Building a translation portfolio

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Building a portfolio of translations is an often-overlooked task, but is a vital part of marketing yourself as a freelancer. A convincing portfolio can mean the difference between working and not working, and so it pays to invest some time in putting one together.

What a portfolio can do for you

A translation portfolio offers a number of benefits:

  • Provides real, tangible evidence of your abilities.
  • Allows you to show off your best work.
  • Acts as a very persuasive online marketing tool in terms of building trust.
  • Requires less investment on behalf of the client than approaching you for a sample translation.
  • Can be tailored to different markets, different language pairs etc.

How to put a portfolio together

  • Consider how to host it. You might need a series of portfolios – one for ProZ or other translation sites, one for your website, one as a Word document or PDF to be sent by email. You can change the format to suit each setting – see what other translators are doing to get inspiration.
  • Keep your portfolio targeted and selective. Stick to your specialisms, and only include texts that add something to the portfolio. Criteria for inclusion might include how challenging or technical a text was, whether it was conducted for a prestige client, and whether this translation was particularly important for some other reason.
  • Consider your target audience. Work out what your clients are looking for and then show that you can do it. If you get lots of enquiries about ecommerce texts then you should be including an ecommerce sample in your portfolio.
  • Keep your presentation professional. Lay out each document coherently and consistently, keep each sample short enough to be readable but long enough to give clients a good idea of your skills, and proofread everything very carefully. Avoid gimmicky fonts, colours or images, and check that any URLs are still live on a regular basis.
  • Include source and target texts. Laying out your source and target languages next to each other will allow clients to go through in detail and compare the original with your translation. Without the source text they have no way of knowing if your translation is accurate.
  • Include extra information. It's nice to present each piece with a letterhead including your name, company name, contact details and slogan or logo. It might also be smart to include a short description of your brief, and even a quote from your client stating how happy they were. This is standard practice in the world of copywriting and can be very convincing.
  • Organise samples well. If you can control the way your samples are visually presented, for example, on your website, then organise them into topic areas or language pairs to make it as easy as possible for clients to find what they're looking for. Long screeds of texts are less convincing than a menu of click-through options.

Troubleshooting for new translators

If you're just getting started in translation, building a portfolio can be particularly intimidating. It's perfectly acceptable to include texts you have translated specifically for your portfolio if you don’t have any real jobs to include yet. Make sure that your source text is either in the public domain or published under Creative Commons. Another approach is to translate for free, either for a charity or as pro-bono work for potential clients.

Tips for more experienced translators

If you've been translating for a while you'll have plenty of texts to choose from, but be careful not to divulge any sensitive secrets, breach confidentiality agreements or break the terms of your NDA. It's possible to anonymise texts by changing the details, but check with your clients first. They might well be happy with the free publicity, but it's best to be on the safe side.

Getting your portfolio out there

Once you've created your portfolio don't just let it sit on your hard drive. If clients aren't seeing it then it's worthless, so put it up on your webpage or ProZ profile and then include a link every time you approach a new client. Ask satisfied clients for testimonials, referrals or ProZ WWAs (short for ‘willingness to work again’), and build your social media presence or blog. A glowing portfolio is just one tool in establishing an online reputation and obtaining lucrative work.

This text is based on the article published on Translators Family blog under title How to build a winning translation portfolio by Oleg Semerikov and Translators Family.

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