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The negative side of being freelance
Thread poster: picko924

Local time: 06:19
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jul 24, 2007

I have been working as a freelance interpreter for about 9 months now and so far so good. I have identified certain busy months and this is when I tend to make the bulk of my income, I am quite confident that things are going well and I am making good money. However, I also go through periods of feeling insecure, disheartened and frustrated because of the instability and the boredom that sometimes accompanies the freelance way of life. I am based just outside London in a small town and during the quieter months (like now for example- I feel terribly frustrated and guilty because I have very little to do). I always consider translation/part time/voluntary work, doing a course, taking up hobbies, going on holiday etc. but this is not always possible due to circumstances, money etc. Finally after chasing up several agencies who promised work and then never confirmed anything I have decided to take a couple of weeks off and go on holiday to keep myself busy over August but I was wondering if anyone had any tips on overcoming this sense of guilt and insecurity that I am describing. I know that around Christmas time the work will dry up again and I was wondering whether dealing with these feelings gets easier with time.I often feel very isolated and unsure of whether I am doing the right thing and for this reason I feel it is important to connect with other translators/interpreters to gain some feedback. Thanks in advance for your help!


Martine Soulet (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:19
English to French
+ ...
be patient Jul 24, 2007

and let time do its part. You say you've been a freelancer only for 9 months, so nothing's lost. Don't feel bad because you don't have work. (ok, it's easier to say than doicon_smile.gif ). I don't know if it's a generality but here is my experience (that came true for some friends who also went as freelancers) :
During the 1st year, work went so so and I only really worked for 6 months (I began from nothing, without any know potential customer), without counting all the gaps between orders.
During the 2nd year, work went more with a few gaps and nothing to do two or three times (essentially after I came for holidays)
And during the 3rd year, my activity took a turn and I had to say "stop" because it was now a real full time job.
So don't feel desperate. If you are regular with your clients and you do a good job, they will come back regularly.


PMMeddings (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:19
Swedish to English
+ ...
Don't forget to service the business! Jul 24, 2007

I have every sympathy with the feeling about whether or not you've done the right thing. I've now been in business only three months and, not to brag too much, it has been a good move, although it has been hard work at times.

I've kept my day job at the same time so in effect I was losing nothing except a lot of free time - which I don't mind because I am building something worthwhile at the same time.

But there are times when work dries up a little, but that is valuable time that you must use to do what I have always called "servicing the business". When I was employed in industry I learnt the value of this.

Are your accounts up to date? Have you invoiced for all the work you've done (this is easy to lose track of when you're busy with the actual translation work)? Is all your software updated? Is your hard disk backed up? Are you up to date with loans, National Insurance contributions, insurance premiums etc.?

It could also be a good time to look for any fresh potential clients whom you haven't come across before, or reapplying to others who might have turned you down before because their books were full, didn't have any work available etc.

When you've done all that, it's a good idea to actually go back over the work you've already done to see if there are any patterns emerging with the subject matter, and whether you're CV still reflects the fields of translation you've been working in.

It's scary sometimes when you're doing something different in life. If you've been in direct employment before it can be difficult to cope with the notion that you haven't got the boss breathing on you. But, in fact, you still have because now you are your own boss, and they can sometimes be the toughest to please of all!

Don't feel guilty and don't lose heart! If you take constructive steps it will come right in the end.


Amy Duncan (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:19
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Find something else to do in your spare time Jul 24, 2007

No one mentioned this, but isn't there something else that interest you besides interpreting? I don't know...reading, music, weaving rugs, cooking, writing a novel....?

I love it when I have low periods, because I can devote more time to music.

Good luck!



Local time: 06:19
Spanish to English
+ ...
Perhaps you have misunderstood my post Jul 24, 2007

The problem is not an inability to think of things to do (I already mentioned in my post that one of the things I always consider is dedicating more time to hobbies). The problem is that I feel guilty weaving rugs and and reading books when most of the people I know are working 8-10 hour days/5 days a week and I can go for 2 or 3 weeks at a time pursuing my leisure activities. I suppose it's just a case looking at things from a different perspective...


