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 or native-level ability 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.
  • 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.
  • A 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

Doing the job well

Handling the business side of the job

Resources for learning more


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