Finding your first client can be a real tough thing, isn’t it?

Probably you are an established translator working in a translation agency/company, who never worked as a freelancer or a college graduate with little experience in translation. One common thing here is that you may feel anxious about how to find your first translation project.

I started as a freelance translator in 2007 though I worked on a local level. I also worked in a mining company until 2013, where I learned much about technical and legal translation. Only two years ago, I made a decision to quit a position of a senior translator in a translation department and get back to freelance. This time, my main target was an international market. It took me two years to create a decent client base and ensure stable workflow. However, I still remember that it was not easy to find my first work on an international translation market.

Therefore, I decided to conduct a short survey among industry leaders, colleagues and mate translators to find out how they got their first translation work. In this blog post, I would like to share the results of my survey and pieces of advice from well-known translators. In addition, I will also share my own experience of getting the first translation works, as I had to do it twice – first in 2007 at a local level and second time in 2013 on an international arena.

Though sample size was not big, the obtained data still have a statistical value and are rather interesting from the point of view of a translator who wants to find his/her first translation work.

Input data

Initially, I sent an interview request to several translators who proved to be leading specialists and bloggers writing about translation. Here are the questions:

  • How did you find your first client and/or your first translation project?
  • How long did it take you to get it?
  • What would you recommend for young translators in search of their first jobs?

All of the respondents replied to my email, unfortunately, not all of them had enough time to provide comprehensive answers. However, four translators carved time out of their busy schedule to answer my questions. You may find their stories about first translation work and pieces of advice below. The answers of my mate translators and colleagues on social networks were also taken into consideration during survey analysis.

In total, there were 83 respondents. Six main sources of clients/projects were identified based on the survey data. Let’s start from the last place in a list and gradually get to the most efficient sources to find translation work online and offline.

Professional Associations

Membership in professional associations showed the smallest probability rating of getting the first job – only 7%. This is because many translators join professional associations a bit later when they gain relevant experience and can meet all relevant requirements to be admitted to the association. Membership in a professional association will definitely bring more clients on later stages of professional development. However, if you already have sufficient experience as an in-house translator, you should try to join a translation association. It will add value to your professional profile.

I belonged to a cultural association. One day, its president asked me to translate some panels for an exhibition, with one condition: to be an independent contractor. This is how everything began.

Carla Guerreiro

Advertisements

Finding first translation work using advertisements posted in newspapers, online classifieds and similar media took 18% from the total number of answers.

I saw an add in the paper: “Translator wanted”, and thought I might give it a try.

Jan Willem van Dormolen

When I just finished my undergraduate degree I saw an add in a bulletin for flight attendants (of the company I’ve been working for as a flight attendant as well) of the labor union, which was looking for a translator for their quarterly magazine.

Myriam Koller 

Translation Portals and Direct Clients

Translation portals, as well as direct clients, took an equal number of answers – 11% from the total number of responses each. Based on survey data it appears that getting first work from direct clients and from translation portals is equally hard. As I wrote in my previous posts, translation portals can be a good way to start as a freelance translator. However, you should understand that translation portals mean low bids and occasional clients. Staying long with them will trick you into a never-ending bidding cycle and competition with bottom feeders.

It is also not an easy task to find direct clients when you just start your freelance career. High-end clients will carefully select translation service providers based on their previous works experience, relevant skills, and knowledge of the subject matter, availability of positive feedback from other clients and many other parameters that may seem significant for them. Nevertheless, you may still get a translation job from clients that you worked with in another sphere.

My first translation assignment/job was for a manufacturer now called Hamamatsu Photonics (then Hamamatsu TV) back around 1978. It was spec sheets for a device known as a photon multiplier. The company was already a customer of mine for measuring instrument products I sold from a US electronic measuring company Japanese branch, which I formed and was running at the time.

Bill Lise

I started freelancing full-time in 2012. I found my first freelance client through Proz.com and I think that it was my third or fourth bid.

