Scoring My First Translation Job and Five Tips for Finding More Clients

  • Time to read: 8 min.

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Translators don’t often talk about their first translation job.

But I like to give it to you straight so that you know what you’re facing when you start out.

Translation clients often don’t fall out of the sky.

It’s a matter of hard work and opportunity that leads to the “luck” a lot of people talk about when they become successful.

If you put in the work, that first job will eventually come.

The next job will then come.

Then the next.

And pretty soon, you’ll be able to make a living as a freelance translator.

Your confidence will build.

And once you know that people need your services, things will snowball.

It’s that first job, though, that’s the hardest one.

And one of the most important things to remember is this.

You’ll never know where that first translation job will come from.

You’ve got to keep your options open.

You’ve got to look for opportunities.

You need people to know what you do and the services you provide that can help them.

And that’s how I got my first translation job.

I was in college when I it happened, but it wasn’t like I thought it would be.

I was enrolled in a Spanish Translation bachelor’s degree program at school.

Concurrently I worked part-time at a local health clinic.

At the clinic, the majority of the patients were Spanish-speakers and so my job included translating brochures and information packets for patients.

It was fun, and a great introduction to translating for real clients.

I’d talk to my wife about it and she understood that it was something I enjoyed.

Well, one day, my wife (ever my advocate) was talking to one of her coworkers, who mentioned that her parents owned a business and were looking for a translator.

They were originally going to ask a relative to do it, (even though he had no training), but after my wife told her the story, she wanted to know if I’d be interested in doing the job.

I was, of course, and got my first paying translation job.

So what can this story teach you as a new translator?

1. Tell People You’re a Translator

It should go without saying because it’s such a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many would-be freelance translators fail to follow this simple rule.

Surprise! If people don’t know you’re a translator, you won’t translate.

And I don’t mean that you merely post your intention of becoming a freelance translator on your Twitter account.

You need to tell everyone you know that you’re a freelance translator.

Translators get a lot of their work by word-of-mouth marketing, and if nobody knows you’re a translator looking for work, you won’t get any.

When it comes down to it, the more people that know you’re a translator, the more work you’ll get.

2. Don’t Qualify Your Translation Skills

When you tell people that you are a freelance translator, don’t qualify that statement by adding that you’re just starting out, or you are doing this on the side, or you’re trying to get into the translation business, etc.

That’s stupid.

And a sure way to not get any jobs.

If you’re committed to being a freelance translator, then don’t be ashamed to tell everyone.

Don’t ever play down your skills, or experience, or time in the profession.

That hesitation to acknowledge that you are a professional translator will come across to the people you talk to, and nobody wants to hire someone who isn’t confident about what they do.

This was the first translation job I got, and even though I was still in college and working on my Spanish translation degree, I approached it like I’d been translating my whole life.

And for all the client knew, I had been.

Of course, you definitely don’t want to misrepresent your skills and abilities, because that’s a surefire way to never work for that client again if you can’t deliver what you promise; however, if you’re a competent translator who’s entering the business for the first time, don’t feel like you have to acknowledge the fact that you’re new to the game.

You’re a translator.

Believe in yourself and your potential clients will have no choice but to believe in you as well.

3. Be Prepared

Ah, the Boy Scout motto.

I wasn’t just some bum off the street with no translation skills before I got that first translation job.

I was enrolled in a Spanish Translation program at school where I was actively engaged in translation work on a daily basis.

In addition, I was translating medical brochures, pamphlets, and other items at my job at the health clinic (as well as correcting all the other translations done by a native Spanish-speaker).

In essence, I was already translating before I ever got that first job.

Don’t wait until you get that first translation job before you ever start translating.

When you decide that you want to become a freelance translator, you need to get as much experience as you can.

Being able to point to prior experience translating is a great way to overcome any concerns a potential client might have about you.

The great thing, though, is that experience can come in a variety of ways.

I had previous experience translating documents at my part-time job.

Many people who contact me about becoming freelance translators have the same experience of doing translation work in their regular jobs.

This is fabulous experience that you can point to in talking with a potential client.

A client doesn’t care where you learned translation or where you picked up your craft.

If you can point to previous experience or education in the field, you’ll be much better off than someone who comes into the translation field with none of that.

4. Understand Your Strengths and What You’re Up Against

I’m not a native Spanish speaker. I’ve got brown hair and blue eyes. I don’t look like I speak Spanish, let alone know how to translate.

And that is something I’ve had to overcome throughout my translation career.

Translation clients don’t understand who translators are.

To most new clients who have never worked with a translator before, the only requirement they have is that the person speak the language.

And in my case, they mistakenly think that a native Spanish speaker is always better than a white guy with blonde hair.

But what clients don’t realize is that a translator has to have excellent language skills in both pairs.

Just growing up in a Spanish-speaking household is not going to cut it in the translation world.

And that is the lesson I’ve had to give to countless clients.

If you’re a native Spanish speaker, for example, looking to go into the translation field and have excellent skills in your language pair, use the fact that you’re a native speaker to get clients.

If you’re like me and have looks that might go against you, figure out what your strengths are and use those to attract clients. (This also works for any side hustle you’re thinking of starting.)

5. Don’t Let Fear Paralyze You

Once you decide to work in translation, then have confidence in your abilities and preparation.

Don’t be intimidated when going after that first translation assignment.

Every translator before you and every one after you has had and will have to go through that initial step of finding a first translation job.

And most of them made it through just fine.

As will you.

Getting that first job can be nerve-racking for sure, but don’t let those feelings hinder you from going after your dream of becoming a freelance translator.

Instead, let those pangs of fearfulness drive your desire to become what you want.

Many people, when they become afraid, stop and become paralyzed, and then are too afraid to move forward and so instead finally end up retreating.

Once they go back, they then have a much harder time to go after their dream again.

Successful people, however, look at that fear (yes, they still have the same fear that you do) and are determined to use it to achieve their goal.

And once they overcome that initial fear, they have even more confidence in knowing that they can accomplish anything.

Be that person.

Believe in yourself and your passion, and you will become a successful freelance translator and eventually score that elusive first translation job.

Until next time.

FAQ – First Translation Job

How do I get my first translation job?

The best way to get your first translation job is to use your network of contacts. If you know anyone who owns or works for a company that might need translation services, reach out and ask if they are in need of a translator. You can also search job boards and online freelancing platforms for translation gigs. Finally, consider attending industry events and conferences to meet potential clients in person.

How do I start a translator with no experience?

If you have no experience as a translator, your best bet is to get some education and/or training in the field. There are many online and offline courses available that can teach you the basics of translation. Alternatively, you can try to find a mentor who can help guide and support you as you start your career. And don’t forget you can always work part-time as a translator when starting out.

Who was the first ever translator?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as it is difficult to know who the very first translator was. However, we do know that the ancient Egyptians were one of the first cultures to develop a system of hieroglyphics, which was used for communication. Consequently, it is likely that the first translators were employed by the Egyptians to help interpret these hieroglyphics.

When was the first translation done?

Again, there is no definitive answer to this question. However, we do know that the ancient Egyptians were translating hieroglyphics as early as 4,500 BCE. Consequently, it is likely that the first translation was done around this time.