ICR Translations turned 10 last month. It got me thinking about my journey as a freelance translator and I shared some ideas and anecdotes in a Twitter thread in Spanish. As it was well received, I decided to turn the thread into a 3-part blog post mini-series in English so more colleagues who are starting out could read it.
In this first article, I share some thoughts on the freelancer’s journey and success.
The freelancer’s journey
‘Freelance translation is a long-term career.’
Write that message down or print it out and frame it. Put it somewhere visible. New graduates tend to expect quick results, but freelancing is tough and it takes time. Patience is a skill to master.
Make negativity work for you not against you
Some people know what they want; others know what they do not want. I am in the latter group and I think that negative people can progress in their career by learning to make this seemingly negative approach work for them. When facing a situation, I tend to see the negatives before the positives, which something I have learnt to accept and use to my advantage. I list all the negative elements I can spot and use them to make informed decisions to avoid or at least minimise potential issues.
Example: writing down everything you do not want as a freelancer (in terms of working hours, types of clients, rates, payment terms…) will help you create your general terms of business. This does not mean that you will always work under those terms, but it is good to have them as a reference. When things are slow and you start toying with accepting other terms, it will help you decide whether it is worth doing it.
This is not a race
Some people seem to progress fast, while others go (or they think they go) at a snail’s pace. This is not a competition so stop comparing your journey to anyone else’s. This is about always giving your best and becoming a bit better with every project you deliver. I think the best approach is to focus on the process (on what you can improve next in your business) and results will follow.
Keep track of your business and learn to put things into context
I found that this not only helps make informed decisions to advance your career, but it also helps manage expectations, frustration, and negativity.
Example: a while ago, I got quite upset about not having reached the financial goal I had set for that tax year. When having a closer look at the number of days I had worked, though, I realised that the daily income was actually good. My annual income was decent overall, bearing in mind that I had taken 48 working days off! After that, I started keeping better track of certain aspects of my business.
When targeting clients, there are no one-size-fits-all strategies
I have at least five different CVs as a translator and I do not send them to prospective clients. Sending CVs has never worked for me, so I stopped sending them early on in my career. I know that it works for colleagues specialised in other fields or working with a different type of client, but it does not work for me. When targeting clients, success is down to knowing who, how and when to reach them. As with any other aspect of the business, you will learn by doing. Test different strategies and keep making changes until you find the one that seems to work best for you.
Remember your why
People go freelance for different reasons – escaping the rut of an office job, not finding another job, having a better work-life balance, looking for more flexibility, becoming location-independent… you name it. Whatever your reason, think about it when things get tough (they will). Thinking about your why will help you remember what you did not like about your previous situation and appreciate the good aspects of your current freelance career. This, in turn, will help you keep going or realise that you need a break or even a career change.
Do not judge decisions you made ten years ago from your current perspective
You are in a different place now. You know much more than you did when you took those decisions, so ditch those ‘had I known’ thoughts because, well, you did not know.
Maybe you will make it, maybe you will not
I am a very no-nonsense person who takes every piece of advice with a pinch of salt. I roll my eyes with every ‘I made it. So can you!’ message from some (apparently) successful people I read. Over time, I have grown to be sceptical of any quick and magic success formulas for two reasons:
- The definition of success varies from one person to another, and so do personal values and concepts such as ‘be doing well’, ‘good money’, ‘a lot of work’, and the elements each person needs to be happy.
- Success is not a foolproof magic formula. Hard work, strategic thinking, finding a niche, brand positioning, and networking are important elements. However, luck is also important, and so are other things these (apparently) successful people do not generally talk about – money, contacts, and other privileges.
Each person makes the most of their professional, personal, and financial circumstances to advance their career. Circumstances may vary so much from one person to another that it is unrealistic to think not only that we will all make it, but that we will make it nice and quick.
Do not put anyone on a pedestal
We are all a bit lost when starting out and follow more experienced and successful colleagues on social media for inspiration. Having role models is not necessarily bad but beware of idolising others, specially if you have not met them in person. Do not assume that you know someone because you follow them on social media. You only get to know the tiny percentage of their work, life, and personality that they consciously decide to share publicly. You do not know what is really going on in their life behind the scenes. The context is what is behind the scenes and, as a freelancer translator, you will know that context is everything.
The information included in this article is correct at the time of publication/last update. This article is for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk. ICR Translations will not be liable for any loss or damage arising from loss of data or profits as a result of, or in connection with, the use of this website.
IRENE CORCHADO RESMELLA is a Spanish translator based in Edinburgh. A Chartered Linguist and member of the CIOL, she is also an English-Spanish sworn translator appointed by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Irene specialises in sworn and legal translation (particularly in wills and succession) and is an Affiliate member of STEP. ICR Translations is registered with the Information Commissioner's Office and has professional indemnity insurance.