Translation business: an interview with Xueyang Niu

How to start out as a translator? It’s a messy path, I can tell you that! There are no 10 steps or 10 tips that you can follow, you basically have to try everything. Xueyang, a linguist based in the UK, said that she’d spent almost 80% of her time on marketing in her first year as a full-time professional translator and interpreter. She became an active member of and the Chartered Institute of Linguists; she was reading books on how to organise a workflow for freelances; she volunteered and said “yes” to jobs that were not so highly paid. “It kept me in the market,” she said. It’s true that while working for free or for a fee, networking or marketing, no effort ever goes to waste. “Suddenly, I had several projects at the same time, and earned over €3000 per month, and that gave me hope.” Hard work, trial and error and a reward, then the cycle repeats. Why are we so passionate about freelance work? We are educated, independent thinkers, we are pro-active, rely on our own judgement of the world, and we want to use all the skills that we’ve got. We also want to work when we are at our maximum intellectual, emotional and physical strength. We are reliable and organised. These inherited qualities make it possible for us to walk down a shaky path that at times leads us to paradise and absolute bliss of self-actualisation, the other times the same path leaves us full of disappointment and frustration. What is so amazing about being self-employed is those rare moments of looking back at the series of events that happened to us, and catching ourselves thinking: “I made this happen. I made my own choices.” Xueyang generously shared her story of going through a thorny path — the first two years of setting up a translation business. 

Xueyang Niu is trilingual. She uses all her three languages, Chinese, German and English in a professional capacity by providing translation and interpretation services to clients around the world. She is committed to her profession and her thirst for learning is contagious. 

You can connect with Xueyang via LinkedIn or She is a wonderful mentor who can generously share her experience in becoming a professional translator. 

If you would like to hear an answer to a specific question, please, jump straight to the question that interests you.

Q1: Xueyang, you studied English literature and medieval studies in the UK and Germany, what made you choose to become a translator? Did you plan to become a translator before you commerced your degree in England? Or did you decide to become a translator after graduation from Masters in Germany?

Q2: How did you find your very first client? What was the project like? Did you receive it through an agency or a direct client?

Q3: How much time per week did you dedicate to marketing in the first year working as a translator? And how did you learn how to promote yourself?

Q4: What did you do when you had too many projects and you couldn’t cope with workload, has it ever happened to you? Or, perhaps, you thought that it would take you two hours to translate something, but then, in reality it took five, and you didn’t plan for that. Have you every been in situations like that, and how did you manage?

Q5: Usually translation agencies pay for a project after its completion. Has it ever happened to you that the agency didn’t pay for the project or there was a significant delay. How did you deal with situations like that?

Q6: Often communication with translation agencies is done via email, which is good in many ways, but also it can create a lot of confusion. Have you ever called an agency after receiving an email from them, so that you can continue the negotiation process in a verbal rather than written mode? If yes, then was it better to talk to the PM over the phone?

Q7: How do you deal with situations when the clients offers a type of a project that you’ve never worked on before, would you take a job, even if you never had to translate this type of text (for example, mining). Is it quite easy for you to estimate how much time you would spend on research for such a new topic?

Q8: It’s common not to receive feedback on the quality of a translator’s work after the project is finalised. How do you evaluate the quality of the translation that you produce? Do you measure it against other translations or do you seek feedback from your professional networks?

Q9: Describe your typical working day.