I applied to study single honours German at Leeds because I loved the language and the course ranked very highly among its UK peers. I had no idea at that stage what career I wanted to pursue. Four years on, with finals approaching, I knew that I most definitely wanted to work with German rather than enter one of the professions on offer on the milk round. So, on the advice of a tutor, I applied to several universities running an MA in translation, which unfortunately Leeds did not offer back then.
Having embarked on the MA at the University of Surrey, I was literally in the right place at the right time. A few months before graduating, I responded to a job ad on the department notice board and landed a position as an in-house translator at a company that would shortly be taken over by Pearson, the then owner of The Financial Times. And thus began three years of translating press articles, working to tight deadlines in a high-pressure environment, constantly absorbing new terminology and having my mistakes corrected by more experienced linguists, and basically getting the best grounding a translator can hope for in a short time.
I left to take up the opportunity of a gap year in Canada and, on returning to the UK, became a translation project manager at a company that specialised in producing technical manuals and other educational material. Six months later, I had to leave because my partner was relocated yet again and it became clear to me that setting up as a freelancer was the best way to keep my career on a steady path. Straightaway, the in-house positions started to pay dividends – both as immediate sources of work while I was building a client base and as two reputable names to put on my CV.
Freelancing has allowed me to shape my work life in ways I do not think would be possible in-house, as I have carte blanche when it comes to accepting or declining assignments and organising my days. Drawing on everything I learned at the FT, I chose to specialise in business and finance because it was a subject area that interested me, and eventually honed a specialism as a translator of texts prepared in accordance with German and international accounting standards. But it takes time to build a business and thus a reasonable income – a good 18 months on average in my experience and according to other freelancers I speak to. My top three tips along the way:
- Get some hands-on experience, either in-house or doing pro bono work, for example. If you try to run before you can walk, you will make mistakes and lose hard-won customers.
- Network with your peers and let them know what you can do. When working on assignments with them, be a pleasure to work with. I have received much more work through word-of-mouth recommendations than through any other form of advertising.
- Become a true professional. Join your industry association, adopt its code of practice, undertake its CPD and keep abreast of developments in your industry. As a member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, I have a listing in its directory. This has also brought me work, as clients often go to an industry association when looking for a professional.
There are downsides of course, such as the uncertainty over my future workload and income, but the freedom freelancing brings outweighs that by far in my opinion!