Greater than 10 minutes, my friend!
A few weeks ago, I posted an article with 12 relevant questions for freelancers considering making the shift to an in-house job in the translation industry. To my surprise, I am still seeing colleagues around the world comment on it and share it on social media (thank you!), which shows how this is a trending topic among freelancers regardless of where they come or operate from.
Although I lack specific stats that would prove my point, from personal experience, which includes verbal intercourse with fellow freelance translators, editors and interpreters, I’d say every freelancer will have considered making the freelance to in-house move at least once in their lifetime. But enough of freelancers’ dilemmas about whether or not it would pay to take an in-house position. Today I will attempt to walk in your shoes and ponder the array of options available for translators who are actually considering taking a leap in the opposite direction: from having an in-house position to setting up their business as a freelance translator.
Truth be told, I have always pursued my career in the translation industry as a freelance entrepreneur, so you must be warned—my perspective here may not be as balanced as you might expect, even if I have done some research by asking a few colleagues (see the Real Insights section at the end of this article) about their thoughts on having quit the safety net of an in-house job in order to build their own nest as full-time freelancers. Hopefully, you will find the questions outlined in this article useful and relevant when it comes to making a decision.
FREELANCING: A BIT OF FICTION REVISED
If I handed you a clean sheet of paper and asked you to draw a picture of a freelance translator right now, how would you depict him or her? In all likelihood, you would leave a lot of space blank, as your freelance translator would be all alone. Probably, he would be working from their own home office and, most certainly, you would equip them with nice pajamas. Now, while most translators would argue that they can actually relate to this picture, there’s more to those pajamas than meets the eye.
First, freelance translators don’t always work alone. Nowadays, it is very common to see all kinds of freelancers opt for a rented co-working space where they can actually interact with independent workers from other fields and industries. Also, even when freelance translators work from home, they aren’t always alone. Sometimes they like to get together with just one or two fellow translator friends and, there you go, they are co-working again!
Second, thinking that every freelance translator loves working in their pajamas would be the same as assuming that every office worker loves wearing a suit while they can. The truth is, as there is no dress code for freelancers, everyone wears pretty much whatever they like, which doesn’t always equal pajamas.
Now suppose I handed you another sheet of paper and asked you to draw a comic strip depicting three days in the life of a freelance translator. Easy, hu? All you got to do is sketch one cartoon, then trace the freelance character across the remaining vignettes, then change the time in the clock you’ll have sketched in the background of a rather untidy bedroom.
However, that all freelancers are or must be workaholics in order to survive the world economy is yet another stereotype. In fact, if you ask any freelancer what they cherish the most about their business, they would probably point out the (relative?) freedom to choose and devise their own work schedule and the ability to take up hobbies or breaks during a typical work day.
So, to sum up, just before you plunge into the pool of 10 questions below, just remember that quitting your in-house job and becoming a freelancer:
- Doesn’t necessarily mean you will always work from home from now on (i.e., you can cross out depression from your list of inexorable cons)
- Doesn’t necessarily mean you will work alone all the time (you can cross out loneliness from your list, too)
- Doesn’t necessarily mean your pajamas must become your daily uniform (you can cross out adopting poor dress habits)
- Doesn’t necessarily mean you will have to live to work in order to make ends meet (you can cross out workaholism from your list of cons, too)
THE 10 QUESTIONS YOU’RE HERE FOR
So to help you make up your mind and try and see the big picture, here are 10 questions you may want to ask yourself before you make your choice, whatever that is:
1- What are the things that you find most attractive about being an in-house translator? 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 keeping an in-house position’ so that it doesn’t affect your performance at work, your health, your overall happiness and well-being?
3- What do you reckon are the pros and cons of becoming a freelancer in general?
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 and well-being?
5- You know that if you decide to set up your business as a freelance translator, you will have to give up on the perks of being an in-houser. Make a list of those perks. Is there any benefit you would like to keep? Would you be able to do so, as per the terms of your new freelance enterprise?
6- Would becoming a freelancer help you make more money? If so, would that be worth the cons you have associated with going freelance in Question 3?
7- Would not taking the freelancer path 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 in-house position at present?
8- If you have family or anyone who very much depends on your keeping an in-house position, whose life may be affected by your decision and how? If you are thinking of going freelance, is there any way you could make the transition easier for them?
9- Do you know any freelancer you could talk to so as to get a fresh perspective on what it feels like to be an independent worker and why they have chosen this way of life? (They could come up with further pros and cons you may want to consider, and they don’t even need to be translators. They could be designers, photographers, writers, etc.)
10- Finally, picture yourself in a freelance scenario, whatever your idea of that may be now that you are done with a few stereotypes and have gathered some further information on the subject in general. Do you think you’d be happy there? Why or why not?
