My First Year as a Freelance Translator

In September 2017, I started on my MA in Applied Translation at the UEA, having completed a three month internship in a translation company. Thus began my travels in translation.

A Brief History
I just wanted to briefly summarise what led me to decide to become an Arabic and French to English translator.

I first fell in love with languages when I joined secondary school in 2005. I remember desperately wanting to be moved into Set One so that I could study both French and German, though I can’t really remember why – probably a little bit of sibling rivalry, as both of my sisters had both studied two languages at school. Thankfully, I was moved up and began my linguistic journey.

In 2009, I went on a French exchange to the Loire Valley. It was the first time I’d spent any real length of time abroad and I was enchanted with all things French. I came back desperate to move abroad!

For my ‘A levels, I chose French, German, English Literature and Drama. I knew I either wanted to study languages at Cambridge or go to drama school to become an actor. I got into neither. I was absolutely devastated by my initial rejection from Cambridge, but not my rejections from drama schools, making me realise what I really wanted and took a gap year to reapply to Cambridge.

During my time at Cambridge, I really fell in love with languages and knew I had to work with languages post-university. By the end of my degree, I realised that I had most loved our translation classes and decided to apply for both an internship and an MA in translation! Having fallen in love with a man living in Norfolk, where I discovered there weren’t many translation job opportunities, I decided to go freelance!

My Freelance Career
After finishing my MA in Applied Translation in September 2018, I started to accept freelance work in addition to my part-time job in an after school club. I quickly realised that I needed more time to focus on my translation and with the support, both moral and financial, of my husband, I ventured into full-time freelance translating in February 2019.

Therefore, it has been just over a year since I went full-time and I have learned some very important lessons for how to become a successful freelance Arabic and French translator.

Accept help
One of the most useful things I did at the start of my career was to reach out to a UEA Translation MA alumna and ask for advice. We had a skype chat in which she gave me some invaluable advice and she has also taken me on to do some translation work! I have also found that there are a wide variety of mentoring schemes out there and I have benefited from their advice on topics such as managing your finances, applying to clients and much more.

Help can also come in many other forms. I have found reading books on translation and being freelance, listening to podcasts for freelance translators and reaching out to other freelance translators on LinkedIn to be incredibly helpful in this first year.

Build a network
For me, this didn’t just mean talking to other translators online, although this is beneficial, not just because of the advice they can give you, but also because it’s reassuring to feel that you’re part of a wider community and I have made some wonderful translator friends online. But building my network has also involved trying to target direct clients on platforms such as LinkedIn to showcase
my work to them.

Social media
When I started this job, I never dreamed that social media would take up as much of my time as it does. I just assumed that I would apply to agencies and they would send me work. While this does provide me with the majority of my work, both agencies and direct clients have applied to me directly, because they have found me through my social media pages.

I’ve actually been self-employed since 2012, when I started working as a French tutor, so I knew that I would be in charge of my own taxes. However, this year I have learned so much about tax, national insurance, etc. and have learned how to effectively budget for all of my expenses, with the help of my mentors and translator friends online.

You will never stop learning
Many people, even myself at one point, think that once you’ve done a language degree you are fluent in a language and that’s it. That is completely wrong. Fluency in a language is like a muscle that you need to keep using to keep it strong and languages themselves are stretchy bendy things that are always changing. Therefore, CPD is super important and I make sure I spend at least three hours a week practicing Arabic and French.

Set a routine
It took me a while to settle into being freelance, because the freedom it allows you feels akin to studying at university, but without the structure of lectures and supervisions. However, if you allow yourself only to work when the jobs roll in, you’ll be all over the place. I listened to my body and realised I’m really not a morning person and now work 10am-6pm and try to stick to these hours as much as possible (although given the current coronavirus outbreak, I am willing to work out of these hours, because my job is not 100% certain in the climate). It is so easy to feel like I have to be ‘on’ all  of the time and so maintaining a structured working day is very important to me.

Make the most of ‘down time’
A lot of freelance translators talk about ‘famine and feast periods’. This means the natural ebbing and flowing of the workload. I have learned that it is very important to utilise the time in your ‘famine’ periods. It is so tempting to just give yourself the time off, but it is really useful to use this time to market, update your website, send out CVs and invoices and work on CPD.

There we have it! A handful of the things I have learned as a freelance translator. If you are a translator, do you agree with them? Do you have any other tips? Next week, I will be reviewing Secrets of Six Figure Translators. 


Published by verityroat

Verity Roat BA CANTAB MA TRANSLATION CIOL Career Associate is a UK-based Arabic and French > English translator, Copy-writer, Copy-editor, Transcriber, Role-player & Tutor.

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