Featured Article

Find a Translator or Interpreter
Search for:

Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (January 2006)

Running Your Translating/Interpreting Business From Home
M. Eta Trabing

This is an outline of all the things to be considered when running a business from home.

Getting Started Define your personal objectives:

  • Will you work full-time or part-time?
  • Do you have sufficient income to tide you over until your business gets going?
  • Will you freelance or work for someone else, such as in-house for a translation company or a translation bureau?
  • Will you work out of your home or rent an office?
  • What language pairs will you work in?
  • What areas of expertise do you have?
  • Do you have the necessary hardware, software, dictionaries, office supplies, modem, email, fax and phone lines?
  • Do you have restrictions that may get in the way (a baby, a relative that needs care, travel with yourspouse)?
  • Are you willing to edit, proofread, type, or provide desktop publishing?
  • Will you need a state license?
  • Do you have any other languagerelated skills?
  • You will need health, life, and business insurance.
  • You will need an IRA-SEP or 401(k) for retirement savings.
  • You must do bookkeeping and accounting.
  • You must pay taxes in advance (federal, state, local, sales, valueadded tax, etc.), usually quarterly.
  • Remember, this a service business. As such, you need to be available when the client needs you, not when you want a client.

If you freelance, you...

  • Must do your own marketing/sales.
  • Set your own prices within the going market (national, regional, international).
  • Will have only one boss—your client.
  • Will need a lot of self-discipline to work from home.
  • Can turn down work you don’t like or want.
  • Will have to manage your time carefully.
  • Can be a recluse, up to a point.
  • Must learn to set aside funds for taxes and lean times.
  • Will have to learn to live with great insecurity in a “feast or famine” kind of business.
  • Will have to pay your own retirement fund, health insurance, and 15% Social Security.

If you work for another, you...

  • Will have less independence.
  • Will have to do whatever jobs come along or are given to you.
  • Will have various “bosses.”
  • May be allowed to do what you do best, but not always.
  • Will have a monthly income that provides some security.
  • Will get your Social Security payments matched and income taxes withheld.
  • May or may not get benefits.
  • Will have to face traffic every day.
  • May have to work overtime at the office.
  • Will have more interaction with people.
  • Will have your working time managed by office rules.


  • Specialize in one or more subjects that have a good market and that you are personally interested in; you will do better with subjects you like.
  • There is much competition and it’s hard to get started, so don’t get discouraged!!
  • It will take at least two years to be running at full speed.

Improve Your Skills…

  • Take courses, learn new terminology, meet new people, keep upto- date on trends in your field.
  • Get certified, since this provides clients with assurance that you are qualified.
  • Join professional organizations and find out more about your chosen profession (not just translato/interpreter groups, but those in your specialties as well).
  • Travel abroad, if at all possible.
  • Read, read, read—in all your languages!
  • Subscribe to trade magazines in your areas of expertise.
  • Keep up with the latest industry jargon, slang, new words, new technology, etc., in all your specialties.
  • Add to your hardware/software, learn new programs.
  • Obtain the latest dictionaries and glossaries; develop your own glossaries.
  • Learn to work quickly—deadlines are sometimes tough. You will have a higher income if you can work quickly and well.
  • Attend seminars in your specialty, network, and look for new customers.

Starting Your Business

  • Get help from your local branch of the Small Business Administration (check out for lots of useful information).
  • Check your local community college for classes in accounting, taxes, business management, marketing, etc.
  • Check out assistance from women’s or minority business organizations if you fit those categories.
  • Check out your local zoning laws and housing restrictions if you work at home.
  • Write a proper business plan (see, go to “Starting a Business” and then “Business Plans”).
  • Learn all the details before applying for a loan so that you know what to expect.
  • Look for one or more mentors in your field, especially those who have already started their own business. A useful place to start is the Service Corps of Retired Executives (if you go to, they will match you up and provide help).

Marketing Yourself..

