Transition from in-house to freelance. Gameplan?
Thread poster: Rob Prior

Rob Prior
Germany
Local time: 11:13
German to English
Dec 10, 2013

Hello fellow Prozians, I feel like I can call you that now, having just completed my membership (last day of the offer, get in).


I have been translating in-house for just over two years now and thoughts are turning to the future and going freelance. I want to stress that I enjoy my in-house job and am not in a hurry to make the jump. I am also not too keen to quit my job and go freelance from cold, so to speak, as I am aware that it will take a while to get up to speed.

My plan is to start taking on freelance work as of next year, in addition to my job (there is nothing in my contract that says I can't), and then once that reaches a critical mass (probably when I have no life), quit the day job and set sail on the good ship freelance. I have experience, specialisms and a number of contacts in the industry, so I think I'll be able to make a good fist of it, whilst sticking with the day job will prevent financial doom while I'm getting up to speed. I'll admit to being a little wet behind the ears when it comes to the business side of things (taxes, insurance stuff, etc.) but hopefully this is where Proz comes in handy.

Anyway, my questions to you are:

1. How do clients/agencies react to freelancers with a day job, and who are therefore less available? I know I'm not the first person make the jump in this way, so some experiences and advice would be useful.

2. What is the situation re taxation of additional income in Germany? I know you have to declare everything, but is there a tax-free threshold?

There are of course more question marks floating round in my head at the moment, but those are the most immediate ones. Thanks in advance for your replys. Rob


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:13
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Welcome to the full site features, Rob Dec 10, 2013

I think it's a good idea to start off part-time, but I doubt if clients (agencies in particular) would have much work to give you if you already have a full-time job. If you're restricted to evenings (when you'll be tired) and weekends, you won't be able to meet more than a small percentage of deadlines. I think you'd find yourself saying "Sorry, can't do it" rather too often to keep clients coming back.

A part-time in-house job would be much more practical. If you worked in-house in the morning, you'd have a huge chunk of time left if you were prepared to work all evening. Even then, you'll have to turn down a fair amount of work, but it can be done. I was doing a lot of teaching when I started translating and I found availability the only problem. Nobody ever seemed to mind what I was doing the rest of the time; they just needed their deadline met.

You might find problems with agencies not liking the fact that you work in-house for a competitor, though. They could imagine you'll divulge their details to your employer, pinch their clients etc. OTOH, I'm sure you wouldn't be able to keep it a secret - this is a public forum, after all!

I'd start finding out about the business side sooner rather than later; I believe lack of business awareness is one of the biggest handicaps a freelancer can have. Maybe the local Chamber of Commerce run courses.

Good luck, whatever you decide.


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LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:13
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
A different approach... Dec 10, 2013

At the risk of suggesting the obvious - why not attempt to convert your employer to your first freelance client, and then make a clean break? They know you, and they are presumably satisfied with your work. Assuming that they make use of freelancers anyway (and are not prone to bearing grudges against departed employees), there's no reason not to hire you. If they ask why - well, there are plenty of plausible reasons to given them for wanting to hang out your own shingle.

Otherwise (and having been there, done that once upon a time), I fully concur with Sheila's observations.

[Edited at 2013-12-10 20:11 GMT]


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dianaft  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:13
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
Very good thinking Dec 10, 2013

Rudolf Vedo CT wrote:

At the risk of suggesting the obvious - why not attempt to convert your employer to your first freelance client, and then make a clean break? They know you, and they are presumably satisfied with your work. Assuming that they make use of freelancers anyway (and are not prone to bearing grudges against departed employees), there's no reason not to hire you. If they ask why - well, there are plenty of plausible reasons to given them for wanting to hang out your own shingle.

Otherwise (and having been there, done that once upon a time), I fully concur with Sheila's observations.

[Edited at 2013-12-10 20:11 GMT]


I guess in other sectors, this is common practice. Yet, it would never have occurred to me in this scenario. Sometimes the most obvious solutions are the best.

I don't really see the problem as much in the availability, since clients equally have to deal with lead times if you are simply busy as a freelancer. Rather, the actual availability during working hours might be an issue. I don't monitor my emails all the time, but make sure that I check them several times a day. Some clients panic, if there is no response on the same business day and when the conversation/negotiation spans several email exchanges, this is dragged out by not being available at that time. I doubt that your employer would be happy for you to spend time on your client communication/marketing during working hours. So you really need to involve them in the process of transition, regardless of which approach you choose.

