How To Become A Successful Freelance Translator – Interview With Catherine Christaki
Interview with Catherine Christaki – How To Become A Successful Freelance Translator
She’s also a great blogger, a social media fan, and a great business person, who worked as a freelancer for many years and then founded Lingua Greca, her translation agency.
What will you learn in this interview?
– What are the skills you need to have to become a successful freelance translator.
– How to have the right business mindset to make it.
– Where you can find the resources to learn by yourself everything you need to know that University doesn’t teach you.
– How to use Social Media to build your on-line presence.
– Why specialization will boost your business.
You can read the transcript here:
Hi everyone. I am Chiara and you are on Translator Thoughts. Today, I am going to interview Catherine Christaki. I am sure that those of you who work as translators already know her because she is the co-owner of Lingua Greca, her translation agency in Greece, and she has a very active online presence. She has a great blog, very often I read her articles on Linked In, and in the last few years she was in the Top 10 of the Language Twitterers Chart. Welcome Catherine, how are you?
Catherine: Hello Chiara, I am fine, and you?
I am fine. Thanks for being with me today.
Catherine: Thank you for having me, first of all, and thank you for your kind words. It’s great that you like our blog (laughter). That’s the whole purpose of it, that people find it interesting.
I’d like to start talking about the choice of being a freelancer. What are the possible choices for someone with a degree in translation? Is freelancing, in your opinion, the best one?
I think that right after graduation, an in house position at a translation company is the best choice, because you can gain from experience and it’s good because you learn how to use translation tools, and most important of all is that you have someone check your work. You can also do that with a mentor, of course. This is another good option, but after that initial stage either in house or with a mentor, yes, I do think freelance is the best way to go.
Do you think freelancing is a sustainable lifestyle or after a while it has to evolve into something else, like for example, a company?
I think that depends. It’s a personal choice. It depends on each translators preferences. So, what they are good at and what they prefer to do. So, freelancing is definitely a sustainable lifestyle. I tried several years back when I was still a freelancer. My workload was very heavy. So, I tried the outsourcing part a bit more. I ended up playing project manager for a few months, which I didn’t really enjoy much because I really missed translating. So, if you enjoy the business aspects of having a translation company, then it’s a great choice, because you get to let the business manager part of you come out, because it means focusing mainly on acquiring clients and networking and much less on actual translation work.
Yes. So, nowadays do you consider yourself a freelancer or a business owner?
Well, it’s been a full year since we created our company and right now I think I am somewhere in between. My daily work life at the office still looks like a freelancers, me and my computer and my dictionary. We don’t have a secretary, we don’t translate in multiple languages or fields and we rarely outsource, but I would say the most important advantage I have enjoyed by being a company is it has boosted my confidence a lot. Especially at networking events. I find it easier to play the role of a translation company owner when I am trying to network and mingle in professional events and networking.
So, now you say ‘we’ because you are two people, right?
Yes. We are two people and we work with, let me see, three…? I think we work with three external providers, all of them freelancers, but only a few times per month. So, yes, it is basically just us.
Okay. So, what was your first step when you decided to start this career? How did you get started at the very beginning as a freelancer?
Well, after I got my modern languages degree, I returned to my hometown in Crete and found a job in the hotel industry, because it is a high tourism place. I worked as a sales and marketing assistant. That provided me with a steady salary for the next three years. At the same time, I was trying to build my translation experience and client base. Then, I moved to Athens and worked in house in a translation company for a few months. Only for a few months because already my client helping efforts were getting better and paying off, and work had started coming steadily, so I became a full time freelancer, but if I had the choice to start all over now, and [04:47] from university. No, if I was a student at university right now, how would I play? Then I would have done things very differently because things are so much different now. I would have become a member in translational associations and I would have attended conferences to learn all kinds of things. I would have found a mentor to help me take my first steps, and the most important thing that is available nowadays, there are so many webinars and translation blogs and you can learn so many things. You can be so much more prepared than I could have been back in 2001.
Yes, that’s true. Do you think that linguistic skills are enough, or do you think there are other skills one should learn in order to be successful as a freelancer and maybe later as a business owner, as a translation agency owner? I am thinking about skills like business skills, marketing, business development, client acquisition…
Well, obviously a degree or training in translation and excellent language skills are a must. Even if you are a great networker or business person, you won’t go far if your translation skills are not up to par. If you have that, then you need to build your online image. That includes a website, a blog and a strong social media presence. You have to think about branding, maybe your logo, colours and the image that needs to be projected to others about your business, and you also need to be good at marketing and networking in order to generate leads and find potential clients. I know that sounds a lot, but with the resources available nowadays, it’s not that hard. There are a plethora of translation books and blogs, webinars and eBooks full of useful tips and advice. It’s not that hard.
