17 Ways to Maximize Your Money as a Freelance Translator

You won’t become a multimillionaire by being a freelance translator. However, you can make a good living as a freelance translator.

And this can be a reality even more so by maximizing your money, which is something that new translators might have a hard time with. Here are some suggestions on how to better maximize your money as a freelancer.

Forget the latest translation tools

A lot of people, when they decide to try something new, have the mistaken idea that they need to buy the latest and greatest gear before really even knowing if they are going to follow through. I saw this a lot when I decided to train for triathlons. Everybody (both online and offline) kept telling me that if I wanted to be a triathlete, I needed to buy the latest triathlon bike ($5,000), a pair of top-of-the-line running shoes ($200), and all the best triathlon clothing and gear ($$$$). And this was before I even knew whether I could run down to the end of the block without getting winded!

I didn’t listen to them. I found a bike online for $70 and fixed it up, riding it for almost 1,000 miles before deciding to upgrade to a $500 “knock-off.” I searched around and found cheap triathlon accessories like clothes and gear. I went “thrifty” with the $60 pair of running shoes. And guess what? I did just fine. Having the latest and most expensive gear wouldn’t have changed my mind about doing triathlons. I love doing them and learned to love them because of the joy they brought; it didn’t matter that I didn’t have the best gear.

With translators it’s the same thing. Many new translators just starting out think that they need to have the latest translation software and tools to be considered a “real” translator. That is simply not the case. As I’ve said numerous times before, a the only difference between a professional translator and a hobbyist is that the professional translator gets paid. And as a translator, you can get paid without having to buy the most expensive software out there. In fact, as a beginning translator you should first try becoming a translator without even worrying about tools. If you decide you like translating and that you can earn some money from doing it, then it could be time to look into actually using translation software (of which there are some free options out there).

Hardware doesn’t make you a translator

In the same way that merely owning translation software doesn’t make you a professional translator, you don’t need the latest computer hardware to become a language professional.

Let’s look at another real-life example.

There are countless numbers of people who think that they want to become YouTube stars, making movies for the masses. So, what’s the first thing they do? Go out to BestBuy, spend a small fortune, and buy the latest microphone, webcam, and computer to start their YouTube empire. Maybe they do one or two videos before they decide it’s not for them and that’s it. Hardware wasted.

Instead of doing that, they could have simply pulled their phone out of their pocket and started recording, for free. So often we imagine that the barriers for entry into some activity are greater than they actually are.

What do you need to be a YouTube star? Just your cell phone.

What about a writer? Just your computer and an Amazon account to publish (or your own website).

A freelance translator? A simple computer with a word processor.

That’s how most translators I know started out. That’s all you need to start out as well. Don’t fall for the trap of “needing” something you don’t actually need.

Use your own connections before advertising

There is a time and a place for advertising. Understand that I’m not saying that advertising is bad. I’ve advertised plenty of places and using plenty of different mediums for different projects I’ve worked on in the past.

That being said, there is a tendency for new translators to think that advertising is the only way to find clients. In fact, in my experience, unless it’s executed nearly perfectly, it’s one of the worst ways to find quality translation clients.

Instead of spending money on ads that may or may not work, your best option as a freelance translator is to use the connections you already have to build your client base. If you work at a regular 9-5 job and are moonlighting as a translator on the side, talk to your boss about using any connections you have at work to build your own business.

Talk to your friends, no matter what industry they work in.

Talk to your family members about what you are doing and the business you are trying to build.

Eventually, if you talk to enough people, connections will be made that you wouldn’t have been able to predict. Those connections will then lead you to real business clients and customers that already have some connection to you (however tenuous it might be at first). All without spending money on advertising.

Real-world experience trumps the classroom

Before you decide to spend thousands of dollars on classroom and degree programs, remember this:

Real-world experience will always trump classroom learning, especially when it comes to becoming a successful translator.

And real-world experience costs a lot less for better results than any university translation program.

Now, is there a place for these types of translation degree and certification programs.

Certainly.

In fact, I even got a university-level Spanish translation degree. So they aren’t completely useless.

But be sure that you are really going to get out of it what you expect.

Don’t get a degree in your native language

Along with point number four, if you speak a language natively or fluently, don’t waste your time and money getting a degree in that particular language.

I mentioned before that I graduated college with a Spanish translation degree. What surprised me, however, was that in the Spanish department, there were native Spanish speakers in the Spanish program that hoped to become translators.

That was such a waste, especially when they could have used that time and money to get a degree in something outside language to help enhance their marketability in the translation market.

(Of course, the school advisers weren’t very helpful in that regard…)

So if you’re already a fluent speaker of a language, please don’t get a degree in that language. It’s a waste.

Charge for the job you do (including extras)

OK, this is a great point that I hope you take to heart.

As a translator, 90 percent of the time you are not just translating.

In fact, you’re probably doing a million other things for the client. You should be getting paid for those things. If you’re not, it’s time to change your approach to how you bill and charge your clients.

So what are some of those extra things you’re doing outside of strict translation? Here are a few:

  • desktop publishing or advanced formatting
  • image processing
  • notarization
  • marketing
  • original language editing
  • original language proofreading

Charge what you’re worth

Not only should you charge for the job you do, including all the extras that clients tend to throw on translators at the last minute, but you should also charge your worth.

