"Doing voluntary translation work is a great way to gain vital experience"
Even when you’ve got a fair amount of experience behind you, that last leap of faith to becoming a “full-time freelancer” is not one to take without caution (especially since the feast-or-famine nature of freelance work renders the term “full-time freelancer” something of an oxymoron). The best solution is possibly to reduce your other work commitments little by little (i.e. working part-time or half-time) so that you can dip your toe into the freelance market, test the water and see what sort of demand there is for your skills. You could also offer your services as a proofreader either of translations or of texts written in your mother tongue. This gives you another string to your bow, and has the added advantage of letting you see how other translators/writers solve problems of style or terminology. In this way, you’ll accumulate valuable knowledge to be stored away for your own future use!
Another way to enter the translation profession, or at least to assess whether it might be for you, is to find employment as a project manager at a reputable translation company. This job will give you an opportunity to familiarise yourself with translation, translators and the industry as a whole and you might be offered the occasional chance to translate shorter (and, if you’re considered good, longer!) texts when tight deadlines mean that the usual translators are not available. Experience like this is invaluable in furthering your chosen career in languages, be it as a translator or an administrator with a language-oriented role.
So will you make it as a freelancer? It’s impossible to say for sure! However, if you’re fortunate enough to combine all the translation skills we’ve looked at above with a dogged determination to succeed, there’s every chance that your persistence will eventually pay off.
"Don't launch into a translation career without finding your feet"
So how can you get your foot on that crucial first rung? Well, one of the best ways for any new translator to learn his or her trade is to find a position as a junior in-house translator. The downside is that such positions are thin on the ground and the salary may not be very high, given that your lack of experience means your work will need to be checked.
Having your work monitored and constructively criticised by a more senior translator with years of experience will help you to develop your technique, sharpen your skills and learn about the industry from the inside-out. It might also help save you from many a red face in those first few months!
Another way of acquiring translation experience to enhance your CV in those daunting early days is by doing translations on a voluntary basis – perhaps for an international charity or church organisation. Obviously working for free is not going to keep the wolf from the door, so it is best to start carrying out these sorts of assignments in your own spare time, while continuing with whatever sort of full-time work you can find. You could also identify websites belonging to international organisations where the English language version is distinctly dodgy and write to offer either to re-translate it or to edit their content for a mutually agreed fee.