25 Jan 2022
by Kirsty Olivant

The pros and cons of being a freelance translator

Kirsty Olivant AITI considers the pros and cons of working as a freelancer in the translation profession, and finds that the advantages outweigh the drawbacks.

I set up as a full-time freelancer in 2017 when I moved back to the UK from Spain, where I had been living for fourteen years. My career as a part-time translator began in 2003 when I first moved to Spain to do my Master’s in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Alicante. There I started translating professionally for an agency, through which many doors have been opened since.

Here are my insights into freelance life. I hope they are of use to anyone who is on the fence about going freelance in this wonderful profession.

The pros (in no particular order):

1. Setting your own working hours, which means you can have a coffee break whenever you like!

2. Being able to work in your PJs (unless you have to do a school/nursery run).

3. Learning new things every day – not just new words in both your source and target languages but also the subjects you’re translating about.

4. Variety. Every day is different, unless you’re translating privacy policies day in, day out – many professionals recommend finding a niche and sticking to it, but I much prefer a bit of diversity.

5. Making new contacts through agencies and networks. I’m an Associate of ITI and a member of the CIoL and the North West Translators' Network, as well as some of the ITI Networks. They’re a great way to get in touch with like-minded people and they all provide excellent opportunities to meet other language professionals face to face and attend training courses, both online and in person. The ITI conference is fantastic for networking and gaining a deeper insight into translating, interpreting and language matters in general. The smaller networks offer these benefits on a smaller scale as well as the chance to connect with peers and ask for help or reassign jobs that you may not feel comfortable with or have time for.

6. Being your own boss, even if the work Christmas dinner is a bit lonely and bonuses can be few and far between!

7. Working with agencies: I believe this gives you a bit more of a safety net as most will have texts revised and a lot will send feedback. It can also be a bit more reliable in terms of payment as the risk of them disappearing without paying is lower than it might be in the case of private clients if you don’t charge up front.

8. CPD: watching series and reading novels in your source languages both count! There is a multitude of resources out there such as webinars, blogs and conferences. The ITI Events calendar is a good place to start.

9. Being able to pick and choose (once you’re well established with a number of clients). If you don’t fancy spending the next three days translating a tedious text, you can opt for another more interesting job. It’s obviously best to be totally honest with clients if they send you jobs that are outside of your comfort zone or areas of expertise. You will also find that even a client who needs the job doing “for yesterday” may have some flexibility in terms of deadlines and you will be able to negotiate.

10. Social media: there’s a whole world out there to connect with. A wealth of tips and encouragement, peers who offer advice and inspire, and perhaps the odd potential client too.

The cons (not so many in my humble opinion):

1. Working with agencies: deadlines can be tight, so you have to decide if the job is worthwhile. Some agencies offer quite low rates and are unwilling to budge. However, once you’ve established a good working relationship, it’s often possible to raise your rates and adjust payment terms.

2. Getting work can be like waiting for the bus: one day your inbox might be empty and the next you get three job offers within half an hour. Rest assured that if you accept a longer tedious project because it’ll pay the bills, something really interesting will come up that you no longer have the time for. Apply to as many agencies as you can so that, hopefully, you’ll eventually be able to pick and choose. You can take advantage of any lulls to catch up on admin or valuable CPD.

3. Invoicing! I hate the paperwork side of things but at the same time I know that once I’ve sent off my invoices, it won’t be long before I get paid.

4. Exchange rates: most of the agencies I work with are based in Europe so I'm paid in €. You have to keep an eye on the rates to make sure you’re losing as little as possible but sometimes you need to exchange it regardless of the rate. The upside to this is having a Euro account that I can use when I travel.

5. Lack of face-to-face contact. However, coworking is a great solution and many of the ITI geographical Networks arrange sessions on a regular basis. Setting up a revision club with fellow translators is also a good option. See the article The power of revision clubs.

6. Distractions (such as dirty pots in the kitchen) if you don't have a separate office.

7. Social media: this can be a big distraction if you let it and it’s all too easy to compare yourself with other seemingly more successful translators and feel like an impostor.

8. Coffee breaks anytime = too many biscuits! Is that really such a bad thing, though?


Kirsty Olivant

Kirsty Olivant

Kirsty Olivant is a freelance French, German, Spanish and Catalan to English translator mainly working in the areas of marketing, medical, technical, legal and tourism translation, which are often interlinked. Her passion for languages started when she was given a French phrase book at the age of nine and is a passion that she is hoping to pass on to her daughter who is being raised in a bilingual household.