Monday, 31 August 2015


I have now been working as a freelance translator for over 5 months.

Recently I started working with my first direct client and I intend to start marketing to more direct clients from now on.

However, as a newcomer to freelancing (after more than 3 years working as an in-house translator), my first few months have mostly been spent working with agencies.

The advantage to working with agencies is that they find the work for you. This is great for generating an initial regular income. You can then build your translation businesses on this base.

The main disadvantage to working with agencies is that, as for any industry when you are working through an intermediary, the agency will take their cut. This means that your rates for agencies will usually be lower than your rates for direct clients.

I have been very lucky in finding agencies that treat me well and provide me with plenty of work in my specialist areas (aerospace and engineering). I have also been able to gain experience in other fields, because my best agencies revise my work and provide feedback. This provides a safety net for gaining experience in subjects that are slightly outside my specialist area.

Based on my experience working with agencies, here is some advice:

1. Concentrate on building a good relationship with your project managers (PMs). As for anybody, PMs generally enjoy working with people they like. PMs are more likely to want to work with you again if you create a good rapport and prove yourself to be friendly, as well as skilled and reliable.

2. Do not take on too much work. If you have already established a relationship with an agency, turning down work now and again because you are fully booked is not the end of the world. In fact, it shows that you are doing well and have other customers. If you take on too many projects because you are afraid of turning down work, you will just end up missing deadlines, which does not do wonders for your professional credibility.

3. Do not let agencies bully you into lowering your rates. They will try and it is tempting to accept lower rates in the beginning when you just want the work to come in. If you do start out with low rates, it is very difficult to subsequently raise them with agencies. It is hard to determine acceptable rates at the start of your freelance career, as it can be a bit of a taboo subject between translators. However, from experience, if you find yourself inundated with work, you should be asking for a higher rate. I eventually managed to negotiate better rates from my lowest paying agencies, but if you find yourself in this position, your best bet is to keep marketing until you find agencies that pay better, and gradually replace the low payers with high payers.

4. Remember that you are a supplier, not an employee. If agencies start asking you to do extra work for free (glossary building, DTP, etc.), do not be afraid to put your foot down and remind them that time is money for you. If extra work is involved, you should be paid for it. You are not on a salary!

5. If you are contacted by a new agency, check that they are legitimate before accepting any work from them. One way to do this is by checking the Proz blueboard to see if there are any complaints from other translators. There is always an element of risk working as a freelancer, but this way you are less likely to get stung!

Agency work is not for everyone, but it should not be shunned, as it can help set in train your career as a freelancer.

Sunday, 5 July 2015


Test Translations - Yes or No?

As a relative newcomer to the world of freelance translation (having previously worked as an in-house translator for several years), I find myself increasingly using social media to keep on top of current trends in my industry.

I particularly like the “Things Translators Never Say” group on facebook. Although it takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the issues freelance translators and interpreters face on a daily basis, it does provide valuable insight into industry practices that are/are not acceptable. I would certainly recommend this group to other new freelancers, as there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of common issues, with real-life solutions from experienced people in the profession.

One subject that seems to crop up fairly regularly in online translation fora is whether or not to complete test translations. Some freelance translators are willing to, whilst others vehemently oppose these tests in principle.

Personally, I do not have a major issue with completing test translations, provided that no abusive practice is involved.  A lot of people claim to be translators, and tests enable customers to be selective with respect to the translators they choose to work with. In my humble opinion, customers who ask for such tests often genuinely want to check that translators are specialised in the areas they claim to be. In any case, test translations should not pose a problem if a translator has the necessary qualifications and/or is really specialised in certain areas.

However, I fully appreciate the argument that you would not ask professionals from other areas (lawyers, for example) to prove their competence before hiring their services. Usually qualifications and experience suffice. Test translations do take up a lot of time, are not usually paid and do not always provide a new source of income.

