The freelancer world or experience is different from field to field. We will be focusing on one specific field here, which is translation.
One of the rarest jobs out there is a full-time position for a translator. It is one of those jobs that companies rarely have any interest in hiring fulltime. We are mostly hired as freelancers for specific projects.
I clearly remember my college professor mentioning that 95% of people studying to be a translator end up working as a freelancer. The minority finds a job in massive public entities like the European Parliament or a company that has a high demand for the translator’s language pair.
We will be providing a summary on the freelancer life as a translator. If you are interested in becoming a translator, hopefully you will get some nice info here.
The uncertainty is an evil inherent to all freelancers. Working project to project, never knowing when work is going to run out, the pressure can be overwhelming for beginners. On top of that, there is still the uncertainty of not getting paid in the end, no social protection, huge self-employment taxes. It is not easy.
However, when you start building your portfolio and gaining clients, freelancing can be extremely rewarding.
Are translation agencies worth it?
Most of the work in freelance translation comes from agencies. They will get you the clients that you need and take a cut for finding them. Agencies are especially nice for beginners since you do not have to deal with liabilities.
So, how do agencies work? It is quite simple. They hire translators for every language pair, several translators in fact, and then they find big companies looking for translation and/or localization services. The freelancers they hire work as translators or proofreaders.
After applying to their listing, they will send you a test for you to complete. Your qualifications do not really matter. What matters is what you score on their translation test. If you get accepted, you will sign a provision of services agreement and an NDA. Finally, they will send you assignments via email. Some agencies give you time to answer but most do not. If you do not reply immediately, they will send the assignment to another freelancer. Or worse, they send it to everyone and the first to reply gets the assignment. Usually, the second person to answer receives the proofreading task.
Sadly, this promotes a really bad environment between freelancers since the proofreader gets paid half or a third of the project budget. Many vengeful proofreaders will try to undermine your translation so there are fewer translators in the agency. Insane, right?
One of the craziest parts in the translation industry is the deadlines. I kid you not, I have received projects with a 4-hour deadline that would take me seven or eight hours to do.
Agencies are very famous for their crazy deadlines. It is very common for them to send you assignments that need to be delivered in one or two days tops, while normal companies would give you a full week.
What ends up happening is we can usually work for twenty hours straight and then take the next day off. It is nearly impossible to keep a steady deadline since you might get tasks at 8 pm that need to be delivered at 4 am. These agencies work 24/7 nonstop and have more than enough translators at all times.
The real challenge in the freelancer world of translators is finding good clients that treat you right.
Agencies are a great way to start your career, gain some experience and make some starter money. However, you will never be well-paid and your time will never be respected.
Nevertheless, there are good agencies out there! Very few translation agencies respect your time, pay well and give proper deadlines but they do exist. And if you find them, I would suggest that you work hard and well!
The end goal is finding big companies that have their own translation team of freelancers, where no one is competing with each other and the mission is to provide top quality. The workflow in places like this is completely different.
The present and future of translation may seem a bit grim, and it sort of is honestly.
Still, if you love languages and see yourself breaking communication barriers with your skills and expertise, I am sure you can build a stable career in this industry. It can be rough at first, but with consistency and high-quality work, any freelancer can find great projects and awesome employers.