Non-tangible benefits of freelance translation
Non-tangible benefits of freelance translation
In this series of articles, we are going to try and give some information about the overall economics of freelance translation. We will be looking at the total costs for becoming a translator, comparing those costs and potential earnings with those of other industries, and finally conclude by discussing whether or not the economics add up and whether freelance translators can do anything to maximize potential earnings or protect themselves from financial risk.
In life and in career development, money is just one of the many aspects which people need to balance. It is an important factor for sure, but the other factors are also extremely significant. There are a few articles available online (such as Translation Economics 101 by Danielo Nogueira) which address some of these factors. However, I’d like to take a moment to reiterate some of the non-financial benefits of being a freelance translator.
The first of these is the fact that most freelance translators are able to work from home. This saves office space for an agency as well as commuting time and cost for the average translator. Numerous articles have attempted to put exact numbers on the average cost of a commute. This article gives a cost of 3561 GBP per year in London. Other sources state that the average person spends 10,634 hours commuting to work over their lifetime. If we assume you could be working and earning 20 GBP/hour for that time, this equates to 212,680 GBP of lost income over your lifetime!
There are also non-tangible benefits to working from home generally. For example, freelancers don’t need to take a day off work to collect a parcel. We can take time off to go to local dentists, doctors or opticians when necessary, and do not need to pay the inflated costs for the same services in more central locations where our office might be located. Some freelancers have young children and need to be reasonably close to home at all times, others are caring for elderly or disabled friends or relatives, and others may not be able to commute due to medical or other reasons.
Another aspect of being a freelance translator is that you have some degree of control over your own schedule. This is something which can be extremely valuable. For example, you might want to take an hour here or there to pick up friends from an airport or train station. This may also be possible if you are working in a more fixed corporate environment, but it eats into your holiday leave very quickly, and not every manager will agree to it.
I distinctly remember a personal story when I was still working in the banking industry and I needed a travel visa for a holiday China. I was unable to get time off work (for totally pointless buearocratic reasons) to go to the Embassy, so I had to hire an agency to come to my home, collect my passport, go to the Embassy, queue up all day and then bring back the document. The total cost of this service was more than 200 GBP. If I had been able to do it myself, the cost would have been around 20 GBP.
Agency perspective on working from home
Shifting focus now, from an agency perspective, we like to think that freelancers are happy and enjoy their lives and careers. Nothing spoils the mood of a staff member more than a terrible commute (during tube strikes for example). Bad moods or excessive tiredness can impact the longevity of translators as well as the quality of their work. Good translators will generally establish a good routine and will work effectively from home; sometimes it can be hard for a linguist to adapt to an office environment. Home-workers can get up later in the morning and this means they should be able to get more sleep, even after a late night for a birthday party or other event. It’s also worth mentioning that despite this many translators prefer to work from an office. It’s a personal preference.
One of my best friends works in the city of London and a few times after partying on a Thursday, he would stay on my couch and have to get up and be out by 7 AM. I had the luxury of getting an extra hour and a half in bed, which really makes a big difference by the end of the day. With more and more studies showing that sleep is an extremely important , but overlooked, part of our health, this factor cannot be neglected.
On the other hand, this also means that agencies don’t have to worry about staff getting delayed by leaves on the train line or buses striking bridges or any other external factor. While we do need to ensure our home-based staff have plenty of options to get online (in case our main internet goes down), generally there’s less room for unexpected problems, meaning we can plan our days with more confidence.
Learning and maintaining language skills
Another benefit of being a translator is that it means we can continually be exposed to our other languages. After moving back to the UK from China many years ago, my spoken Chinese has deteriorated significantly. However, due to my freelance work from written Chinese into English, my Chinese reading comprehension has actually improved quite a lot. I can still enjoy watching Chinese movies, reading books, and getting all the benefits of being bilingual. We’ve all seen the studies which show how learning and using second languages can help fight Alzheimer’s and other illnesses.
How many people do you know who put in the time and effort to learn a foreign language, perhaps at university or college. After graduating they didn’t get a chance to use the language, and within a few years they can’t even say “bonjour”. This situation strikes me as very sad, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to avoid it.
Most of the freelance translators who work with us are technical specialists and have a great passion for some technical area or another. By working as translators they are able to keep up their reading on those technical areas, and continue to learn more about them, while also continually reinforcing their own language skills. This is certainly a great draw for passionate freelancers. Technical translators, legal translators and business translators all have plenty of opportunities to stay in touch with their respective fields in a fun and rewarding way.
In the next part of this series of articles focusing on the economics of freelance translation, we will ignore all of the non-tangible benefits outlined above and breakdown the actual numbers, salary, tax, costs etc. associated with being a freelance translator in the UK.