Triston Goodwin

 

Agencies

One of the most popular sources of translation work (21%) is a translation agency. Of course, it is much easier to get your first assignment from an agency or a translation company as they are constantly looking for new talents. You may find some companies in your city or run a web search to find companies abroad. Just make sure they have open positions for freelance translators (ideally you should find companies who search for freelance translators in your language pair).

Contact them using their preferred means of communication and, as usually required by agency rules, perform a translation test. If you manage to pass it, you will get your first translation assignment soon.

I answered an agency advertisement in a newspaper in 2007 and had my first job in a few days.

Ralph Houston

I think I sent out some CVs to translation agencies during the last year of my studies, just to test the waters. I got my first assignment some days after that, maybe.

Mary Kyr

Recommendation of Colleagues or Friends

Networking with translators and colleagues proved to be the most efficient method to find the first translation job. 32% of respondents answered that they found their first work by recommendation of a colleague or it was offered by a friend. That means that communication with professional communities and finding new friends in the translation industry are the most efficient ways to get you first translation job. For instance, I found several clients on recommendation of friends and I still get some random jobs offered by former colleagues with whom I worked in the mining company and translation agencies.

By accident – a translator friend of mine was at her son’s football match and was standing next to another mum, who was reading something and muttering to herself in a dissatisfied way. When she asked what was wrong, she was shown an English version of a technical document that was ‘less than wonderful’. When she asked my friend if she knew someone who might do it better, she recommended me. True story …

Derek Smith

Well, a friend of a friend wrote her school project in our native language and needed it to be translated into English. My friend suggested that I could do it. I didn’t know the rates per page/word/1000 characters back then and I gave the lowest price that she could probably find so she gave it to me

Su Canal 

Industry Leaders

 

Erik Hansson

German-Swedish Translator.
Founder of popular Facebook group Things Translators Never Say.
Managing Director of Hansson Übersetzungen.


– How did you find your first client and/or your first translation project?

Before I got my very first translation project I had sent out my application to several agencies and to end-clients. Finally, one agency required a translator in my language pair so they decided to try it out with a newbie. This was in the middle of the 90s, internet was just starting, Web 2.0 was still far away, and it wasn’t very easy to find detailed information about the agencies, such as payment behavior. With today’s retrospective view, I must say I was lucky to find trustworthy agencies, and some of them are still my clients.

– How long did it take you to get it?

I guess it was about six months from my very first application until I got my first translation project from an agency. Luckily I still had my first job as a language trainer, which proved to be a good idea. After one more year I spent just as much time with language training as with translations, and after one more year, I decided to concentrate completely on translations (and partly interpreting).

– What would you recommend for young translators in search of their first jobs?

My very first recommendation would be to get active in social media and build up a strong network with other colleagues. From my experience, networking with colleagues can be a gateway to get in contact with end-clients – as most colleagues offer one or two language pairs, but want to support their clients in case other language combinations are required. Fine-polish your professional profiles on different platforms for stronger visibility and better searchability on the internet. Keep learning and attend webinars, seminars and conferences (which again is a splendid opportunity to meet colleagues). And never stop searching for new clients.

 

Nikki Graham

Proof-Editor & Spanish-English Translator (MITI).
Localization from US to UK English.
Founder of the blog My Words for a Change

– How did you find your first client and/or your first translation project?

I did my first translation work while I was still teaching English as a foreign language for some of my students and colleagues’ students. A friend also recommended me to a translation agency, which then gave me quite a lot of work. Once I gave up teaching to concentrate on translating full-time, I also sent my CV and a covering letter by snail mail to about 100 agencies in Spain (the Internet was not big in those days so hardly anybody had websites and email was also relatively “new”). I heard back from some of them and landed a few jobs that way.

– How long did it take you to get it?

I got my first clients while I was still teaching. I was working full-time as a translator and earning enough money to support myself within about three months after giving up my teaching job.

– What would you recommend for young translators in search of their first jobs?

