When I was starting out, I wondered a lot on how long it took people to get to where I want to be. How did they start? What were the logistics? Many translators do it part time, or have another job, or rely on a spouse for most of their household income, which are all perfectly fine ways to be a translator. My point is that as a career, I think it’s important for me to share how long it took for me to rely on translating as my main income, and how I got there. This may be helpful for others who are in a similar situation and seeking to get where I am. So here’s a little timeline to let you know my particular path (which again, was not the only way, or the best way, to pursue a career in translation. It is just my own and I hope that being transparent may give others some honest insight on the logistics of pursuing this path).
May 2009: Graduated from University of Wisconsin Madison with a BA in French and a Certificate in African Studies. When I started the program, I thought I wanted to work in Francophone Africa for an international development organization, using my language in some way. By the time I graduated, I decided I didn’t want to work abroad full time anymore. And I didn’t want to teach French (nor had I pursued the French Education degree anyway). I really didn’t know what I would do, so I just focused on getting any job I could to pay the bills.
2009 – 2010: Stayed in Madison, working in restaurants and teaching dance.
August 2010: Volunteered in Haiti with All Hands Volunteers for 3 months in Leogane, Haiti. Got to use some language skills while working with Haitians.
January 2011: Needed a change after the tremendous experience of working in Haiti. Picked a place on a map, and moved to Charleston, SC. Worked at restaurants and lived by the beach.
December 2011: Wanted to do something using French, so found a volunteer translator opportunity on Idealist. Started translating PR and website information from French to English for Humanium. Started researching professional translation.
January 2012: Took online course through NYU professional studies: Introduction to French to English Translation. Started building a resume and creating profiles on translation job sites. Started looking into CAT tools and learned to use Wordfast Anywhere.
June 2012: Moved back to Madison, WI. Got job speaking to Quebecois customers in tech support for a fitness equipment company. Loved speaking to Frenchies and learning about the Quebecois dialiect; hated working in tech support.
November 2012: Got my first regular paying client (agency) and did sporadic translations part time around working full time. Quit tech support and got a job as a project manager at a local translation agency.
February 2013: Realized that translators had it way better than the PMs. Quit job as PM to go back to working part time at a restaurant and hoping I’d get enough part time translation work. Got a few new clients, but wasn’t getting that much translation work (very sporadic). Kept reaching out to new clients periodically and getting some work here and there, but not a solid income. Started working at the restaurant full time.
May 2013: Realized I was going to get booted off my parents insurance soon, so I needed to find a full time job with benefits. Got full time job working for a Fair Trade organization in Madison, WI. Loved the job: combined my interests in international development with my skills in customer service. Still did some translations part time on the side, and did a few translations from organizations we worked with in Mali. Traveled to Haiti for work in 2014, and thought about starting my own fair trade business. Started it, it didn’t work.
January 2015: After receiving a promotion that I didn’t enjoy, I quit the Fair Trade organization and got a job working as an assistant for a public interest law firm. My job had nothing to do with language, but it was a good job with great benefits, and I enjoyed the people I worked with. I still was doing some translations in addition to working full time. My list of agencies was growing, but still wasn’t getting enough work offered to be substantial income.
April 2015: Sick of working the 9-5, put all my energy into becoming a freelance translator. Took proficiency tests through ACTFL and received Advanced and Superior scores (qualifying me to take the ATA exam). Updated my profiles on Translators Cafe and ProZ and started to check it every day and apply to every job offer that was in French to English. Started googling “Translation Agency” and sending my resume to multiple agencies a day. Set up a profile on LinkedIn. Joined translation Facebook groups, which has been an amazing and valuable connection. Got business cards. Created a web page. Started getting more regular job offers from different agencies. Some were low paying, but they gave me a lot of regular work, so I took it and kept working a lot around working full time at the law firm.
November 2015: After getting so much translation, told my job I wanted to go down to half time. Was able to keep my benefits while paying more for them. Kept getting new clients and more work. Applied to an online MA in translation through University of Portsmouth.
January 2016: After feeling like I finally was a “real translator,” I joined MATI (Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters) and met other translators (and interpreters) in person for the first time in my life (prior to that, all my connections had been online). Kept receiving solid amounts of translation to keep me busy for half time. Didn’t like the Portsmouth program when it started, decided to not pursue the MA.
June 2016: Was receiving more and more regular work from different agencies. Successfully started raising my rates and earning more. Quit my other job completely to focus on translating and consulting. Got offered job to do consulting work a few hours per week for Haiti Medical Education Project. Got first direct translation client and signed on to do 20+ hours per week translating for them. Signed up for health insurance on the Marketplace. Decided to get a job serving at a restaurant 1 – 2 nights per week to get me out of the house and interacting with people, plus some extra cash.
Today: Translating and consulting full time, working at a restaurant part time. Writing a blog and staying active on social media. Working from home with my dog laying in “his” chair next to me all day. I finally got there!
As you can see, my path was all over the place. I always was pursuing new things, as I would usually get bored doing one thing after a while. And I do have some sort of entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to work for myself. I also can’t stop doing more things, and although it makes my life unpredictable, it also makes it exciting.
So that was my path! I’m sure you’ll make your own, as there’s so many different trails up the same mountain.