The problem for most beginner translators is how to find those first few translation clients.
The problem for most beginner translators is how to find those first few translation clients. Of course, there’s no definitive answer to this question, and if you asked every successful translator how they landed their first customers, each one would probably give you a different answer. Some newbies only picked up the phone and confidently (or perhaps not so confidently!) started cold calling, others went back to school, and some volunteered their time and services. Others just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
We trust the following advice may in some small way help beginner translators make their way into the translation industry –
Two Categories of Clients
There are two basic types of clients for freelance translators, and these are –
- Direct clients, where a translator works directly for the client; and
- Translation agencies, which are companies that serve as the middleman between any number of freelance translators and an end client.
Each of these clients has its benefits: translation agencies can be more reliable, offering a steady flow of translation work to their favorite translators; however, the translator can receive as little as 50% of the fee collected on the translation. On the other hand, direct clients offer higher earning potential, but the translator is required to perform additional tasks such as editing, quoting jobs, proofreading, and so on – tasks that are handled by agencies.
Play by Translation Agencies’ Rules
If you’ve decided to begin your career by applying to translation agencies, then to maximize your chances of winning work you need to play by their rules. The majority of translation agencies have application forms on their websites: look for the ‘Opportunities’ section or ‘Contact Us’ page. Don’t send in a paper résumé if the translation agency specifically requests an electronic one. By not following their rules there’s every reason to believe that your application documents will land in their trash-can.
Also, most translation agencies ask that you not contact them by phone, unless you’re applying for a specific position that’s been advertised. In this case, in the Comments field on the online application, it’s quite appropriate to introduce yourself and ask for an in-person meeting. If you’re a beginner translator in the United States, a good place to find agency’s web addresses is on the website of the American Translators Association. It’s also here that you may discover which agencies are accepting applications from new translators.
Make Sure Your Application Is Error-Free
There are a few ground rules translators should follow, regardless of whether they’re applying to direct clients or translation agencies. The first rule is an obvious one: because you’re applying for language work, your application documents must be 100% correct. To ensure this correctness, all documents you send out should be proofed, not only by yourself but by at least one other person.
If you’re sending email inquiries, make sure your subject line is clear, like ‘French-English freelance inquiry.' Your intention should be clear, so don’t be vague, and don’t act like you’re responding to an email from the agency. Be clear about your specific language pairs. Your email might start with a sentence like: ‘I’m a freelance English-French translator, offering my services to your agency”, and so on.