Keeping the "Free" in "Freelance"

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For today's quick post, we'd like to address an important topic: the fact that as freelancers, we are free to work or not work with any client. Oftentimes, we hear from colleagues that they feel locked into certain relationships, and while it's certainly difficult to walk away from established business relationships, we need to do so if they don't work for us -- or at least try to negotiate better terms. Let's keep the "free" in "freelance"!

Judy has been on the other side of this: she's worked as an in-house translator for a big e-commerce site. And while that was a lot of fun, she loved leading a team of translators, learned a lot about technology and made many lifelong friends, she wasn't free to choose what to work on. Her internal customers (=other departments) would request translations, sometimes with unreasonable expectations and unreasonable deadlines, and it was her and her team's job to get it done. She didn't have the option to say: "Thanks, but no thanks, this deadline is too tight." Everything always got done, but it required many all-nighters and many months of 80-hour weeks.

As freelancers, we have the choice and the luxury to select which projects we work on. Of course, we also need to make sure we make a living, so we need to choose wisely and make our customers happy while balancing that with the need to have a normal life, including time for friends, family, exercises, travel, and vacation.

We very rarely turn down projects from our fantastic long-term repeat customers, many of whom have worked with us for more than a decade, but we've negotiated good terms and reasonable deadlines. Oftentimes, we hear lovely colleagues complaining about their client's unreasonable expectations and deadlines. Without giving out too much tough love, we have this thought: a business agreement always takes two parties. If you say yes to something, then you must do it, preferably without complaining too much. If it doesn't work for you, tell the client rather than complaining to colleagues who can't do anything about it. Don't be afraid to negotiate better terms. It works like a charm if you say: "Unfortunately, we will not be able to complete this translation by Monday because we are completely booked. However, we can gladly complete it by Wednesday if your timeline allows or we can refer a trusted colleague." Needless to say, most clients will think that this is quite reasonable, as most clients understand that all of us have multiple clients and don't just work for one party. If they don't understand that and are continuously putting lots of pressure on you, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate that business relationship. Just because you've worked with someone once or twice doesn't mean you have to accept work from them for all eternity if the terms don't work for you. It's perfectly fine to say "no," as long as you do so nicely and offer alternatives if at all possible.

What do you think, dear colleagues? We would love to hear from you. Simply leave a comment below. 


Unknown on February 6, 2015 at 1:37 AM said...

​Thank you for this post! It was published at a perfect time, at least for me, as lately ​I've been thinking about my attitude and appreciation for the ​"​free​"​ in the freelance quite a ​bit. Especially about the fact that I am so very free with my "yes" and stingy on my "no" which brings me to situations like the one I am in right now.
Or, I find myself taking the "free" too lightly and definitely too literally.
I guess I fall into the category of people that need to learn to respect their "free" the hard way, and I'm still learning. Baby steps, but forward, not backward.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on February 12, 2015 at 11:54 PM said...

@Katarina: Thanks so much for reading and for commenting and sorry about the late response. Yes, baby steps, and it's great that you are aware of this important issue. A polite "no" is not a bad answer, especially if you can offer some alternative solution, such as perhaps a colleague who can take on the project when you have no bandwidth left. Happy Friday! We really appreciate your thoughtful comment.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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