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Surviving recession as a freelancer
Thread poster: lizh
Local time: 16:21
French to English
May 29, 2008

Hi everyone

There is growing acceptance that the U.S. is in recession and my country (Ireland) is crashing hard. So after an era of easy money and massive expansion, it's time to pay the piper. This is my first recession as a freelancer (in fact, as an adult!) so I'm wondering what I should expect.
How does a recession affect freelancers? I looked this up online and got opposite opinions - freelancers get more work (because inhouse translators face redundancy etc.) or freelancers get less work (simply because there is less business being done).

Does anyone want to share their recession experience?


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gianfranco  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:21
Member (2001)
English to Italian
+ ...
I missed that easy money May 29, 2008

lizh wrote:
... So after an era of easy money and massive expansion, it's time to pay the piper.

Massive expansion? Easy money?!?
It must have happened when I blinked, and missed both...


[Edited at 2008-05-29 15:30]

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Angelica Kjellström  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:21
German to Swedish
+ ...
Yes, our line of business is affected by recessions May 29, 2008

Hi Liz!

Having been in business as a freelancer for 19 years now, I have a pretty good view on the advantages and disadvantages of being a freelance translator. For my part, I can underscore that my business is definitely affected by recession. There are less projects allocated simply because this is a branch that people feel they - more or less- can do without (or they assign them to people with less experience to a lower price). I am used to these variations by now, but none the less I find it frustrating. I put aside a certain amount each month on a bank savings account to cover up for this. During these periods with less projects to take care of, I keep myself occupied working with terminology in Multiterm. Further education and training are also good investments for the future.
Moreover, I find an excellent forum to get in contact with prospective interesting clients. Take good care of your clients and you will see that they turn back to you.
All the best,

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Anna Sylvia Villegas Carvallo
Local time: 10:21
English to Spanish
Liz May 29, 2008

Yes; I've been hit hard by recession in the U.S.A., since we Mexican translators depend mostly on U.S. clients, and projects have clearly gone down.

How do I deal with this? To be honest, I accept low rates, or I'll starve! (My apologies to those always claiming that what we do should be "highly paid".)

Be patient. Better days will come; you can't always win.

Finally, I totally agree with Angelica. She's right!

[Edited at 2008-05-29 17:09]

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:21
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Recession in Ireland? May 29, 2008

lizh wrote:
There is growing acceptance that the U.S. is in recession and my country (Ireland) is crashing hard.

Is there a recession in Ireland??? Oh dear, there goes one of my emigration options...

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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
cut costs & watch earnings closely May 29, 2008

Tadzio Carvallo wrote:

How do I deal with this? To be honest, I accept low rates, or I'll starve! (My apologies to those always claiming that what we do should be "highly paid".)


you can't always win.

Low rates, or lower rates?

The latter is understandable, but I'd prefer to cut costs first, just reduce my expenses somewhow, not the necessary business ones, but finding ways of saving money. Since the beginning of the year I've been feeling conscious of a possible impending recession and have been watching impulse spending, walking more + driving less, having fewer breakfasts out, being more careful with utilities, etc etc .

So far I have seen few signs of less business, although the cost of living is climbing, and it's doom+gloom here in Spain with the property market taking a dive ... so I'm getting ready.

Another approach I developed recently is to keep track of what I earn per day. I have set a daily/weekly/monthly ideal target and keep an eye on it as an incentive not to turn down work or pass work on to someone else. If I hit 70-80% of that target I feel I needn't worry. Although having a target doesn't make work come in, it does help keep a perspective on your situation.

And, of course, you can't always win. There are always business cycles, booms and slumps, ups and downs, and you have to be try to be optimistic/pessimistic (as appropriate) just when circumstances dictate otherwise:-)

[Edited at 2008-05-29 17:29]

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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not too bad in the U.S. May 29, 2008

When the U.S. hits a recession and the dollar is devalued, European clients can afford me (because of the exchange rate) and I get work.

