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The freelance translator vs. the salaried translator
Thread poster: David Hollywood

David Hollywood  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:23
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Dec 31, 2010

I used to work in salaried employment as a translator and then went freelance (and enjoyed and accepted the freedom and the dangers involved). What do you think are the advantages/disadvantages of going independent?

[Edited at 2010-12-31 00:27 GMT]


Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:23
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Self-discipline Dec 31, 2010

Being independent, you are your master of your working life. More energy is needed to continue and enhance your success: through your own efforts only. You can be happier due to less constrained time, though.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


David Hollywood  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:23
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
ty Dec 31, 2010

thank you for your kind responseicon_smile.gif I need some time to take in the beautiful teachings of Buddha and am slowly but surely on the path and any assistance in starting to understand this wisdom will be of great helpicon_smile.gif I appreciate your comments (and not the first time)icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2010-12-31 01:08 GMT] I think self-discipline is essential and this is the key to the dooricon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2010-12-31 01:20 GMT] thank you for that ideaicon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2010-12-31 01:26 GMT]


Annie Estéphan  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:23
Member (2010)
English to French
+ ...
freedom and danger Dec 31, 2010

Hi !

Of course as a freelance translator you will have the freedom of working at home, choosing the text you want to translate, the volume you like, the deadlines you can take, you can also enjoy wearing what you feel like, cooking at home, not be stuck in the traffic and so on, the only thing is that sometimes you're in danger, if you don't have enough work, if you work for a few days and no one pays you etc. well you will see by yourself...

good luck



Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:23
English to Japanese
+ ...
Exactly Dec 31, 2010

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.) wrote:

Being independent, you are your master of your working life. More energy is needed to continue and enhance your success: through your own efforts only. You can be happier due to less constrained time, though.

Soonthon Lupkitaro

I firmly believe that "self-discipline" is the basics for whatever you do.


vivianzyan  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:23
English to Chinese
+ ...
independence means self-discipline Dec 31, 2010

Being independent means you have to consider many trifles you didn't worry about as a salaried translator. You must consider how to market. You must consider bonus, salary and you must learn to manage your time. Actually, I feel being independent is much more tired and self-discipline than being a salaried one. Of course, independence is amazing.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:23
Member (2007)
+ ...
"feast or famine" vs regular income Dec 31, 2010

If you have self-discipline you can overcome most of the drawbacks of being a freelancer but there will inevitably by the cycles of overload and lack of work. They can be managed but both parts of the cycle can be stressful.

How nice it would be to know that there would be a set amount of money arriving on a set date, even if I was ill or had spent a lot of time arranging paperclips that month!


Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:23
+ ...
"Returning to 'a job' after freelancing" Dec 31, 2010


Latin_Hellas (X)
United States
Local time: 05:23
Italian to English
+ ...
Freedom of Travel and Choice of Place to Live Dec 31, 2010

Life is movement and risk. To me the "cubicle farm" means death.

It seems that you are already taking advantage of what, in my view, is the best of what freelancing has to offer: freedom of travel and choice of place to live.

True, there is risk of fluctuating revenues, but, except in comparison to relatively rare institutional positions, I believe, freelancing best offers a chance to maximize income, if that's the goal, and freedom of travel and choice of place to live is part of that, including minimizing costs.

It also allows for more flexibility in taking advantage of tax codes and, again, freedom of movement/choice of place to live and minimizing costs play into that.

Finally, as already mentioned many times, freedom to manage one's own time, implying self-discipline, and to decide on workload, provided that your areas of specialization and scope of core customers allow for a desired level of revenues/income to begin with.

It seems that you have experience and already fulfil many of the above criteria.

I think, however, that young aspiring freelancers in today's environment and going forward face greater challenges in establishing themselves:

- much lower barriers to entry than a generation ago;

- global opportunities but global competition and lowering of quality standards on average;

- plethora of translation degrees whereas before relatively rare, and such degrees increasingly expensive but whose real market value is increasingly less;

- less likely to have years of practical experience in a specialized field before going into translation;

- less likely, therefore, to have a portfolio of well-known core customers before starting out;

- competition, at least partial, from computer-based translation;

- higher costs of living spreading to formerly low cost of living places.

