Becoming a freelance translator – 5 questions you must first answer


If you are considering becoming a freelance translator, you should be able to come up with a straight answer to a number of questions. Here are five of the more important ones:

1. Do you like translating, really?

The office of a freelance translator can sometimes be a rather destitute place, can you handle that? You should if you really like translating and have experienced the gratification of an ever-expanding horizon. If you sometimes lose track of time while translating, and find it difficult to stop, well, then you’ve most probably got it in you.

2. Would it be profitable to be a freelance translator in your country?

Depending on your country of residence, freelancing might be a good option or a bad option. You have to find out how much your state is taxing your revenue (I’m paying 16%, for instance), then add up healthcare and pension contributions, as well as other optional contributions you might be interested in. All together, you might find that 25% (maybe more, maybe less) of your revenue is leaving by the back door. Perhaps there are better options for incorporating your business. Find out how people do it in your country.

3. Where do you live? Location matters.

Generally speaking, if you want to translate, say, from English to Polish, the best place to work from is Poland. The second best place to work from is a country with a similar or lower living standard. The worst place to work from is a country higher on the ladder than Poland. You probably see why a client in Germany would rather pay a Polish translator located in Poland, than one located in Germany or England. It all comes down to cost control. I know, there are languages that are spoken in more than one country, with different living standards – but that’s a whole different story to which we’ll hopefully get in a different post.

4. Are you prepared to invest in managing and marketing your business?

In a company, you’d have special departments for that. In your case, chance is there will be just you. So, are you willing to get out there and let people know you exist, or do you hesitate? Moreover, can you handle the load of the legal paperwork and the relationship with your local authorities? Sure, you can hire someone or ask a friend to help you, but, again, chances are you’ll need to take care of them by yourself.

5. Can you find a backup income for the first year?

If you are good and you are diligent with marketing yourself and connecting with people in the industry, you probably will be able to work as a full time translator sooner than a year. However, you should be prepared for the situation where you might need an additional source of income in the first year – it could be your savings or a part time job. Make your decision ahead of time, and don’t get discouraged if clients don’t pop out of a hat. Time and diligence will make your efforts come to fruition; shortcuts are rare.

Before concluding, I hope this was less of a cold shower, and more of a guide to help you realize the importance of being realistic about yourself and the opportunities lying ahead. In case you’ve given yourself satisfying answers to these questions, I wish you the best of luck and happy freelancing!

What other questions do you think prospective freelance translators should be able to answer? You are invited to leave a comment.



Cristian Sălăjan

I am a freelance translator and blogger from multicultural Transylvania. Father of one, two three, husband of one, friend to few. Privately, I've also been interested in/fascinated by topics like web design, theology, probability theory, Christian apologetics, cosmology, quantum mechanics, entrepreneurship and parenting.

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3 responses to Becoming a freelance translator – 5 questions you must first answer

  1. Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Thank you for the nice article, Cristian. It is really helpful for those who want to start career as translators, including me. Yes, I admit that as a freelance translator, we need a backup income. However, since these three years, I think that I must have a full time job to backup my freelance job. It is because I seldom get a job monthly. If I don’t have a full time job, how can I fulfill my needs monthly? That is why I place freelance position on its original place. I don’t want to place freelance position as my primary job or primary source to fulfill needs. I still need a full time job instead of depending too much on my position as a freelance translator. Perhaps we may share more about how to become succeed freelance translator.

  2. Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    I have already spent 2 hours reading your articles, I lost track of time. You have an amazing writing style!

  3. Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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