How These 7 Myths Having You Leaving Money on the Table

When it comes to freelancing as a translator, everyone has an opinion.

There’s a lot of bad advice circulating, some which have become industry practices.

The thought process goes something like this: If everyone is doing it, then it must work. That isn’t always the case.

Unfortunately, I was fed some of this terrible misinformation in my early years.

So today, I want to bust up these bogus industry “myths” that are interfering with your success.

Many talented and hardworking freelancers have had their dreams of living the “translators life” Sink with the bad advice given by the “Old Pros.”

If I would’ve continued to listen I wouldn’t have been able to quadrupled my hourly rate or freelance full-time.

To be honest, I’d probably be struggling or well into another career by now working “normal” hours.

So lets expose and kill these myths once and for all.

Myth #1:There are very few translator who make a good living off freelancing 

This couldn’t be farther than the truth.  It’s not uncommon to earn at least $50,000 or even up to $100,000 per year or more as a freelance translator.  

Translation is a booming multi-billion dollar industry and is growing at “lightening speed” compared to other sectors.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

If you’re an employee working at a company, then you’re stuck with what your employers pays.

But that isn’t the case with freelance translators.

You get to charge as much as you want. You just have to actually do it and target clients that are willing to pay you what you deserve.

Now some translators will say there aren’t many clients who are willing to pay freelance translators a lot of money.

These are the same folks that never raise their rates, yet complain about the sub-optimal rates.

There will always be naysayers.

And as the industry continues to grow at a rapid-fire rate, high-value clients will be desperate for experts in the sea of faceless translators racing to the bottom.

Myth #2: The market is saturated with too much competition 

Competition is a healthy sign that there’s a demand in an industry.

There is plenty of  translation work to go around. And yet a little healthy competition drives people to do crazy things.

In fact, many people would rather not go for an opportunity  because they’re convinced they won’t get it.

It’s the same reason why many translators wait on the sidelines for YEARS worried about the “competition” and waiting for right time to start freelancing.

The fear of rejection cripples them to the point where they don’t even want to step up to the plate.

Here’s the deal: Competition is a good thing!

There are plenty of pieces of the pie for everyone.

Yes, the barrier of entry in translation is low but the majority of people are so terrible that you’ll stand out by simply putting in the minimum amount of effort.

Instead, focus on the high-value clients that wouldn’t touch the cheap competition with a ten foot pole.

Myth #3: You need years of experience to make money 

As you sharpen your skills and carve out your expertise over the years, your earning potential will eventually increase.

But you can make a good living from day one as a freelance translator, even if you’re a newbie or you’re just breaking into the industry.

Don’t fall prey to the tired advice “Old Pros” are spewing.

You’ll often hear them say, “Pay your dues” And “Charge low rates until you build experience.”

The problem with this is you’ll send the wrong message to clients that you’re willing to work for scraps, as a result getting yourself stuck in a viscous cycle of low paying translation jobs.

You don’t become a successful freelancer scrambling for gigs.

You need to cultivate a mindset of confidence in your language and translation skills before you take on clients.

Yes, you’ll get better with experience but even if it’s your first day freelancing you have to approach your project from a position of strength.

Instead of saying to yourself you’re slow, or that you’re not a “subject matter” expert, look at it as a learning opportunity that will help you become a better translator.

You are the sole engine of your freelancing success. And the belief in yourself, not your experience, determines how far you will go in your journey as a freelance translator.

Success has nothing to do with skills and knowledge and everything to do with confidence in your abilities as a freelance translator.

There is no shame in being a newbie (we were all beginners once). Don’t wait to “magically” get better some day.

Myth # 4 You need translation credentials to get higher-paying jobs

This one is a half-truth.

Let’s look into what translation credentials are and whether you really need them.

Do you need a bachelor’s or master’s in Translation? Well, it depends on your goals. If you’re planning on working as freelancer, not really.

Although you learn how to translate in both programs, it’s certainly not a prerequisite for working as  freelance translator.

