Starting Your Own Translation and Interpreting Business

If you run your business well, having a sole-proprietorship translation and interpreting business can be more lucrative than working for a company or translation agency. Owning your own business also gives you the option to pick and choose your projects and to bring on independent contractors if you find your workload is too heavy.

Establishing a Web Presence

The first step is setting up a website. In this technological age, it is essential to have some sort of Web presence.

Moreover, having a website is practical, because it allows you to keep all of your professional materials (resume, samples, list of clients) in the same place. Whether your site has one page with links or multiple pages, it must be neat, organized, and user-friendly. It should include your biographical information (including your degrees, certifications and training), your fee structure, samples of your work, and a client list. If you have former clients who are willing to write testimonials for you to include on your site, this is also helpful to future clients. Of course, you should also include your contact information (phone and email) on the site. I suggest having a separate email address for your translation business (so that your personal and professional emails are not coming to the same inbox), so that you are able to identify and respond to potential clients in a timely manner.

Marketing Your Skills

Tell everyone you know (friends, family, co-workers) about your new business venture and ask them to spread the word. Have business cards printed up and leave them at coffee shops or in other public areas that may attract potential clients. Contact other translators you know who work in different language pairs from yours and ask them to send clients your way (of course you should also return the favor). Join a small business association and attend their monthly meetings (be sure to bring your business cards). Contact companies with whom you would like to work either by email or snail mail and direct them to your site. Remember that every social event is a potential marketing goldmine – don’t be shy to talk about your business and hand out business cards. As you become more established, most of your clients will come through referrals or word-of-mouth, but it’s always good to continue to carry around a stack of your business cards and continue to market. Even look into starting a business franchise as an option.

Building a Team

Sure, you’re a one person show, but you still need a support team. This could include other freelancers with whom you network or share tips, childcare (if you are a parent), a technical support person for the day your laptop dies in the middle of a huge project (because odds are it will) and, perhaps most importantly, a good accountant. Enlisting the services of a good accountant will end up saving you thousands of dollars in taxes in the long run. Moreover, if you ever get audited, it’s extremely important to have a good accountant who knows your financial history to help you through the process. Speaking of taxes, before starting your business, do some research on what types of things you are able to write off your taxes (travel expenses, home office, office supplies, etc. and start saving receipts right away).

Etiquette and Payment

You should always respond to client emails within at least 1 business day of receiving them. Always be up front about the costs associated with a particular project and draft a contract that both you and the client sign before beginning any project.

Always finish projects by their deadline (before is even better). If for some reason it doesn’t look like you are going to be able to finish, be sure to let the client know and come up with a contingency plan as soon as possible. If a client is not happy with a project, do everything you can (within reason) to make things right. This will pay off in dividends, especially if this client ends up using your services again and recommending you to others because you went the extra mile. Be sure to invoice for your projects within 1 business day of completing them. This way, the client is more likely to pay promptly. If the client promises payment within 2 weeks and a month goes by without a check, send the client a reminder email. I typically do not get my lawyer involved until 3 or more months go by and I have not yet seen a check. Always show gratitude to your clients for enlisting your services and for paying promptly. This simple gesture can make the difference between a good business relationship and a great one.

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