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Starting as freelancer in the UK - Rates/Legal requirements
Thread poster: Wojciech Szczerek

Wojciech Szczerek  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:05
English to Polish
+ ...
Jun 22, 2015

Hi everyone,

I am a student living in the UK starting my professional career as a translator and I am so happy to find a website like ProZ.com, where you get to meet many people working in the business and you can find so much information in one place.

I've been preparing to start working as a translator for one year now - I prepared my CVs and profiles to make myself visible on the Internet, watched plenty of webinars, as well as took up some voluntary work in translation for Global Voices just to refresh my skills a bit.

I hold a Master's degree in English Philology (a combination of English and Linguistics, with the specialisation in translation). I am currently studying Computing in Scotland, but I am not sure if IT would be my desired field to translate in.

1) I've been recently trying to figure out the optimal rates for my services as a freelancer.
I had a look at the community average rates table, which shows EUR 0.08 (around GBP 0.06) as a standard average rate per word in EN-PL pair.
I know that as a new translator with no specialisation chosen yet, I cannot expect much more, but at the same time I should not underprice as this will only work against me and is bad for the market.
At the same time - the job postings are VERY far from this rate, sometimes offering rates like GBP 0.015p/w. Should I, assuming that I value my work and provide good quality service, ignore such postings?

2) I've been trying to find out what is expected from me as a freelance translator working in the UK in terms of finance. I am now registered myself as a sole-trader, I know that I don't have to register as VAT-payer unless my annual income goes over some threshold I don't even dream to exceed.


Do I need to use the services of an accountant or would I be fine without them, given that I don't pay VAT?

Is there anything else I have to do to make myself fully established legally?
I know that agencies have their own contracts but do I have to prepare any documents in order to formalise my cooperation with clients? Or is it a matter of an agreement we make? What would be the standard factors to consider when making agreements apart from the format, chosen CAT-tool, rates, payments and deadlines?


3) I am one of those people who have spent hours playing computer games. When I was a kid I considered becoming "someone who translates games". I know that the fields of translation and software localisation are disparate.

Do you think it would be necessary for me to gain some experience as a "regular" translator before I start looking for opportunities in localisation? Or should I rather focus on one of those?

Apart from that, I was wondering if there's any general tips you guys could give to a newbie like me. Gosh that was long!


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Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:05
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
VAT, etc. Jun 22, 2015

You don't HAVE to register for VAT, but it may be to your advantage to do so as you will be able to claim back the VAT on your purchases (computer, CAT tool, dictionaries, etc.), which may amount to a significant sum since you are just starting out. As you will be working for other businesses who are presumably VAT registered themselves there is no cost to this except some extra admin. I've never bothered myself, but it might be worth thinking about as money will presumably be tight at the start.

If you have registered as self-employed that's about it for the formalities in the UK. I've always managed without an accountant - you will probably find your accounts are pretty straightforward.

I don't know much about rates for your pair or localisation so I'll leave those questions for someone else. Good luck.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:05
Russian to English
+ ...
I do not know what you have to do in the UK, Jun 23, 2015

but the rates are much too low—whatever you mentioned. You should charge at least $0.12-015/word., with your type of eduction and skills.

You do not need too many CAT applications, maybe one of your choice, if you need it. If you decide to work for agencies, and they require any CAT programs, they have to provide them free of charge. Do not let agencies manipulate you—some are good, but many try to take advanced of people. Yet others do not know anything about the transition process, including whether a particular translation is correct or not.

[Edited at 2015-06-23 07:57 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 19:05
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
DON'T charge 'newbie rates' Jun 23, 2015

I live outside the UK and can't help you with the VAT rules etc., but my advice is to charge the best rate you can get for the job. Building up good relations with regular clients is a great advantage too - you work faster and more confidently when you know what they want or where to get help when you need it. However, once you have agreed on a rate with them, it can be hard to raise it!

As a freelancer, you do not start at the bottom and work your way up, at least as far as rates are concerned. Either you deliver a professional job, or you should not take it on at all. It has the same value for the client as work done by anyone else. In other words, if it is fit for purpose, then you should not charge less just because you are a beginner.

