Beginning translators sometimes live under the illusion that work will come to them automatically. The reality is that it takes time to find well-paying translation jobs. If you’re just starting out, a respectable translation agency will typically pass you up in favour of interpreters who have already logged a significant number of hours freelancing. Early on you may have to take a number of humiliating, low-paying jobs just to keep paying your rent. You might not even get paid a “real” paycheck for the first two to three months. One blogger estimates that it takes between one and two years to become an established name in the freelance translation industry, one who can easily pick up well-paying language jobs. It’s probably best not to quit your day job unless you’ve saved up some money.
Another danger that beginning translators find themselves in is getting on stuck on the “low-rate treadmill.” When really great, high-paying jobs aren’t coming, when bills are due, it’s tempting to take half a dozen low-wage jobs from clients who are essentially looking for volunteer work. Eventually, you realise you’re working between seven to eight hours a day and only making about two dollars an hour. In the words of Shakespeare, “Sell when you can; you are not for all markets.” If jobs simply aren’t coming, then the low-rate treadmill might be temporarily necessarily, but only as a stepping stone to better things.
Though it can be hard for translators and writers, who tend to be introverted, the best way to avoid the treadmill is to be proactive and really push for the best jobs. Don’t be afraid to flaunt your credentials, because in the freelance industry, the better a person’s credentials are, the more likely they are to be hired. You might have to spend hours looking before you find a decent job offer, but it’s worth it if you can land the right client. Once you find them, pursue them aggressively. Let them know how interested you are in working for them, how much you enjoy the kinds of jobs they’re considering paying you for. Most importantly of all, don’t ever settle for less when you could have so much more.