Getting Started: 10 Tips

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We oftentimes get questions about how to get started in the profession, and that's a long answer. Actually, part of this blog is dedicated to answering precisely that question, and we have a long list of articles that we've marked for beginners. However, a dear friend of ours recently asked us to compile 10 tips on what one needs to do to get started (he was thinking about becoming a translator). We came up with these 10 tips/ideas, but of course there are hundreds more. These tips have nothing to do with language skills (we will assume everyone has those), but have to do with building a business and a career once you already have the necessary skills.

1) Read some fantastic books that will answer most of your questions about the world of translation. These books weren't around 15 years ago, so you are in luck if you are getting started now. Our all-time favorite is Corinne McKay's How to succeed as a freelance translator, and we hear our book The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation isn't bad, either.    These two books should help solve 90% of your initial questions.
2)  Invest in your education. There are many fantastic courses available for translators, and many are even online. For the Spanish/English pair, may we suggest UCSD-Extension, where Judy teaches?
3) Become a member of a professional association. Or two. Or three. The ATA has a great membership directory that clients can use to find vendors (read: translators).
4) Read the 650+ entries on this blog to get some good insight into the joys and challenges of translation. Then discover other fantastic blogs. We've listed them on our blog roll on the right-hand side of this blog.
5) Build your website and get an associated professional e-mail address. Don't tinker with it too long--it will never be perfect, and you can always change it later. Done is better than perfect.
6) Attend industry conferences and meet your peers. There just is no substitute, and translators need a network of colleagues to succeed. So go out and build it. Be sure to also join e-mail lists (listservs) that many associations offer.
7) Invest in your set-up. We are in the lucky position that starting a translation services business requires minimal investment, but there will be some (a few thousand, perhaps) you need to buy a great computer, dictionaries, CAT tools, etc.
8) Keep in mind that starting a translation business is no different than starting out any other business, but perhaps with less risk because the investment you need to make is low and you have no overhead. Remember that it will take time to build a business. It's never instantaneous.
8) Go to where the clients are. You need to get out of the house and network. If you are a legal translator, go to events where there will be lots of lawyers, such as bar association meetings, etc. 
9) Create a good pricing structure. Don't underprice everyone just because you are getting started, as that will affect you and everyone else in both the short and the long run. Do the math to see how much you need to make to have a thriving business, and charge the rate that gets you there. Not everyone will want to work with you, but you don't need thousands of clients.
10) Dedicate time to administrative and promotional work. Unless you work only with translation agencies, which essentially do all the client acquisition work for you, you must do the sales and marketing functions yourself. In the beginning, this will take up a big part of your time, but as you progress in your career it will be less so.

What would you like to add, dear colleagues?


Unknown on August 2, 2015 at 9:59 AM said...

Good points. I would add picking a specialization and getting a mentor.

Unknown on August 2, 2015 at 11:27 AM said...

Great tips! Probably the price structure is the one that most translators starting up in the industry fail to do. Do you really think that being part of an association is a priority? Sometimes it requires experience and a considerable investment for translators starting up. This article reminds me of one I posted last week: 12 tips for first time freelancers.
Thanks for these tips!

Josh Goldberg said...

Generally speaking, in most endeavors, people give up too easily. So keep hanging in there.

Good judgement comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgement. None of us know everything we need to know when we start out, but we figure it out over time.

Trust your gut. If something doesn't feel legit, it probably isn't.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on August 3, 2015 at 2:41 PM said...

@David: Many thanks--excellent points. They sure are key. We love mentoring new colleagues and agree that it is an important recipe for success.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on August 3, 2015 at 2:43 PM said...

@David: Thanks for reading and for commenting. In the US, membership in T&I associations requires no prior experience (except AIIC). We know that's not the case in Europe, but we think that getting involved in the profession and learning from others is best accomplished by joining an association. Of course there are always many different ways to get involved.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on August 3, 2015 at 2:44 PM said...

@Josh: Thanks for sharing your valuable advice. We couldn't have said it any better. And we all make bad decisions--and try to avoid making the same one twice. And yes, trusting your gut is key! We like to call this our "very scientific method": gut feeling. It works quite well most of the time. Thanks for reading!

Andrei Shmatkov on September 10, 2015 at 1:45 PM said...

Very good points! I am not a beginner, but I still need to work om item 8 from the list - get away from my computer, SEO things and website rankings and actually go where potential clients are. I believe this is the only way to obtain more local translation clients!

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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