Lesson 42: What’s the easiest way to make money in translation?

Lesson 42: What’s the easiest way to make money in translation?

There’s no one single way to make a living from translation. We all come to the industry from many different paths. Some of us take the unexpected route: we suddenly discover that translation is something we love doing and we’ll never do anything else again. Or the long way: we work for a number of companies for 20 years and then go back to our college dreams to work with languages. There’s also the planned way: A-levels from languages, BA in modern languages, and MA in translation. Some people I know living off translation take the ethical way, making sure that everything they do is good for the profession. Then there are people who have other jobs, but they translate from time to time because they’re passionate about it.

I guess there are many of you out there whose ways into the translation business were different (write about it in a comment below!). But we all have some things in common: some qualifications, some experience, some dedication, and some rules we never break.

But imagine there’s an easy way. Much easier than you imagine, and it could potentially bring you much more money. I am going to share this secret with you now, and you should read carefully until the very end to make money in translation.

1. Do you have what it takes?

You absolutely mustn’t have any translation qualifications. Languages are ok, but still look suspicious. If you accidentally have any language-related background, you better erase it from your CV and forget about everything you’ve learned. You must be an entrepreneur and a born marketer, preferably thinking only about your business. You’ve got to be passionate about networking, talking to people, and making good impression. Be great, good looking, and smart.

2. Setting up a company.

The first and most important aspect of setting up your company is to make sure that it looks bigger and more complex than it really is. Pretend that you have five departments and a whole team to support you. You could even create imaginary personalities and make your clients believe that someone else’s on Twitter, someone else’s dealing with invoices, and you as the CEO – you work only 5 hours a day.

3. Defining your products.

You must stress that you’re providing top-quality translations in 170 languages both ways, complex services, telephone interpretation, video conferencing, transcreation, subtitling, voice over, private tuition, translation certifications and all these other services you have no idea about, but you’ll be able to find a freelancer who does. When describing your services, use the following adjectives: professional, outstanding quality, native-only translators, 24 hours a day, top quality, in-house proofreaders (tip: meaning you), etc.

4. Setting prices.

If you think there’s a healthy business model to tell you how much to charge to your clients, you’re wrong. The easiest way to do it is as follows (and it’s really easy because it allows you to do two things at the same time). Find a directory of translators online, write a dull email that you’re expanding your base of providers and you’re recruiting freelancers in this language pair (please note: use recruit freelancers again and again – it doesn’t make sense and is a great example of an oxymoron, and never try to specify the language pair – it could get you into trouble because you’re sending this email to all language pairs on earth). Ask for the best rate and invite them to send their CVs. Don’t forget to send this email from a gmail or any other free mailing service. Oh and by the way: always, but always start your emails with Dear Linguist.

You’ll receive a range of replies, so just find the lowest possible best rate offered. That’s how much you’re going to pay your service providers. Now multiply this fee by 8.852 (that’s the translation income rate I just invented) and there you go. That’s how much you charge your clients.

5. Finding providers.

But you already found them! All these emails you received to find out the lowest prices did the job for you. Without looking at CVs, delete these emails that state a fee twice higher than your minimum. Still without looking at CVs, create folders for different language pairs and copy the documents there. Create a mailing list to all people who’re in your folders and congratulate them on joining your successful company and agreeing to work for your rates. Job done!

6. Marketing.

As I said, you must be smart and good looking. Your website has to be brilliant. Don’t hesitate to invest loads of money in making your company look international and global (nice words to add to your copy, by the way). It doesn’t matter what colours are used, or if your copy makes sense. Just be there and remember about SEO and social media. You could have someone blogging, but it’s much easier to use this funny piece of software that changes some words in existing articles online to give you a “brand new text”. If you don’t like the hassle, simply steal some articles from freelance translators.

