Taking the first steps into freelancing is always scary and the path is filled with uncertainties. This world can be confusing and eventually discouraging if we start to feel we are not succeeding. When I first started as a freelance English-Spanish translator, I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know where to find clients nor did I know how to organize my search for them. Internet can be a great tool to help freelance translators with this task, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Let’s review some steps that linguists can follow to start building a client base:
• Contact potential clients that post jobs: It is true that responding to job postings is not likely to earn you a contract, especially because of the amount of freelancers that respond to those posts and because of the low rates that the poster will be offered. However, we should notice that, if an agency or company is posting jobs, it’s because the translators that they already have are not enough for their projects so, regardless of whether we respond to the posting or not, it would be a good idea to contact them to offer our translation services. Maybe you can try a few days after they posted the job, when they are not busy processing hundreds of emails, offers, and applications, and they can pay more attention to you, and bare you in mind for the next time.
• Identify potential direct clients: Find industries that most likely will require translation services in your specialty fields and offer your services to them. You may not get a job right away but they will probably keep your contact information. For example, if one of your specialty fields is gastronomy, a gourmet restaurant is more likely to require your services than a bakery. If your specialty field is mechanics, consider a local factory (that may need translation of manuals and user interfaces for their equipment purchased abroad) instead of a car garage (which is unlikely to do international business.)
• Network: I can’t stress the importance of this item enough. Networking will allow you to build relations that will surely translate not only into friendship but also into business opportunities. It is important to mention that “networking” shouldn’t be understood as “being nice to colleagues so that they will give you jobs,” that isn’t how it works and that isn’t going to work. Networking implies participating in forums, answering questions, offering help, etc. We all have something to offer, even if it isn’t work: maybe you know how to handle a file type, your language variety can be of help to a fellow freelance translator, you are familiar with a certain tool, etc. If you help your colleagues, you’re giving them the opportunity to get to know the quality of your work and they will certainly resort to a professional linguist whose quality they trust when they need an extra hand. You will most likely do the same when you need extra help with a project of yours.
In short, starting as a freelance translator is all about proactivity, research, and setting goals. Remember that starting any kind of business requires an initial investment and, if it isn’t money (or at least not as much as other businesses require), you will definitely need to invest lots of time if you want to see results. Stay focused, don’t give up, and happy hunting!