What I find very difficult about being a freelance translator is the requirement to combine very good writing skills (on top of the obvious language ones) with very solid business ones. I got very lucky. I am a writer who spent years of her life working in different sales positions. I was very unhappy but the day I finally decided to do the only thing I enjoyed and excelled at, my business took off fairly quickly. Like anything else, a set of business skills can be acquired and if you read this carefully, you will save yourself the many years in business it took me to learn them. So here are my tips for those bilingual or trilingual people among you who may not have all the business knowledge others do.
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1/ Try being professional 98% of the time. I mean, no one is asking anyone to be perfect. You will sometimes be tired, sick, stressed out and so forth. As long as you make it an exception, you will not be held responsible for your mistakes but make sure that the exception does not become the rule. To be professional means to always be polite, courteous, run a spell check on all your messages and be sure to present everything you do in a professional manner. When you receive an inquiry from an agency and if you don't have time to respond right away, always send a quick response thanking them for their interest and mention you will be in touch with them in the next couple of days. If you publish a picture anywhere, go to a professional photographer and do not hesitate to spend a good amount of money. The only professional picture ever taken in my entire life is on the professional websites I belong to and the day I replaced the old unprofessional version of “me” by a professional one, I started getting more work. I cannot say for sure that it is the reason behind it but again, a professional picture is part of offering professional services. It shows you are a 100% involved in your field and rules you out from the list of amateurs.
2/ Do not ever publish any criticism over members of the profession regardless of how bad they may have treated you, how late they may have paid you and especially if you never got paid at all, and that includes any other major fault you may have encountered. If you have negative comments, keep those to your friends and relatives. In business, bad mouthing is a killer and it does not matter if your comments are justified or not. So as a rule always make the most positive comments about members of the profession or else remain silent. You will never gain anything positive by posting a negative comment on an agency, even one that is unprofessional, but you will more likely be perceived in a very negative manner by the great majority of the profession. This is not something you can afford. On top, professional members are very unlikely to take your side and will more likely start doubting the quality of your work. Your experience does not matter. What you are worried about is your image, nothing else. So remember what you say or write is part of your image, which has to be perfect at all times. End of story.
3/ Regardless of whether you are a beginner or a more experienced translator, a good piece of business advice is “get contract work at all costs” and set it as your first business priority, meaning bid on anything that says “regular work” and do not hesitate to offer rates lower than what you normally accept. Once you have contract work, treat it as gold, make it your priority and build from there. What it means is that regular income gives you the basis to build your business, you gain experience and you can then offer your services to other professionals at slightly higher rates. On top it gives you the great advantage of barely ever having downtime. So you will enjoy what you do more and will never get anxious over not having enough work. A day free of assignments will become a vacation day, an opportunity to work on your novel or write an article, never a reason to feel like the world has come to an end.
You may or may not agree with what I’m saying. So my final advice is:
- Do not take my word for it. Try following the above mentioned tips over a period of six months and see not only what happens, but also how you feel about yourself and your work.
My guess is most of the above will already have begun to feel like second nature and you will have become a happy and successful professional.