I received these questions from a colleague who is just starting out in our profession, and with her permission, I’m sharing them here together with my answers (after removing a few identifying details), in the hope they may be of interest for other translators:
I am a Spanish to English translator, just starting out in this field, but I’ve heard that we Spanish to English translators are a dime a dozen. I have received conflicting suggestions about the best way to go about getting into this field:
- Subscribe to TranslatorsCafé and forget about sending your resumes to agencies.
- Send your résumé to any and every agency.
- Writing a blog that I could use to market myself. I guess if I could do it in two languages that would be even better, but I don't have any ideas.
And several other different suggestions. Any advice would be appreciated.
While it is true that there are many Spanish to English translators, good translators are not all that frequent, so if you are a good translator, you’ll eventually break through.
My idea about the advice you have received:
- Subscribe to Translator Café (but don’t forget ProZ or other portals). I think you should, but wait to test the waters before paying for the membership. There are many translators that get much work from such translation portals, but the work offered on such sites is normally poorly paid. So, do subscribe to such sites (and perhaps, even pay for a membership), but do not rely on them as your only source of work.
- Send your résumé to translation companies. I advise against a scattershot approach in this: much better to take the time necessary to research your prospects, see in which way they prefer to be approached (résumé sent to a particular person or persons, or to a specific address, or filling up a form online). Résumés sent to “Dear Sir or Madam” are normally deleted sight unseen.
- Using a blog as a marketing tool. Good idea, but you should think carefully how to achieve your aim: who is your public? To attract customers, your blog should be aimed at direct customers or to translation companies (difficult to do both at the same time). If you do not plan carefully your blog, you might end with a blog that maybe is widely read (if you make it interesting), but by the wrong public (I, for instance, didn’t plan when I started writing About Translation. It has now attracted a large enough public for such a niche endeavor, but the wrong public if my aim had been to attract more customers: most of my readers are other translators).
Some further ideas you didn’t mention.
- Contact local translation companies in person, and see if they are interested in your services – you are likely going to find the rates in Mexico, where you live, very low, but you might expand from there to agencies elsewhere once you have gained some experience with them; also, if you return to your hometown in the USA to visit friends or family, take the time to go an introduce yourself to translation companies there (try to set up an appointment in advance: don’t just drop in on them).
- There are some good resources on the web to help beginning translators – I believe the “beginning translators” posts here in About Translation are one, but better ones are, for example, Corinne McKay’s blog (Thoughts on Translation) and book (How To Succeed as a Freelance Translator – the second edition has just been published), and Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s really useful book The Entrepreneurial Linguist. You can also find much useful advice (amid a sea of useless blather) in the translation fora of such sites as ProZ and TranslatorsCafé and on social networks such as LinkedIn.
- Join the ATA and also your local translators association in Mexico, and/or in your hometown in the USA.
- Try to get ATA certified. This is usually difficult in your language pair, but useful if you manage it.
- Enroll in a university-level course in translation. There are several excellent ones – including the Denver University’s University College program where I teach.
- Finally, if you decide to start your own blog. Check out the “Blogging 101” presentation here – you might find it useful.