The translation industry has changed since I first started. I don’t recommend that new translators send letters as I did, although it might work for some agencies. Given that most agencies have websites, you should look at their recruitment policies. Some will explain how they want to be contacted by potential collaborators. You are not going to stand out for the right reasons if you send an email instead of filling in their online form, for example.

I think gaining a qualification is important these days, for example, an MA and/or a qualification from a recognized translation association, such as the ITI, CIOL, and ATA. If you are a member of an association, you will also be listed in their directory so potential customers can find you.

I have also gained a lot of clients from Proz.com over the years (although not ever by bidding on jobs), and as long as you don’t accept ridiculous job offers and extremely low rates, this can be a good place to advertise your services.

 

Tess Whitty

English-Swedish Translator, Localizer.
Marketer at Swedish Translation Services.
Founder of Marketing Tips For Translators Blog and Podcast.

– How did you find your first client and/or your first translation project?

I found my first clients by registering on Proz.com and becoming a member of the American Translators Association and registering in their database.

– How long did it take you to get it?

I had done a lot of prep work and research, but after registering in these databases, I received my first job within a week. After that, I received jobs regularly, but I also focused on marketing my services, plus improving my resume, profile and skills. It took me about 2 years to create a sustainable income.

– What would you recommend for young translators in search of their first jobs?

Create a short but compelling CV/resume, adapted to the translation business, become a member of the national and local translation association and create a profile there and finally to create a profile on Proz.com and LinkedIn. Once that is done, I would actively research these places for translation companies to work for and apply to them based on the way they want to be contacted. If a translator is going straight for direct clients, I would start networking locally by participating in local business networking events, although I highly recommend that you have some translation experience before contacting direct clients.

 

Catherine Christaki

English-Greek Translator
Founder of Lingua Greca Company

– How did you find your first client and/or your first translation project?

Word of mouth (my mom told everybody she knew that her daughter had just finished her translation studies in the UK, and my brother heard of this big translation project that would be perfect for me and recommended me to the end client) and ads in the local papers in Crete.

– How long did it take you to get it?

I started my first project (3 books of minutes from an international conference of geopolitics, to be translated from English and French into Greek) a few weeks after I completed my studies, got very lucky with the timing 🙂

– What would you recommend for young translators in search of their first jobs?

 I would try to find a mentor, an experienced translator in my language pair and ask them for a type of internship (e.g. offer to do administrative tasks in exchange for editing my translations and teach me about the business side of the industry such as invoicing, preparing quotes, marketing, and so on).

I would join social media, follow the industry leaders (like Judy Jenner, Corinne McKay) and read their and other translation blogs so I can stay up-to-date with the latest developments and tips.

I would read the how-to bestsellers for translators (the two ladies I mentioned above are also authors of two such books), as well as Marta Stelmaszak’s book ‘The Business Guide for Translators’.

I would start working on a website as soon as possible. One-page WordPress sites, for example, are very popular nowadays, it’s inexpensive and a very quick process (because you don’t need much content).

 

Dmitry Kornyukhov

Entrepreneur. English-Russian Translator.
Founder of The Open Mic – Social Platform for Translators.
Video Game Localization Specialist. 

– How did you find your first client and/or your first translation project?

My first job was a 4-month long interpreting assignment during my last year at the Belgorod Stare University. My curator offered me that job because he was in touch with one of the graduates working at that same organization and they were looking for interpreters. I was working with a French expert specializing in pig breeding who was consulting for a large agricultural company called Agro Belogorie. It was an amazing experience as I got to work at one of the largest pig breeding facilities in our region and learned a lot about the process. However, I choose not to stay in the company when my contract has expired, moved to another country (Ukraine) and found another job in the office (as an in-house translator of an agency in Odessa).

My first freelance job was a year later when I started exploring the world of freelancing and discovered a few job-bidding websites.

– How long did it take you to get it?

It didn’t really take me a lot of time to get my first freelance gig because I had a bit of experience under my belt (which really helped me find my strongest and weakest sides). Plus, it made my resume look a bit more credible in the eyes of my future freelance clients. On top of that, I didn’t know much about freelance economy back then and I was dirt cheap which helped me secure just enough work to carry me through my first year.

