Now before I start, I know I’ll be excluding a lot of people from this job as not everybody speaks two, or more, languages. I’m very lucky to have been raised bilingually (German and English) so I got a free language thrown in and didn’t even have to work hard for it. That’s especially lucky for me as I am terrible at learning languages, I know exactly two words in Vietnamese (and one of them means bread, mmhhh bread) and I’ve been here 3 weeks already. However, if you do happen to speak (and write) two, or even more, languages fluently (you lucky bastard!) then there’s no reason why shouldn’t be able to earn money as a digital nomad translator.
Of course, there is a whole profession out there and people study to become qualified translators; that’s why it’s important to be honest about your language and translation skills. You should start with simple jobs and those will also be lower paid than jobs that require a professional translator.
Unless you are absolutely fluent in both languages you should stick with translating to your native language as there will be subtleties in language that you won’t be able to pick up unless you are fluent and/or a professional translator.
Translation is a great Digital Nomad Job, even for non techies
Having said that, many translation jobs out there can be done without a translation degree, with a bit of practice and the help of all the online tools, we can use (I’m not talking about chucking it into Google Translate, ok!).
A good way to start is to look for work that is specific to your field, so if you’ve got a background in marketing stick with marketing material translations (there are actually many of these available). If you’re a scientist, stick with scientific translations and so on. This doesn’t mean you can’t venture into new fields but be aware that it’ll be much harder work, and, as most translators get paid by the word, you’ll be reducing your hourly rate.
It is also advisable to get your work proofread before submitting or checking if the client will get it proofread (this is mostly the case in big translation agencies).
Now the big question is: how do I find a translation job? There are many ways to go about it and I’ll tell you how I started making money translating, so here goes:
Become a Digital Nomad Translator
1. Use your network
I know, I know, not what you want to hear, but keeping your eyes and bilingual ears open, and talking to people, can bring you all sorts of opportunities. I got my first translation job through my blog’s biggest fan (my mum) when someone at her company was looking for someone to translate her business’ website. My mum asked if I was interested, I had no experience at all, so, of course I immediately said yes. The job was challenging but I asked for quite a relaxed deadline (a week) so I knew I didn’t have to rush it.
I got another job through a friend recently, who needed her drinking game app translated into many different languages. It was certainly a more colourful job than most and I got to use the Urban Dictionary for a change.
2. Upwork (and similar platforms)
Yep, when you’re starting out you better get yourself on Upwork. Most of the horror stories are true (people from countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines are competing with you for $2 an hour) but there’s still plenty of opportunity on Upwork. The first good job I ever got on Upwork was a translation jobs and I was so happy to finally get that first review in.
When applying for translation jobs, it’s important not to undersell yourself, as many other, less qualified freelancers will be doing just that, and you won’t stand out with a really low bid.
Let me clarify, I’m not saying you should go in with a professional translation rate unless you are a professional translator. However, most translation jobs on Upwork that aren’t very technical or require a certain background (like medical or legal documents), already have pretty low starting budgets.
When starting out you can’t expect to earn the same as a certified translator, however, by undercutting these already low rates, you are not standing out from the Upwork crowd, as most bidders will do just that.
If the budget is $100, ask for $100, remember Upwork will take 10% already, so don’t sell yourself too short. Write a personal proposal (never send a generic one) and be honest with the client about your experience and skills.
If the document is attached, I urge you to go ahead and translate the first one or two paragraphs for them (yes, for free) to show the client how good (and proactive) you are. Most jobs I got on Upwork I did exactly this and I’ve had great feedback from clients.
3. Social platforms/forums for translators
There are many platforms and forums out there that connect translators with potential clients. I have heard that translators cafe and proz are good options, but I haven’t actually used them myself yet.
4. Translation agencies
There are hundreds of translation agencies out there and a few of them will consider hiring freelancers even without a professional background. Getting signed up with one of these is a complete numbers game, so you’ll have to do a thorough Google search of your language combinations and then contact them all individually. They might require you to do a trial period first to check if your skills are up to scratch.
5. Build a portfolio website
Building a website from scratch sounds super scary, especially as non-techie, but I think every freelancer can benefit from having an online portfolio. In this day and age, it’s hard to get away with not having an online presence and you can reach a much wider audience when you’re offering your skills online.
Starting out can be scary, but platforms like Weebly or SquareSpace are great options if WordPress is a bit daunting. Of course, WordPress has the biggest flexibility and you can turn your simple portfolio page into so much more than that, it can grow with you and your career. Read my guide on how to get started with WordPress as a non-techie when you’re ready to put yourself out there.
Now that you’ve hopefully found your first translation gig, let’s talk about the numbers; how much can you make with as a digital nomad translator and how do you find out your rate?
The truth is, it depends.
Haha, I hate those answers, super useless, but sadly true. In the beginning, you definitely won’t be swimming in it.
You can charge by the hour, the line, the word or by project. I think charging by word is by far the best option as it doesn’t leave room for confusion or frustration. You know from the start how much you’ll earn, but make sure you look at the document before you agree to take on the work.
In the beginning, you’ll have to be comfortable doing work for not much money, or even smaller jobs for free, in order to get some experience. I’m not suggesting you work for free for months on end, but doing a small job here and there for a friend or colleague gives you experience and builds up your portfolio. When you then apply for your first job on Upwork or with an agency you can show them a couple of pieces of your work.
Professional freelance translators charge around 8-12 cents per word of source text. That sounds quite a lot, but remember it includes editing and proofreading too, the client will expect a polished document.
I’ve charged a whole range on Upwork, from 3 cents to 8 cents a word, and a job I got through connections even paid 10 (euro) cents a word.
I haven’t tried making a full time living out of translation, but as one of my jobs of my Digital Nomad Job Challenge, it’s made me over $1000 in 3 months, not too shabby. The most surprising thing for me about translation was how much I actually enjoyed it. Consider taking a translation course and getting an (accredited) certificate if you enjoy it as this will hugely increase your chances of getting work as well as your pay rate.