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The 6 stages in a freelance translator's career (src: translatortips)
Thread poster: Dinny

Dinny  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:42
Italian to Danish
+ ...
Sep 29, 2004

If you're not too busy (depending on the stage) take a minute to find your place in the stages below. I received this in my email today from

Evolutionary Stages in Freelance Translator Career

By Alex Eames

Stage 1: Hungry

When you first start out as a full-time freelance you...

* accept all work at almost any offered price

* make a lot of mistakes (not necessarily in the work, but by not
knowing what's expected of you)

* learn a lot of lessons the hard way

* are willing to work overnight and weekends if required - pretty
much any time the client calls.

* have your mobile phone switched on the whole time and if you
miss a call you get agitated

* do whatever you can to get work and to please the client

* accept low rates and silly deadlines and you get yourself
stressed and in a mess

* don't understand why clients take a long time to pay and
it's uncomfortable because you're getting hungry

You may be either fresh out of University, newly qualified, or
you may be doing a bit of part-time translation work in addition
to other work.

When you get a project, you're elated. When the phone rings
during work hours and it's a member of your family, instead of
possible work, you're disappointed because you're hoping it will
be work. (I remember that well).

You want work to come in, and when you get it, you find it quite
hard, but nevertheless rewarding once you get into it.

When you've got work, you don't have any trouble getting out of
bed, and you can sit for long periods of time at your computer.
You don't feel the need to pace yourself - like a cat feeding.
You eat and eat and eat as much as you can as quickly as you can
because you don't know when the next meal will be, or if someone
will come and take away the bowl.

You have this fear, that if you don't accept this nasty job with
a tight deadline, that the client may not come back to you next
time - there may not be another job round the corner for the next
couple of weeks. [The other side of this is that by filling your
work schedule for the next week on a poorly paid job may prevent
you from taking a more lucrative project.]

You're almost ashamed to charge your full minimum charge for 10
word jobs - despite the knowledge that you still have to make an
invoice, chase the payment, store the files in case of queries

For every business purchase you make, you're wondering whether
it's going to be a good investment or not. Can you really afford
that anti virus software or backup hardware? Can you really
a decent computer, or should you proceed with a 2 inch black and
white monitor? Will translation memory software pay for itself
within 5 years?

You spend time considering all these things when you're not
actually working on a translation.

You ask fairly basic questions on online forums. In 5 years time
you will ask the owners to delete them because you will later be
embarrassed by them, and frustrated when the forum owners refuse
to destroy the usefulness of their web sites to other translators
who might have the same questions.

You're glad that people reply and care and give their honest
opinions, even if some of them may be a bit sharp and not what
you wanted to hear. Who hasn't been "bitten" in cyber-space?

You're not sure if your marketing is working and you're a bit
insecure about the whole situation in general.

I think this is a stage that most of us can either remember
or identify with. Some readers may well still be in this phase of
freelance translator evolution.

Don't worry. It doesn't last forever. It can't last forever
because if you don't get into stage 2 before you run short of
funds, you'll be forced to find other work that pays more

Some people transition from stage 1 to stage 2 by translating

Stage 2: Established

You've got a pretty good idea what clients are willing to pay for
your services and you are unwilling to give heavy discounts
unless there's a very good reason. (Ex. guaranteed regular volume

You've figured out what type of work you like and what is most
profitable for you (hopefully you've got a good match).

You've got a handful of regular repeat clients.

You feel more secure but still sometimes wonder if it's going to

You're still very keen.

You've had your work trashed a few times by malicious proof-
readers who are trying to steal your work for themselves. It
still hurts, but now you more fully understand the politics of
how the translation business works.

You no longer do short deadline "tests" for unknown clients.

You've probably had at least one "non-payment experience"

You're waiting for some of the cheap equipment you originally
bought to break, so you can justify upgrading to better stuff.
(Don't wait too long. It took 7 years for our first fax machine
to die before we could buy a plain paper fax).

You've probably got a filing cabinet and an ordered filing system
by now - like in proper offices - to keep track of your previous

You still find it difficult to refuse work. Even if it's a little
bit inconvenient, or not quite the right subject. That problem
takes a long time to go away. Only when you become too busy or
too ill do you learn how to refuse work.

Stage 3: Busy

Work is coming in like there's no tomorrow.
You are in hot demand. You are happy that things are going well.
Will it last?

It can be a struggle to get your invoices out in a timely manner
and keep on top of other administrative work. Marketing? No time
for that, too busy working.

You seem to be working all the time, but the bank balance is
steadily improving, or that "black hole" debt is reducing. One
day you'll have time to think about what to do with some of your
earnings, but not today, because there's a deadline to meet.

