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Long-term freelancing, in a world built for "employees"
Thread poster: Emma Page

Emma Page
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
Jul 2

I'm curious to hear about the experiences of people who have been freelancers for a long time, long enough that they don't have what could reasonably be called "recent employment history" or references (excluding client references). Have you experienced any surprising (positive or negative) side effects of being successfully self-employed? These could be personal/social, financial, practical, etc.

I have been freelancing full-time for a few years now, more or less since I finished
... See more
I'm curious to hear about the experiences of people who have been freelancers for a long time, long enough that they don't have what could reasonably be called "recent employment history" or references (excluding client references). Have you experienced any surprising (positive or negative) side effects of being successfully self-employed? These could be personal/social, financial, practical, etc.

I have been freelancing full-time for a few years now, more or less since I finished university. Although I have had many jobs, I've never been a full-time, permanent employee anywhere. This is by choice-- when I started looking for "real jobs" after my MA, I realised translating was more lucrative and more interesting than anything I was applying for.

I know that if I stick with this, I'll need to be more conscientious about financial planning (pensions, etc.) than the average person, and I've already run into (surmountable but annoying) issues proving my income for housing/visa purposes. For those of you who have been freelancers for years, what do you wish someone would have told you when you started out? I'm not talking about the actual translating or marketing parts of your business, but more about moving through a world where it's assumed that most people have an employer and a predictable income.

Thanks in advance for your stories and responses!
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Woo Ji Kim
Kuochoe Nikoi-Kotei
 

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:08
Member
Italian to English
Once upon a time... Jul 2

To be honest, I started translating so long ago that anything I might have wanted to know at the time isn't really relevant!

A few thoughts....

- To be a successful translator today, you really need to specialise - accrue specialist knowledge of a certain field or fields to make you stand out from the crowd. Become the "go-to" person for a particular field.
- Always check a company's payment record before agreeing to work with them. The Blue Board is a good start
... See more
To be honest, I started translating so long ago that anything I might have wanted to know at the time isn't really relevant!

A few thoughts....

- To be a successful translator today, you really need to specialise - accrue specialist knowledge of a certain field or fields to make you stand out from the crowd. Become the "go-to" person for a particular field.
- Always check a company's payment record before agreeing to work with them. The Blue Board is a good start; the Payment Practices site (http://www.paymentpractices.net/)is invaluable.
- As for the world being "made for employees"... that was certainly true once, but not any more. It all depends on your perspective.

Feel free to ask any more specific questions!
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Andy Watkinson
 

Emma Page
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
How have things changed? Jul 2

thanks for your reply! I certainly have learned to appreciate the importance of specialisation and vetting clients before working with them...always good advice.

But I'm more interested in this:



- As for the world being "made for employees"... that was certainly true once, but not any more. It all depends on your perspective.



How do you feel things have changed? I certainly am aware that many people, in many industries, are "freelancers" these days...the rise of the so-called gig economy, etc. Do you feel that has translated to practical improvements for you? Is it "easier" to be self-employed now than it was when you started out?

Again, thank you for your perspective!


 

Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 13:08
Member (2016)
English to German
Simply live without credit Jul 2

I'm not exactly the person you addressed here because I started freelancing not so long ago after decades of being employed. But I see the same situation that you do. And the answer is rather simple: Don't buy anything on credit. Banks and creditors are wary anyway since you have no regular and consistent income. Therefore the golden rule is: Spend (much) less than you earn. Build yourself a cash cushion, ideally so big that you can live months or years on it. Of cours, much of this depends on y... See more
I'm not exactly the person you addressed here because I started freelancing not so long ago after decades of being employed. But I see the same situation that you do. And the answer is rather simple: Don't buy anything on credit. Banks and creditors are wary anyway since you have no regular and consistent income. Therefore the golden rule is: Spend (much) less than you earn. Build yourself a cash cushion, ideally so big that you can live months or years on it. Of cours, much of this depends on your personal situation, but in theory, as a translator you can live anywhere in your country or in the world with a stable internet connection, so you are free to ignore high rents and cost of living in expensive cities. (And the cost for business attire and commuting as well :D )

This cash cushion has even more advantages: you are not dependent on accepting any low paid work and you won't be stressed when a client/agency pays later than expected.