Enjoy your competitive advantages and all the best!

[Edited at 2010-12-31 12:05 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-12-31 12:06 GMT]


Sergei Tumanov  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:23
English to Russian
+ ...
no one to blame Dec 31, 2010

for your own mistakes.

Blaming managers for stupidity is a very easy thing when you are employed by them.

Independence is a very hard thing. There is no one to blame for your own mistakes.

Not everybody is ready to accept this kiind of burden&


kittilina  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:23
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
Self-sufficiency Dec 31, 2010

I worked in-house for years but am now fully freelance. The main advantages are the freedom and no stressful office environment - as your own boss, you shouldn't stress yourself out unless you've accepted an unnecessarily tight deadline! The key is self sufficiency. You have to be ready not just to translate, but also to be your own manager, accountant and quality control. If you are used to working in a noisy office environment, working on your own will either seem too quiet or just the ticket! I agree that the work can be feast or famine, but enjoy the feast and then enjoy doing other things during the famine!

Personally speaking, I think it's the best decision I've made recently. Good luck.


David Russi  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:23
English to Spanish
+ ...
Different perspective, I guess Dec 31, 2010

After many years of freelancing, which I enjoyed and were very good for me in multiple ways, I accepted an in-house position.

I do have an excellent employer, I set my own translation schedule (which I keep ambitious, the result of the self-discipline I developed as a freelancer), but I have the freedom to do the research I need without the pressure (and stress) of producing according to unreasonable requirements.

I could say a lot of things about this change, but mostly it has been positive for me, and these are 5 reasons I feel that way, in no particular order.

1. IT service. I no longer have to fix computer glitches, networking problems, stupid Windows issues, and the like.

2. A 401K, an affordable health insurance plan, even a bus pass. I know that when you freelance you should have these things in your rate structure, but somehow current industry trends have eaten away at the ability to raise rates enough to even keep up with inflation, let alone runaway health insurance costs (at least in the US).

3. Social life... not with pixels, but with actual people. Yes, sometimes it's inane conversation, and sometimes you are in the middle of something and someone distracts you, and there is always someone you'd rather not talk to, but hey, it's life... worth a million "social networks".

4. Respect. People don't send me stuff in the middle of the night with the expectation that I will do it immediately the minute it hits my inbox, and at their rate. And when I finish, they actually thank me for it. Not all agencies are this way, but taking stock of the years I freelanced, I think much of the time the PMs in the industry showed little respect (maybe because of the environment to which they themselves were subjected?), and it has been a downhill slide all the way: twenty years ago you would get a phone call and someone wold describe a job and ask you if you were available, nobody would assume you were just because they sent you a fax. Now, more often than not now it's just cold, demanding, impersonal emails, and sometimes you have to wonder whether they are even legit.

5. Actual freedom... I go home, and I am done.

I wish everyone a happy, productive and prosperous New Year!


Local time: 22:23
German to English
Just starting out! Jan 1, 2011

I started translating as a hobby and three books later still hope to someday be able to make a living at it. I love the work but struggle to find the time needed while working two other jobs. I chose freelance translating as an option to bring my skills up to the professional level.
My goal is to be able to go professional after five years. Well, I guess five years will be up this spring.

Actually I've been very lucky finding a publisher that is waiting for as many translations as I can do. He publishes limited editions while I can publish the work as ebooks. I also publish them myself as POD books and ebooks. I've currently got over ten books that I want to translate and hardly have the time to work on one! Being freelance is great since I can literally chose whatever project I want and work on it in my spare time. Having publishing rights guaranties long term income and I enjoy full cooperation with the estate of my chosen author/s.

