Seven things I love about being a freelance translator

Lately I've seen a lot of blog posts about how tough it is to be a freelancer. I've been guilty of it myself.

But I remain a freelance translator because I love this career and lifestyle. In this post, I want to list seven reasons why.

1. Good income

Some people complain about low income in the freelance translation profession, but I'm quite happy with my income. I would have a hard time earning as much as I do in another field while doing as little work as I do.

Money isn't everything, but it's great to have a good income without killing myself.

2. No commute

Sitting in a car for an hour or more per day going to and from work is a huge waste of time, a major source of stress, expensive, and bad for the environment.

3. I can work from anywhere

I live in a semi-rural village in Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa has a depressed economy: there aren't many jobs here, and most of the ones available are low paying. My niece, who is a registered nurse, wanted to come work here for a couple of years; she found that she could make more in the mainland working at a fast-food restaurant than as a nurse in Okinawa.

I can live and work in beautiful, laid back Okinawa, while earning Tokyo income. Living in Okinawa has removed a lot of stress from my life and allowed me to relax a lot more. I don't really notice it until I go back to the big city for a while and feel that old tension settling back in.

4. I set my own hours

I love being able to fit my work around my schedule. I can go shopping when the stores are empty, take school holidays off to hang out with my son, and work during the national holidays when everything is crowded and expensive.

I can also choose to do as little or as much work as I want, within the scope of not starving and not destroying my health.

5. I choose what work to do

I can turn down work for any reason I like: because it's boring, or I want to take tomorrow off, or the client is hard to work with. This is hard for an in-house employee to do.

6. I get paid for my work, not my time

This is a subtle point, but it's very important to me. I have only a finite span of seconds allotted to me. I don't want to squander my precious store of seconds on some employer in return for a few crusts of bread. I decide for myself how to spend my time, and sell the results of my efforts to my clients.

For example, if I finish my work for the day at 1:00pm, I can decide to shut down and head to the beach. If I were in an office, I'd probably have to stay until 5:00pm even if my work for the day was done. In fact, if I finished early they'd just give me more work for no extra pay, so I'd probably just stretch out my work. As a result, I waste my whole day doing non-work like a slave shirking in the field, rather than rewarding my hard work by enjoying an extra four hours at other pursuits.

7. No bosses

I may have dropped a hint or two in the above items, but it's a fact that I have just a teensy problem with authority. I respect many people and gladly follow out of respect, but I just can't abide with following someone I don't respect. I realized this fact about myself while I was in the military, and vowed I'd never put my fate in the hands of another incompetent buffoon. (I've managed to keep this vow with the exception of mandatory dealings with government officials.)


It's true that freelance translation isn't for anyone. But this is the ideal career for me right now, and I find it very hard to even imagine going back to work for The Man.

17 comments to Seven things I love about being a freelance translator

  • Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for this great post, as someone who’s only recently started freelancing I was glad to find a lot in common with your points (6 and 7 in particular).

    Freelance translation may not be right for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for anyone.

  • Right on, Ryan! I agree with every single point. These are also the exact same reasons I love freelancing. Fabulous post!

  • […] Translation. trackback Hey folks, if you haven’t read Ryan’s post on The GITS Blog, Seven things I love about being a freelance translator, you should click to it right now. We get caught up in the cycle of complaining about clients and […]

  • Love the post — just found it through Jill Sommer’s blog. I am with Chris, who commented above, as we are in the same boat. I finally left an in-house corporate translation/content manager position to continue running my own show three weeks ago. It’s scary (money-wise, in the beginning), but it’s amazing. I already feel like a different person.

    There’s the commute, no more commute, how exciting! Although I drive a Prius, I still spent a lot of time on the road. Not good for carbon footprint.

    I do love the flexibility. Actually, I am about to go for a run since I am training for a half marathon. I work a lot more, especially now that I have just started doing this full-time, but I love it. What a concept: loving what you do. Unfortunately, in so many corporate environments, the love for your job gets buried by some of the facts you mention (bosses, lack of flexibility, etc.)

    And my reason number 8 is: No more energy wasted on petty office frictions, gossip, endless meetings, meetings about how meetings should be run, post-launch meetings, prioritization meetings, and a nauseating amount of water cooler chatter. Reason number 9: no more cubicles. Ever.

    We really like your blog, and just started our own translation blog (, the first one written by twins. we think. Can we add you to our Blogroll?

