So you have some experience under your belt and would like to go alone?
Good idea. Since rates for freelancers tend to be higher than those for in-house translators, you may have made the right decision. Plus, with the right network, marketing strategy and production process, you could earn more and do so on your schedule (although do expect long hours, especially at the beginning).
Money is not the only reason to go freelance. Check out the infographic for an insight to the reasons that lead people to make the leap to freelance translation.
Got what it takes?
So you can translate and want to be a freelancer. But do you have what it takes to succeed?
Freelancing is about finding a good stream of customers, keeping them happy and making sure you get paid. So, you will need to be a salesperson, a craftsman, and a businessman.
The traits commonly associated with successful freelancers are organisation, tenacity, professionalism, self-discipline, and people skills.
Think you can convince people to hire you, avoid the temptation to watch daytime TV and deliver top quality translations?
A leap of faith?
Save as much as you can before you take the plunge—ideally you want 6 months’ worth of expenses in your account.
If you are employed and can work your 9-5, then come home and work on your freelance career… I admire your stamina. It isn’t easy, but this is the best way to get started.
As is the case with most projects, the beginning is the hardest part. Once you get the ball rolling, provided you put efficient systems in place, it will get easier over time.
Right now, you have to gain experience and build your client network.
It will take six months to (more realistically) a year for all your marketing efforts to start paying off and provide you with a steady stream of clients.
Time to write a business plan
- You need targets to aim for.
- It takes discipline (and it might make you re-think if you really want to do this).
- Once you get translating, you won’t have time to sit down and do it.
- You are effectively running a business, so you need to treat it like one.
To be honest, most freelance translators don’t have a business plan. But you don’t want to be like most translators, right?
The good news is that as a freelance translator you don’t need a 20 page business plan worthy of a fortune 500 company. At the very least you need to know what you are aiming for in terms of working hours, income, clients, marketing and how you intend to hit your targets.
Business plan resources
Don’t know where to start with your business plan? Try here:
Setting up your business
The legal part
To work as a freelance translator, eventually you will have to register as self-employed. Consult your country’s government website to make sure you understand what kind of options you have.
In the UK, translators are typically registered either as sole proprietorship (or sole trader) or they can decide to set up a Limited Liability Company.
Sole proprietorship (Sole Trader)
As a sole proprietor, you “are” the business. This doesn’t mean that you cannot employ assistants or other people, just that you are the sole person responsible for the business.
You therefore are liable for everything; the upside is that you can keep all of the profit, after you’ve paid tax on it.
Here you can find more information on how to set up a sole proprietorship in UK https://www.gov.uk/set-up-sole-trader
Limited liability company
Before incorporating your company, check if you need to register it with the tax authorities. In the UK, for example, you need to register with Companies House. You can do so online, by post or through an agent.
It will take 48 hours online, or 8-10 days by postal application and will cost respectively £15 and £40. There is also a same-day postal service at the cost of £100.
Companies House provides more detailed information on how to set up a company in UK.
Your upfront investment
Computer – You won’t need anything too powerful. We recommend going with a Windows machine, as many CAT tools aren’t supported on a Mac.
High-speed internet connection – If working for an agency, you will likely need to be able to access their cloud-based tools. At the very least, you will need to communicate via email, and have the ability to download/upload documents. And even if you are an expert in your subject matter, you will likely spend a lot of your time conducting research online.
Microsoft Office – Probably the software you will be using the most, and the basis for many translation tools.
This brings us to CAT Tools:
This is probably the biggest expense you will face, if you decide to go down the paid route. There are some free CAT tools and even the paid ones usually have trial versions. While there are some tools that are more popular than others, there isn’t “one tool to rule them all”. Which is why, given the large number of choices available, the most common question is:
WHICH CAT TOOL SHOULD I USE?
Here is a list of the most common CAT tools. Bear in mind that cost is not the only investment you’ll make: it will take time to master them, but hopefully it will pay off in the long run.
Click on the table below to enlarge it:
Head over to Proz.com to compare more CAT tools
Play around with free trials and pick the one you feel most comfortable using, while keeping an eye on industry trends. Obviously, using a popular tool will increase your pool of prospective clients as translation agencies, in particular, often have preferred CAT tools which they may insist on you using.
What most Language Service Providers agree on is that you should find the time to become an expert in your tool of choice. This will increase your productivity and will impact your earning potential in the long term.