How to Become a Freelance Translator – Part 3: Specialisms, CPD, and more

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Specialisms, CPD, telling everyone, and being patient

This is post number three on how to become a freelance translator. If you’re taking the first steps towards this career or wondering if you should take the plunge, these posts can help you. I think they can be useful for more experienced translators, too, for we all have things to share and learn from colleagues. You can have a look at part 1 and part 2 of the post before you read this one, or jump straight into number 3. Let’s get started!


It’s common knowledge that general translators are a bit stigmatised, so you need to identify what you know about – other than languages – and turn it in your favour. Deciding my fields of work was one of the last pieces that fit into my big career-change jigsaw. This is when having a background exclusively in languages may not come in so handy. Someone who has studied Law or has worked in the financial sector and decides to pursue a career in translation has a great advantage: they are experts in a specific field already. Someone whose background is in languages has some more thinking to do.

However, it’s true that studying languages is way broader than it sounds, or so it was in my case. Degrees – at least the BA in English Studies I did in Spain (Filología Inglesa) – covered much more than just English. We studied history, geography, phonetics, linguistics, tons of literature,  teaching, translation, and Spanish language, too. We went as far as to analyse the language of newspaper headlines, and studying other languages, French in my case.

What does this all mean? It means that, in part, my specialisations had been in front of me all the time, I was just wearing the wrong glasses. With the due amount of research, I feel extremely comfortable working in fields like social science, literature, linguistics, and education (after 10+ years as a full-time teacher). Marketing also falls within my interests because I love getting creative with language and the cultural challenges it poses.

Then, of course, you need to look back and around: what have you been interested in for the longest time? What have you been learning about through others near you? In my case, I love travelling, art, nutrition and fitness. I’ve been reading and learning about these topics for years on end. Also, I have someone near me involved in the arts and archaeology, which means I have a trustworthy resource with whom to discuss aspects like terminology. Don’t forget that CPD can also help you delve into the fields you choose to work on: courses, industry journals, books, podcasts, documentaries, etc.

Never stop learning

CPD (Continuing Professional Development)

Getting qualified isn’t enough; you need to keep up your game and stay up to speed with the latest tricks, both in translation per se and in your specialisations. A strong commitment to long-life learning is key in an ever-changing field like ours. CPD comes in all shapes and forms, but basically there is informal and formal.

The former is reading (books on translation, fiction or non-fiction in your working languages, academic or industry journals, etc. ), conversation classes, watching films/TV, listening to the radio… Maintaining our working languages is extremely important; at the end of the day, they are our main tools. You can read a previous post on how to accomplish this.

As for formal CPD, there are webinars, online or on-site courses, seminars (for example the ones offered at events like CIOL Members’ Day), talks, and so on. Keep record of what you are doing and how you can prove it (emails, certificates); this might come in handy if you apply for chartership, for example. Also, you want to be able to show your clients what you’ve been up to. I keep a detailed record of my CPD, but I also designed this infographic that I update regularly so potential clients can get a quick glimpse on my website.

At the end of this post I’ve listed some ideas so you can get started with your CPD. I’ve chosen those resources because I’ve used them myself, no one is sponsoring me. If I have no personal experience with a specific one, I say so next to it.

You’re a freelance translator, now tell everyone!

The last step before really getting down to work is to broadcast your new self. Contact your relatives, friends, former colleagues and employers, everyone! – except, maybe, the Queen. If you have something to show, like a website, much the better. If not, your social network profiles might do the trick. However, bear in mind what you want to keep private and what you want to show as ‘public’ or business-related.

A man with a megaphone

In my case, because I use Facebook for personal purposes only, I chose to private message those FB contacts I wanted to tell about my new career with a link to my website. It was time-consuming, but it was also more personal and a great chance to catch up! To others, I sent emails or WhatsApp messages.

Telling people is very important so you are regarded as a translator, and so you believe it yourself, too. In my case, most people thought of me as a teacher and few knew I had been translating on the side since 2011, plus you never know where the next job can come from. I landed my first big project as a freelancer through a friend I practice French with. I’m sure you’ve heard of the friend-of-a-friend approach… Yes, it happens!

Patience, my friend

Congratulations! You’re all set. Now, you need clients. Before you start to land translation jobs, your full-time job is to look for work. Basically, you can apply to agencies – after due research to make sure they work in your industries and you meet the requirements to join their pool of freelancers; or try and find direct clients via cold-calling (not so popular these days), face-to-face interaction by attending events or warm-emailing (this handout is useful, even if the word ‘artisanal’ is misspelled.) The latter requires tons of research so you can contact them with a solid proposal: ‘this is how I can help you and why you need me.’ The theory goes that the response rate is about 1%, and I must say it sounds pretty accurate.Little plants growing between stones

So, yes, patience is your new best friend. You have to look at this as a marathon, not a sprint. Resilience and endurance will lead you to success, and I am not just saying it because it makes for a decent conclusion; I’m saying it because I do believe it’s true. 

This is no doubt why people always say you need to have a pretty chubby piggy bank before you go freelance. The good news is you’ve got time for CDP, networking events, and tasks like creating templates, writing a blog, among other activities. By the time translation jobs begin to knock on your office door, you’ll be glad you had time to deal with all those other things that don’t earn you any money, at least not directly.

Although this post sounds like the finale of ‘How to Become a Freelance Translator’, it’s not. There are three more coming, but because the topics are quite broad – IT and marketing – I decided to devote separate posts to them. I hope you found this info inspiring. Feel free to share your own experience in the comments below!  

*Resources to boost your formal CPD


  • eCPD webinars: CIOL members  get a 10% discount.

  • SDL webinars: Many are free, and the subjects are by no means limited to mastering Trados Studio Studio.

  • University of Westminster: They have a very active Translation Department and they organise courses and other events, often in collaboration with the ITI. You’ll find these events more easily on Eventbrite.

  • UCL one-day professional courses: transcreation, subtitling, SDL Trados studio…

  • OPEN2STUDY: free and paid courses (MOOC) by Open Universities Australia

  • Three schools which offer specialised online and on-site courses and seminars on translation, edition, software, CAT tools, etc.  for translators working from English (and sometimes French) into Spanish:

                       Cálamo & Cran


                       Trágora Formación


  • Eventbrite is an amazing way to find events in your area. Search by keyword and wait for the magic! Many are totally free.

  • CIOL

  • ITI (check their regional groups, too)

  • The Language Show (London): It usually takes place in autumn. Go to meet exhibitors and attend great talks and panel discussions.

  • The Society of Authors: they organise the annual Translation Day at The British Library, among other events

  • The British Library: They organise tons of events, some of which might be related to your specialisms. I’ve attended talks about food and Harry Potter.

  • Olympia London, ExCel London and the Business Design Centre in Islington: major venues for  industry-specific shows and exhibits.

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2 thoughts on “How to Become a Freelance Translator – Part 3: Specialisms, CPD, and more

  1. Thank you for another useful post! I also love CPD, it is so helpful. I have to balance it with the incoming work though otherwise I would happily sign up to any course I see!

    And patience is so important too as you say – I remember reading somewhere that it can take around 100 agency applications for one to take you on, so you need to be resilient and not take things personally if you don’t get a reply!

  2. Hi Fuschia,

    I absolutely agree! CPD could take too much time given the wide range of courses out there. You have to get picky after a while and really stick to what you think will really be useful.

    As for the one reply every 100 emails ‘rule of thumb’, discouraging as it sounds, that is what I’ve heard, too.

    Thanks for reading. =)

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