The latest issue of the ITI Bulletin included the results of a survey on how freelance translators were weathering the recession. One aspect of the survey that interested me was how freelance translators identified themselves as entrepreneurs; in other words, whether they were entrepreneurs by design or by accident.
On November 1st I will have been a full-time freelance translator for 8 years, the previous 3 years having been part-time. For me this was a deliberate choice as I had wanted to be self-employed for years. I was never really happy with the constraints of being an employee. Even now, the only benefit I can see is the receipt of a steady wage packet. I had tried a couple of small-scale business ventures: party plan, that sort of thing, without much success. Sales, I have discovered, is not my thing. When I qualified as a translator I never considered working for a translation company or as a translation manager at an agency. At the time I had a well-paid job in which I could use my languages, so there was absolutely nothing to gain financially or in terms of job satisfaction by swapping one form of employment for another. The only move I would consider was the one into self-employment.
I would say I am a portfolio worker. I have never been able to earn as much money from translation as I earned as an employee, and even working at full capacity, it would take an enormous hike in my fees to get anywhere near that figure. However the benefits of working for myself outweigh the reduced earnings, and in addition, my outgoings, particularly on clothes and transport, have decreased significantly. Over the years I have supplemented my income in various ways, mostly teaching. In the early days teaching probably made up at least half of my income. So, in fact, I have never really been full-time at all. In recent years I have tried to cut down on the teaching because I feared it was taking my time away from the core business of translation. All forms of school teaching are no longer part of my portfolio but I still enjoy adult education and private teaching. Enjoyment is a key ingredient.
The core business has been more or less stable for the past 5 years and I am working more or less at capacity. Yes, there are still relatively quiet times, but I need these to do those other business tasks such as accounts, marketing, CPD, etc. Once in a while I might even treat myself to a day or even a weekend off!!
My attitude to my business as a whole is also reflected in my CPD. With translation as the core business it makes sense to include activities related to this aspect of the business: attending translation conferences, reading professional journals, expanding and developing specialist areas and my existing languages. But I have also decided to also undertake CPD to help me diversify my business. As well as possibly adding new specialisms or languages I also plan to add complementary strands such as transcribing old documents (palaeography). With interests in the environment, history, archaeology, historical geography, family history and endangered languages I am considering consolidating my specialist areas under the heading “heritage”.
In my case, there are no regrets about going self-employed and I am looking forward to developing my business over the next 8 yeears in the direction(s) that interest me.