  • Get business cards printed. Be unique! Make sure you have an eye-catching design for your card.
  • Develop a good curriculum vitae.
  • Make cold calls to companies in your specialty.
  • Network, network, network!
  • Write follow-up letters to really good prospects.
  • Send greeting cards to clients at the end of the year.
  • Ask others (anyone!) to refer you.
  • Help other translators/interpreters who will, hopefully, help you in turn.
  • Subcontract for overworked translator/ interpreters—do NOT steal their clients!!
  • Think of advertising/marketing every minute you are not translating.
  • Send out repeat reminders of your services to clients.
  • List your name in the Yellow Pages and in all local directories.
  • Invest in dictionaries for particular projects (they will pay for themselves).
  • BE HONEST as to what you can and cannot do.
  • Prepare your rates and terms of payment. Rates can vary for different types of clients (agencies, direct clients, pro bono). Occasionally, you can barter your services.
  • Do not limit your services to a specific geographic area…there are no barriers on the Internet.
  • Be available in your clients’ time zones.
  • Do the absolute best work you can every time—that’s how you get repeat customers.
  • Keep increasing your skills.
  • Research the area you live in for prospective clients.
  • Check the Blue Pages of the telephone book (listing all the government, federal, state, county, and city agencies) for potential sources for jobs.
  • Read local business newspapers and keep up with the changing business scene in your area.
  • Read foreign newspapers online and keep up with business information and terminology.
  • Do volunteer work to get known in your area.
  • Let everyone know when you move or change email addresses or telephone numbers.
  • Keep proper records of who you contact.
  • Be available upon short notice.
  • Know your productivity level for different jobs.
  • Know if you can meet a given deadline.
  • Consider the research you must do for any job.
  • Keep educating your clients about the skills involved in translating/interpreting, including professional ethics.
  • Take time to find out what your clients really need and adjust your services accordingly.
  • Offer alternate solutions that will save clients money.
  • Keep track of your clients’ accomplishments and congratulate them when necessary.

Time Management in Your Home Office...

  • Do you have a separate room where you can shut the door?
  • Maintain work discipline.
  • Work when your energy is high.
  • Get an answering machine and make the message professional, NOT cute!
  • Keep a master calendar for work and family responsibilities.
  • Set specific working hours and stick to them, and ask family members to cooperate.
  • Don’t do housework during business hours.
  • Combine business and personal errands at times when the shops, and you, are least busy.
  • Consider asking a friend or family member to help out with chauffering children to various activities.
  • Find a way to politely tell wellmeaning neighbors who stop by for a visit during the day about your working hours.
  • When business is good, hire someone to do your housework and/or gardening (consider what your time and someone else’s is worth).
  • Control telephone and email interruptions. Running Your Translating/Interpreting Buiness From Home Continued The ATA Chronicle | January 2006 49
  • • Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry ( or 1-888-382-1222) and avoid telemarketers who call during the day.
  • Get spam-blocking software.
  • Organize snail mail and bill payment.
  • Ask friends not to email you silly stuff (chain letters, jokes, etc.).
  • Control all online forums you belong to.
  • Respond to all business emails and print or save any that are important or you think might be needed for follow-up correspondence.
  • Answer all phone calls that matter—use caller ID.
  • Remember, sometimes you just can’t be a perfectionist!
  • Consider saving time preparing meals by buying “just heat and serve” foods at the grocery store. You could also cook in large batches and put the food in the freezer, so you are not constantly worrying about what to have for dinner.
  • Become organized at home. Multitask while waiting do something else—read, write notes, pay bills, etc.
  • When alone, also do things that can’t be done while others are around (meditate, soak in a bath, etc.).
  • Call in a professional organizer—expensive, but worth it for those of us who just can’t seem to get organized and stay that way.

Your Home Office...

  • Get the best equipment you can afford and update as often as you can. You will need:
    —Desk and comfortable chair.
    —Good lighting.
    —Computer (desk top/laptop).
    —Modem (high speed, broadband—dial-up is too slow!).
    —E-mail service provider.
    —Printer (color) scanner/copier.
    —Software (everything you can afford). Make sure to purchase terminologymanagement software (SDLX, TRADOS, Déjà Vu, etc.).
    —Telephone (business/personal) and fax, answering machine, beeper, and cell phone.
    —Office supplies.
    —Reference materials (dictionaries, glossaries, grammar books, style books, atlases, etc. in all your languages).
  • Remember to budget for all items you think you might need.
  • Remember to read articles on home offices and how and where to set them up.
  • Remember that all of the above may be tax deductible.

How to Estimate Costs...
For translations:

  • What is the word count (physically count, scan, or have the computer do a word count).
  • How technical is this job?
  • How much research is required?
  • Is this a rush job? What’s the deadline?
  • Are there many graphs and tables? How are these to be handled?
  • Are you getting an electronic copy to work with?
  • Is there much statistical typing?
  • Does the project involve converting numbers and changing dates?
  • Will you need to pay an editor/proofreader?
  • Does the translation have to be camera-ready?
  • Will you need to scan in graphics?
  • Will you charge for changes the customer makes after you are finished? If so, how much?
  • All mistakes that are yours should not be charged—apologize profusely!
  • Will you do extra proofreading after the document is typeset? If so, say so.
  • Will this job affect your regular job if you are working part-time?
  • What is the finished format to be? Do you have the software to do it?
  • Calculate how long it will take to do the translation—set a fair deadline, if you can.
  • Establish the price.

