Yuko Fujisawa is a freelance translator from Tokyo, Japan.

She started her freelancing business with zero experience in translation and went against all odds so that she could leave Japan and become based in her dream city – Berlin.

So how did Yuko manage to build a lucrative freelancing career from scratch in just two years?

When There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Yuko had always been interested in new cultures. She chose to major in cultural studies at university, and, as part of her studies, she even did a year abroad in Manchester, England. After getting a taste of the lifestyle in Europe, Yuko knew she did not want to go back to Tokyo: “I thought that their relaxed lifestyle fits me better. Japanese working culture is crazy hard, and I thought that was not what I want in my life.”

When she returned to Japan after her year abroad, she immediately started looking up information about how to live in Europe and work remotely. She was especially interested in living in Berlin, as it has been her dream city since childhood.

Yuko soon discovered that Germany offered residence permits for freelance translators, and, as she had a good grasp of the English language, she started investigating how she could become one. However, she had to delay taking action until she finished university.

As soon as Yuko finally graduated in 2014, she posted on Facebook that she was going to start providing translation services. One of her friends replied and offered her a part-time job as a translator. The job would involve writing and translating articles for a tourist information company. Without any hesitation, Yuko took the job.

As it was a part-time job, Yuko spent her free time learning about other ways to earn money as a translator. After stumbling upon a Japanese crowdsourcing job-site called Lancers, she began applying to amateur, low-paying translation jobs for Japanese articles to English and vice versa. It was hard to get work, but as Yuko did many applications, she started accumulating more and more small translation jobs.

Initially, she would spend many hours working on small projects and earned very little from them. Although it was tough, Yuko persevered: “I was able to make $500 a month on projects I took up from Lancers, which made it easier for me to go freelance fully. After 4 months of working at my part-time job, I negotiated with my boss to work remotely from Germany.”

After this, Yuko finally bought the tickets and continued her work from Berlin.

How a Blog Can Help Build Your Business

When Yuko moved to Germany, she noticed that her Japanese friends would always keep asking her the same questions about why she didn’t take the usual 9-to-5 career route. After Yuko would explain it to them, many of them would ask her if they could also do online translation like her.

Yuko eventually got tired of answering the same things and started a Japanese blog to explain her freelancing career. She learned a little bit about blogging and getting visitors to a new blog, and decided that the best way to proceed would be to write new articles daily. Yuko says that this kept her disciplined as she had a routine going, and it helped improve her blog’s presence in search engines. She also says that the constant updates helped grow trust among her readership, which consequently led to more readers recommending her blog to their friends and helping grow her readership.

Yuko says that writing on topics related to her work has helped her get recognized as a professional. She would try to do her best to provide useful, relatable information for her readers, and also “information that you can imagine yourself googling”. She would always update her social media profiles when she wrote new articles. This was exactly how her posts became popular. One of them about how she became an expat freelancer in Berlin was eventually reposted by Lifehacker Japan.

Later on, she used this opportunity to email Huffington Post Japan for a chance to be a contributor: “I had no connections with any of them in the company, but I introduced myself with my blog so that they can see that I’m a legitimate person who is willing to commit as a contributor.” Now, Yuko is a regular contributor on the two websites, which gives her a big edge when acquiring customers.

She also says that her blog has truly fuelled her freelance business as it gave readers an insight into who she really is: “I feel that a blog is even better than a mere CV because it can express my interests all at once. This helps in giving people a more intimate and realistic impression of me, and I feel that people even trust me more because of it.”

All of these techniques have helped Yuko grow her blog to over 50,000 monthly hits and hundreds of subscribers, which is a great means of getting new customers for her.

Gradually Outsource Your Projects to Free Up Time

One of the biggest downsides of starting out as a freelance translator is the fact that the work is so time-consuming. When Yuko just started out, she could spend up to 11 hours daily working on her gigs. It took her two years to finally get to the point of working only 4 to 6 hours a day to sustain a living.

Nowadays, Yuko is slowly building a translation agency of her own so she can have more time for herself. Instead of actually doing the translation work herself, she would instead use her blog or freelancing websites to find other qualified people to do it for her. In order to do this, Yuko has been attending events, building connections on Twitter, or leaving comments at other freelancers’ blogs. She says this is what she does most of the time now.

Yuko says that, despite the initial disadvantages, being a freelance translator and a digital nomad allowed her to become who she really wants to be, while also defying Japanese working culture norms. This has led her to become a speaker for TedxYouth and even a seminar leader in Japan. So when asked whether she would like to switch to a different line of work in the future, she replied: “Absolutely not.”

Tips for Aspiring Freelance Translators

Yuko also shared with me some insightful tips about how she became a successful freelance translator:

  1. When you first start out, be ready to provide free services as it will help you grow your portfolio. Also be ready to apply for small projects, like website or blog article translation.
  2. The first year as a freelancer will be the toughest as you will have periods of both working non-stop and periods of applying to projects but getting no clients at all, so remember to give yourself a break once in awhile, and take it as a learning curve.
  3. Increase fees gradually. A trick Yuko used to keep her customers was to give them a free trial. She would provide her services for free for the first three projects and charge after that, increasing her rate every time she takes on a new project. Fast forward to the present and Yuko’s fees now range between €0.07 to €0.2 per word.
  4. Before you jump into freelancing, think about what your true goal is and prepare the steps on how to achieve the lifestyle that you want – this might lead you into the conclusion that you don’t even have to be a freelancer!

Interested in Following Yuko’s Footsteps?

Check out these online courses to learn more about how to become a successful freelance translator, just like Yuko:  

  1. Marketing for Translators;
  2. The Business Side of Becoming a Translator;
  3. How to Become a Freelance Translator.

Yuko also recommends you to read these books: Business for Punks.

To learn more about Yuko’s work, check out her website, read her blog, and follow her on Instagram.