• Lucy@LHTranslations

Starting out as a freelance language professional – handy tips

by Lucy Harford of LH Translations

Lucy Harford – Freelance French – English Translator and Subtitler

Considering working as a freelance translator and/or interpreter? Not sure where to start? What should you do to prepare yourself and get your business going?

Starting your career as a freelancer can be daunting, and people may have told you that there is a lot of competition and not much work out there, but that’s not the case. There is always material that needs translating, you just need to put yourself out there so people can find you and make sure you’re the person they want to hire (ideally more than once!)

I’ve been working freelance as a French-English translator, subtitler and proofreader for the last 5 years, and have learnt a lot along the way. So, I’ve decided to put together a guide to help aspiring linguists considering a freelance career in languages.

  1. Develop a brand

Whether you’re translating, interpreting or creating subtitles, you are providing a service, just like a lawyer, hairdresser or dentist, so having a business name and appearing professional is very important.

  1. Make sure you use or set up a professional email address. You can use a free platform like hotmail or gmail and use your name or the name of your business: i.e. joe.jbtranslations@gmail.com or you can use an email through your website domain i.e. joe@jbtranslations.com Hint: Try to keep it simple and not include too many dashes, as these are likely to cause unnecessary errors if people try to contact you.

  2. Register your business with HMRC: preferably start your business in late April to make tax records easier (trust me), and use your business name of choice.

  3. Create a website for your business, and make sure it is user-friendly. Show what services you offer, how people can contact you, and use it to connect any of your professional pages (LinkedIn, proz.com, translatorscafe.com) so people can follow you. If you use a service like Wix.com, they will guide you on how to make your website visible on Google and will help you appear in search results (unless you already have SEO training, in which case, great start!) You can buy your own domain name from a company like GoDaddy.com.

  4. Set up a bank account for your business, or use your existing one, but use a service like Monzo for all personal spending to keep your accounts separate.

  5. Consider using either an accountant or a service like Quickbooks, which tracks your spending and generates tax documents for you to submit to HMRC on your behalf. You can use the Quickbooks app on your phone and mark any transactions as business income/expenses at the click of a finger and upload receipts so you don’t amass piles of them in your home. Remember: tax returns are tedious and if you can find an easy way of doing them, do it!

  6. Business cards are a great way to quickly promote your business and stay fresh on someone’s mind, or in their wallet for when they need you. Try to design a logo for your business that is relevant to what you do/your language combination/specialism and get them printed and ready to hand out to the right people!

2. Use your spare time wisely

When you’re not inundated with projects, which does happen, even after years in the business, try to use your time productively and try not to stress about when the next project will arrive; it surely will! Keep yourself active both online and offline:

  1. Update your website and your online presence on platforms such as LinkedIn, proz.com, translatorscafe.com

  2. add any recent projects you’ve worked on or new clients you’ve collaborated with

  3. find new connections online and scout out potential new clients

  4. read blogs by people in the industry for interesting tips and dos and don’ts

  5. Research your specialism and keep yourself informed of the latest news (consider subscribing to a newsletter/magazine in that area)

  6. Keep informed of the going rate for the language combination or service you provide: https://search.proz.com/?sp=pfe/rates

  7. your rate will depend on your experience, cost of living, number of hours you can work per day and your language combination

  8. you can use the rates calculator to see what rate is best for you: https://www.proz.com/translator-rates-calculator/

  9. remember to factor in the fact that you have no sick leave, paid holiday, insurance, and that you need to pay rent, eat and thrive – not survive!

  10. Look into doing some voluntary work in the field to keep yourself busy and in practice.

3. Don’t be a recluse, get out and network and co-work

While the freelance life is magical in some respects and comes with a lot of freedom, it also comes with some isolation. For example, when subtitling, working in a busy office or café is not a good idea because noise levels can be very disruptive. So, on occasions or most of the time, you will just be at home on your desktop/laptop, typing away, sipping cups of tea (possibly still in your pyjamas). This might sound amazing, but after a while it gets repetitive, like anything can, so think about doing the following:

  1. Exercise regularly – even if it’s just a walk around the block in the morning, get out and get your blood pumping, or:

  2. join a sports club

  3. attend an exercise class

  4. sign up to a local gym (these sometimes have working areas you can take advantage of!)

  5. get a dog (why not?) or use BorrowMyDoggy if you don’t want to adopt/buy one

  6. Look up any local co-working spaces or networks you can join (not necessarily just for language professionals)

  7. Search for events in the language profession happening near you or further afield if you fancy a day out, i.e. The Language Show in London, or talks held at universities (often very affordable or free).

4. Professionalism

First impressions matter, even if they’re by email, so make sure you come across polite and conscientious when talking to clients or potential clients. Over time, you should ideally have a base of regular clients, and mutual respect is very important in order to retain their business (this works both ways). If you get a request for a project but you’re going away for a few days to see family or just taking a holiday, either set an ‘out of office’ reply for your email or simply reply to the client as quickly as you can. If you are going away for an extended period and will not have an internet connection, consider forewarning your clients of your absence (and tell them when you’re coming back) so that they don’t think you’re being rude when you don’t reply to their emails. In summary, if you can’t take a project, be “busy”; don’t leave a client hanging. Remember to include a signature on your emails so that the client can see who you are and what you do. It should include your name, qualification and association letters (i.e. BA/BSc/MA/MSc/DipTrans/ACIL/ITI), profession, phone number (optional), email, website (if applicable). E.g. Lucy Harford MSc, BA Hons, ACIL Fr-En Translator and Subtitler lhtranslations.co.uk Tel: +44 77 88991 123 Email: lucy.lhtranslations@gmail.com Once you have started your career as a linguist, you might want to consider joining an association such as the Institute of Translators and Interpreters (ITI) or Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) – they provide very useful information and tools for working with languages. They also organise networking events and offer discounts.

5. Ethics

You may receive requests (hopefully not many) for projects from clients whose message or principles you did not condone and whose values do not align with yours, i.e. racism, homophobia, discrimination, abuse. In such cases, you have every right to refuse to work for them as you do not want your name associated with them. There is no need to be rude, you can just politely decline and walk away from their offer (which may be a generous wage but the consequences of working for them may keep you up at night).

6. Holidays

Don’t forget to take them, but don’t go overboard. Availability is key in this profession and the more reliable you seem to a client, the more they will use your services.

I hope this guide is useful and if you have any more questions, please feel free to contact me through Instagram or on LinkedIn.

Good luck!

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