Steps to Start Working as a Freelance Translator, Proofreader and Transcriber

Written by Xolo
on September 05, 2022 8 minute read

In today's high-tech world, many people are interested in how to become a freelance transcriber, proofreader, or translator. Working as a solo entrepreneur brings its own unique challenges and joys. Chief among them is the need to balance your workload with admin tasks like finding and invoicing clients. To make your freelance journey a smooth one, we've put together this detailed guide on becoming a freelance translator, freelance transcriber, or freelance proofreader.

Steps to start working as a freelance translator

The steps to become a freelance translator are different for everyone. To get the obvious things out of the way first, you need to be fluent in any languages you want to translate. Translation isn't just a one-to-one process of changing one word to another, however.

Assess your language skills

Before you start a translation business as a freelancer, you may want to see how good you are at your target language. While your skills in the language may be sufficient for everyday tasks, translation requires a high degree of accuracy and a deep understanding of each language's nuances. For this reason, you may want to take a proficiency test in the target language.

A language proficiency test will help you better understand your language skills and identify areas that might need work. As a bonus, if you score well on your proficiency test, then you can include the results on your resume. Before taking any tests, you should consider the location and expectations of your future clientele. Businesses in different sectors and regions will have different certification requirements for translators. You should also consider your proficiency in the written form of your native language and address any weaknesses before entering the translation business.

Learn and advance translation skills

Translation is an art that involves specific skills. We’ve listed the most important ones below so you can take step by step and learning each of them to make sure you’re ready to pull it off:

  • Mastery of your target languages
  • Excellent creative writing
  • Cultural knowledge of countries that speak your target languages
  • The ability to carry out sophisticated research
  • Revision
  • An understanding of solo entrepreneurship


You may choose to earn a university degree in your target language or in translation. While this can be a challenge, many universities today offer online degrees in translation, including in specialized subfields.

Choose your translation specialty

Even in your native language, you are probably not well-versed in the complex jargon of every field, topic, or industry. The same is likely true in your target language. Accurate translation requires a deep understanding of the proper terms and norms of the document's topic in both languages. Therefore, if you want to produce high-quality work and increase your odds of getting return customers, then you should focus on a specific topic and master the relevant jargon in both languages. This will not only make you more confident and save valuable time, but it will also make you more appealing to potential clients.

Popular translation specialties include:

  • Medical translation
  • Legal translation
  • Academic translation, including the sciences and the arts
  • Translation for education


Pick some niches or industries that you already have some experiences or knowledge in so it’ll be easier for you to understand the contexts while doing the translation work.

Define the services you will offer as a freelance translator

Another of the steps to become a freelance translator is to decide what kind of translation services you'll provide for your clients. 


In localization, you'll translate a document or other project and also update any cultural or linguistic references that won't make sense in the new language. For example, you might change a metaphor that references stegt flæsk med persillesovs, the national dish of Denmark, to one that references Spain's national dish, instead.


Transcreation is halfway between translation and original writing. In this service, you'll work with a client to create web content in a language of their choice, using a combination of existing materials that you translate and your own words.

Certified translation

In some contexts, translations may need to be certified in order to be deemed valid. The EU has directives governing certified translators, but you'll also need to check the requirements and certifications in the country where you are working.

Besides the listed services, some others you can consider adding to your service portfolio include copywriting, IPA transcription, SEO keyword research, etc. Some of them might not be directly related to what you do as a translator but will complement your skill set and can help you provide your clients with outstanding full-package services.

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Steps to start working as a freelance transcriber

Transcription is the art of writing text transcripts from audio or video recordings. Although it's different from translation, there are many skills you need to master if you’re asking how to become a freelance transcriber.

Master data entry and typing skills

Typing fast and without errors is an essential skill to work as a transcriber. Mastering this skill will give an edge when it comes to speed, accuracy, and efficiency when transcribing long and fast script.s Consider earning an online certificate and having regular practice sessions at home to improve the typing skill.

Prepare necessary tools to work as a transcriber

You'll need a computer powerful enough to play back audio and video files without errors. Unless you live and work alone, headphones are also a good investment to cut out background noise. You also should consider using tools that will help you with transcribing and audio quality like Express Scribe, DFX audio, WinZip, and Grammarly for grammar checking.

Learn to apply relevant style guides

Your clients may expect your writing to conform to a specific guide, such as AP Style or Harvard. Understanding and master transcription guidelines is important because sticking to it or refusing to stick to it can decide if your work is accepted or rejected. Some basic and common guidelines that can be used in many style guides include avoiding to paraphrase, using the right English dialects, not adding additional information, using conjunctions correctly, etc. 

Pick a transcription specialty

Like translation, specializing in a subfield of transcription can open up new opportunities in some certain niches. Consider being a T-shaped transcriber who knows deeply about one industry but also can do a good job and have a decent understanding of other niches. 

Steps to start working as a freelance proofreader

Working as a proofreader is about checking and making sure your clients’ documents are free of any misspelling, grammar errors, or formatting inaccuracies. The revision work will require your careful review of the written materials and stick to the brand guidelines or any give guidelines by the clients. If fine-tuning word by word and checking for all the errors is your thing, consider starting a freelance career as a proofreader right off the bat. Much like transcription and translation, how to become a freelance proofreader varies by the person. 