Social security contributions are another topic, but what you can and should do here depends much on the country you live in. I kept all my social security contributions (except unemployment insurance) but this was logical for me because I had them for decades already. In any case, you cannot ignore this entirely.

A completely different aspect is the kind of isolation you experience as a home based freelancer. When I went to work every day, I had my social contacts in the office, talked to people and all that, this is gone now. I'm quite happy to sit at my desk most of the day, but I need to remind myself not to cut myself off completely.
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Josephine Cassar
ahartje
Philippe Etienne
Tradupro17
Kuochoe Nikoi-Kotei
Katharina Mergl
Jorge Payan
 

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:08
Member
Italian to English
Much easier now! Jul 2

Emma Page wrote:

Is it "easier" to be self-employed now than it was when you started out?



I have pretty much always been a freelancer. But there is so much more support nowadays, in terms of online communities and resources for running pretty much every aspect of your business. If you type a query into Google and get the term slightly wrong, Google will correct it for you. I have various paper dictionaries and reference books gathering dust because there are so many glossaries, medical articles, websites... Less worrying about if you are going to be paid because of sites like Payment Practices. Marketing possibilities used to be limited to the Yellow Pages. Networking used to be much tougher... so many more possibilities nowadays. Not just conferences... online events, informal meetups, barcamps...

So is it easier now? A resounding "yes"!


Dan Lucas
neilmac
Andrew Morris
 

Emma Page
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good advice! Jul 2

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:

...the answer is rather simple: Don't buy anything on credit. Banks and creditors are wary anyway since you have no regular and consistent income. Therefore the golden rule is: Spend (much) less than you earn. Build yourself a cash cushion, ideally so big that you can live months or years on it....

This cash cushion has even more advantages: you are not dependent on accepting any low paid work and you won't be stressed when a client/agency pays later than expected.



Thanks! This is more or less what I do now, although I don't necessarily think of it that way. Having a cushion of savings as insurance against the fact that I can't prove how much money I'll make next month or next year.


 

Emma Page
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
makes sense Jul 2

Fiona Grace Peterson wrote:

Emma Page wrote:

Is it "easier" to be self-employed now than it was when you started out?



I have pretty much always been a freelancer. But there is so much more support nowadays, in terms of online communities and resources for running pretty much every aspect of your business. If you type a query into Google and get the term slightly wrong, Google will correct it for you. I have various paper dictionaries and reference books gathering dust because there are so many glossaries, medical articles, websites... Less worrying about if you are going to be paid because of sites like Payment Practices. Marketing possibilities used to be limited to the Yellow Pages. Networking used to be much tougher... so many more possibilities nowadays. Not just conferences... online events, informal meetups, barcamps...

So is it easier now? A resounding "yes"!


Thank you for elaborating! That does make perfect sense. Less isolation is a big deal...


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:08
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Self-employment isn't unusual Jul 2

Many of the people I know are self-employed, as they were back last century. It used to be by choice - I just come from a family of small-time entrepreneurs, it seems. Nowadays, there's no more security to so-called permanent jobs than you get with self-employment, so the numbers are growing daily, I believe.

I personally started off with 10 years at Shell and then 5 with British Gas. Then we noved abroad. New life; new work. I don't remember ever considering finding a job as an Eng
... See more
Many of the people I know are self-employed, as they were back last century. It used to be by choice - I just come from a family of small-time entrepreneurs, it seems. Nowadays, there's no more security to so-called permanent jobs than you get with self-employment, so the numbers are growing daily, I believe.

I personally started off with 10 years at Shell and then 5 with British Gas. Then we noved abroad. New life; new work. I don't remember ever considering finding a job as an English trainer. Freelance was the one and only future I considered. That was over 20 years ago.

In the 15 years I freelanced in France, things changed enormously. It became far simpler, more accepted, and more profitable. I'm seeing the same changes being talked about in Spain, but no action yet. Believe me, you have things really easy in the UK!

