How to Start Freelancing as a Translator (Even if You Have Zero Freelancing Experience)


So you’re ready to make the leap into freelance translation.

As a newbie, you’re hungry for translation projects you’re passionate about that will let you run your mobile business from anywhere in the world.

It’s the type of work where you have the flexibility and  time to enjoy what you’re doing.

Whether it’s globetrotting and earning money on the road, being your own boss, or having the freedom to take several hours off in the afternoon to catch up with friend or spend with loved ones…

this is the lifestyle you’ve had your eyes on from day one.

But wait a minute how are you going to land those translation projects when you don’t have previous experience working as a translator?

This is the ultimate Catch-22 situation. You need experience to get work and you can’t get work without experience.

Maybe you have a translation degree, you’re fresh out of school but you’ve haven’t worked with your own clients.

Or you have a passion for languages, you’re confident in your translation skills but you haven’t translated on a professional level.

This dilemma is all too common. And in order to attract high-paying clients, you’re definitely going to need a solid strategy to land translation gigs so you can stand out from the sea of faceless translators.

So if you’re passionate about languages and you want to make a living as a freelance translator I’m going to share some insider information breaking down how the industry works.

Luckily for you,  I’ll also give you a step-by-step actionable plan of how you can get your first three clients in the next 30 days, even if you are a completely new to freelancing.

 How to overcome zero professional experience 

First, let me start by saying that most advice for freelance translators is bad. Conventional advice goes something like this, “send as many resumes as you can to translation agencies” “you need to work for low pay so you can get valuable experience“, And “do your best work.” Although the advice is coming from a good place, it won’t get you clients and without clients you’ll have empty pockets.  

The truth is you don’t need to do any of the above to get your first client. In fact I’m going to show you how to…

  • Overcome having zero work experience 
  • Attract high-end clients that will pay you what you’re worth
  • Get job offers without sending a ton of resumes or bidding on translation job portals
  • How to sell your translation services even if you feel like you’re not good at selling through my “Foot in the Door Strategy.”

If you’ve been applying to a lot of translation jobs and feel like you’re being denied, sent resumes to translation agencies and didn’t get a call back, or you want to make a living as a translator but don’t know how find clients, then you’re not alone.

Yes, experience is important and so are degrees, but that’s not what will help you succeed as a freelance translator. And it’s certainly not what will make you stand out of the competition.

If you don’t have previous paid experience as a freelance translator under you belt, then the best thing to do is offer a “free taster.”

A small sample translation to showcase your translation skills potential clients. I’m going to assume you know at least one person in business that could benefit from your sample translation.

It’s a win-win situation. You will be doing them a favor while you build a winning translation sample presenting your experience to prospects.

Who knows, they may even pay you if they love your free taster. At the very least you’ll be able to have tangible proof of work experience, a testimonial,  and a reference from your free taster.

The point is to have some type of work experience by the type you take on paid translation jobs.

Free work gets a bad wrap in the translation industry  but the free taster technique is different. Not only does it help you get your feet wet as a freelance translator but it’s a powerful method to grab the attention of prospects and turn them into paying clients while you build your experience.  Now let me be clear.

Unlike a translation portfolio, which leaves many talented aspiring translators frustrated, struggling, and doing a lot of work and struggling for clients–this is is a short translation sample designed to help you overcome your lack of experience so you can be well on your way to getting paying translation clients.

Free tasters are not uncommon at all. Many different industries use it as a lead magnet to attract new clients. From Netflix to Freshbook a free taster is what’s used to bring in new business.

This is the best way to land paid translation projects upfront faster and learn the skill of translation as you go.

The biggest mistake new translators make is spend a bunch of time learning and practicing the the craft of translation for months without ever doing paid work.

Instead of wasting all of this time, you need to secure actual paying client where you will strengthen your translation skills on the jobs as you progress.

The riches are in the niches

When you try to sell to everyone you’ll sell to no one. As a freelance translator you need to be ultra-specific about the type of translation services you provide.

This is where you need to niche-down and find a specialization.

If you’re unsure about how to find a specialization, look into your past job experience, education, hobbies, etc. Is there a particular topic you find yourself reading about endlessly?

Is there something you’re passionate about? Is there something you enjoy doing on your free time? Jot that down.

It helps to work on subjects that you’re particularly interested and knowledgeable in.

After you’ve niched-down, the next step is to see if there is a demand for your specialization. This is one of the most important steps in getting started as a freelance translator.

If there is no demand for your translation services in your specialization, then you don’t have a real business.  Don’t try to create demand.

Instead look for where the paying clients are. How do you do that? Well ask yourself…

  • Do clients have a need for my translation services in my specialization?
  • If they need your translation services, do they want to pay you for it ?
  • Do they have the ability to pay for it?

