Side Hustle Stories: Become a freelance translator

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Piotr Rypalski

Piotr is a freelance translator.

This article is part of the Side Hustle Stories.

One of the wonderful things about freelancing is that it allows you to capitalize on skills that you already have.

This Side Hustle Story is a perfect example of that.

Piotr Rypalski is a freelance translator from Poland, and he is about to share how you can begin freelancing as a translator as well.

Here is Piotr’s story in his own words.

His background

I am a technical and business translator with over 10 years of experience in the field.

I usually do technical projects in fields like automation, robotics, automotive industry and mechanical engineering, but I try not to limit the scope of my projects to these fields alone.

I often take projects in my other expertise fields, like general law, EU politics or marketing.

My latest step has been the launch of the Industry Automation Localization Team with a fellow translator.

You can view my portfolio and website for more information.

How much he gets paid

My usual rate per source word is between EUR 0.08 — 0.14. ($0.10 to $0.20 USD or around $150 USD per 1000 words.)

However, the actual rate and its calculation manner largely depend on a project itself.

Complexity, deadline offered, as well as some other crucial characteristics such as the opportunity to cooperate with my client’s engineering department, access to the client’s materials, glossaries and so on all play a role in determining the price.

How he got started

I’ve always wanted to work with language.

It was quite hard to launch my own freelance business in the sector at the very start, having virtually no experience just after my modern linguistic studies.

Luckily, I was offered a stint as an in–house translator and verifier for one of the largest European translation agencies. This gave me the essential experience, a chance to learn professional techniques, as well as profound knowledge of the needs and requirements of clients from every corner of the world.

After two years of fruitful work there, well–equipped for my independent business mission, I finally started a full time freelance translator’s career.

I must say it was one of the best decisions of my life.

How to choose clients for your translation business

First of all, beginners often try to compete with low rates only. A dead–end strategy.


Well, it is going to be difficult to leave this trap once you decide that the initial rate is no longer sufficient.

Secondly, I’d be very careful in terms of selecting my clients. It’s impossible (not to say, counterproductive) to work for anyone and everyone in the market.

Therefore, you really must think hard who you are willing to provide with your services, and, on the other hand, who is willing to pay for them and ensure comfortable working conditions for both parties.

More often than not, it’s enough to listen to the tone of voice (or email writing style, for that matter) and check if it reflects respect and eagerness to work with or reveals a vicious, bossy character and tendency to treat others like mere puppets to push about and around.

The most important traits to look for are: ability to clearly formulate their messages, instructions, intentions and wishes (both verbally and in writing), willingness to help, and openness in difficult situations.

Here are some tips to help you raise your rates and find your ideal client.

How to make an offer to a client

Having drafted the initial client base, I prepare a general offer, without going in too much detail concerning technicalities and even rates for particular kinds of projects.

Here is a template of an opening email I usually send to my prospects who I often meet during professional events all around the country.

Dear Mr./Ms. ___

It was great to meet you at ___  last week. I found our short conversation on current automotive solutions in Mazda a real food for thought!
(a reference to the actual topic is very useful to elicit a mental image of yourself in the mind of an ever–so–busy client)

You said you were interested in my translation services, so let me give you some more details. (here you can insert a short summary of your expertise areas, experience, major projects you did, etc.).

My usual rate for source word is between EUR 0.08 and 0.14, but I can send you a more detailed offer in this respect later on.

I hope we’ll soon have a chance to work on some interesting project.

Best regards,
Piotr Rypalski

When the precious reply finally hits your inbox, it’s time to discuss the details of your partnership and agree the payment conditions.

It is generally good practice to agree on an advance payment. I recommend 50% at the start of the project, and the other 50% on completion.

Additionally, the fact that a given project lies within your expertise field is not enough, since work must also be pleasant, efficient, and profitable.

I’ve quickly learned to refuse projects which do not offer a reasonable financial return on the time invested or poorly prepared documents.

Remember, you can always withdraw from cooperation with any client if you realize that your initial hunch has failed you.

Translation tips to remember

  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions if anything seems unclear in the source text. Well-put queries from a translator prove that you are a reasonable professional focused on quality and consider your clients’ products as valuable as they do themselves.
  • Deliver your text on time. If you must get an extension, then negotiate it in ample advance. Remember that there are projects for which time is of the essence. Sometimes even the most brilliant translation sent in a few hours after the deadline may be completely worthless if your client is struggling to win a lucrative tender.
  • A few days after a project is completed, ask the client if they were satisfied with your job, and if so, offer your services for any future projects. Clients are often too busy to even think about returning some feedback and if you don’t ask, you can rob yourself of valuable remarks and advice that could help you to provide the customer with service of even higher quality.
  • Be open for your clients, even more than they would usually expect from a freelance provider, and you’ll see that this gift will come back to you – sooner or later.

Interested in learning more?

Thanks so much to Piotr for his detailed answers!

If you’re interested in learning even more about freelancing, then join Passive Panda’s free newsletter. You’ll get immediate access to the Freelancing 101 Course, which shares the exact steps you need to take to make an extra $500 in the next 5 weeks.

2 Responses to Side Hustle Stories: Become a freelance translator

  1. Tom Owens says:

    I’m not bilingual, or am I? Piotr’s inspirational tale is a question and challenge. I think we all speak a specialized language. Thanks for the light bulb, James!

  2. Piotr Rypalski says:

    I think that we acquire new languages (lingos? :) ) with every specialization.
    If we look this way, we can say we are tri-, quatro-, etc. -lingual, although some of these combinations work within one language.

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