How to Get Your First Online Translation Job
(Work From Home in 2020)

In this post, you’re going to learn how to get your first online translation job. 

Maybe you’ve done some favors for your family and friends with your language skills. Maybe you’re not sure how good your language skills are. 

If you want to make a side income from home, you have to get your first translation job and get a feel for it. 

While it’s possible to turn your side business into a full-time income, you have to assess your skills, the market demand, and how you’re going to structure your work hour before you mak ea switch to a full-time translation job from home. 

Follow this guide in order to get your first translation job online. 

This post contains references to products where I receive commissions for purchases made through links. This is to help support my blog and does not cost you any extra.

Translators are in demand
How work-from-home-translators get paid
How to get started as a beginner freelance translator
Fiverr
Upwork
Freelancer.com
Tip: Highlight relevant experience and knowledge
Tip: Show your sample work of translation
FAQ: Is translation right for me?
FAQ: Can I make money easily with translation?
Tip: Make your client’s life easier
Tip: Don’t waste your client’s time, figure it out yourself
Tip: Translating from images and recreating files
Tip: Respond fast, and say yes to instant messaging
Conclusion

Translators are in demand 

You might think that the work of translation is changing a text from one language to another language, but the truth is it’s far more than that. There are contextual meanings and subtle nuances that human translators can pick up much better than machines, and translators have to carefully choose words that get the meaning across in the target language. 

The work of translation also comes with localization, meaning the language you’re translating to has to make sense for the cultural sensitivity of the end-users who will be reading your translated text. For example, the “subway” in the US is called “tube” or “underground” in the UK. Even when you’re translating something to English, you have to stop and think whether you’re translating for the American or British audience.  

There are 4 common ways translators get paid:

  1. Character or word count of the source language
  2. Character or word count of the target language
  3. Hourly rate 
  4. Project 

When you’re working as a work-from-home translator, I recommend that you get paid by the character or word count of the source language. That way, you can be upfront about the price, and both you and the client know exactly how much the translation task would cost. 

Get paid by the source language 

If you’re translating the sentence below from English to Japanese, then you’d get paid for the total word count of 7. 

The dog and the cat are friends. 

If your rate per word is, let’s say, 20 cents, then you’d get paid $1.40 for translating that sentence. The higher the rate and the more words you translate, the more you get paid. 

However, when you’re translating from Japanese to English, counting the characters, rather than words, makes more sense. This is because when using an automated word count tool, counting the characters yields a more accurate number for Japanese. Also, what is considered a single word in Japanese can get tricky. 

犬と猫は友達です。

This sentence has 8 Japanese characters, and if you were to charge 17.5 cents per character then you’d get paid $1.40. 

Depending on the language pairs you use, you want to check whether you should count the characters or words. 

Get paid by the target language

You can get paid by counting the word or character count of not the original text you’re translating from, but of the text that you translated. 

While some translators opt for this method, I do not recommend this because neither you nor the client will know exactly how much a task would cost. 

You could try to get clever by translating and writing longer sentences to earn some additional cash, but the quality of translation is not measured by length. The quality of your work should show in the accuracy, appropriateness, and contextuality of the translation. 

Get paid by the hourly rate

If you’re working as a part-time or full-time translator in-house, then the client would offer you this payment method. Why? Because paying someone by the hour is almost always cheaper than paying by word or character count. 

It’s possible to get paid hourly as a remote worker if you’re seeking full or part-time employment, and you’d consider that option if you’re seeking other benefits that come with it, such as health or dental insurance.   

Again, you might get clever by translating as slowly as possible to get the most bucks. But the reality would be just the opposite. Most likely there will be too much to translate and not enough time to finish by the deadline. 

But since you’re reading this and you’re trying to land your first online translation job to get a feeler, we’ll pass on translation job offers paid hourly. 

Get paid by the project 

You might consider getting paid by the project when you’ve become a seasoned translator and if you’re looking into offering turnkey solutions to your clients. You might choose this method if it proves more profitable to you. Perhaps you’re offering not just translation services but also overseeing tasks other than translation such as project management, hiring, procurement, and task delegation. Don’t jump to this arrangement unless you have years of experience under your belt. 