I think it's vitally important to find out how things work, and not rely on accountants. I do have one here in Spain as my Spanish isn't great, but I take care to know all about my rights and responsibilities. Too many freelancers are sold down the road for not knowing their rights. Agencies are certainly seeing themselves more as employers every day, for those freelancers that let them. They feel empowered to dictate terms and conditions, doing things like unilaterally applying discounts and even "fines"! Then there are all the scammers around nowadays. I don't remember them when I started, although the nonpayers have always been there.

I'd say that employment is the "safe" option. But you'll find vastly more job satisfaction from self-employment if you stick with it. One benefit that I'm reaping now is that I can take holidays every couple of months . It is putting a strain on my relations with regular clients but they're still coming back each time for the moment. I certainly wouldn't find an employer willing to let me have 10-12 weeks a year holiday.
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Gareth Callagy
Chiara Gavasso
Iwona B. BA (Hons) MCIL
Kuochoe Nikoi-Kotei
 

Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 13:08
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Well... Jul 3

Emma Page wrote:

For those of you who have been freelancers for years, what do you wish someone would have told you when you started out?



To return to your original question, and acknowledging the eminently sensible answers provided so far, I would have liked someone to say:

"Andy, you'll very rarely encounter anyone who actually understands what you do (other translators aside, naturally).

They'll understand it's something to do with languages and think you're really just typing the text out in a different language, how difficult could that be if you know the two languages?"

Attending my niece's wedding in Paris a couple of years ago, I was asked several times by people I hadn't seen in decades "So, still translating?", in a tone more suited to asking someone if they're still living with their mother and getting pocket money.

Gajes del oficio.


Emma Page
missdutch
Olavo Nogueira
Philippe Etienne
Michele Fauble
Christophe Delaunay
 

Jocelin Meunier  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:08
English to French
Only one thing Jul 3

Emma Page wrote:
For those of you who have been freelancers for years, what do you wish someone would have told you when you started out?


That you really need to connect.
I am not, by any account, successful at all (especially lately) and I believe it has a lot to do with not knowing enough people; or rather, not being known enough.
I am the type of translator who likes to do his job with the bare minimum of human interaction. Aside from the joy I get from translating stuff, that is also an aspect that made me choose freelance translation. But without connections, you don't go very far and it is not an easy task to "network" yourself. Even when you are really good at what you do, neglecting this aspect can cost a lot.


Emma Page
Sheila Wilson
Sarper Aman
Christophe Delaunay
 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 12:08
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
My experience Jul 3

I didn't start out my career as a translator. There were a couple of other completely different professions before this one. I do not regret at all this intricate weaving as it gave me a valuable insight of different areas of business. Then translation found me: part-time for a few years just to complement my income, without thinking it would become my career, followed by 20 years as full-time in-house translator until I retired in 2006 and after that as I wouldn’t see myself as retired I star... See more
I didn't start out my career as a translator. There were a couple of other completely different professions before this one. I do not regret at all this intricate weaving as it gave me a valuable insight of different areas of business. Then translation found me: part-time for a few years just to complement my income, without thinking it would become my career, followed by 20 years as full-time in-house translator until I retired in 2006 and after that as I wouldn’t see myself as retired I started freelancing. This being said, what do I wish someone would have told me when I started out? Don’t start so late…

[Edited at 2019-07-03 18:39 GMT]
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Emma Page
 

Eva Stoppa  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:08
Member
English to German
+ ...
This isn't only true for translators Jul 3

[quote]Andy Watkinson wrote:



"Andy, you'll very rarely encounter anyone who actually understands what you do (other translators aside,

A friend of mine runs a centre for Ballet dancing. She also Encounters someone asking her: "and what do you do as a Job?" So you see, we are not the only ones not being taken seriously by Society.


Olavo Nogueira
Andy Watkinson
 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
value Jul 3

I was lucky to start working in a small group of more experienced specialists, who taught me the translation and freelance ropes, shaping my views and skills.

Now I know that--
1) not "pure translators", but a specialists in a field with decent foreign language skills;

2) not a submissive needy bottom-feeder, but an interested businessman with a right to change the terms and refuse awkward offers;

3) not a PEMT/CAT-operator/cannon fodder, but an equal
... See more
I was lucky to start working in a small group of more experienced specialists, who taught me the translation and freelance ropes, shaping my views and skills.

