Although an MA in Translation Studies can be a springboard to many avenues (such as a PhD), I was keen to pursue translation itself and make a healthy contribution to the industry. I am also nowhere near clever enough for a doctorate and my parents would be less than enamoured about me sponging off them for the next three years.
Therefore, although interested in securing a full time in-house translation position or internship, I read an advert about the SUFT (Setting Up as a Freelance Translator) course in the January/February ITI Bulletin. The course sounded particularly interesting and had positive reviews by previous students. I was after a realistic, “warts ‘n’ all” insight into what running a freelance translation business is like and it would also keep my options open. I duly applied on the closing day for applications (I like to live dangerously) and was kindly accepted. Being an ITI member, payment was £349, but £499 for non-members (excellent value at either fee as it turned out).
Prior to the course beginning, participants received a 33-page course manual containing the course structure, full details of each tutor, a weekly breakdown, helpful websites and ITI stationery. There was also a complimentary book entitled 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know. Written by the mysterious WLF Think Tank in 2014, the actual authors are well-respected translators Ian Hinchliffe, Terry Oliver and Ros Schwarz. This book is user-friendly and an ideal and gentle pre-requisite read.
The eight-week course has been in operation about six years, is run approximately twice a year and is overseen by course designer Ann Brooks, based at ITI’s head office in Milton Keynes. The format is that each Tuesday, a one-hour webinar lecture is delivered by one of the eight tutors who are all successful freelance translators with a variety of specialisations and language directions. The rest of Tuesday and Wednesday are for students to work on a focus task to email back to the tutor in good time for a discussion webinar on Thursday.
I confess to having never heard of the term webinar (just as well I didn’t pursue a PhD), but the beauty of this setup is that participants can listen in from anywhere. My fellow cohorts and tutors were from all over the country with one tutor delivering a session from her Colorado home. To avoid her having to start the webinar in the middle of the night, the start time reverted to mid-afternoon GMT. Similarly, as several of my fellow students work full time, the lecture and discussion webinars were recorded and could be watched at leisure via a Dropbox method.
Each tutor delivered an engaging presentation with lively slides containing links, blogs and websites for further study. Please see the course structure below. In addition, many of the tutors appeared on Skype during the sessions, which was useful to put a face to a name and witness them in their offices at home. It was good to see what a typical freelance translator’s office looked like and encouraging that there was no laundry or empty pizza boxes lying around, unlike my flat. Generally, the Skype facility worked fine but occasionally a few gremlins caused delay or voices to disappear, but these issues were minor, and Ann (in the head office control tower) always dealt effectively with them. One particularly revealing aspect was that each tutor set up a poll for participants during the lecture webinar. For instance, a question might be: “Have you ever used a CAT tool?”, “Have you ever carried out paid translation work?” or “Do you use social media?” The poll results could sometimes inform how the discussion session would be organised if there was an aspect that needed greater coverage.
I was unsure how to engage effectively with my fellow cohorts, not seeing anybody face-to-face. However, we were strongly encouraged to use a message thread to network and chat with each other about course-related issues. Adding each other on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter quickly followed, and a few students found their paths had crossed in the past. So, by week three, we had go to know each other quite well. I soon discovered that each person had a totally different journey to the course. One had worked in banking for thirty years, another ran a ceramics business whilst somebody else owned a wine-tasting company. As was the case with my BA and MA, it was roughly two thirds female, one third male (that’s not why I studied languages – honest!).
Although a programme like this followed the format above, the tutor in week one said, “You get as much out of this course as you put in,” suggesting the tutors provide the basic skeleton of how to develop a freelance career. However, it was chiefly up to us to put plenty of meat on those bones. The business plan would be assessed by that same week one tutor. This made a lot of sense as she could then see not only how proactive we had been during the eight weeks, but also how far each of us were from setting up our own business.
As I alluded to earlier, I was curious about freelance translation and was hoping for honest accounts from the tutors about the challenges involved in setting up a freelance translation business. All eight of them were realistic, confirming that it is hard graft, particularly at the beginning when you are likely to make a financial loss in the first 12-18 months. One said that budding freelancers often feel like packing it in, but tenacity and motivation are required to get over this as it is worth it in the end. Another tutor confirmed that in her first year in business, she sent over 400 CVs to translation agencies and received replies (whether positive or negative) from a mere handful. In addition, the tutors advised that participants should be under no illusions that the key elements are networking and developing a specialism so as to make yourself a more marketable commodity.
I would strongly recommend the SUFT course to anyone inquisitive about freelance translation and how to set a business up. Each tutor is very friendly, supportive and happy to be contacted away from the webinar times. We were also encouraged that “no question is silly”. The course lasts around 30 hours, which is worth a handy chunk of CPD. One thing I would recommend is having a decent PC or laptop with the following system requirements:
On a PC:
- Windows 8, 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server
- Cable modem, DSL or stronger Internet connection
- Dual-core 2.4GHz CPU or faster with 2GB of RAM (recommended)
On a MAC:
- Mac OS X 10.6 – Snow Leopard or newer
- Intel Processor (1GB of RAM or better recommended)
- Cable modem, DSL or better Internet connections
- Participants wishing to connect to audio using VolP will need a swift Internet connection, a microphone and speakers (a USB headset is advised).
Week 1: Getting started is easier than you think
Week 2: Working from home
Week 3: How do you get over the no-experience barrier?
Week 4: Promoting yourself and engaging with the industry online
Week 5: How to create an effective CV
Week 6: Specialising and networking
Week 7: How to value yourself
Week 8: Getting paid on time
Additional task (no webinar): Producing a business plan that works for you as a freelance translator
If you would like any further information about the course, feel free to drop me (Stephen Dugdale) an email, tweet or message on LinkedIn. Alternatively, go to the ITI website (www.iti.org.uk) or email them at email@example.com.
Since completing a BA in French and Spanish (2.1) at Bradford University in 2000, Stephen Dugdale worked in various sectors including legal and insurance-based roles before taking the plunge on an MA in Translation Studies at the University of Sheffield. Now 40, he graduated at Merit level in January 2018 and has recently completed the SUFT (Setting Up as a Freelance Translator) organised by ITI (The Institute of Translation and Interpreting). He is also an active member of the YTI (Yorkshire Translators and Interpreters), despite being a Lancastrian! Away from languages, he enjoys snooker, collecting autographs, fell walking and has appeared on four TV quiz shows.
 The Institute of Translation and Interpreting is the only UK-based independent professional membership association for practising translators, interpreters and language services businesses. Founded in 1986 and with over 3,000 members, both in the UK and internationally, they are a significant resource within the industry.