Boss Lady

How to start a freelance translator business


If you are looking into a freelance startup, you are by no means alone. There has been a steady and strong growth in the freelance industry in recent years, with more and more people turning to freelancing for all of the personal lifestyle benefits it offers. And in a recent Freelance Industry Report, 90% of freelancers say they are happier in this work style than they were as employees.

The huge increase in the number of people working from home recently has caused many to re-evaluate their employment status. For many workers, the idea of freelancing is a lot more attractive than returning to the office, so they are focusing on how they can turn their skills into profitable freelance careers. Take someone who speaks two languages, for example. Right now, a bit of research into how to make money as a translator, from how to diversify your client base to why it’s so important to keep up with customer trends, could lay the foundations for a viable solo career. The future of freelancing offers so much more control over one’s own destiny than working for an employer. We’ve moved into a new era in terms of how people view their work/life balance and for many people, a career in (for example) freelance translation offers the safety and flexibility that an office-based job no longer can.

Fortunately, translation is a type of work that lends itself to freelancing, because there is such a variety of work opportunities in so many sectors. If you plan and work consistently at building your business in the right way, there is a good chance that you will be successful. There are many reputable translation services. You will need to pass a rigorous application process but, once accepted, you will have work. This will build your expertise, can be added to your digital “resume,” and, best of all, build your confidence.

Here is a step-by-step guide that should help you on your way.

1. Identify your specialty

Specialty does not just mean the language(s) of expertise. You should choose the types of translations on which you want to focus. Some of them require some field education/training and certification. For example, it would not be wise to promote yourself as a translator of complex legal documents, if you are unfamiliar with the law and legal terminology of both the country of the source document and the target country’s language. On the other hand, most translators choose basic translation plus a few specialty areas. Any training you have had in specialty fields should allow you to select those fields.

A lot of translators focus on one area of specialty at first and, as they build their businesses, get additional training in order to increase their repertoire.

2. Create a personal brand

You are a product, so you have to start thinking like one. What makes you unique, expert, valuable, etc. to potential clients? You need to actually write these things down. Here are the elements of your personal brand that are important:

  • Your Credentials: What experience have you had; what work speaks to the quality you produce? Have you completed projects for clients and can you gather testimonials from them?
  • Digital and Media Items: Do you have items for a portfolio; do you have a great headshot; have you participated in any podcasts or created any videos about translation? Have you written any posts or articles that have been published by others?
  • A Website: Yes, you need one, because here is where you will place all of the things mentioned above, and more. You will need a great bio, a page for each type of translation service you offer, and certainly the process by which clients contact you and contract with you.
  • Blog: If you don’t have a blog, then you need to begin one immediately. Create some engaging articles about translation and other things related to translation activity, clients, cultures of your source and target languages, interesting or humorous stories about translation – content that others will find interesting, entertaining, or even inspirational. If you are not a compelling and creative writer, get some professional help with these posts. It’s important.

Now, take a look at the list and either create or gather this stuff together. All of it will go someplace digitally. Don’t launch your business until all of this is in place.

3. Gathering a portfolio and testimonials

This may be tough if you have not done much translation work yet. You may even have to do a bit of pro bono work to get items for your portfolio and to gather testimonials about your work. This may be better than taking on low-paying, low-quality jobs. This puts you in a category of “bargain basement” work, and you really want higher end gigs and clients.

4. Create your digital presence

This means that you will create a great website (get help if necessary), have several posts for your blog, and get yourself on a couple of social media platforms. LinkedIn is really a given, because you can join groups of your target audience; you can write posts; and you can network and promote your services. Choose one other, probably Facebook or Twitter, but do not spread yourself all over the place. Once you get on a social platform, you have to maintain it with regular posting, and that takes time.

5. Apply to work for translation services

There are many reputable translation services. You will need to pass a rigorous application process but, once accepted, you will have work. This will build your expertise, can be added to your digital “resume,” and, best of all, build your confidence.

Many freelancers begin this way, in order to establish a reputation, and many continue to work for services while they also freelance for individual clients. This combination can be a good one. When you are in a “valley” and looking for more individual work, your work for services can keep you financially afloat.

6. Pitch yourself on job boards

Get registered with large job board sites like Craigslist, Yelp, Angie’s List, and others. This costs nothing, and you never know what work you may pick up. And most of these sites will also encourage the posting of reviews. You can set up a template for a review and make it easy for your clients to write one and publish it on the job board site.

7. Don’t forget the business end of your business

You will need to register your business with both your state and with the IRS or taxing authority if not in the U.S. You may or may not want a business name, but a catchy one can be a plus.

You will also need to develop a pricing schedule and a standard contract for services. You can find templates all over the web. To establish pricing, the best practice is to place yourself in the middle of existing pricing of others and services.

Be patient. You will not be a viral, overnight success. But, with steady work and with good motivation, you will build your business. If translation is really your passion, that passion will keep you going.

About Ashley Kornee

Ashley Kornee is a blogger and freelance writer. She always tries to write about ordinary things in a creative way. She's currently working at The Word Point translation company. You can find her on You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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