Now I know that--
1) not "pure translators", but a specialists in a field with decent foreign language skills;

2) not a submissive needy bottom-feeder, but an interested businessman with a right to change the terms and refuse awkward offers;

3) not a PEMT/CAT-operator/cannon fodder, but an equal business party;

4) not working with papers, but rather with people;

5) not freebies and "discounts", but substantiated bonuses;

6) not "price", but "value";

7) working harder has little to do with earning more; and so on.


Perhaps, I was lucky to find my first local direct clients, using my good name (personal brand) to secure the position. While I had--and still have--much to learn and improve, they pay me $0.025+/word for simple/short jobs (often in advance), $0.35-$0.50/word for grants and contracts, and some $750+/hour for meetings and conferences--not because I'm the best or unique, but for they know (1) who I am, (2) what I am, and that (3) I'm aware how they want it best: A lifesaver and troubleshooter)
They trust me.


 Actually, my regular rates make about what most kinky agencies/middlemen charge clients. I prefer to be on the bright side, enjoying my three-month summer holidays.
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Kaspars Melkis
 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:08
Member
English to French
Doing the math Jul 3

Banks are indeed overcautious with freelancers requesting mortgages or credits, so the idea is to learn to live without them, stashing cash away and making money work to your own benefit (real estate).
You need to do the math to make sure your business is sustainable. And it starts with comparing apples with apples.

When you're an employee (in most civilised countries I presume):

The employer pays part of your social contributions and retirement benefits
The
... See more
Banks are indeed overcautious with freelancers requesting mortgages or credits, so the idea is to learn to live without them, stashing cash away and making money work to your own benefit (real estate).
You need to do the math to make sure your business is sustainable. And it starts with comparing apples with apples.

When you're an employee (in most civilised countries I presume):

The employer pays part of your social contributions and retirement benefits
The employer pays while you're on holiday
The employer pays your training
The employer pays your working equipment
The employer pays your working footprint and associated costs (heating, rent, Internet, utilities...)
The employer pays your long-standing loyalty by periodic increases in your wages
The employer pays all the admin they do on your behalf (working time)
The employer pays idle periods of time
...

When you're a freeelancer:

Anticipate that only half the amount you invoice will be in your household's piggy bank if you want to match an employee's living standard AND planning (illness, retirement, social benefits...).
To have 3000 in your pocket, you must invoice 6000. Or cut on security, training or whatever you feel is "not that important", like heating in the winter when you're 85 and too arthritic to work.

I've been the main bread-winner as a freelance translator for almost 20 years, and I'm still amazed at agencies offering 25 euros/hour to seriously educated people. The amount hasn't changed since then.

Philippe

EDIT: I can't remember having said to myself oh, I wish I'd known that beforehand. When you jump from a plane, you don't ask yourself if your parachute is well attached. Chances are it is. I didn't go freelance hoping for the best...

[Edited at 2019-07-03 13:57 GMT]
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Emma Page
 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Do use your brains: conceptual & critical thinking Jul 3

@Philippe, I'm also got tired of repeating it to wannabe and working freelancers that self-employment means one-man company, when you're to do all the direct and not-so-related jobs yourself--from administrating, planning, accounting, educating, negotiating, researching, marketing, translating, PR/finding new clients, and supporting to cleaning, provisioning, and so on.

 However, many still seem to prefer learning it the hard way, often costing an arm and a leg; it's
... See more
@Philippe, I'm also got tired of repeating it to wannabe and working freelancers that self-employment means one-man company, when you're to do all the direct and not-so-related jobs yourself--from administrating, planning, accounting, educating, negotiating, researching, marketing, translating, PR/finding new clients, and supporting to cleaning, provisioning, and so on.

 However, many still seem to prefer learning it the hard way, often costing an arm and a leg; it's ok.

But who told individuals a lie nonsense they are not supposed to do anything, but translating???


* I believe working for peanuts is a mostly problem of needy, uneducated, rejected, ex-employed, or those naives who had no real jobs/motives at all. Or ignoramus.
On the other hand, somebody has to...
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Kaspars Melkis
 
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