How to Become a Freelance Translator & Work From Home

Are you wondering how to become a freelance translator? Translating is a job that’s very easy to undertake as a freelance career – provided you can speak two or more languages, of course.

The online nature of the work is an ideal way to earn a living while socially distancing and it allows you to balance your work and personal life in whatever way suits you best. So that’s the why. If you would like to know how to become a freelance translator, read on.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 22% of translators and interpreters are self-employed workers. That’s not a major surprise, considering translation work is often project-based and charges per word. It lends itself well to being an independent career, with translators working to meet deadlines in line with their clients’ requirements.

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Translation can easily be done remotely, thanks to project management software, computer-assisted translation tools and productivity apps ranging from video-conferencing software to Kanban boards.

Below we’ll cover how you can blossom as a freelance translator.

What is a freelance translator?

At its core, translation is simple enough to define. Translators convert written text from one language into another, and sometimes text from audio or video files, where the work may also require them to provide transcription services prior to translating.

Of course, the nature of translation work is far more complex than this simple definition implies. The translator must carefully sculpt and shape the language to ensure that it delivers the meaning in just the same way that the original document did.

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This is not a case of literally translating each word, but of delivering subtle nuances and ensuring that nothing gets lost along the way.

Freelance translators do this directly for their clients as an independent contractor. Before you press ahead with how to become a freelance translator, consider that you won’t get benefits – including sick pay and holiday pay – when you do so.

You’ll also be in charge of paying your own taxes, from setting income aside to filling out the relevant paperwork in line with the required deadlines.

Not the most attractive of propositions, perhaps. But thankfully, this is offset by your ability to work more independently when you become a freelancer. You typically find your own projects and can move on to the next job once each project is complete.

If you want to earn more, you can increase the number of hours that you work and the number of clients that you translate for. If you want more free time, you can scale back your work. It’s the kind of flexibility of which those working 9-5 jobs can only dream!

how to become a freelance translator

How to get work as a translator

If you want to work as a translator, you have plenty of options available to you. Many freelance translators choose to work for translation agencies. Doing so means that you have an established business with existing contacts doing the legwork in terms of finding translation jobs for you to undertake.

The downside is that the agency will take a cut of what the client is paying in order to cover the cost of doing so.

If you’re happy to undertake your own marketing and networking, then you may prefer to find your clients by working with businesses directly. Any business that works with staff who speak different language speakers or services multinational markets can benefit from using translation services.

Companies use medical translators, legal translators, technical translators, marketing translators and more, and will usually pay more for such specialist services. As such, if you have specialist expertise, be sure to build that into your plans when you’re mapping out how to become a freelance translator.

How to become a freelance translator in five steps

Step 1

In order to become a freelance translator, start by assessing where you are in your language fluency. The number one requirement when it comes to working as a translator is being fluent in two or more languages. This is non-negotiable!

Step 2

You must also be an expert in the culture behind both of those languages. If you need to brush up on your cultural knowledge, consider taking language learning courses through a university or even living aboard in a country that speaks the language you want to translate.

This cultural knowledge will help you to deliver translations in a way that really speaks to the new audience. This will make them more effective, which should mean the client is happy to keep using your services.

Step 3

If you’re worrying about how to become a freelance translator without much experience on your resume, then next it’s time to build that experience up. You might consider undertaking paid or unpaid internships or volunteer activities in order to do so.

There are plenty of charitable organizations out there that would be happy to provide you with a glowing reference if you provide them with free translation services.

You may also want to consider working as an employed translator before going freelance. Having a job in your chosen career before freelancing can help to build your network, your skills and your confidence. Working a job can also help you build relevant soft skills and general organisational abilities before going it on your own.

Step 4

Once you have some decent work experience under your belt, be sure to include all of this on your resume. Build an online portfolio showcasing your translation projects to show potential clients. Include testimonials from clients who have been delighted with your translation service.

Step 5

Finally, it’s time to begin looking for clients. How do freelance translators find work? Ask around your professional network to see if they need freelance translators, to begin with. You can also look on job boards such as Upwork for freelance translation gigs.

Another common approach is to send sales emails or cold call companies that work in multilingual markets. Mixing up these approaches to find out what works best for you, then refining your strategy to focus on that particular marketing method, should serve you well.

how to become a freelance translator

Is freelance translation the right path for you?

Working as a freelance translator has many benefits. You can choose your own clients and the type of work you go after, as well as the hours that you work. The drawback of working for an agency or a company as an employee is that you translate what they tell you, when they tell you.

Having the ultimate say in which direction your career goes is perhaps the largest benefit of being a freelancer. However, one reality of freelance work is that it can be defined by periods of limited work at times and a full schedule at others.

This can create fluctuating work schedules with long hours here and there. Translation deadlines tend to be strict and schedules can be tight, which brings pressure to your role.

If you don’t mind the ups and downs of freelance life and can stay organized, this career can work for you. If you’re not comfortable with some instability and fluctuating schedules, you might want to consider regular employment instead.

Professional translation also has certain entry requirements, even for freelancers. According to the BLS, a bachelor’s degree is typically required. Students often major in the language they wish to translate (outside of their native language) when they’re working out how to become a freelance translator.

Also, according to the BLS, the main skills and duties for translators include:

  • Working with concepts to make sure they transfer from one language into the other well
  • Working with glossaries and terminology databases to organise information and terms that can help with translation
  • Speaking and reading in two or more languages to the level of fluency
  • Having strong cultural knowledge behind each language so that the message can transfer well

Clearly, organization, fluency and cultural knowledge are the most important skills for this job. In addition, you also need great communication skills.

Clients will want you to discuss the work with them and you’ll need to answer any questions they may have. You may also have to follow strict instructions and verify any questions you have about the original message, all of which requires strong communication abilities.

To be a freelancer, you also have to be bold enough to go out and find your own clients. As the work often tends to be project-based, you will likely have to look for clients regularly. Luckily, the online freelance translation community is very helpful, with translators happy to share their tips for finding clients.

Your annual salary is, of course, another important consideration when looking into any career, whether you’re working out how to become a freelance translator or whether or not you would like to work as a professional mime artist (or any other freelance career that takes your fancy!).

The BLS states that translators and interpreters averaged a salary of $51,830 per year in 2019. Meanwhile, the average hourly salary for a freelance translator in the US stands at $25.92 per hour in 2020.

To make extra money, you may want to look beyond translation, into offering additional language-related services. You could offer localization, multilingual content writing or proofreading, as just a few examples. Being successful as a freelancer is all about meeting client needs while earning enough to meet your own.

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Millo Articles by Louise Taylor

Louise Taylor is a professional writer with a keen interest in business, home working and languages. She holds qualifications in English, French, Spanish, German and Latin and has a working knowledge of Portuguese.
Read more from Louise.