Sonja Tomaskovic (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:19
English to German
+ ...
Bad conscience? Jul 24, 2007

So what you are essentially saying is that you feel guilty because others work 9-5, 5 days a week (or more), and you don't?

What I am wondering is whether there is any specific person out there that does what you describe (working 9-5), and that you are related to in any way (spouse, partner, good friend, relative, etc.), and who might be envious that you actually have that freedom.

I have been freelancing for many years now, and I can tell you that part of being a freelancer is having the freedom to choose whether or not to work (if you have a lot of job offers then you are more likely to work a lot, if you have less, well, then you work less), from where to work and when to work. For me that is the beauty of the job. I don't feel guilty about it, I am actually very happy that I have a choice.

From what you write, it seems to me that you are not so happy with the fact that you have a lot of freedom now, even to the point where you feel guilty and... well, unhappy.

What I would ask myself in your situation is why I am actually so concerned about others not having the same independence, and if there is someone special who might feel "offended" by my working conditions.

Good luck,



Irene N
United States
Local time: 00:19
English to Russian
+ ...
Something is not right... Jul 24, 2007

Where is the root of your guilt? Having a good life while the rest of the world is suffering? Forgive me but if that was the true problem I'd assume you should be happy as a lurk... You have enough money and spare time and can do so much good. I'm sure volunteers are welcome in your nearest hospital, orphanage or animal shelter. You thought of that, maybe did that and you are still unhappy...

There might be 2 things. One, this is not your trade, your heart is not in it and you are looking for secondary things to blame before admitting that you are simply drinking someone else's cup of tea...

Two. Among many other categorizations, people are generally divided into 2 more - conventionally, those who can and want to run free and those who can't. Say, surfing instructors vs. accountants... I bet ya, every colleague here can tell you about many friends who would be scared to death to stay one day away from a full-time job. Many people are very conservative by nature, they need stability, it's been nailed into their heads and absorbed through their bloodstream over many generations of diligent parents and grandparents. We are rebels:-) Our way of life and making a living is not quite as traditional. I don't need to go far, I have my own sister who is immensely happy with her 9 to 6 job. Her illusion is to have some armored protection, my illusion is to be free. We all live and feed on illusions... Nothing is for sure...

And three. Maybe you are simply bored with country living regardless? Boy, do I know this feeling living in Houston after St. Petersburg... See how illusive my freedom is? I still must hang in here for a few more years. Move to the lights and noises of a big city. I go on trips, Europe including, as often as I can to get my batteries re-charged.

If I may, frankly and straightforward - figure out where you belong. Going to work 9-6/5 might be a very proper thing to do but are you sure it will be more fun? Or less humiliating? You might start feeling guilty of taking the job from some desperate single mother with 3 kids...

Fall in love:-)



Local time: 06:19
Spanish to English
+ ...
you're right Jul 24, 2007

I appreciate all you comments and you're right...I'm sure teachers don't feel guilty for the 3 months they have off every summer and all the other free time they are entitled too. I think perhaps I am little too hard on myself and feel bad if I'm not doing something "useful" with my time- "useful" meaning something that will generate money or studying towards some kind of qualification so that I have something material to show at the end of it all. I am going to try and see things from another perspective and value this unique opportunity that many people would kill for.


Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:19
Spanish to English
A bit off- topic Jul 24, 2007

I wouldn't be so certain about the slow periods as you are at the moment. It is very hard to predict the quiet months.

Do try to enjoy your free time. Remember the nine-to-fivers get evenings and weekends off and a guaranteed income that allows them to plan their spending accordingly.


Local time: 06:19
English to Japanese
Freelance Translators Union? Jul 24, 2007

Is there a freelance translators union?

