Integrity Languages


Starting Out pt. 1

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 2, 2010

When All Else Fails, Keep Trying

Over the next few weeks, I am going to post a number of articles to try to help people who are either new to the translation and interpreting industry or those who are considering joining us. Since I have only been in the industry for around three years myself, the pains, pleasures, trials and achievements of starting out are still fresh enough, sometimes painfully fresh!

This week, I am going to cover an area which might be the most uncomfortable for some of you to read: good old tenacity. You see, what we all wish was that we could start by winning every translation or interpreting job, keeping every client happy and turning out perfect work every time. Sadly, that’s not how it goes. The shocking, annoying truth is that, at least to begin with, your greatest asset is not your shiny CV or your fancy degree but your sheer inability to give up.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s how it all started for me. I left uni and, being an optimist, I thought work would pick up quickly. Being a realist, I knew that, at least to begin with, I could do with a part-time job. So, due to some prior experience in the “thrilling” world of call centres, I managed to land a part-time job taking calls from utility sales people. My plan was simple, in the meantime, I would email loads of agencies, join proz and put in as many quotes as I could. By the time my degree certificate arrived in the post (I graduated in absentia) I would have a stable client base and could leave the part-time job.

Needless to say, it didn’t work like that. It was nearly six months after I left uni and three months after I graduated that I gained my first piece of paid translation work. It was almost two years until I landed my first interpreting assignment. In the meantime, I had lost the part-time job, sent out too many quotes to count and been extremely grateful for a wife who was working full-time.

It’s not even as if that first job spelled consistent work. History would record that I never did work for that particular client again, despite them being happy with the job. For the past three years, I have seen months without work and months where there didn’t seem to be enough hours to get all the work done. I have seen days where all I could find to do was to faff about on the internet and others where meals felt like a distraction.

At any point in that journey, and especially during the lean months, I could easily have packed it all in, torn up my professional CV and found a more stable job. I am sure that other translators reading this could tell similar stories of how many times they have been sorely tempted to do the same thing.

So what keeps us here? How come we all lasted? Well, I believe that at least one of the reasons is that few of us would want to do any other job. We actually enjoy our work (at least most of the time) and we have managed to grow a healthy realism about its ups and downs. Freelance translation and interpreting is not an inherently stable career and it says something about the character of its most experienced characters that they managed to last through their share of economic peaks and troughs.

Yes, there will be a time when you will have clients queueing up and enough work on a consistent basis to pay your bills and live comfortably. But that time will not come overnight. You just might have to wait a few years, put up with a few knocks and write a few hundred quotes before that time comes. The question is, can you afford, both mentally and financially, to pay the price to get there? If you say yes to that, you have another question to answer: are you happy to keep paying the price, even when you don’t see an immediate pay-off? Answer those two questions in the affirmative and you are on your way.

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