Even with the help of Swedish university Karolinska Institutet to set up the business, and she wrote this advice in such a confident tone, the website of her business Sensusonline.com did not survive after 15 years. Translation business was hard!
“Oh, that is such a risk!! You are so brave!” That is the response I get from people when I tell them that I have started my own translation company. The thing is, though, that in today?s entrepreneur-friendly atmosphere I have found it easier to start my own venture than to find a job as a researcher. Entrepreneurship has become a trend in Sweden, it is the “in” thing to do. Because demonstrating the capability to produce entrepreneurs increases their reputations, many universities have “start-up projects” to help budding entrepreneurs get through the first and most difficult stage of starting a business. I am privileged to be a part of the “Start House Project” at the Karolinska Institutet, through which I get an office with a computer free of charge for 6 months and financial advice, and I can participate in seminars about marketing, sales, and how to manage a business. Can it get any better?
So why did I decide to become a scientific translator? I have lived in both the English- speaking and the Swedish communities for a long time. When I was 12, I moved with my family to the United States, where I went to middle school for 2 years. When I returned to Sweden, I continued to study in international schools in Stockholm, finishing with an International Baccalaureate in biology and business studies. I went on to study biomedicine at the Karolinska Institutet because I was curious to find out about what really makes the body work, and last year I received my master’s degree in biomedicine. Research in Sweden is very international–all textbooks and articles are in English, but in the lab we talk about research in Swedish. This gave me the opportunity to learn biomedical terminology in both Swedish and English at the same time.
Tips for starting your own business:
- Make sure that you have a source of income while starting your business, such as a previous job or a temporary part-time job. As your own business starts rolling, you can start to rely on it as your only source of income. In my own case, I am continuing to work part time translating market research questionnaires for the company I worked for as a student. As soon as all the paperwork for Sensus is complete and I can start sending out bills under my company name, I can start to phase this out and become a full-time freelancer.
- Make sure that you take time to set up the business, make a home page, market yourself, buy necessary supplies, and the like. Usually people forget that this does take a good amount of time.
- Be properly set up before you take your first customer. Know what you want to charge for your services and have the necessary resources to provide good service. “First impressions last”.
- Get informed about taxes, bookkeeping, and all that you need to know to run a small business.
While studying biomedicine, I did some market research for biomedical companies and also, being bilingual, I offered to help with translating questionnaires. I quickly realised the importance of a correct translation in the field of science and really started to enjoy translating. In addition, helping more people understand science is a thrill in itself. Each translation became a quest to find the best way to express what the other person was saying. You also learn a great deal while translating; many times you have to do research to find the correct terms, and there is no way you can translate a text without actually letting it become a part of you.
After finishing my master?s degree a year ago, I did some research on the Internet about the translation business and was overwhelmed by the positive and friendly atmosphere amongst translators. I wrote to two translators asking them if they had any good advice for me as I was thinking of starting up as a freelance translator. I got two very prompt, lengthy and helpful responses. Many translators have set up sites on the Internet with glossaries, terminology banks, and multilingual dictionaries, sharing tips and experiences as well as sharing research that they have done when doing translations. I thought, “What a great field to be working in!” I decided to start my own business as a freelance translator, and I have never regretted it.
I have called my company Sensus Translation Services. Sensus means “to have a feel for something” or “intuition” in Latin. The most important thing when considering a career as a translator is to be fully fluent in two languages. By fully fluent I mean to have a complete understanding of the culture, habits, politics, and the people of the country whose languages you are going to be translating to and from. You must not only know the correct word, but you must know how a Swede or American would say it, you must feel so at home in a language that you know the different nuances of words in different contexts.
Scientific translating is the ideal job for me at the moment. It is fun and I can decide exactly how much time I want to spend working and when I want to work. I have never been a 9-to-5 person, and I like to work hard for long periods and then have a long period of rest. As a freelance translator, I can do that. It also feels good to know that there is a demand for scientific translators.
Most translators have law or economics as their speciality; there are not many scientists who choose the field. Of course there are risks when starting a business, and you will need a great deal of self-discipline to make it work. But the good-hearted atmosphere of the translation business combined with the entrepreneurial atmosphere of today and the growing role of biotech companies in the world provides a great opportunity to succeed as a freelance scientific translator.
Tips for starting out as a freelance translator:
- Do research on the Web about pricing, competition, resources, the market etc. A good place to start is http://www2.sbbs.se/hp/cfalk/index.htm (This page is originally in Swedish, but is available in English as well.)
- You need a good computer with all the basic software: word processing software and a good Internet connection are the most important. You can usually get more jobs if you know how to use layout software such as Adobe Illustrator or Quark Express or are familiar with Web programming.
- Get a homepage with ample space on a Web server and a good e-mail address that can take large documents (more than 5 Mb) since most of your contacts with customers will be through the Internet, and most documents will be sent to you by e-mail.
- Get translation memory software, a software program that remembers all the words you have translated in a document. When you translate a new document it matches it against the memory bank and suggests words to be used in the translation. Most customers require these programs because it greatly increases the speed of the translation. Most translators use TRADOS–there is a freelance version that costs about half of what the networking version costs. Other translation memory software includes SDLX, IBM, Berlitz, and Star. See: www.lai.com/tmcompet.htm, www.trados.com, and www.sdlintl.com/sdlx.
- Register yourself at a translation network site on the Internet to market yourself and to find job postings: http://aquarius.net, www.proz.com, www.translationzone.com, www.lai.com/companion.html, www.emich.edu/~linguist/issues, www.linguists.com.
- Make full use of the Internet as a resource. Scientific and medical glossaries online include the following: www.uwasa.fi/comm/termino/collect/special/biology.html, http://allserv.rug.ac.be/~rvdstich/eugloss/welcome.html, www.medinf.mu-luebeck.de/~ingenerf/terminology/Term-oth.html, http://ec.hku.hk/mt/, http://mtdesk.com/alpha.shtml, www.mblab.gla.ac.uk/~julian/Dict.html, www.graylab.ac.uk/omd/index.html, http://spellex.com/biotech.htm
The Sensus Translation Services Web site will be available soon.