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Today I'm dedicating the post to those starting out.

We occasionally get a high influx of new people, mostly when we have a new webinar set up, and some people get here with the same questions we, the old schoolers, had when we were starting out. These 5 steps bellow were written years ago, but they have mostly remained the same for today's translators. You'll find the same tips in the books being sold today.

Hiram from ALTA brings us the following steps to becoming a professional translator (from scratch):

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Step 1: Get Certified

The first thing I tell people who want to know how to become a translator is to get some sort of accreditation or certification. Having credentials provides documentation that you have the skills required to translate or interpret professionally. Many universities offer advanced degrees and professional certifications in translation. (...) Want to be a translator? The American Translator’s Association offers certification programs for translators. Want to be a judicial or medical interpreter? Organizations such as the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators and the International Medical Interpreters Association offer certifications as well. Finally, check to see if your state offers accreditation programs for translators / interpreters. (...)

Now, as mentioned in the post itself, being certified isn't the only way you can become a professional, but it's often the best place to start if you have just become an adult (or close to that) and you intend to follow that career path. Even if you are bilingual in nature, there are numerous things you still need to pick up, and getting a certification is going to help you in two fronts: the experience gained, and the education. The education is what will help you be attractive to prospective clients, the experience is what will make you retain them.

I ended up getting certified even before I decided to be a translator, but frankly that didn't do much to help me acquire clients. What truly helped me were the approaches I decided to take, connections, and portfolio.

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Step 2: Get Tested

Another resume builder is to take language proficiency tests such as the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) or other language proficiency tests to show potential clients that you are indeed fluent in your specific language.
Shameless Plug Alert: we also offer language proficiency tests and DLPT training here at ALTA.

This is yet another good idea, I just want to bring your attention to one thing:
As the post specifies, this is another resume building technique. While having a resume will help you land jobs in agencies (and there's nothing wrong with that), the most successful people in the translation universe have direct clients who love their work so much that they only want to hire him (or her) for the job.

And the best thing you can do here to make that happen is to specialize. Specialize and show off that expertise, with experience, with demonstrations, with adequate marketing and proper contacts. But the main thing you need to be able to show is expertise, portfolio.

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Step 3: Gain Experience

The next step is to gain experience. All of us have had to start out doing internships or working entry-level jobs in order to climb the ladder, and the language industry is no exception. If you’re enrolled at or live near a college, take classes in translation / interpreting and look for opportunities to perform translation or interpreting work on campus for various departments. It is crucial to get experience where you can show samples of your work to potential clients and get recommendations.

Depending on which specialization you work with, and whether or not you are actually taking a translation course, you'll find different places where you can get experience. If you work on video game localizations, for instance, there are numerous groups out there who perform fan translations for old games, sometimes even new games, and that's one of the best places to start.

If you work with fashion, medicine, pharmaceutics, engineering, you have an abundant range of materials you can freely find online that companies in those industries divulge for clients and partners, and you can go there and translate them yourself.

You can also download websites and translate them yourself. Show off the result to the owners.
Doing any of that is going to place you in translation situations you weren't expecting, and you'll learn a lot from it.

Also, see if you can get tested by niche agencies. They often have the best tests around.

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Step 4: Market Yourself

After getting credentials and some experience, it’s time to market yourself to law firms, police stations, hospitals, government agencies, and language agencies that may need translators or interpreters in your area. Most translators / interpreters work for clients on a contract basis, not as full time employees. A great way to market your services is to start a website or blog and join the active community of online language professionals. Also, make sure you have your resume and rates ready! The best indicator that an aspiring translator or interpreter is not a professional is when they have no idea what their rates should be! If you don’t know what rates to charge, call other interpreters and translators and find out what theirs are.

Marketing yourself is something that most translators neglect simply because they don't like it.
But hello, that's no reason to dismiss it. If you want to work in-house, then you may not need that, but if you want to be a freelancer, that means you are the owner of every aspect your business have, which includes finances, marketing, technical support, client relationship...

Marketing is probably the most important aspect you can have in your business as a freelance translator. Proper marketing will get you places.

There are numerous resources around who help you with that, if you don't know where to start. Search our forum and you'll find some posts I set up and a few webinars on that as well. :)

Further commenting on this step: a proper website is likely the best way to gain long-term clients "passively".

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Step 5: Keep Learning!

As you progress as a translator / interpreter, there are other areas to consider as well. What specialized industry or industries can you translate or interpret for? Do you keep up with industry terms and trends? Are you computer savvy and knowledgeable regarding translation memory software? Can you provide simultaneous as well as consecutive interpreting? If you have had success as a translator, maybe you could consider diversifying and becoming a certified court or medical interpreter. Overall I hope I have not discouraged anyone from becoming a translator or interpreter. (...) Good luck!

Always think two steps ahead. If you just landed your first project, don't fret, it's going to get harder. It doesn't stop on your first success. Being a translator is always about working on a new challenge. If you think that's too much effort, it's because it is, and likely more than you are imagining, and if you are not feeling butterflies in your stomach with the idea of dedicating towards that goal, then you are better off looking for an alternative career path!

But if you do believe this is for you, then you are in for a treat, because as challenging as it might be, there's nothing more rewarding than being the sole person responsible for your own success. :)

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34 minutes ago, Otávio Banffy said:

While having a resume will help you land jobs in agencies (and there's nothing wrong with that), the most successful people in the translation universe have direct clients who love their work so much that they only want to hire him (or her) the job.

All great points, but I just wanted to add something with reference to the above quote:

If you find a good agency (and they vary a lot), then this can also be a great route to endless supplies of work with little or no marketing effort. You can also find yourself in the position that the Project Managers only want you for particular customers, because you have done previous jobs for them and the customer was very happy.

Personally, I think agency work can be a good way to start out, pay the bills and get lots of experience, whilst perhaps later gradually adding private clients, building on marketing efforts, etc.

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That's good to hear, Jane. I haven't had many fruitful experiences with agencies, so that's why I'm biased in another direction, but it's nice to hear from someone who knows them best. :)

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1 hour ago, Otávio Banffy said:

Marketing is probably the most important aspect you can have in your business as a freelance translator. Proper marketing will get you places.

Hear, hear!

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1 hour ago, Jane Ruessmann said:

You can also find yourself in the position that the Project Managers only want you for particular customers, because you have done previous jobs for them and the customer was very happy.

I certify this.

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