Remember, some jobs or parts of jobs are quoted by the hour, not by the word. These include:

  • Advertising layouts;
  • Special layouts, graphs, tables, columns, forms;
  • Editing/proofreading;
  • Desktop publishing;
  • Proofreading after the document has been typeset;
  • Making changes after the translation is finished.
Preparing price quote...
  • Use a standard form or contract detailing what you will/can do.
  • Get a copy of the client’s written request for your translation services.
  • Decide upon the final deadline and price.
  • Decide upon the final format.
  • Sign and date your translation.
  • Thank the client for giving you the job.

Quality control for translations…

  • Read through the document first to make sure you understand the content. This is also the time to bring up any concerns or to ask questions.
  • Find all the unfamiliar words.
  • Start a glossary for each client (use translation memory software).
  • Do the translation.
  • Proofread the translation at least twice (once to ensure that every sentence has been translated, and once for style and readability in the target language).
  • Run a spell check.
  • Double check number conversions.
  • Make sure that all decimal points, periods, commas, and dates are correct.
  • Print a draft copy.
  • Proofread the paper copy—count bullets, paragraphs, etc.
  • Make any necessary corrections.
  • Print a final copy.
  • Back up the translation on a separate disk or CD.
  • Use your instinct. If you “feel” that something is still wrong, keep checking.
  • Prepare an invoice.
  • Send the translation: Electronic file via email, including invoice; Hard copy by fax or mail, including invoice.

How to Estimate Costs…
For interpretation jobs:

  • Is the job in town or out of town?
  • Are you providing equipment for simultaneous interpretation? Quote a separate price for equipment lease.
  • Ask for all materials ahead of time or an agenda so you know what to study—the client may not always send you the requested materials, so study as best you can.

If the job is in town:

  • Quote an hourly fee—door to door, if you can get it.
  • Include driving time and mileage.
  • Include parking costs, if you can.
  • You don’t charge for your lunch hour unless you are working.
  • Have a price for overtime

If the job is out of town:

  • Quote a daily fee—door to door, including overtime.
  • Include travel time, mileage, parking (when driving or flying)
  • Make sure you quote (or the client pays) for: meals, hotel, airfare, ground transportation, parking at airport, other incidentals.
Translator/Client Relationship…
  • Attitude—be helpful, cooperative, and go the extra mile to make the client happy.
  • If a situation sounds impossible—don’t accept the job!
  • Have a basic contract or communicate in writing (letter, fax, or email—keep copies).
  • Return phone calls as soon as possible, even if you don’t want the job.
  • Know your fees and terms of payment.
  • Check the client’s terms of payment (30-60-90 days, perhaps within 10 days if you offer to give a discount).
  • Do NOT quote a job sight unseen!!!
  • Respect all deadlines, no matter what.
  • If you can’t meet a deadline, notify the client immediately.
  • Provide quality work every single time—don’t get sloppy or hurried.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread!
  • Your trustworthiness is very important!
  • Maintain client confidentiality at all times!
  • Be flexible. There will most likely be last-minute changes, so be gracious!
  • Decide how many free changes you’ll make prior to charging extra.
  • Beware of the client who wants “just a few words,” “only one page,” etc.
  • Ask questions if you think there is an error in the original or if you don’t understand something—you may be the last person to catch an important error.
  • Accept criticism as constructive and learn from it.
  • Explain cultural differences to the client in order to avoid possible gaffes.
  • Do not tell the client how to run his or her business.
  • Do not accept work for which you are obviously unqualified.
  • Ask for assistance from another colleague if you feel you cannot complete the job on your own.
  • Use the client’s glossaries, even if you disagree with them. Again, ask questions if you think there is an error in the original or if you don’t understand something.
  • Enjoy yourself!!


  • See ATA’s Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices (, click on Membership)—and follow it.
  • See the Judiciary Interpreters Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics, available at the website of The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (—and follow it.
  • See the Code of Ethics for Interpreters in Health Care, available from the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (—and follow it.


