Portfolios are a great way for newbies to the world of freelance translation or those looking for new opportunities to let any potential employer, client, or LSP know why they need you.
You might be thinking I already have to provide a CV, a personal statement or cover letter, an initial translation test, and now a portfolio too? Whatever for? While it may not always be a requirement of the application, and instead of approaching this with a sense of doom and gloom at the prospect of having to try to brag about yourself, see it as an opportunity to actually put some weight to those claims you’ve made.
Give the potential client or LSP the confidence that the work you are applying to do, possibly under time constraints and tight deadlines, is well and truly within your capabilities.
A translation portfolio is essentially a document or website containing a selection of your best work. The format is up to you, but you should make sure it is easily accessible and easily shareable.
Online portfolios using a Google Doc or Google Sheet, PDF, or online website template (e.g., with Canva or Journo Portfolio) can simply be attached to an email, your LinkedIn, or linked on your CV or cover letter. Alternatively, use an offline format such as a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or JPEG.
There’s no point putting in the effort to your portfolio if no one sees it. If you’re not familiar with SEO optimization, now’s the time to get stuck in. Do your research or an online course and find out what it’s all about to make sure you draw as much traffic to your portfolio as possible.
Is one portfolio enough?
It is absolutely reasonable to have multiple portfolios if you have several different specializations, more than one language pair, or offer various services since it’s likely that you’ll be trying to attract different clients. (Check out the advantages of specializing for freelance translators here).
Specify or diversify?
While showing diversity through your portfolio might be great for someone starting out in the translation industry, if you’ve already found your passion and know what type of work interests you, then it may be better to make your portfolio more specific.
For a client comparing two linguists’ portfolios — one highly polished showcasing the exact services they require and the other with every specialism and skill under the sun — who is likely to come across more professional and ultimately land the job?
For whose eyes only?
Identify who is going to see your portfolio — Who do you want to work for? What types of clients are you trying to reach? Which sectors do you want to break into? Stick to the types of documents and the specialisms that you actually want to translate. It sounds obvious, but if you’d rather spend your days translating web content than annual reports, then don’t use an annual report in your portfolio.
All necessary personal information: contact email address, where you’re based, if you have a company then its website and logo.
A short introduction on who you are and what you do.
Any relevant information on your educational, academic background, translation experience, or time spent abroad.
List or add the badges for any affiliations to professional associations, e.g., ITI, CiOL, ATA, etc.
Add your CV or a link to it.
Ideally, you should include 10-12 projects of no more than 500 words each.
Make sure the work you choose is interesting and has a reason for being there, e.g., it shows off a particular skill or your knowledge of a specific language or specialization.
It might go without saying, but it’s essential to post both the source text and your translation (as long as client confidentiality permits), either in a column layout side by side, or separately. If this is too cluttered, you can display just the target text and link to the source text.
Add details about the project itself: the purpose of the translation, source and target languages, intended target audience, specialized knowledge required, and word count.
The order in which you display your work and the information is crucial. Prioritize particularly strong projects that you’ve been praised for and projects showing the exact skills required by potential employers. (You could even include any specific positive feedback you received on the translation.)
The layout, formatting, and visual appearance of your portfolio are equally as important as the content. Remember this is your branding, so consider how it looks to an employer who has never met or spoken to you. Make sure your portfolio really shows who you are, what you’re like, and where your interests lie. This includes your style, values, and motivations — your portfolio can say a lot more than just, ‘I’m a great linguist.’
Use professional looking fonts, colors, and text size.
Why not break up the text with some pictures? Any images you use should be in line with your brand image, your intended clients, and your chosen specialisms.
Watch out for copyright, sensitive data, content protected by creative commons.
Make sure you have permission to use the texts. Even if you have not directly been told it is confidential, you haven’t signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), or it’s a translation of a text available somewhere on the web, you should still ask the client, recipient, or organization for permission.
Don’t forget to include the name and credentials of the original author and credit them in the project information with each text.
For many fledgling translators, it can be a vicious cycle when trying to get experience or find work often requires you to already have experience. Fear not, it’s time to break the cycle. The good news is that you don’t need to have done paid work or already have clients to show off your skills, market yourself, and kick off your freelance career.
Use examples of your work from an academic background, university courses, assignments, or professional courses.
If you’ve done translations in a voluntary capacity for non-profit organizations or friends and family, as long as you get the ‘okay’ from them, why not include these?
Another way to exemplify your work is simply to translate things as a hobby, e.g., a blog post or recipe. Make sure to get permission from authors of any blog to translate their work. Just because it’s been published on the web, doesn’t mean that it isn't protected by copyright.
Any test translations for job applications, course applications, or competitions can be included too. Make sure you state the parameters of the project, e.g., if it’s a translation of a book excerpt but you didn’t actually translate the full book.
It might seem bold, but there’s no harm in taking a look at the websites of a small business in your sector, identifying parts that you think could be better translated, and sending them an email politely asking if you could retranslate their content for your portfolio. Don’t expect all positive reactions, but you never know, if they like your version, they could turn into a future client.
You could organize your portfolio based on service (translation, subtitling, editing, copywriting), speciality, or language combination.
Make sure your portfolio is user-friendly, easy to navigate, practical, and precise. The reader doesn’t want to have to dig around too much to find what they’re looking for.
Show your passion for the industry, language, sectors, and subjects.
While it may seem counterproductive, it’s no bad thing to include some projects that have been less successful. Speaking honestly and being able to identify what went wrong (and why) is essential to your personal and professional growth.
A great way to add credibility to your work is to include short testimonials. Positive reviews can underpin your proven ability as a translator, linguist, or interpreter.
In short, there’s no excuse for not having a portfolio. It doesn’t matter if you've been paid for the work or not, it still showcases your expertise. Complement your CV with a portfolio and take the highway to freelance heaven.