Oh, and also turn away from clients who bring up any of these offerings: free work for exposure or equity of the company. Offering free work has to be done strategically on your part, and anyone who offers equity for translation is a joke.  

How to get started as a beginner freelance translator?

Now that we know how to get paid, let’s start looking for clients. 

You might be wondering, “But I’m not confident in my language skills!” “What if I suck?” “What if I work long hours for a little pay?” 

Remember, you’re getting your first paying translation job. This is not going to make you millions, replace your full-time income, and you certainly do not need to become a master linguist and expert translator before you get your first gig. 

The thing is, you don’t know how much clients are willing to pay you for your skills unless you land on your first gig. You need a reference point. You might work a lot for a little money. Or, you might feel guilty because you find it it’s too easy. The first few online translation jobs are for learning, not for the money. 

By the way, never feel guilty for getting paid a lot for the good work you do. It doesn’t matter how much you think you’ve put the effort into your work. It matters more than the client thinks your work is valuable. The client doesn’t care if you finished the task in 2 hours or 2 days. 

There are many platforms were clients bid for a translation job and freelancers apply for it. Create an account on both of these websites. When you do, make sure you’re creating an account as a “seller” or “freelancer” (not as a “client”!).  

Fiverr.com

As the name suggests, Fiverr.com is an online marketplace where low-cost freelancing services are offered starting from the rate of $5. Clients can find not only translation but services ranging in a wide variety of areas. The jobs offered at Fiverr.com tend to be one-time or small-scale. 

Fiverr

Create an account as a “seller” and in your profile mention the language pair you work with, and how many words you can translate for how much. Then simply wait for the inquiries from the clients to start rolling in! 

One good thing about Fiverr is that rather than freelancers having to meet the ranging demands of the client and having to customize the services each time, the freelancers get to dictate the scope of their services. Rather than looking for the clients, let the clients come to you.

Becoming a Fiverr seller is extremely easy. Enter your email address, and choose your username and password. Make sure to choose your username wisely, because that’s how clients will refer you and remember you by. You do not need to put your full name, but a username that’s easy to identify and relevant to your area of expertise should be good enough (for example, firstname_translator). 

Fiverr Seller Profile

Complete your profile information, and fill in some details in the left column to describe your skillsets. 

Uploading the actual photo of you on the profile would be more recommended, so your clients would feel more comfortable knowing the actual person providing the service. Though, there are many successful Fiverr sellers who use their company or brand logo as the profile photo. 

I got my very first online translation job via Fiverr translating a medical app from English to Japanese, where I made a few hundred dollars on a weekend. I’ll get more into that in another post. 

Upwork.com 

Upwork.com is one of the biggest international online platforms for freelancing services. They have a huge pool of freelancers, as well as clients, and you’ll find services and jobs offered in a variety of industries. 

Upwork
Upwork is a great marketplace if you want to start making “serious” side income. There are freelancers who make a full-time income on Upwork at the comfort of their own home. You can find projects offered as a one-time thing or on an ongoing basis. Apply for a job that you think is a good match with your skillset. If you have a high rating and compelling bio on your freelancer profile, the client might directly contact you as well. 

Freelancer.com 

Freelancer.com is also a popular crowdsourcing marketplace website. The company behind Freelancer.com is based in Australia. These marketplace websites will withdraw a small fee from you every time you get paid from the client. So make sure you’re aware of the different fee structures for these websites. 

Freelancer.com

Also, it’ll be worth studying if there are other freelancers registered on these websites who are working with your language pair. If you see many freelancers dealing with the same language pair as you, you could take it as a good sign because that means there are just as many clients seeking translation for your language pair on that platform. On the other hand, if you don’t see a lot of competitors on a platform, it could mean that there aren’t as many prospects seeking your language pair translation on that platform. However, when they do seek translation they would be more likely to contact you since there aren’t as many competitors. 

In a nutshell, create your freelancer account on as many marketplaces as you can, vary your profile description as necessary, and eventually narrow down the marketplaces you want to work from as you gain more experience and get the idea of clients and projects you want to continue to work with. 

