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Job satisfaction for freelancers?
Thread poster: TCanfield
TCanfield
French to English
May 12, 2004

After working for more than seven years in the IT industry as a systems administrator, I'm considering changing to a less Dilbert-like career. I write a great deal of technical material in my job already - documents for end-users and for other analysts, proposals for management, that sort of thing - and read French fluently; in fact, whenever they're available, I use the French-language versions of the manuals for the software and hardware I support. I suspect that I could translate technical material of the sort I already write in English.

However, I don't know any freelance translators, and I'd like to know more about the day-to-day work before I quit my job and enroll in a translation program. In particular, these are the kinds of questions I have:


  • How much of your time do you spend translating, as opposed to sending out updated resumes to agencies, chasing non-paying clients, and the like?
  • Everyone has difficult customers - slow to pay, asking for a lot of changes on short notice - but are they a large or small proportion of your customer base?
  • How much of your work is done on short deadlines?
  • How many hours a week do you typically work? About forty? A lot more? A lot more some weeks and a lot less others?
  • What's the most unpleasant part of being a freelancer - especially if it wasn't something you were expecting when you got into the field?


I know the answers will vary from person to person, and they're very subjective questions, but I'd like to get more or a feel for what things are like for freelancers from day to day. I'm sure everyone has bad days occasionally. I'd just be disappointed to go to the trouble of changing careers just to find myself in the same constant state of emergency that characterizes IT.

Any responses would be gratefully appreciated. Thank you!


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HRiley  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
A few answers... May 12, 2004

Hello
Here are a few answers to your queries, from one translator's point of view:

How much of your time do you spend translating, as opposed to sending out updated resumes to agencies, chasing non-paying clients, and the like?


In my case it works out at about 90% translating, 10% marketing, chasing work, billing, etc. When I started out though, the ratio was more like 20% translating, 80% marketing and admin. Now I have a regular set of clients who send me most of my work, all of whom I have an excellent relationship with (no late payers). So I can devote a lot more of my time to translating.

Everyone has difficult customers - slow to pay, asking for a lot of changes on short notice - but are they a large or small proportion of your customer base?

As I mentioned above, most of the clients I work with now are reliable payers. You can always check out the Blue Board on this site to find out who the worst offenders are. I always try and check out clients' credentials and make sure that I always get a purchase order before starting a new job.

How much of your work is done on short deadlines?

About half. I tend to have one or two longer projects underway and then alternate with shorter, more urgent jobs. Keeps my on my toes

How many hours a week do you typically work? About forty? A lot more? A lot more some weeks and a lot less others?

I try and stick to normal "office" hours. So I make sure I'm at my desk before 9, and switch everything off around 6.30. Sometimes I take a long lunch and work later in the evening, or take Friday afternoon off and put in a bit of extra work on Sunday. I try and organise my work schedule to suit me, and I don't take on more work than I can cope with. So if a deadline's too tight, I'll say so - and suggest a more reasonable one. SOmetimes clients will give you the job on your terms, sometimes they won't. I also tell clients that I don't work nights or weekends. Other translators do. It depends on your commitments and expectations, I suppose.

What's the most unpleasant part of being a freelancer - especially if it wasn't something you were expecting when you got into the field?

The hardest part for me, working at home on my own, is not being able to take breaks with colleagues, or discuss problems with them, or have a moan about unreasonable clients
And I miss working as a team. It can be hard, too, to switch off completely from work.

Hope that helps a bit! It sounds like you're on the right track already, anyway. You certainly seem to be going about things the right way - and doing a lot of useful research!


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Joeri Van Liefferinge  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 01:35
Member (2002)
English to Dutch
+ ...
It's a dream... May 12, 2004

TCanfield wrote:
How much of your time do you spend translating, as opposed to sending out updated resumes to agencies, chasing non-paying clients, and the like?

On average, I send out less than one resume per week. Of course, when I started (in 2000), I spent an entire week doing nothing but that and registering on agency websites.

Everyone has difficult customers - slow to pay, asking for a lot of changes on short notice - but are they a large or small proportion of your customer base?

That will depend on you: the most important thing - apart from quality work - is your relationship with the client. You have to respect your clients, but you will also have to make your clients respect you. You gain respect for your work by charging extra for extra changes, short deadlines etc. (and don't be afraid to do that, they do pay extra if it's really that urgent) but also by not charging anything if they send you one or two sentences for translation, by not limiting conversation to work-related matters (two weeks ago I even convinced one of my clients to take a scuba diving course...) etc. And most of all: when a client contacts you, first check the Blueboard and the Payment Practices lists, that can prevent a lot of trouble.