– What would you recommend for young translators in search of their first jobs?

I’d recommend investing into your personal branding and development from day one. Get a degree in translation because it’s absolutely essential if you want to start off the right foot. Another thing is that you really have to think like a business owner: you’ll need a lot of discipline, patience, time and money before you can break even and build a sustainable business. Take a course in business, marketing, web design or writing. This will help you get a better perspective and avoid common mistakes: underselling, not knowing your worth, bad communication, etc. And for the love of God avoid job-bidding websites at all cost. You can have profiles there for promotional purposes, but don’t participate in those blind auctions. These type of things drive your prices down and make you believe that if you’ll charge less you’ll have more work. You probably will have more work if you work for peanuts, but here’s a thing: why work more for less, when you can work less for more? Start somewhere in the middle and keep pushing forward year after year. It’s a life-long process but what really matter is that you’re making progress every day. Don’t let anyone dictate how much you should charge. You can and you will create opportunities for yourself through hard work, dedication and by sticking to your guns. Keep learning and reading every single day. This will make you a better business owner, a better salesman, a better entrepreneur and a better person.

Personal Experience

In 2007, I was studying at the third course of a local university. I lived in a foreign city and I had to pay my bills. Though I had a part time job after lectures (it was handmade rhinestone decoration for trendy clothes, I’m not kidding) I already wanted to try my hand in translation. As a third year student, I thought that I learned enough to find translation jobs. I searched for freelance position opportunities in local translation agencies. No surprise that many agencies did not want to work with a student. I had no work record, no proven experience to put on my resume – only my desire to work and a course of translation theory under my belt.

However, after five unsuccessful attempts, I found an agency that agreed to hire me as a freelance translator after passing a test. A week after I submitted a test translation one of the agencies contacted me and offered the first translation project. It was a six-page material safety data sheet for a local mining company at the cost of $3.5 per page. I was excited about it and tried to translate that document as well as possible. My work was accepted and that’s how I got into translation. Since that time I decided to focus on technical translations. This was not an easy way, but it is worth it as every little thing I learned brought me a unique experience and valuable knowledge.

Before graduation, I was invited by a friend to take part in a test for the position of technical translator. Based on the test results I was hired by a geological exploration company where I worked until September 2013. This was my first official job. I learned much about CAT tools and translation processes in large companies. My responsibilities included English-Russian-English translation of various documents (design documentation, legal papers, geological and environmental studies, etc.) and interpreting at meetings and on the mine site.

In 2013, I decided to get back to being a freelancer as I felt like I reached my ceiling in the translation department. I shifted to freelancing gradually. First I prepared a solid financial cushion, then I registered on several translation platforms and bought Proz membership. In a week, when I placed about 5-6 bids, I got my first translation project that lasted for about a year. It was a Russian-English translation of a large news & analytics web portal. That project helped me to get accustomed to a new schedule and a freelance way of life. During that period, I also started to learn web development and launched my first website that also brought me some clients. That’s the story about finding my first translation projects.

Conclusion

Now that you learned how many translators got their first assignments you can leave your worries behind – there are plenty of ways to find your first translation job. Start communicating with colleagues, send you offers to translation agencies and clients, find direct clients, try to search through advertisements and join translation associations. According to the survey results, translators find their first job during the first days of searching, with the average period of 14 days and the longest period of 1 month. These are rather promising statistics, I would say!

Never give up and you will achieve your most ambitious goals!

 

About Simon Akhrameev

Native Russian freelance translator with over 9 years of professional experience offering top-notch document translation, website & app localization services on the web. Until today, I successfully completed hundreds of projects for multiples clients around the globe. Ordering my services, you can be sure that your translation project will be fulfilled by a native Russian speaker with a Specialist Degree in Linguistics and relevant knowledge in the required domain of competence. Also, subscribe to my blog and learn more about freelance translation business!