Becoming a freelance translator is no easy task.
Just because you want to become a translator doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically get there.
And while I am always for encouraging people to follow their dreams and work towards what they want, sometimes, it’s important to be realistic and understand that some people just aren’t ready for what they want.
That goes for people who want to become freelance translators as well.
You might think you want to become a freelance translator and that you’re ready to become one. But you might not be.
If you show any of the following signs below, you might want to reassess what you need to do to be ready to be a translator:
- You have minimal (or no) language skills.
- You don’t use (or are afraid of) technology.
- You’re overly worried about your privacy.
- You are unable to talk or interact with others.
- You think you know everything.
- You don’t have a plan.
- You’re not willing to work.
Let’s look at each of these separately.
1. You Have No Language Skills
This sign pretty much speaks for itself.
If you want to be a translator, or any kind of language professional for that matter, you have to be able to perform the language work.
Simple as that.
Here’s an email I got last month from my contact page:
What do I need to become a translator or interpreter?
It’s not the first time I’ve gotten a question like this, and when I do answer it, my response is always the same.
Make sure you really know two languages.
That’s the first thing you need to have. A superb knowledge of the languages you’re going to use in your translation work.
There is no translation without language and I’m actually surprised by the number of people interested in becoming translators that haven’t thought about getting experience in a second or foreign language.
Without language skills, or with only minimal language skills, you definitely will not become a freelance translator.
2. You’re Afraid of Technology
There are a couple of issues with this sign that should be brought up.
The first is that there are a lot of people afraid that technology is going to overtake the translation industry and that there will be no more need for actual real-live human translators.
That’s not going to happen in your lifetime.
There will always (at least for the next 100 years) be a need for language professionals to be a part of the translation process.
The secret is to realize that the translation process is constantly evolving and changing. Technology, while not overtaking the industry completely, still plays a huge role. Trying to ignore it won’t help you at all and you’ll quickly realize that you’re on the outside looking in.
Embrace the idea that technology is part of the translation process. Find your place in that process and you’ll be much more adaptable and willing to learn and move alongside the technology instead of fighting against it.
The second issue with this sign is that there are people (maybe you even) that are simply afraid of learning new technology. And here I’m talking about technology in general, not just translation-related tech.
One example of this is the shift to social media.
I’ve talked about social media and translators before.
What I’d like to say here, though, is that if you are not willing to at least understand social media and the impact is has (negative or positive) no your business, you are not doing your due diligence as an honest business owner.
Too many translators want to write off social media with the excuse that it didn’t exist when they were starting out so why would they need to use or worry about it now.
That’s outdated logic and thinking and if you’re going to fall into this camp, you won’t make it very far as a freelance translator or language professional.
3. You’re Worried About Privacy
Privacy is a real issue, don’t get me wrong.
There are some real concerns out there about organizations that have abused their users’ privacy.
This is just a sample:
There are plenty of efforts underway to ensure that people are afforded the privacy that they want and need.
That being said…
It can be really difficult for a freelance translator to realize that in order to have a freelance business, he or she has to “put themselves out there” and give up a little bit of their privacy in the process.
A lot of freelance translators that I know are introverted (and it’s OK to be introverted) and this is the scariest thing for most of them when it comes to creating their own business.
When you own your own business and need to get clients, you will have to advertise yourself to the public.
There’s no other option.
People have to know who you are if you want them to choose you for their business.
Let’s say that you want to push your business on social media. It’s going to be really difficult to get business if you keep your profile private, for example.
If you want to make videos for YouTube to advertise your services, eventually you’re going to have to get on camera yourself and show the world who you are.
If you’re terrified of doing that, it’ll be really hard to advance your business.
4. You Have No Social Skills
This goes hand in hand with the privacy issue I mentioned above.
You have to be able to communicate with others.
Now, the good thing about communication is that there are lots of different styles of communication.
You don’t have to talk like someone specific or act like someone that you’re not.
But what you do have to do is be able to communicate and talk with people about who you are and what you do.
Communication is probably the most important tool for freelance translators, as much as some of us might try to deny that.
