Work as a freelance translator is mostly transmitted online, making this a portable business well-suited to people living in locations where there are few translation jobs or who wish to work in the nude. A survey by the American Translators Association found that the average freelance translator in the United States earned $50,000 a year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the market will be better-than-average next year, and many translators are busier now than ever.
Working as a freelance translator, it is best to have an alternative source of income for the first year unless the languages you know are heavily in-demand. While you need only one offer to secure a full-time job, a freelance translator requires a sizable list of regular clients. The search for clients will never end, as workflow rises and falls, agencies go out of business, and that project manager who loves you dearly might quit and be replaced by someone who already has translators they favor. You will probably be sending your resume to between three and five possible clients a week.
You should not disdain the local market, particularly if you present yourself better in person than on paper. You should approach agencies that say they do not hire beginners or have no work in your language pair.
You should join associations such as the American Translators Association. You will be astounded by the number of translation-related websites, newsletters and magazines that are available. You can also gain advice from other translators. They might fear that you will swoop down on their clients, but most enjoy their work and are all-too-happy to speak of their jobs and how they got started. An offer to pay for lunch may be all it takes.
Instead of expecting an employer to ascertain your abilities from your resume, you should highlight specific skills such as “French Translation specialist” or “Arabic with a mechanical engineering background.” You should mention if you are immediately available for work. Your skills are more proven if you are certified, for instance by the American Translators Association.
As a freelancer, you will be responsible for your own health insurance, taxes, retirement funding, and vacation and sick time, but as a translator you also face the costs of office equipment, dictionaries, professional travel and continuing education. You will spend time on marketing, networking, billing, accounting, and even cleaning your own office. Working 40 hours a week could result in billing of only 25 hours.
There is a plus side. You could earn tax deductions for business expenses and will not spend money on commuting. If you have children, childcare expenses will be drastically reduced. Even if you cannot take care of your child yourself, you could employ a teenager to play outside with your spawn while you work inside. The extra time you will be able to spend with your child is another great boon.
Clients may well believe you to be capable of work you cannot handle because it is too long or too complex, and agreeing to conduct such work is one of the surest ways to sabotage your incipient business. You should never, ever miss a deadline without notifying the client in advance.
If you wish to work as a freelance translator, the book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, was written by a person who has succeeded in the field, and could be useful to you.