Greater than 6 minutes, my friend!
A few weeks ago, a freelance translator colleague told me a new agency client from overseas had recently made him a tempting offer: the agency was about to land their first office in our city and they wanted him to be the first local translator to work on in-house mode for them. The agency offered a reasonably good salary, 1 full month of paid holidays starting year 1 (in Argentina, white-collar workers will normally be entitled to 14 days of paid holidays during their first 1-5 years of seniority), training and relatively flexible work hours. Of course, all he had to do was go in-house.
MIXED BLESSING, MIXED FEELINGS
For someone who has been freelancing for a couple of years now, an offer of this kind is often as attractive as it is daunting. On the one hand, it may easily lead you to wonder: ‘What if I give this new opportunity a try? After all, who doesn’t feel like giving up on the financial risks of freelancing every once in a while?’ or ‘I could get used to 9-5, 5 days a week, no weekends attached. Plus, I might actually enjoy working in the actual presence of other people.’ On the other hand, ‘What if I can never adjust to the physical and abstract constraints of in-house work? I so love my freedom to work in my pajamas and manage my own time’ or ‘I could be assigned tasks I simply hate doing. Not being able to say “no” as easily as I am now just makes my hair stand on end.’
Of course, when it comes to outlining the advantages and disadvantages of each scenario, each has its own pros and cons. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all answer to the question: ‘Should I just quit freelancing altogether and take my chances as an in-house translator?’
In the case of my colleague, when this offer was made to him, he was not entirely unfamiliar with what being an in-house worker entails. In fact, he knows pretty well the best and the worst of both worlds, since he, like many of today’s freelancers, was once and, for a long time, an in-house translator. So the dilemma for him had less to do with being curious about a new way of work life and more with whether he could and would choose to go back to the old full-time employee regime in exchange for fixed work hours and more financial stability.
Now let’s imagine that you, like my colleague, have recently got an offer of this sort. At present, you are a full-time freelance translator and/or checker working for both direct and agency clients in an array of fields of your choice which you call your ‘specialty areas.’ You exercise regularly (OK, you may adjust the ‘regularly’ to suit your standards), you may or may not have a pet, perhaps family, and let’s say you have at least one hobbie which you do outside your home office. (For instance, my colleague is learning to play the piano in his free time. He lives on his own and he has no kids. But perhaps you do and, for most people, that’s one key factor to take into account if you’re thinking of shifting from freelance to in-house.)
Usually, the first impression when you are presented with a nice offer by a nice potential agency client is quite positive. Meaning, you tend to feel flattered. After all, you wouldn’t be offered an in-house position if the people running the company didn’t think you’d be a great asset to have inside their premises, right?
Whether it be due to your experience, your skills, your former and potential performance, or your overall business profile, they have set eyes on you and your vanity is flattered. But an instant later comes the moment of realisation that, in order to embrace all the benefits of this new exciting, perhaps exclusive opportunity, you’ll have to give up on the perks of being a freelancer altogether.
If you are having second thoughts, don’t panic. It’s natural. As exciting as it sounds, making the freelance to in-house shift requires a lot of thinking if you ask me, because it will certainly demand that you are willing to quit your comfort zone and change a few business habits.
So to help you make up your mind and try and see the big picture, here are 12 questions you may want to ask yourself before you make your choice, whatever that is:
1- What are the things you love the most about being a freelancer? What are the things you loathe about it or simply find hard to put up with?
2- What do you usually do to counter the effects of what you see as ‘the downside of freelancing’ so that it doesn’t affect your performance at work, your health, your happiness?
3- What are the pros and cons of going in-house in general? What are the pros and cons of the offer you’ve just been made in particular?
4- What do you think you’d be able to do to counter the effects of those cons so they don’t have a detrimental effect on your performance at work, your health, your happiness?
5- You know that if you take on this offer, you will have to dismiss some or all of your current clients. Make a list of them. Is there any client you would like to keep? Would you be able to do so, as per the terms of your new job and your own schedule?
6- Also, you know that if you take on this offer, there are a couple of things beyond your work life that you’ll have to put off or completely give up on. Make a list of those things. Perhaps it’s your hobbies?, if there’s a clash between your new working hours and the time you used to devote to your pastimes. Perhaps it’s your daily nap? Maybe it’s a side job or volunteer work or even your current studies. All these are feasible activities when you’re a freelancer and you own your own time, but most or all of them might have to be crossed out of your schedule if you decide to become an in-house worker (again). So which daily/weekly activities would you be willing to rule out? Which ones would you like or need to keep at all costs?
7- Would becoming an in-house translator help you make more money? If so, would that be worth the cons you have associated with going in-house in Question 3?
8- Would rejecting this offer now make you feel like you could be making more money in the future? If so, is this fear alone motivating enough to give up on your freelance business at present?
9- If you have family or anyone who very much depends on your being a freelancer, whose life may be affected by your decision and how? If you are thinking of going in-house, is there any way you could make the transition easier for them?
10- Do you know any in-house colleague or friend you could talk to so as to get a fresh perspective on how it feels to be an in-house translator and why they have chosen this way of life? (They could come up with further pros and cons you may want to consider.)
11- Do you know any freelance colleague or friend you could talk to so as to get a fresh perspective on how it feels to be a freelance translator and why they have chosen this way of life? (You could use some objective thoughts on this as well.)
12- Finally, picture yourself in an in-house scenario. Do you think you’d be happy there? Why or why not?
Needless to say, odds are you are not a fortune-teller (if you are, kindly refrain from making any predictions on my colleague’s future!). What I mean is, much as my list of questions aims to help, it can’t make you come up with all the answers for the present and the future in advance.
From my experience, the choice between being a freelance translator and working in-house is very much linked with character traits, as well as with a person’s goals and aspirations. Because of your personality style, you may tend to prefer freelancing to going in-house, or viceversa. So apart from being rational and considering the specific and very concrete pros and cons of each scenario, be emotional. Make your decision with your guts as well as with your brains. Don’t be afraid to do this because, ultimately, your emotions will pretty much define how you feel at work, whether it be in your home office or in someone else’s workplace, and how you feel will always determine how productive you can be, whatever your job is.
So, if you ask me, trust your instincts. Allow yourself to have a conversation with your own inner voice in spite of other people’s say on the subject. I hope the list above will help you listen to that voice and do some introspective work on the matter. It has certainly helped me in the past whenever I was tempted with an offer to go in-house. Now, if you, like me, believe that no one knows you better than you can or will know yourself, it’s you alone who can come up with the most reliable reasons to choose either.