Every morning, somewhere in the world, a freelancer wakes up knowing that s/he will have to explain somebody that s/he doesn’t spend the whole day baking cookies and binge-watching Netflix. That somebody will nod dubiously and will just keep asking the same “did you find a real job yet?” question over and over again.
Before taking the plunge into freelancing, I must admit that I had a very optimistic and naive idea of the translation business. I would picture myself in my small Canadian apartment surrounded by squirrels and raccoons, with my Linus blanket and my cup of tea, drowning in translation jobs that would reach magically my inbox with the precision and the persistence of a letter from Hogwarts. Unfortunately, the reality is very different and behind the simplistic definition of “freelancer” there are at least ten other professions that I’ll try to briefly explain here.
Freelancers are business owners. As such, they must have a clear vision for their company, define the objectives that need to be achieved. Create an effective business model, analyze the market and try to find the most suitable niche for them. They have to be “the face” of the company, seize all the possible opportunities coming their way or create them. Allocate a budget to invest in various activities, innovate and constantly be a volcano of new ideas.
As managers, freelancers have to write down and organize coherently all the ideas, come up with strategies, create a business plan, organize, divide the long-term goals into smaller steps and define deadlines for each of them. In order to do so, managers are equipped with paper and electronic calendars on multiple devices, a board with pins and post-its everywhere, agendas, colors, pencils, crayons and excel spreadsheets to keep everything in order.
Freelancers can be the most qualified and talented individuals on the planet at their job, but if they play hide and seek with the world, no one will ever know they exist, no matter how qualified they are. Therefore, our heroes have no choice but to show themselves, making the best out of that tentacular monster called “marketing”. Marketing is a sort of multi-headed hydra, you cut one off and three more pop up. There’s not a single day in our lives in which we’re not bombarded by marketing campaigns trying to sell us something. If they want to make business, freelancers need to market themselves as everyone else, either online or offline.
Social butterfly: In order to get noticed offline, there is no choice but to go to events. They can be casual or more formal events in the local community, conferences pertaining to specific fields of specialization, etc. but the essential elements don’t change: dazzling smile, loads of business cards hidden in their bags and ready to be casually handed out when needed, a few ice-breakers to get the conversation started. All of this, for the pathologically introverted freelancers out there, means hours of training in front of the mirror, trying to get rid of that fake Christmas-poem-learnt-by-heart tone of voice.
Social media expert: This is no big news, in order to promote your services, the best online channels are undoubtedly social media. If managing a profile on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and so forth can seem a fun thing to do, think again. Every social media requires a specific number of posts per week, at different and specific times of the day, not to mention the time needed to find good articles to share and to analyze the degree of reach and engagement these posts obtained, in order to identify the most efficient strategies for client acquisition.
Despite not being a must, many freelancers decide to have their own blogs. Google loves to be constantly fed with new content, therefore the more you write, possibly using the right keywords, the better this nice search engine will rank your website. Managing a blog, however, means writing a post or two every week or month, thinking about what to write, adding pictures, formatting… Especially if you are a slow writer and a hopeless indecisive person, just like me, the amount of time that flies away in this blissful activity becomes ginormous.
Website maintenance manager
Even though many freelancers ask for the assistance of professional website/graphic designers when it comes to creating their website, logo, business cards and so forth, they have nonetheless to make sure that the website is always up to date, properly optimized for SEO, etc…
Copywriters are those who create compelling copy, mainly for marketing purposes (ads, slogans, commercials, brochures promoting a company), and freelancers are not exempt from this role. In fact, they have to write all their website contents, brochures promoting their own services, newsletters, catchy profiles, different versions of their CV depending on their clients or specializations.
Freelancers don’t receive their well deserved and longed for cheque at the end of the month like everyone else. They have to issue an invoice after each completed project and make sure they get paid within the agreed terms, they have to calculate and file their taxes and a whole series of unpleasant tasks involving numbers. As an accountant, the freelancer has also, when needed, to recur to threatening mafia-style emails, if the client is being insolvent with the excuse of his cat having eaten all the cash hidden under the mattress.
Customer service/Communications Manager
Needless to say, in order to survive, freelancers need clients to work for. Be it by email, phone, smoke signals or carrier pigeon, communication with clients is crucial and freelancers need to be helpful, professional, obliging, clear and thorough in their explanations, patient, flexible, reactive, impeccable, deliver high quality products, able to negotiate politely and have to make sure that the client is 100% satisfied with the service received.
Despite their secret desire of giving someone orders like “bring me a coffee, double milk and no sugar NOW”, or “I want 10 copies of this brochure on my desk within an hour” or “book me a flight to NY for January 30th, business class please”, freelancers are their own personal assistants. Therefore, unless they manage to enslave partners/children/siblings (as I used to do with my sister before she reached the age of reason), they have to do all the aforementioned things by themselves.
The sentence “In life you never stop learning” couldn’t be more true when it comes to freelancers. No matter the profession, it’s paramount for freelancers to keep up to date with the latest trends and technologies in their field.
For translators, for example, understanding all the nuances of a source text is crucial for its correct transposition in the target language. Since, as far as I know, we are not omniscient yet, in order to do our job well we need to specialize in particular fields or text typologies. A medical translator will have to attend medicine courses, a legal translator will have to read articles and codes and so forth. Moreover, it’s very important to keep our linguistic skills at an excellent level, which implies reading, writing and practicing constantly all our source and target languages. Curious individuals by nature, translators usually love this status of eternal students and perceive it more as a joy than as a burden.
Actual client work (whatever their actual job is)
Finally, their real job, what they love doing the most and the ultimate reason why they accept to do all the rest without complaining (too much). For me, that’s translation, what’s yours?
It’s true, we can work in our pajamas. We don’t have to commute. We can go to the gym when everyone else is at work. We can work while travelling and travel while working. On the other hand, however, weekends are often a mirage, working more than 8 hours a day is the rule and the amount of time left for cookies and Netflix is fairly scarce. In the end, it’s all about choices and lifestyles, but ours are still real jobs.
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And comment below: what’s your business? How do you explain what you do to the outside world?