How much of your work is done on short deadlines?

About 20-30%, I think.

How many hours a week do you typically work? About forty? A lot more? A lot more some weeks and a lot less others?

Usually more, but I still have more time for my wife and children than before, because I win 2.5 hours I used to spend in the train to and from work...
Moreover, work doesn't always feel like work to me, because I'm home with my wife and children all the time.

What's the most unpleasant part of being a freelancer - especially if it wasn't something you were expecting when you got into the field?

The uncertainty... You never know if you'll have enough work next week. But until now, the longest I have ever been without work is three hours, so don't worry.


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Alison Schwitzgebel
France
Local time: 01:35
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
I love it! May 12, 2004

TCanfield wrote:


  • How much of your time do you spend translating, as opposed to sending out updated resumes to agencies, chasing non-paying clients, and the like?
  • Everyone has difficult customers - slow to pay, asking for a lot of changes on short notice - but are they a large or small proportion of your customer base?
  • How much of your work is done on short deadlines?
  • How many hours a week do you typically work? About forty? A lot more? A lot more some weeks and a lot less others?
  • What's the most unpleasant part of being a freelancer - especially if it wasn't something you were expecting when you got into the field?




I spend about 90% of my time translating or researching terminology, and 10% on administration, including invoicing, tax returns, etc. I have been very fortunate that my reputation has spread by word of mouth and I have hardly had to send out any resumes.

I deal with "difficult" clients just once and then never again.

The amount of work done on short deadlines varies from week to week. If I'm working on a long, boring project then I am more liable to "squeeze something in" as a change of pace. Mostly I am booked out at least one week in advance, and more than that at certain times of year (such as annual report season). However, the fast turnaround jobs vary greatly from translator to translator.

The amount I work per week varies according to the season. I work like a maniac in the first few months of the year when the annual reports come in, with three other "peaks" during the quarterly reports. That means I can be working 12 hour days 7 days a week. But that is not a permanent situation. Those peaks allow me to take time off in between times.

The most unpleasant part: being in an office on my own. But that's where proz comes in - it's my virtual social life!!!

And the best bit about it: I'm my own boss, I get to work when and how I want, and I get to be work at home and spend the time with my kids that they need

HTH

Alison


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Erika Pavelka  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:35
French to English
Another point of view May 12, 2004

TCanfield wrote:


  • How much of your time do you spend translating, as opposed to sending out updated resumes to agencies, chasing non-paying clients, and the like?
  • Everyone has difficult customers - slow to pay, asking for a lot of changes on short notice - but are they a large or small proportion of your customer base?
  • How much of your work is done on short deadlines?
  • How many hours a week do you typically work? About forty? A lot more? A lot more some weeks and a lot less others?
  • What's the most unpleasant part of being a freelancer - especially if it wasn't something you were expecting when you got into the field?



- When I first started out, I spent a few weeks sending out resumes all over Canada as well as in Europe and the States. It took a few months before work started trickling in. Now, after more than 6 years, I spend about 90% of my time translating and 10% doing admin, marketing, et.

- I used to have more difficult clients, but one bad experience is usually enough for me to stop working with them. No one needs the hassle of chasing payment when you have good clients to work for. These kinds of clients tend to crop up every now and then both among translation agencies and direct clients.

- Can't give a definite answer for this one. Sometimes I have big projects on the go and I'll also work on smaller texts with a short deadline, and other times I just have texts with a short deadline. In any case, you are the one who decides whether you can finish a text on time.

- Geez, I haven't really calculated this! I'd say around 40. It's hard to figure out when you're working at home and you take 10, 15, 30 minutes to fold laundry or run an errand or go exercise. I stick to regular business hours (8:30 to 5:00 or 5:30 every day) with around a 1/2 hour lunch.

- The most unpleasant thing for me is the quiet periods when the phone isn't ringing. You *know* it's going to pick up, but sometimes you just can't help worrying about it. The best thing to do during downtime is stuff you've been meaning to get to but haven't had time for.

I also wanted to mention that if you decide to take the plunge into freelance translation, remember that you'll be offering services, not applying for a job, so make sure you word your correspondence with potential clients accordingly. The important things for your resume to include are your native language and your language combination(s), your complete contact information, experience (in translation and otherwise), areas of expertise, software you have, certifications/accreditations and eductaion. That's the information potential clients look for.

