As a freelance translator you are a business owner, but at the same time, you’re working on completing certain jobs. It’s your responsibility to continuously improve your business so that it’s efficient and competitive.
At the same time, when the tires meet the road, and you’re in what I call production mode, you have an upper limit on how many words you can translate per hour. When you’re running near your upper limit of words per hour, your income becomes tied to the number of hours you work, just like if you were an employee.
If you have enough work, then you can predict how much you’ll earn based on the amount of hours you put into it. This is great, because it gives you freedom to scale your working life up and down, depending on your current situation.
It’s bad because you’re not that motivated to come up with creative solutions, because the clients basically just want you to complete the job already, preferably yesterday 😉
So what this leaves you with is that you really have to value your time, and really be careful about what you are spending your hours on. No hours spent on translation means no income.
This is different from what a translation agency does, but they also have to be careful about what they spend their hours on. They don’t translate themselves, but they outsource translation work to freelance translators.
They can’t do the work that you do, but here’s the difference: What some of them have realized is, that you as a freelance translator have the skills to do some of the same work they do.
The more hours of your workday that you can do actual translation work in, the more money you earn. The more source words that you can process into target words, the more money you earn.
It’s a good day when clients find you automatically through your online profiles or word of mouth. Well, it’s not entirely automatic because you made a small investment of time setting up your profiles, but you don’t have to spend time on it today, and you can translate instead.
Some agencies have realized that hey, why don’t we let the freelance translators manage as much as they can of our system, while we work on growing our system? I don’t blame them, as we all do whatever we can to survive and grow.
By managing their system, I mean handling
- database information
- contracts and agreements
- availability registration
- very small translation jobs
You can spend a lot of time on these tasks, and while you’re doing that you’re not getting paid because you’re not translating anything, which is what you love to do, should be doing and should be getting paid for! This relationship with an agency might be okay, if you only have one agency that you work with.
Multiply by 10, and you’ll not be doing anything but the above tasks. What happened to transferring meaning from one language to another?
Passwords: If there was no system, there would be no handling of passwords.
Database information: An agency can find almost anything they need to know about my business on my online profiles. If I have to input my data into their system, I’m doing their job, without getting paid.
Contracts and agreements: It’s good to have a written agreement about the working relationship, but if it’s only about covering their back in every possible way, 20+ pages and continuous revisions becomes a big burden. I guess this is a result of not having anyone at the other end who is able to trust a human translator, and they have to protect themselves from every imaginable problem.
Availability registration: This could also be done by a project manager, in case of an actual job. It’s not relevant if there are no jobs, only time consuming.
Invoicing: I have my own system for invoicing, so this is just a disturbance of my system, if I would have to go into another system to create an invoice. I have to keep track of what I’ve translated and I prefer to have an efficient system for that
Handling 11 systems for this, when I’m working with 10 agencies, is just really inefficient.
Very small translation jobs: Usually these types of agencies allow their clients to start jobs of a few words, and apparently they allow it, since all the work around these few words is done by the freelance translator (communication, passwords, availability registration, invoicing etc.)
There is nothing wrong with doing business this way, but you have to watch your hours and be aware, that there are other agencies who do not expect you to do all this unpaid work in order to run a system that makes them money – the funny thing is, that those agencies, who run their own business, usually pay you more per word you translate!