How much do freelance translators make? This sentence often appears on my blog’s dashboard when a curious visitor discovers a mix of neurotic ramblings and eternal truths on my blog, usually courtesy of Google. The next most popular sentence seems to be a variation of “Can human translators survive machine translation?”, followed by “I hate Trados”.
So how much do translators make? You can’t answer this question without specifying the type of the translator in question. It is the same case in other professions as well. How much does a real estate agent make? Or a lawyer? Or a car salesman?
It depends. Some make very little money, and some make quite a bit in a good year.
A real estate agent who sells cheap condos in a blighted neighborhood (called “an up-and-coming neighborhood” in real estate lingo) will belong to the first category, a real estate agent who sells chic condos in Manhattan will probably easily make at least ten times as much.
Everything depends on the market segment. The usual commission paid to real estate agents in the United States is 6%. If an agent works for a real estate agency, he has to split it with the agency. Let’s say a cheap house or condo costs a hundred thousand dollars. The agent would thus make 3 thousand dollars before taxes on a sale of an average condominium in his market segment. If he can sell 10 condos a year, he will make 30 thousand dollars a year before taxes, barely enough to survive.
A simple calculation will tell us that an agent selling condos to grossly overpaid Wall Street parasites directly since he has his own agency should be able to make 20 times more. If an average condo in this market segment sells for a million dollars, which is probably a realistic figure, his commission will be 60,000 dollars and if he sells 5 condos a year, he will make 300,000 dollars a year, possibly while spending less time selling essentially the same product as his colleague who works for a different segment of the same market.
Because your market segment will pretty much determine how much you make, almost regardless of your education, experience and capabilities, determining in advance the market segment that one will be working for is the most important decision that a freelancer can make.
Do these two types of real estate professionals have different skill sets? Yes and no. It is basically the same job, but these two agents will deal with very different types of people and they will probably use very different business methods.
The one who makes 30 thousand a year by selling a lot of cheap condos does what everybody else is doing. It does not really take a genius to go over listings and respond to queries about real estate listings generated through a website, probably mostly the agency’s website. After that, the low-end agent will still need some real people skills to make a sale. But that’s about it.
I would assume that it would be much more difficult to identify and make a connection with rich people who are looking for bargains in the most expensive part of town. I could probably still become a real estate agent if I wanted to do that. Anybody can become one and thousands of newly minted agents enter the real estate market and give up on it every year.
But I am sure that I would be a miserable failure if I tried to specialize in the high-end of the real estate market. You have to identify with the greedy rich, try to look and act like them, become their obedient servant and serve them well. I just would not have what it takes for this kind of job.
I worked in the hospitality industry for a few years when I was much younger and I was not very good at it. If I don’t like you, I will probably let you know pretty soon, which is a problem when you need to be nice to people to keep your job.
So what is your translation market segment? Is it the low end? That would be listings from anonymous buyers from sites such as Proz and GoTranslators, for which great multitudes of hungry translators must compete so that whoever offers the lowest rate will get the job. In other words, the bottom of the market.
Or do you have a valued specialty and a good language combination so that a few translation agencies gladly keep you busy at rates that are not that great but not too bad? That would mean that you are somewhere in the middle of the market.
There are also translators who mostly work directly for the high end of the translation market in different specialized “niches”, just like the real estate agent who sells to clients directly ridiculously overpriced properties in Malibu or Manhattan. That is probably the high end of the translation market, and that is where you should be if you want to be able to pay your bills and have some money left over. All you have to do is identify customers who are willing to pay good money for good translations. They are probably out there somewhere.
There will be a hiatus of two weeks or so in the usual incessant outpouring of posts on my blog because I will be flying to Prague in a few hours. I don’t even have time to look for the usual Youtube videos for my blog right now as I have to finish packing, but I am looking forward to comments and I will be responding to them while visiting my old haunts in the old country.