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How much can a freelancer expect to earn per year?
Thread poster: maggierose
maggierose
English
Jul 23, 2007

Hello all!

I tried searching as I am sure this has already been asked, but didn't find anything. If it has been and somone can pass me a link to the post that would be wonderful.

I'm 24 and been working office jobs the last two years. I've done a LOT of soul searching and, as I am currently working for a translation agency as a project manager, I've gotten a lot of exposure to translation and realized being a freelance translator is something I would like to pursue as a career.

I'm planning to do a Master's in translation next fall, so I am trying to learn as much as I can about what the reality of being a translator will look like. Obviously a huge part of that is making enough money to live off.

I fully understand I'm not likely to get rich from being a translator, but I am willing to sacrafice making a lot of money for the freedom of being my own boss and doing something I love. And I am sure that what a translator makes varies IMMENSELY. My language pair will be Spanish > English which I am sure is a common one and might not pay as much. Anyway, I was just wondering a rough average of what I could expect to make.

Am I right in thinking, especially at first, I probably wouldn't make enough to live off of just doing freelance and I may have to acquire part time work as well? The past few years my salary in office jobs has ranged from 35-45/thousand per year, which is enough for a single person to live comfortably. I am wondering how much of a standard of living sacrafice I would be looking at making if I go into freelance. I believe I read in another post, someone said they make 18,000/year translating? That is obviously a huge cut, but i am wondering if that is just when you start out, how much it rises, etc. Obviously there are various factors that influence salary such as output per day, number of clients you have, etc. But I am just looking for a rough average.

I have considered moving to Mexico, where the cost of living is much lower, and making say 18,000 a year would afford a comfortable lifestyle that it would not afford in the U.S. I just basically need to know I'll make enough to eat..so if anyone could help me with any iea of that it would be great. Thanks!


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Vadim Poguliaev  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 03:18
English to Russian
Try this link Jul 23, 2007

http://www.proz.com/?sp=rate_calc

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Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 02:18
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Maximum annual income vs. actual figures Jul 23, 2007

maggierose wrote:

Anyway, I was just wondering a rough average of what I could expect to make.



Let's consider a best case scenario (wherein you have just as many requests for translation as you can cope with, without outsourcing).

Assumptions:

(1) average daily output = 2,000 words;
(2) rate for translation = GBP 70.00/1,000 words;
(3) working days = Monday - Saturday;
(4) vacation time = 4 weeks per year;
(5) idle time (illness, family circumstances) = 4 weeks per year

Note: For simplicity, we exclude proofreading/editing jobs, or any hourly-based jobs.

Result:

44 working weeks = 264 working days
Annual output = 264 x 2,000 = 528,000 words
Annual gross income = 528 x 70 = GBP 36,960

Now you will need to deduct taxes, operating costs (Internet connection, memberships, software, etc.). Resultantly, you will get a rough estimate of your maximum potential annual income.

Understandably, any change in the above assumptions will result in higher or lower annual income.

E.g. if you manage to translate 3,000 words per day, you can achieve gross annual income of GBP 55,440.

As a general note, it is quite feasible to ensure a steady inflow of translation jobs, but it does take time and effort


[Edited at 2007-07-23 09:59]


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Nadejda Vega Cespedes  Identity Verified

Local time: 01:18
Spanish to Russian
+ ...
check this Jul 23, 2007

http://www.proz.com/topic/65050

Might prove enlightening.


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Jerzy Czopik  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:18
Member (2003)
Polish to German
+ ...
The range is very wide Jul 23, 2007

You can start from few thousand Euros and reach far above 100 thousand Euros per year.

Jerzy


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 01:18
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Assumption - aka Wishful thinking Jul 23, 2007


Assumptions:
...
(2) rate for translation = GBP 70.00/1,000 words
...


... especially in that language pair. Also working Monday to Friday, 4 weeks off etc. Nice goals (sg) though.

Regards and thumbs up in any case!

smo


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Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 02:18
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Annual income estimate - Assumptions Jul 23, 2007

Vito Smolej wrote:


Assumptions:
...
(2) rate for translation = GBP 70.00/1,000 words
...


... especially in that language pair. Also working Monday to Friday, 4 weeks off etc. Nice goals (sg) though.

smo


Dear Vito,

What's wrong with the best-case scenario assumptions?

Rate for translation. I think there are colleagues working in that language pair who manage to secure a rate equivalent to GBP 0.07 per source word (in the EN-RU pair, rates may vary from GBP 0.01 to GBP 0.08, or, possibly, higher).

Working days. I assumed working on Monday-Saturday (6 days a week), which is quite usual.

4 weeks off. Do you think it is too much? Then, your potential income may be higher. As I mentioned, this is a potential income assuming working to full capacity (which is quite feasible after you have secured a large enough client base).

Regards,
Vladimir


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:18
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Hard to say... Jul 23, 2007

maggierose wrote:
I have considered moving to Mexico, where the cost of living is much lower, and making say 18,000 a year would afford a comfortable lifestyle that it would not afford in the U.S. I just basically need to know I'll make enough to eat...