Sometimes, we translators want to believe that people will come to us without us doing anything and that we won’t have to talk to anyone. We will be able to retreat to our office and the work will come rolling in.
That’s not how it works.
Again, you have to put yourself out there are market yourself, being willing to take and deal with rejection.
Another good thing about communication, though, is that it can be taught.
Growing up, my dad was a banker. I’ve always known him as a social guy that is able to talk to anyone about anything anytime and anywhere.
Even my kids joke that whenever we visit my parents and go with them anywhere, someone always knows and says hi to my dad.
What they don’t realize, though, is something my dad told me when I was growing up and asking him about his sociability.
He said that he wasn’t a social person when he graduated from college and started working his first job.
But he quickly realized that if he wanted to be successful, he was going to have to get out of his comfort zone and learn to be social.
So, if you want to be social, you can be. You just need to learn some strategies and practice, practice, practice.
Start with a book or two:
And make sure you practice what is preached in the books. Do that for a few months and you’ll be a much better communicator (and more importantly, you’ll have the confidence to talk to people).
5. You Know Everything (You Think)
And speaking of learning, if you’re not willing to do it, then forget about being successful.
Because you won’t be.
If you want to be ahead of the game and become a successful, professional freelance translator, you have to be humble enough to learn from other people.
The minute you think you know everything, you’re done.
None of us can possibly know everything, but it’s the wise person who realizes that and will seek out others to learn from so that they can become better.
When I was getting my Master’s degree, I had an advisor who told use once in class that undergraduate students know nothing but think they know everything. Master’s degree students realize that there are things that they don’t know. Doctoral students, however, know that they don’t know anything.
And that’s true to some extent.
The more you learn, the more you realize that there is so much out there that you don’t know.
But that’s OK.
Your goal in life is not to know everything. It is, however, to always be learning.
And these days it’s easier than ever to learn whatever you want to know.
- videos (YouTube)
- social media
- Udemy (online courses)
There’s no excuse to not be learning something every single day.
6. You Have No Plan
All of these signs are detrimental to your success as a freelance translator.
However, if you do not have a plan, there is no way forward for you.
Your plan forms the foundation of all future success. It gives you direction on what to work on and where you want to go in the future.
Now, a common misconception is that your plan has to be a complicated diagram full of every step you’re going to take for the next 28 years.
That’s not the type of plan you need.
If you have a plan like that and it works for you, keep it and use it.
But if you don’t yet have a plan and are afraid of putting one together because you think it might be overly complicated, then you need to rethink what it means to have a plan.
Think of a plan as having an overarching goal you want to accomplish.
Let’s say that you want to become a successful freelance translator.
That’s your overarching goal.
First you need to decide what it means to you to be a successful freelance translator.
For some people, it might mean making six figures a year and working 80 hours a week.
For other people, maybe it means making less money but having the freedom to move around, travel, or do other things with your time besides work.
Maybe you don’t want a full-time translation gig and are looking to make money on the side as a part-time freelance translator.
Any of those can be a definition of success. You have to first decide what it means to you.
Once you have an idea of what success as a freelance translator means to you, then it’s time to write down the steps you’re going to take to reach that idea of success.
If you want to become a part-time translator and make an extra $1000 a month, then you now have a goal of what you want to reach.
$1000 over a four-week period is $250 per week. $250 per week is about $36 a day.
So, how can you earn $36 a day as a part-time freelance translator?
That will take some brainstorming but that will form your plan on how to reach your goal. It will determine how many clients you need, how much you’re going to charge, what kinds of services you’re going to offer, etc.
Without having direction and that plan, it will be really difficult to reach your goal (if you have even defined your goal in the first place).
7. You Won’t Work
None of the above matters if you don’t put in the work.
And this doesn’t mean that you have to work 24 hours a day seven days a week and never have any other life.
What it does mean is that you have to treat your business like a business, not a hobby.
A hobby is something you do for fun with no expectation of financial gain.
A business can be something you do for fun but it’s also something you do because you hope to get some financial gain because of it.
So if you want your business to flourish, you need to work at it, doing something every day to advance it.
Success takes work, and succeeding as a freelance translator is no different.
P.S. If you want more tips on becoming a successful translator, read my books.