My Life as a Freelance Translator A motivational post for translators who want to become freelancers

Greater than 3 minutes, my friend!

I’ve been freelancing for half a year now and here are just some thoughts on my current life as a one-woman business.

I started freelancing in November 2015. I’d wanted to do so for a long time, ever since I left university in 2011, but I was afraid to take the leap. I felt like I didn’t know enough about the business side of things to be a successful freelance translator, and I was fearful of the uncertainty that comes with running your own business.

After graduating I was unemployed for a while and took on the first job I could get at a translation agency. There, I learned a great deal about CAT tools, the translation process, the ins and outs of being a translator, but despite that I was very unhappy. I worked five days a week and had to commute between Den Haag and Utrecht (that’s 2.5 hours of travelling every day), walk the same stretch from the station to the office every day, work from 8:45 to 12:30 and from 13:15 to 17:30 every. single. day. The routine started to grate on me, and the fact that I was not appreciated by my employer at all didn’t help. I wanted to leave, but it turned out in-house jobs for translators are rare in this country. On top of that, unemployment rates are currently very high, so you’re pretty lucky if you manage to find a job at all. I figured the only way to get out of the current situation was to start my own translation business. I was pretty terrified of failing, of my savings running out before I started earning enough to pay the rent, but I was so dissatisfied with my job and I desperately wanted more freedom and flexibility in my life, so after nearly 3.5 years at the agency, I took the leap anyway.

I built myself a website (okay, no, my lovely IT savvy brother built me a website), became a member of the Dutch Association of Interpreters and Translators, created a profile on every single platform for translators I could find, sent out about 100000 emails to agencies and companies in the Netherlands and abroad, and hoped for the best. And the best did happen. After only a couple of months I am already earning more than enough to get by.

If there’s one important lesson I’ve learned this past half year is that you shouldn’t be afraid to make decisions if the outcome seems to be uncertain. Certainty doesn’t really exist. You can’t predict the future, and the safe path isn’t always the right path. Your employer could drop dead one day, your employer’s business could get into financial trouble and you could be let go, you could get hit by a bus, lose your arm (haha I’m just making things up here) and never be able to type again… see what I mean? I’m so glad I decided to go through with my plans. I’m happier now than I’ve been in years.

Being responsible for everything myself seemed like a huge challenge before, but finding out I am perfectly able to tackle that challenge has gained me a lot of self-confidence. I’m earning more now than I was when I was working as an in-house translator. See? I don’t need anyone to organise my work for me, to tell me when to work and how to work, how to talk to customers. I can do all these things.

Another great thing is that I feel like I’m living from day to day more. Before, I would check the time every half hour or so to see if 5:30 was any closer. I’d started planning new trips and holidays the moment I returned home from the previous one. I hated feeling like that. Life is too short to count the hours. I don’t know what will happen today or tomorrow, what jobs or clients will come along, but they are bound to turn up at some point. Work is much more adventurous and varied and I like that more than I thought I would. Not having to travel to my office every day means I have more time in the mornings and afternoons to do things that I like doing, such as baking bread or painting. I can decide to start working at 7 and stop working at 4 so I can spend some time enjoying the sunshine. I’ve discovered these small things are very important to me.

All in all, I am very pleased with how things turned out. Sure, freelancing has its downsides, but I find they do not outweigh the advantages by a long way. So if you’re a translator who is considering going freelance, I hope this little story will help you make that decision.

Saskia de Korte

About Saskia de Korte

I am a translator and artist from the Netherlands. I am interested in translating creative work like books, but currently specialize in medical texts.

11 thoughts on “My Life as a Freelance Translator A motivational post for translators who want to become freelancers

  1. It’s great to hear going freelance has worked out for you! I completely agree that the downsides are vastly outweighed by the freedom and responsibility that comes with working on your own terms. Cheers, Lewis

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  2. Great motivational post, Saskia! Thank you so much for sharing. I love reading the stories of people how overcome difficulties and take leaps of faith. Business is a constant struggle and it’s important to remind ourselves that we can shape our own future by taking action and not acting like passersby in our own life.

    P.S.: I love that you build a website BEFORE you started freelancing. I think a website helps a lot in showing that you’re serious about what you’re doing.

    P.P.S.: Congrats on publishing your first Open Mic story by the way! 🙂

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  3. Congratulations for taking the leap! I started freelancing in 2002 on the side and in 2009 I was so unhappy with my “actual” job that I decided to go freelancing full-time. And this was at a time when I had just moved into my first (and only) own house with a terrifyingly high mortgage. It was a scary time, but it was the best decision I’ve made in my entire life. I could not go back to being employed. I love the freedom and the responsibility (although I hate the paperwork). I HAD to build my life around my job back as an employee. Now, I LOVE to build my life around my business. But the good thing is, I am in charge of creating and shaping my business as well. So it’s all good. In a few years, when you look back onto that November in 2015, you’ll ask yourself why you ever had any doubts and why you didn’t do it earlier. 🙂

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    1. I was actually fired from my office job as an in-house translator. They simply didn’t have any work for me. So I decided to go freelance full time and it was the best decision of my life. There were tough times, of course, but I was happy to have the support of my wife who practically carried us through the hard times on her shoulders, while I was trying to figure out this whole “freelance” thing. If it wasn’t for her I would probably go back to the office.

      Responsibility is actually what I love about freelancing the most. You make decisions and you see how those decisions affect your life and business. It is both scary and incredibly rewarding at the same time.

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      1. Thanks Tanya, I know exactly what you mean when you say you had to build your life around your job. Glad to hear everything worked out for you as well!

        Yes, Dmitry, shaping your own future like that is so exciting 🙂

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