Life as a freelance translator

Author: Grete Allas


At first glance, one might think that life as a freelance translator is all sunshine and rainbows, or vice versa – nothing but monotonous typing in front of a computer screen. Fortunately, neither opinion is true – this profession involves many different aspects. In this article, I have decided to shed some light on my life as a freelance translator, a life in which I love being at home in my little nest. I will tell you more about this job, which is extremely flexible and offers great freedom on one hand, but is a bit uncertain and requires a lot of self-discipline on the other hand.

I have been working as a freelance translator since 2017. Whilst still studying at university, I managed to translate texts here and there; this resulted in cooperation with several translation agencies and gradually a full-time job. Although three years of experience as a translator cannot be considered a long period of time, I have nevertheless found many positive aspects with freelancing, as well as various concerns and challenges during that time. I will discuss these in more detail below.

Working day in sweatpants

Freelance translators work mostly at home; the first question most people ask when they become aware of this fact is usually: “Do you wear pyjamas all day long?” I think that it largely depends on the individual person, but I have the habit of changing my clothes as soon as I wake up. However, I also know people who prefer to work in pyjamas for at least part of the day, and sometimes even in their bed. This is the magic of the home office!

The fact that I change my clothes does not mean that I put on my trouser suit or other formal clothes in the morning and sit neatly in my home office throughout the day. This is not part of my daily life, but I believe that even in-house translators who work for the translation agencies and love comfort are also probably not dressed in that way. My working day usually includes sweatpants and an oversized sweater. That’s what I call convenience! Obviously, the outfit freelance translators wear at home is not the most important part of their daily job but it greatly demonstrates the everyday comfort and the wide freedom of choice accompanying this profession.

Introverted correspondence

I have always believed that my job as a translator suits me perfectly, since I consider myself the most introverted person ever. That is why this kind of job is suitable for me. As it involves as little direct communication as possible, I also have the freedom to calmly work alone. That’s exactly what my translation work offers; as I work at home, my business communication mainly takes place via Skype and email. This is, of course, water to my introverted mill. Life as a freelance translator is perfect for people with little need for communication, as most of the day is spent translating independently. However, this does not mean that communication is not necessary at all. You still need to communicate, discuss translations and terminology and comment on the feedback of your work. As this is mainly done in writing, it takes away the anxiety of direct communication that is often the case with introverts.
Those people who enjoy direct communication should think twice before choosing the path of a freelance translator and perhaps choose the work of an in-house translator instead. In this case, it is possible to consult immediately with other translators or project managers, so that the natural need for communication can be met on an ongoing basis.

Patchwork of various fields of life

It does not matter whether you are a freelance translator or an in-house translator, your work generally involves texts from a number of fields of life. As a translator, it is up to you to do your research on the relevant topics and thereby produce the best possible translation. Self-education and becoming familiar with new terminology are both undoubtedly vital. It can often be very helpful to communicate with the clients and also benefit from their expertise. This is especially true for terms, as the clients often have their own terminology. However, there may not be any term-bases when the translator receives the source text. Therefore, in the event of frequently used words, it is always a good idea to speak to the client and find out if they prefer a specific match. This way, you can prevent fixing terms at a later stage.

Of course, there are also cases where the client does not have specific preferences for terms. In such a situation, the translator’s ability to independently research the required field comes into play. This requires flipping through various articles and diving into the depths of the web. A translator is like an undercover detective, who must gather all kinds of puzzle pieces linked to the text to be translated and the relevant field of life. This contributes to producing a smooth and compliant translation.

By all means, freelance translators always have the opportunity to reject a job if they feel that it is an overwhelming topic. Based on my own experience, I can say that by browsing the web, using smart solutions, consulting with the client, and obtaining advice from more experienced linguists, if necessary, it is also possible to get through areas that seem impossible to solve at first.

Is it better for a freelance translator to have a registered company or team up with a translation agency?

The question of the form of work is probably relevant for every freelance translator. Until now I have been collaborating with translation agencies under an authorisation agreement, so I cannot comment in detail on acting as a self-employed person or a private limited company. Nevertheless, I decided to include this topic in the article, as every novice translator, including myself, probably ponders over this issue constantly.

As I previously stated, I have translated under an authorisation agreement to date. However, this does not mean that I have not considered different options. Setting up your own business even as a freelance translator would make it possible to submit invoices independently and, thereby, reach more clients. At the same time, responsibility for your expenses, income and taxes would increase. It is true that each option has its pros and cons.

In the event of self-employment, it is positive that the money received can be used on a daily basis. There is no need to submit an annual report and the paperwork should be somewhat easier. At the same time, self-employment requires full personal liability for any activities. However, when a private limited company is established, the liability remains only within the share capital, as the company’s money is strictly separate from the owner’s assets. Furthermore, when registering a private limited company, a contribution of EUR 2,500 must be paid. It can also be done later, but it is a high cost and must still be taken into account. Among other things, it entails the obligation to submit an annual report.

Another option is to leave the business affairs to experts and choose to work under an authorisation agreement instead. In this case, the translation agency will take care of the payment of taxes and your mind will be at ease. Furthermore, you are only liable for doing your job well and do not have to bother your head with other responsibilities. However, it is worth noting that some of these collaborations may fail as a result, since many direct offers possibly require invoicing.

In summary, the most suitable form of work largely depends on a person’s own preferences and needs’ however we shouldn’t forget a person’s individual experience As a novice translator, it is easier to leave the tax administration to a translation agency and focus on translations and gaining experience. If the level of experience is already higher and there is a desire for greater independence, it is always possible to get better acquainted with different forms of entrepreneurship and choose the most suitable one.

Who is best suited to work as a freelance translator?

Life as a freelance translator is generally flexible and convenient; however, by no means, would I call it an easy one. People who prefer stable employment, a fixed monthly remuneration and a lot of communication should probably pick another path, as the life of a freelancer is not guaranteed to provide these things. On the plus side, you have the freedom to choose when to work, what to work on, and how to work. At the same time, self-discipline is also a very important factor. I believe that freelancing is only suitable for those people who can tune in to work even in the most homely and comfortable environment. After all, both a good employment relationship and remuneration depend on it. Last but not least, a fondness for translating and languages may even be the most important aspect, as every job goes smoothly when it makes your eyes bright and brings you happiness.

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