Tip: Highlight relevant experience and knowledge 

How do you stand out from other freelancers? In your profile description, mention the areas of your interest and expertise. A translator with a specific area of expertise always gets to command a higher rate and quality client than a generic translator. 

Here’s an example, compare these two profile descriptions. 

Nerdy Ned: I am an English to Nepali translator. I have a background in mechanical engineering and I am familiar with reading and writing technical documents. 

Fun Fred: I am an English to French translator. I love translating fun YouTube videos. 

Nerdy Ned’s area of expertise is specific and rare. That means he gets to charge more rate per word than some generic English to Nepali translators. By highlighting that he is more technically inclined, he is narrowing down the pool of clients he can work with. He may be limiting the number of potential clients he can work with, but he is also eliminating competition. 

Fun Fred is a generic translator. The skillset required to translate fun YouTube videos is clearly lower than technical translation. So Fun Fred would have more competitors. What Fun Fred could do to stand out is to describe the type of YouTube videos or the topics that he is good at translating. He could mention how he loves to translate documentaries on YouTube for fun. Or, he could say he specializes in translating captions for educational videos because he has experience teaching a class. He could also offer some added value by demonstrating his knowledge of SRT files, a file format often used when working with video captions. 

Tip: Show your sample work of translation 

Are you good at translation? How good are you with your second language or even your native language? The less skilled and inexperienced you are, the lower your rate would be. That’s just simple economics. But that shouldn’t discourage you from trying. 

There are clients who are looking for a translator with specific background knowledge. There are also clients who are looking for someone who can do simple generic translation at a reasonable cost. 

You might not be able to command the highest rate from the get-go, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make money translating. 

To better demonstrate your ability to your prospective client (and even to prove to yourself) I recommend you create a simple portfolio on a shared Google Doc.  

Why Google Doc? Because you don’t need a full-fledged website when you’re starting out! I repeat, create a portfolio on Google Doc. Don’t make a personal website yet. 

On the Google Doc, showcase a few paragraphs or lines of translation, showing both the source and the target language. You don’t have to copy and paste your entire essay, just a gist to demonstrate your knowledge in both languages. If applicable, include a short paragraph explaining how you completed the project and what process you went through when choosing a specific phrase over the other during translation. 

The material you’ll use for the translation can be the work you did for a past client (with their permission) or something you did on your own in your spare time. It does not need to show everything; just enough for potential clients to assess your skills. You’d share this Google Docs link after you’ve initiated the contact with your potential client. 

FAQ: Is translation right for me? 

So far, I talked about the importance of getting your very first translation gig. The beauty of online translation jobs and working from home is that you have total control over your schedule and workload. 

You don’t have to commit to translating full-time right now! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Your goal is to get a few projects and get the taste of the life of a work-from-home translator. 

Is translation job right for you? Only you can answer that question, and the only way to find that out is by getting paid first. 

FAQ: Can I make money easily with translation? 

Is the life of a freelance translator worthwhile? The answer to that question is up to you. 

If you want to make a good income, have a stream of clients who are pleasant to work with, you have to put some time into the work. Get more experience, acquire the business and technical skills on top of your language skills, specialize in a field, and position yourself in a lucrative market with low-competition. 

I know one translator who specialized in translating documents for a particular branch of government. Since most government documents have more or less the same structure, she can translate a large volume of text pretty quickly. She is not necessarily passionate about government related documents (who does?) but she does make a decent living from it. 

You have to grow into making translation a worthwhile career for yourself. No one can tell you what is easy or worthwhile. You have to decide that for yourself.  

Tip: Make your client’s life easier 

Let’s say you’re doing some translation work for your client. There’s a lot of text and it’s grunt work. You think you’re lifting a huge burden off of the client’s shoulder. Therefore you deserve icecream. 

Wrong. 

From the client’s perspective, delegating a task to you in itself is already a huge burden. The client has to keep the project files organized and keep track of the progress of each project that is moving forward in parallel. Talking to you, a freelancer translator is already a full-time job that takes 40+ weekly work hours.  

The least you can do for the client, and for yourself, is do the word count yourself. 

Don’t just ask them how many words you have to translate. Tell them to send you the file and you’ll do the word count for them. 

