Today we’re talking to Jennifer Thomé from Turnkey Translator, an online program that teaches people how to launch flexible and lucrative translation careers.
Bilingual? There is a 46 billion dollar market waiting for you to start your side hustle.
Jennifer quit her corporate job in 2016 and began translating for people in her network to earn some extra cash.
2 years later, she’s replaced her full-time income with flexible, part-time work.
In this post, she shares how she turned the favors she was doing for friends and family into a viable career, even though she is not a native speaker.
How did you get started in this field?
One of my first translation jobs was translating the door signs for a Chinese government office.
I barely knew any Chinese but a friend insisted, and I made a whole $100 for the 4-hour project, which was a fantastic rate in 2002 China.
Over the next 14 years, I did language jobs as a side hustle: translating websites, instruction manuals, event invitations, and helping people edit documents and apply to programs.
I never considered it a career, but it did pay for bills and helped fund our travel.
Then, when we moved to LA in 2016, I landed a great job with a terrible commute and I knew I had to do something.
I never saw my kid, and even though I was earning well I was totally miserable.
I left my job and fell back on translating.
So is that what you teach in your course?
Yes. I developed a system called BLAST in Turnkey Translation.
Which teaches translators how to:
- build their portfolio
- land their first clients
- ace their assignments
- scale their work
- and take care of business
Too many creatives spend so much time trying to land their first clients so they can start working.
I flipped this on its head.
By starting out with a solid portfolio and great business tools, you can land high-paying clients from the start, rather than spending time in the trenches trying to build experience.
On top of that, the course also teaches business skills for freelancers:
- how to track projects
- calculate your ideal rate
All of these tools are designed to get people working in high-paying language jobs in the fastest possible manner.
The one thing that really surprised me is that you encourage non-native speakers and non-academics to enter the field. How does that work?
The translation field is massive – over 28 billion dollars a year – and there are a lot of different things that people can do in it without being a Ph.D. or a native speaker.
If you’re good at reading and writing, a traditional translator is a good career path.
I do translate into English, and also do a lot of work fact-checking Chinese-English and German-English translations.
No writing required, and my hourly rate is much higher because I am not obsessing about the best way to phrase something.
If you’ve got great oral fluency, you can work in interpretation.
I have done medical and legal interpretation without being certified, and earn around $40-60 an hour doing this.
If you can get certified, that rate goes up 30-75%.
If listening is your strong suit, you can earn $30 an hour plus doing transcription: simply listen to audio in your native language and writing down what’s being said.
I read, write emails and make calls, and send them a summary and instructions that are easy to follow. My going rate for this is $25-40 an hour.
What inspired you to start an online school teaching people how to enter the field? Aren’t you worried about having too much competition?
Ha! No, absolutely not. I wish there were more people working in this field so that I get fewer work requests.
After I landed my first 4-figure clients (I made $1,000 in 2 days!) I decided to finish my kitchen renovation.
I had bought the cabinets while I was working full time, and now that business was swift I really wanted cabinets that weren’t coming apart at the hinges.
Our handyman is a Spanish-speaker, and usually has a guy on his team who translates. This time he brought his son.
While discussing the job I had knots of guilt in my stomach: I was getting paid $40-50 an hour to translate for my clients and this young man was a brilliant interpreter and wasn’t getting paid anything.
I picked up lunch that day and invited him to sit with me.
We talked about his plans after high school, and he was so surprised to hear that he could work in this field.
I then ran the idea past some friends – doctors, lawyers, social workers, and academics – and they all agreed that there was a high demand for bilinguals.
So I started outlining my course.
What challenges did you face when you started working in translation? What about your students?
My biggest challenge wasn’t the work.
As long as you have what German’s call “Sitzfleisch” (sitting meat, or the ability to stay put and do your work) you can figure out how to do any job.
Each time you complete one you level up and get better and faster.
Heck, I even teach people how to outsource the hard work.
My biggest challenge was learning to run the business.
How to present myself, reach out to people, find good clients, and invoice them.
What are some other tips you have for my readers?
Take yourself seriously.
Get out there and tell people what you do.
80% of my jobs come from my network at this point, and I am an introvert.
I work with a lot of writers and artists and all of us struggle with imposter syndrome.
Our work comes naturally to us, and we didn’t necessarily invest a lot in learning this skill, and so it’s hard for us to demand what we are worth.
Languages are a valuable skill.
Learn how much you are worth, and then demand it.
You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make good money once you ask for it.
How can people sign up for the program?
I designed the course to be flexible – so that people who need to work around school, work and family obligations can work in it when they have time.
There are videos, but everything is also provided in text so that you can read during downtime at work.
There is a step-by-step guide and weekly office hours on Facebook, as well.
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So what are you waiting for? If you're bilingual, you need to start this side hustle!
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