I Used My Skills to Earn Abroad. You Could, Too…


I like this.


By Lydia Carey, International Living, 

In my line of work there’s no such thing as a typical day. One recent Tuesday, my business partner and I sat side by side on the beach, sipping morning coffee in our swimsuits and flip-flops…our two dogs lounging in the sand beside us.

I was translating a presentation for an advertising company…she was working on a set of by-laws. We were in the beautiful beach town of Troncones on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

The few hours of work we put in every day were paying for our beachside bungalow and the delicious dinners at the yoga retreat down the road. We didn’t have to ask for time off to take this trip nor did we have to virtually “clock-in” with anyone.

When I arrived in Mexico five years ago with my high school Spanish, I couldn’t have imagined that one day I would be translating complex legal documents…and become an expert on kitchen appliances and solar energy. (I have translated entire websites on both of these).

I started my time abroad working at several non-profit organizations, honing my Spanish and settling into life in Mexico. By the time we took that trip, our translating and editing business, Verbamate.com, had been up and running for over a year.

We started the business from San Miguel de Allende, a colonial gem in central Mexico, which has just been ranked the world’s best place to live by the travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler. Days in San Miguel are warmed by the desert sun and nights are a wide expanse of stars. The streets are narrow and cobblestone and residents run the gamut from millionaire artists to street sweepers. The town’s centralized location makes it great for trips all over the country…like the one I mentioned earlier to the Pacific coast.

There is also a large international community and more than 180 non-profit organizations in San Miguel. Both of my business partners and I came down to work for NGOs, but before long we had started our own business and were working for ourselves. Ercilia, my partner, had already been translating on the side for some time. She had a few contacts when we started who would occasionally pass along screenplays or academic papers.

One fateful day, the two of us—and another friend with a sharp eye for editing and syntax—decided that if we joined together we would be a force to be reckoned with. We sat down to strategize and in about five hours had purchased a domain name, set up a website, and uploaded writing samples. We were off and running.

At first, instead of making mistakes, we mostly just wasted a lot of time. We signed ourselves up for online services that link translators and editors to prospective clients. But we discovered that our real work came from the real-life human connections we made within our community. We went to business meet-and-greets and tapped into the power of our local online forums. It helped that our community was very international and there was a need for bilingual advertising and information.

The work increased as people started hiring us and recommending us to others. We were sent newsletter drafts, immigration forms, organizational charts, and entire websites to translate or re-vamp. As time went by we tightened up our business procedures and sharpened our skills.

Today we are looking forward to the day that the business can support all three of us on a full-time basis. It has, however, become a substantial side income—around 40%—that helps to sustain the other work that we do: write novels, blog about Mexico, and create original web content.

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