If you speak another language (or several) very well, and would like to use this skill in your career, becoming a freelance translator might be the job for you. 

Being a freelance translator is a job with a lot of freedom, as you’ll likely be working from home and will have the independence that all freelancers enjoy. 

In this article, we’ll provide a simple and straightforward guide on how to become a freelance translator in the UK. We’ll cover a variety of important points, including:

  • How to register as a business
  • What a freelance translator does
  • Necessary skills and qualifications
  • Finding clients as a freelance translator
  • Managing income as a freelance translator

How to register as a business

Even though it’s a fairly specialised job, the process of registering yourself as a freelance translator is actually very similar to the process any other freelancer goes through. For example, you’ll need to become a sole trader or limited company and register a company name when you’re setting up.

You’ll also need to do all the standard financial planning that’s a necessary part of owning a business. It’s vital that you know where the money to run your business is coming from and what you will spend that income on. 

If you’re looking for more general information on freelancing, read our guide on how to start freelancing. While this article has a ton of tips specific to freelance translators in the UK, the one we’ve linked provides more general information for anyone interested in becoming a freelancer.

How to become a freelance translator

What a freelance translator does

The basic definition of a translator is someone who can express the words of one language into another, especially as a job. Many businesses need the services of translators to translate documents or to help facilitate meetings with foreign colleagues.

Here are a few specific fields where translators may be required:

  • Legal translation: International organisations that institute or enforce laws like the European Union or United Nations need translators so that all their members understand new developments.
  • Diplomatic or business translation: If two parties meet and don’t have a shared language, they’ll need a translator so the people involved can communicate. These meetings might be between governments (diplomatic translation) or between/within international corporations (business translation). 
  • Literary translation: Popular books that are to be sold abroad will need to be translated into various languages. This can be difficult because the intended meaning and literal meaning of words can vary, and is very important in literary translation.

Necessary skills and qualifications

While it’s not particularly common to see a university offering translation as an undergraduate degree option, it is possible. Instead, most translators will study a specific language (or multiple languages) at a degree level, then use these skills to start their translation career.

Although there’s no official requirement for becoming a translator, it’s a good idea to become accredited. Having an accreditation means you’re recognised as a qualified translator. In the UK, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting or Chartered Institute of Linguists can provide accreditations.

Keep in mind that these accreditations often require you to be educated to a certain level or to have several years of experience. That means it may be better to start freelancing for a while before you apply.

Finding clients as a freelance translator in the UK

Freelancing sites

When you’re starting your career as a freelance translator, your lack of experience might make it tough to find clients. A good way to find clients as a beginner is to use freelancing sites.

Freelancing sites are essentially online job boards where people and organisations post work they need done. Most of the biggest freelancing sites are generic, which means they have a wide variety of jobs available (not just translation jobs).

For a freelancing site that’s targeted more specifically at translators, you might want to check Translator’s Cafe or Proz.

Network

As with many freelance professions, there’s a large community of translators out there that you can speak with and receive advice from. By networking within the community, you’ll likely find leads on new clients.

Social media is a good place to start. Look for translator communities or pages on different social media platforms, such as:

You might even find clients directly on social media, as people who need translation services will visit these communities often. 

Build a portfolio

In many professions, it helps to have a portfolio available for potential clients to browse. A portfolio is a collection of previous work that you’ve completed, usually pieces that are more impressive or well-received.

For a translator, a portfolio will contain documents you’ve previously translated. There are two potential methods for building a translation portfolio:

  • Display a wide variety of content: By displaying translated content from a variety of industries (and in a variety of languages), you’ll demonstrate to clients that you’re flexible and able to adapt to different types of work.
  • Specialise in one type of document: If your portfolio only contains documents in a single language or from a single industry, you’ll demonstrate a strong understanding of the complexities of that industry.

Managing income as a freelance translator

Translation can be difficult and time-consuming, as it involves a lot of research and study. These tasks make it difficult to keep up with the business side of being freelance — bookkeeping in particular is a complex task that requires regular attention.

To make bookkeeping easier, consider using Countingup.

Countingup is the business current account and accounting software in one app. It automates complicated bookkeeping admin for thousands of self-employed people across the UK. 
Start your three-month free trial today.