Part 4 ended with the resolution to focus more on actually translating rather than spreading myself too thin in too many networking and socialising events, and I managed to do it for most of November and December.
I worked on five different projects. As the first translations are the most important but also the most difficult ones to get when you are starting up, here is a brief account of how I found them. After an interview, they gave me a 3,000-word academic paper to translate. Although I was paid their normal rate (a good fair rate quite above what I expected from an agency), they used that first assignment as a test, which I obviously passed since they later gave me two more translations. I also got a contract through my website to translate, proof-read and edit all sorts of CVs and spec letters. I have been working for this client on a regular basis for almost two months now. And finally, my fifth project was the fruit I reaped from my pro bono work.
I must say I am quite happy I have managed to work for a variety of clients. I also received a few enquiries from individuals who had found me on the Yellow Pages. I honestly did not think it would come so quickly. By mid-December, I thought for a moment I would have to turn down assignments as they were coming in thick and fast.
As a result of those two busy months, I started earning money. My first wages as a translator! I can hardly describe the joy I felt when I saw the payments appearing on my bank statement. Although this would not be enough to pay the bills, I was thrilled to discover that it was covering the initial cost of my website. From the start, it has been a great weight off my shoulders not to be the main breadwinner. I feel I have a safety net and, above all, time to establish myself. Having a part-time teaching job from October to March also allows me the luxury to turn down low paid projects. One day, I may not be able to do both at once, who knows? In the meantime, working in an academic environment is a good way to make contacts and advertise my services.
As I am writing this piece, I am thinking about where I was last year, on the very same day. I was in London, sitting the IOL’s Dip Trans exam. I was far from thinking that one year later exactly, I would be invoicing clients and writing about my translating débuts!
I mentioned in Part 2 that I had decided to do some voluntary work in exchange for some experience and a few extra lines on my CV. Now that the work is over, I would like to reflect and comment on it. The pro bono work I did, whether it was for a charity through the UN Volunteering Online Website or for a public-funded cultural organisation, has been very rewarding in many ways. Not only did I help two causes for which I care, I also acquired new skills—I translated my first website and I used one of the projects as an opportunity to teach myself how to use a CAT tool—gained experience in new fields (world organisations, journalism and publishing) and got some very precious testimonials out of it. The icing on the cake was that both experiences led to further paid work. But most importantly, I made mistakes from which I have learnt a lot.
According to the advert, the translation I did through the UN Volunteering website should have taken six to eight hours a week over six weeks. When I asked the main trustee for a detailed word count of the assignment, he gave me the number of pages (which does not mean much for a website, as some pages were very short and others quite long) and an approximate word-count of 4,000 to 8,000 words. Although I had browsed the charity’s website before applying, I had not realised the translation would be so large.
However, I accepted the assignment, happy to have been selected at last and feeling that it was worthwhile. We had agreed that given the fact I did not have an exact word-count I would need ten weeks. The people of the charity were fantastic throughout the project: open to suggestions, prompt to clarify points and very understanding about the deadline, as they quickly realised they might have underestimated the amount of work. After translating 9,000 words and working 99 hours over twelve weeks, I can say they certainly did. And yet, with hindsight, it could have taken less time. The problem with voluntary work is that it is extra work, on top of everything else. At the time, I was among other things settling in a new town, emptying boxes, looking for a part-time job then starting a new job, struggling with no Internet access, trying to find clients and getting my first paid assignments. So, by devoting only one day per week to the project, I lost some precious time getting back into my work each week. After the assignment was finished, I got a document of similar length to translate and, to my great relief, it only took me a week.
So, as it is not too late to make my New Year’s resolutions, here is what I will try to keep in mind this year.
– Always insist on seeing all the documents before accepting any assignment,
– Make sure I get fully organised when working on a remote deadline,
– Never lose hope: seven months after my first voluntary assignment for a cultural organisation and their promise to give me work in August, they called me back a few days ago!
Part 6 will tell if my resolutions make it through the winter. I will also tell you more about CAT tools. It would be interesting in the meantime to hear about the way you handle voluntary work as well as what you are currently doing to find clients.
To be continued.