Good luck!

Erika


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Gillian Searl  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:35
Member (2004)
German to English
And from my perspective ... May 12, 2004

How much of your time do you spend translating, as opposed to sending out updated resumes to agencies, chasing non-paying clients, and the like?

90% translating, 10% the rest. The regular customers are definitely in the majority now and that makes things a lot easier. I don't sen out a lot CVs at all and I now only do tests if I can fit them in. I keep a close eye on the finances and chase non-payers on a weekly basis - no more than an hour a week.

Everyone has difficult customers - slow to pay, asking for a lot of changes on short notice - but are they a large or small proportion of your customer base?

My work varies from day to day and week to week. Last week I was working 12 hour days and crashing at the end of them. I was booked up to a week ahead. As of today there's nothing - but that's because I told them all I am going on a long weekend. So I went shopping ... I've learnt to go with the flow and not to stress over who I upset and how when there's no work. It always comes back! Difficult customers - now I'm more slective about who I work for - if they're too difficult or don't pay on time I say I'm too busy.



How much of your work is done on short deadlines?

30-40% but that's because they know that I am willing to do it. When they have a rush job they contact me because in the past I have said yes, did a good job and even beat the deadline. If I really can't then I just say no.

How many hours a week do you typically work? About forty? A lot more? A lot more some weeks and a lot less others?

When I started 12 hour days were normal, now 8-4 or so.

What's the most unpleasant part of being a freelancer - especially if it wasn't something you were expecting when you got into the field?
Couldn't agree with my colleagues more - isolation and weight gain!!


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xxxIreneN
United States
Local time: 18:35
English to Russian
+ ...
From a freelancer working for agencies only May 13, 2004

99.9% translating/interpreting and 0.1% - invoicing. No CV distribution - no time and/or need. I guess the above said would have been utterly impossible with the direct clients. Few bids via Proz were more of an experimental nature - to double-check rate acceptance. I decided to stick with what I have:-).

No trouble with payments - my agencies are very stable on the market and also they are my friends of 8-12 years. They pay in time regardless. I translate - they do the dirty work.

QuoikBooks does it all for me and the data goes to my CPA - I spend no more than 2-3 days a year to do some prep tax work. I belong to those who prefer to pay for the professional services and save on headache medicine. Paperwork and accounting numbers paralize me, I tried to do my taxes once, killed enough time to make CPA's fee and a 100 bucks for myself and promised myself - never again (BTW, same goes for house cleaning - in 3 hours of translating I can make their daily fee and a 100 bucks for myself plus the entire weekend free and no broken nails.

About 70% of work is a somewhat rush. Sometimes I work up to 12-14 hours a day, most of the time - 8 hours or so, but I take up to 5 1-2-week vacations a year and travel. Or simply take a natural break when it comes my way. I know it won't last long. I do not mind wakeup calls and disregard time differencies completely. In order to manage to see more of the world in one lifetime, once in a while I would take some work with me and break even by the end of my week-long trip where I spend 3-4 hours a day working and the rest of the time - touring or swimming. Love this part!

What seems to be a minus for many colleagues is a huge plus for me - I can not translate in the office, I love working in solitude. Interpretation assignments, vacations and free time fill in all the voids in communication and fun.

Free and happy. Same to everyone.

Cheers,
Irina

[Edited at 2004-05-13 13:11]


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ntext  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:35
German to English
+ ...
Can you teach me that trick? May 13, 2004

IreneN wrote:

(BTW, same goes for house cleaning - in 3 hours of translating I can make their daily fee and a 100 bucks for myself plus the entire weekend free and no broken nails.

So ... you make $35 an hour, times 3 equals $105. That's $100 for yourself and ... $5 for the cleaner's daily fee?


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xxxIreneN
United States
Local time: 18:35
English to Russian
+ ...
Easy... May 13, 2004

Norbert Gunther Kramer wrote:
(So ... you make $35 an hour, times 3 equals $105. That's $100 for yourself and ... $5 for the cleaner's daily fee?


$35/hour goes for the in-house rate which I accept on terms of 1.5 rate for overtime, or slides (negotiable to my favor or no-no)
I charge .12/word. Translate 400-450 words/hour on average. ~$55 * 3 = $165. Cleaning costs 52 bucks twice a month - a fixed fee with a cleaning company. I do not own a palace:-). An just like with the translation - they do the dirty job, and I do my laundry myself:-)

Also, the in-house assignments are very rare birds on my schedule these days - only when my clients are cornered and short on people. They are too good to me and I'm playing fair - one can't do it all for himself only and count on eternal loyalty.


