Posted by: patenttranslator | October 5, 2013

Employee v. Freelancer – What Makes More Sense These Days?

Some of my silly blog posts are late bloomers. Hardly anybody reads them at first, but thousands of readers eventually become interested after a year or two (I have been blogging for about 3 years now).

Statistics for 3 such posts are below:

Stats for: Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Trados or Other Translation Memory Tools

              Jan         Feb         Mar        Apr         May        Jun         Jul          Aug        Sep         Oct               Nov        Dec         Total

2010                                                                                              103         30           77           46              37           54           347

2011       74           65           74           51           55           47           47           41           68           39              52           39           652

2012       60           72           117         111         125         93           97           128         123         205              238         181         1,550

2013       274         275         302         367         371         323         306         314         256         30                                           2,818

 Stats for: If You Believe That You Can Learn a Language in 10 Days You Deserve To Be Ripped Off

Jan         Feb         Mar        Apr         May        Jun         Jul          Aug        Sep         Oct               Nov        Dec         Total

2012                                                                                                                                         116              22           32           170

2013       52           61           169         536         827         758         1,039      1,139      995         116                                           5,692

 Stats for: Relative Advantages and Disadvantage of Being an Employee Versus Being a Freelancer

              Jan         Feb         Mar        Apr         May        Jun         Jul          Aug        Sep         Oct               Nov        Dec        

2012       Total                                                                                             204         72           120              153         137         686

2013       222         325         386         273         355         432         383         369         628         108                                           3,481

I am not sure how exactly these things work, it’s probably a combination of keywords used on search engines and links pasted God know where.

Because I find it very interesting that so many people want to see a comparison of advantages and disadvantages of the employee versus the freelancer status, I will try to provide a little bit more context in this post.

Among the documents that I kept (just in case) is a summary of benefits that were made available to me when I was working as an entry-level employee (Visitor Services Representative) of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau for 3 full and pretty happy years, from 1982 until 1985 when I decided to move to Japan for a while.

It was my first job in the United States and I still have my business card from my first job, with a cool golden imprint of a San Francisco cable car on it.

Here are some of the benefits which I had back then as these benefits were generally offered even to entry-level employees by most decent employers in these US of A some 30 years ago:



$100 deductible per calendar year. After deductible, 90% of the first $2,000 of covered charges; then 100% of the remainder.


$25 deductible per calendar year. 100% coverage of diagnostic and preventive services, 80% of basic services.


No deductible. 100% of examination, lenses and frames (once a year).


2 X annual salary.


60% of monthly salary.


Defined Contribution Plan – Fully vested in 5 years. Eligible upon completion of 1 year of service.


Available for purchase – Employer pays 2/3 of premiums. Available for spouse and children.


$100,000 (Department Heads & Sales Reps, 50,000 others)

Off course I also had right to (paid) sick leave days (I never really got sick, but once I called in sick because I had a date with a girl who was going back to Europe next day, but I only did something like this twice in 3 years, I swear!), and vacation days, etc.

And although my initial salary was quite low (they mostly hired me because this way they needed to have only 1 employee who could speak to foreign tourists in Japanese, German and French and they used to have 1 person for Japanese and 1 for European languages before they hired me, plus I was willing to work for a relatively modest salary), the salary was automatically increased every year by 5%.

I would bet dollars to doughnuts that while these benefits may still be offered by many employers in this country, most of them are available only to mid-level and upper-level management and not to entry-level employees at this point.

The disappearance of benefits being offered to most if not all employees is one of the big changes during the evolution of what used to be a very rational and quite decent system called capitalism 30 years ago.

Unfortunately, this rational and humane version of capitalism has in the meantime been converted into the modern version of ultimately self-destructive crapitalism.

The new system offers few if any benefits to employees in this and many other countries at this point in history (although those on the top of the system are showered with extremely lavish salaries and incredibly generous benefits, the ratio of average salaries being paid to CEOs v. average salaries being paid to workers in US corporation now is about 350 : 1, at least a tenfold increase over the last 30 years).

