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How much money do you freelancers earn?
Thread poster: vieleFragen

Local time: 16:43
Feb 15, 2005

Hi. I'm sure a lot of people are not going to tell me anyways (and I understand that of course), but I'd just like to know how much money you can earn as a (freelance)translator (I'm interested in translating from english, french and especially japanese if I can learn that language into german). I often hear that translators usually get low salaries, but how about freelance translators? How high (or low for that matter) are your rates and do you usually get enough work to work several hours a day or are there also times where you hardly have any work at all?


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:43
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
It depends on your skills Feb 15, 2005

When you look at the job-section you'll see what is on offer on the free market, but if one finds good clients and has much experience (high quality output) rates will easily double or triple. Probably each of us has good and bad seasons, and the taxes have to be paid too, and a lot of other things. You are your own boss and will suddenly see, that also bosses have to work.


Stephanie Wloch  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:43
Member (2003)
Dutch to German
Literary translations and great poll in Germany Feb 15, 2005

the Literary Translators' Association of Germany
made a Honorar-Umfrage (honorarium-poll?)
English French Italian Spanisch Dutch etc.
Have a look here:

Resultats of another poll will be published
in a few months.

[Edited at 2005-02-15 08:41]


Latin_Hellas (X)
United States
Local time: 16:43
Italian to English
+ ...
Depends On Skills And Other Factors Feb 15, 2005

Mr. Pesch is right to say that skills and experience are main factors, stating also that "if one finds good clients". So this implies that self-marketing skills are also a key determinant. Indeed you are your own boss, so a lot depends on how hard and skillfully you work on obtaining good clients (meaning those with demand, recognizing quality, and willing to pay for it); whom you know and a bit of luck also play a significant role in this process.
There is no shortage of work on a global basis, the challenge is finding it; again, marketing skills, translation skills (speed and quality) and price will determine volume and income.
In my experience, it makes most sense to measure progress on a monthly - not day-to-day - basis: some days you have no translation work (but use these opportunities to improve yourself in other areas: your field of expertise, computer skills, etc.), other days, or certain months of the year, the volume is high and you work overtime, or you have to refuse some offers simply because you have only two eyes and two hands.
Hope this helps.


Lia Fail (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:43
Spanish to English
+ ...
it takes time to get to earn a good living Feb 15, 2005

When you start off, obviously you have no clients, and have to work for agencies, which pay less.

What's more, you haven't built a reputation, so you don't have a whole spectrum of possible clients, some of whom may only contact you once or twice a year. That also means that sometimes you won't have work.

As you get more experience you acquire more clients and your average rate goes up, becuase logically you choose to work for the best payers. You also find that you have 5 or 10 days work in your in-tray, and are turning down work.

Your expenses also increase becuase to be able to offer a professional service, you need to invest in a workspace, equipment, back-up equipment, training, etc. However, these are generally a proportionally small of your earnings.

You often have to start out with another part-time job unless your cost of living is cheap (e.g. you live at home), otherwise you may find that you don't earn enough from freelancing.

Then you may decide that you could risk being a full-timer, but you may find that you make sacrifices in your personal and social life in order to build up your business.

Finally, after X years (in my case about 10), you feel you have arrived....and sadly, by now I have some minor health problems with my back, eyes and arms/fingers....:-(

That's the way it's been for me, so HTH:-)

PS, in answer to your question re spondulicks, yes, eventually, after many years, after many sacrifices, I feel I am not poor, and I am happy with my standard of living. However, the downside is that I am paying a price in physical health, which is bad news for someone self-employed, and so it occurs to me that maybe 5 or 10 years from now I may not be able to work as a freelancer. In comparison to friends teaching languages, I am far better off. In comparsion to people working in middle management and other reasonably paid jobs in the business sector, I am earning a pittance:-)

[Edited at 2005-02-15 10:54]


Jerzy Czopik  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:43
Member (2003)
Polish to German
+ ...
To put it short Feb 15, 2005

far less then I would expect from the time I invest in working.
Even with sufficient experience (in my case 15 years) I think with other profession I could earn more.
But OTOH I like what I do, so I don´t claim.



Aliseo Japan
Local time: 00:43
Italian to Japanese
+ ...
Good luck... Feb 15, 2005

vieleFragen wrote:

... and especially JAPANESE if I can learn that language...

Good luck indeed if you are in a hurry.

Mario Cerutti


Tadzio (X)
English to Spanish
A positive reply... Feb 15, 2005

Hi Viele,
I think a translator earns what he/she deserves.
I'm not saying I am the best, but with over 20 years of experience and having worked in the past as an in-house translator & copy-editor, since working from home as a freelance 7 or 8 years ago, I earn much more money than in the past. And I am happy! I can easily cover all my expenses and debts, and also my family's.
How do I get my clients? Advertising hard my website via emails, and posting it on all search engines I can afford, as well as emailing to all Translation Agencies you like (maybe you're lucky and get a fair payment) and Mexican and American corporations.
By the way, many times I transfer the work to other language pair translators, and many other Spanish translators when the job volume is too high for me alone, or I get 2 or 3 jobs at the same time. (Obviously, when the job returns to me, I have to do proofreading, since Spanish language quality is my responsibility.)
Best wishes from Mexico!


