It was another boring evening in November 1999. After a few weeks of being unemployed, I started looking for ways on the Internet to earn some cash.
I was frustrated.

All I encountered was get-rich-quick scam after another. I soon realized that I had to look within myself – my skills, knowledge and interests – and go from there.

It would take time.

During this time, the Internet was booming. Web sites kept popping up and it seemed that everyone had their mark on the Web. So I thought, “Why don’t I make one for myself?” I wasn’t desperate enough for money and I had all this time in the world to come up with something.

Right off the bat, I saw two problems. First, I didn’t know anything about HTML. But I was determined. And never underestimate the power of determination! There had to be a way for me to create something simple. Second, even if I did find a way, I had no idea what I would like to put on the site. I always envied people with special talents, unique hobbies or significant accomplishments. I had none. I was simply an average person with average abilities. Writing didn’t count, as at the time, I really hadn’t produced anything concrete.

Then I remembered. Well, I did have this one “specialty” – fluency in another language. Fresh out of high school, I left Indonesia for the United States to pursue a higher education. However, I honestly doubted that something would come out of it. Indonesian language, while spoken by over 200 million people, was not common or high in demand in comparison to Spanish, French, Germany or other Asian languages such as Chinese and Japanese. Indonesian was even less commonly known than other “exotic” languages like Thai, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Arabic.

Besides, if there were such a demand, why would people pay me to translate? For one thing, I was not certified. And whilst I considered myself proficient in both English and Indonesian, I didn’t have any experience whatsoever in the translation field. Why would someone hire an inexperienced, unverified translator? I knew I had the skills and I believed that I could do the job, but I had no reference to prove my capabilities in this field. I needed to have the experience in order to find work, but I needed to find the work first in order to have the experience.

I kept finding more and more excuses of why this was not possible. I almost nixed the idea. But I had nothing to lose – except time. Thus I did further legwork on translation. First, I researched the basics. The specialties. The rates. The turnaround time. I visited a lot of individual translator Web sites and picked up a number of tips.

I outlined the content structure on paper and started typing on Notepad. Before coming down to the basics, I opened with a short “story” to pull in the readers, facts of translation horrors. Later I decided what I would like to include about myself that people would find helpful. Resume and general reference. Furthermore, I devised an “invoice” form to add a professional touch. I figured that businesses would likely need a “bill” for them to authorize payment for a completed job and also for record-keeping purpose.

Slowly but surely, things were coming together. All I needed was a free Web site and Web hosting, as I didn’t have the means to register my own domain. I once again scoured the cyberspace for free sites, most notably Geocities, AngelFire, Yahoo, HyperMart and FreeYellow. After comparing the features, I finally decided to settle on FreeYellow. I wasn’t concerned enough with the odd name as I was with the maximum space limit, availability of templates, ease of use and reliability.

The task seemed daunting at first, but I quickly found it to be incredibly easy. I chose a boilerplate with simple background color, divider, graphics and composition, and copied and pasted the text from the Notepad into the appropriate section (heading, body text, conclusion and links). I also visited HTMLGoodies.com for a few tips. Since I had the text written up, within minutes, my Web site was up. I remember how excited I was. I couldn’t believe that I was able to “pull this off.” In addition, I downloaded an English/Indonesian and Indonesian/English dictionary freeware for my reference.

Now onto the phase of marketing my service. I searched the Internet for translation databases, similar to job databases, and register my profile, such as Aquarius.net, ProZ.com, TransRef.com and TranslatorWeb.com. As time permitted, I kept finding smaller sites where I could sign up to be listed. Sometimes, I took the mandatory test so that I could be put in their file.

I was no longer deterred by the fact that I had no experience or referral to back me up. All I needed was one client whom I would do a great job and was willing to be used as a future reference. Months later, I gained my first client.

I’ve learned that translation agency is the best way to go. Thus I’ve sent out introductory letters, briefly explaining about my service and qualifications, and direct them to my site for further information. Major companies or organizations often do not advertise their need for translators, let alone a translator for an uncommon language such as Indonesian. I also believe that, in general, they’re nervous in hiring individual translators directly.

Translation is foreign – it is one of those rare occupations where people do not understand what we do. How could they evaluate our work if they don’t understand the language? With translation agencies, generally, they either have or hire an additional person, usually another translator to specifically proofread or edit our work. It’s a win-win situation – for the company who needs quality control, the agency who needs translators to do the work, and the translator who needs the translation agency to find the work.

The process would usually involve an RFQ (Request for Quote) by the agency via e-mail or phone, acceptance of work by the translator through a job order, turning in the work (usually as an e-mail attachment) and bill the agency with an invoice. That’s it.

Here’s the kicker – a lot of translation agencies don’t even bother to check for references. The main reason is because translation is very deadline-oriented. When people need the service, they are frequently working against really tight deadline or in a time crunch. All they need is a guarantee that the translator can turn in quality work on time.

From time to time, I still e-mail a few letters out to whenever I think someone might need my service or update old clients when there is a significant change. Once in awhile, I answer questions for people who need a couple of words translated or give advices for free. Who knows what this might lead to? Besides, it’s rewarding to help people whenever I can.

Translation is not a stable job – the work fluctuates greatly. And it can be stressful working past midnight to meet a deadline. I don’t think we can ever rely on it as a primary source of income, but it can be a nice supplement. It can be just what you need to afford those extras in life.

If you are proficient in more than one language, there is a market out there that needs your service. Go for it! There is no start-up cost, it’s easy to set up and it’s risk-free. You are an expert because of your specialty. Put forth the effort.

I wish you the best in your future translation endeavors.

If you are proficient in more than one language, there is a market out there that needs your service. Go for it! There is no start-up cost, it’s easy to set up and it’s risk-free.

by Nathalia Aryani