Many new translators and students ask us about what's better: working as an in-house translator or working for yourself as a freelancer. Judy has done both, while Dagy has never worked in house, but our answer is clear: working for yourself is infinitely better. However, there are a variety of significant downsides, so we wanted to briefly list a few of them. This is a question we get quite frequently, so we wanted to get a list going. Of course, it's not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but in no order of importance, here are the 5 main downsides of working for yourself:
- You are never done and you are never really off work. When Judy worked in-house managing a small group of translators at an e-commerce company, she was required to be available at all times and was practically married to her Blackberry. However, in reality she never really took much work home and was essentially done with work when she pulled out of the company parking lot. However, as self-employed linguists, we are never really done because we ARE our company and there's always more networking to be done, more e-mails to be sent, requests for proposals to be answered, volunteering to be done, etc. There is no finish line, and that's a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective. We love it that our work is a continuum, but we do occasionally have a hard time turning work off. We suppose this is a good problem to have, as we really enjoy what we do and it doesn't always feel like work.
- Days off? We constantly see spouses, friends, and acquaintances who are at home because, well, it's a holiday! We frequently forget holidays, and since we have clients in more than five countries, any particular holiday is usually not a holiday in the other countries. It's therefore a challenge to take the same days off as your loved ones and friends. We certainly try to observe holidays, but it's not always possible. That said, Judy is taking two days off this week, while Dagy gets to work, as Thanksgiving is just another Thursday in Europe and our Austrian clients don't care that Judy isn't working. The projects still need to get done.
- Paid holidays. One of the great perks of working for someone else is that you have paid vacation time. If you live and work in most other countries than the US, there's actually some government rule on how much vacation you should get, and it's usually quite generous (four weeks or so in most European countries). Entrepreneurs don't have paid vacation time. If we want to go on a vacation, we have to start saving up for it.
- Getting paid for actual work. As a salaried employee, you get paid (either every two weeks or monthly, depending on where you live) whether you work or not. Self-employed linguists, however, are very much like self-employed lawyers: we only get paid when we can bill our hours (or words, or lines, or whatever) to a client. When Judy worked in-house, she was certainly not known for sitting around and eating macaroons, but the point is still that there's much less pressure to perform because you will get paid anyway, regardless of how much you accomplish during the pay period. As an entrepreneur, you better finish that project relatively fast if you want to send the invoice and get paid. It's a great motivator indeed, but it's also a situation that can be too stressful for many.
- Uncertainty. The only thing that's for certain if you run your own business is that it will probably be great, but that it will also be a lot of work. Everything else is up in the air, and you never know how much money you will make tomorrow, next week, or next month. This is not a good way to live and work if you are very risk-averse, and it can be quite scary if you think about it. Of course, when you work in-house, you have no real long-time job security either (some countries are better about employee rights than others, but we digress), but you will know where your next paycheck is coming from: your employer. When you are self-employed, you are essentially looking for work every day for the rest of your life. Of course with time you will get repeat customers and you will hopefully establish long-term working relationships, but as a contractor to your clients, they can walk away from the relationship at any time (and so can you). Does that sound too scary? Then perhaps self-employment isn't the best choice for you.
We hope we have given you some food for thought. In spite of the downsides, we absolutely love what we do and would never be able to have the lifestyle we have if it weren't for self-employment. However, we think it's important to highlight some downsides so new translators go into the world of entrepreneurship with eyes wide open.
We'd love to hear your thoughts, dear friends and colleagues!