Now, that sounds good but what exactly does that mean?

It means that if you are a professional translator with experience and you know what you’re doing, make sure your prices reflect that.

Don’t be afraid to raise your prices beyond the paltry $0.01 per word rates that you’ll find on online job sites.

Your clients will respect you for valuing your own services.

Explore other language opportunities

Guess what? I wrote a whole book about this subject.

Just because you’re a translator doesn’t mean that you can’t make money doing other language-related jobs.

Here are some to think about (and which I discuss in more detail in my book):

  • Movie Subtitle
  • Tour Guide
  • Journalist
  • Game Tester
  • Proofreader

Understand feasts and famines

One of the first things I learned as a translator is that we often go through ups and downs. I mean, really any entrepreneur will go through periods when business is really booming and other times when business is down.

One of the best ways to manage your money as a translator is to understand that these cycles are likely to happen. Once you know that they are a part of your life as a translator, you can be better prepared to save money to set aside for those down times.

Don’t compare your salary

Big one here. Don’t compare your salary to any other translator. Especially if you don’t know anything about that translator.

Comparing notes with another translator on how they might maximize their profits and improve their business is one thing.

However, when you start to compare salaries with someone else, especially when you don’t know them or their situation, will only result in you feeling like you’re doing something wrong when it could be that (and probably is) your situation is completely different than theirs.

Break down your earning desires (top to bottom)

One of the coolest things I learned about how to approach the idea of setting a goal for how much you want to make is to break down your earning desires going from top to bottom.

This is a method I learned from Ramit Sethi and can be applied specifically to entrepreneurs who have a goal of making a certain amount of money.

Here are the steps:

First, figure out how much you want to earn per year. Let’s say that’s $100,000.

The next step is to break down that amount in time increments:

$100,000 per year is…
$8,333 per month which is…
$2,083 per week which is…
$297 per day

If you’re a translator that charge $0.10 a word, then that $297 per day comes out to 2,970 words per day, which is more than doable for most professional translators.

Now, those numbers sound a lot more manageable than just thinking of that $100,000 per year figure. So whatever your monetary goals are, be sure to break them down to get a real idea of what that would mean for you.

Apps don’t equal productivity (but can help)

People love looking for quick solutions. Wether it’s for weight loss, earning money, or anything else, most people want to know how to achieve a lofty goal without putting in a lot of work.

One of the ways that this is manifest currently is by the number of apps that people download on their phones to try and help them accomplish some goal.

They figure that if they have some specific app, then they will certainly be more productive, more financially stable, or healthier.

The problem is that apps don’t help us do any of those.

They can facilitate our efforts but only if we have the initial desire and motivation to begin with.

If you struggle with organization, for example, but haven’t expended any effort in learning how to become more organized, just downloading an app that makes promises of turning you into an organized person will not help you.

The same goes with us as translators. Don’t spend money and time on apps for your business to help you struggle with some aspect you’re struggling with. First, overcome that struggle with traditional methods and then when you’ve got it down, then you can download an app that will enhance the productivity you’ve learned.

You don’t need a logo

OK, maybe that’s a little harsh.

But the reality is that you don’t need to have thing like a logo, customized stationary, or a professional looking website to start your business.

They may be nice to have. They may help show someone that you’re a professional. But they can also be (and often times are) just a substitute for real work that you should be doing to get your business off the ground.

You need to find clients. And designing a logo for your stationary isn’t going to bring in any clients, as much as you try to tell yourself that you need to do it.

Earn before you burn

This is a basic financial management principle, but it’s important and so is worth repeating. Don’t spend money on something until you have the money to buy it.

This should be a hard and fast rule. No exceptions. If you want exceptions, then what you’re really looking for is an excuse to justify your current behavior. And I’m not going to justify it for you.

Time really is money

A lot of business gurus talk about how time is money.

And I really do believe that. The way we spend our time can and will have a direct impact in how much we earn. So we need to make sure we spend our time on the right activities.

Many gurus, however, say then that you should be willing to spend money to outsource those tasks that you can, so that you can then focus on the more important matters in your business.

I agree with this as well. To a degree.

This should be done only if you have the money to pay for someone to do those things and after you have done those tasks yourself. Remember “earn before you burn” from the point above? It applies here.

Second, you need to have done the tasks yourself at least once so that you can adequately explain to someone else what you need done. It’ll be much more difficult to outsource a task for your business if you don’t have a clear idea of what that task entails.

Monthly Internet is cheaper than Starbucks

Seemingly little purchases over time will add up and if you’re trying to save your money as you get your business off the ground, you need to learn to live without those little things.

This needs to be coupled with always looking for ways to increase your income.

Just make sure that you focus on using your money on those things that are important to you and that you’re not spending it on things that you think you should be spending it on because your friends or colleagues are spending it a certain way.

Manage your health

Keeping your health a priority is the most important thing you can do to ensure the success of your business.

Without your health, you really are putting yourself at a huge disadvantage and not maximizing your assets as much as you should.

And, one thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to join an expensive gym or hire a trainer to get these benefits from having optimum health.

In fact, walking is free and is one of the best exercises you should be doing every day.


If you’re serious about becoming a successful translator, be sure to read my book on forty tips for becoming a true professional.

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