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Working as a professional translator: Freelancing vs in-house

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

If you are a freelance translator, you probably have wondered a few (hundred) times whether this lifestyle is the best choice for your social life, your household economy, or your professional expectations. And if you are working in-house, it is likely that you have been dreaming about working your 9-5 hours in a boho café or in a beach bar (assuming they have a decent Wi-fi connection).

Laptop, books and plants on a translator's desk

However, these two worlds seem to have come together in March 2020 when millions of professionals in Europe and other parts of the world have been asked to work from their homes. Suddenly, everyone is experiencing the freelancing lifestyle. Well, some parts of it at least.

Since most of the members of our Launch in Translation team have been freelancing for a few years now, we thought this could be an excellent time to have a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of working as a freelancer in our online weekly meetings.

Increased flexibility

Freelance translator working on her bed

Let’s start with an easy and positive one: flexibility. We can all agree that this is the most important factor for choosing a freelance career. You can organize your workload according to the deadlines, and then just work from your living room, your friend’s kitchen, your neighbourhood’s public library or from that cute coffee house around the corner.

However, there is always the flip side of the coin… Does flexibility mean having to work the weekends or at night? I am afraid so. As a rule of thumb, we all think that we shouldn’t, but then, there are always exceptions. And this could be due to our family responsibilities, a last-minute project, or the fact that sometimes all jobs seem to come at the same time.

Invest in your own training

Training in a company

Training was a pretty popular topic during our Zoom discussion. We concluded that when working as in-house translator, training comes easily because you are in contact with other translators and other teams, so, even in a casual conversation over lunch, you can learn something. And if you work for a company or an agency that invests in training, well… Jackpot! You might have access to training courses with your team or other teams, you can attend events or conferences, or learn from the proofreading and editing carried out by other senior translators. And all as part of your perks.

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue your professional development when working as freelancer. In my experience, I had more language-specific training when I started my freelancing career by attending events for linguists, courses, webinars, or even watching YouTube tutorials for tools or reading a book (or a blog!) specialized on a specific matter. In this case, it means you need to be proactive and be willing to spend your own pennies on training.

Unstable financial security

There is no way around it: financial security is the main disadvantage when freelancing. When you work with agencies or even with direct clients, you might not get jobs on a regular basis. So there is that fateful month when you have no projects on the horizon, and you become desperate and gloomy… But, then, you get an email with an assignment, and another, and another. And it turns out you have a super busy month. Some months, even if you have built your reputation over the years, it feels like a financial roller-coaster. This additional psychological pressure is a complete stranger for those who receive their payslip at the end of the month.

Constant versatility

We are not talking about multi-tasking here. I mean, we could, because it is a must-have for a freelancer as you also need to be a successful sales agent, a flawless project manager and a meticulous accountant (yes, those are 4 job roles in 1!). But in this case, we discussed about the wider possibilities you have as a freelancer to be part of different and exciting projects.

For me, this is the main reason I love freelancing. When I was working in-house, it got to a point I was doing the same translations over and over. It wasn’t challenging from a linguistic perspective. Instead, as a freelancer I was given the chance to collaborate in transcreation or copywriting projects in so many areas: fashion, traveling, beauty or technology. Every time I receive a new project, I get that thrill that you feel when you have a challenge in front of you. You never stop learning or growing professionally.

A different way of socializing

Female Linguists Socialising

Is socializing a shallow reason for choosing or not choosing the freelancing lifestyle? Not at all! And with the current WFH situation due to the pandemic, everyone can agree that social interactions are essential from a professional and personal point of view.

Like training, when working in-house, socialising and collaborating is a given (not always, but let’s assume you have nice colleagues), but when freelancing you need to be proactive. This could mean working in a co-working space, organizing working dates with other friends who freelance too, chatting online with other colleagues, or creating an international community of freelance translators such as Launch in Translation.

Going freelancing or not going freelancing?

So what are our conclusions? Is one option better than the other one? Is it possible to go back to an in-house position after freelancing? These questions cannot be answered with a straight “yes” or a “no”. Or, at least, we can’t. We think that combining different formulas is the way to go. But it also depends on the moment you are in your professional or personal life. Whatever fits your needs better, it’s the best choice. And especially in this new post-Covid era that WFH or working remotely all week or a few days a week has become the general rule: flexibility and versatility will definitely be relevant factors in our jobs.

And I think we just got a new topic for our next team debate.

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