In fact many translators have degrees in other disciplines outside of translation.

Having a bachelor’s or master’s in translation doesn’t guarantee you’ll succeed as a freelance translator. In most programs, the entrepreneurial skills needed to succeed are not taught.

If you already have those degrees, more power to you.

It will help you establish your credibility as a translator faster. If you don’t have a degree in translation, you have other options available to you.

There are other ways to elevate your credibility that don’t involve years of schooling and tens of thousands of dollars.

A translation certificate program is your best option if you’re interested in learning the skill of translation without without the steep cost of a graduate degree.

Although it’s less expensive than a formal degree, it’s still an investment that will run you anywhere from $3,500-$5000.

If you’re insistent on having some sort of translation credential, I recommend a translation certification.

This is offered by a number of professional translation associations (like the American Translators Association).

It’s a big credibility booster and many translation agencies and direct clients prefer working with certified translators.

With that being said, it’s not a must. I wasn’t a certified or registered translator from day one.

You can get your feet wet a as translator and then pursue a certification down the line. The only downfall with certifications is that they’re only offered in certain languages.

Translators working in smaller languages most likely won’t have the chance to get a certification.

There are many competent freelance translators working without translation credentials. Certifications don’t guarantee that a you’ll earn more money as a freelance translator.

So if you can’t get one, don’t sweat it.

 Myth #5 Clients only want cheap translations 

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Not every client will be right for you

If only I had a dollar for everytine I heard this. I would’ve retired by now.

Yes, it’s true some clients pay rock-bottom rates and are only interested in cheap translations. But this happens in virtually every industry.

Think about the retail industry for a minute.

Why would anyone buy a $3000 handbag when they can get one for $50?

Can you imagine Chanel boutiques discounting their merchandise to get more customers? I don’t think so.

Like the high-end luxury retailers you, too, should be selective in whom you serve. It’s okay to pass up clients that aren’t up to your standard.

By doing so, you’ll make room for the ones that are worthwhile.

To get top dollar for your translation services, go after “hungry markets.” These are the type of clients that have the willingness and the ability to pay for your translations services.

I talk about “hungry markets” in detail here, “The Ultimate Guide to Finding High-Paying Translation Clients.”


Myth #6: You can only succeed if you're from [Insert country name] 

This is something I hear quite often from translators living in Latin American and African countries. But here’s where things get interesting.

Freelancers in the North America and Western Europe fret about the “cheap competition.”

And translators outside of North America and Western Europe complain about not being able to charge as much as their colleagues in the “West” because they’re expected to charge lower rates.

The truth is, it’s a global economy and the internet has shattered geographical barriers.

As a freelance translator you can work with high-paying clients, even though they aren’t in the same hemisphere as you.

Paula Arturo of Translator’s Digest has flipped this myth on it’s head.

She’s a lawyer-linguist based in Argentina who has broken into the premium translation market.

You can read more about her experience on being the underdog and earning a healthy six-figures as a translator here. 

Myth #7 It's hard to escape the "feast or famine" cycle

The “feast or famine” cycle has scared off a lot of translators from making the leap into full-time freelancing.

Unlike a 9-5 where you show up and get paid every couple of weeks or so, there’s some uncertainty with freelancing.

But I have to be honest with you.

Freelancing is for the brave and ambitious. I can always tell when someone is a “wannabe” freelance translator.

They’re always worried about all the work they’re not going to get instead of sharpening the skills needed to attact a steady stream of clients.

The point is you can prevent the slow months but putting  systems in place to keep the ball rolling in your business.

Referrals and repeat clients are  often overlooked but are the best way to mitigate the ups and downs of freelancing.

Instead of always being on the prowl for the next new client, leveraging the network of your past clients will help you land more projects, faster.

There it is folks…

These are the seven myths that have held me back for years in my freelancing business.

Which ones have gotten in your way? Or if there are others I haven’t listed, comment below to share your opinion. 

Take care,

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