How Rafa Went From Journalism Student to Translating Over 22 Books


Rafa speaking at a a conference

In this blog you’ll get a behind the scenes look on how to run a successful translation business.

If you’re serious about making a great living as a professional translator, then you need to read this interview with Rafa Lomabardino.

Very rarely do highly experienced translators pull the curtain behind their business. But in my interview with Rafa, she shares the exact methods she used to exponentially grow her business and bring in big clients.

Now, I’m sure a lot of you are already familiar with her.

Rafa is President and CEO of the boutique translation business Word Awareness and founding member of the Association of Translators and Interpreters in the San Diego Area (ATISDA). When she is not translating she is an instructor at the University of California, San Diego Extension translation program. Rafa has translated over twenty two books and has authored Tools and Technology in Translation.

Impressive right?

For all of you freelance translators out there prepare to take some notes!

We’ll cover everything from how Rafa got started as a translator to how she ventured into literary translation (a highly requested topic on Translators Academy), her setbacks in her journey, big wins, as well as revealing what lessons you can take from her years of experience as a translator (because at Translators Academy, we’re all about taking the shortcut and learning from the experience of others.)

Sidestepping barriers to entry and uncovering a competitive advantage

Rafa didn’t take the route most people would consider in becoming a freelance translator. Instead she hit the ground running from day one.

“I started working as a professional translator in 1997, right after I finished technical high school and earned an associate’s degree in computer sciences, specializing in data processing.”

She also taught English while attending university and studying Journalism. After she graduated, Rafa moved to the United States from her native Brazil and continued working as a translator leveraging her educational background.

“I took advantage of my academic background to specialize in computers, technology, news, and advertising.”

Many new freelance translators may feel like specializing will pigeonhole them. But the secret to success is narrowing down on an area of expertise, because in a highly saturated market, it’s the experts that are in demand.

Soon after Rafa moved to the United States, she started receiving requests for Portuguese to English Translations.

“I enrolled in the translation certificate program offered by the University of California, San Diego Extension.”

However, the course only covered English and Spanish, so she consolidated  her previous studies in Spanish and improved her English. Then Rafa took the ATA exam to get certified as a Portuguese <-> English translator.

Aiming high and venturing on to literary translation

Entering the literary translation market is somewhat of a mystery to many translators. It’s often difficult to get in touch with many of the well-known publishing houses.

“In 2011, I started to reach out to self published authors to have their books translated into Portuguese and English.”

Rafa started small to get her foot in the door to bring Brazilian literature to a broader audience in English.

She was reaching out to both amateur and well established authors. Overtime, Rafa refined her strategy and was soon working on book translations.

“My goal was to be able to work 50% technical and 50% book translations, and five years later I can say that I have achieved just that.”

What does she accredit her success to?

Unsurprisingly it’s word-of-mouth among translators and authors. It’s one of the most powerful methods of marketing. (Learn more about it here)


Rafa at a book signing. She is the author of Tools and Technology in Translation

Conquering failures 

At some point in time all freelance translation business owners will deal with failures.

One of Rafa’s worst entrepreneurial moments showcases just exactly what translators should do when faced with a freelancer’s worst nightmare: losing a major client.

“We had been working with this multinational company for over a decade when an executive decision in their headquarters dismantled their translation department and entrusted all their translations to a large translation agency.”

The translation agency her client hired would be assigning projects to multiple agencies based on availability and the lowest price.

“Translation quality was no longer a priority for this large company.”

She quickly realized that there was nothing she could do about the situation.

So instead of letting this setback in her entrepreneurial journey ruin her business, she amped up her marketing and sales efforts of her translation business to find clients.

What separates successful freelance translators from others is perseverance and how well they ride out the tough times.

Running your business like a well-oiled machine

When you’re running a freelance translation business the lines of work and life can get blurred.

“I try to organize my schedule as much as I can, so I have a big picture of what my week looks like.

Rafa admits to being a control freak (I’m sure many of us can relate.)

She uses Google Calendar to make sure everything is planned ahead of time so she can accommodate all the work she has to do without missing deadlines.

“I usually separate my work day in three shifts: 8:00 a.m.- 11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m.- 4:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.”

The morning shift is usually reserved for her project management tasks and short projects. In the afternoon she’ll work on the larger, long term assignments, and the evening is reserved for literary work and allows her to wind down before going to bed.

Putting a proven system into action


Rafa at the American Translators Association Conference in Sunny San Diego where she calls home.

 One of the tips Rafa gives her students at the UCSD Extension Translation Program is to not put all their eggs into one basket.

“I believe in diversification. I actively seek new clients every week, do my best to reply to client requests as quickly as possible, and send cover letters to potential clients who use job boards to look for translators.”

Rafa even keeps her colleagues busy by casting a wide net and working on a number of different translation projects.

“I also work with subtitling and voice over projects myself, so that allows us to cover a larger client base.”

What is her word of advice for new and aspiring translators?

“Don’t wait until you’re ready to get started.”

Rafa suggests translation students to use their downtime while they’re studying to also develop their business.

“Expanding your knowledge, learning about theory, and practicing in an academic environment is invaluable to any translator.”

But most importantly, Rafa believes students and aspiring translators should simultaneously develop the entrepreneurial side of their business so they can start getting clients from day one when the time comes.

About Rafa

Rafa Lombardino is the president and CEO of Word Awareness. She is an ATA-certified English to/from Portuguese translator and certified Spanish>English translator by the University of California San Diego Extension, where she teaches two online classes: “Introduction to Swordfish” and “Tools and Technology in Translation” (the latter became a book in 2014). Rafa has translated over 22 books. She is a content curator for eWordNews, a bilingual blog on book translations and self-publishing and the editor of Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories.

You can connect with here @eWordNews

Do you have any questions for Rafa? If so, post in the comment box below.








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