The problem is that income from these projects barely covers the time invested in the work. For a few years at least it must remain a labor of love, and there is nothing wrong with that.

I have been very surprised by what passes for translations. My big break was translating "Alraune" by German horror writer Hanns Heinz Ewers. It had previously been translated by Guy Endor and published in 1927 by John Day publishing company. It was poorly translated and censored! No one ever knew! My current project, "Vampire", is known to have been heavily censored and poorly translated. Doing these projects freelance ensures that I will have royalties for these classic novels for many years and the estate is happy as well!

One issue that I've found out about the hard way is working with text that is 100 years old. Another is the challenge of translating very difficult material with subtile nuances and humor.

I appologise for rambling about such trivial things. I stand in awe at those of you that work effortlessly and actually make an income through translation work. I hope to learn from all of you.



Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:23
Chinese to English
A freelancer's work day never ends Jan 1, 2011

I think David Russi's last point there is a real biggie.

The converse of the fact that I'm very free and flexible as a freelancer is the fact that I never feel like my work day has come to an end. I could (should!) always do a little more. When the children are in bed, I can sneak off back to my computer and get another few hundred words done... When finances are tight, I wonder if I can fit another project in (or when we fancy buying an iPhone)...

In part this is a self-discipline issue, and I will get better. But the stress and pressure of freelance work makes it very easy to fall into the pattern of a 24-hour work day.


English to French
+ ...
another perspective (bis) Jan 1, 2011

When I first saw this question, my immediate reaction was to expect a landslide vote in favour of freelancing. And I was not disappointed. Posing this sort of question on a translation portal such as this, it is virtually inevitable that you will get a pretty one-sided view.

In truth, leaving aside the visitors, I would reckon that most site participants are bound to be freelancers by definition. People in salaried employment do not need such sites. They may come across them on odd occasions when researching a difficulty on the web but, in general, they have access to authoritative sources right on hand. I know for a fact there are one or two salaried translators who occasionally appear here but they are few and far between. And I suspect that the people who work in places like UN, EU, European Commission, etc. are blissfully unaware these sites exist.
The sample answering this question is therefore almost certain to be skewed.

I then saw David Russi's contribution and, I have to admit, he saved me the trouble of writing a lot of the thoughts that had crossed my mind.

I laugh when I read that, as a freelancer, you are your own boss and you can pick and choose your work. Whether you are answerable to a boss in a company or to your client (direct or indirect), you are answerable to somebody. What was that expression about "he who pays the piper calls the tune" ???? And you are very lucky if you can be picky about the jobs you refuse and those you accept. If you have to eat and pay the bills, at some stage you will always have to compromise.

So as a freelancer, you can decide when and if you want to work? Great - what about those urgent jobs, burning the midnight oil, not setting foot outside the house for a week ? In the meantime the salaried translator will be able to down tools, go home, put his feet up and enjoy proper weekends.

And as to having to cope with billing and accounting, taxation (cf. recent thread on VAT), health insurance and pension schemes, they may be a necesarty evil for the freelancer but how many freelancers actually enjoy spending valuable working time dealing with such issues?

The real truth is that in days past when qualifications were important, there were few good approved courses and all those who gained entry and emerged with a diploma could be sure of getting a well-paid salaried job, even with prospects. Those days are gone. Now courses profilerate, some good, some frankly iffy. The market is flooded with would-be translators who would claim to have entered freelancing as a matter of choice but who, in practice, had no other options.

And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

David Russi summed it up very well: there is a lot to be said for being a salaried translator. Just don't expect many people to admit to that publicly here, though it would be interesting to run an anonymous poll on the subject (would you take a salaried job if you could get one ?).

In the end, it has much to do with temperament: if you are a social animal, like human contact and don't mind office politics (nay, thrive on them), the salaried life would be for you. Otherwise, welcome to the world of freelancing - ideally as a high flying interpreter travelling the globe, interpreting for the bigwigs and getting paid top dollar. One can always dream !

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The freelance translator vs. the salaried translator

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