  • Set aside a portion of your income for payment of taxes:
    —Self-employed Social Security;
    —Federal Income Tax;
    —State Income Tax;
    —Any county or city taxes, fees, and charges.
  • Hire a professional accountant to give you advice on how to set up your books and to do your taxes at the end of the year.
  • Set up a chart of accounts. Running Your Translating/Interpreting Buiness From Home Continued
  • Use accounting software (i.e., Quicken or other bookkeeping software).
  • Get a business bank account.
  • Be business-like!!!


  • You must keep business records.
  • Send invoices out together with each completed job, not weeks after the job has been delivered.
  • Keep receipts of everything, filed under the same chart or account headings as your bookkeeping software.
  • Keep a copy of your invoice (indicate when it was paid; follow-up when it is overdue).
  • Use bookkeeping and accounting software.
  • Pay your taxes quarterly, in advance.
  • Pay other translators/interpreters promptly.
  • Keep a notebook of: car mileage, meals, tolls, parking, etc., when traveling (these are tax deductible).

Computer Age...

  • Learn MS PowerPoint, Excel, Word.
  • Learn other programs your client or languages may require.
  • Become familiar with terminology management software (TRADOS, Déjà Vu, SDLX, others).
  • Learn to attach and send files via email and how to zip/unzip files.
  • Learn how to convert and open files that have different extensions (.pdf, .rtf, .doc, .mim, etc.).
  • Learn how to insert clip art or charts in Excel.
  • Get A Translator’s Tool Box for the 21st Century A Computer Primer for Translators by Jost Zetzsche, published by International Writers’ Group, LLC, P.O. Box 1098, 770 Beach Boulevard, Winchester Bay, Oregon 97467; (541)271-0503,
  • Jost also publishes Tool Kit, a biweekly newsletter (in English) at containing updated and additional information that is well worth subscribing to.

Filing Systems
Purpose of a filing system:

  • To find what you need when you need it.
  • For preparation of glossaries.
  • For legal, personal, or tax purposes.
  • For other interests.
  • These files can be paper (in filing cabinets, drawers, cupboards, shelves, boxes, baskets, etc.) or electronic (disk, CD-ROMs, magnetic tape, etc.).
  • The only limitation is space.
  • Clean out files periodically.
  • Spend time mapping out your work patterns—think things through!
  • Sort files by client, subject, or date.
  • Separate legal, accounting, and tax files.
  • Separate follow-up files.
  • Separate pending files.
  • Back up all electronic files at all times!!!!

If filing by client:

  • By name.
  • By date or other numbering system the client uses.

If filing by subject:

  • One file or one section per subject.
  • Add newspaper/magazine articles, drawings, maps, etc., per subject (these are also good sources of terminology). Legal files can include:
  • Personal papers (house, car, insurance, diplomas, birth/marriage/ death certificates, will, living will, power(s) of attorney).
  • Keep these in a fireproof box. Bookkeeping and tax files can include:
  • All receipts and bills.
  • All paid invoices.
  • All bank statements and checks (balance them every month!).
  • All credit cards)—check accuracy every month and watch out for identity theft!

Follow-up files can include:

  • Unpaid invoices.
  • Clients’ forms for invoicing.
Future reference files can include:
  • Price quotes provided.
  • Pending projects or telephone calls.
  • Follow-up on these within a reasonable period of time. Files are not worth keeping if:
  • The translation bureau keeps an electronic file.
  • The client keeps an electronic file (keep in mind that their computers are also susceptible to crashes!).
  • The job was small or unimportant.
  • The job was from a one-time client.

Files that are worth keeping:

  • Documents that clients will request minor or major changes on (watch for software changes over time and update old files as necessary).
  • Materials that will change very little.
  • Your resume (update periodically, re-emphasize specialties as needed).
  • Fax cover sheets per client.
  • Electronic invoice forms per client.
  • Personal mailing lists.
  • Make a directory for each client, with files or subdirectories for each project, or subject directories with alphabetical files.
  • Use document management or indexing software if you have a lot of files. Consider becoming a member of the following professional organizations...
  • ATA—, (703) 683-6100.
  • A local ATA chapter.
  • Your local Chamber of Commerce.
  • Any and all translator/interpreter groups, or any other group in your areas of interest and expertise.

M. Eta Trabing is a U.S. and state certified court interpreter (now retired) who continues to translate English ? Spanish. She owns Berkana Language Center (, through which she gives classes to improve interpreter skills. She has also authored a number of bilingual dictionaries. Contact: