The Translator’s Dilemma: To Freelance or Not?

Being a translator gives you many options for work. You just have to choose what is best for you – although sometimes life chooses for you.

Let’s take a look at the lives of three translators and you will see what I mean by a translator’s dilemma.

  • Maria is a freelance translator.
  • Ivan works for a translation agency.
  • Elena signed an employment contract as a translator for private company.

All three agreed to share the advantages and disadvantages of the way they choose to work.

Maria is happy with the freedom she gets but hates that she has to do everything on her own as a freelancer:

  • The advantages of being a freelance translator: you choose your projects; you are a master of your own time; you set your own fees and don’t have to share them
  • The disadvantages of being a freelance translator: you have to find your own projects; you have to take care of your taxes and deal with bureaucracy; you can’t plan in advance because you don’t know how much work you’ll have next month.

Ivan likes working for the translation agency. He finds it calm and secure there, but at the end of each project he complains about the share that the agency takes out of his paycheck:

  • The advantages of working for a translation agency: you don’t have to look for projects because the agency has that covered and they just email you with your next assignment; the agency takes care of interactions with the bureaucracy; you get a free edit and proofreading of the translation
  • The disadvantages of working for a translation agency: you have to share the translation fee with the agency; you can’t choose your projects and somehow you end up with the most difficult ones; you have to pay taxes at the end of each financial year because the state treats you as a freelancer

Elena has worked as an employee of a private company for three years and says she wouldn’t go back to being a freelancer again.

  • The advantages of having an employment contract as a translator: you get paid even if there is no work to be done; you have a fixed salary and know exactly what you’ll receive at the end of each month; the labor code protects you and guarantees you paid leave and social benefits
  • The disadvantages of having an employment contract as a translator: you don’t have the day at your disposal because you have to be at the office from 8 to 5 no matter what; a serious amount of your salary goes to social and health security payments; you are not your own boss.

Comparing the advantages and disadvantages for our three translators means that we also need to compare the amount of work done and the payment they received. This is not an easy task, because for Ivan and Elena, work is evenly distributed throughout the week while Maria has periods with lots of work and others when she has to take a break. On the other hand, the law allows Ivan to work with several agencies and not just one. Most of his colleagues work with two or three agencies, which means that Ivan is most often the one with the most work. But is he paid the most? Usually not because he is actually a subcontractor.

So what can we conclude? There are many ways to work as a translator; this is the easy part. The hard part is to figuring out what’s best for you.

About Marieta Plamenova

I’m a native speaker of Bulgarian, living in Sofia. I have a graduate degree in law, and an undergraduate degree in economics. I primarily translate economic and legal content, but I also enjoy translating for tourism, sports, health, cooking, literature, and new technologies.