I’ve noticed that for many beginning translators, getting those first few clients is a chicken and egg issue; most agencies, which form the bulk of most beginners’ client bases, aren’t eager to work with translators who are very inexperienced. But if clients won’t work with you, how do you ever get enough experience to make your business viable? Here are a few suggestions, and feel free to add your own in the Comments section.
- Volunteer On an international level, organizations such as Translators Without Borders use volunteer translators in a variety of language combinations. On a more local level, places such as legal aid agencies, refugee assistance centers, public health clinics and schools are often in need of volunteer linguists. Or, think strategically: that cute little B&B you stayed in on your trip to France last summer might love to have an English website done for free in exchange for a glowing testimonial about your work. Just make sure to treat volunteer assignments with the same care you would paying ones.
- Start small Many individuals need a translator for a project that is too small to be worth an agency’s time, for example a birth certificate, driver’s license, school transcript, etc. These projects tend to be very straightforward and can be very profitable because the actual amount of text is small. I get a lot of inquiries from my website for work like this, and you could also promote your services through your local consulates, cultural associations, bilingual schools, immigration attorneys, etc.
- Team up Working with an experienced translator in your own language combination can work in a few ways. First, you could offer to pay an experienced translator’s hourly rate to give you small practice translations and then edit them until your work is client-worthy. Not everyone is going to be interested in doing this, but I think some experienced translators might be willing. Second, if your translation skills are strong but you don’t have much experience, you might find an experienced translator who needs a backup translator to work on small projects, overflow work, etc. Obviously this kind of arrangement has to be carefully crafted between two people with similar work styles and personalities, but it’s a good reason to network in your local translators association.
- Start big This requires careful planning, but I think that in some cases, people with high-level skills in specialized subject areas can do better by bypassing the standard paths completely and going straight for high-paying work with direct clients. For example, I’ve had two bilingual attorneys as students in my online translation class. Both of them had excellent language skills and a lot of experience in very specialized legal work. For them, I felt it might be a better option to market themselves as “bilingual legal consultants” or look for work directly with law firms rather than working their way up the agency ladder.
I’m sure there are many more suggestions on how to find your first translation clients, feel free to add your thoughts in the Comments section!