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Is freelance translating still worth it?
Thread poster: Regina Freitag

Regina Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:51
English to German
+ ...
Jan 15, 2010

Dear colleagues,

I don't know if other translators feel the same, but I'm starting to get really frustrated with the business and sometimes I think you can't survive as a freelance translator anymore.
I'm employed at an agency and work freelance, but I need the extra freelance work to make a living.
However, in the last months, the prices seem to have fallen down to a point where it's almost not worth doing it anymore. You see posts here with 40 pounds or even dollars for 1000 words or 10 pounds for 1000 words of proofreading, and the number of jobs is declining too. I was planning to go fully freelance in some years, but now I believe I would earn more money stocking shelves in a supermarket.
It must be so much harder for those of you who do work fully freelance.
Do you think a translator's income will still be enough to pay the bills in future or do you also consider doing something completely different? Do you regret having chosen to be translator in the first place? What could be an alternative?

I'm curious what you think.

Kind regards,
Regina


 

VCampilongo
Italy
English to Italian
+ ...
I was just thinking the same.. Jan 15, 2010

Hi Regina,

pretty strange! today I was feeling your same bafflement and thinking of giving up and I bumped into your post! At least I am not aloneicon_smile.gif
...I am also working full time in another place and then work freelance, because I need money at the end of the month...I am always trying to get new customers, to keep my profile updated, and always reading everything about how to advertise better and all that stuff..but, even when someone is answering to my emails, the short relationship always ends when I write them my rates!
It is quite depressing...what should we do?Why a professional (because a translator IS a professional) must fight against these things, as if his job were useless?!
Maybe we can just stick out and and wait for better times to come...in the meanwhile,I just cheer up reading and talking to those translators who achieved it!


Hope we will have more luck this yearicon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2010-01-15 13:14 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-01-15 13:15 GMT]


 

Marcia Liddle BA(Hons), MA, ACIL
Local time: 03:51
French to English
+ ...
A mixed bag Jan 15, 2010

Hi Regina,

I understand your frustration but perhaps you have a negative view of freelancing because you only do it part-time currently. If you were to switch to translating freelance on a full-time basis you would have much more time to dedicate to marketing yourself, finding higher paying agencies who treat you as a professional and also direct clients in your area of specialisation. It is very true that the rates for jobs posted here have fallen to a point where it isn't worth quoting on them and that's precisely why I don't waste my time quoting on them.

Also, remember that you have a good language pair. My language pairs are French to English and Spanish to English and I do have to admit that if I was only able to offer Spanish into English translation then I might be considering a career change. About 80% of my work is French to English because with Spanish to English I have to try much harder to get the rates I feel are fair, be much more focused in my marketing and also be much more selective about who I work for. But my impression is that you shouldn't have the same problem with rock-bottom rates as is so common with Spanish to English.

There's a very mixed bag of potential clients out there and it's a challenge to find those that you enjoy working with and pay you well. I find it both frustrating and rewarding, but on the whole I love my job and I love working freelance.

Best of luck with everything!


 

Regina Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:51
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
holds hands with Mikolina :-) Jan 15, 2010

Hiii Mikolina,

good to know others feel the same. lol. Yes, I had the same experience with the prices, and it's hard to get regular fixed word assignments.
Let's hope it will get better this year!

Take care!icon_smile.gif


 

Regina Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:51
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Marcia! Jan 15, 2010

Yes, I believe it's a good point that you have more time for marketing and such if you work fully freelance. It's reassuring to hear you have made such positive experiences.
It's good advice to contact agencies directly, I think. I do sometimes, but maybe not enough.
All the best for you too!icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2010-01-15 13:19 GMT]


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:51
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Don't be discouraged! Jan 15, 2010

Personally my experience is quite the opposite. I have been lucky to maintain my rates more or less at the same level as in previous years and nevertheless enjoy a quite busy schedule as an independent professional.

