How long does it take to get started as a freelancer?
A question that’s commonly asked by both translators beginning their freelance business and those who are contemplating freelancing is: ‘How long does it take to get started as a freelancer?’ But of course the real question is not how long does it take, but how long does it take to create a viable freelance business. So then you have some questions to answer: questions like – is your non-English-language Japanese or Spanish? Do you have a language background plus a PhD in Engineering, or do you just have a language background? Do you live in Nevada or Tokyo?
The Two Milestones for Starting a Freelance Business
It appears that there are two milestones when it comes to starting a freelance business, and these are the point when you know for sure that you’re going to be successful as a freelancer, and the point where you always have enough work. Achieving the first point means that you’re no longer stressed about whether to continue working towards your freelance dream, or whether you should just give up and get yourself a regular job; and achieving the second point means that you’re not so-much focused on what pays the bills, but on what you enjoy and what you’re good at.
It’s a Different Story for Everyone
Of course everyone’s answers are going to be different to these questions but, generally, it will probably take around 18 months to 2 years of freelancing to know that you’re actually going to make it. By the second year you should be making a lot more money than you did in the first year. What were one-time clients should now be your regular clients, and a $200 translation project should no longer be considered a large project. Certainly by the third year you should not be stressing about where your work will be coming from because you should have a steady stream of income right throughout the year. And at this point in time you should be beginning to ease out some of your lower-paying clients and start accepting some higher-paying clients. You should also know by now what kinds of translation you really enjoy, and what you’re good at, and be looking for clients in these areas.
How Long Is a Piece of String?
The answer to the question: ‘How long will it take’ is probably quite a bit longer than you originally thought. And this is not meant to be a negative prediction, but rather an honest one. If you’re looking for a booming business within a few months, then you should be offering services that most people need; services that involve direct advertising, such as tutoring, cleaning houses, walking dogs, and so on. And if you need a full-time income right from the get-go, then you shouldn’t be starting a freelance translation business – that is, unless you happen to have a specialization or language that’s both extremely in demand and very high-paying.
How Many Translators Make It through the Start-Up Phase?
Another question that’s often asked is: ‘What percentage of freelancers are successful in making it through the start-up phase, and how much success do they have?’ Without having any specific figures here, it appears that graduates of freelance translation courses can be split into three categories – around a third of these people will have created successful freelance businesses and are doing very well; another third will be working at translation in some form or other but have combined their translation business with another job; with the remaining third not being able to find the clients they needed to work with in order to make a decent full-time living, or deciding that running their own freelance translation business was just too much work.
Of course if there are translators out there who disagree with these comments, we would love to hear your thoughts.