Things have changed so much in the market place for human labor that if you have a skill that that you can market yourself as a freelancer, it makes much less sense to be an employee in 2013, since most of the benefits that used to be available to most employees not so long ago were sacrificed on the alter of sacred profits (read: GREED) at all costs in the modern casino system of our crapitalistic economy, reinvented and perfected in that last few decades by Wall Street to extract as much money as possible from all who work for living, both as employees and as freelance workers.

The problem is, if you are a freelancer who works mostly through middlemen, brokers and intermediaries (who used to be called translation agencies, although they prefer the abbreviation LSPs these days), some if not most of these brokers, inspired by what happened in the rest of the economy, now try to turn freelancers into obedient serfs who have many duties and essentially no rights through so called NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements, which as I wrote in this post at this point in time have very little to do with their original purpose, namely protection of confidentiality of documents).

Translation memory tools such as Trados represent yet another tool used by many “LSPs” to make sure that translators will be paid as little as possible for their work.

But even though the cards are stacked against freelancers more today than a mere decade or two decades ago, I think that it still makes much more sense to try to run a freelance business than to be an employee these days.

As always, the Devil is in the details, as everything depends on who your employer is if you are an employee, or who your clients are if you are a freelancer.


  1. Ah, yes! The good old days. i became pregnant while teaching full-time at UC Davis, which provided medical benefits. I had to take a semester off, which meant a break in service. Medical benefits could be continued independently, except in the case of pregnancy, which was a “pre-existing condition.” Of course men had no pre-existing condition in the same circumstance.

    Baby steps, baby steps….


  2. […] This was absolutely true when I was working as an employee in the eighties. It was true in Europe on both sides of the Iron Curtain, as well as in America and in Japan. Even an entry level employee at the San Francisco Visitors and Convention Bureau such as myself had an excellent benefit package including health, dental, vision, and life insurance, as well as the promi… […]


  3. I don’t know for other Europeans, but many employers here still offer a pretty good deal. My longest “real” job 1999-2006 (in Luxembourg) offered 13 monthly salaries, an additional 1/2 a salary in the summer, daily meal vouchers that you could use in any restaurant or supermarket, 35 paid vacation days per year, and an annual performance-based bonus. Every employee got this, by the way, from the lowliest data-entry clerk up. The big bosses got huge extra bonuses, of course. Healthcare-wise and pension-wise everyone was also fully covered in “communist” Europe. When I read my contract for the first time I couldn’t believe it. And my co-workers still complained!

    As a freelancer I have none of those perks, but I’m so much happier running my own show. The other day I was talking with a friend about (saving for) retirement. She was adamant about not wanting to work beyond 60 (she’s an employee with a good salary and good benefits), and I was thinking I don’t ever want to stop working. I think this is one of the luxuries of being a translator: you can probably still do it when you’re 80 as long as your brain and your fingers (for typing) still work. Most importantly, I love what I do and I don’t feel like I’m selling my soul like I did with most “real” jobs I’ve had.


  4. “I think this is one of the luxuries of being a translator: you can probably still do it when you’re 80″

    It’s more that you have to work well into your eighties or until you drop that these days, whichever comes first.

    That’s the beauty of the system – for our corporate overlords, that is, who get to suck your blood for a really long time.

    Last week I was talking on the phone to a German translator who lives in US and sometime sends me work. I remembered that she was older than me because ten years ago she told me that, but I did not know how old she was.

    So I asked her:”You are older then me, aren’t you?”

    And she said:”Yeah, I’m older than you. I’m 86″.

    In a way it is liberating to know that I will probably still be able to work and thus to pay my bills when I am just a step or two away from the grave, or rather the crematorium, which is much cheaper.

    But at the same time, it is a symptom of enslavement and subjugation of the majority of the population by the ruling class when this is something that septuagenarians and octogenarians have to do rather than chose to do.


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