The 5 ways to earn a monster freelance translator salary

We all know some freelance translators earn super high salaries, and our examples below show just how much the highest paid translators can make.

But I’m picking what you’d also really like to know is …

how do they do it?

Well, we’re going to tell you.

We’ll break down the 5 very different strategies these translators use to earn their mega incomes, and what you have to do to join them.

We reckon one of these strategies will appeal to you way more than the rest. But we'll get to that.

First, this infographic shows the 5 pathways to translator wealth and how much these freelancers earn:

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freelance translator salary infographic

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Summary of how much these freelance translators make using the 5 different strategies

  • Our (very) high output translator charging 7 cents a word and producing 6,000 words a day earns $113,190 pa. He works fairly long hours.
  • Our “very long hours” translator charging 10 cents a word and translating 400 words an hour has an income of $115,200 pa.
  • Our translator earning a salary of over $56K pa does it by translating 350 words per hour at a rate of $0.10 per word for 35 hours a week and 46 weeks a year.
  • Our “part-timer” charging $0.18 per word earns a little over $60,000 per year.
  • And our highest earning translators work broadly normal hours and have annual salaries of $143,750 with translation fees of $0.25 per word, and $172,500 at a rate of $0.30 per word.

Our take on these strategies for earning a mega freelance translator salary:

Pathway 1 to a monster freelance translator income – Go hell for leather

The “Lighting Libby” case study:

This shows translators can comfortably earn over $100,000 pa even with surprisingly modest rates (of say 6 to 9 cents a word).

The catch of course is you need mega output – several thousand translated words a day, day in day out.

lightning boltOur take:

Not all translators are suited to the high quality end of the market.

Some simply lack the required skillset, others the discipline needed to consistently produce excellent translations.

Perhaps it makes sense for these translators seeking a high income to target the high volume, low rate, lesser quality market. There’s certainly a demand for it!

And they may well do better here than competing for higher paying work where standards can’t be compromised.

Never going to be a Lightnin’ Lib? Then maybe option 2 is for you …

Strategy 2 for earning big bucks as a translator – Work like a dog

Case study: “Relentless Ron”

The second way for translators to earn six figures without charging high rates – 12 cents a word in this case.

The more “standard” output of between 350 and 500 words per hour in this scenario means you need to work long (or very long) hours, perhaps 50 hrs a week – and that’s translating time!

dog
Our take:
Because they produce excellent work and charge only modest rates, these translators always have more than enough work.

And that’s just how they like it. Often they’ll stick with just a handful of quality-focused agencies who appreciate their skills, treat them like professionals and have interesting work. And of course pay them on time.

They like the security and regular workflow the agencies provide, and much prefer that to having to chase after jobs or find new clients.

And of course the agencies love these translators. From their point of view they’re very reliable translators who are generally available, easy to deal with and their reviewers love their work. And their lower-than-some charges are the icing on the cake.

It’s a win-win situation.

Not keen on translating every waking moment? How about …

Strategy 3 for translators to earn enough to live (almost) like royalty – Live somewhere cheap

Case study: “Clued up Chloe”

There’s nothing out of the ordinary in this scenario. Chloe charges a pretty standard rate, works a pretty standard week, and has a pretty standard volume. And how much does she make as a translator? $50,000 - $60,000 pa - an income that would also be pretty standard in a first world country.

The key is where she lives – somewhere that salary goes a looong way.

house
Our take:
There are no doubt more working freelance translators living in cheap countries than expensive ones.

This scenario can work for them.

It pre-supposes an ability to translate to a pretty high standard of course, getting a steady stream of work, and being prepared to work more or less full time.

It’s also an option for those living in the first world willing to relocate.

What could be nicer? Well, maybe the next option …

Pathway 4 to a very comfortable translator income – Relax in paradise

The “Laid back Larry” case study:

What’s possible when you live somewhere cheap and have your own clients.

