Small Business

How to Find Translation Work


Freelance translators should realize more clients are looking for experts in specialized subjects, so you may want to develop a niche

I've been a freelance translator since I graduated from university in 2004, but I'm having difficulty finding new opportunities. What new methods can I use to find more jobs? —N.A., Cairo, Egypt

For a self-employed person, the ideal situation is for you to become the "go-to" professional for translation agencies and corporate clients who have regular translation work that they outsource. Once you prove yourself available, reasonable, and reliable, and make key corporate contacts, you'll be able to decide how much—or how little—you want to work.

"The good news is that translation is a global industry, and one that is constantly growing," says Nataly Kelly, an author and a senior analyst at business globalization and language services research firm Common Sense Advisory. Her firm predicts that the language services market will hit $24 billion by 2012.

Increasingly, translation agencies and end clients seek specialized subject-matter expertise, so if you don't have a niche you may want to develop one. "Literary translation is very different from technical translation, and translating business marketing materials is completely unlike translating legal or medical documents, such as informed consent forms. Highlighting your unique skills and experience is essential to differentiating your services from those of other translators," Kelly says.

If you are new or little known in the industry, it might help if you offer some free translation work, or volunteer as a translator for charitable group, says Susanne Evens, of AAA Translation in St. Louis. "Free translation work helps you gain experience and exposure, which you can use in your résumé," she notes. Build a credible Web site (BusinessWeek.com, 6/9/08) if you don't already have one. It should list some recent projects and client testimonials if you can get permission to use them. "Include downloadable samples of your work, but if you use actual projects as samples, be sure to redact any of your clients' identifying information before posting," Kelly says.

Send translation companies your résumé and Web site information. Your résumé should be free of spelling errors and include three references and a translation sample, Evens suggests. If you list all of your specialized skills and areas of interest—even hobbies—that may catch the eye of someone looking for a specialist, Kelly says.

Finally, get registered with the American Translators Assn., and sign up for projects at online translation boards such a www.ProZ.com, www.elance.com, www.TranslationDirectory.com, and www.translatorscafe.com, Evens says. Keep in touch with the industry by reading language translation magazines such as www.multilingual.com and www.translations-news.com.

Where you live determines how much you will earn. Translators in Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, and the U.S. earn the most, Kelly says, while those in Bulgaria, China, and Moldova earn the least. Stats from Common Sense Advisory show that translators based in Egypt earn around $20,000 annually, Kelly says.

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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