The availability of freelance services using the Internet as a means of communication, data transfer has meant the explosion of personal services offered from every corner of the world. Translation has not been immune to this. Having been a freelance offering Spanish translation services in the 90’s, when fax and 3’5″ diskettes were the norm, I have experienced modems, Mosaic browsers and FTPs and witnessed closed translation markets become aware and accustomed to use freelance translators and companies all over the world. Now happily working for a Pangeanic, I’d like to share my experiences and tell you about the qualities translation companies seek in a freelance translator.
It is true that some experienced translators feel they compete against a price-cut horde of unskilled, inexperienced part-timers, students, non-professionals and full-timers that subcontract and offer ridiculously low rates for translation. Irrespective of language, some unprofessionals manage to successfully encroach upon the grounds of professional freelance translators, sometimes aided by greedy, low-tech bottom-feeding translation agencies. Any reputable translation company offering an added value to an already reviewed, source translation is worth working for. From a Project Manager of Vendor Manager point of view, these are the main points freelancers should take into account when applying for work.
Make it clear which is your native (preferred) working language
You can add other languages, of course but you should only aim to translate into your native mother tongue or the language in which you have studied and qualified in school and university. Yes, you can be a bilingual or have a high degree of proficiency in another language, but you will have to prove it. Project Managers are busy people and they need to choose native translators. I have only met a handful of translators who could perfectly translate into two languages and there was never a comeback from their output (Hungarian and Romanian, French and Spanish, and Arabic and English). Many bilinguals or translators coming from a mixed marriage are sincere and always prefer working into one language – they make very good interpreters, but not translators. Written words are scrutinized and can be read by thousands of people.
Capable of adapting to several CAT tools
There is nothing worse for a translation company than having to deal with translators who will not learn new tools and try to work as if nothing had happened in technology in the last 20 years. If the Internet has made translation services available from Tokyo and Shanghai to Berlin, Madrid, Boston, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, it means that people also have different needs. Therefore, a good freelance translator needs to be skilled in the popular CAT tools or alternatives to them. I quite like online tools because they make collaborative work easier. Desktop CAT tools were designed form translators in isolation. In times when centralized translation memory systems and machine translation APIs are available in the market, not being aware of the tools and possibilities beyond traditional translation is suicidal. Stay ahead of the pack and learn to use SmartCat, Memsource, SDL Trados, MemoQ and Wordfast.
An translation company always prefers to work with freelancers who can take pressure off and make life easy. That’s a general business rule. Accepting the company’s payment terms and rates (as long as they are fair and not bottom low) will matter. Most companies will be happy to have freelancers to call or email first because of this. Different jobs can come with different rates from the end, direct client, or quality expectations may be different. I’m not saying the translator should cut rates down and enter the rat race, but we are all aware that volumes come with discounts. And hey! you should be able to offer both translation and benefit from postediting…More often than not, agreeing to do this makes the project manager remember you when the next job in your language pair comes along.
I agree that it may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it did help me and proved to be of invaluable help during the first year or two as a freelance translator.
Be flexible with regards to different payment modes. Each organization has its own way of settling accounts: PayPal, Skrill, bank transfers. Sharing transfer costs is the norm. You will find more companies to work with if you have multiple options to accept payment.
Availability, yes availability and connectivity
Let’s face it: you now run your own business, so that means being on call more hours than the typical 9-5 office job. You probably carry your email on your cell phone. And you may get emails and requests from different time zones. Such is the nature of the freelance translator life nowadays. Being available most of the times means being contacted more frequently for translation jobs.
While accepting the fact you can be tied up with work when contacted for a new job, it is never a good idea to set up an automated reply declaring your unavailability unless you are on vacation (really on vacation). Have the email open and next to you and look at it at least once an hour.
Also, email may not be the only way to communicate. Some tools like SmartCat can send you warnings via Telegram and some translation agencies use twitter or Google+ to recruit translators and offer jobs.
Experience, Specialization, Certifications, Qualifications
Prove that you have accumulated experience in certain language areas, which fields you have worked on before. Voluntary work and doing work for NGOs can count. Any translation vendor manager will also take into account all your experiences besides translation.
Also, a translator specializing in particular fields that are closely related is more likely to find work. Quite often, jobs call for hands-on or specialized knowledge in a certain field. General translators are good for lower end translations, but the specialists are always sought after and jump from well paid to well paid jobs.
Having the right qualifications are extremely important for freelance translators. A good agency would definitely look at your qualifications. There is a minimum standard you must have in order to qualify as a translator. Certain jobs call for certifications in certain fields of translation. Becoming a member of translator’s association is always a good idea.
The obvious but underrated: A good understanding of the source language
It is important that the translator is fluent in the language(s) translating from. I have also met translators who were not capable of holding a full conversation in the source language but their reading skills and understanding were immaculate. Machine Translation is a great tool and a productivity booster, but if you don’t possess near-native skills in the source language, you run the risk of missing out some of the important nuances in some parts of the source text.
Consistently good quality: always check your work before delivering
I will never get tired of insisting: your clients will judge you by the quality you provide. A freelancer, who is willing to do extensive research and use his CAT tool appropriately to create and use glossaries and translation memories, will produce quality output. Check you work, read it, run a spell checker, finish a day or hours before so you can detach yourself from your first version. Check tags, terminology, use XBench or the CAT tool’s QA features.
Never miss a deadline
A company and an independent contractor (electrician, plumber, designer) that consistently meets deadlines is a reliable person. In the translation industry, reliable and responsible translators are much sought after. Meeting deadlines often make the difference between successful and scratched projects. Therefore, meeting your deadlines consistently is an essential quality translation companies’ vendor managers look for.
Customer service skills and negotiation skills
Your communications skills play a very important role in your career as a freelance translator. It is imperative that at every stage of your relationship with your client you communicate in a polite and professional way. Everyone likes to deal with people who are pleasant to deal with and do not vent their anger or surprise at a deadline or the way a translation will be split. Any agency would like to deal with freelance translators who are responsive and professional in their dealings. This comes in handy especially at the time of negotiating a contract where you may have to contradict and put across your logic explaining why you would want something changed. Even in cases where things do not work out to mutual satisfaction, it is important to stay polite. It keeps open the chances of work some time down the line.