If the answer to any of these questions is a no.

Then it’s time to go back to the drawing board. You need to test and validate all of your assumptions concerning your specialization using the questions above.

 Craft an irresistible offer

Keep in mind, anytime you pitch your translation services, clients want to know what is in it for them.

Before you approach clients you need to do the majority of the work upfront. That means  you need to craft an irresistible offer to translation agencies and the companies you want to work with.

Addressing the fundamental question of, “What’s in it for me?” Is  to show clients how you’re going to help them reach their business goals,  or solve their problems.

Translation is only one facet of your business, but if you want to succeed as a freelance translator, you have to understand what your potential clients are trying to achieve. Are they…

  • Trying to grow their client base? (Example: Law firms and e-commerce)
  • Introduce a product to new market speaking a different language? (Example: consumer goods)
  • Are they trying to minimize risk? (Example: healthcare industry)
  • Want to build trust with their clientele, do exceptional work and get repeat business? (This is what most translation agencies are trying to accomplish)

The foot in the door strategy to finding and approaching clients

Breaking into freelance translation doesn’t have to be a glacial-slow process.

You most likely won’t hear this from industry veterans who’ll most likely tell you it takes many years and a lot  experience before you can make a decent living as a freelance translator.

The truth is you can get started as a freelance translator a lot faster than you think. In fact you can get your first client in the next seven days or less with my, “Foot in the Door Strategy.”

The best thing about this simple strategy is that is can work for anyone, no matter the language pairs, specialization, or experience level.

Instead of randomly applying to translation agencies hoping you get a call back , you can simply use the foot in the door strategy to shave weeks if not months in your search for clients.

This strategy is like adding rocket fuel to your prospecting.

Once you’ve determined the translation agencies you want to work with, you can simply go on LinkedIn, find and contact project managers already working for the company.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 8.01

A LinkedIn search of Project Managers

You can do this for freelance translator working the agencies you have you eyes on. Simply type in the language pairs followed by translator and the name of the agency.

The filters on the left can be used to narrow down the search geographically. If you want, you can search by connection and try to find translators that went to your university and so forth.

This method that will help you kill two birds with one stone. However, this isn’t the right time to pitch your services.

Not only are you going to ask strategic question about their experience working with the translation agency but it’s also an opportunity to get  deep inside their head to gather insider information.

Find out how project managers select freelance translators to work on project and what the most common subjects translated in your language pairs.

After your conversation, don’t just stop there. Ask for other names of other individuals in the company you can interview. You can do the same for freelance translator working for the companies you’d like to work with.

In fact, in 95% of the informational interviews, project managers and translators will refer you to the hiring personnel themselves or ask you to send them your resume.

This is the best way to “warm up” a cold contact. It’s also a great way to be top of mind when the opportunity for a translation project presents itself.

Here is a word-for-word script you can use to authentically connect with any freelance translator or project managers that will help you get your foot in the door with companies you’d like to work with.

This script has generated thousands of dollars for my business and has helped my land translation projects, faster.

SUBJECT LINE: Fellow NCATA member and translator in D.C.

Hi Kerry,

For the past couple of weeks I’ve invested considerable research on companies like Apple and Cisco. During my search, I’ve come across your impressive LinkedIn profile. I would like to hear what your experience was like working with them.

I have 3-5 brief questions to ask you. Would you be available for a quick call or coffee meeting on Tuesday at 11:00 am? 

Let me know if this works for you. 

Thank you,

Nick R.

Hint: If you’re a member of any professional translation association, use this to warm up a cold email. Get even more specific and use a chapter division of your professional association in the subject line.

Freelance translation is a business build on relationships. The majority of the lucrative jobs are not advertised.

Instead of aimlessly sending resumes to translation agencies, the foot in the door strategy is targeted and will land you translation work, faster.

Putting the Piece of the Puzzle Together 

I’ve just given you the blueprint to breaking into freelance translation, faster. This isn’t the recycled advice you’ll get from industry veterans.

There is no risk involved and no need to wait around for someone . You can hit the ground running from day one.

By applying these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to gaining industry knowledge, experience and your first three paid clients in the next 30 days. ‘

Just don’t forget to grab my FREE guide below, “The Ultimate Guide to Finding High-Paying Translation Clients.”

Sign up and learn how to get your first translation client in the next 7 days


  • Julia

    Reply Reply January 8, 2017

    Thank you very much for your valuable contribution! No matter our experience, we always have something to learn. Much success in your career! Regards from Brazil.

    • admin

      Reply Reply March 3, 2017


      Thanks for your feedback. You have made a very important point! We never stop learning; even if we have ten, fifteen or twenty years of experience.

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