  • @Judy

    Welcome! I agree totally with your numbers 8 and 9 too. Now I could round out the list with a #10: no more subordinates. Subordinates are almost as bad as bosses in my book ๐Ÿ™‚

    I just discovered your blog as well, from the Thoughts on Translation blog. Your blog is off to a great start — looking forward to many more interesting posts!

  • @Chris

    Thanks for the comment! Freelancing is great — but I guess you don’t mind living in Tokyo. ๐Ÿ™‚ (But point 3 still applies: you could live in Tokyo and work for New York clients)

  • All seven points were spot on! I would add one more – being a freelance translator helps you take up hobbies you always wanted to but never had the time. Since becoming one about 18 years ago, I am actively pursuing: a) competitive swimming (Masters’ competitions); b) Yoga; c) growing an assortment of vegetables; d) playing the keyboard; and e) blogging ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Ryan, you are so right about all of these! I agree completely on the income front; while I hear many people complain about how impoverished freelancers area and how hard it is to make a living, I earn more than double what I did at my previous full time job (OK, that was teaching high school, not exactly investment banking!) and I generally work a lot less. And I think it’s true that for better or worse, many successful freelancers enjoy being in charge and being self-directed. My husband and I are both freelancers and that is what allowed us to make a similar move to you, from Boston to Colorado, where we are happier, much less stressed and enjoying life!

  • […] 22, 2008 by Corinne McKay …click on over to Ryan Ginstrom’s post entitled “Seven things I love about being a freelance translator.” Bravo to Ryan for […]

  • Excellent post!! Thanks @Corinne for referring this page!!
    @Ryan you’ve got a new subscriber – excellent blog! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I agree with each point! For me personally, the income is excellent because of earning a normal wage in Euro but (like you) living in cheaper places. I’m currently taking my job with me on the road as I travel to the world’s coolest places ๐Ÿ™‚
    As well as your points (and Judy’s) one big thing for me is job satisfaction. I graduated an Electronic Engineer, but for most of the last 6 years travelling I’ve done random jobs, some of which were great fun, but anyone could do them really. Now I only translate engineering related documents, which is quite specialized and usually interesting. I feel a sense of achievement when I email off the final document.
    Also like @Gururaj I have so much more free time, which can be invested in personal projects (I like to make multilingual travel documentary videos for my blog for example). What can I say – it’s the best job I’ve ever had ๐Ÿ˜€

  • […] I 7 vantaggi dell’essere traduttori freelance […]

  • Hi, I guess you don’t know Italian, so I’m here just to tell you that I’ve quoted your post on my blog saying it’s really interesting. ^^
    I hope one day I’ll be able to enjoy these 7 things too (now I’m a little more than a student)! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Great blog! I agree with all of the points. I think you need a certain psychological profile to be a freelance translator: self-motivated; able to handle the stress of deadlines and income worries (at times, August with French clients is slow); able to handle the isolation; be multiskilled (doing everything from marketing to handling complaints to billing to tax returns), and so on.

    A couple more points: unlimited worldwide client base (in my combination, anyway); the option of “firing” clients is always quite agreeable — bad/late payers, finicky ones, ones that don’t put their foot down with end clients and end up passing on crazy deadlines to you, etc.

    Apparently burn-out happens at some point, but as long as you love your work (which is my case, how many people can say that?), burn-out won’t last long and won’t be permanent.

  • @Benny

    Thanks for the comment. I looked at your blog — you seem to have turned translation into an interesting life. Let us know how the Esperanto goes.


    That’s so cool that you blogged about my post in Italian — thanks! Unfortunately I don’t read Italian very well, but to anyone who does, check out Chiara’s blog: “vale la pena di darci un’occhiata” (to borrow your phrase :))


    I agree, there’s definitely a certain personality type that’s suited to a career as a freelance translator. For those of us who fit, it’s a great life.

    I agree with your added benefits as well. It’s great to live in Okinawa and work for Tokyo clients. The ability to fire clients is nice, too. Even if you don’t use the option, it’s great to know it’s there.

    I try to avoid burnout by not working myself to death. It can be tempting to put in insane hours when the more you work, the more you earn; but I decided I’d rather live comfortably in good health than live extravagantly and croak at 50.

  • Todd S.

    So well put! Thanks for being a translator to my feelings, no pun intended.

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  • I am really busy investigating Translation career, for I’d like move for it! For the time being I am teacher of English in Mozambique (I hope you’ve heard of this country before). Yet, I’m really impressed with Translation work as one has a chance to learn as many things as possible. Would I be making the right choice? Thank you for your interestingly inspiring post!

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