Yes, the market is very competitive out there. And yes, of course there are agencies who post jobs at incredibly low rates, but there is a whole market out there for quality translations at higher rates. You only have to find it, fight for it, and stay attractive by doing your best every time. Trusting websites like Proz.com or similar sites as the main source of work is probably a mistake and you should perhaps try to polish your marketing skills and focus on direct customers and good agencies again.

On top of that, in my opinion you got a very good training coming out from Germersheim (we had a person with a Germersheim diploma working with us as a trainee for a summer and she was very well prepared all in all) and your chances of accessing good, higher-paid jobs are very high. Maybe gaining further certification with IOL, ATA, or another organisation could be a good idea as well, for an extra competitive edge.

So if I were you, I would try to decide what is my best specialty, prepare a nice CV based on that, and get in touch with agencies which, because of the list of customers they publish in their website or because of their location (if you are very much into Norwegian leather, stay out of the Leicestershire market...; just joking!), could be related to that specialty. A solid marketing campaign and looking for extra training or certification are two options that are bound to give good results, if not immediately, in the mid-term.

Good luck!

[Edited at 2010-01-15 13:23 GMT]


 

Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:51
French to English
+ ...
Not necessarily Jan 15, 2010

Regina Freitag wrote:

It must be so much harder for those of you who do work fully freelance.


I think the opposite is probably the case. As a full-time freelancer I (in theory) have time to market myself, develop my specialisms, and concentrate on delivering what I need to deliver in order to get the rates I want. I imagine this would be much more difficult if I had another full-time job and had to translate part-time.

These days I pay the bills with long steady projects that require me to translate quite large volumes - I would not be in a position to accept these if I worked part-time.


 

VCampilongo
Italy
English to Italian
+ ...
about full-time Jan 15, 2010

I would love to work full-time as a freelancer, but I know that, at the moment, I cannot do it because I will not have enough money for paying all the things we pay( house, food, bills, fuel, etc).
So, I try to organize myself first, get some fix customers or agencies providing a fix amount of words per month before taking the further step to freelancing. But, it is difficult and it is easier to discourage. Maybe I am wrong and I should just go full-time and see what happens! How did you all do?What is your advice?
I agree that it is also a matter of language pairs...I can say that with Italian is quite difficult!

Anyway, 2010 just started..let's seeicon_smile.gif


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:51
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Act before leaving your current job Jan 15, 2010

mikolina wrote:
So, I try to organize myself first, get some fix customers or agencies providing a fix amount of words per month before taking the further step to freelancing. But, it is difficult and it is easier to discourage. Maybe I am wrong and I should just go full-time and see what happens! How did you all do?What is your advice?
I agree that it is also a matter of language pairs...I can say that with Italian is quite difficult!

I would be a bit wreckless if I recommended to quit your job and jump from the cliff without knowing how well you are prepared for the jump.

I was lucky to make the jump when the translation market was booming and have been very lucky to be recommended to my main current customers by other people I worked for/with. Now the market is a bit weak in general and it might be a good moment to prepare yourself as a freelance before giving up the "safety" of a job.

Now, what things should be there to make the jump a bit safer?
1. Knowledge and possession of CAT tool(s). The more tools you can learn and the more you can invest in CAT tools, the better. Personally I would try to lean about TRADOS, MemoQ, Wordfast, and DejaVu, the four main market players in my opinion.

2. Own website and a polished CV in your main source and target languages.

3. Preparedness for immediate response: if someone tries to contact you by email, how will you know if you are at your job? A Blackberry or similar means at hand or some way of being notified of incoming emails in your email as an independent translation professional could be a good bet.

4. Well-prepared resources, i.e. what dictionaries are must-haves in your specialties, what magazines or periodicals can you read, what websites will contain sound information about it you can read frequently, etc.? Do you have (or know where to get) what it takes to make every job a success?

5. Extra training. The more you can invest in enhancing your training in your main area of specialisation or other areas you are interested in, the better. This of course requires time, travel, and long hours every day unless you can take the courses over the weekend or on-line.

