Note: I originally wrote this article for the 2019 edition of JAT’s Translator Perspectives.
During one session of a translation conference I attended last year, the speaker explained what drove his switch from freelancing to working as an agency employee. One of his arguments was that working for a company offered more stability and future guarantees. That’s the typical way people oppose freelancing and employment. Freelancers enjoy their freedom, employees bring home a steady paycheck – no feast or famine cycle.
That’s something I used to believe too. However, time and experience helped me realize freelancing offered more security than any long-term contract ever could. On the other hand, the perceived stability that comes with employment is often illusory.
As a freelancer, the revenue you generate will vary on a monthly basis. True enough, but it applies to every business, small or big.
I am an incorporated translator. I pay myself a salary and fill a profit-and-loss statement at the end of every fiscal year. Thanks to my experience, I can predict with a reasonable accuracy (+/- 10%) my earnings for a given year.
With that figure in mind, I choose a salary slightly below my expectations. I then adjust the amount every year based on my results and predictions. With time, I have saved 6 months worth of my current salary on my company account, which I consider a comfortable cushion. Even if I started receiving fewer projects, I have a good reserve to tap in before getting into trouble, and even time to reconsider my career. This approach allows me to work without concerns about my financial future, and I can take cold-headed career decisions.
Another element of stability I enjoy as a freelancer is that my clientele is diverse, spread all over the world. Even if I lost a client, I would still have plenty of partners. And if that became a trend, I would have time to take measures accordingly.
As a company employee, though, you are never completely safe, no matter what your contract states. Businesses run into financial and legal troubles. Another company may acquire yours and make you redundant. That’s frequent in our industry. You may also make the mistake of your career when you expect it least and suddenly find yourself unemployed. I’ve seen talented colleagues lose their jobs over silly, uncharacteristic blunders. The risk always exists although you may not perceive it.
I’m not trying to push people into freelancing or drive them away from agencies. But it is a mistake to associate freelance work and lack of job stability. Once you realize you are a business like any other, you organize yourself differently. It requires a certain mindset and different skills. Thus, some will never manage or want to adapt to it and prefer working in a bigger structure. That is completely fine. But it doesn’t mean you can’t make freelancing work for you. Be the ant, not the grasshopper, and you will never need to worry about cold winters again.