Okay. So, if I understand it right, you suggest to widen the field of knowledge with self-learning maybe? Completing the university with self-learning in other fields, such as marketing, branding and social media.
Yes. You need all of that. I don’t think that you can build a good enough business without those. I didn’t have any of those. I have been a translator for 12 years now and for the first nine I didn’t have a website, I wasn’t anywhere online. I think if you googled my name, the only result you would get would be a book that I had translated at the beginning of my career and they just put my name somewhere in there. Nothing. Potential clients couldn’t find me anywhere and that wouldn’t have given me the chance to meet you or all of those other colleagues that I now know, that I have met and that I can have great conversations with online. So, you need those things. It’s going to get, let’s say, more competitive. For example, if you translate from… I translate from English to Greek and I specialise in three fields. There are people out there who translate in the same language and in the same fields. If they are much better than me in projecting a nice image of their business and if they have a nice website and a nice blog, why would the client choose me? He won’t be able to research me and find me online and see what I’m all about.
Talking specifically about social media. Do you think a social media presence is really important for your work? Do you see the real benefits?
I definitely do. It’s why I love social media and it’s why I love talking about them and trying to convince other people to join the fun (laughter). Apart from that, I think it has benefited my business significantly. First of all, it’s the interaction I have with colleagues and the access to so many resources about our profession. All of that has made me a better translator and that’s important, because I did think I was a good translator before all of the social media interaction, but nowadays I learn something every single day about tools, about business practices, about… and tips to translate better and faster. How could someone say no to social media when you hear someone say that there are so many benefits? Networking is another great advantage. You get to interact with colleagues and meet people from other fields too. Not only potential clients, but also people that might come in handy later in your professional life, like web designers and writers and bloggers, like Laura who you interviewed a few weeks ago.
So, the benefits from networking with colleagues are obvious. You learn from them and they fully understand your daily trials and tribulations. This is important because you need someone, without having to explain everything, who gets you right away. Of course, there is the word of mouth. When you are good in social media, when you have a good image and colleagues especially start to get to know you, they are confident in recommending you to their clients. So, this has happened many times. Greek is a small diffusion language, it’s not that common. So, by being exactly as I’ve been on social media, people do remember my language combinations. So, when someone asks them for Greek, they say, “Oh yes, I know a Greek translator”. So, this is because a significant amount of work has come to me because of that.
Yes, I think this is correct. The main benefit of having a social media presence in a consistent social media presence is that it’s very easy for people to remember you. You are very active, for example, on Twitter and you, as I said in the introduction, you have been in the Top 10 Language Twitterers Chart, which is a competition by Bab.la, if I remember correctly?
So, it’s very easy for people to remember you. Even for me, I was reading your articles and I knew you. Even before actually talking with you, I already knew you (laughter). So, it was very easy for me to say “I have to interview this woman because she is really cool, she writes a lot of interesting stuff.” Actually, it’s also really interesting because you put a lot of really useful information out there and thanks to your links I learn something new every day.
That’s correct, because this is the other part. We are talking about benefits, so I need to mention that, but my main reason for using social media as much in the way that I am using them is that I love sharing. I love it. Most of the articles written in my blog have been things that I have had to think or do, a problem that I had or a process that I’ve had to go through, and then I said, “Okay, now that I’ve done it, maybe I should write a post about it in case someone wants to go through the same process”. For example, when I wanted to attend an ATA conference two or three years back and I had a list of the things I had to do, for example, prepare my CV or contact this person or make these appointments etc. Then, after I did everything I said, “Well, I do have the list. I could share this with other people and they can also have the same list and tick off things”. It makes things so much easier and of course reading other people’s content. I don’t really read many newspapers or the local news or anything like that, but I love reading translation blogs. So, of course it’s great to share someone’s content if it’s useful. It benefits me, it benefits everybody else and it also benefits the person who wrote it because you get to highlight the person who wrote it, they are good and you should visit their blog.
Yes. Okay. Well, I think that’s enough for today. We have already talked about many, many interesting subjects. Thank you very much, Catherine, for your time.
Thank you too, Chiara.
It was a really great interview.
Same for me.
Okay. So, until next time…