How to Become a Professional Freelance Translator in Less Time Than You Think

When I first got back into camping as an adult, I dreaded sleeping on the ground. I tried foam pads, mattress pads, air mattresses and all sorts of pad combinations, but every time the results were the same.

I woke up feeling like a tractor had rolled over my in the middle of the night.

All that changed when I found a group of people online that took their camping above ground and slept in hammocks. The more I read about hammocking, the more I became convinced that sleeping in a hammock outdoors was the way to camp.

The only problem was that I was afraid of taking the plunge. I had all sorts of doubts:

What if I can’t set up my hammock right and people see me struggling?

What if I’m the only one with a hammock and other people dismiss me as being weird?

Fast forward a few years, though, and guess what?

I’m strictly a hammock camper now.

Hammocking in Utah during December.
Hammocking in Utah during December.

I decided to not listen to the biggest naysayer of all (myself) and just jump in and do it.

And now I take my hammock on all my camping trips and never have to worry about waking up with a bad back again.

But that only came about because I stopped placing barriers on myself and questioning. I just jumped in and did it. And I was successful.

Are You Wasting Your Time in Becoming a Professional Translator?

One of the questions I get asked a lot by people interested in becoming freelance translators is this:

How long does it take to become a professional translator?

As a society, we are always obsessed with finding out how long it will take us to master something.

  • How long until I’m good at playing the guitar?
  • How long will it take me to learn Spanish?
  • How long will it take me to lose weight?

You get the idea.

We’ve all been guilty of this at some point in our life. Even me.

When I first started learning how to play the guitar, I wondered how long it would take before I became any good.

It wasn’t long, though, before I realized that this type of question is the wrong one to be asking no matter what the subject of the question is.

There is one fundamental problem with this type of question.

The problem is that these questions aren’t specific enough. When I ask how long it will take me to be good at playing the guitar, what does that really even mean?

Am I asking how long until I’m can play like Eric Clapton?

Or is good enough for me being able to play around the campfire at the next family campout?

Same thing with the translation question.

When someone asks how long it takes to become a freelance translator, what is she really asking?

When a person asks me this question, I ask her to be more specific.

What is your idea of a freelance translator?

Most people when asked this question first look at my like I’m an idiot, and then respond that of course a freelance translator is someone that makes money from translating.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere.

So, you want to make money as a translator? What kind of money do you want to make?

Some people are content with making a few hundred bucks every month from translating.

Others want something more significant. Maybe $1,000 a month to supplement their income from a current job.

And other people want to go all in and make a full-time living from being a freelance professional translator.

But because these are all different goals with different outcomes, the length of time it takes to reach them will be different.

However, the good thing is that the process for becoming a freelance translator, no matter what your end goal, is the same.

The Process to Becoming a Professional Translator

The great thing about becoming a freelance translator is that you can start the process relatively easily while still in school, or working a full-time job, or being a full-time stay-at-home dad.

The trick is to remember the math of freelancing.

That secret is that it only takes one client to start earning money as a professional translator.

Let’s say that you want to earn $1,000 a month from your freelance translation efforts.

All it takes is one or two decent clients and you’ll have that income.

If you get two client that each need translation done for 5,000 words and you charge $0.10 a word, you’re at $1,000.

Or, let’s say that you have trouble finding clients needing that much work done (which, frankly, isn’t very much). Well, then if you found 10 clients each needing 1,000 words translated, you’ll also have $1,000 by the time the month is over.

So, in order to become a professional translator and make enough money to earn $1,000 regularly, you only need as long as it will take you to find those first clients.

Misconceptions About Being A Professional Translator

One of the things I’ve realized as I’ve talked to people interested in becoming a freelance translator is that a lot of people are really looking for permission to take the plunge and start translating for money.

The thing is, there is nobody out there who can deny you from earning money as a translator.

Translation (at least in the United States) is not regulated by a national governing body prohibiting anyone without a proper license from translating. And that isn’t going to change.

So if you want to be a translator, all you have to say is, “Hey, I’m a translator now,” and guess what? You’re now a translator.

As a translator, here are some things you don’t need:

  • a specialized college degree in translation (I have one, but remember that my first translation job I ever had was before I even got accepted into the program)
  • a translation certification
  • a special license
  • a complete mastery of your languages
  • translation experience

So if you’re interested in becoming a professional translator, quit looking for excuses on why you can’t be a translator. Instead, focus all your efforts on finding that first client willing to pay you.

Once you find one, then find another, and another, and then another. Establish long-term relationships with those clients by providing top quality and service that they can’t get anywhere else.

Pretty soon that $1,000 per month will balloon to $3,000 or $4,000 a month and you’ll be well on your way to making a quality income from your translation work.

All in less time than you thought.

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