As interpreters, it’s very easy for us to rely on one of two agencies and maintain a reasonable schedule for years at a time. While the stability of it all can be incredibly rewarding, it can also place your future and practice at risk. Without a diverse variety of work in your practice, when things like a pandemic happy you can end up behind the curve in catching up which create a financial hardship you didn’t prepare for. Engaging with multiple structures and avenues of interpreting work is one of the best ways to provide insurance for your future.
When the world went into quarantine, interpreters who had never used Zoom or other remote conferencing platforms found themselves racing to catch up and increase their value to the agencies they relied on. Interpreters with a healthy balance of asynchronous projects, remote experience and their own clients were at a severe advantage with many of them not missing a beat with regard to their work.
Options to diversify
You don’t need to become a certified captioner to increase your financial security, though it would certainly be a great option for the interpreter unafraid of carpal tunnel. However, hundreds of larger corporations hire production companies each year to execute events on their behalf, often with a video component. For corporations with accessibility efforts, those production companies hire interpreters and agencies to translate speeches on video with captions. Some basic knowledge of products like Adobe Premiere (11.99/month), VideoLeap (Free for basic) and iMovie (Preloaded on Apple products) you can provide services to these clients. For subtitling, a basic understanding of video editing and file types is required. For most interpreters, these processes will make sense given our proximity to captions and captioning services.
While this might seem incredibly obvious, the clients I consult with often don’t consider that a firm offering VRI services does not need to be in your state, neither does a client. While many states require licensing or registering with their government, offering VRI has become increasingly viable as an option to diversify due to the pandemic.
Many Deaf schools and video creators rely on interpreters and interpreting students to listen to audio tracks in order to sync them to a caption/subtitle track file. They also will pull in someone who can sync the audio to the signs seen on screen in situations where is a higher chance of delay. If you watch promotional videos from some of the larger institutions you’ll see that within the context of a signed video, there are many opportunities for editing mistakes. In order to ensure captions, audio and graphics are never out of sync, they’ll employ someone to review and timecode the tracks. This is something anyone with a basic understanding of a computer can do, all you need is a video player, email and headphones.
Many interpreting programs are now paying mentors for their services. If you have the time to work with a couple of interns each year, this is another avenue for income that is often underutilized. We certainly need more support in this field and this is an incredible way to support the community and also your ability to take a vacation each year.
Maintaining a client list
Outside of agency work, you should always be working to grow your private client list. Not only does it significantly drive your income up but it reduces the reliance you have on a business creates to earn a profit off your time. If your rate with an agency is half of your private rate then the time needed to satisfy your weekly target would be cut in half by switching to private clients exclusively. While that isn’t always available immediately and certainly takes time and effort invested intentionally, the financial returns are often far greater than the frustration.