Should I become a freelance translator?

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Should I become a freelance translator?

Perhaps you are working as an in-house translator or you are just about to embark on your translation career and you are asking yourself: “Should I become a freelance translator?”

A short answer: it depends. A long answer: I could write a book on the subject (I’ve been freelancing for the past 10 years) but in this post I will try to highlight a few most important things to think about. Specifically, I will try to debunk some of the myths surrounding freelance translators and point out a few things to think about before plunging into this difficult, but potentially rewarding career.

As a freelance translator, you will earn more than in-house translators

Well, maybe.┬áIf you work as an in-house translator, your monthly income is usually limited by your agreed salary, regardless of how much work you do. This can often be frustrating if you have a very busy period in the office. You might be thinking that you could earn much more if you translated the same number of words as a freelancer and charge per-word rather than getting a fixed salary. That’s absolutely true, but you should remember that during quiet periods, you will still get your salary if you are employed in-house, but if you were a freelancer, your income would have been significantly lower. Also, in-house translators get holiday pay, sick leave pay, pension etc. Freelance translators get nothing.

You will only be working on projects you like

If you are specialised in a particular field and lucky enough to get a constant stream of work on the subject, you will have a great time working as a freelance translator. However, freelancers often experience quiet periods, during which they must accept any kind of work to make ends meet at the end of the month. While you might be able to work in the filed you like most of the time, you should be willing to accept less desirable projects too.

You will manage your own time

You will be able to work when you wish, and as much as you wish. Well, most probably not. One of the greatest myths of freelancing is that you are able to set your own work schedule. In reality, this is set by your clients most of the time. You should be able to react to e-mails quickly during office hours or you might miss out on valuable projects. Also, you should be prepared to work on projects with short turnaround times, typically during office hours. So, even as a freelancer, you are pretty much tied to the 9 to 5 schedule – you are only able to decide how much will you work outside of this time frame.

You will never stop working

A day off in the middle of the week, great nights out, care-free weekend trips? You can forget about that! As a freelance translator, you will never stop working. You will need to be available during office hours to reply urgent e-mails. You will need to work late at night/early in the morning to meet deadlines. You will typically work more over the weekends than during the week, because outsources often use freelancers to complete jobs that were not completed in-house by Friday, but they are due first thing Monday morning. And if you have clients in different time zones and you are for instance based in the UK, you will start getting e-mails from the US just when you are about to complete your work for the UK. And then Asian customers will start bugging you at stupid o’clock in the morning.

Financial discipline is the key

So, you started freelancing and you are thrilled about the amounts you invoiced in the first few months. You are happily spending all your hard-earned cash and enjoying the rewards of your work. However, don’t forget your tax bill. If you work in-house, your tax is usually deducted straight from your salary. If you are a freelancer, you get all the money and it is your responsibility to figure out how much tax will you need to pay at the end of the financial year. Make sure you set aside the required amount or you might experience a serious headache once the tax bill comes through.

Don’t forget about your business costs

If you work in the office, your company will provide all the necessary tools for your job. If you are a freelancer, you need to spend considerable amount of money on your home office and business equipment. Yes, you can sit on a sofa working on an old, slow laptop, but you will start feeling the pain pretty soon. Your productivity will fall, your health will deteriorate, and consequently your income. As a freelancer, you have to make sure to arrange a comfortable work space at home. Get a good quality desk and office chair, a computer suitable for the job, a large monitor and of course licensed copies of all the software you need. The costs can be considerable but there is no way of avoiding them if you are serious about working from home.


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