This is where "urgency addiction" can set in. Ever heard of that?
It's when you're driven by urgency rather than importance. It
also often means that unless something is urgent it won't get
done. Or if there is something to do (that you don't enjoy doing)
it will be left until the last possible moment before it is done.

Stage 4: Deadline Dazed

Did I have a life before all this work? OK the money's seriously
coming in now, but isn't there more to life than work?

In this phase you've been working pretty solidly for several
weeks or months. Desperately trying to meet all deadlines, while
not turning away any work.

"What day is it?" Is probably something you have to think quite
hard about, because all the days are the same. You, your
computer, your work, your clients.

You've probably had a go at sub-contracting work out to others
and realised that there is no free lunch to be had in doing that
because you end up checking all the work anyway and unless you
have direct clients, there's not much profit margin for you, and
it's often not worth the hassle.

Did I used to do some sport or have some hobbies. Forgotten all
about that.

Busy busy busy. More more more. Work work work Until...

Stage 5: Imposed Slowdown

Something (outside your control) happens that forces you to take
a step back and re-evaluate. Either the birth of a child makes
you refocus your priorities, or maybe some kind of breakdown,
which could be physical or mental illness.

You realise that you've got to look after yourself. Of course you
have to earn a living, but not kill yourself in the process.

After a period of adjustment, you may either go through stages
2-5 again or proceed straight to stage 6.

Stage 6: Comfort Level - Mature Business

You still don't like turning away work, but if it's inconvenient,
too stressful, or you just don't like the "feel" of a new client,
you will be much more prepared to reject it.

You've probably made a big dent in your mortgage, or even paid it
off - depending on how long you stayed in stages 3 & 4 and what
you did with the proceeds of your work.

Through this you find that you don't actually need to earn as
much as before in order to satisfy your basic needs (not talking
about the fleet of sports cars in your driveway, or that shuttle
trip to the moon).

You have a stable base of repeat clients who are comfortable with
you, always pay within your comfort zone, and provide the kind of
work that you like.

Basically, you've reached a point of comfort and stability.

When I first started in business, I realised that by the time you
feel comfortable you've missed an opportunity. This is true.

But what I didn't know then, that I do now, is that since not
every opportunity is the right one, sometimes deliberately
missing opportunities is a good thing.

Where Have You Reached?

What stage are you at with your business?
If you're in stage 3 or 4 take some time out every week to do
physical exercise or something relaxing and pleasurable. Look
after yourself.

When you're self-employed, there is no sick pay. A day off sick
is a day not earning. So take your short breaks now to avoid an
enforced long break later. Too much work on? For goodness sake
don't be so greedy - turn the least attractive project away.

OK! Back to work!!


[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2004-09-29 17:20]

[Edited at 2004-09-29 19:19]

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Local time: 00:42
English to Spanish
+ ...
Great post!!!! Sep 29, 2004

I loved it!!!!
I fully see myself in various stages and look forward to keep moving to stage 6!!!

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Local time: 06:42
Polish to Romanian
+ ...
Thank you Sep 29, 2004

Thanks a lot. I would like to be in stage 5 or 6, but it's still a long long way...

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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:42
Flemish to English
+ ...
BCG-matrix Sep 29, 2004

These six steps correspond more or less to the Boston Consultancy Group Growth-Share Matrix (question marks, dogs,cash cows and stars) and phase six corresponds to the "Stars" phase".
6 can be followed by 7 and 8: outsource and add an extra activity.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:42
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Yes, but Sep 29, 2004

at what stage does it dawn on you that, unless you buy some more deductibles, you're simply slaving away for the fisc?

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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:42
Flemish to English
+ ...
A tax law course Sep 30, 2004

Wouldn't it be interesting at stage 6 to attend a tax law course. Within the framework of the EU, fiscal and social-security systems differ and some countries are more entrepreneurial-minded than others.
In some countries The title of "How to gain £ 80,000 as a freelance translator" would actually be "How to gain £40,000 net as a freelance translator?" Belgium, France, Spain, Germany Holland and the Nordic countries are not exactly countries with low taxes. "Being based in" makes a difference in your wallet.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:42
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Stage 3 Sep 30, 2004

Williamson wrote:

Wouldn't it be interesting at stage 6 to attend a tax law course. Within the framework of the EU, fiscal and social-security systems differ and some countries are more entrepreneurial-minded than others.
In some countries The title of "How to gain £ 80,000 as a freelance translator" would actually be "How to gain £40,000 net as a freelance translator?" Belgium, France, Spain, Germany Holland and the Nordic countries are not exactly countries with low taxes. "Being based in" makes a difference in your wallet.

