5 Major Challenges of Becoming a Freelance Translator (and How to Overcome Them)

Being a freelance translator is great. But becoming one requires facing a number of challenges, not all of which are obvious at first. In this post, we’ll try to identify the most prominent challenges, and provide a few clues as to how to overcome them — in the end, the solutions you implement will always be quite unique to you.

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By Una Dimitrijevic. Make sure to check out the replay of Una's webinar on becoming an aspiring translators!

1. Finding motivation and courage to get going

Doing something new can be scary, I know. It took me years to find the guts to step away from a 9-to-5 with job security and launch myself on a freelancing adventure. Fear can hold us back. But there is one thing we should always bear in mind: looking back on our lives, we are always going to regret the things we didn’t do rather than those we did. What’s the worst that could happen? It doesn't work out the way you thought it would? So what — at least you tried. And believe me, the things you learn along the way from your failures and mistakes (we all have them) will only help you grow as a person and face the next challenge with a greater sense of courage and determination.

2. Knowing where to start

Envisaging a goal is easier than having a starting point in mind. You might think that the start is wherever you happen to be — but do you have a clear vision of where that is? Where are you starting from in terms of your capacities, background, networks, linguistic/marketing/social media knowledge? List these things to figure out where your strengths lie and what you are lacking. Before you start getting clients and translating you might realise that you need to do a little more learning and preparation. Dedicate time to this. Read books, listen to webinars, talk to experienced translators. And practice. Even before you get paid to translate, do it for fun and blog about it or volunteer for a cause or website you like, this way when you do start reaching out to potential clients, you’ll have samples of your work to show them.

3. Finding clients

If you feel like you’ve overcome these first challenges — you’re set up with a website, online profiles, a few volunteering references etc. — you might get stuck at the all-important stage of actually getting paid for your work. The key here is to remember that if you don’t look for clients, they probably won’t find you. Whatever else you’re doing with your time, make sure that you take a few hours each day to reach out to potential clients online or in real life. There are three broad paths available to you:

  1. Contacting agencies,
  2. Cold-calling direct clients,
  3. Reaching out to existing networks and contacts.

When you start freelancing, don’t ignore any of these options. You may have a preference as to who you’d like your clients to be, but you never know where work might come from. Persistence is key, don’t give up, keep a note of everyone you contact and be systematic about replying and getting back in touch.

4. Organising your time

Whether you need to keep working elsewhere while you grow your freelancing career or you have your whole week to spend on developing your new business, organising your time can be tricky. There will always be many things vying for your attention, and if you’re not earning money yet through your translation work, marketing your business can easily be pushed aside. Unfortunately this is a costly mistake in the long-run. You need to think of all the time you’re spending contacting clients, networking online and generally promoting your services as investment. All the work that comes your way in the future will be a direct result of this. I know, all you want to do is translate, not build a website and hang out at networking events, but being a freelancer means being versatile — for a while at least you are going to have to be your own marketing team, your own accountant, your own web designer, etc. Determine how much time you think you need to devote to each aspect and find time-slots in your week to work on each. Read up on different time-management techniques to find one that suits you.

5. Avoiding fraud

Do you want to translate 20,000 words by tomorrow for an agency in Ghana for $0.02/word? No. The answer to that should always be no. Stick to your standards and be wary. Apply the same common sense when you read translation job offers as you would in everyday life. Looks too good to be true? Then it probably is. Vet agencies. Avoid those whose website looks like it was made in 1998. Check them out on translator forums and sites like Payment Practices. If in doubt, do not accept large projects, or insist on being paid in 2 or 3 sections (before you send in the whole translation). If you have a bad experience, let the online community know.


Above all, don’t get angry and upset. The best we can do is learn from our mistakes so as not to repeat them. Even better, we can learn from those of others, hence the importance of sharing with the online translation community. We need to rely on each other to uphold the integrity of our profession. Just because you work all by yourself doesn’t mean that you’re on your own. ;-)

Loved the article? Still have questions? Make sure to watch the reply of Una's webinar on becoming a freelance translator!

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