This works in two ways. Clients are just too busy even to do the word count. You’re doing them a favor. Also, know how many words you’re translating so that you’re getting paid fairly and prevent the client from paying you the wrong amount. 

You also want to always get better at translation and increasing your translation speed. I always use Toggl.com to record and keep track of how many minutes it takes me to translate a document. 

Tip: Don’t waste your client’s time, figure it out yourself   

Don’t ask the client how to use a tool or software unless it’s really, really, necessary. When you make them respond to your email, you’re taking the time away from them. 

Don’t ask questions about the advanced use of Microsoft Word, Excel, or Powerpoint. Figure them out yourself. 

One time, I was delegating the task of YouTube video caption translation. We used Excel, and in one file you’d find a column for the YouTube URL link, a column for a line of video caption, and a column showing the time in seconds where the line starts. 

You could read the video caption in each line and translate it to the target language, but sometimes you’d want to watch the YouTube video to make sure you get the context. But clicking on the provided YouTube URL link, scroll the mouse pointer to the time where the line starts to start watching the video can be quite tedious. 

One freelance translator complained to me how tedious the process is and asked me if there’s an easier way. Another freelance translator just figured out how to generate a YouTube URL link that starts directly from where the line starts, so he could bypass time-scrolling. The second translator definitely stood out and made me want to work with him again for the next project. By the way, he used concatenate, int, and hyperlink functions in Excel to generate the link. 

Tip: Translating from images and recreating files 

Sometimes clients send you a file that cannot be typed in directly. For example, a PDF with text as images or a powerpoint file with text as images. You can’t even copy and paste the text to Microsoft Word to perform the word count because they’re all images! 

If the client wants the text translated and replicated in the medium and design similar to the source language, then you’re not just doing translation but also content production. 

Do not forget to invoice an additional fee. 

In this scenario, you have to restructure your pricing. Maybe you’ll charge by word count plus an additional fee for recreating the file. 

Maybe you might have to purchase special software to change image into text, or manually type out the text from the image in order to count the words accurately. Or maybe you might skip word count whole together and come up with a different pricing model for this type of work. 

And for that reason, one of the first questions I ask the client and establish clearly is what the file format of the deliverables will be. 

Respond fast, and say yes to instant messaging 

Imagine this. You ask your love-interest out for a date over a text message. She replies, “Let me think about it, I’ll get back to you.” Three days pass and still no response. You become agitated and worried. After a week of no reply, you give up. But then one year later, you get a response from her saying, “Yes!” How does that make you feel? 

The same goes for clients. What they hate the most is uncertainty. Say “Yes” or “No” clearly. If they send you an email, respond right away acknowledging that you received the email. You don’t have to say more than that if they didn’t ask you a question. 

If you said, “Yes” to a project and changed your mind about that later, tell them right away that you’re no longer available and you can’t work on the project. It’s the least courtesy you can do if they haven’t paid you or if you haven’t signed anything.

This happened to me before. I delegated a task to a freelancer. The freelancer did the task partially, then out of blue stopped communicating with me indefinitely. No, she didn’t die because she was still active on one of those marketplace websites.   

There’s no point in stop communicating and trying to hide because you’re embarrassed that you couldn’t keep the promise. Clients need to make decisions quickly, and they don’t want you to die. Respond to their email quickly, and if you can’t do the task, tell them straight up. 

The same goes for instant messaging. If they request instant messaging access to you, give it to them, and tell them you respond only during the regular office hours (or the time you set) so they don’t text you in the middle of the night. 

Conclusion

Working as a work-from-home translator has both merits and demerits, and you have to work smart to make sure to produce good work, get paid well, and be respected. 

Since you’ll be working remotely, online reputation is important. Start with one of those marketplace websites, Fiverr, Upwork, or Freelancer, and build up your portfolio. Eventually, you’ll be able to attract clients without using those marketplace websites (a lesson for another day). 

What else is holding you from starting your first online translation job? 

Leave in the comment below and let me know. 

About Sushi

Hi, I'm Sushi. I started this blog to share productivity tips and tools to stay organized as a remote worker.

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