6. Extra certification. Explore your chances gaining extra certification in internationally-recognised bodies like IOL, ATA, etc.

If you work on these areas, you might be a lot better off if you eventually decide to quit your job or your job disappears.


 

Regina Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:51
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Tomas and Angela! Jan 15, 2010

Thanks a lot for your encouragement, Tomas and Angela!
The certifications are great advice, I will try to do that soon.
But may I ask how you usually find clients or better paying agencies?
One of the fields I would like to specify e.g. is tourism and I wrote to tourist agencies and cruise lines etc. and asked if they are interested in a German translation of their website or brochures, but I have been unsuccessful so far. Maybe they consider my mail unprofessional or prefer an agency, but I actually think my letter contained all necessary information and my CV.
Kind regards, Regina


 

Paula Tome  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:51
English to Portuguese
Is freelance translating still worth it? Jan 15, 2010

Hi, not wishing to depress you any further, I think you have a point in feeling this way. The industry is changing very fast and indeed we are all competing quite blindly against people that are prepared to work for peanuts. Quality seems to be the least important of issues nowadays and rates keep on dropping. Whereas in the past companies would get directly in touch regarding a new project, nowadays I get emails starting "Dear all..." First one to answer gets it... Not nice. Money wise, the very nature of freelancing means that you never know where the next project is going to come from, so financially it can be quite nerve wrecking. But it also depends on your main subjects and your language combination. I am sure very technical people do very well. I haven't given up yet, so it must pay the bills somehow! Good luck!

Best regards

Paula Tomé


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:51
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Life in the disco Jan 15, 2010

Regina Freitag wrote:
But may I ask how you usually find clients or better paying agencies?
One of the fields I would like to specify e.g. is tourism and I wrote to tourist agencies and cruise lines etc. and asked if they are interested in a German translation of their website or brochures, but I have been unsuccessful so far. Maybe they consider my mail unprofessional or prefer an agency, but I actually think my letter contained all necessary information and my CV.
Kind regards, Regina

To me the translation market is like a night at the disco. You get the best dancing partners if you look attractive, interesting, and are seen around. So I'd personally work on the training and preparation side more for some months, and would also try to participate actively in translation portals. For instance, you could help others in Kudoz or be present in fora etc. etc. The more you are seen and the better your training, the easier it is to get good "dancing partners"...icon_wink.gif

Edited to add this: I meant to explain that it is not only how much you do to approach others (they will not dance with you if you are not quite their type), but how to be attractive to the ones you want to work with. They will approach you if they believe you are the one for them.

[Edited at 2010-01-15 14:14 GMT]


 

jaymin
Canada
Local time: 22:51
Member (2009)
German to Korean
+ ...
I agree.. Jan 15, 2010

I see the market rate is indeed going down. Sometimes, I get an offer USD 0.02 per word for translation and USD 0.01 per word for proofreading. Really questioning myself how the quality it is going to be, if they can find a generous candidate. One day, I asked somewhere else if agencies are approaching freelancers to save their money but I didn't get any clear answer on that.

You may want to think twice if you plan to invest money to promote your service. ...Stay with your current employer and keep freelancing as a part-time . ...See where the market is moving to.

JM


 

Regina Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:51
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Disco sounds good! Jan 15, 2010

lol Tomas, that sounds very relaxing! I see what you mean though, a good appearance is really important.
Thanks Jaymin too! That's what I'm scared of, that I do that jump into cold water and it goes wrong.


 

TeleAuto  Identity Verified
Egypt
Local time: 04:51
English to Arabic
Totally agree with you Jan 15, 2010

Dear Regina,

Since I am the only person here who translate from English into Arabic, I am totally agree with you; translation, in my pairs I am talking about, is a very tough job. It needs from you to work hard, having specific certificates, and so on. Meanwhile, its reward hardly make a living, specially when we see some colleagues accept USD 0.02 per word for translation and so on!

[Edited at 2010-01-15 17:34 GMT]


 
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