To find a middle ground, my advice would be as follows:
1. Ask the customer if they are willing to pay. Customers who are genuinely interested in hiring your services quite often are – but if you don’t ask you won’t get!
2. Only accept tests in your specialist area. Good customers will often ask if you are comfortable with the context. Do not lie – there is no point wasting time over a test you find to be completely outside of your comfort zone. You run the risk of failing the test and wasting your time in the process.
3. Do not accept tests longer than 200-300 words if you do accept to complete a test for free. You do not want to be spending hours on unpaid work.
4. Set your own deadlines. One customer asked me to complete a timed test on a specific day. When I refused, saying that I give priority to current customers and complete tests when I find the time, the customer was actually pleased that I gave this much consideration to my customers.

Deciding whether or not you want to go down this route can be testing in its own right. Setting your own standards is important for this kind of issue. Take advice from people with more experience, but remember – it’s your business and your rules. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015


Going solo

I am now into my third month of freelancing, so I thought I would share how I found making the transition from in-house translation to working from home.
Working alone!
The hardest thing I found about freelancing was no longer being able to go for a quick coffee with colleagues. Don’t get me wrong, the freedom of being your own boss is great, but working alone every day can start to feel a bit lonely.
Luckily, there are a lot of networking opportunities out there – it is definitely worth joining local groups and associations to meet other translators in your area. Here are some of the best networking opportunities I have found so far:
  •        Powwows on Proz
  •        Professional translator associations, such as the CIoL and the ITI, and their local branches.
  •        Social media groups (Things Translators Never Say on Facebook is a good one).

Not having to leave the house to go to work!
This is definitely one of the perks of freelancing (no more early morning commutes and being able to work in whatever outfit – or pair of PJs – you like). However, I have found that not having to leave the house makes me feel very sedentary.
My solution to this has been to to take up as many new sports and hobbies as possible. I've started jogging in the local park and have even begun Salsa classes! Freelancing has been great for me in this respect. 

As an in-house translator, my company gave me work, set my deadlines, and paid my wages. As a freelancer, I am now in charge of my own time/project management, marketing, accounting and customer services. This can be fairly overwhelming in the first few months.
I am still getting to grips with it all, but I have found organisation and information to be the key to success. 

Overall, I would say that the transition has been challenging yet rewarding. It's not all plain sailing and I'm still learning the ropes. However, as they say - practice makes perfect! 

Friday, 3 April 2015



My name is Lucy O'Shea, and I have recently made the transition from in-house to freelance translation. Having completed my first month of working from home, I thought I'd share a few things I have learnt. Hopefully my experience will be of use to other people thinking of taking the leap and going freelance!

Lesson No. 1: 
Do your research! Start thinking of your business plan and read up on how to work as a freelance translator. There are loads of brilliant blogs and books available! This book by Corinne McKay is very helpful (even if it is based on the American market):

Lesson No. 2: 
Use "aggressive" marketing techniques. You may be the best translator around, but nobody will know that if you don't put yourself out there. It takes time to establish your client base, and not every direct customer or agency will need your services. Contact as many potential customers as you can whilst you have the time in the early stages of your freelance venture. 

Lesson No. 3: 
Stand out from the crowd! If you have worked in another profession before you started translating, or you have gained a specialism through experience, let your customers know! Give customers a reason to choose you over other translators offering similar services.

Lesson No. 4: 
Be honest! Don't lie about being specialised in a specific area if you are not. This will make sure that you avoid the unnecessary stress of trying to deal with a subject you are not comfortable with, and ensure you deliver quality work to your customers. 

Lesson No. 5:
Chill out! Rome wasn't built in a day! It may take time to have all your time occupied by freelance work. Use any time between your translations to perform tasks that will be of benefit to you later: contact potential customers, create an invoice template and establish a way to keep on top of the financial side of things. If not, you'll be kicking yourself when the work does come in and you have to work crazy hours to keep on top of things you could have dealt with earlier.