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The recipe for a successful start to a freelance translation career

Written by Catherine Park

Catherine Park discusses the skills required to get your freelance translation career off to flying start.

BlackboardPicture the scene. You’ve decided you want to set up as a freelance translator and you’re excited about your new career. You know you’ve got the potential to make a real go of it –  and maybe you’re encouraged by having gained a translation qualification and have already done some work. And maybe you’ve got a few or even a lot of ideas on how you're going to tackle it.

But when the time comes to focus on making it happen, you don’t feel quite so confident. You’re not sure how to go about gaining new clients or to get your business off the ground. It’s hard to motivate yourself to get things moving, particularly if you don’t have much work at the moment. And it seems a long way from the starting point to the sort of established business you can see people operating around you.

It’s only natural to feel this uncertainty as a new freelancer, whatever your profession (I’ve been there myself!). However, it’s important to stop this phase dragging out, for maybe months or years into your freelance working life.

But what do you need to establish yourself as quickly as possible as a freelance translator? Clearly, excellent language and translation skills, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Here are some of the things freelancers need to be able to crack to hit the ground running.

Selling your strengths: Okay, maybe you haven’t done much work yet, but you need to be able to identify and promote your unique strengths and previous activities that equip you to do the job

The eternal chicken and egg: If you don’t have experience you can’t gain work, and if you haven’t worked you can’t gain experience. So how do you get the right kind of experience (for example pro bono), and then make sure you capitalise on it.

Working from home: The sort of things you need to get to grips with include the CAT and more general business tools that will help you do your job, as well as regulatory obligations such as data protection requirements. You also need to get into the right mindset for functioning as an effective business person even though you are working on your own from home.

The basics: Is your typing up to scratch? How are your grammar and spelling skills? If you have any weaknesses in these areas, how do you deal with them?

Formatting: Text will often come to you in a form that cannot immediately be worked on, for example as a PDF. Do you know how to convert this to a Word document? Are you familiar with how track changes work?

Promoting yourself: Do you know how to make the best possible use of social media to sell your skills?

Networking: A vital activity and skill for freelancers, but something people often don’t feel that comfortable doing. What sort of networking strategy should you have?

The CV: Do you know what potential clients and recruiters want to see and what turns them off? You might be surprised!

Clients and rates: When you are just starting out, there can be a lot of anxiety about finding the next job. This can lead to accepting approaches from any client, and yielding to downward pressure on rates. However, it’s counter-productive to work with troublesome clients who won’t pay, or to routinely under-value yourself in pricing your services. To run a stable, sustainable business, you need to be discerning about potential clients and to set sensible rates. And you need to have strategies for ensuring you get paid on time.

And above all - Self-belief!: It’s vital to have confidence in your abilities and not to under-sell yourself.


To build a successful business, freelancers need to be able to deal effectively with these challenges. It is by no means easy, but at ITI we regularly see freelancers establishing themselves very quickly because they have grasped the importance of these aspects and committed to tackling them.


These topics are covered on ITI’s online training programme Setting up as a Freelance Translator (SUFT). This course also offers the benefit of a continuing supportive network after the programme is complete.

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