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What do successful freelance translators have in common?

'Awards and Medals.' photo (c) 2012, USFWSmidwest - license:
I recently read a wonderful post in Writing Happiness blog called "10 habits of highly successful bloggers" and I thought it would be interesting to find out what successful freelance translators have in common. Also, in the past two weeks I had three interviews with experienced blogging translators, so they also gave me some food for thought. Plus I've been following a few translation blogs and my conclusions are based on what I've learned from them.
But first of all, I need to share my view on success with you, because all of us define this term differently. Some people think that being successful is being in demand. Others think that success is financial security. Yet others think that being successful means being a well-known professional with a spotless reputation.
There are countless other meanings of this word, but I really like the saying by Albert Einstein: "Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value". To me, success is closely tied with value. A successful freelance translator is valuable both for the clients and for other translators. Successful translators are irreplaceable. I consider myself lucky that I had a chance to speak to some pretty successful translators throughout the past two weeks. And as I've been thinking about this issue, it became clear that:

1. Obviously, they have great language skills. Moreover, they know a lot about the culture of the country (countries) whose language (languages) they speak. Why is it important to know the culture? Because we don't translate words, but we translate concepts, ideas, and meanings.

2. They are passionate about their profession. I guess there's no need to explain that. There's a very small chance that you will become a successful translator if you hate what you are doing.

3. They read a lot because they are always learning something new. Translators simply can't afford not to learn. The world is changing, so we should always keep an eye on it ;)

4. They are masters of networking and marketing. If they don't do that, how will their prospective clients hear about them?

5. They manage their time effectively. I totally agree with what Marya Jan writes in her post: "When you are in charge, you are also in charge of what gets done, and when...You have goals, you need to schedule them in your planner... What doesn't get put in, doesn't get done".

6. They know when to say "no" and they never agree to do a job because of fear to lose a client, or future jobs, or their income etc.

7. They are persistent. I love the quote by Calvin Coolidge given in Writing Happiness blog:
 “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

8. Successful translators are meticulous proofreaders. You can't become valuable for your clients if you aren't detail oriented. Translation is one of those professions where being a perfectionist is a great asset.

9. They choose their clients wisely and then cherish this relationship. Our clients need to know that we appreciate them.

10. Most importantly, they perceive themselves as successful. Marta Stelmaszak wrote that "success in translation depends on the mindset". I totally agree with her.
Which traits would you add to the list? Looking forward to your comments :)


  1. Dear Olga,

    Thank you very much for mentioning me! It's by far the first time I am quoted. Great article!

  2. Dear Marta,

    You are very welcome :) I am glad you like the post.

  3. Hi Olga,

    Wonderful post. I could not agree more. I am going to ask my old school to post this on their website because I think young, graduating translators need to see this and start to internalize it.
    Thanks for the read!

  4. Thank you so much for this great post! It contains the answer of many of my questions. I am going to start acting on them immediately.

  5. Hi Dustin! Hi carpediemtranslation! Thanks for your compliments :) I surely hope this post helps at least some of my startup colleagues to reach success in their chosen profession.

  6. Thanks for a great post. All good points and well made. I hope it´s ok, that I´ve tweeted a link to your post. The Einstein quote seems to sum up the qualities needed for successful marketing too!

  7. Thank you for this great post; anyone willing to succeed as a freelance translator should use this as the 10 commandments of our profession!

  8. Lovely post, but I love your blog title most :) In this order :)

  9. Thanks a lot for this valuable post, Olga! Especially point 9 I find extremely important - and it goes hand in hand with points 6 and 8. This post has opened my eyes and just helped me on my decision to dump a client who was absolutely not worth my time, but who I was afraid to reject for the fear of losing an income source. The truth is, however, that a client who is not willing to pay you the rates you deserve ruins your motivation to be a perfectionist, and this consequently ruins your reputation in the long run. So the best advice for any translator is to really choose their clients wisely from the start - and clean up the client list every now and again...

  10. @Nathalie, you are perfectly right in what you are saying. It took some time for me to figure that out, too.
    @Veronica, thanks! I do sometimes think that this title is not good for a translation blog, but it's a good reminder for me to keep the right order ;)
    @Dimitris, thanks for your kind words. They are music for my ears :)


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