A day in the life of a freelance translator

Written by MA Translation Studies student Rebecca Ellerker

It’s 9:15am, I’m back from the school run and sitting down to start work for the day. I’m a freelance translator and I work from home in my sunny garden office (well sunny today at least!). I say, “start work for the day,” but the truth is that I have already had a quick check of my emails on my phone while the children were finishing their breakfast! I had an enquiry from a new client about a potential translation – today is going to be a good day.

I’ve got several items on my to-do-list and the first of them is to finalise and send a recent translation. I’ve finished my draft and now need to complete a line-by-line bilingual check. All done and I’m happy I can now press send. Before my career change (I used to be a teacher), I thought translation was a simple act of transferring one language into another. Just like that – quick and easy if you understand both languages, right? Wrong. Actually, a large part of my day is spent reading, researching and thinking. Am I sure I’ve understood exactly what this sentence means? Am I certain that this expression is used, in this way, in this particular context? What precisely do we call that *insert random item* in English? Google search is a translator’s best friend!

So, having submitted my translation, I need to produce and send my invoice, particularly important if I want to get paid. I love this aspect of working for myself and I know that there is much more to my working day than translating. I’ve sent my invoice and before I move on to the next task, I need to reply to my new client enquiry. Getting back to clients promptly is important; I take a look at the potential translation, run my analysis and produce and send off my quote…fingers crossed they’ll get back to me to confirm the job. Getting used to not knowing when my next project will arrive and learning to trust that it always does (with a lot of marketing I might add), has been one of the greatest challenges to date.

This week I have a large translation to complete by Friday, so I’ve set myself daily targets to ensure I get there; planning my workload in realistic daily quotas is helpful. I’ve found that clients especially love it if I deliver a translation early and happy clients means repeat business – in fact most of my work comes from repeat business (the very best kind of feedback).

Like many freelance industries, starting out can be tough and I’ve spent a lot of time working to secure new clients. I’m amazed at the power of networking. Every freelance translator I’ve met has been so friendly and helpful; there is a real sense of community and I’ve had several clients passed to me from other translators. Of course, they also come in handy when there’s that one word that I just can’t find the perfect solution for – translator friends to the rescue!

After grabbing a quick bite of lunch at my desk (I don’t do this every day but today I want to pick the children up from school), the rest of my afternoon is spent ensuring I meet my word count for the day. If I don’t, I have been known to finish off in the evening. As a teacher I used to work almost every evening and it was something I wanted to get away from. Now, however, I feel totally differently about it. The flexibility of my work is one of the biggest perks and I know that if I need to work in the evening or at the weekend it is because I’ve gained some time elsewhere. More often than not it’s because I’ve been able to fit my job around my family and not the other way around. I feel very lucky to finally be able to say that.