How to break into translation as a part -time freelancer?
December 18, 2017 8:13 AM   Subscribe

(In Montreal)

My job contract is ending soon and I have a few leads on another full time job. But I would like to pick up some part time work to help make ends meet in the meantime. ( I live in Quebec).

In the past few years through little jobs here and there, I've discovered that I'm pretty good at Canadian French to English translation. I don't have a degree in this field but I've been speaking French since I was 5 years old and I have studied literature and Communications and in my current work I have to do a lot of copyediting. From the little that I've done, I absolutely love translation.

My questions are:

-- How do I start up in building a portfolio? Would I likely have any luck posting an ad on craigslist offering my services?
-- If I do post an ad, how much do I charge? I don't want to charge too little because it's unfair to professional translators. However, I don't have a degree and haven't had a paid job doing this. But I'm not gonna offer to do it for free, because, well, I think I'm pretty good at it and I would work really hard if I did get some gigs.
posted by winterportage to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, portfolios aren't really a thing. Given that you're in Quebec, you may get some responses with a Craigslist ad, but I would suggest you try freelancing for translation agencies to get a feel for the work, to see what going rates are for your language pairing / fields of specialty. That way you'd also learn whether people are charging by-the-word or by-the-line, which is generally how rates are set in my experience, though that's mostly been business translation; if you're more interested in translating literature, you may be able to work directly with authors and charge a set per-piece price.

I've only done online freelancing, which is a bit different, but which you could also look into. There's not as much demand for specifically Canadian French, but if you can also do standard French, you'd have a fair number of opportunities (though French translation gigs are sometimes more demanding about having certifications, irritatingly).

The landscape has changed a bit since I was active, and there's been some consolidation -- smaller agencies have been displaced by bigger platforms like Tolingo, Unbabel, Lingosaur, and the like. When I started, I was mostly cold-calling (well, emailing) agencies, sending my CV (like you, I didn't study for this, but had background) and asking if they needed freelancers. This got me put on their lists, so when work came up and they didn't have the staff to take the job, I'd get an 'urgent rush' email, telling me the length of the job, the timeframe, and the pay rate, and asking me if I wanted it. Generally, they sent it to more than one freelancer, and the first to respond got the gig.

Working for the online platforms won't pay as well, since they compete with each other on price and since they also take their cut, but they are an easy way to get started. They'll connect you with jobs and they'll handle payments for you (which is actually nice because wire transfers were a pain and not every company will use PayPal).
posted by halation at 8:33 AM on December 18, 2017

I am not familiar with things in Montreal, but in my experience, sending CVs to agencies/filling out their applications can work out well. A lot of the time you won't get a reply, but sometimes they will ask you to a test translation, which is a good way of proving you can do the job. If you do well in the test translation, they are likely to offer you more work.
posted by iamsuper at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2017

(Also Montreal-based French Canadian -- hi!)

I would suggest an additional potential source of customers to those mentioned above: startups. Montreal (and other smaller cities, Quebec, etc.) have a number of them, which are typically interested in being known around the world, or at least have some English web presence. This also applies to game / mobile app makers, etc. -- they all need English translation/copy!

One way could be to look at Montreal-based copyediting/translation jobs (you can offer to work on a contractual basis), and also startup networking events (look at coworking places, such as Crew Collective, WeWork, Notman House, or La Gare, which typically host such events; Meetup will also point you to some events).

My feeling is that the startup/IT world will be way more forgiving/not care about credentials, and will mostly (only?) care about an online portfolio (which doesn't have to be huge), transparent pricing, simple way to get in touch with you, etc.

Do you have a site / some online presence? I would start there.

posted by vert canard at 9:01 AM on December 18, 2017

I sent my resume for a job posting for a freelance position in my field and they contacted me for a phone conversation. That was literally it. I completed one assignment for them as a test run and they were pleased with the work so now I have as much work as I want.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:20 PM on December 18, 2017

You might try creating a free profile on sites like and with information about your areas of specialisation, experience and rates, which would then be searchable by potential clients who could contact you directly. Both sites have the facility to create a profile without paying, or to buy a membership which unlocks more features. They also both have job boards where clients post specific jobs - paid membership of allows you to bid for posted jobs, or I think you can bid as a non-member against payment of $1 per bid (I haven't used for a long time so the setup may be a bit different). I got started as a freelancer on through the paid membership - a few years ago now, but it still seems pretty active. If you go that route, the key thing I'd recommend is that if you bid on a job, you stay glued to your keyboard for an hour or two afterwards, because responding pretty well instantly (or not) was often the deciding factor. Feel free to memail if you want, my experience isn't quite the same (European French-English, a bit more pre-freelance experience), but might be similar enough to be useful. Good luck.
posted by Otto the Magnificent at 2:18 PM on December 18, 2017

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