If not, would it not be sensible to organise some kind of fraternal or co-operative entity which could help freelance translators in the times when either finances or energy/enthusiasm are at their lowest ebb?

Matthew Edwards


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:19
English to French
+ ...
Freelancing is a machine Jul 24, 2007

True, freelancing is a machine that is hard to start in the beginning, it takes time to get it from 0 mph to 60 mph, but once it gets to full speed, it is almost impossible to turn off.

When you get to full speed (it can take anywhere from six months to three years - in my case, it was about a year), you will soon enough get the frustrating feeling that people who have 9 to 5 jobs get a breather once in a while and you don't. Your feeling of guilt will soon turn into jealousy - and you will actually start feeling that others with regular jobs should feel guilty for getting their two weeks off per year. At least, that is how I sometimes feel...

"So, you're a freelancer! Wow, that must be a fun and relaxing job." Yeah, right! Fun, I agree, but I don't know about the relaxing part...

One word of advice: when you get up to full speed, learn to say no and ask yourself what kind of jobs you want to work on and make sure you pick those above all else. Nothing wrong with turning contracts down when you are at full capacity - clients know you are a human being and that you need your nine hours of sleep each night, so they can take it. If you do this, things will not get that much out of hand. Trust me, there will be times you'll feel like you are suffocating. Anticipate that and get prepared for it. Also read Mr. Meddings' post carefully - lots of great advice there.

Best of luck!


sandhya  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:49
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Enjoy your choices.... Jul 25, 2007

... if you believe they are the right ones!!

I think Irene summed up our "free"lancing life beautifully.

I am a freelancer since close to 15 years now... and I too have been in that phase of guilt. Even today, I face not-so-pleasant comments from family and friends who believe that I sit on my butt and make pots of money! But we translators know our profession involves hard work that taxes our brains to the limit.

If you are feeling guilty because of what others' say, I would advise you to ignore them. As someone mentioned, that stems from jealousy. If you are happy in your chosen profession, you don't need to worry what others think. We all make our individual choices and subsequently are responsible for them - so ENJOY life while you have been given the opportunity to do soicon_smile.gif



Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:19
Flemish to English
+ ...
Add freelance IT to your activities Jul 25, 2007

My neighbour is an architect, who gives evening classes in construction techniques at a school for vocational adult training. His designs makes the big bucks, but his teaching activities procure a fixed income.
Consider it like a train: For me translation is the locomotive, interpreting the first wagon and pc-training the second.
Sunday afternoon is administration time.

[Edited at 2007-07-25 06:33]


Jonathan Sanders (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:19
If it makes you feel any better... Jul 25, 2007

A surprising number of people with 9-5 jobs spend a good portion of their days doing useless things like googling their own names on the company computer. Just something to think abouticon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2007-07-25 16:07]


Natalia Eklund  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:19
Member (2005)
French to English
+ ...
The solution... Jul 25, 2007

picko924 wrote:

(I) feel bad if I'm not doing something "useful" with my time- "useful" meaning something that will generate money... indeed a change in perspective.

You feel guilty because you enjoy your job.... and yes, your job entails READING when you have the time. We are translators, but that doesn't mean that we only study linguistics. We also must know a lot about the domains we translate.

Reading and other hobbies are about keeping your skills sharp and developing yourself for future professional opportunities.

We need to be kept up to date in everything that's going on in the world around us. So that means movies, magazines, books, internet web sites, etc.
Also you need to make sure both of your language pairs are constantly exercized.
In the beginning, your specializations were often areas you already liked (as a hobby sometimes) and became pretty well versed in it. I personally love to read about new energy technologies, home decoration, science fiction, dog training, nutrition, homeopathy, etc.

I can be confident that if I was ever offered a translation in these areas, I would be able to do a great job. And maybe in the future, they would evolve into a real specialization.

Think about it, and stop listening to the jealous people who decided to work in jobs they don't enjoy.

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The negative side of being freelance

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