want to become translators need to learn the basics about the translation process, translatology and the computer tools used in translation.

The translation industry is moving toward an independent contractor model. Companies and translation agencies are no more interested in costly in-house translators and need to make maximum profits by negotiating good deals for translation services without paying any extra social benefits. Still, these agencies and companies also want to keep experienced in-house translators with high level skills. One has to think twice about starting out as a freelancer, because one may remain self-employed the whole of his career. The translator who is tempted by this career must weigh the pros and cons and be realistic, having a great degree of control over where, when and how much you work comes with a price: losing the employment security, benefits, paid time off and your pension. In general, freelance translators work from home and do not need to rent any office, but the translator must be disciplined and organize their work environment in a way they can translate in a quiet and cozy room. The work is done on a computer using a word processing program and possibly a computer-assisted translation tool. The translator also needs to use reference materials, online terminology databases and corpora. Using the Internet is a must for modern translators: this resource has become the most important tool for any search operation. The translators should also make sure everyone can reach them for business through the usual means of communication: emails and phone calls.

Freelance translators may work for translation agencies or direct clients. They set their rates according to their experience, specialization and of course demand. They are paid two to six weeks after the translation delivery. In the uncertain world of freelance translation, the translators are always looking for new opportunities and new clients. But most importantly, the freelance translators do their best to keep their clients happy and not to lose them, and for that they need sometimes to give up a bit of their freedom and work on tight deadlines and when a client asks them to even if the time is not appropriate and this would disrupt their weekend projects. Business development and management are at the heart of their activities, and preparing a good resume and an efficient cover letter is an essential first step. Promoting the business by building a Web site would help a lot. Being a member in translation associations and translator portals such as Proz and Translators Cafe will certainly contribute to growing business.

The freelance translators should be aware that they are responsible for their accounting and administration duties and must be organized to ensure maximum productivity.

Running one's own business means running one's cash flow, sometimes the payments are late and you need to be ready for all your regular and daily expenses. When freelance translation is the only source of income, translators must have a cash cushion to avoid problems in case a check does not arrive as planned.

Starting a freelance translation business is not only a question of language skills and business planning, it is about being ready for a new way of life too.

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