July 2017 marked the first month of being a real freelance translator. And it certainly wasn’t without its stresses! It’s been a steep learning curve but a very rewarding one so far. Here are 7 things I wish I knew before I started:
1. You will have to write to so many agencies in order to get any work.
Initially when I got responses from agencies or clients I was so encouraged and rather naively thought I’d be inundated with work. In reality, I’ve contacted over 100 agencies and potential clients, sat various unpaid tests and currently only work with 4 or 5 regularly. Finding clients really is a number game! Furthermore, I’m on the books for many agencies where work is still to materialise. In fact, one company pursued me, added me to their books and said I should receive my first project from them within 6 months! While this can be frustrating, it is very exciting when you build up a rapport with a company or PM and get approached with regular work – particularly when they trust you to fix a slightly shoddy translation for an angry client – no pressure!
2. Save up money before you start.
Man, I wish I’d thought about this. I came out of uni knowing what I wanted to do (unusual I know!) but sadly I hadn’t necessarily planned my finances accordingly. This first month has been incredibly lean as a result! It is particularly frustrating when you know you’re owed money but that payment hasn’t been released yet. Most companies pay 30 days after invoice (often at the end of the month). Plan accordingly so you don’t have to ask mum and dad for money!
3. Only go freelance if you’re 100% sure you love it/want to do it.
Thankfully for me, I was pretty sure it was what I wanted to do (and I was right!) but the amount of time, stress, late nights and cancelled plans make it completely untenable if you’re not sure. The business can be all consuming – particularly when you’re also completely responsible for the finances etc. and you know you only get paid if you work! However, the rewards, satisfaction and flexibility make it 100% worthwhile for me.
4. There is loads of help available – and it’s super easy to access!
Help and advice is around every corner – you just need to know where to look! From the business aspect, I’ve had great advice from family friends and Business Gateway. As a result, I applied for a start-up loan and had it approved in less than 2 weeks! Throughout the process the staff were so helpful and they provided multiple guides to aid with the writing of business plans and cash flows etc. which was a completely new experience for me! This loan is a real lifeline and gives me a bit more stability. It also allows me to invest in a new laptop, TM software etc. without having to stress or worry. It’s a fixed term, low interest loan – highly recommend for anyone considering setting up a new business, you even get mentoring during your first year. The translation community is also super vocal and helpful – Facebook groups like Standing Up and Things Translators Don’t Say have been invaluable in providing guidance and support – it’s fab to have a network of people who understand the problems you’re facing! There’s also fantastic support on LinkedIn – you just have to be a little brave finding them and introducing yourself.
5. Business is super unpredictable.
When starting out and not yet having a good base of regular clients it is impossible to figure out how each month/week/day/hour will look! Initially, any day I didn’t have work I would be incredibly stressed and think I’ll never make it. Now looking at my first month’s turnover, I know I can have dead days and still have a viable business which makes dead days in August a little easier to handle! On the flip side, you’ll inevitably get 3 projects at once which all have a 24 hour turn around – I hated 24-hour assignments at university and thought they were totally unrealistic, I now work on even tighter deadlines! This will lead to late nights and cancelled plans but I know in the long run that it’s how you build a viable business and build good client relationships so the sacrifices will be worth it.
6. You have to be brave!
Thankfully, I’m naturally a pretty confident and outgoing person but if you’re not you definitely have to fake it. If there’s one bit of advice I’d give it’s knock on every single door. I often message people on LinkedIn which some may think is a little bold but it has led to work, or at least a dialogue and the beginnings of a relationship. You also have to back your abilities. Obviously, the golden rule of checking the text before accepting and not accepting something out with your capabilities completely applies. However, you have to be prepared to test yourself! In my first month, I’ve worked on academic theology papers, technical documents (e.g. how to magnetise a rotor – I didn’t know you could magnetise a rotor!), legal documents and financial documents. Yes, they’re daunting, particularly when you know it’s for a big-name client, but often, when you sit back, take a breath and look at it, you can see its no more complex than other texts and your normal strategies still apply. In fact, the fact that technical and legal texts are often repetitive and predictable can make them easier and more straight-forward than another type of text.
7. You never stop learning.
I thought finally graduating meant I would be able to relax and not do so much research. I was wrong. The great thing about this job is it’s so varied and unpredictable, particularly as I haven’t specialised yet. This means regularly looking up terms to see if they exist, understanding in depth legal or technical procedures in order to provide an accurate rendering, researching companies and constantly understanding new subjects. Exploring CPD options in the industry, it is also clear that this job involves lifelong learning. Whether that’s learning a new language (any suggestions, let me know!) or studying a legal course if that’s your speciality, it’s clear that you never stop improving. Part of me dreads this, but the other (hopefully bigger) part relishes this opportunity and the fact you should never plateau but always be striving to improve.
That’s the 7 things I learnt in July. Check back to see what I learn in August and feel free to leave any comments/helpful tips/witty replies!