In the 21st century, when the world is more digitally connected than ever before and business can so easily be conducted on a global scale, the demand for talented, competent translators is at an all-time high. In fact, research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of translators and interpreters in the U.S. almost doubled from the year 2008 to 2015. The future looks equally bright, since jobs in this field are projected to grow by 29% through the year 2024. So there’s no doubt that the industry is expanding and will continue to do so well into the future. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that freelance translators are prospering as much as the industry statistics might indicate.
While it’s true that more and more people are turning to freelancing, that is by no means the easiest or most profitable road to take. There’s no doubt that freelancing offers many advantages: a more flexible work schedule, the convenience of working from home (or anyplace else, for that matter), the opportunity to work for yourself rather than being directed by a manager or supervisor, and the freedom to pick and choose the types of projects you prefer and the clients you enjoy working with. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. Along with those advantages come hardships. And some of those difficulties make earning a living as a freelancer challenging, to say the least.
The first hurdle to overcome in becoming a successful freelancer is to find reliable clients – clients who offer a decent wage (whether by hour or by project) and who pay reliably. For a freelancer, that means it’s necessary to learn how to market yourself to prospective clients. This type of self-promotion can be daunting even for someone with a marketing background, much less for a professional linguist who most likely has no experience in that field. There are administrative challenges as well. A freelancer must keep her own financial records; send out her own invoices; and not be shy about asking for payment when it’s due. A freelancer has no one to call if computer or printer problems arise. And, in this day and age, every freelancer must make enough money to cover all expenses and pay the bills – including expenses like exorbitant health insurance premiums. In fact, one of the most important factors to consider as a freelancer is the lack of a benefit package and whether or not you can afford to pay for those benefits on your own. Finally, there’s the competition. If you choose to become a freelance translator, you won’t be alone. You’ll have to compete with countless other people who are vying for the same projects from the same clients – some of whom are willing to accept low fees that ultimately pull down standard wages for all other freelancers.
As a business owner in need of high quality translation services, finding the right freelancer can be equally challenging. You’ll need to find a person who can produce excellent quality translations – preferably one who has some level of experience in or knowledge of your industry. You’ll need to know that the freelancer you choose is experienced, reliable, and committed to producing the highest quality results in the timeframe required. For a business owner who’s simply looking for an independent contractor, that’s a lot of vetting.
So while the future of the translation and interpreting industry in general is bright, the future of freelancers in that field is questionable. For some linguists who are comfortable with the risks, the rewards may be worth the effort. For the business owner who is willing to do his own research into available freelancers, he might be lucky enough to find the right person for the right fee. But for both translators and business owners, a smarter path might be connecting with a reputable translation agency – one that can provide the support that many freelance translators so desperately need, and the vetting that business owners would usually prefer be handled by someone else. When it comes to high quality translation services, a good translation company is often a win-win for everyone involved.