How to become a translator as a side hustle

If you speak a foreign language, I’m sure you’ve been asked this several times – ‘why don’t you become a translator?’. That is exactly what I did in 2011, when I started to translate as a side hustle. Little did I know, 6 years later what started as a translator side hustle would cross the six figure mark.

Every day, people make money online translating contents from one language to another. You can be one of them… if you know how to do that.

Can you become a translator?

If you are reading this, chances are you are already fluent in two languages. If you think that makes you a translator, though, you are mistaken. You see, not everyone who speaks two languages can become a translator, as that is only one (albeit a very important one) of the skills you need.

I have some good news for you, though. Learning a foreign language takes years. Learning the new skills you’ll need to translate a text at a minimum viable level doesn’t.

If you are lucky, you may even have the second most important thing you need to start a career in translation – an area of expertise.

Defining your area of expertise

We all have areas we are knowledgeable about – you just need to find yours.

Start from your professional background. Is there something in your current or past jobs that makes you an expert in a given domain? If you spent the last few years studying, what did you study? Major in marketing? 10 year working as an electrician? These are niches worth exploring.

Next are your passions – experience in a certain sport, a passion for board games or an interest in interior design have the potential to make you an expert in that area as well.

Not all niches are the same, and a lot depends on your language pair. There may be growing demand for video game translators from English to Spanish, but if your native language is English and your second one is Finnish, your passion for video games is unlikely to make you money. Last time I checked, Finnish video game studios are not that many.

Learning how to use translation software

If you speak two languages, and once you define your niche(s), learning how to use translation software can immediately set you apart from other aspiring translators.

Translation software, also known as CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools, are tools you are going to need to maintain consistency when translating contents for a given client.

There are two types of CAT tools:

  • Traditional CAT tools such as SDL Trados, that you can install on your PC and use offline
  • Online tools, usually provided by the client

When you are just starting out, I recommend to stick to online tools, for a very simple reason – they are free for you to use. SDL Trados and other tools may be well worth the investment, once you have a good flow of projects going. For now, the money you’d need to buy them is better spent elsewhere.

Where to find gigs for your translator side hustle

You have always been told speaking two languages is a great skill. Now we’re going to see how and where to monetize it.

There are several ways to get freelance translation gigs online. Here are those that I’d recommend to you as a beginner:

General freelance platforms

The world wide web is full of platforms that aim to connect buyers with sellers. As a beginner, you will certainly come across the most famous ones – Upwork, Fiverr, Freelance.com and the like.

The way the work is pretty simple – clients who need freelance services post a job. When you see a job that matches your skills, you send a proposal and a quote. If everything goes well, your proposal gets selected. You do the job, and you get paid.

Translation portals

While general freelance platforms include all kinds of freelance gigs, this category includes two websites that are entirely dedicated to translation and interpretation: Proz.com and Translatorcafe.

Their job board work just like Upwork and Fiverr, but these websites have a couple of additional features that are very interesting for translators:

  • Translators directories – these allow clients to go through a list of translators, with filters such as language combination, area of expertise and many others. Ranking high on one of these directories can bring you a passive flow of freelance clients.
  • Translation agencies database – these are databases of translation agencies you can send your resume to. Agencies are always looking for new translators to take on projects.

Translation agencies

Also called “Language Service Providers” (LSPs), these are businesses that handle translation tasks in multiple languages for end clients who need their services. They actually do much more, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

For you, working with translation agencies is a great way to fill the time you can dedicate to your side hustle with projects. Keep in mind, though, that translation agencies don’t pay as soon as the job is completed like Upwork clients – most of the time, their payment terms are 30 days from end of month.

If you want to find agencies to apply to, there are two main directories I recommend: the Proz.com Blue Board and the Payment Practices database.

Agencies that assign jobs on a FCFS basis

“FCFS” stands for First Come, First Served. Certain agencies have an internal database of translators they assign jobs to – in order to get them, you only need to be online when they are posted and click on Accept.

To many aspiring translators, this sounds tempting – no time spent sending job proposals, a perfect system for introverts, and a steady flow of jobs.

The problem, though, is that you need to be glued to your screen all the time, as projects on these platforms are gone in a matter of a couple of minutes. You have no time to look at the files, discuss rates or anything – you receive an email, and if you are quicker than anyone else, you can get a job.

While I am not a fan of these, I included some of them in my list of 15 websites for translators, if you want to give them a try.

Upwork tips and tricks

  1. Begin by exploring the job board using your language pair (e.g., Russian, German, Arabic) as a keyword. Look at the open jobs to detect prevalent themes, like Amazon product descriptions or video game translations, so that you can align your profile to these trends.
  2. Learning from your competitors is also invaluable. Investigate the profiles of leading translators in your language pair. Their project histories are rich sources of information that can guide your strategy.
  3. When crafting your Upwork profile, remember that clients typically post jobs and wait for proposals. Make your proposal stand out and ensure that your profile effectively showcases your skills, particularly your language pair and area of expertise.
  4. If you’re struggling with specialization, especially if you’re new to the field, you could use a statement like “I assist businesses in thriving in the [Your Language] market.” Add past projects to your portfolio section. Remember, the more prestigious the project, the more impactful it will be on your profile.
  5. Initially, your review section will be empty, but gaining those first few reviews will significantly ease the process of securing more jobs. While awaiting these reviews, don’t restrict yourself to Upwork; explore other platforms to increase your chances of landing your first assignment.
  6. Sending personalized proposals is key to winning jobs on Upwork. Avoid using generic templates. Tailor your proposal to the job’s specifics, and if possible, personalize it with the client’s name. Conciseness is vital – only mention relevant past experiences and insider knowledge of the industry.
  7. Lastly, consider creating a project in the Project Catalog. While this might not be the best approach for translators due to the variable nature of word counts in projects, it’s worth experimenting with – after all, there’s nothing to lose.

Why Upwork is the ideal platform for a translator side hustle

Contrarily to FCFS platforms, on Upwork you have a say in the amount of actual jobs you get. You can work as little or as much as you want, and when you start getting repeat jobs from the same clients, you can limit the time you spend sending job proposals.

Working with translation agencies

Working with translation agencies is another great way to translate as a side hustle.

They often have plenty of jobs, which means just a handful of loyal agencies can easily keep you busy for 20 to 40 hours per week. They have a pool of translators, so you can turn down projects if you don’t have the capacity to handle them. And they can stick with their best translators for years.

What’s the catch? Translation agencies receive dozens of applications per day, so standing out is not easy. If you want to have a chance, you are going to need a perfect CV and a well-written cover letter.

If you manage to get a couple of agencies, though, you are set to go – your translator side hustle is about to become quite profitable!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you start a real side hustle?

While there are many side hustles you can start, selling your skills as a freelancer is my favorite. It allows you to do a job you are good at, and choose it when and where to do it, and for whom.

Is it hard to get a job as a translator?

Translators are more as more often self-employed. Getting translation jobs as a freelancer is easy, but getting a 9 to 5 job as an in-house translator is quite hard.

Are side hustles worth it?

It depends. To me, starting to translate as a side hustle was worth it, as I was able to turn it into a full time freelance business and make a living out of it.

Can you translate without a degree?

Of course. Translators have been around for centuries, even when no translation degree existed. If the question is ‘can you start a career in this field without a degree?’ then my answer is YES.

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