In fact, as I have seen from proofreading, well-qualified newbies often know the terminology, are keen and conscientious, and give clients excellent value for money. Those of us who have been around for longer actually have to work hard to keep up with the rest of the world.

Of course, as a newbie you don't know it all, and you will build up more specialist knowledge as you go along. You can then move into higher paid fields, and find better-paying clients. Sometimes you may also be able to work faster because you are familiar with the subject or have bulit up a good TM etc.

GBP 0.06 sounds very low to me - but it depends on a lot of factors, so check!
In the CIoL-ITI joint survey in 2011 the figures for Polish into English were
between GBP 60 and 90 per 1000 words for direct clients, the most frequent being 77.
For agencies the figures were between 74 and 60, most frequently 70.
The figures are set out differently for English into Polish, but the most frequent rates are GBP 70 for direct clients and 60 for agencies.

If you set your rates too low, some good clients will not take you seriously, suspecting that you simply cannot live on those rates, or that you don't spend the necessary time on researching, checking and the little things that add up to quality.

Best of luck!


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:05
French to English
Move the thread? Jun 23, 2015

There's a sub-forum called "translation in the UK". This would probably be better in there. You'll probably also find some useful info in general.

Yes, all you need to do is tell HMRC you're self employed. If you're registering now, you'll need to register on the gateway because paper submissions are not allowed for new reistrations. Word to the wise - do it sooner not later. Also, assuming you're a Polish national, you might need to get yourself an NI number if you haven't already.

The maths for self-employed accounting is not complicated. The rules for allowances and expenses are all out there for anyone to read (mostly, anyway!).

However, and please forgive me, in view of your other questions, I wonder if your general business/commercial knowledge is of a level that inspires confidence in producing your own accounts?


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Natalie Soper  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:05
French to English
+ ...
Ah, job postings... Jun 23, 2015

You'll quickly find that lots of jobs posted here have a budget that is well under what translators charge on average - and there are lots of forum posts lamenting this fact also.

I definitely wouldn't go below £0.06, if that is the average here - depending on how fast you translate, this tends to work out as an hourly rate that is around double the UK national minimum wage - not a huge amount for a freelancer, considering that you have to pay for all of your own office equipment, software, insurance, memberships........and so on!

Self-assessment is pretty straightforward, but it depends on how much you hate numbers as to whether you want to get an accountant to check everything. There is plenty of information about submitting your self assessment on the HMRC website that should be helpful. Remember that National Insurance is now paid yearly along with your tax if you're self-employed, so be sure to put some money aside for that as well.

Hope this helps!


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:35
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
You are well set up Jun 23, 2015

Welcome aboard to the vast and often treacherous field of freelance translation!

Fortunately, you seem well-equipped to make a success of it. I was struck by your easy, conversational command over English even though you have given Polish as your native language. You seem to be one of those rare people who are bilingual. Yet there is a lot of prejudice in our profession visavis native language, and you will face it sooner than later when you translate into English - a language that is not your declared native language.

I would suggest that you do declare English as one of your native languages, in addition to Polish. This site allows members to declare up to 2 languages as native languages, and you seem to be more qualified than many I know to take advantage of this privilege.

Initially you might not get much jobs in your desired filed (game translation) and might have to make do with what comes your way, but eventually you should be able to find your niche in game translation, though I am not sure that it is very lucrative, I have heard there is a lot of competition in this filed and rates are low.

It takes six months to a year to start getting a steady stream of work, be patient and don't give up prematurely.

All the best.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:05
Member (2008)
Italian to English
I disagree Jun 23, 2015

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

...... I was struck by your easy, conversational command over English even though you have given Polish as your native language. .....


I disagree. Apart from an uneasiness as to whether the OP's English is British English or American English, there are numerous very noticeable infelicities. None of this is a problem in informal discussions such as the one we're having here, but would become so in translations, resulting in complaints from unhappy clients who are paying for a perfect service.


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Wojciech Szczerek  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:05
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Jun 23, 2015

Thanks, everyone, for your replies!

