Interpreters’ FAQs: How did I become a Freelance Interpreter/Translator?

Today’s post is the first (hopefully not the last one) of a new (sort of) section of’s Blog, which I am going to name “Interpreters’ FAQs“, i.e. questions an interpreter is often asked, such as: “what lipstick are you wearing?” or “what’s your secret recipe for cupcakes?”…

OK, kidding.

Many colleagues already know the answers to the FAQs I would like to talk about, but there is plenty of people out there who have no idea of what a freelance interpreter/translator does to make a living.

So I thought I could be a good idea to start talking about these questions, even though I am not the first one to do it, but it’s just to tell you MY story, to share my experience, which might add something to the widespread knowledge about this topic.

I hope I’m not going to bore you!

First of all, I have to tell you how I embarked in this freelancing adventure.

I also wanted to start with this very FAQ because I occasionally have the chance to talk to students who have just got their degree in Translation or Interpretation at the SSLMIT in Forlì – where I live – to get some tips on how to become a freelance translator/interpreter and the very first thing I tell them is how I started. And every time I tell my story I always start by saying “I think I was very lucky!” and I actually think that it doesn’t just take skills – which are however VITAL to keep working with clients in the translation industry – but, as people say, you also need to be “the right man in the right place at the right time” >>>  i.e. to be lucky.

THEN, of course, you have to preserve what you gained by using your PROFESSIONAL SKILLS, otherwise you would be kicked off the market, sooner or later.
I don’t mean you have to wait for some lucky event to fall onto you from heaven, of course you have to roll up your sleeves and help luck help you, do you know what I mean?
Take some initiative.
Take the first step.
Step No. 1
The first thing I did was, of course, having a chat – in front of a good espresso – with a professional translator I knew, to ask her what I had to do to start working as a translator/interpreter. She suggested me to become member of an association of professional translators and interpreters and to subscribe to all possible specialized newsletters in the field (there were a few MLs, but blogs were not that popular at that time), which I did.
This took me to Step No. 2: getting to know several other colleagues. One colleague working for a company as a freelance translator/sales agent was about to take maternity leave and needed replacement and I decided to have a go.
I got my Partita IVA and started working with her for the same company as a freelance professional, but with a very flexible part-time job: I was allowed to work from home sometimes, I could take days off if I had other interpreting assignments elsewhere and translating and traveling around Europe for that company was a good training opportunity for me.
This part-time job enabled me to work as a freelance translator/interpreter for other clients as well, gradually getting more and more contacts. I think this was a fortunate combination, as stepping into the translation industry and work enough to make a job out of it is not easy at the very beginning, it takes time (at least one year, I would say) to get enough clients.
In the meantime I got married and the cooperation with the part-time company came to an end, which brought me to…
…Step No. 3: becoming a genuine Freelance Professional, working with several clients.
Thanks to other colleagues of mine who trusted me and my skills, I had the opportunity to replace them or work with them in the booth for simultaneous interpreting and other assignments.
So…here I am!
Still taking steps and hoping this will go on somehow!
Just to draw some conclusions, I think NETWORKING with other freelance professionals is the key. And once you get the chance to work, you have to show your SKILLS to keep working.
And you also need to love this job and be humble enough to embrace “life long learning” as a philosophy, as well as the fact that you’ll never know what tomorrow will bring, that you must improve your skills day by day, that this is NOT an extremely profitable business (at least in Italy), and…well, I won’t tell you everything in this post, I’ll tell you something more in the future – a bit of suspense is not bad, after all!
Please let me know if I missed out something or if you have some questions or experience to share, that would be GREAT.

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Translator & Interpreter