The Dark Side of Freelance

I’m under no illusions whatsoever – I know that I have a freaking awesome job. I can work from quite literally anywhere in the world, and in some countries just a few hours of work for a Western salary is enough to survive a week or more. In India for example, I spent just under 5 hours working on one project and instantly earned more than a gas station clerk earns there in a month. That’s crazy. Not only are the earnings pretty good, but there will always be people wanting things translated into English, so I will always have that sense of job security.

The mental image I used to get (and like to give people now!) about freelancers travelling the world, is them sitting on a sun lounger on a pristine white beach, laptop in front of them, sipping on fresh fruit juice or a coconut.

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I promise you, this is not my life right now

That’s not how it works, though.

At least not most of the time. Most of the time it involves being holed up in your hotel/hostel/restaurant/anywhere with Internet frantically tapping away at your keyboard trying to meet crazy deadlines and find out the correct translation for “It’s raining cats and dogs”. People say I’m lucky to be able to work from anywhere, and I am. But it’s still work, and work needs dedication and focus – two things which are really hard to come by when you’re in some of the world’s most amazing locations and want nothing more than to be outside in the sun – and there are a lot more downsides too that aren’t often considered.

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This is definitely more me

Work, and subsequently money, are inconsistent

The main issue with working freelance is that you’re never able to predict your workflow; there will be some days where you’re up to your eyeballs in deadlines and projects and dictionaries, and others where you sit for hours, repeatedly tapping refresh on your Inbox, willing work to come in. This kind of lifestyle is perfect for when you’re travelling, when you can adapt your expenditure to your earnings, but it would be way too stressful back home. Constantly not knowing if I’d be able to make my rent or pay the bills would be torture.

You have to make sacrifices

And sometimes this means missing out. All your new hostel friends are going out to some crazy party down the road, or white-water rafting or something but you have to say no because you have a mind-numbingly boring 2000-word washing machine manual to plough through. The inconsistency of the work means that you never know when you’ll be free, so concrete plans can never really be made.

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This is Freelance Penguin Me watching all my friends go off and have fun

Sometimes you will eat nothing but noodles

Okay, so this doesn’t have to be true, but since leaving the UK I’ve made it my goal sort of thing to not spend more than I’ve earned the day before. So if in one day I only earn $20, that’s the max I’ll spend the next day. Granted, this has resulted in a few too many unnecessary homemade pasta dishes and 50p empanadas, but this way of thinking has so far made sure my bank account has remained relatively exactly the same figure as it was when I left UK. I’m in no better (or worse) financial situation than three months ago, but happened to have a bucket load of great memories and experiences.

WiFi… enough said

Believe it or not, high-speed WiFi isn’t a human right, nor is it particularly prevalent in a lot of the still-developing world. Heck, it’s not even that good in the UK most of the time. Obviously working online means you depend on the Internet, and that’s actually pretty hard to come by in some places. San Pedro de Atacama in Chile is one place where it was almost impossible to get a steady enough connection to stay online for longer than a minute, resulting in me taking an unexpected and not particularly welcome week off work. These days I find myself refusing to even consider staying at a hostel or hotel that doesn’t offer Wifi in all rooms, and I kind of hate myself for that. I hate having to rely on an inanimate object, a network, a signal, to be able to eat and sleep comfortably, especially when said inanimate object is less than reliable.

You need to be on-the-ball…

At the moment I work for three online agencies and also have a very small handful of loyal private clients. It’s not a lot – by all means I could put myself out there a lot more – but for me, and for now, it’s enough. The way the agencies work is on a first come, first serve type basis. When a client has a project they need completing, it’s uploaded onto the platform and every translator who has the right qualifications and expertise for that particular project is notified. The early bird gets the worm and boo-hoo to the slow guys.

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…and available 24/7

The agencies work 24/7 across all time zones, which inevitably means that I too need to be constantly alert. I find myself waking up at 5am most days, as this seems to be the time when most work comes in, working for an hour or so and then going back to sleep. Some days I don’t sleep until 4am, neck-deep in Wordreference and Proz.com. Freelance work plays hell on your body clock.

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You will inevitably be “that girl in the corner”

In my first few days in Rio, when I was waiting for my friend to come out and meet me, I spent a lot of time working. I was staying in a hostel where WiFi was only available in the common area, and so I became known as the girl in the corner on her laptop. I looked so antisocial. I looked like I had flown across the world to one of the world’s most famous cities just to spend the whole day indoors. Nobody ever asked what I was doing, so they probably assumed I was just on Facebook or YouTube all day or something.

You sometimes have to spend money to get money

Staying in hostels is my absolute preferred form of accommodation wherever I go, and for however long I stay there. They are amazing for socialising, finding out about the local area and booking tours and excursions. What they are not amazing for, though, is the peace and quiet you need when you’ve got deadlines to meet or submissions to, er, submit. So sometimes you have to spend a little bit extra on a basic (or more than basic) hotel room just for good WiFi and the silence you need to earn those $$$$.


So yeah, I know I have (as my friends in India say) a @$!#&*% awesome job, and an equally as awesome lifestyle, but it’s not all sunshine and daisies. Working freelance isn’t as glamorous as it seems – at least not at first. It’s not a case of working when you feel like, it’s a case of working whenever you physically can. It’s a case of accepting every single job that comes your way, no matter how boring it may be, just to build up that ever-important portfolio you need to progress in the industry.

And as a Freelance Translator, I will always have that added extra of being forever embroiled in a head-to-head battle with my arch nemesis that is Google Translate…

dictionaires

Note: None of these pictures are mine – they’re all readily available stock images
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12 Comments

  1. 19th June 2016 / 1:01 pm

    What other languages do you speak? How fluent do you have to be to do your work? I’ve always thought of trying this (don’t worry – I have a job now that will keep me from being your competition! – I’d just like to know out of curiosity and for future reference.)

    • 22nd June 2016 / 1:00 am

      Spanish, Italian and one of the world’s most useless languages, Catalan 🙂 The majority of real life translation agencies require you to have some sort of formal qualification (I have a BA in Translation and Interpreting so I’m good there!) but a lot of the online agencies and companies just need you to pass an entrance exam sort of thing to prove you’re proficient enough. It’s basically a sample translation, which is normally timed, and on completion is reviewed by project managers and/or your peers. Ordinarily if you are bi- or multi-lingual without formal qualifications you’d get paid slightly less per word than the “professionals” but it’s still decent enough money if you really get into it!

      • 22nd June 2016 / 9:01 pm

        Thanks for the info! Very interesting!

  2. 20th June 2016 / 1:21 am

    I enjoyed reading this – an interesting insight to the world of freelancing. I hate being reliant on wifi signal too; it makes me feel annoyed at myself for such an irritating dependency!

    • 22nd June 2016 / 12:56 am

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂 I find WiFi to be simultaneously one of the greatest and worst inventions of all time.

  3. 20th June 2016 / 4:01 am

    I feel like this is a very honest, realistic post about life as a freelancer. Often we only get a glimpse into the fun factor but this is great for people seriously considering a career in freelancing to know what they are getting themselves in for. Great job 🙂

    • 21st June 2016 / 9:10 pm

      Thanks! I’m sure there is a fun factor involved too, although being relatively new to it I’ve yet to discover it 😛

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