Qualities that improve a freelance translator's chances of success
Independent translators need a wide range of entrepreneurial skills. These include communication skills; administration skills including book-keeping, knowing how to price a job, invoicing and credit control, budgeting; marketing skills and more. Please visit our essential business skills page which will walk you through many of the skills needed.
While freelance translators work alone most of the day, communication skills are vitally important for self-employed translators. They need to be able to communicate effectively with agencies and clients on the one hand and suppliers, like computer specialists, and fellow translators on the other. The client-translator relationship lives and dies with how the translator communicates with the client.
To give you a few examples:
- keep translation clients informed of problems with the document in hand,
- ask for help with vocabulary if you have exhausted all the avenues open to you,
- tell them if you have problems comprehending the text: if you as a professional linguist can’t understand what they are trying to say, most other readers won’t either.
Read our article on communication skills within the business skills page.
Working on your own initiative
Certain personality traits, i.e. self-discipline, self-reliance, independence, drive and perseverance – to name but a few – are vital in determining whether you become a successful self-employed translator.
Being an independent translator requires a certain mindset. You have to be able to work on your own, to self-motivate, to make a plan and stick to it, in short, to be your own boss.
Are you someone who needs other people to tell you what to do, when and how to do it? Then a career in freelance translation is not for you.
However, if you crave to do things your own way, in your own time (within the time frame agreed with the customer) and to your own high standards, then being self-employed and working from home should suit you well.
Being an independent professional translator means spending most of the day working alone. This is a fact that not every individual is happy with. For the sociable kind, for those who love the buzz of an office environment and thrive on interpersonal relations, being a home worker is almost certainly the wrong career choice. With personality traits like that you’ll be better off becoming a staff translator or seeking a job in a company with bilingual needs.
If you love your own company, the solitude, peace and quiet of working undisturbed in an environment chosen and controlled by you, in a location determined by you and your family, you fulfil one essential prerequisite to succeed as a freelance translator.
Ability to establish contacts and build a support network
A freelance translator needs to have a support network in place for that emergency when it comes. Most importantly, independent translators need technical support set up in advance, so when your computer malfunctions in the middle of that all-important job, you have someone you can turn to immediately. Please refer to our support network page for detailed information on what kind of support networks you may need.
While the above information on useful qualities for translators is quite extensive, it is by no means exhaustive. The good news is that a lot of these essential skills can be acquired. Therefore, continuous learning is another quality that needs to be added to the list.
Knowing your limits
As a freelance translator, clients may ask you to translate documents with an unfamiliar or uncomfortable subject. Subjects that simply “are not you”.
Life as a translator is a constant balancing act. On the one hand, you have to earn a living, on the other hand, there are limits as to which documents you can accept. Which are the main considerations? They are mainly:
- having the time to carry out the translation without feeling rushed,
- knowledge of specialist subject areas,
- being comfortable with the style of the text or the subject matter,
- the skills (inclusive of research skill) and
- the support network in place to take on this particular translation.
The more experienced you become, the less likely you are to make an error of judgment in this respect.
If you really struggle with a specific translation and can’t seem to find the register that fits the bill, talk to the client and discuss your issues. Even if they finish up giving this particular translation job to someone else, at least you haven’t delivered an unusable translation. There is a chance the client may appreciate your honesty and give you another chance with a different kind of text.