How to become a Freelance Translator

With the forthcoming launch of our 2013 Freelancer Academy we invited our own Swansea GO Wales Project Officer; Lucy Williams to write a guest blog about her life as a freelance translator.  Lucy has excellent advice to share! 

Lucy Williams


People often assume that the only thing you can with a languages degree is translate. This isn’t true, and your language and communication skills will be highly valued in many industries. However, translation can be an extremely rewarding, satisfying and exciting career path and is one I chose to follow for many reasons after completing a Masters in Translation. In this blog post I will tell you more about becoming a freelance translator, however you may also want to consider in-house opportunities which offer a steady flow of translation work and income. The in-house vs. freelance discussion is a whole other article in itself! Consider undertaking a GO Wales Work Taster or Placement to gain an insight into translation agencies and the industry as a whole. It’s a great way to gain experience, improve your CV and develop the confidence to pursue freelance translation.


At some point in time, I think everyone dreams of being their own boss, setting their own hours and earning money from the comfort of their own home. But be warned, it’s not for everyone! You’ll need to consider the day-to-day practicalities of working from home, by yourself, managing your own accounts, marketing your services, completing your translations and maintaining a steady flow of work and income. There are many things you can do before embarking on your freelance career to ensure you are well prepared….

Gain experience

Translating in the real world can be very different from translating in an academic environment. You have to factor in very tight deadlines, working to a brief (or conversely sometimes with the vaguest of guidelines!) and producing quality work so that you’ll receive further projects from your client. To give you an idea, on an average working day I translate between 2500-3500 words as standard, and this is typically what is expected of professional translators. To prepare for this, and to make sure you enter the commercial world with a good understanding of what will be expected of you, you may want to consider undertaking some pro-bono translations. This is an excellent way to gain experience, whilst making a positive contribution to society. I started by translating for organisations such as Kiva ( while completing my Masters degree. This proved invaluable as they were then able to recommend my work once I graduated and started approaching agencies and clients.

Develop contacts

If freelance work will be your only source of income, you need to build up your contacts and client database before cutting others sources of income. In the early days, I literally contacted hundreds of agencies, sending a copy of my CV, my rates, proof of my qualifications and also references. Initially, responses were few and far between. To say I was disheartened is an understatement! However, a couple of agencies eventually contacted me for some more information. The first freelance project I ever accepted was a £20 translation. Hardly ground-breaking stuff. Yet, six years on, that very first client has provided me with thousands of pounds worth of work, excellent references and to this day is my most loyal client.

Build relationships

Build a strong relationship with as many Project Managers within translation agencies as possible. They are the people who choose translators for their projects and so, if you are friendly, flexible and easily accessible they will come to you time and time again. Thanks to current technology, it’s easy to stay in touch. You can access emails and Skype on your mobile phone, receive translation requests via SMS, and generally make yourself as accessible as possible to project managers. I have also worked as an in-house Project Manager in the past and translator accessibility was very important for me when allocating translations. However, for the sake of your own sanity, make sure you allow yourself some time off , making sure all your contacts are aware well in advance, and set your out-of-office email message!

Consider joining an Association

There are several translation associations which you may wish to join, such as the Institute of Translation and Interpreting or the Chartered Institute of Linguists Many will allow you to become a student member at a discounted rate while you are completing your studies, and you can then upgrade once you have graduated. Such associations offer a great way to network with peers, remain up-to-date with industry news and generally be a part of the translation community.

Good luck!