Establishing yourself as a freelance translator

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Questo articolo tratta di come diventare un traduttore freelance, supponendo che ci siano le abilità attinenti.


  • Traduzione
  • Interpretariato
  • Documento di partenza / lingua di partenza
  • Documento d' arrivo / lingua d' arrivo
  • Preventivo
  • Acquistare l' ordine ("PO")
  • Fattura
  • CAT / TM tool
  • Certificazione

Things to consider before you begin

Is the field right for you?

Do you have the requisite skills?

Basic skills required of a translator:

  • Native speaker of or native-level ability in the target language
  • The ability to write well in the target language.
  • Excellent and in-depth knowledge of the source language(s),which includes in-depth knowledge of its grammar and syntax, extensive knowledge of terminology. A longer stay in the country/countries of your source language(s) is definitely an advantage.
  • Specialisation in, or at least knowledge of, a field unrelated to languages or translation, but which can serve as your area(s) of expertise for translation, e.g. law, engineering, medicine, economics, environment and ecology, art history, architecture, etc.(can be acquired after you start working as a translator)
  • Good, but preferably in-depth, knowledge of MS-Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint)
  • Knowledge of how to use at least one CAT tool prior to starting work as a freelance translator would be an immense advantage. Some universities now provide this training and some CAT tools vendors offer discounts to students and universities.
  • Research skills, or at least, the willingness to spend time on research.
  • Knowledge of touch typing can be a great advantage as it can help with the speed at which you translate and hence increase productivity.

Is freelancing right for you?

Working as a freelancer can provide an ideal work situation where you work independently with flexible working hours, in a job that interests you and, if all goes well, earns you a good income. There can be disadvantages, however, and here are some factors you may have to consider before launching your freelance career:

  • Income: you will not always be getting the steady income a salaried employee of a company receives and it may be very erratic in your early days as a freelancer
  • There will be periods with plenty of work, but there will also be slow periods with fewer or sometimes no translation assignments.
  • It takes time to build up a client base with clients who provide you with regular work.
  • It’s great to be your own boss, but working on your own requires a great deal of self-discipline.

How you can overcome these problems:

  • It’s a good idea to work as an in-house translator for an agency or company for a couple of years before deciding to go freelance. That way, you will get to know what working as a translator is all about and whether it's the right job for you. You will also learn some of the tricks of the trade and how to actually run a translation business, whilst earning a steady income.
  • Working in a company in your area(s) of expertise can also provide valuable experience. If you are both a qualified engineer and a linguist, for example, it might be a good idea to work as an engineer for a few years before starting a career as a professional translator. You will not only gain experience in your area of specialisation, but also form contacts that may be useful when you have to acquire clients as a translator.
  • If you work in a full-time job for a few years before becoming a freelance translator, you can save enough money to start your freelance translation business which will also cover the initial period before you get regular translation assignments and start earning a steady income from translating.
  • Many translators work in other part-time jobs such as teaching, editing and proofreading, training other translators, which are additional sources of income.
  • Self-discipline: even though you have flexible working hours as a freelancer, it’s good to stick to some kind of schedule and have some kind of routine. Keep some time every day for administrative tasks, marketing your services and working on your terminology and knowledge of software and CAT tools.

In what areas will you provide services?

You'll have to identify at the outset the areas in which you will offer translation and/or interpreting services. Generally speaking, as a translator, you'll be identifying your top one or two language pairs, and the top five or ten subject matter areas in which you can work.


Things to have from the start


  • Computer: It is best to have both a desktop and a laptop as a back-up computer. A laptop is also useful to take along to conferences and in-person training sessions, and in fact, may sometimes be a requirement on such occasions. Having a laptop in addition to your desktop also means you can work while travelling, or in different rooms in your house!


  • Microsoft Word (or preferably, all of MS Office)
  • OpenOffice
  • PDF reader
  • CAT tools: These can improve your productivity considerably and it is advisable to have one or two, to satisfy the needs of different clients. Some popular CAT tools are SDL Trados, Wordfast, MemoQ, Across and there are many others to choose from.


  • Email (Gmail, etc.): once you have built your own website, it is always better and looks more professional to use an e-mail address connected to your website, rather than a free one such as Gmail or Hotmail.
  • Internet connection - high speed much preferred
  • Bank account, Paypal

Establishing your online presence

Building a profile profile: The "shell" or format of the profile provides the possibility of filling in the most important aspects of a translators' profile. Using the profile updater, you can ensure that you have a complete profile providing clients with all the necessary information required to choose you as the translator for a particular assignment. The most important parts of your profile, that should be filled out are:

  • Your real name: some people feel safer using an alias on the Internet, but your real name always looks more professional on a profile you are using to attract clients.
  • Your working language pairs, with your top language pair first.
  • Your native language(s)
  • Services offered: translation, interpreting, editing and proofreading, training etc.
  • Areas of expertise/specialisation: try to have as high a degree of specialisation as possible, ideally with about three or four areas, but not more than eight.
  • Verified credentials: this helps a lot in reassuring clients that you are qualified. You can get your credentials verified by sending a support request to staff, attaching a copy of your certificate(s).
  • "About me" section: this part of the profile gives you an opportunity to write as much about yourself as possible and to really "sell" yourself and your services.

