Posted by: patenttranslator | November 7, 2013

A Few Important Advantages of Being a Freelance Translator

I sometime complain on my blog about the problems and challenges that freelance translators have to face on a daily basis. Problems such as competition from people I call “zombie translators” who can’t really translate, but who are very cheap, lack of respect for our profession, brutal deadlines, or low rates that many translation agencies (and some direct clients) would like us to accept for our demanding but underappreciated work.

But in spite of these problems, the freelance translation lifestyle has also a number of important advantages. The main advantage of being a freelance translator is in my opinion the flexibility of the freelance lifestyle.

This is a lifestyle that can be adapted to different demands of our lives as we go through the different stages of our life.

1. First of all, thanks to the Internet, the job of a freelance translator is almost completely location-independent. When I moved in 1992 from beautiful, exciting and stimulating, but also crowded, hectic, dirty and very expensive San Francisco 1 hour north to the Sonoma Wine Country, it was like moving to a completely different world. This new world, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, was green, clean and almost serene. Instead of listening to excited discussions of drunks from a nearby Irish pub walking under my window, I was now watching cows who were quietly ruminating in a green field across the road from my new home office in the suburban paradise of Northern California.

Then after 9 years in the Wine Country, we decided to move again in 2001, this time not just across the bridge, but 3 thousand miles from California to Virginia. Thanks to the Internet, the transition was fairly smooth since my website stayed exactly in the same spot where it was before. There are things I miss about California, but on the whole, it was a wise move.

We were even able to time is so that we sold our house while the real estate bubble was already in full swing in California, but not yet in Virginia – the bubble was delayed by about 2 or 3 years in Eastern Virginia, although the crash then hit the entire country at about the same time.

You can’t do something like that when you are an employee. When you  have a boss, you simply have to stay or move when your boss tells you to stay or move. But fortunately, we freelancers are bossless.

This means that we were able to afford a house that we would not be able to buy now, even though the prices are now much lower, both in California and in Virginia, after the bubble quite predictably burst in 2007.

2. The second important advantage of the job of a freelance translator is that our age makes no difference to our customers. Young people don’t realize it, but as we grow older, we become less desirable as potential employees to potential employers for obvious reasons.

As the saying goes, when you are on the Internet, nobody knows that you’re a dog – and when you are a freelancer, nobody knows or cares how old you are, as long as you are not likely to die before the current translation project is finished.

Since most jobs in this country no longer offer defined pensions (as most of the money that used to be paid into these pensions was stolen by Wall Street), being able to work until you drop dead is a major benefit these days.

3. The third major advantage is that we can keep doing what we have been doing for a long time and simply work less as we grow older because we need less money when our children leave our house and become independent.

As I work with freelance translators and people who run tiny translation agencies who are in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties, I noticed that many old timers are much less gung ho about working as much as possible.

Life is short, and then you die.

* * *

There are also other advantages that translators allegedly have and other people don’t. We are supposedly less likely to develop Alzheimer disease, for example, because switching between different languages is an important mental exercise which keeps our brain well functioning a little bit longer.

I don’t know if it is true, but it make sense to me.

We are usually better informed about all kinds of things because we are able to read foreign newspapers, or watch news on teevee in several languages, which means that it is much more difficult for our government to keep us as brainwashed as the monolingual population.

And that is also a major advantage these days.

To me this is indeed a major advantage, as is the fact that our work for the most part is, or at least can be, quite interesting. This is probably also one reason why people who should be retired based on their age keep working well beyond the retirement age.

Every time when I see a senior citizen who has to stand for long hours on her tired feet bagging groceries at my local Food Lion or Farm Fresh store, and I see a lot of theme these days, I have the same thought:

“I am so lucky – no matter what happens, I will not have to do something like this to make ends meet when I am old”.


  1. This is awesome Steve. Especially number 2. I don’t know if hilarious laughter is what you’re after, but that is what number 2 of your post produced in me. 🙂 And, that is actually why I became a translator at the (HOPEFULLY!) mid-point in my life. Because I do love translating and I do actually want to do this until I drop dead! So it is great to hear you voice these thoughts that I keep (mostly) to myself. Cheers, Jane P.S. I am not a dog, I may be a cat though!


    • Thank you, Jane.

      Hilarious laughter is indeed what I am after.


      • Oh good, I am glad to hear that Steve. ;P


  2. Steve, all very true.
    I like my job and the freedom it gives me but above all it has allowed me to bring up two daughters on my own and dedicate them the time children need (I left the only office job I had, aeons ago, when they complained I wanted to stay at home to look after my daughter who was ill). And as soon as my youngest goes off to uni I plan to take off with my laptop, go and see the world (or some of it) while doing the odd translation.
    By the way, I love the track by Alela Diane, I did not know her, thanks for sharing.


    • Alela Diane is not very well known in this country, although I see on Youtube that she is quite popular in France and Holland.

      She first burst onto the scene in San Francisco about 10 years ago and I think that she is amazing.

      I have a friend in Grass Valley but he did not know her either.


  3. […] I sometime complain on my blog about the problems and challenges that freelance translators have to face on a daily basis. Problems such as competition from people I call “zombie translators” who c…  […]


  4. “We are usually better informed about all kinds of things…”

    Well, Steve, I am not so sure about this. Even if it is true, we are not able to change the course of things, anyway.