What you really need to do, is to determine what your costs of living would be for 6 months, then save up that amount, so that when you go freelance, you'll have ample buffer to build up your business. You'll make more money in freelance translation that you will in an office job, but building up a reliable client base takes time and lots of effort.

You cannot go freelancing and expect to make money from day 1. Even if you had ample clients from day 1, you'd have a shortfall because clients typically pay 30 to 60 days later than your employer would.

Is it really necessary to move to Mexico to live cheaply in Northern America? I'm sure you can live cheaply in many other places in the USA too...


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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 02:18
Turkish to English
+ ...
Fifteen thousand Jul 23, 2007

I have never been able to exceed fifteen thousand GBP in a year when freelancing full time. It is nice to sit and calculate how much you would earn if you had a steady stream of work week in, week out, but in my experience there are periods when there is a lot of work in a particular language pair and also periods when there is not. This means that at times you have to turn down well paid assignments because you are too busy, while at others you are twiddling your thumbs waiting for work to come in. People living in high-cost locations such as the UK really need to consider how global competition will impact on their business. In order to command the kind of premium rates that will translate into an acceptable income in the UK, you will need to offer some kind of specialist service such as high-quality and accurate translations of, for example, legal, medical or engineering texts. This means that you will need to have an in-depth knowledge of your specialist area. There is no point in competing with translators in developing countries for low-grade work which will go to the lowest bidder.
Sorry to sound negative, but I had a go at being a full-time freelancer in the UK in 2002-2004 and quite frankly I don't think it was worth it, especially when you consider the pay on offer for other kinds of work. I went for an interview with South West Trains, for instance, who were offering fifteen thousand just for checking passengers' tickets on trains. I didn't get the job, but that's another story. Perhaps this is just sour grapes on my part and there are others who have much more positive experiences to report. I don't think that my experiences are unique, though.
However, now that I find myself in Cyprus, where ordinary office jobs pay less than a thousand euros a month, the prospect of doing freelance translation suddenly becomes very attractive. And yes, the freedom that it gives me is priceless.


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:18
French to English
+ ...
addition... Jul 23, 2007

You'll make more money in freelance translation that you will in an office job, but building up a reliable client base takes time and lots of effort.


I'd add to this - you'll *eventually* make more money in freelance translation than you would in an office job, but you're unlikely to do so in the first year or so (unless you are exceptionally quick at building up your client base).

I agree with Samuel - have some money saved up to support yourself, and in the long term you could be fine, assuming you do the other things right.


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Seamus Moran  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:18
Member
German to English
+ ...
Take your time Jul 23, 2007

Don't expect work straight away. It may take 2 weeks before you get any. Start at a low enough rate and then work your way up. It also depends on your language pair. A friend of mine does English to French and struggles to get work at times. I wouldn't make any rash decisions. Maybe you should try doing it part-time for a while first.

[Edited at 2007-07-23 15:43]


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:18
Italian to English
+ ...
What currency are you talking about? Jul 23, 2007

If it's dollars, then 18,000 a year would be extremely low for an established translator. That would translate to about £9,000 or €12,000 euros, I think.

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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:18
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
You can definitely make a living Jul 23, 2007

Working full-time you can make a decent living as a translator. Getting work full-time depends on establishing a decent reputation. An average word rate will produce a sufficient hourly income if you work efficiently and use a CAT tool intelligently. Certainly, there are expenses, but, after deducting these, you should be able to achieve a very satisfactory standard of living and also travel a little bit (e.g. to Proz.com conferences).

Getting established can take a little while, and you will, of course, not in the first year, be earning more than 50 per cent of your capacity. After that it should rise each year for a few years, until you can do no more.

Astrid


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:18
German to English
+ ...
Health insurance Jul 23, 2007

Maggierose,

In addition to the income number, you should think about a major cost factor in the United States - health insurance. You may want to take a part-time Starbucks-type job for basic health insurance at first until you get your freelance income up. We know several musicians who have done that.

I was lucky to be able to obtain/buy private health insurance for my family (then 3, now 4 people), but we pay nearly $600/mo. for a relatively high deductible - which means paying for nearly all visits out of pocket. It really adds up. Even if you can get a policy for $150/mo. for a single person, you can be out an extra $300-400 in a month really easily if you have one routine visit to the doctor and dentist in the same month. Happens to us all the time, particularly when school starts and both the kids have to go.

If you have any pre-existing conditions, that might tip you into staying with a regular full-time job or maybe moving to Mexico, where health care is more affordable.

Just some food for thought.

[Edited at 2007-07-23 17:04]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:18
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Two schools of thought Jul 23, 2007

Seamus Moran wrote:
Start at a low enough rate and then work your way up.


This certainly is one school of thought. Another school is that you should decide in which sector of the market you'll be translating, and then price accordingly, from day 1.

My suggestion (school of thought #2) would be to charge the average for your language pair, and aggressively market yourself. Of course you should/could accept jobs that pay less, but if asked to quote a rate, I would suggest quoting the rate you decided to quote. Some of your first clients may become regular clients, and they may not take kindly to a steep rate increase when you decide you've been charging little too long.


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