Recently, I have been asked about the challenges a person might face as a self-employed freelance translator working from home. Since the answer was quite extensive, I decided to provide a more structured opinion in this post. This summary is based on my experience as a professional English to Russian translator and editor since 2004, including full-time employment at a translation services agency and about six months of freelance work completely on my own. Because the answer to the question above may vary depending on the individual experience, I want to cover only matters that I personally believe to be the most critical. In doing so, I am not going to touch upon the benefits of this profession although they do exist of course.
The main challenges, which a typical freelancer may face, include:
–Self-employment requires that you develop a higher level of self-control than you would need in an in-house team, which inherently provides restraining and motivational factors such as a supervisor or colleagues. Simply put, a freelancer is likely to procrastinate more than they want/should. While in a comfortable home environment, it might be difficult to separate “office” from home, i.e. concentrate and maintain a steady productive pace. This may negatively impact quality or deadlines. On the contrary, a well-organized office environment helps you focus and achieve higher efficiency.
–Some might be uncomfortable with staying at the same place for a long time, because they need varied experiences for motivation. It gets especially tiresome with larger jobs involving tight deadlines when a translator is permanently staying at home. Getting used to being in the same environment and the resulting repetitiveness may lead to decreased performance and slow down your professional development.
–Many (including myself) prefer to work in a team, rather than individually. A strong team encourages employees to achieve their goals, while also helping save time and join efforts to find the most effective solutions.
- Career opportunities. The career ambitions are a key driver of both professional and individual development. The career development also means recognition of employees’ input in the company performance and therefore helps increase employee morale and motivation to improve further. In contrast, for many freelance translators, career development is often limited to increasing rates, which might result in a slower professional growth.
The less critical challenges include:
- Additional responsibilities. Working in a team makes it possible to divide the responsibilities between the members based on their specializations and skills. As a simple example, an engineer prepares documents for translation, translator completes the translation, an editor is responsible for the review step, a proofreader proofreads the final files, while a project manager communicates with a customer, a system administrator manages IT tasks, an accountant issues invoices and files taxes, etc. Freelance translators are supposed to complete all tasks by themselves. The duties that come along with the translator’s core activities may vary from routine tasks, e.g. optical character recognition of a PDF file, to more challenging ones such as fixing the translation environment errors. A freelance translator must be prepared to resolve technical issues or visit their bank often to provide legal documents such as transaction passports (Russia). While doing so, a translator might waste too much time on these secondary responsibilities, instead of fully focusing on the core, revenue-generating activities. In contrast, dividing the duties between the team members makes it possible for each of them to achieve more in their respective domains. For instance, in a well-run company, any problem is resolved only once, and in future any employee may refer to the fully documented proven solution, while a freelance translator will have to resolve most problems on their own.
- Dependency on customers. Because of a limited output, a freelance translator usually works with a limited number of customers and therefore comes to rely on them significantly. Customers often consider them an employee (although freelance) and are therefore less inclined to accept translator’s suggestions in situations where their points of view are different. e.g. when agreeing on the price of a job. On the contrary, a translation company might enjoy more flexibility in relationships with customers, because it is perceived as a partner rather than employee.
- Lack of recognition. As mentioned above, without a proper career development, a freelance translator may feel that their performance is not recognized. Additionally, a translator is often the last link in the supplier chain, and positive customer feedback (which is the essential form of recognition in this industry) may simply fail to reach them. However, as confirmed by numerous studies, the lack of recognition might impact morale and development ambitions.
To conclude, I want to once again stress that this list is not intended to be complete. It is also important to understand that aside from the above challenges, freelance translation as a profession also has its advantages. While considering a translation career, you need to carefully go through all benefits and disadvantages and check how they match your expectations or preferences.
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