[Edited at 2004-05-13 14:35]

[Edited at 2004-05-13 14:39]


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ntext  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:35
German to English
+ ...
Aha! May 13, 2004

IreneN wrote:

Translate 400-450 words/hour on average.



That's the trick I need to learn ...

I do not own a palace:-).


... plus I may have to get rid of this stupid palace.

Excuse me, my butler is here to present today's email on the old silver platter ...


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xxxIreneN
United States
Local time: 18:35
English to Russian
+ ...
Norbert, you've trained your butler well May 13, 2004

Norbert Gunther Kramer wrote:

Excuse me, my butler is here to present today's email on the old silver platter ...


And thay's the way to go!

400words/hr equals 3200 during normal working day - pretty standard output for most people in business I know, not even rush. Why does it surprise you so much? I would be surprised to learn that it is possible to survive in this business with less having translation trade as a prime source of income. On average means fairly familiar long-term projects and definitely familiar subjects. Sometimes with the stable clients you work around the same core terminology for years, from European Commission to some major oil company having 5-10-year long projects with the country of your language pair. I know what it means to spend a whole day on 1 page, but this does not fall into the 'average yield' category. Unless one accepts the subjects he/she has no idea about...


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ntext  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:35
German to English
+ ...
Fuzzy Math May 13, 2004

IreneN wrote:

400words/hr equals 3200 during normal working day - pretty standard output for most people in business I know, not even rush. Why does it surprise you so much?


Because that's my top speed — which, pretty much by definition, means that it's not average. But your explanation makes sense, especially if you define "average" as "familiar territory."


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Laura Vinti  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:35
German to Italian
+ ...
I would definitely wait before quitting my job May 18, 2004

I'd like to know more about the day-to-day work before I quit my job and enroll in a translation program


While I do not feel I can give you any better advice than the colleagues who preceded me, I think you should definitely wait before quitting your job, unless you already have some clients.
Being able to get enough assignments to support yourself might take some time. IMO, the best would be to start translating on the side, gradually building up your business.

Best of luck!
Laura


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Larisa Migachyov
United States
Local time: 16:35
Russian to English
agreed - don't quit your job right away Jun 17, 2004

It takes a while to build up a good business. I'm still working on it, myself. I've got one good agency that sends me work on a semi-regular basis, and one other good client who sends me work on an occasional basis, but this is not enough to support me; I'd be starving on the street if it weren't for my other businesses (4 of them, to be precise).

But speaking as a former resident of a Dilbert cubicle (mechanical engineer), I can definitely say that my job satisfaction now is infinitely improved compared to what I had before. For the first time in my professional life, I truly feel like the master of my fate. My life is no longer hostage to idiot bosses, scheming coworkers, and the like; I no longer have to while away my life in a gray cubicle in a gray building, staring at a gray computer screen and never seeing the sun. And I feel much more secure now than I ever did as an employee; I have 5 different areas of employment, and if I lose a client in any one of them, I've got many others. If I lose a fulltime job, I'm on the street.

Translation work is very nicely portable, and can be taken anywhere. I frequently translate outside; I take work with me on vacation. My last assignment was finished on a beach in Costa Rica.


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xxxXX789  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:35
English to Dutch
+ ...
There you go! Jun 17, 2004


How much of your time do you spend translating, as opposed to sending out updated resumes to agencies, chasing non-paying clients, and the like?


I translate about 80 hours per week. I spend 2 hours a week on remaining activities.


Everyone has difficult customers - slow to pay, asking for a lot of changes on short notice - but are they a large or small proportion of your customer base?


The number of difficult clients will slowly decrease. The longer you work, the more clients you will get, the easier it will become to say 'no' to that hard client. I'd say 3% now.


How much of your work is done on short deadlines?


Almost everything. Outlook is your best friend.


How many hours a week do you typically work? About forty? A lot more? A lot more some weeks and a lot less others?


About 80 hours per week. In January/February/July/August only 20-40 hours per week (due to less work).

What's the most unpleasant part of being a freelancer - especially if it wasn't something you were expecting when you got into the field?


Chasing non-paying clients. Fortunately that happens less and less (see remark about getting more clients above).

The best part? My freedom and income (not a surprise considering the amount of work I do).

[Edited at 2004-06-17 11:37]


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