Freelance Life: Behind the Scenes IV
An interview with Alexandra McGovern of Alexical Translation Services
Next up in our freelance interview series, I chat to my talented friend Alexandra: a freelance translator and subtitler with a passion for all things linguistic. Originally from Northern Ireland, Alex is a polyglot who loves to challenge herself when it comes to learning new languages. From teaching herself Catalan in Barcelona to mastering the nuances of her already-fluent French, Alex is a force to be reckoned with in the world of translation. Beginning her freelance journey last year with the launch of her company, Alexical Translation Services, Alex has already worked with a range of impressive clients, and helps them to craft well-written subtitles and written pieces into their target language.
Read on for Alex's full interview!
Hey, Alexandra! Tell us a little bit about who you are.
My name is Alex, I’m from Belfast, Ireland and I am currently working full-time as a freelance translator and subtitler.
Where are you currently based? What made you choose this location?
I'm currently based in Lyon, France. I’d wanted to spend a few years living in France since I was a teenager. I had an obsessed-with-French-culture phase back then, so I suppose I’m currently living out that aspiration!
What first inspired you to pursue a remote working lifestyle?
Employment in the tourism hospitality industry!
Seriously though, I’ve known for quite a few years now that I’ve wanted to pursue a career in languages. Just over a year ago, I was in a position to do so, and with a little encouragement from some people close to me, I decided to take the leap and see what would come of it!
What's your favourite part of your job?
That basically every day is different. I absolutely love the fact that one day I might be working on social media post translations for a travel company, and then another day I might be making subtitles for unreleased entertainment.
What's the most difficult part of your job?
My least favourite AND the most difficult part of my job is sometimes not knowing where I’ll find my month’s income. It can feel quite scary and daunting to wake up at the start of the month and think, “Right, where is my pay coming from this time round?” I’ve got much better at dealing with this and have come to understand that these feelings are just a part of the freelance experience; it doesn’t freak me out as much anymore.
What would your dream project be? Where do you envision your career taking you in the future?
I’d love to work as some sort of on-location lead script translator for a critically acclaimed show or movie. I don’t think that job title actually exists, but I always loved watching the behind-the-scenes material on DVDs growing up, and working on a film set has always been a bit of a fantasy of mine.
More realistically, I don’t really have much of a plan right now. I feel like I’m still only getting started, a year down the line. At the minute, my main aim is to build up a client base to the extent that looking for work stops feeling like a recurring challenge.
Do you prefer to base yourself in one place, or travel often?
Ideally, I’d love to pick the travel option because I really do love visiting new countries. But I think we’re at a point in time now that we really need to be more environmentally-conscious in terms of cutting back on air travel. Although, I still dream of visiting New Zealand one day...
Do you prefer to use a coworking space, or to work from home?
I definitely prefer working from home. I’ve never actually used a co-working space, but I don’t have the intention to. It hasn’t been 100% easy to adapt to a job where I’m sitting at a desk all day, when before, I was constantly on my feet. I mostly prefer it because it allows me to maximise the amount of time I can spend on projects, the logic being that I don’t lose time in commuting. It is important for me to get out and about though: I don’t do well with being stuck inside, as I’m sure everyone can relate to at the minute!
What is the one app or programme you couldn't live without?
At the minute, it’s this really handy, free software called Subtitle Edit. I discovered it fairly recently and it’s really self-explanatory to use. The reason it’s a winner for me is that it can save subtitle files in just about any format imaginable, which is really useful for when certain agencies send file types in multiple formats.
Any words of advice for those looking to begin a freelance career?
Right before I went full-time freelance, I remember feeling really anxious about it, and I was even trying to make excuses not to do it. I hated the uncertainty of my future, and didn’t have much confidence in myself for entering a world I knew nothing about. None of this started to change until I just kind of went for it. I’ve been incredibly lucky in the support I’ve had from my family and friends, and there’s no way I could’ve sustained full-time freelancing without them. Everyone’s experience will be different, but I think something that is true to everyone would be that the work never falls onto your lap out of the sky - at least, not in the beginning anyway. If it feels like you’ve been persevering for months and you still haven’t had much luck, don’t give up if your situation allows for it. It is hard, but I’ve found that any successes I’ve met have come from a combination of keeping on trying and being in the right place at the right time, ie. luck; ie. another reason to keep on trying if you can.
For anyone struggling on where to start (this was a massive worry, personally), what worked for me was making myself daily to-do lists of tasks that helped towards launching some sort of freelance career. I made profiles on a few freelancer websites and found one that worked for me. It’s good to try and stick to one or two that you have early success in, to build a profile and rep. Client reviews really help in winning future jobs. I also cleaned up my CV, and made a marketing kit (basically a colourful poster showcasing your services). I later moved towards setting up my own website as my experience progressed. This kind of thing may not help directly in terms of direct visits, but when you send it to potential clients, it can help with legitimacy and can definitely give you an edge over a different candidate who maybe doesn’t have a website. For anyone not so hot on computers like me, squarespace or wix are a good place to start.
Other regular practices to adopt include continual googling of agencies/companies and submitting applications as you build some experience. You just never know who could email you one day.
Being active on LinkedIn is also beneficial - I’ve been approached on it and received work through it a few times so far.
The last thing I’d say on advice is that it never hurts to search for blog articles or forums from other freelancers who detail their experience. It has definitely helped me on a few occasions, and connecting with other freelancers on social media is also a simple and fun way to see what else is happening in this strange and wonderful community.