The translation industry in the United States is moving more and more toward the independent contractor model. In the past, many large companies and even many translation agencies had staffs of in-house translators, but these jobs are now few and far between, and when they do exist would rarely be given to a beginner.
In contrast to other professions where newcomers are expected to pay their dues as in-house employees and then enjoy the “reward” of freelancing, the translation industry usually works in the opposite way. Most translators start out as freelancers and may even remain self-employed for their whole careers, while most well-paid in-house translators are hired with years or even decades of experience.
It’s important to be realistic about whether the life of a freelancer is for you. While you’ll have a great degree of control over where, when and how much you work, you’ll also give up the security of a steady paycheck, benefits, paid time off, and a pension or employer-sponsored 40IK.
Most freelance translators in the U.S. work from a home office, and there is no stigma attached to working from home; translators who rent office space outside the home are definitely the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of a translator’s work is done on the computer, using either a word processing program or text editor, and possibly a computer-assisted translation program. Translators make extensive use of reference materials such as print and online dictionaries, terminology databases, and discussion with other translators. The almost constant use of a computer makes repetitive strain injury one of the few work-related injuries that translators are at risk for.
There are many positive sides to a translator’s work environment. Compared to other work-from-home jobs, translation can be very interesting and well-paying. Although you probably won’t get lavishly rich working as a freelance translator, translation industry compensation surveys report that the average self-employed freelance translator earns about S52,000 per year. Translators who are highly specialized in technical fields, or work with in-demand language pairs may earn much more than this, and in-house translators for certain branches of the U.S. government or international financial institutions may earn ,000 a year and up.
At the same time, it is important to be realistic about the time and effort involved in reaching this level of income. Unless you work in a language pair and/or specialization that is extremely in demand, it may take a year or more to develop a regular client base that will allow you to replace the income from a previous full-time job, and you will probably need to send out several hundred resumes during that time. Before starting your freelance translation business, it’s important to determine if you have the financial resources, time and energy to get through the startup period to the point where you are earning a reasonable and steady income.
Starting a translation business is a fairly inexpensive proposition. If you already have a home computer and high speed Internet access, you might make do with business cards, computerized fax service and a modest reference library, for a startup cost of only a few hundred dollars. To a large extent, freelancers can determine when and how much they want to work. While it probably makes good business sense to accept as much work as possible from your regular clients, on a day-to-day basis many translators work on their own schedule rather than from 9 to 5. A translator’s eight hour day might run from 7:30-11:30 AM and 4:30-8:30 PM.
This flexibility makes translation an excellent career option for people who have young children, are semi-retired, or just want to work part-time. Today, most translation work happens remotely, and translators can live almost anywhere. The up and down nature of most freelancers’ work loads also lends itself to using free time to take classes, pursue hobbies, travel or spend time with family.