REAL INSIGHTS BY FORMER IN-HOUSERS
Finally, here are three key questions I asked two freelance translators I often work with and who have gladly given me a hand in rendering this article less biased than I thought it was doomed to be:
What was your greatest fear when you were about to take the leap from an in-house position to setting up your business as a freelance translator?
Jimena (freelancer for 2 years, in-house translator for 3 and a half years, been a full-time freelancer for 3 ½ years and counting)
My biggest fear was definitely the financial aspect. I had gotten used to having a steady income and I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to make enough money every month to cover all my expenses. The solution for me was to save money for a couple of months before taking the leap, so I could have a “buffer” for the early stages of my freelance activity in case my income wasn’t as high as I expected. Also because as a freelancer the payment terms are usually bimonthly, so I knew the money I made during the first two months wasn’t going to be readily available. And it worked, at first I had to get by with the money I had saved and then the revenue cycle became steady again and I had enough money every month.
Cecilia (in-house translator for 6 ½ years, been a full-time freelancer for 5 years and counting)
My greatest fear was, of course, being prey to the instability of freelancing. Used to having a fixed salary and a fixed working schedule, I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to adapt to the ups and downs of not knowing how much I’d earn per month and how many hours I’d work per day. I remember thinking: What if I find myself in front of the computer every single day at 11 p.m.? What if I have to work on weekends? Having an in-house position allows you to organise your working hours effectively, so that you can say: OK, I finish at 6 p.m. —after that time, I’ll be free as a bird! (Well, that is what happens *in theory*, but, let’s face it, sometimes you have to stay at the office until you finish the job, because the client wants it delivered the day before yesterday, so, yesterday, when you started translating, you were already behind schedule.) As it turns out, as a freelance translator, I sometimes do have to stay up until pretty late at night and I sometimes do work on weekends. However, this does not happen all the time, and I don’t really mind working at outlandish hours from time to time, specially knowing that, as a freelancer, I have the freedom to organise my working hours as I please; it’s simply a matter of striking a balance and compensating: if one day I work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then take a break to make it to a yoga class starting at 3:30 p.m., but I know I have to finish a 1,000 word batch for the next day, SOB, I’d most probably continue working after my yoga class, feeling renovated.
Is there anything you miss from your former in-house job?
At first, I missed my co-workers, seeing them every day and having someone to talk to. But ultimately it strengthened our relationship, because we had to find moments outside work to stay in touch. Another thing that was a big challenge for me was that suddenly I didn’t have somewhere to go every day, that is, a daily reason to leave my home for a while. However, that was also beneficial in the long run because I had to look for activities to do outside home so I wouldn’t end up being shut in all day.
I definitely miss my co-workers. As we all know, “Happiness is only real when shared,” and, conversely, “Misery always looks for company.” I really miss those free hours at work when one of my best friends and dearest colleagues and I had nothing to do and started joking around singing Glee songs and remembering The Simpsons’ hilarious couch gags. We had a great time together, and became very close. When the opposite happened, and we were both terribly busy, we knew we had each other’s back, and we did our best to support each other and take some (small) breaks to comfort each other and send some ridiculously silly Internet memes. Nowadays, we’re both freelancers, and we still send each other stupid images or silly larks via Facebook, and we gather together to get a cup of coffee after a day’s work. So, even if we all associate freelancing with loneliness, it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way.
What do you see now as the greatest advantages of being a freelancer, as opposed to keeping an in-house position?
I believe as a freelancer there’s more space to grow and develop your expertise. As an in-house translator, you are obligated to take the projects they hand in to you, there’s no choice. Also, I don’t know a lot of companies that give you room to grow: usually the only option to build a career inside the company is moving on to a project manager position. On the other hand, as a freelancer you can select more carefully the fields you want to work in and you have the possibility of becoming an expert in a field you love and then be able to offer a wider variety of services, not only translation.
The greatest advantage of being a freelancer, as opposed to keeping an in-house position, is undoubtedly the freedom. There’s nothing like choosing what projects to work on and organising your time accordingly. As a freelancer, you feel your time really belongs to you, and if, for example, you finished your assigned work at 4 p.m.,you’re not required to be on the computer until 6 p.m., just in case your employer sends you more work. No! You can simply go out for a walk, go to the supermarket, or whatever, and take your smartphone with you, so that you can check your email.
By the way, my colleague Jimena added a very useful comment on her transition from in-house to freelance. You don’t want to miss this tip if you are about to switch from an in-house position to starting up your own business, So here it goes:
“One of my strategies to feel more confident when taking the leap was to start working for some companies as a freelancer while I was still an in-house translator. I didn’t take on very big projects, but I made an effort to say yes to some offers so I could slowly build a relationship with these agencies. It was exhausting sometimes because I had to work many hours, but it was helpful because when I finally left my in-house position, I already had some connections. As soon as I started freelancing, I let them know I had full availability and I started getting more and more work from them over time.”
If you’ve already made up your mind or so, here are a few more articles on this issue: