How to make money as a translator | Ina Coveney

How to make money as a translator

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This month I am interviewing amazing entrepreneurs who are making a living doing what they absolutely LOVE to do.

Today, I’m talking to translator Virginia Katsimpiri for my March Monetization Madness Series (or my 3M series as I’ve been calling it).

Virginia was actually working in corporate for a translation agency. She then took her translation skills and became her own boss and got her own client base.

If translation isn’t your thing, there are so many other professions I’m going to be talking to during this series. You can find all about who I’m talking to here. I’m talking to copyrighters, bloggers, travelers, book writers; anything I could think of, I’m talking to someone who is making their living doing it!

Everyone has a story of how they made the leap into entrepreneurship

So before I get into my interview with Virginia, I’m going to talk about something that’s been on my mind lately. And that’s the idea that we’re not allowed to chase our passions if we have a family.

Often times we think that this is an unsafe, risky choice that will hinder our family.

But here’s the deal, if you are a person who is on top of things this isn’t the case for you. If you pay your bills on time, you take responsibility for your actions, you have a grasp on your life, flaking out on a business venture doesn’t seem like something you would do.

If you look at your future and see it as a safe bet but also have the awareness that you might regret not trying to do something more, you have every right to do this.

We need to think about our passions and the things we love to do for a living NOT in a way that makes it sound like we are doing something for no reason. That is absolutely not the case!

You are doing the research and planning for this and you need to trust yourself!

Go out and explore your passions. Find what you want to do, whether it be through classes or another opportunity. You can’t find anything out unless you go out and look.

Just because you are thinking about something doesn’t mean you are committing yourself to a huge, life-changing decision tomorrow.

You are taking steps to not live a life with regret.

Put in the work and allow yourself to investigate your passions! Maybe it’s just something you like to do and don’t actually want to pursue full time, but you won’t find anything out unless you TRY.

Subscribe to the podcast: Corporate Trailblazers with Ina Coveney

Read my entire interview with Virginia Katsimpiri below:

Ina: Why don’t we start with saying who you are, what you do and then we’ll go into your story from there.

Virginia: So, I am Virginia Katsimpiri and I am a Greek translator and I am certified in Greece. And I run a translation agency here in Athens, Greece since 2014. I have been a certified translator since 2007.

Recently I have been providing mentoring to new translators who want to go into the market to become more experienced ones or to grow their business. In 2012 I left my employee position; I was an in-house translator at a company in Greece and I decided to run my own business after two years.

I left my position in 2012, and started my business in 2014 so two years it took me to start my business and in the meantime I was freelancing.

Ina: Nobody just wakes up one morning and decides “I’m just going to work for myself! I’m just going to take that really risky leap and work for myself and figure it out!” So I’m always curious to know exactly what that story was. You were already a translator and working for an agency, so what made you think, “I can do this on my own”?

Virginia: To be honest, I think it was something that I really had inside in my mind and in my soul that I would really like to do at some point in my career. But when I first started, I wasn’t really confident in my skills (like my business skills or technical skills.) I wasn’t feeling confident enough in having them, back then.

And this position that I held back in 2012 was the first job I held when I got out of university. I got this job before I even got my degree because I had applied and had passed all my exams. I didn’t have my degree in my hands yet but I applied to I think three positions for open house translators and got my first job two months before I got my degree.

We have an expression here in Greece, like you go one place for a short time but you stay there forever, I don’t know if you have something like that. So I thought, “let’s stay at the company right now because the money is very good, and in the meantime I will be searching what I want to do and save some money and find my real passion.” And then 5 years passed at that company. I didn’t think that when I started I would be there for 5 years.

The truth is that the company was very good and very big and there was a lot of changing positions to better positions every year. So they really appreciated me and my skills and I really appreciated them, too. That’s what made me stay there so long, I think.

In the meantime, there was a business crisis here in Greece and everything went down at a point, like I think it was 2010. I realized that I was having less income after that and I denied. I was only staying there because the money was good.

When I was proposed to minimize my salary I realized I wasn’t happy to do that unless I was paid really really well, I didn’t like what I was doing even though I was good at it. So then I realized that this wasn’t me and I didn’t like what I was doing and wasn’t satisfied to do it for less money.

It took me a year to leave the job, I didn’t take one day to make the decision it took me a year, I starting looking other positions at other companies because maybe another place needed my skills. And I did find other positions, like executive assistant/translator and I did find other positions that did pay well.

But the instability in the business in Greece and not knowing what was going to happen the next day because other companies might have financial problems as well made me decide I should do something on my own since I already had 5 years in the business and I got a really good experience in business skills as well.

There were a lot of other details, like I had health problems because of anxiety and you might not understand it sometimes but your body reacts to things. Like you have a routine and you think you are satisfied like going to your job and with your income, but your body reacts and you don’t understands like “this is not for you” and later I realized I was told by my doctors that it was anxiety and depression from those things.

Ina: Yeah I feel like a lot of people go through this. Like being chronically depressed for a long time, thinking that is just things going on in my family or things that happened to me when I was a kid and working through it in therapy all this time, without realizing that I knew that I didn’t want to be where I am 30 years from now. When you don’t have a vision of yourself that you’re excited about it makes you wonder why you’re living at all, like what are you doing at all. So what did you do when the doctor said yeah this is what’s causing these things.

Virginia: Yeah the doctor doesn’t say because it’s your job that you have all these—

Ina: Yes you must quit your job in my professional opinion!

Virginia: No. The reason is behind that is a personal situation, but its you; you have to understand what makes you unhappy every day and you are unsure why you are doing this, that made me change my mind.

I was going every morning and coming back every afternoon and going back and back. And the only hobby I had I think was gym, and I was so unhappy, I gained weight and had all these health issues and I didn’t know I had to stop a bit and take some days off to realize what I want, what I really want.

And even though, I want to tell people, even though that don’t have a vision, because sometimes we’re not pretty sure what our vision is and what we’re here for to make a difference in this world for, but if we’re unhappy this for sure isn’t it! This shouldn’t be our everyday life or our future.

This is what I realized back then. I didn’t know what my vision was or what exactly would make me happy, but I was pretty sure that this was going on because my old vision wasn’t making me happy anymore.

Ina: How did you make that leap? How did you go “okay I’m quitting and I’m doing this.” Did you have savings you lived off of? Or were you working on the side? What was your situation?

Virginia: Well, one year before I quit my job because I had the really big opinion on what was my next step. I was looking for a new position and going on interviews, I didn’t want to go and I was feeling that this wasn’t for me.

So, what I really liked doing was taking part time translation jobs as a translator, so for one year I was freelancer and a part-time employee at the same time. I went to the tax office and opened my books and had a side business for one year.

This made me realize what I really liked and wanted to do as a translator and to have some side income as well. To be honest, I took this step because I did have some savings. And I did get some money because I was fired.

And for one year you get some subsidies from the government, so I was covered for one year and was able to take a step back and think and make a plan for what I want to do and start taking steps one after one.

Ina: So what did you do? How did you set everything up?

Virginia: It was not pretty easy as it seems right now! But for other people it might be easier. For me, took me two years to realize I didn’t want to be a freelancer working from home, I wanted an office. So after quitting my job, I became a member of an associations of translators to find out what was going on in the business, and also to read about what’s going on in translation abroad as well.

By reading blogs and members of Facebook groups, whatever I could do to learn about the business part of translation. This year, 2014 was a lucky year for me, because I got this office and a very good offer it was exactly the area I was happy to have.

I grabbed the opportunity back then, and took the next step. Like the first step was to quit my job become a freelance translator, and this was easy because I signed applications and accepted lower pay starting out because I didn’t have experience and was just starting out.

To have one or two agencies which I could include in my CV which I could gain experience and income. After one year and a half I found the office. Then I asked my family for support, because you have to have support because your everyday life is going to change. Your schedule is going to change like you don’t work a 9 to 5 as an entrepreneur.

I was pretty lucky, I didn’t have kids because I was working so hard and so many hours I can’t even imagine what it was like for you and other women with kids. I don’t know if I could do this if I had a family and kids.

Ina: I have questions. I was telling everyone before you joined, that there are people in my family who are in translations and I asked them what they would like to know. So I have some questions from translators who know they’re not doing everything perfectly. Are you ready?

Virginia: Of course!

Ina: Okay so, for translation I would love to hear any recommendations you have on tools to use. For those listening, I want you to know that there are softwares you can use that will help you with the job. What software tools you use for translations that you love?

Virginia: One of the first investments I did in my business in order to be taken seriously by clients. Most agencies don’t know what tool you’re using they just want the job to be done.

For those starting out in translation, you don’t start and then buy a tool, you need to have a background in translation you have to be good at language, you have to be aware and knowledgeable in both languages.

So for someone who wants to go into this you have to have the skills. You cannot translate everything, you have to know this and you have to find your speciality. You need to become better and better. In translation you become better when you go into things in detail.

Then, after that I say invest in tools. It has to do with the country that you live in because there are different ones based in US then there are different ones based in Europe. I would suggest the most frequently required tools, from agencies are MemoQ and SDL Trados.

They are highly specialized and very expensive tools but if you are not a good translator they will not be of any use to you. They help you have consistency in your things and help you become faster because they have an algorithm that relates to similar texts, they give you suggestions for the translations you have done before.

Something like Google translate, I don’t recommend but for simple use they can save you time. By saving you time, they save you money.

Ina: You just mentioned something that is super key, knowing what industry you are translating for. It’s not the same thing to go and translate a website than it is to go translate something else. I’d love it if you could tell us about the types of clients that are out there because you just mentioned some clients may require you to use certain tools and some don’t.

Virginia: The direct clients are not going to ask you about tools. Only big translation agencies are going to ask you to use specific tools and sometimes they’ll provide you the license for the tool that they use.

Ina: So let me see If I got that straight so far. Direct clients are the people who are going to be using your translations and they generally don’t care what tools you use, they just want something translated and want the end result.

Virginia: In general terms, they are not aware. There are some of them that might be because they have been doing it for years and years so they want to save money, but they are not going to give you the license you have to have it.

Ina: Then there’s doing this for bigger agencies, who have their clients and give you an assigned project. And they may provide you with the software.

Virginia: You are a very good student! Let me know if you’re thinking about joining the translation market!

Ina: Awesome! I had a questions that I was relayed to from my translation family. They were curious as to how you go about getting the good clients? They will put themselves out there so that agencies can use them for freelance. And they continually get projects that are like “okay you’re going to get paid $10 and I need this in one hour.” And that’s no way to make a living! So what tips do you have for getting the good big projects that are you know worth your time?

Virginia: I love to talk about this stuff, because I’m really thankful for being here and I love speaking about this. So anyone who is in the market or is new to the market and wants better clients or new clients, they should watch my event. It’s 15 videos of well-known translators talking about this. It’s a 3-day, free event and it’s going to be online.

It’s all about marketing strategies that translators have been using for years. So my answer to this question is going to be short, whenever you start out it’s often we get projects that aren’t worth very much and are very hard and stressful and at the end of the day you do not have the income that you want.

It’s a stage as a starting translator that you have to pass. I say you go through this for a year, and there are so many online things that can help with mentoring translators. When I first started I didn’t have all these groups, but anyone today should become familiar with this.

You can learn so much. So the first step is to find online resources that you like that can answer your questions and follow other translators that you admire or that work in your field. Use all available resources!

Becoming an established translator makes it easier to find better clients, the more you know about what’s going on, the more you’ll know how to find them. I wrote a book all about client research and how to find better clients. In order to find the clients that you want you have to be a very good translator and very good at marketing.

Ina: So basically someone should pay their dues, work with agencies to build your resume.

Virginia: Yes, not more than one year though.

Ina: Yes! The first year, take any job that you can.

Virginia: Take any job that you can to be good at, not any job that they just give you. They might give you like medical documents and if you don’t know the terminology, don’t take it. Become aware of what’s going on in your business, join associations and gain knowledge and then you gain some credibility.

Ina: What has worked best when putting your name out there? What’s the best way for me to market myself so that new clients know that I know what I’m talking about, what has worked?

Virginia: Whatever your niche is, there are so many opportunities to get projects. But you have to work on that and towards where you want to go.

Decide who is the client to whom you want to offer translation services, do you prefer direct or do you prefer agencies? The direction is completely different and you take different steps depending on who you want to attract.

Like if you want agencies you can go online, go to directories, you can find credible agencies that specialize in things that do the things that you translate. If you decide that you want to work with agencies, you need to contact them because you think that they have projects in your specialty.

For example, I am a legal translator and financier so when I reach out to an agency, and I see that if they have this specialty I will send them my info, I wouldn’t do that if I saw that they don’t have projects in my specialization.

With direct clients, you need negotiating skills and marketing strategy in order to get clients to trust you, its different. You need a website and business cards and maybe a portfolio, You don’t need all this marketing material when working with an agency.

Ina: And you do a lot of speaking engagements too?

Virginia: Yes, I am so glad you asked that because when I found what I wanted to do after becoming 30 years old. I found what I wanted to do. Translation was what helped me get out of the employee and in house position, I was able to find my hobbies and able to have more time to create my first mentoring program for translators in 2016.

I was working day and night and never feeling tired because I was happy with what I was doing. I was invited to my university to give lectures about my mentoring program, I was able to create a book in Greek for translators. One thing lead to the other and this happened when I enjoyed what I was doing.

Ina: I really appreciate you saying all this! You have been so generous and my family is going to be very happy! Tell us what you have coming up and how to find you.

Virginia: You can find my website and my email. I have a mentoring group on Facebook where we all answer questions and contribute. I provide a mentoring program to new translators, it’s full one on one sessions. It will help you get started and get everything ready and have a strategy! Don’t forget my marketing success summit.

Ina: Virginia! Thank you so so much, she’s also on Instagram @vtranslations. Virginia, it’s been a treat thank you so much!

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