Building a website


Basic file handling

Establishing a backup regimen

Finding work / clients

Online resources / workplaces

Getting translation companies as customers

Getting end clients as customers

Member tips:

  • Join associations / groups / networks in your fields of expertise (legal association, etc.)
  • Market yourself locally, using traditional means (mailings, newspaper ads, etc.)
  • Connect via university networks
  • Network among (fellow) expats
  • Market your services via your own website, in a way geared towards end clients
  • Friends who know you as a translator may be a source of end clients
  • Attend exhibitions and trade fairs in your city or in other countries.

See also:

Marketing yourself as a translator locally

There are a few things to bear in mind about marketing yourself as a translator locally. Firstly, it is helpful to know a lot of people and to be active (or have previously been active) in various local associations.

Secondly, to attract new clients it is probably necessary to have a shop front, i.e. rent office space. This is one factor that I believe translators overlook when criticising agencies. Agencies need premises. According to experience, local individuals and representatives of small businesses in the area like to entrust the translation to someone whom they can meet in person. They will not simply upload their text to an unknown translator's web page (or even a translation agency's web page) over the Internet. They may do this in future, however, if they have visited the translator's or translation agency's premises on a previous occasion.

This brings us to another point. Such clients often like to hand over a hard copy of their document. That means it needs to be scanned, and the quality of the copy may turn out to be poor. In conjunction with yet another factor - that they often need another language pair - that the translator does not work in - it may turn out to be an expensive affair to attempt to outsource the work. Firstly, you either have to spend hours unsuccessfully trying to OCR the document and eventually typing it up manually, or you have to outsource a poor scanned copy and expect either poor results or a high charge. On top of that, the client does not like to wait very long, and, allowing for the time taken to find the right colleague in the first place, this may turn out to be a rush job, as well as the scanned copy being poor. Add to this the fact that local individuals and small businesses are on a very limited budget and cannot be charged a lot, the disadvantages become clear.

If you nevertheless wish to take this route, in order to find clients anyway you will need to start designing and distributing glossy leaflets, and possibly also visiting clients at their premises - especially if you do not (yet) rent office space.

Finding volunteer work

There are a lot of great organizations that you can get interesting volunteer work from.

The United Nations Volunteers have a lot of varied projects you can work on doing both proof-reading and translation. There are often jobs posted for UN organizations such as the Secretariat for Human Rights, the Foundation for Democratic Change (Argentina) and for the United Nations Development Program. In order to obtain projects, all you have to do is create an account with them (name and email address) and then there will be a list of available projects, you create a proposal for the project, detailing relevant experience and qualifications. The officials managing the project will then contact you directly. Here is the link for their volunteering page:

Translators without Borders also has a lot of interesting projects, for example translating documents applying for funding to provide dental care to Thai children. In order to become one of their translators, you fill out an online application form detailing your language combinations, education, experience and you upload your resume/CV. You then submit your application and will be asked to complete a translation test. Once they have reviewed your test, they will contact you when a project comes up which is suitable for your language combinations. Here is the link to the online application form:

Other organizations for whom you can do volunteer translation include Les Humains Associes (mostly for French speakers): and the Street news service (a news agency belonging to the International network of street papers which aim to tackle homelessness and poverty). You can contact them directly to volunteer for them, here is the link for their website:

Global Recordings Network is a Christian organization you can offer volunteering for as little as 2 hours a week, up to as much as suits your free time. Working with GRN will give you the opportunity to play a significant role in allowing those in the most unreached regions of the world to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. To send a message saying you are interested, use the form on this page:

Doing the job well

Handling the business side of the job

Handling the business side of the job is of equal importance to your translation skills, a fact which many new freelance translators do not immediately understand.

You need to become acquainted with some of the laws of your country relating to being in business as a freelancer, including the various applicable tax rules.

You should acquire some basic accounting skills, and it is highly recommended to familiarise yourself with the prevalent software and associated accounting system used in your country. In Germany, for example, we use the DATEV SKR03 accounting plan, which has to be learnt, and it is advisable to attend a full-day training session on it. WISO EÜR & Kasse is an example of suitable software which applies the system.

You need to acquire the skills required to obtain and keep clients - which extend well beyond the fact of whether you provide good (or even excellent) translations. Especially in the current economic climate (but really at all times), clients are very interested in how long a credit period you will give them, and - as always - also the price. It is inadvisable to start in business as a freelancer with no money, and therefore be desperate to be paid. The strongest, and most advisable, position for getting your business off to a good start is to have savings that you could live off for a year, and therefore be able to extend credit to your clients. This will encourage them to come back with repeat business. Yet another factor involved in whether they become regular clients is how you handle overdue invoices. The whole financial issue is quite tricky, and, in order to keep clients, you need to maintain a healthy balance, so that the outsourcer feels fairly treated and at the same time does not have the opportunity to unduly take advantage of you.

Marketing - which to some extent includes the things mentioned in the paragraph above - is mainly based on psychology and the ability to successfully negotiate, which is based on knowing how people act and react. Ideally you should undertake any training on offer in marketing that you can find, and the sooner the better. You will be involved in regular marketing for as long as you remain in business as a freelancer, since your client base will always be changing. It is fluid, never static.

Resources for learning more


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