Learn to adopt proofreading skills

Proofreading is more than looking for misspelled words. It’s a type of editing. Having a degree in journalism, languages, communications, PR, marketing will help but it’s also open to people in other industries or majors. To hone your revision skills, remember that a big part of proofreading will be about checking the details to find possible errors and refine all the wordings. To be specific, details you’ll have to pay attention and practice detecting are:

  • Spelling mistakes
  • Typographical errors
  • Spacing and formats mistakes
  • Tone and style inaccuracies
  • Word choice confusion
  • Punctuation issues

Decide your proofreading specialization

Proofreading highly technical documents requires you to understand the subject matter as well as grammar and style. You can choose to work in proofreading for books, internal corporate materials, marketing content, newspaper, or academic reports, etc. Choosing a niche to specialize in will give you an edge when applying for a freelance job of the same industry and opens up a chance for you to go deep into that area. Each niche usually has its own criteria, patterns, and guidelines so learning the wording, style and requirements of your chosen niche is a great start for you to be a specialist. 

After picking a specific niche, it also matters to select services you’ll offer when working as a freelance proofreader. Basic proofreading is a matter of checking for grammar, spelling and style errors. However you can also consider offering other services like fact-checking. You may also choose to offer fact checking services, line editing to improve the quality of the writing, or other editorial services.

Get acquainted with style guides as a freelance proofreader

The style guides that will lay out tone of voice, formatting and style guides will be specific to the industry and brands you’ll work with. Some popular ones that you can start learning to get yourself familiar with different styles and requirements are:

  • The Guardian style guide
  • Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers
  • The Times style and usage guide
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • The Associated Press Stylebook
  • The Elements of Style
  • Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace
  • The Well-Spoken Thesaurus

How to find clients as a freelance translator

Once you've updated your resume and built a solid portfolio, you can finally start looking for clients. With your area of expertise in mind, you should scour the internet, freelance marketplaces, all relevant job boards for translation agencies and companies that might need your services. Some marketplaces that have job listings for people working in translation, transcription, and proofreading are TranslatorCafe, Hyperlingo, 2polyglot, Upwork, unbabel, etc. 

Even if a company isn't explicitly hiring, you can still send an email expressing your desire to do business with them. Make sure to write in a professional tone and attach your resume along with relevant translation samples. 

Some freelancers also start out by volunteering with international nonprofits such as Translators Without Borders. If you can afford to donate your time, this is a great way to polish your translation skills, learn the ropes of translation from a business perspective, and provide help for worthwhile projects internationally. You may also qualify for an EU translation traineeship in the Directorate-general for translation.

Notably, many translation agencies and companies will require you to take a translation test before they'll hire you. Organizations often have very specific in-house style guides with rules that can drastically differ from more popular style guides. Because of this, you must remember to pay close attention to any reference materials when taking translation tests. It's smart to use social media sites to make professional connections with translators in your field, and you may also benefit from joining a relevant professional association.


How much can a freelance translator expect to make?

The earnings of a freelance translator vary widely based on your experience, languages, and the location of your clients.

Salaried translators in European countries earned between 17,400 and 80,000 Euros per year in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available.

Of course, as a freelance translator the amount you will earn is not based on a salary. Instead, you'll charge clients a per-word or hourly rate. A 2018 survey in Belgium found that Belgian translators earned an average of 0.10 Euros per word or 50 Euros per hour. Per-word rates also tend to vary by language, with rarer languages earning a higher amount.

Ultimately, your earnings will be down to the reputation you build for yourself, your expertise at finding clients, and your ability to do the work.

Best tools to use as a freelance translator

Learning the best tools you need when working as a freelance translator can save time and make your translations more authentic. Here are a few of the most popular tools.

  • Linguee is a web-based search engine and dictionary which allows you to search for words and phrases in any language while seeing the context in real online documents.
  • Fluency Now is a great example of a CAT (computer assisted translation) tool that harnesses neural networks to learn the contexts in which you regularly translate.
  • Similar to Google Translate, DeepL bills itself as the most effective online translator. Pulling from powerful machine learning routines and with an intuitive interface, this tool is a great way to solve some of translation's stickier problems.

Best tools to use as a freelance transcriber

  • VEED is actually an online video editing platform but comes with powerful automated transcription tools that can give you a head start on your work.
  • Colibri is a tool designed for journalists doing audio interviews. Its neural network powered transcriptions are a good help when you're not sure what was said.
  • Sonix is another neural network powered transcription tool. One nice thing about Sonix is that it can create automated transcriptions in more than 35 languages.

Best tools to use as a freelance proofreader

As a professional proofreader, it's important to understand that automated processes are no replacement for manual proofreading and editing skills. All the same, there are tools you can use to streamline your work.

  • Grammarly provides in-context guidance about grammar and spelling. It's a great web-based tool to check your proofreading work.
  • PerfectIt is an automated tool that checks against the official European Union style guide, making it a great choice for translators throughout Europe.
  • ProWritingAid checks grammar and style using neural network automation. It also boasts in-depth analysis tools that can help you strengthen your writing.

Use an Effective Invoicing Tool as a Freelance Translator

Freelancers often dread sending invoices because it can be such a hassle. Between writing the invoice itself, complying with local regulations, calculating the VAT for your services, receiving payment, and withdrawing money, the entire process of sending an invoice as a freelancer can take hours. When you work as a freelance translator, you expect to spend more of your time translating than figuring out complex invoices, so you should enlist the help of Xolo Go next time you need to send an invoice. Xolo Go can help you generate VAT-compliant invoices for transactions in 150 countries from a single dashboard so that you can focus on the most important aspects of running your business. 

Unlock Greater Freedom With a Freelance Translation Career

Being a freelance translator can open up a new world of possibilities. As a freelancer, you will be able to do work that you love, scale your business, and do everything on your own terms. You don't want red tape, complex invoices, or complicated tax codes to get in the way of your dreams. To simplify the invoicing and finance management process, Xolo Go is here to help to overcome legal hassles of working solo without having to register a company. Xolo Leap, on the other hand, will enable your dream of opening and running your own EU business. We’ll help you register an Estonian e-resident business and help you in the full course of compliance, taxation, legal matters so you can focus on growing your freelance business.

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