Sunday, May 07, 2006

Four First Steps

Some new translators have contacted me and asked me for advice on finding translation jobs. There are, of course, many ways of going about this, but here are a few simple first steps translators might want to take. All four suggestions focus on making contacts, which is an essential part of any business.

1. Sign up for e-lists.

This is the simplest step to take and is a good way to begin. There are many free mailing lists on translation; some require that you be a member of a translators’ association, but others accept anyone interested in translation. E-lists are good places to meet other translators and find jobs.

On such lists, people ask for and offer advice, talk about career options, mention which agencies don’t pay on time, discuss invoicing, ask specific questions about terminology, and so forth. Also, people sometimes realize they've accepted more work than they can actually finish on time, so they offer sub-contracted assignments, and that is a good way to get some experience. I have found that many people get work from other translators, especially in the beginning, so clearly, getting to know other translators is important for many reasons.

Thus, I suggest you join some list serves related to your languages. If you introduce yourself as being a new translator, I am certain people will offer advice, help, encouragement, and maybe even assignments. Experienced translators also find such lists helpful. Even if you've worked as a translator for many years, you might still have questions or need support.

2. Join a professional organization, preferably a translators’ society.

While there are some translator programs and translator certifications, the majority of freelance translators work without having studied to become translators and without having received an official certification. Partly because of this, customers don’t always know how to find a translator they can really rely on. The major translators’ associations are professional groups with entry requirements and standards that they uphold. Customers, therefore, might prefer to hire translators who are members of such groups, and they also use association databases to find translators who have the background they are looking for. Thus, being a member could very well bring you more work. I have certainly found that being a member of Sveriges Facköversättarförening/Swedish Association of Professional Translators (SFÖ) has helped customers find me and that the credential is viewed positively.

Such associations also provide translators with a large network, just as the e-lists do. Through SFÖ and its e-mail list, I have met other translators who sometimes had too much work and then passed on assignments to me, as well as translators who have been able to answer specific terminology questions I’ve had. Just this week, a translator who has different specialty areas than I do spent some time answering a few questions I had on a translation that was more in her field than in fields I typically work with. I hope that I’ll be able to help her in turn at some point. In general, the people in the group willingly share their experience and knowledge and since freelancers often work alone, having a network of people who can help you when needed is definitely appreciated.

Many associations have interesting magazines, gatherings, and annual conferences as well, all of which help you make contacts and develop professionally. In fact, I’m looking forward to attending SFÖ’s conference in just a few days.

One problem beginning translators have is that professional organizations often expect you to have references when you apply to join. If you’re just starting out, you probably haven’t had enough customers yet to be able to meet the reference requirement. That’s why I suggest joining e-lists first, as I think you’ll be able to find a few assignments that way, especially by sub-contracting from other translators. Another complaint people have about professional organizations is that the membership fees are often high. I know I resisted joining SFÖ for awhile for just this reason, but I have earned back my annual fee many times from the work I’ve gotten through the group. Sometimes you have to spend money in order to earn money!

3. Register with translation agencies.

Finding direct clients can be difficult, so many people start off translating for agencies, and plenty of translators continue to work primarily with agencies even when they are more settled in their career.

A quick search on the internet will help you find agencies that work with your language pairs and then you can fill out the form many of them have on their websites. However, some agencies only want certified translators, or translators who use specific computer translation programs, or translators who work with particular subjects, so make sure you study their websites carefully before filling in the form.

Also, most of the agencies will want you to name your price right away, so you might want to think carefully about how much you'll charge. Remember when mentioning a figure that the bottom line is often the deciding factor when agencies pick which translators to hire and also keep in mind that agencies generally pay less than direct customers.

4. Talk.

Tell anyone and everyone that you work as a translator, and keep active so you meet many people. You never know who might need your services, or who might mention to someone else who happens to need a translator that you work as one. You might be surprised by how many people start sending you job announcements or ads from newspapers or websites or whatever else, or who pass on information about you to potential customers. Among other things, friends have noticed ads looking for translators and sent those ads on to me; I have gotten work thanks to the sharp eyes of these friends.

Besides translation, I also teach English, write articles, and copy edit, so I meet people in other fields. Some of my adult students work at companies where they need to translate their website or invoices to English, and schools where I teach sometimes need to translate evaluations or letters, and I meet people through my work as a freelance journalist and find they want someone to translate their restaurant's menus, and so forth. For me, having several jobs, meeting many people, and telling friends and relatives about my work helps me find a lot of opportunities.

Of course, it’s especially helpful if you live in a country where the language you want to translate from is spoken. Since I live in Sweden and translate from Swedish, I meet people frequently who need help translating from Swedish. But translation is a job that you can do from any location, so you don’t have to move somewhere just to get work! Instead, join lists and professional organizations, sign up with agencies, and let people know that you are a translator. Those are good steps to take no matter what stage you are at in your career.

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