How to get Work as a Freelance Translator

Over the last three months I have joined four outsourcing platforms as a freelancer translator: Fiverr, Odesk, Onehourtranslation and Elance – all four quite different venues to secure translation jobs. In this post I want to share some personal experiences and insights with starting freelancers or those of you who are thinking about going this route.

The truth is that everybody is blessed with its own expertise, and more often than not, the person who would be able to get a certain job done might not equipped with the ability to get the job in the first place, and vice versa. A while ago I was ‘hired’ by a client who claimed that he needed professional translators to translate some business texts from English to Chinese. However, shortly thereafter I realized that he wasn’t the business owner nor even a translation agency. He was an individual translator just like me, only that he somehow managed to secure much more jobs than he could handle all on his own, so he re-outsourced his work to other freelance translators and offered them lower pay than what he was offered by his clients. This way he managed to make money without even having to translate by himself anymore.

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When you step into the translators’ community don’t be surprised if in the beginning you find yourself in the bottom of the hierarchy – even if you are very experienced in the offline world. Therefore you should not get frustrated when you application is declined when the elected one has “I live Japan. I have master degree in English.” written on his profile. The very first thing you should set straight before hitting the ‘sign up’ button is to battle against your own uncertainty. Convince yourself that you can do the job and then arm yourself with unbreakable mindset and ultimate patience to defeat the any potential setbacks along the way.

Up next is to make yourself available online for potential clients. For examples I will use Odesk and Fiverr to show you a few tips about how to make a decent profile, how to apply for jobs, and how to get the job done ahead of the deadline without making yourself stressed and crazy.

How to make a decent profile?

Also known as: how to make a glamorous and attractive profile without having to lie? My fundamental philosophy is to be my better-true-self whenever it’s possible. When filling in the blanks upon registration, use a good natural picture of yourself (the one that can present your confidence and good attitude, preferably but not necessarily, frontal picture with a big smile and composed posture). When writing an overview about yourself, make a logical outline first. I would recommend you to first give your clients a brief idea of your competence, in my case, language skills. Then highlight your language skills by explaining how you got to possess these language skills.

For example, as a Japanese native speaker, you are able to speak English at a native level because you have attended an international school where the language for teaching was English, or you have studied abroad, or you are none of these but passed the TOEFL test with flying colors. Do whatever necessary to enhance your profile. Set up your rate based on your evaluation of yourself or you can do a check up on your competitor’s rates and then find your most competitive position. Fill up the portfolio and pass the tests as well as possible. Those tests are actually much easier than you might think. However you can only take them once. Don’t be lazy. Laziness won’t get you anywhere when you choose to be a freelancer, because you don’t have a fixed boss to get steady assignments from every day when you set foot in the office. Take as much time as you need to create an original and sincere and convincible profile. Get rid of the grammar mistakes and typos. If you really find it difficult for you to present yourself in words, as an alternative, you can also hire a professional ghost writer online to write it based on the information you provided.

Now that you are registered, the next step is to wait for orders or actively apply for jobs (recommended when you start out).

How to apply for jobs?

1) Be alert

As a rookie, you are most likely to be ignored by professional clients and targeted by scammers. To diminish the risk of being taken advantage of, remember to always check for references. For example, on Odesk, take a few seconds before applying to check the client’s previous feedbacks. When it’s a fixed price job, the payment is merely depending on your client’s integrity. On Fiverr, remember to not do the job until the client places an official order and activates the order. There are a lot of rules on both of the two websites. Again, don’t be lazy and at least skim through the policies and rules beforehand to avoid unnecessary pitfalls.

2) Start with small jobs

Although your profile is important, your ratings are even more important. There is a wide variety of clients out there. Most of them value ratings and experiences very much but there’s still some of them who are willing to give a chance to a newbie. On Odesk, new contractors usually have very limited applications to use every week. In the beginning, in order to make the best of your limited chances, you might want to focusing on small jobs, for they are easier to get and the quick turnaround enables you to get more ratings quickly and to build up your connections. Eventually, you will get the attention of bigger clients.

3) Submit an application that can help you grab the client’s heart

In case you find it too time-consuming to write a cover letter every time you apply, you can make a standard template. However this might save you time but won’t get you any further unless you season it according to the job posting to adjust to the client’s specific taste. Besides displaying how skillful you are for the job requirements, you might want to show the client your seriousness and enthusiasm by asking questions about the job posting. Last but not least, do a review before submitting. It’s ok if your wording is mediocre but make sure your texts flow naturally without any grammar mistakes and typos.

4) When is the best time to submit an application? The earlier, the better.

The early bird gets the worm. As a beginner with no substantial credit yet to back you up, you can compensate by NOT BEING LAZY. Get up 1 hour earlier or stay up 30 mins later depending on the time zones for you, your competitors and the clients. First come, first serve. Also, time is money, for both the client and yourself.

Finally, two days later, maybe two weeks later, someone hired you! Then comes up the next question:

How to overpower the deadline rather than being enslaved by the deadline?

In the earlier stage of my not-so-long freelance career, I messed up my daily activities by devoting all my priorities on my contracts and orders. All that to impress the client and also to get the jobs finished so that I can proceed to my next job. I was so stressed that I began to doubt my choice of becoming a freelancer. It turned out that being hasty was not the same as being fast. The client won’t be satisfied unless your work is impeccable. Don’t expect you can get away with the little defects resulting from your hastiness. In the end, it takes you much more time to revise your work again and again, than have it done rather slowly and carefully. Although not too slow, because most clients still will give good ratings if you do good follow-ups but late delivery is inexcusable. Some clients even can use it as a potent reason to not pay you at all.

I was advised by a successful freelancer that I should learn to focus my attention. When there’s a lot on your plate and your time is limited, the only thing you can do is to increase your productivity by putting all your attention on your current task. Put things in order according to their flexibility and importance. Devote your most energetic hours to conquer the most difficult tasks. When it’s time to have a romantic dinner with your loved one, then forget all about the contracts. You know what matters the most.

I believe the one shared goal for those who choose to become freelancers is to enjoy the freedom. It takes strong mindset, positive attitude and enormous devotion and more to get closer and closer to this goal. The beginning is always the hardest, but it’s not impossible. Many people have made it. Why shouldn’t you?