Last week, we covered the basics: how to get started gaining experience and qualifications as a translator. If you missed it, you can read that article right here.
Joining a Translation Association
Translation Associations are networks of professionals that can be particularly helpful for those just starting their career. Membership benefits vary, but often include services like online networks, forums, conferences, and courses.
In Germany The Federal Association of Interpreters and Translations (BDU) represent 80 percent of associated translators and interpreters in the country. They print a translation journal and offer insurance options to their members, as well as a job database.
But BDU is not the only professional translators association in Germany, and you will want to pick an association based on your needs, your translation languages, and the country where you are based. A list of further translation associations world wide can be found here.
Freelance Versus In-House
The biggest decision you will make as a translator is whether to work as a freelancer or to seek employment “in-house”—that is to say, as a translator under contract for one company. Freelancers are rumored to be better paid, but they also need to take care of administrative tasks—like advertising, billing, and doing taxes. In-house translators have the security of a contract, paid vacation, sick days, and company infrastructure to take care of things like health insurance and taxes.
Weigh your priorities and make a realistic appraisal of your skills, then dive in. If you discover that you dislike freelancing, you can always seek employment in-house and vice versa.
Finding a Job as an In-House Translator
If you decide that you would prefer to work as an in-house translator, you can start your job search where you would start the search for any job: the classifieds. Websites with job search features usually have an email notification option. Specify the type of job and job location, and you will receive a daily or weekly email listing the jobs that match your criteria. Have your resume and translation samples ready to send as soon as you receive a notice of an open position.
Still haven’t put together your German resume? We have tips for doing that right here, as well as suggestions for mastering a German job interview. Worried about getting a work visa? We have information on that too, right here.
Finding Work as a Freelance Translator
As a freelance translator, your job search will be continual. Remember, as a freelancer you will not just need to take care of the translation work itself, but the finding and keeping of clients. The first step is to get your name out there. As Jill Sommers, a freelance translator from German to English, said in a blog post “it is difficult for translation agencies and direct clients to send you work if they are unaware that you are out there.”
There are many ways to go about advertising your services and searching for potential clients. Job boards specifically for freelancers are one place that you will want to look for job offers and post your own information. There are also a handful of translator directories. Some require a paid membership, but most have a free option, and companies search them for available translators. You can also google translation agencies—many have online applications for potential translators.
Though “cold calling” often has a low response rate, consider sending out a resume and cover letter to companies who might need translation services. Maybe you’ll never get an answer, or maybe your name will be on file for when that company needs some translation work.
Freelancers should make business cards and, if a profile on one of the translator directories is not enough, a website to serve as a client contact point and an online resume. If you, for example, have a successful blog as part of your web presence, you can use it to draw people in and advertise your services. The key is creating a website that will attract potential clients, a site that will come up if a client does a search for a translator with your specific abilities.
Sommers also advises new translators not to “…discount the power of a face-to-face meeting. Attend translation conferences and talk to people. Carry business cards with you wherever you go. I have met new clients at a Murder Mystery dinner theater and at a wine tasting. You never know when you will meet your future best client.”
You can find more helpful tips for translators just starting out at German Translation Tips & Resources.
How much will I get paid? How do I set prices?
Because types of translation work vary so widely—literary translators versus commercial translators, in-house versus freelance—it can be hard to find accurate information about salaries. The CEATL has put together a survey of what literary translators in Europe make, but their numbers will not necessarily mirror what a translator in Germany will make or what a commercial translator will make.
Translators hired to work in-house, covering all the translation needs of one company, are said to receive lower salaries than freelancers. However, as freelancers have to cover their own health insurance, office, and pension costs, that might not be an accurate representation of the numbers. No reliable study has been done to compare the two.
Freelance translators are generally paid by word or character. German Translation Tips & Resources have some detailed tips for pricing your translation services here. But remember, the more experience you have, the more you can charge. You can also request higher rates for rush jobs or work that needs to be completed over the weekend.
Just remember: don't underprice. It is always easier to lower a price for a client while bargaining than to raise it later.
On her blog Musings from an overworked translator, Sommer also offers a list of suggested reading for those considering freelance translation as a career. As you can see, there is a heavy emphasis on the small-business skills that will help freelancers succeed. If you are looking for more detailed advice, try reading one of the following books:
How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator by Corinne McKay
The Prosperous Translator by Chris Durban
The Entrepreneurial Linguist by Judy and Dagmar Jenner
The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed: The Only Personal Finance System for People with Not-So-Regular Jobs by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan
Money-Smart Secrets for the Self-Employed by Linda Stern
Searching and Researching on the Internet & WWW by Karen Hartman and Ernest Ackermann
Computer Security for the Home and Small Office by Thomas C. Greene (or some other computer security book)
The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman
Business without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing by Donald A. DePalma