Once you have decided to start freelancing, you need to find your first clients. This is no easy task and you should be aware that it might take you months to get your first assignment, especially if you are just starting out and you do not have much experience yet.
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1. First of all: your resume is of vital importance. Make sure it is perfect before you start sending it out. Make it short, clear and make sure it contains the required information. You would be surprised how many people forget to mention their language pair(s) on their resume... Things that should stand out: your name, contact details, language pair(s), education, specialization and experience. As a beginner you might not have much experience yet, but you might have more than you think. Which projects did you work on while studying? Did you write any papers, did you join in any teamwork, did you do a traineeship, are any of your hobbies or interests relevant? If you have worked before, how could that experience be relevant? If you feel the experience section of your resume is too meagre, do some voluntary work for non-profit organisations such as Translators without Borders, Plan International etc.
2. Build your presence on the web. Getting your own website is easy, it does not have to be a large website. Proz can help you with building a small website. However, having your own website is certainly not a requirement these days, as there are many alternative ways to build your online presence. Become a member of translation forums and sites such as Proz and other translator websites. Consider more general websites for freelancers where you can register. Check for national or local initiatives, even general job sites for people working from home. Make sure your profile is complete on all these sites. Use social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to make people aware that you are available for translation work.
3. And now for the real work. I would recommend starting with working for translation agencies. They will teach you the ropes and you can choose to find direct clients later. Translation agencies are all over the internet and finding them is easy - just google "translation agency", check job postings on Proz etc. However, if you can, check if they are reliable. Lists such the Proz BlueBoard or Payment Practices can help you determine whether a client is trustworthy, but these are paying options and you might not want to invest in those yet. Before you start sending out your resume, check each individual agency website to see how they would like to be contacted. If you do not contact the right person in the right way, all you will do is annoy them. Some agencies want to be contacted by email, others have an online form which you will need to fill in. Also check if the agency does offer your language combination or specialization, some might not. If the agency specializes in a particular field that matches your qualifications, try to adapt your resume to reflect that, by highlighting that particular experience or adding more details. If you use email, keep your cover letter short and to the point. If you know the name of the person to contact, address them by name instead of writing "Dear Sirs". Do not just copy content from your resume in the body of your email, but mention the important bits such as your language combination and specialization. Adding a personal touch will make you stand out - you might for instance mention where you found their details, explain that you feel their specialization matches with what you can offer or just compliment them on their website if you like it. But remember to keep it short! Two or three short paragraphs should do it - remember translation agencies get many emails each day and they will appreciate a brief, to-the-point message. They can always find more details in your resume or contact you if they are interested. Keep cultural differences in mind - do not use a tone that can be considered too informal and might offend your contact. End with an invitation to contact you if they have any questions, tell them you look forward to hearing from them. Sign with your contact details and any links to your personal websites or online profiles. Don't forget to attach your resume and off your email goes!
4. Keep track of who you have contacted and when, so that you do not make the mistake of contacting them again and looking foolish... That said, you can always use the list a few years later when you have more experience, to contact agencies you have not worked with yet, and renew the communication.
5. Now wait until you hear from them. Do not call them, do not send a dozen reminders. If you have done everything right and they are interested in you, they will contact you, even if it takes some time until an opportunity arises. In the meantime use the time to contact even more agencies, to build your online presence and to get more experience.
6. If an agency contacts you, congratulations, this might be the beginning of a fruitful cooperation! Now it is up to you to demonstrate your abilities. Reply to their email as soon as you can. When replying - again - keep any cultural differences in mind, be polite and to the point. Although some seasoned translators are opposed to taking translation tests, I would recommend taking them, especially now that you still have the time and that you need the work. Take the test to the best of your abilities and do not wait too long to return it. I would say you should return it within two or three days.
7. Don't just sit around waiting for agencies to contact you, make sure people get to know you. Your colleagues are valuable resources when it comes to finding work! Search for translator groups (e.g. on Facebook) and communities that are of interest to you and follow their discussions or ask them your questions. Your peers will be able to give you valuable tips and information or even pass you a job!
Let me throw in a few golden tips for beginners. First tip: work during holiday periods. Many translators take a vacation around the same time and agencies will have problems finding suitable translators, therefore they may look around for translators they have not worked with. It will give you a chance to demonstrate your abilities. This is the perfect period to start long-term co-operations! Second tip: when agencies contact you, always reply as soon as you can. Time is money , project managers need to place their projects quickly and will appreciate a prompt response. Once they know you always reply instantly, they will tend to send the proposed assignment to you first so that they do not lose time waiting for a response. It gives you a considerable advantage over colleagues.
Good luck with launching your career!