If you are fully fluent in at least two languages, translation and interpretation can be a great business opportunity. Many translators start as freelancers, then either join or start a larger translation business that handles multiple languages and subcontractors. Often these businesses specialize in specific industries that work across language barriers, such as publishing, software, and manufacturing. This article will show you how to start a translation business from the ground up.
Start and Grow Your Business
Determine what language combinations you will offer. As a freelancer you must be fully fluent in all languages for which you translate, such that you understand cultural references, slang, jargon, and exact word connotations. If you are fluent in a language combination that is in demand but hard to find translators for, it may be more profitable to specialize only in those languages even if you have other languages available to you.
Select industries or types of translation to specialize in. This allows you to be more fully versed in a specialized jargon of those fields and to create templates for yourself for commonly used words and phrases. It may also come with specialized industry-specific software. For example, according to the game translation company Monde Media, video game localization requires that translators work with special computer file types and understand the language surrounding concepts like “leveling up.”
Market your services. A clear and well-written website is a necessity. Tailor your marketing messages to address the problems of your specific type of clients, and explain how you will solve those problems better than your competitors can. For instance, let your medical journal customers know if you hold a degree in biology and can therefore be consistently accurate with scientific terminology. Even when you are busy with work, make sure you take time out for marketing to future customers.
Assemble a network of subcontractors who are fluent in languages you are not. Structure a reasonable fee for providing them with work, billing, and project management. This fee varies widely based on industry, location, language, and turnaround time, so investigate the market to be sure you're charging appropriately. Ensure that these subcontractors are of the highest quality, since it will be your reputation attached to their work. You may consider hiring these skill sets in pairs, always keeping at least two subcontractors that can translate the same language combination, so that you assure yourself of having the ability to perform consistent quality assurance testing.
Increase your marketing efforts to include your additional language combination or industry skills. Contact your current and previous customers to let them know that you now have more languages available to you, and can provide them with the same high quality of service that you have performed on previous projects. Be sure to allow for a significant portion of your time to manage projects and business overhead. Those tasks may take up to 50% of your day or more as your business grows.
Evangeline Marzec is a management consultant to small high-tech companies, and has been in the video games industry since 2004. As a published writer since 1998, she has contributed articles and short stories to web and print media, including eHow and Timewinder. She holds a Master of Business Adminstration from Thunderbird School of Global Management.