Just because you have a flair for translation, doesn’t automatically mean that you can run a profitable business working as a freelance translator. Translation skills and business skills don’t always go hand in hand and if the idea of dealing with invoicing, taxation and marketing fills you with dread then it might be better to opt for employment with a translation company or agency.
However, if you do fancy turning your translation skills into profits through your own business, then here are a few hints and tips on what (and what not) to do to make it happen.
Whether you choose to operate as a self-employed freelancer or establish your own company will depend on the options available in your home country. Consider all of the options carefully and make sure that you opt for the one that’s right for you. It’s a good idea to speak to an accountant at this stage. He or she will be able to advise you on the tax implications of the various ways forward, so paying for the advice at this early stage could well save you money in the long run.
Taxation and insurance
It’s also a good idea to retain an accountant for ad hoc support with taxation, social security and insurance matters. You will need to consider sales taxes, personal taxes and corporate taxes, as well as obtaining things like personal liability insurance and key man insurance and making you pay the right level of social security contributions. There’s a lot to think about and professional advice can be extremely helpful in clarifying what you need to pay and when.
You need to set your prices early on in the process, so that you know that your venture will be a profitable one. Work out what you need to earn each month in order to live the lifestyle you are happy with and then do some sums to make sure that your translation enterprise will bring in at least that much. Work this out as an hourly cost or per word cost, depending on how you prefer to charge.
You also need to decide how many hours per day or week you are willing to work. A bargain hourly rate might bring in lots of clients, but if you have to work 22 hours per day your new translation venture will quickly unravel!
When setting your prices, think about holidays too. You will no doubt want to take some time off during the course of a year, so build enough of a margin into your prices that a fortnight’s leave won’t mean you are bankrupt by the end of your break.
Consider special rates that you can use to attract your first few clients, but make sure any deals that are below your standard price are time-limited, so that once the client relationship is established you are earning a decent wage.
Think about payment terms as well. How long are you prepared to wait after completing a job before you receive payment? And for lengthy jobs should you consider staged payment once certain milestones have been reached? All of this will affect your cashflow, so give it careful thought.
However you decide to proceed – whether as a sole trader or by setting up your own company – you will need to think about how to tell the world about your fabulous translation services. Marketing is a skilled area of work, so be sure to plan your marketing strategy carefully in order to maximise your exposure to potential clients.
Having your own website, using email and telephone marketing and attending translation conferences to drum up business are all valid strategies, so think about what will work best for you and then put your plan into action.
Invoicing is a task that is loved by some people and detested by others, but if you’re going to be working for yourself then it’s an important part of your operation if you intend to get paid! Track what each customer has spent carefully and then raise an invoice once each job has been completed (or in line with the terms you have decided upon). You can use accountancy software to do this or simply raise your invoices manually based on a template. Be sure to include any relevant sales taxes at the appropriate rate on each invoice.
Running your own profitable translation venture means being organised. There are a lot of tasks involved in working for yourself and it will be you who is responsible for keeping on top of them all. Even if you’re not a naturally organised person, you need to be disciplined in your approach to your business in order to maximise your profits. If you are forgetful, then write lists and set reminders for yourself to ensure that nothing is missed. It will be worth it in the long run!
How have you chosen to operate as a freelancer – through your own business or as a sole trader? What is it about freelancing that inspires you to keep going, rather than to work for a translation agency or company? Share your thoughts via the comments.