This forum is for those interested in problems of modern linguistics and translation.
Feb 2010, 12:21, Mark Kit
At web forums and blogs one can easily find posts describing advantages of freelance work. These posts often provide useful information. Sometimes, however, big stories emerge misleading a newbie. Such stories describe as the brave author had become a freelancer and what awesome results he achieved thereupon. As a rule, the achievements are expressed in the form of monetary units and never as professional growth.
If freelance work is so much better than in-house position, why there are still employees on payroll in the offices? Let’s take a close look at the situation.
Indeed, at the first glance – what could be better than working flexible hours at your convenience and being well paid? Such work is called “freelance”, which translated in Russian as a “free penny maker” as Victor Pelevin put it – which correctly reflects the essence of the job but is wrong in terms of pay. In fact, “the penny makers” usually enjoy better pay than they colleagues on payroll.
However, I often met translators or interpreters who used to be freelancers and later got hired as office employees. The main reason for that, as I see it, is the “freelancer syndrom”.
Here is my view of the syndrom.
When busy the freelancer usually works under stress. The job has to be completed by the deadline and the freelancer can rely only on himself. As a result, he is tired, irritated and cannot wait to complete the job.
When free from work, the freelancer enjoys the rest for first 3 days. Then he starts feeling uncomfortable: when the next order is going to come? And will it come at all? Maybe while I was relaxing somebody else took my client?
Eventually the objective of enjoying life becomes a chronic problem. Apparently we have a case of freelancer syndrom.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor report of 2006, freelancers made up 22% of all translators in the country (ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/ep/ind-occ.matrix/occ_pdf/occ_27-3091.pdf). However, DOL recognized that in reality there could be many more freelance translators since many were not registered or work from time to time. “However, the actual number of interpreters and translators is probably significantly higher because many work in the occupation only sporadically.” Making a reasonable guess we can assume that there are 1.5 times more freelancers than the figure shown in the report and come up with 33% from the total number.
So, there is a freelancer per every three employees on payroll..
This is very little in view of advantages of freelance work, both for the translators and the client who hires him. Why is is so?
Let’s take a look at the disadvantages
Freelancer never knows when work may come his/her way
Freelancer is often left unpaid or receives payment greatly delayed. There is no one to appeal to complain while legal actions are useless and too expensive
To get paid is a responsibility of the freelancer himself, no one will do it for him
The freelancer is more than a translator, he is also an accountant, salesperson, computer technician and a lot more. This does not let him focus on thing clients are paying for – translation.
The freelancer shall evaluate and pay his tax on his own. With this his Social Security and Medicare taxes are twice as much as those for his colleague on payroll.
The freelancer should take care of his medical insurance. Most US enterprises pay at least a part of such insurance, but it does not include free-lance contractors.
The freelancer should take care of his pension fund, his employees have nothing to do with it.
All this explains such frequent phenomena as a freelancer taking a job in the office.
However, time is changing and we are changing with the time. The concept of “secure job” has become an illusion and self-cheating. о времена меняются, и мы меняемся вместе с ними. Понятие “надежная работа” стало. Companies’ lifespan dropped. Translators, software developers, copywriters, and lots of other specialists are hired as contractual employees, i.e. it is known beforehand that in a few months, a year or so (depending on the project they are hired for) they will have to leave. But even so-called “steady job” in the office is perceived as such merely by inertia. Market economy does not leave a room for altruism. No client – no jobs. You may not bother to come at work tomorrow. Thank you for your help.
This prompts that both the nature of freelance work and the attitude towards it should change. In the USA there are types of work where almost 100% employees work on a contractual basis, e.g. engineering and construction projects. Engineers in these fields all their lives float from one contract to another. To a large degree same must be true for translation since transltion projects are usually shorter than construction ones. In fact, each translation order is a new project. Translators just has to get used to that.
And not only mentally. One should kept in mind that a contractual employee earns more than that on payroll due to the intermittent nature of his work, higher taxes, and other costs. The higher pay is fair from the employee standpoint since he does not pay for the computer and its servicing, he does not maintain the workplace or buy health insurance for the freelancer. For these reasons companies in the USA like to hire freelancer either directly or through placement agencies, even if they have known that person dozens of years and he is, in fact, a permanent member of their team.
Of course, in certain cases office work fits better to the nature of the enterprise. Besides, not everyone is fit for freelance work: some people cannot work at home, other like to be in a team, many do not want to get involved in technical issues. Still, I believe that in the near future we will observe steep increase in the number of freelance translators.
So, what is the verdict? How can this help me to make a choice whether should I seek a freelance job or full-time employment? Economy is shaky, time is changing rapidly,what you think is right today may not be right tomorrow.