Working 20 hours a week and charging around 20 cents a word (or even less) you can pull in $60,000 a year – more than enough to enjoy a great lifestyle in Paradise.

paradise
Our take:
Now our Relentless Rons would throw their arms up in despair at this option.

Only 20 hours translating a week! What would they do with all that spare time!?

For many others though, this may look pretty appealing.

It certainly sounds pretty good to me …

Ok, Ok! So you live in a first world country and wouldn’t want to relocate. Then you need ...

Strategy 5 (the one the highest paid translators use): Go for Gold

Case studies 5 and 6:

These show what’s possible, how much a skilled and business-savvy translator can make. Work a normal week with moderate (some would even say rather low) output, and earn $140,000 – $170,000 a year.

It’s all due to their high rates of course, and for that you need good direct clients and must be a particularly fine translator.

gold
Our take:
Sure, many golden ones have a specialisation so are in a niche market where higher rates are possible. But not all.

And there are plenty of others with similar skillsets that have much lower translator earnings.

What really sets these translators apart is their mind set. Their self-belief, their sense of self-worth.

They just know they’re highly skilled and expect to be well paid for that. They simply expect to be able to get direct clients who value their expertise and will happily pay them well for their work. And so they do.

It also requires being reasonably good at business, which can seem like a big hurdle to some. But business is really 90% common sense. It’s amazing how with the right attitude things can just seem to fall into place.

In theory any genuinely talented translator can become a golden one and earn a great salary. It’s mainly just a matter of developing the right mind set.

Conclusion

It’s certainly possible to earn a big salary as a professional freelance translator through massive output. And also by working very long hours. But these strategies will only work for a few.

You can also have a great lifestyle without earning megabucks if you live, or are prepared to move, somewhere nice and cheap.

If that’s also not for you, then there’s only one clear pathway to joining the ranks of the high earners. And that’s to go out and get, and then keep, your own direct clients.

I’m sure that won’t come as a surprise. After all, it’s what successful established translators have been saying for yonks. Looks like they’re right.

The salary calculations shown in the infographic are from our freelance translator’s Fair Pay Calculator. You can use this free tool to calculate what rate to charge, your projected income, or how much you have to work to achieve a desired salary.

Want some help with Going for Gold?

Suggested background reading - these posts outline the possibilities:
- Kevin Hendzel’s classic discussion of the “Premium market”, and the opportunities within that market.
- Corinne McKay’s Secrets of six-figure translators, and How much do translators earn and is it enough – and don’t skip this post's 137 amazing comments, a real eye-opener for many.
- Paula Arturo’s series of Matrix posts: "To make more money as a translator, you don’t need to fight LSPs for a couple of cents on a given project, you need to change your clientele altogether”.

Best practical/how to tips:
- Chiara Grassilli on How to define your target clients and land your first translation assignment. Very thorough and highly practical, this post really delivers.
- Karen Rückert on how to transition to the direct client market.
- Paula Arturo on how she built her direct client base
- Nicole Adam’s free e-book Working with high-end clients demystified. And check out her other free stuff.

Best websites focusing on the business side of freelance translating:
- Marketing Tips for Translators - Translator Mentoring blog
- Want Words

For a small financial investment - the 4 books other translators most recommend:
- How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, by Corinne McKay
- The Business Guide for Translators, by Marta Stelmaszak
- Marketing Cookbook for Translators, by Tess Whitty
- The Entrepreneurial Linguist, by Judy and Dagy Jenner

For a somewhat bigger investment, the most recommended courses for translators by (successful) translators:
- Marta’s Business School for Translators and Bootcamp for Translators
- Corinne’s Beyond the Basics and Marketing to Direct Clients

And if you’re serious about it, consider consulting or mentoring from those we know walk the talk:
- Tess Whitty
- Corinne McKay

Other articles that may be of interest:

- 13 proven strategies for getting more freelance translation work from agencies

- How to write the perfect translator CV for targeting agencies

- The freelance translator's Fair Pay rates and income calculator

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