How much does it cost to set up as a freelance translator?

David
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How much does it cost to set up as a freelance translator?

In this article, we will talk about the total costs required to set up as a freelance translator, we can then compare this against other industries and professions and reach some interesting conclusions in future research articles.

Of course, you can call yourself a translator without any of the necessary skills or materials, or with significantly more or less than the average translator. So for the purposes of this article, I’ve taken the example of the kind of freelance translator who would attract Constructive Translations to work with them. We decided to use the UK for our analysis, and for that reason all amounts are given in GBP.

Let’s start by looking at the costs to meet the initial entry requirements:

Item Likely cost Comments
Master’s Degree in Translation 6100 GBP This is for the Master’s Degree course at the University of Bristol. There are cheaper and more expensive options in the UK, as well as the option to do the degree overseas where the costs could be significantly different. I’m not including the lost-earnings for this period, nor your rent or other fees for that year, as they would be incurred no matter what you did with your time.
ITI Membership 414 GBP This includes the application fee of 60GBP and the assessment fee (that means you have to pass first time)
Laptop 699.99 GBP “TOSHIBA Satellite S50-B-12Q 15.6″ Laptop – Silver” listed on Curry’s website
SDL Trados Studio 2014 587 GBP This is for the Freelance Plus package. We will write a separate article at some point about the different versions. This is the most expensive version.
Microsoft Office suite 219 GBP This is for the one-off purchase of Office 2013. There may be better options for most freelancers
Good internet connection 0 GBP Many internet providers have special packages offering free installation when you sign up to a monthly package. We have therefore included this cost as an ongoing cost below
Printer/scanner combination (for contracts, NDA’s etc) 149.99GBP This is for the BROTHER MFCJ4510DW Compact Wireless All-in-One A3 Inkjet Printer. Cheaper options are certainly available
Broadband dongle 20 GBP This is used when/if your home internet is down and you need to get online urgently.
Mobile phone 0 GBP The cost of purchasing a good mobile phone is often covered in the monthly fees
Simple website 180 GBP I am a big believer in small websites which serve as “online business cards”. They can be set up for free, or professionally. The cost here is for a simple page with a few images and some text designed by a freelance web developer.
Business cards 30 GBP It’s worth printing a few hundred business cards to use at networking events. This is for a simple text-only business card.
Some dictionaries and resources 150 GBP It’s a great idea to buy some paper dictionaries and reference manuals for your own specific subject area.
TOTAL 8549.98 GBP  
Total costs for working from home 1705.98 GBP These would presumably apply for any other job which involved working from home, but do apply for a translator
Total costs for being a freelance translator 6844.00 GBP These are costs specifically to set up as a freelance translator and would equally apply if you worked in-house.

The next set of expenses relate to ongoing costs:

Item Lowest reasonable cost per year Comments
Attending one major industry conference 800 GBP This is for a weekend or 3-4 day conference overseas in a European nation, including hotel fees etc. Ideally I would aim for 2 per year; 1 is the minimum
Continuing professional development 120 GBP This is for 4 small online courses or 2 longer ones, and is the absolute minimum we would recommend
Computer backup software 80 GBP We use Carbonite to back up our computers throughout the day so we don’t lose work if the computer breaks down.
Mobile phone 360 GBP This is for a phone setup so that your emails can be received even when you are in the kitchen/shops/gym etc.
Home internet 468 GBP This is the Virgin Media broadband package which I currently use myself.
Printer toner 100 GBP This is for around 4 or 5 toner cartridges over a year
Printer paper 30 GBP I usually go through about 5 or 6 big packets of printer paper per year
Jobs forums 250 GBP This is for membership of two translation jobs directories, which is the minimum I would recommend.
Stationary 20 GBP This is for things like pens, notepads and so on
Accountancy or admin. 7800 GBP Busy translators can either spend a day or more per week doing their own accountancy and various admin. tasks, or hire someone to help with it. I will not include this in the total below as many freelancers do their admin on the weekends or evenings. Based on my own experience, I would recommend getting a professional.
TOTAL 2228 GBP

So the total start up fees will be something like 8549.98 GBP (taking us through the first year).

This does not include the time and any fees you will incur during your master’s degree, nor for studying for your ITI membership, nor for learning how to use and maintaining your software and computer hardware. Many translators gradually acquire these items over a few years, starting with one or two and expanding as needed. This may be a good idea if initial costs will be a problem.

Based on the above table, the ongoing yearly fees are going to be something like 2228 GBP.

Of course, we get some additional benefits from these; with a good business structure we can write off some of our costs against our tax bill. We can also find good deals for discounts on some of these items.

I hope the above figures are even more evidence that being a freelance translator isn’t a game you can “try for a couple of years”. If you want to be a successful partner to a successful agency you will need to have made some serious financial commitments to match your efforts in studying the languages and technical subject areas.

This, of course, is only one side of the equation! We also need to think about the salaries earned by freelance translators. For the purposes of this article, I’ve gone through the average salaries recorded by various freelance translators on some blogs and made some adjustments – I assumed that the freelancer would only work something like an 8-hour day at most (and reduced income accordingly), and that they never worked weekends, or evenings. I also assumed that the translator got into touch with the best potential agencies early on (in fact, the first year will be much lower in pay than the second as more clients gradually join the books), and wasn’t losing money to fraud (which does happen) or to client bankruptcy. The two numbers I reached with those calculations are as follows; they can be wildly different if you are a fast worker, work longer hours, find better clients, work for a good agency like Constructive Translations, or for other reasons:

Salary in early stages in career – 22,000 GBP / year; Maximum salary at peak of career – 65,000 GBP / year

After deducting the above yearly costs we get

Salary in early stages in career – 19,772 GBP / year; Maximum salary at peak of career – 62,772 GBP / year

Adjusting for 21.4 days of holiday per year

Salary in early stages in career – 18,733 GBP / year; Maximum salary at peak of career – 61,733 GBP / year

When you go on holiday, new clients will find other translators and you effectively lose income. Quite a few of my best clients were originally working with someone else, but came to me while they were on holiday and never went back. This can be quite a serious issue, probably something like 10% of total salary or maybe more.

Adjusting for another 10 days of sick pay per year

Salary in early stages in career – 17,983 GBP; Maximum salary at peak of career – 60,953 GBP

In reality a couple of weeks sick can mean a reduction of about 4,000 GBP over the year as you may well lose some good possible clients. Worse still, if you get sick mid-way through a job, you can potentially lose that client forever if you miss the deadline or don’t deliver. A good agency (like Constructive Translations) will understand and should have arrangements in place in case of sickness, but many agencies don’t have that.

Using those two numbers, we can see that the initial investment required to become a freelance translator is around 13,500 GBP less than you will earn once you get up and running with lots of good clients on your books in the early years, and something like one sixth of your maximum potential salary. Since this article is looking more at the costs, I won’t go into further details about earnings, but we will do much more detailed articles on those at some point in the future.

How much does it cost to set up as a freelance translator

How much does it cost to set up as a freelance translator

I also want to mention that a lot of freelancers can’t survive long enough to get those regular clients on the books. In my own career, I only made about 900 GBP in my first full year, then 6,000 GBP in the second, and 12,000 GBP in the third, then it picked up in the 4th. By that time, I’d really burned through a lot of savings, and many freelancers won’t ever make it through that hard time.

Now that we have an estimate of the costs, we can proceed in the next research article, to compare that to other industries.