    “Life is short, and then you die.”

    That’s true and it’s nice to know that you will have your peace in the Friedhof. I guess that’s why the place is named as such.

    However, I know there are quite a few more advantages being a freelance translator. Being able to say NO to over-demanding clients, for instance.


    • “… we are not able to change the course of things, anyway.”

      Eines ist sicher: We are not going to change anything if we don’t try.


    • Oh yes, Steve, Bertolt Brecht is of the opinion that everything can be changed except the humanity.

      BTW, there is another advantage of being a translator: you listen to a lot of songs and read a lot of books to say by the end, “Quatsch!”

      Nice people try to fight monsters only to find themselves becoming monsters. The course of things remains the same with plus or minus sign changed.


  5. So true!!!, I’m also an “Oldie” but “Goldie”. I still grow my memory inside my brain not depending on CATs..Online diccionaries have replaced the old library of heavy hardcopies….I’m happy to be a poor indepentant.freelance translator and love to embrace new challenges.
    Thank you so much for your post; have a beautiful ‘n peaceful weekend.


  6. It’s a great post. There are so many pros to be a freelance translator, to work as much as I only want, feel freedom and not depend on empoyers’ feelings. Thank you Steve.


  7. @Ursula and Natalia.

    Thank you so much.


  8. […] See on […]


  9. The first argument has also a twist: You can not only relocate, you can also work while on the road. This is important for me, as I travel very often (some 40 international trips per year). You can work on trains, planes, ships, hotels… and your customers don’t care whether you are today in the U.S., tomorrow in France, Germany or Spain… as long as you deliver the work properly and in a timely manner.


    • Some people can do that, but it depends on the person and on what it is that you translate.

      I can’t even work in a cafe. I tried it, but I could not concentrate on what I was doing, even though it was a simple software manual.

      But I could easily set up an office in a hotel room, for example, if I have wifi there and no distractions. I did it once and it worked for me.


  10. Steve, you forgot the bit about being able to work in your pajamas (chuckle chuckle) [I never do, but still…]. I have said no, though, to offered work when I go to see my son and grandchildren in the U.S., because I am then in what you may call a vacation-state-of-mind (paraphrasing the you-know-which song) and all I take with me is a pendrive with my files for an emergency, but it stays buried in my purse… I am only comfy working in my own office, but I admit that if I were so inclined, I could arrange my stuff so as to be able to work wherever. And another plus yet, besides the very apt ones you mentioned, is the ability to pick and choose what you want to work on – assuming that you are not under any financial stricture to take on whatever is dished out to you. One further plus, is that you get to meet such interesting people and hear so many life stories – in my case, because I work locally with direct clients who come to me for certified translations, and usually there is a complete interesting and unique family or personal story underlying each request.
    Thanks for the light-hearted and witty post, and I hope to be alive next week to read your next one, haha!


  11. Commuting to work can be fun when you drive and your are alone with your thoughts and music from your favorite station (oldies in my case) in your car. I actually enjoyed commuting from Santa Rosa to Petaluma in Northern California.

    But it was hell to commute in Tokyo where it took me one and half hour each way, I had to take a bus first and then change subway trains in Ikebukuro as I write in this post (if you want to read it):

    Chances are you will be still alive next week to read another post, if I am still alive and keep writing my silly posts.

    Hopefully you will find it light-hearted and witty again.


    • Oh, my, Steve, I gave out an entirely wrong impression. My “office” does not require commuting, at all! All I have to do to get there, is step out of my bedroom into the next room, which used to be one too, but which I converted into an office… So I don’t work in my ‘jammys out of choice, and because people sometime come to drop off their documents, but I actually could, if I wanted to…. Please forgive me the unintended confusion! 🙂


  12. Steve, you are a beacon of hope for all those who want to break free from the shackles of full time jobs! I shared your post with my friends of same interest.. Thanks an keep it up..


  13. Great post, Steve, as always! Just the other day I talked to some translators about the age thing and working beyond official retirement age, and they were APPALLED at having to work when they’re old (in über-social Germany people expect to retire when they’re 60 or so, and then spend the next 20-30 years taking it easy)! Until I pointed out that for us it’s a choice, not (hopefully) a necessity. When you’re a coal miner or a police officer, you’re probably unable to work beyond a certain age. But us, we can work until our bespectacled eyes give out.

    To your point 1, the flexibility location-wise, I would like to add the flexibility time-wise. In a sense, we work asynchronously: no need to step into an office at 8, be present for 8 hours straight (or 10, or 12), and then stop. If I want to take a morning off, fine. If I have a dentist appointment early afternoon, also fine. So maybe I usually work until 1 or 2 in the morning, but that’s my choice and not my employer’s. It all depends on your workload, of course, but considering I spent almost 20 years in the corporate world before doing my own thing I have come to wonder how “normal” people fit their lives around their jobs.


  14. […] A Few Important Advantages of Being a Freelance Translator ( […]


  15. […] A Few Important Advantages of Being a Freelance Translator ( […]


  16. […] you as well, because as a freelance translator, you do not have to stay cooped up at home. You're location-independent. You can work where you are most comfortable. You can take your work with […]


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  18. […] as well, because as a freelance translator, you do not have to stay cooped up at home. You’re location-independent. You can work where you are most comfortable. You can take your work with […]


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