Let’s begin with a blog post that sets the scene: the pros and cons of life as a freelance translator.
There are so many myths about freelance life and the points made here should ring bells with many freelancers and business owners, not just those in the language industry. Just so you know, I think freelance life is great but I accept that it isn’t the lifestyle for everyone.
For every Pro there is a Con:
PRO! Working from home… or away! Not many jobs allow the same degree of flexibility in terms of location and remote working.
CON! Connectivity and constant reliance on IT facilities. CONSTANT! 24/7! While the option to move around is an attractive one for the freelance translator, this has its limitations. Sure, you can relocate to France for a month but sometimes just a meal out somewhere rural or a long train journey can be fatal to the business-running aspects of our work when clients need answers right now!
PRO! Flexible hours. OK, so a deadline is a deadline, but who says I have to work 9 to 5? There’s nothing wrong with spreading those hours out differently and taking time out in the middle of the day to do something else.
CON! While we can take advantage of flexible working, we often have tight, inflexible deadlines. When ‘surprise’ translation requests crop up do we risk losing the client to a competitor or do we cancel our plans for the evening to get the job done?
PRO! No need to ask for time off work!
CON! So you don’t need to apply to anyone for time off… but then again, you never really get time off! The best you can hope for is that no work arrives during that trip you’ve been planning for months. When I got married I took the weekend off but still had to do some work on honeymoon. Fortunately my husband dreams of being a kept man so encourages my work effort!
PRO! Peace and quiet. Translation requires concentration, not an office full of chatter. Remote working means that you get the space to focus.
CON! Loneliness! Translating is solitary work. Sometimes there can be some discussion between different translators collaborating on a single project, or between translation agents and their translators, but generally it’s a ‘head in the books’ situation. Sometimes I take myself to a café to work just to hear some noise.
PRO! Pyjamas. Who says you have to get dressed to get work done?! When you’ve been up all night working to meet deadlines you don’t need to be ironing shirts as well.
CON! The disapproval of others! Some people have a perception of freelancers as being a bunch of hippies who can’t tie a tie. Not true!! (Incidentally, I can’t tie a tie…) But sometimes the best and most professional people contributing to the success of your business are the contractors sat at home in their PJs. So what if I don’t always get dressed? I still translate your technical specifications perfectly every time!
PRO! Independence. You’re a lone wolf, making your own decisions from the specifics of the job you’re working on to the running of your business. Don’t like something? Stop doing it. No need to ask for permission!
CON! You’re a lone wolf. Yeah, Grrr!! But it sucks when you need to make an important translation or business decision and have no-one to consult or bounce ideas around with.
PRO! You’re the master of your own earning potential and career progression. You get paid for the work you do so if you need to earn more, you simply work more. You’re not waiting for someone to promote you either.
CON! You may be limited by your size and this requires finding some creative ways of working. Fortunately I belong to a great network of professional translators and together we share work. When clients need a translation I can’t provide I try my hardest to place it with a friend. Because these requirements tend to be sporadic it wouldn’t work to employ in-house translators. Outsourcing among trusted contacts is one way of expanding but it is difficult to persuade large companies that we can manage their jobs. As individuals we can promote our specialist profiles and ability to provide bespoke work but this is at odds with our need to show that we can manage large jobs.
PRO! Choosing your own clients. In an in-house employment situation it’s too bad if you don’t like your boss. If you meet a rotten client as a freelancer, you don’t need to work for them again. And if you love a particular client you can prioritise them. The ability to choose who you with is a wonderful thing.
CON! It is extremely difficult to know who to trust in the first place! You must be able to trace the people giving you the jobs. Do you ask for money upfront or wait until completion? Do you accept long payment terms from a new client, without being sure if they’re good payers? I tend to prioritise clients who pay quickly or who provide a large volume of work. For one-off and first-time requests I tend to ask for payment upfront.
PRO! You’re an expert! It’s great to be able to help people make sense of difficult documents and to know that you’ve done something positive for them, whether it was to clarify something at work or to translate the paperwork for them to buy a house in France! You have a skill that people appreciate and value.
CON! Always asserting your value… OK, so it’s business, and in business we all want something for cheap, right? No!!!! Quality translations deserve proper remuneration! Negotiating the value of a job can be disheartening and ultimately turn you against a client. Clients who pay well and on time will always hold a special place in my heart – not because I’m money-hungry – but because I know they appreciate what I do.