Hilary Davies Shelby
United States
Local time: 09:43
German to English
Not as much as in-house translators, at least not at first Feb 15, 2005

I agree with pretty much everything that has been posted here so far - after a year of freelancing, I can now cover all my bills. Don't ask about the debt!icon_wink.gif

If you can, I would suggest building up some capital before you start, so that you can live off it while you are getting your client base together and until payments start coming in (remember, people have 45 days to pay you). I wasn't in a position to do this, and it was very hard. Of course, if you have a partner/spouse who also has a job, that is very useful. If you are on your own, it will take some time to make a "living wage". You might, as someone else suggested, seriously want to consider taking a part-time job as well initially.

One of the good things about translating is that your initial outlay is minimal. Your "product" is your skill - all you need is an Internet connection and a computer that will run word processing software. You don't even need a printer (i still don't have one).

Good luck!


Hilary Davies Shelby
United States
Local time: 09:43
German to English
I should add... Feb 15, 2005

that there is more work for translators out there than you can possibly imagine. I work about 70 hours a week - if I didn't need to eat and sleep, I would earn more!icon_wink.gif


Nina Snoj
Member (2004)
Spanish to Slovenian
+ ...
Earning more then I would as an in-house translator Feb 15, 2005

Hilary Davies wrote:

I work about 70 hours a week - if I didn't need to eat and sleep, I would earn more!icon_wink.gif

The same happens to me, but I must tell you that it was one job per month (!) when I went freelance 3 years ago (you definetly need a part-time job or come from a wealthy family).
I never thought I will be in position of turning down clients, as I am now, but I invested a lot in my translation business during these years, so I guess patience does pay off.
Good luck!


Marcela García  Identity Verified
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My job Feb 15, 2005

I believe I could earn more money working for a corporation or maybe some other kind of job but then...

Here is a brainstorm of the other side of my "earnings"

- I work at home
- Sometimes I even work in bed (laptop helps)
- When I have a couple of hours free, I can swimm at the pool and be back at my "office" in a couple of minutes
- So sometimes I even work in my bikini
- I am always there when my children need me
- When I don´t have too much work I can take a nap with the little ones and even watch cartoons or bake a cake together
- I have not missed a school party, birthday, parents meeting, etc. for the last five years
- I have been able to work while travelling for weeks
- I have worked in places as far away from my "office" as Varanasi. I can read my email anywhere
- I love my job

I think I earn a lot!



Alison Schwitzgebel
Local time: 16:43
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Reminds me of a Jeff Foxworthy quote.. Feb 15, 2005

Marcela García Henríquez wrote:

Sometimes I even work in bed (laptop helps)

You know you're a redneck if you wake up in the morning and you're already dressed for work....

I guess that applies to quite a lot of us translators!

Seriously though - how much you earn depends on quite a few factors:

- your language pair
- your location
- your expertise in your specialist areas
- your attention to detail
- your manner of dealing with your customers
- your hardware/software
- and last but not least your command of your chosen languages (source and target)

It might sound like a good idea to work from Japanese to German (or whatever), but to be able to translate well you need more than just a "good command" of the language - you have to know it inside out. On top of that you need to know your specialist area inside out as well (in all your languages).

And if it all works out you can certainly earn more freelancing than most in-house translators I know. Or even some managing directorsicon_wink.gif




Local time: 10:43
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Jeff Foxworthy Feb 15, 2005

You know you've got a good job in Canada when... don't have to get up an hour early for work to shovel your way to the car.

icon_lol.gif that's not Foxworthy, that's Nancy Lynn!!!

big bonus in my book, anyway.


Plus: all those small extraneous expenses that add up, when you work away from home, are eliminated: gas and parking (or taxis); coffee and lunches; pantyhoseicon_wink.gif; impulse purchases you simply cannot make from home (unless you shop online or on the shopping network on tv)...


[Edited at 2005-02-15 23:09]


Local time: 16:43
thanks for the answers! Feb 16, 2005

WOW! Thanks for all your answers..I didnt think Id get that many in such a short time. Anyways I just started studying business management (one year ago) but I'm really not too sure if that's what I want to do in life. Actually I just started studying that, because I wanted to do something where I could use foreign languages and I was planning to take up chinese or japanese, anyways. I know Chinese and Japanese are A LOT harder to learn than english or french (I'm a german native speaker), but well I really like studying languages and I'm still young so I figured learning japanese for example would be a good idea if I want to be a translator and think I can learn it in a couple of years (if I study pretty much every day and go to japan for a while, too), because I heared that translators with language pairs like japanese or chinese or korean or whatever do earn (a lot) more money than those who translate from german to english for example. Anyways, I know I'd have to start as an inhouse-translator and can't expect to be perfect in any area of expertise right after graduating from college.

I'd really like to know how much higher the rates for japanese-german translators are than those for french-german / english-german for example...and if there's enough work for such an exotic language (I thought japanese is somewhat exotic, but there should still be enough work because..well japanese is the second biggest economy in the world...almost the same thing goes for chinese at least in my imaginationicon_wink.gif).

Maybe you can tell me something about the rates and the market in general for japanese translations Marco? I see you work from Japan though. Is that because it's harder to get work from italy than when you're in japan?

But then again one of the reasons why I think translating would be a a real nice job is because (like other people have mentioned already) you can work from home..and while you're traveling...thus you should also have a good chance aquiring work over the internet...right (or wrong) ?

Besides I think...let's say I do finish my business management studies but then after working for quite some time (where I'd have further possibilities to improve my japanese...hopefully even on the job) I realize that type of job (the business job) isn't for me I could still switch professions and become a (freelance) translator for japanese-german (besides I could have saved some money by then and wouldn't have to worry about the amount of work I get when starting...).

I hope I can get some more input from you guysicon_wink.gif

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