7. Enjoying the profits.

Now imagine. The only thing you’re doing is some marketing and forwarding jobs to your service providers. And you make so much money on it! Isn’t it just great? Oh, I forgot to mention something earlier. Your business name has to have “solutions” in it. It’s so catchy – they’ll think you can solve their problems! If you’re really good at what you’re doing, you could even win a government contract and sell your company as soon as you can. Believe me on this one.

I don’t have to mention that it’s a satire, do I? The number of agencies/companies operating this way is increasing. I’m always fishing for dodgy websites, but I’m under the impression that there’s more and more of them popping up. People who call themselves entrepreneurs use the slimiest, ugliest, and easiest model to earn some money and then get rid of the body. This model stands against everything we value in our profession and is insulting to our skills. There’s one thing we can do to stop it: never, never agree to work for the bottom feeders and their ridiculous rates.

Even if that’s far from easy, I’m prepared to take up the challenge. Are you?


  1. Stella Strantzali , on Sep 29, 2012 at 10:37 Reply

    Great post! Was just bitching…well…’talking’ about this very issue with my husband last night! But yes, this whole pseudo-Big Agency thing has really gotten out of hand.

    Love the blog!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Oct 22, 2012 at 13:34 Reply

      Thanks, Stella! It’s very irritating, isn’t it? I don’t criticise all agencies, but they need to add value.

  2. Jan Snauwaert , on Sep 29, 2012 at 11:12 Reply

    Very well written, Marta, as always. You create some real suspense in your writing, and at some point, I even wondered if you were serious. But then, you make it absolutely clear that it was a satire. I of course absolutely agree with your main point. We should never give up what we really stand for and never sell our services at dumping prices (I never do that).
    Personally, I came to translation as a business after I left the IT-business. I got disgusted by the mind-set of the financial world for which I delivered, as a result of my IT-specialization that was mainly focused on mainframes, my IT-services. As a result of a purely personal choice, I left that world, after I had decided that I could make a living out of another talent that I am lucky enough to have: language knowledge and linguistic skills. Meanwhile, I learn to improve my business skills as well, which makes the adventure all the more interesting.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Oct 22, 2012 at 13:38 Reply

      Thank you, Jan! I’m glad that so many agencies are still maintaining high levels. But the disgusting mind-set is slowly creeping in to our business as well. We have to fight it.

  3. Aga , on Sep 29, 2012 at 20:35 Reply

    Brilliant piece of writing! You had me curious to start with, surprised halfway through and laughing out loud by the end 🙂 I would also add that you should require your linguists to enter their invoices onto your online bookkeeping system themselves. One invoice per job however small, paid at bottom rates obviously. Just like one multinational company from US. with a catchy word Perfect in their name. Needless to say I don’t work for them anymore..
    All the best!

  4. Martina , on Sep 30, 2012 at 21:41 Reply

    Well done! I thoroughly enjoyed the post.

  5. Jesús , on Oct 10, 2012 at 09:09 Reply

    Actually, in my experience, the ones really getting rich are the well-known MLVs: Welocalize, SDL, Lionbridge… all of them pay ridiculous fees, force you to work using cumbersome and very time consuming procedures and technologies suppousedly designed to improve quality and for which they are charging hefty sums to clients that don´t really have a clue about what GlobalSight or Lingoport are but that believe that by using them are being top notch.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 02:08 Reply

      Can’t fault good marketing it seems. Luckily, there are some good agencies around as well 🙂

  6. georgia , on Oct 12, 2012 at 13:13 Reply

    Oh my! Marta, you just unfolded the mystery of these “long-term cooperation”, “expanding translation business” “recruiting translators” job postings that keep bombarding my inbox (and I guess many other translators’ inboxes) every single day.
    At least now I don’t feel guilty for not applying to all the promising, potential jobs and I can be more dedicated to REAL clients and REAL agencies that put less effort in phishing and more time in being professional.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Oct 22, 2012 at 13:39 Reply

      Exactly. They’re wasting so much of our time! It’s getting harder and harder to tell the real thing from bottom-feeders.

