Be An Entrepreneurial Linguist

By Chiara Grassilli
In Getting Started
Jan 20th, 2014

Why Thinking Of Yourself As A Language Business Can Boost Your Freelance Career


Entrepreneurial LinguistWhen a translator decides to start a career as freelancer, he’s faced with the choice between working for direct clients or for translation agencies. In a previous blog post I analysed the differences between working for translation agencies or for direct clients.

If you have just started your career it might be a good idea to keep the door open to both possibilities and work both for agencies and direct clients.

If you want to work for direct clients, however, you will have to wear the hat of entrepreneur. Finding clients as a freelancer is the same as finding clients as a company. In fact, if you want to work for direct clients you will have to think about yourself as a business owner rather than just a freelancer.

This is an invaluable tip I got from Laura Spencer, a freelance writer who, during an interview we did together, explained how important it is to think about your freelance activity as a business rather than a freelance job. Whether you’re working in copywriting, design or translation, thinking about your activity as a business will give you the right psychological attitude to become proactive, market your services correctly and ultimately find more clients.

I suggest you to listen to my interview with Laura, and then read the book “The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation“. Both these resources will teach you to think about yourself as a business owner and will give you the right energy to set up a translation business, even if the business is made up of yourself only.

I just love the introduction of the book, where the authors say:

“The first thing you need to do is to stop thinking of yourself as “just” a freelance linguist and to start thinking of yourself as a business. You are selling your services; therefore, you are a business. Start behaving like one! A one-person business is just as legitimate a business as a Fortune 500 company. Most of your transactions will most likely be on the business-to-business (B2B) level, and you are an equal partner in those transactions. Even if you are the only person working for your small business, give yourself a pat on the back; welcome to being an entrepreneur!”

This might seem more tiring than just emailing the same CV to hundreds of agencies, and it is indeed. But it is more rewarding and if you want to give it a try, this is the right time. You can always go back to send CVs later, can’t you?

So what do you need to do in order to start your one-person language business? Remember that the core of your business are your clients.

“First and foremost, you must remember that your success will depend on your ability to attract clients and to make them happy. Without clients, you do not have a business.”

The first step is to understand who your potential customers are and how to reach them. To do this, you need to understand what your strengths are and what solutions you can offer that no one else can, so you can reach the people who need them.

In this case, being specialized makes the work much easier, since you can focus on one or two market areas only. Remember, you don’t have to sell everything to everyone, you have to sell something to someone. If you want to attract your own customers you do need to get specific. Think about yourself as a client: if you need a lawyer for an employment issue, would you choose a general lawyer or an employment lawyer? You get the point. So specialize in two, three fields and find your competitive advantage over general translators.

As the authors say:

You need to have a strategy before you can even think about starting the direct client customer acquisition process. Here are some issues you need to think about.

  1. 1 > Which companies/industries/sectors do you want to target?
  2. 2 > Where can you find these individuals or these companies?
  3. 3 > Do you already have contacts in this industry?
  4. 4 > Where are the industry-specific events?
  5. 5 > Can you join a relevant trade group?
  6. 6 > Can you ask a contact to take you to an event attended by people in your target group?
  7. 7 > Can you buy low-cost advertising in an industry-specific publication?
  8. 8 > Are you up-to-date with what is happening in the particular industry or sector that you want to translate or interpret for?


Once you have identified the industries you want to target, as in any other profession you have to start networking and meeting people.

Nowadays the “meeting people” part can be largely done online. Having a website is essential to present yourself as a business. This allows you to do cost-effective marketing. It is even easier if you create a blog section. However, I would suggest that you make your visitors land on a fixed page, such as the services page or a beautifully made landing page. Make the blog reachable only through the top menu. The reason is that most people who require linguistic services (aka your prospective clients) are not really interested in the bits and pieces of the language industry. If you don’t want want to spend a fortune with a designer but still want a professional website, grab my free guide and learn how to set up a professional website for less than a 150$ a year and start getting new clients straight away.


The Online School for Freelance Translators

For freelance translator, a blog is not always the best way to attract clients. I find this to be an exception typical of the translation world, since freelancers in other fields don’t work in quite the same way. For example, if you’re pitching your services as copywriter, showcasing your work on your blog is vital to give the prospective clients an idea of your writing skills. The same is true for designers, who have to showcase their work in order to convince clients that they know what they’re doing.

But for translators, a blog where you speak about the latest CAT tools or the next ITI meetings will only be interesting for other translators. And a potential client will not be able to work out if you’re good or not through your blog, as it happens with designers, photographers or copywriters.

That said, it can’t hurt to have a blog associated with your website. But make the prospective clients land on your presentation page and give them the feeling of being on a professional website if your goal is to do business with them. On top of this, establish a social media presence. It is true that your clients probably don’t spend their time reading your blog posts about CAT tools, but you can easily connect with them and create a relationship if you are on Google+, Twitter and Linkedin (I am a big social media fan, if you read Italian you might want to have a look at my other blog on social media.


If you want to be inspired by real one-person-language-business examples, have a look at Nicole Adams’ website, and the way she presents her work. Although she works only with the pair German-English, she gets lots of business. Or have a look at, the website of Catherine Christaki who makes her business translating almost only from English into Greek (she also offers services from Greek into English and from French and German into Greek, but 90% of her business is made upon one language combination). Or again, see how the authors of the book “The entrepreneurial Linguist” present themselves on their website,

The point is you don’t need to translate in all the languages of the world, you can easily present yourself as a professional business owner even focusing on one language pair only, and specialising in one or two fields. Unless of course you want to set up a proper business and hire other people. But this is another story.



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About "" Has 116 Posts

Since an early age I have been passionate about languages. I hold a Master's degree in Translation and Interpreting, and I have worked as a freelance translator for several years. I specialize in Marketing, Digital Marketing, Web and Social Media. I love blogging and I also run the blog

8 Responses to “Be An Entrepreneurial Linguist”

  1. Collet says:


  2. […] Be An Entrepreneurial Linguist Rather Than Just A Freelancer.  […]

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  6. […] to start a new adventure. This is why I became “ambassador” of this book and I wrote this review about it hoping to inspire other […]

  7. You will need to start as freelancer and accmulate a few years of real experience in this industry before you can go “entrepreneurial”. I am now running my agency but before this I had been active as a freelancer for over 10 years…

  8. A.C.T. says:

    I would suggest to start your career by working with agencies instead looking for direct clients. This could make your works easier and allow you to “get trained” to better understand this industry.

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