[Edited at 2013-12-10 20:53 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-12-10 21:02 GMT]


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Rob Prior
Germany
Local time: 11:13
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the input. Dec 11, 2013

Rudolf Vedo CT wrote:

At the risk of suggesting the obvious - why not attempt to convert your employer to your first freelance client, and then make a clean break? They know you, and they are presumably satisfied with your work. Assuming that they make use of freelancers anyway (and are not prone to bearing grudges against departed employees), there's no reason not to hire you. If they ask why - well, there are plenty of plausible reasons to given them for wanting to hang out your own shingle.

Otherwise (and having been there, done that once upon a time), I fully concur with Sheila's observations.

[Edited at 2013-12-10 20:11 GMT]


I agree the "steadily taking on more freelance work" approach is problematic, as I am already doing a bit of work on the side for an agency I worked with during university and that is taking up a lot of my free time, which I really value.

The part time approach seems more promising, I may be able to make it so that I can stay working part time at the company where I am now and then take on freelance work on top of that, including from them. The worry is not having enough work.


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Paul Malone  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:13
Member (2004)
French to English
+ ...
I would make a clean break Dec 11, 2013

I would make a clean break, Rob, rather than go about the change in the way you are suggesting. Otherwise, you risk having to make a choice between not replying to communications from your own clients within a reasonable time or doing so in your employers time, which could be very difficult and may result in your not being able to give good service to either. That would not be ideal for anyone involved.

Why not set a date to make the changeover, say January 2015, for example, then prepare for it? That would give you plenty of time to do all the research you need to regarding potential clients, self employment in Germany, etc. You could also save money so that you will have some cash to tide you over when you go it alone, and all the time you will be gaining more experience and thus stengthening your credibility as a translator and your professional profile.

I think that organized planning is the key. I also believe that once you have made the change, you will never regret it.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:13
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Of course - the obvious solution! Dec 11, 2013

Rudolf Vedo CT wrote:
At the risk of suggesting the obvious - why not attempt to convert your employer to your first freelance client, and then make a clean break?

Absolutely; a much better way to handle the move.

You know their clients, their work, etc., you have their trust, and they won't want to lose you completely, I'm sure. They'll probably be more than happy to keep working with you, and you would have at least one regular client to tide you over the first few months. I know that other translators here have done just that, with varying results. I remember one who asked for advice here as she had ended up treated as an employee with none of the benefits, being told what to do by her "boss". But we'll assume you won't let that happen, Rob.

The only thing to guard against would be relaxing, happily working with just that one main client - a dangerous situation for a freelancer as a client can just disappear in a trice; no redundancy payout for a freelancer! So you'd want to make sure you get at least 2-3 other main, regular clients asap, plus another 10 or so who give you occasional work.

BTW: for questions related to working in Germany, you'd probably do better to post in the German forum.


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polyglot45
English to French
+ ...
I presume you know what you are doing? Dec 11, 2013

I presume you have given serious thought to your future and have decided, for good reason, that freelancing is - for you - the way to go?
I confess that I am not a freelancer in Germany so I don't know about the conditions but from other countries, essentially France, I can tell you that as a self-employed person, the contributions can be high.
When you are salaried staff, you don't have to worry about employer contributions but when you work for yourself, there is nobody to share the load. A lot of young freelancers get a shock when they realise exactly what they have to pay to cover health insurance, unemployment insurance, pension funds (and these are only the tip of the iceberg).

As a freelancer you will need to consider professional indemnity insurance. You will need to have and maintain all your own IT Equipment (no ringing up the in-house IT expert if you have a problem - and the tab will be for you). You will need to produce invoices, chase up poor payers, do your accounts (or pay someone to do them).... All this takes time and costs money.
You also have to network and maintain relations with your clients.
You spoke of working with agencies. Fine but if you work with direct clients (such as your current employer), nobody else gets a cut of the deal. An awful lot of agencies are known for paying chicken feed to their translators. I know for a fact that some of my clients (all direct) have worked with agencies and that the mark-up is huge - so much so that I can charge top-end rates and still be competitive because I deal direct.

If I were you I would work on the direct client angle - via your current employer and in the same industry, while not infringing competition and confidentiality rules.

I suggest that, in Germany, you should investigate membership of the German Translators Association, BDÜ. There you will find seasoned professionals who will be able to advise you on cost issues and practicalities in Germany and, with this sort of input, you will be able to compare your present salaried situation with the "real" world out there as a freelancer.

