Mittwoch, 16. Mai 2012

Why I love being a freelancer

Inspired by the recent Labor Day (May 1), I thought I'd share with you why I am a freelancer and why I do not want to be employed.

Let me start with how I came to be self-employed in the first place. While I was studying to become a translator and interpreter, I was already working freelance on the side (although not very much), doing small jobs mostly subcontracting with another translator. This had the great benefit of my work being checked by someone who had been doing this for quite a while already, plus feedback both positive and negative, and if anything was seriously wrong, his head was on the line, not mine (which really only happened once, btw). That way, I was free to give this whole thing a try without having the stress to having to deliver perfect results while still learning how to do this, plus getting really helpful tips and a few tricks from a pro for free! (Thanks again, Tim, I really appreciate that time!)
During the last two years of my studies, I also worked as student worker at a very large international company, translating tons of documentation with the combined support of the five other people sitting in the same office with me, who were not translators at all, but rather specialists in this particular field, and who taught me - more or less inadvertently - how to research terminology.
When I had passed all my exams, my boss at the time asked me to continue working and translating for them, which would have been great, except for one little detail: I would have had to enroll for some more studies (of whatever type) at university, so they would be able to keep me as student worker aka cheap labor! Beside the fact that a semester of university in Germany now costs quite a bit (nothing compared to the US, I know, but before it was virtually free), that would have been just wrong and cheating the system. Besides, if they thought I did such great work, why not hire me "for real" and pay me what I'm worth? Well, needless to say, I graciously declined.
I had been looking for jobs all over the place, but as most of my colleagues will be able to attest, there are not very many jobs out there for translators, especially decent-paying full-time jobs.
I had always been playing with the idea of just working from home, and having a husband who earns enough so we don't have to starve definitely was a plus a lot of my fellow fresh-out-of-school translators did not have. Since nothing worthwhile came up on the employment side, I just decided to officially become a freelancer.
Since I had already been doing work on the side all this time, I already had some connections, and registering as paying member for a few select online platforms and communities quickly supplied me with clients and work. I had originally figured that it would take me at least a year to get somewhat established and make more than I needed to pay for all the insurances etc. but surprisingly, my business really took off within just a few months. I am now at the point where I actually have to turn down work fairly often, simply because I am booked out. Of course I could work more hours, but then I wouldn't have social life, and that is precisely what I do not want.
Which brings me to the reasons why I love being a freelancer.

One of the main reasons is that I don't have a boss who tells me what to do, how to do it and when to work. Well, in a way I still do, of course - the customers are the boss of any job I take - but it is up to me which jobs I take, i.e. I get to decide how much I want to work, I can work however I like, as long as the result is right; and I can make my own hours, take a day off in the middle of the week or meet with friends for breakfast whenever I want etc. It's really all a matter of how much work I accept and how I chose to carry it out. If I take a lot of jobs that all have to be done very quickly, naturally I will have to work long hours, maybe even nights and weekends, to get them all done and turn them in on time. Of course, I am also free to not do that and only take as many jobs as will comfortably fit in my personal office hours (i.e. the hours I am willing to work on any given day or in a week), so I have sufficient free time to do what I want.
And that is really important to me: to have time for myself and the things I like to do. I have many colleagues who seem to have little to no social life, because the are always available to work. Well, I am not. I decided from the beginning that I would have regular office hours and stick to them, unless it is absolutely necessary to work longer or on weekends. Yes, I usually do not work on weekends. If I was employed at an office, I wouldn't have too, either, so why should I do it when I am my own boss? If I get an inquiry for a new job, I never calculate the weekend in as workdays, so unless I totally misjudged how long a translations takes me, I close my office at 5 pm on Friday (sometimes even earlier) and do not open it again until 9 am on Monday. And you know what? I have not lost a job because of that policy yet. And even if I did, well, there's plenty of work out there that does not require me to give up my free time.

Another great thing about being a freelancer is that I can move my working hours around, too, if I want or need to. For example, I want to meet with a bunch of friends for breakfast, which I know will take at least 3-4 hours out of my morning. If I have work that needs to be done, I just add those 4 hours onto the end of my usual workday. If I don't have work, great, a relaxed and fun morning with only half the work in the middle of the week!
Or if the weather is perfect, I can go swimming in the morning and have it pretty much to myself, or ride my motorcycle during the week, which is  definite plus where I live, since on the weekends the roads are packed with cars and motorcycles coming from the big city to the country.
Another point are spontaneous mini-vacations. My husband works shifts, which can change on very short notice sometimes, so it is great to be able to take advantage of a few free days off to take a short trip somewhere without having to ask permission from the boss and co-workers.

Of course, there are some downsides, as well, such as the lack of a secure and steady income, lots of paperwork employees don't have to worry about, the need to pay for insurances yourself etc. But still: I have not regretted taking the plunge and becoming a freelancer at all, and I don't think there is a job that pays enough for me to give it up, either.

What about you? Are you a freelancer? Are you thinking about becoming one? What do you love about it? Is there anything you really don't like or that keeps you from working for yourself?


  1. I am thinking of becoming a freelancer. Working on my own pace without the shadow of my own Boss, no time clock to punch in, no gossips by office mates plus I own my time.

  2. I think pointing at the "boss who tells me what to do" is oversimplifying a larger issue. It is the groupthink of the corporate ecosystem that is a profound repeller when you are freelancing oriented. At the same time, chances are that as a freelancer you interface with people working in corporations - your clients. People who have spent enough years in a corporate ecosystem and then decide to go on their own have big advantage over someone starting right away as a freelancer. The former knows how to behave when interfacing with corporate people because she was one of them. The newbie doesn't know and is bound to accumulate blunders. I am best positioned to know this having been into freelancing for some 30 years with very short in-house experiences, and a few years of corporate stint in the middle that proved how inadequate I was for swimming gracefully, or pretending to do so, in the corporate pool.

    So my two cents is that if you have the opportunity to start early working in a corporation, do it. If you start right away in freelancing, be aware that corporation's normalcy is THE normalcy. As a freelancer, your normalcy is another planet. So the point is not to proselytize freelancing to your corporate clients, but to obverse and learn as much as possible like an ethnographer how that ecosystem functions, and when meeting the Romans, do as In Rome for the time of the meeting. But don't learn corporate socializing alone. That is why also, belonging to at least one professional association and participating to the meetings is also important. I learned all this the hard way, but there is no more reasons to do it the same.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lionel! It certainly is a good idea to gain some experience as an in-house translator before becoming a freelancer, if you can, and if you want to work predominantly with corporations. However, at least in these parts, finding a position is pretty much impossible, especially full-time, so all too often, the only option recent graduates have is to start their own business.
      I think, finding a mentor (aka experienced freelance translator) can be just as helpful, and I recommend it to anyone starting out.
      Just as important are memberships in associations, as you rightly mentioned, and continued education and training, be it in the form of seminars, conferences etc. or internships, if you can find them.

      Lastly, though, I think the most important thing is that you believe in yourself and are willing to work also on your business skills, regardless of whether you are dealing with large corporations, agencies or direct clients from small and medium-sized companies. Because in my opinion, if you don't think you can do it, then the chances that you will fail are rather great. You can never be prepared enough, true, but you will also never be prepared enough, and waiting for the right time may just mean that you'll never take the plunge.