  7. Claire Agius , on Oct 17, 2012 at 09:52 Reply

    Brilliant, Marta. I love this piece.

  8. Richard , on Oct 19, 2012 at 23:32 Reply

    Great !

    I was thinking of writing a text like this .. (in French).

    However, if individual real or imaginary translators promote themselves as they do, it is because they have been raised in a culture where they know advertising makes many people buy things that they do not need) b) the market is rotten c) translators are mostly freelance and isolated and see other translators as dangerous competitors and generally do not want to cooperate (the coop model is a possibility but there are very very few : in Montreal there is only ONE !) d) governments – who were spendin tons of money on translation are now reducing the deficit : thousands of government translators are now on the dole. Add to this globalization.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Oct 22, 2012 at 13:41 Reply

      The only thing we can do is not to give in. We shall keep fighting and we’ll see the results!

  9. Phyllis , on Oct 25, 2012 at 17:54 Reply

    All of you have made some very good solid points. However, what advice to I give someone that wants to get into the translation with no formal education to back her up but can speak a lot of languages fluently?

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 02:11 Reply

      It really depends on the person as fluency in languages does not a translator make. Nowadays, there is a plethora of webinars and short courses to gain the necessary skills and I would definitely recommend attending some industry events, just to see what it’s all about 🙂

  10. Mona , on Nov 5, 2012 at 08:54 Reply

    Very interesting!

  11. Desiree Staude , on Nov 12, 2012 at 20:48 Reply

    Great blog entry! It really seems that more and more agencies try it that way.
    But I don’t play the game. Even though I don’t know how to pay the bills sometimes, I refuse to accept low fees/projects of such agencies. I my not get a job for a while, but I look into the mirror and keep the dignity to truly believe that I deliver quality and that it shall be paid.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 02:12 Reply

      I think that if you use the time you have gained from refusing to work for peanuts on marketing your services, your situation will improve. Best of luck!

  12. Desiree Staude , on Nov 12, 2012 at 20:52 Reply

    I also don’t play the game and turn such low-fee projects down. No matter how urgent I’d need some money.

    Being a bilingual secretary I am used to deliver quality work (in a rather small field than studied translators) and very careful with my work. I enhance my knowledge continuously and I want to get paid for that.

    This entry was really amusing. 🙂

  13. Ana Dubra , on Feb 12, 2013 at 18:50 Reply

    Hi Marta! I’m loving this series, this particular post made me laugh so much.
    I remember receiving an e-mail from a company asking for my rate and CV. Then I got a reply asking me to do a test with a certain software, despite the fact that I hadn’t listed that software as one I use. You invest so much time and effort keeping your CV up to date and they don’t even bother to look at it! It’s so anyoing.

  14. Tanya , on Mar 11, 2013 at 22:54 Reply

    Why send a CV? Have you ever asked your gynocologist, carpenter, bus driver, paper boy, chef, lawyer, etc. for one? We don’t apply for projects. We bid for them. Take it or leave it.

  15. Artelingua , on Mar 18, 2013 at 02:25 Reply

    Thank you Marta,

    As usual a very thought-provoking post…we shall indeed keep sifting through job proposals that are not worth our time, money and skills to find the real ones.

    The 170 language pairs made me laugh 🙂


  16. Petra Junge , on Mar 28, 2013 at 02:09 Reply

    “Wonderful” tips, Marta! And there are indeed quite a few out there practicing these:)

  17. Richard , on May 12, 2013 at 15:44 Reply

    The good thing about satire is that you can bring out the humour without being frivolous. In your article you have done it very nicely.
    As you say, these people, who only have an image and no contents, eventually end up in the trash can. But as they cause damage in the meantime, we should hurry things up, proactively.

    Where translation is better business, not just business.

  18. Jordi Romero , on May 13, 2013 at 10:44 Reply

    Nice post. I believed that you were talking in a serious way until the end… does it have to see with cultural humour?

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