Rachel,
I was afraid someone would encourage me to register as a VAT payer. However, I came across sb's opinion that once you've done so, you have to make your book-keeping right, that is, employ an accountant - otherwise you are getting yourself into trouble. And that's the trouble I wanted to avoid. But I'll consider what you said.

Lilian,
thanks for the advice on CAT-tools - I understand that you mean agencies provide them when you cooperate with them on a regular basis or when you are employed BY them.

Christine, Lilian and Natalie,
thanks for giving me the idea about how the average community rate relates to the reality - as I said, I never intended to offer "newbie rates". But even if you decide not to, you have to know what the actual rates are. At least now I know I can expect sth between the ranges you mentioned.

Charlie,
I am not quite sure what you mean in the last two paragraphs. On one hand, you said it's pretty straightforward when it comes to do self-employed accounting on your own, on the other - that I might not be able to cope with it.

Maybe I did not explain very well the steps I have taken so far: I am now self-employed, I have registered by HMRC, I do have NIN and I've studied the HMRC resources on taxes and rules to follow available online.

Do you think I should look for someone to help me with these or did you mean that I need more business knowledge as a freelance translator in general? If so, what would be the best way to get such experience?

Balasubramaniam L.,
thanks for the words of encouragement. I tend to approach my English abilities with some caution - I don't think I would ever be able to translate professionally INTO any foreign language. As observed by Tom, you either have your native command of a language and you can "think in it" or you cannot.
I understand that I need a specialisation as well, of which software and IT seem to be the most obvious candidates.


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Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:05
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Me too, actually Jun 23, 2015


I was afraid someone would encourage me to register as a VAT payer. However, I came across sb's opinion that once you've done so, you have to make your book-keeping right, that is, employ an accountant - otherwise you are getting yourself into trouble. And that's the trouble I wanted to avoid. But I'll consider what you said.


That's fair enough - I have never VAT registered either for the same reason. It's just if you do it at all, now would be a good time as you are presumably about to spend a good chunk of money on start-up costs. But I will always take a "less admin" option if it's available


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Jacqueline White
Austria
Local time: 19:05
Hungarian to English
+ ...
Constructive criticism Jun 23, 2015

I suggest having a native speaker (somebody with an excellent feel for language) go carefully through your profile, CV and sample translations.

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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:05
French to English
Obtuse Jun 23, 2015

Yeah, sorry, I was a bit obtuse. I took your comments in bold to indicate a certain lack of commercial knowledge or experience in terms of the commercial relationship - what goes in the agreement. On the other hand, I couldn't see much if anything missing, so perhaps I was unduly harsh .

It's true to say the VAT form is not a beacon of clarity. It's not true to say that registering for VAT absolutely requires an accountant, IF your financial knowledge and skills (and particularly the VAT regulations!) are up to it. I've done it myself for years, even when I had an accountant... but that is not a recommendation that you (or anyone) follows my example


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:05
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Lower volume handled = lower rate per hour of work Jun 23, 2015

That's how a newbie ends up earning less to start with. If you're determined to do a good job, as you should be, you'll fully research every term you aren't sure of, check most of those you DO already know, and you'll proofread your work until you know it by heart. Your client will pay the correct amount for a good translation, but you'll probably have earned only half the amount per hour that an experienced specialist charging the same average rate would earn. That way you don't have to do anything to increase your income - it will just happen with experience. Later on, if/when you find you're having to reject work because your days are full, you start quoting a higher rate to new clients. If that works, then raise the rate you charge those clients who aren't great for one reason or another (not your favourite work, complicated admin, late payments...).

I agree that your main question of freelancing in the UK would be better discussed in that forum. One point addressed there will be whether you'll have problems working with non-UK clients if you don't have a VAT number to quote.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:05
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Agreed Jun 24, 2015

Jacqueline White wrote:

I suggest having a native speaker (somebody with an excellent feel for language) go carefully through your profile, CV and sample translations.


I agree. Although I feel it shouldn't be necessary.


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Gabriele Demuth  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:05
Member (2014)
English to German
Samples into a language you don't translate into? Jun 24, 2015

Your samples are into English!? Why not load samples into Polish, the language you translate into.

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