Before you go beat yourself up, it's better to know how much of your earnings will actually end up in your pocket.

Smart mice in the maze usually realise that after one good year of earnings. In my neighbourhood, for instance, there two good bakeries. One's run by a family as a corporation, the other by a sole trader. If you want cakes, you go to the corporation, but the first choice for bread is the sole trader (and we're not talking about prices, since he sells above the average price - his bread is simply delicious). However, the sole trader is a mite unpredictable. At 12:00 upwards, he's closed already, and at weekends, he can close as early as 10:00. One day I managed to get a foot in the door, so I asked him at what time he really closed. He said, when he had sold the day's quota, because anything above that went to the taxman.

The family corporation handles his overflow.

I now find that a little extreme, since, even in Europe, tax shelters are available. I think taking advantage of them has to do with a change of mindset. A good year of translation earnings can really burn you if you're still going on a Stage 2 mentality. But if, for instance, you raise your own pension levels (100% deductible) or you invest in a house (say, the family dwelling is in the name of your partner), the results over the long term can be more profitable for you and yours... the matter really has to be studied.

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Conor McAuley  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:42
French to English
+ ...
Sagesse Nov 4, 2004

Fascinating stuff, I can see that I've been through a few stages already.

The transition from doing all work sent to you (with the risk of taking on very technical texts for which you are not qualified enough or experienced enough), to only accepting work you like doing / are able to do is a difficult one.

Also, agencies blame you when they send work outside your specialist areas (their fault, as they've got your CV / profile with a list of your specialist areas) that you have an honest go at. Not fair!

Last point: probably good to have a wide variety of work, prevents brain-deadness setting in, like what happens with 9 to 5ers.

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Timothy Barton
Local time: 05:42
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Great post. I think I'm moving into stage 2. Aug 30, 2005

But in October I'm going back to my part-time translating job, and doing a master's, so my freelance work will probably go into stage 3. The problem is, I want to start getting as many clients as possible so that I'm ready for full-time freelancing in a year's time. Anyway, at least the fact that I won't have many hours free for freelance translating means I'll be able to carefully select which jobs I take and get reasonable rates for it.

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English to Chinese
Great post. Oct 31, 2005

It not only applies to translation, but also other parts of life.

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Lynne Köhler
Local time: 05:42
German to English
+ ...
Well worth reading Nov 8, 2005

This is a real scream.
Read with tears of laughter rolling down the cheeks and a pinch of self-criticism caused by the mirror effect. I'm sure we all recognise ourselves somewhere in there.
Makes wonderful reading

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laure claesen  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:42
Member (2005)
English to French
what stage is it with kidoes in the picture? Nov 16, 2005

ah, Dinny, what a splendid article. But what about having a family and kids to look after on top of all that? I find it very difficult. I can never get enough work or spend enough time on looking for more, or improving the material side of my business, and a frequent reason for not venturing on taking on a job is the fear that a child might fall ill, that I may not meet my deadlines because of the unexpected demands motherhoods puts on me all the time. I spend my whole like thinking that I should invest in a nanny and not doing it because it's too expensive and also quite rudely telling my darlings to leave me alone when I'm working on weekends or evenings/nights ; and it's a vicious circle, and it's left stranded me in stage 2...
Looking forward to them growing really. In the meantime I'm pretty broke although they don't look too bad actually. And through them, some life HAS to be enjoyed. And they tell their friends at school that they've got a mum at home....
I know there's a forum on the subject, I'll have a look at it.

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Dinny  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:42
Italian to Danish
+ ...
Organizing! Nov 16, 2005

Well, Laure, I guess that having a family to look after requires some serious organizing! There must be certain hours that you can be absolutely sure to be able to work (6-8 in the morning, during school hours, when kids are off to bed, it all adds up). Leave housework to a paid "saving angel", she won't cost as much as you earn by the hour. Get a back-up family-nanny-grandma-whatever if one of the kids gets ill and cannot go to school. Pay a babysitter to come by in the afternoon and take the kids for a walk to the park. And during the hours that you cannot put aside for work, BE WITH your children, creating a firewall between "your working hours" and "their mummy-time".
When you know for sure that you will have at least 3-4 hours absolutely for yourself every day then you organize your work - and your deadlines - accordingly. I know it seems as if all work is rush and extreeeemely urgent, but there are lots of agencies out there recognizing that good quality cannot be delivered as 10,000 words a day.

Good luck!

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The 6 stages in a freelance translator's career (src: translatortips)

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