When the U.S. economy rebounds and there's less work from Europe (again because of the exchange rate), there's usually more work from U.S. customers.

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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
My my, how things have changed... May 29, 2008

Is there a recession in Ireland??? Oh dear, there goes one of my emigration options...

Irish people have for decades and centuries been doing everything they can to get out of here, because there was nothing except coldness, dampness, hostile natives (ahem) etc. etc. No offense, I'm classing myself too. Then the celtic tiger roared.

Now people see this (cold, damp, not-so-hostile-any-more) island as a desirable place to live??? AAh, but beautiful scenery, they all say (esp. where I live) - but you can't eat beautiful scenery!! It doesn't pay the rent! Or the bills! The only other (legitimate) work round here is digging holes in thanks ("I'll dig with my pen" - - -> extra brownie points if you can quote me the author...)

There's a recession everywhere, surely? - America sneezes and the rest of the world catches a cold...sure it'll just tighten ye up a bit!

Things are certainly tight in my neck of the woods, where translators are few and far between.

I'm not sure what part of the island lizh (the forum-poster) is based in, but my brother lives in Galway and it's no better down there. In fact it's worse, I don't know how he does it.

But I'm optimistic. Except for my washing machine, which has just breathed its last. Murphy's law - if it can go wrong, it will; just when you don't need it. It's how you react that counts.

Now, where's that hammer?

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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:21
English to French
Oil and IT industries are not affected too much May 29, 2008

Or so I read.
Incidentally, I have been doing only that for the past weeks...
Let's see when these projects dry out.
I have an arm-long to-do list, so a bit of respite will be welcome to try and shorten it.
I noticed I am offered less jobs, just enough to be leisurely busy (cycles of 45 min work, 30 min faffing about), and too much too feel not busy.


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
English to German
+ ...
Low $ means high exports May 29, 2008

The U.S. will be able to increase their exports, and the more products or services they will export, the more we will have to translate into our other languages - so I see good times coming.
A short term effect is that most of my clients are now situated in Europe instead of in the U.S., because many U.S. clients don't like to renegotiate the word rates to compensate fully for the exchange rates, although the exporting end clients can sell their products now higher than before (and translation costs are only a small part of the product costs).
I think it will take some months for the profits to go through, though.

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megane_wang  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:21
English to Spanish
+ ...
Maybe better as a freelancer, though May 29, 2008

... or I think so.

Look at micro-companies, like mine. If they need to cut costs because customers are also clearly and deliberately doing this since January, and around 80% of costs are personnel -related... It's not difficult to imagine what's GOING TO happen in short time.

On the other side, if I look to some colleagues from my previous job, we are all doing well enough as a freelancers in different communication-related activities (after almost 8 years completely "free" in my case).

So, after all, it could be worse for my employees than for me, because I already have a way to work and continue paying my bills (+ or -, but mainly yes), while they simply don't (of course, there's social security for them, not for me... but this does not last forever).

Ruth @ MW

[Edited at 2008-05-29 21:03]

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Rossa O'Muireartaigh
Local time: 00:21
Member (2004)
Japanese to English
All things considered May 30, 2008

There are so many factors determining an individual freelancer's income it is very difficult to know which way the wind will blow.
If you are connected to the internet then your work can be sourced from almost anywhere which means you are not tied to the fate of the country you live in. If I am in Ireland but getting all my work from agencies abroad then a recession just means a lower cost of living, more affordable housing, less traffic jams (but maybe a less cohesive, angrier society around me.)
However, the same interconnection that cuts me free of the vicissitudes of the local economy also effects the world economy and perhaps the countries relevant to my language specialism could take a hit and effect me even if I am not living in them.
Another thing to consider is that in recessions certain industries start doing better. Apparently beer sales go up. (People have more time and more sorrows to drown). Who knows, maybe companies in a country with a recessionary slump in domestic demand may feel the pressure to export to other markets and consequently translation demand sores once more.
Anyway, here’s hoping the Irish recession will be a mild one. Le cabhair o dhia.

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