If you are used to working in a team with other colleagues, you will have to kiss goodbye to the company and the exchanges. There are those who hate office politics and are dying to get out. You may be one such person. But think on these things before you leave your cosy nest. Remember that there will be bills to pay and mouths to feed (if only yours). Do your sums.

Sites like this are essentially gatherings of freelancers. Salaried translators may pop in and out but their needs are not the same. You will get advice here but there is the risk that it will be - albeit by accident rather than design - rather one-sided. As someone who was salaried for ages and now only freelancing on the side, I can assure you that I can look forward to a decent pension whereas my colleague freelancers locally complain that they will get peanuts and have to work till they drop. It is a sobering thought.

Sorry to rain on your parade but freelancing may have its upsides and you can make good money if you are prepared to say goodbye to the five-day working week. It all depends what you want out of life. Personally, if you have a good job and agreeable colleagues and are still on a learning curve, you are in the warm. Outside it can be cold. Weigh your decision firmly in the balance before you take the pluinge. Afterwards there will be no going back.
Somebody had to say this.
HTH


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Rob Prior
Germany
Local time: 11:13
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
I should have clarified Dec 12, 2013

My current employer is a translation company. My work covers a range of areas but mostly focuses on automotive and mechanical engineering, with a fair amount of marketing and training documents thrown in. I enjoy these kind of texts and have already established a handful of clients who I regularly translate for. Were I to go freelance I would of course turn to this company as my first client, both becuase I know the people and clients there and because they have a good reputation.

Thanks for making it clear, it all sounds daunting right now, but if it were so bad no one would do it. I am aware of the extra costs and effort involved in freelancing compared to working in-house, but I also know there is plenty of help out there.

I will admit my main motivation for going freelance is simply to earn more - as much as I like my job, I'm not keen on earning this much for the rest of my life.

We have a small in-house translator team at work, 3 of which are planning on going freelance next year. I'll try and pick their brains as to what kind of preparations they are making and sit down with the resources people who recruit freelancers and get their input as well.

[Edited at 2013-12-12 10:27 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-12-12 11:41 GMT]


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Paul Harrison MITI
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:13
French to English
Best move you'll ever make Dec 12, 2013

I did exactly what you are planning to do just over a year ago now and don't regret it at all.

I actually worked freelance "on the side" for a year before I made the leap, but in hindsight I think that three consecutive months where your freelancing income exceeds that of your day job is a good sign that you're ready to go.

It can get hectic towards the end (you'll effectively be working two full-time jobs), and you can bank on a couple of all-nighters, but it's entirely manageable. You shouldn't have any problems checking and replying to emails while at work.

Do make sure you do your homework on tax, etc. As another poster mentioned, in France you may end up with an unusual gait once the State has had its way with you. But then you'll be a freelancer, so you can work wherever you want


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Sabine Reynaud  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:13
German to English
+ ...
Spending time on Marketing Dec 13, 2013

Instead of doing a lot of translating on the side, you could use this time to set-up your marketing and any tools you might need.

Since you are already translating all day, you might want to mix it up anyways. You could develop a website and other marketing vehicles. Make sure you have all the tools to make yourself more productive. Some of which can be expensive.

Learn about the other business aspects, set up your accounting etc. Then once you cut the cord you are ready to go, and you can concentrate on taking on projects instead of developing the business part. Especially, since it sounds like you already have some clients lined up.

Joining a professional organization like the BDÜ is probally also valuable. Often, that is a place were buyers start looking for translators. And you have more networking opportunities.

You are in a good place. This transition will probably be easier, than coming out of college and starting out or doing it as Quereinsteiger.

Best of Luck!


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Rob Prior
Germany
Local time: 11:13
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Good idea Dec 13, 2013

Sabine Reynaud wrote:

Instead of doing a lot of translating on the side, you could use this time to set-up your marketing and any tools you might need.






I currently use OmegaT for the stuff on the side, only because it's free. Will probably at some point get Across aswell because the freelance version is free. I know it's not the most popular TM system out there, but I have experience using it and translators with Across are in demand atm, at least with German. MemoQ looks good as well and I have only heard good things about it. Of course I will at some stage get Trados Studio, but it is a hefty chunk of moolah, maybe when the next group buy comes along I will jump in or I'll sweet talk work into ordering me another licence so as to avoid VAT.

The marketing idea seems sensible, I've just noticed that Proz offers a free website construction, which is nice. I should probably update and upload my CV at some point too...


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