Staff translator and a freelance translator?
What’s the difference?
Staff translators’ working conditions
As a staff translator you will either be employed as in-house staff with a translation agency, a multinational/multilingual company, governmental or non-governmental organisation.
Answerable to your superiors, you are given tasks and deadlines with very little choice in the matter. Furthermore, you work in an office environment, usually with other colleagues.
You will have to travel to work most days, but, as compensation, you have a fixed salary coming in every month.
If your company moves, you either move with them or lose your job.
Occasionally, you may have to work unsociable hours (e.g. working for a solicitor’s office which needs documents translated as soon as they come in and in time for court hearings).
Working for an employer will give you access to IT support staff and there may also be in-house colleagues to discuss translation queries with. What is more, you are entitled to sick pay, unemployment benefit, state pension and, depending what country you live in, a company-subsidised private pension (e.g. the workplace pension in the UK) and maybe other perks, like private health insurance.
However, you have a limited allowance of annual paid leave.
Because it is your employer who is ultimately responsible for the quality of your work, you are unlikely to be held personally responsible unless you maliciously mistranslate something.
Working conditions for self-employed translators
As a freelance translator, you register as self-employed and will be working for different translation agencies or direct clients.
However, please be aware that HMRC does not like it when you only work for one company. They will suspect that you are that company’s employee and not working as a self-employed translator.
Most importantly, you are answerable only to your customers and the Inland Revenue. What is more, you can pick which (kinds of) jobs to take or not to take. However, you may have to accept jobs that are boring, repetitive or tedious, simply because you need the income.
Also, you can negotiate deadlines with clients: while agencies tend to try to dictate deadlines, there is more room for negotiation if you have direct clients. Mostly, you work on your own.
Home office and income variations, admin tasks
Freelance translators usually have a home office (so no time and money wasted travelling) but your monthly income can vary greatly. Furthermore, it is part of your job to make sure customers pay, on time.
While you may well work unsociable hours/weekends, the decision is yours. Also, you can ask for premium rates if working premium hours. It is surprising how customers are suddenly quite happy to have the job done by Wednesday, rather than Monday morning, if you suggest they pay you extra for weekend work.
The only support you have access to is the support system you set up yourself. Most likely you’ll have to pay for it.
When you are self-employed, getting sickness benefit (in the UK currently known as ESA) is possible, but you may struggle to make ends meet unless you go on full means-tested benefits. So you need to make provisions for income during sickness and have professional indemnity insurance to cover you for serious translation mistakes. Additionally, if you don’t want to rely on the state pension alone in your old age, you should also take out a private pension.
Your “perks” are:
- collecting state pension entitlement with very low contributions,
- entitlement to deduct “allowable expenses” (e.g. the cost of running a home office) against your income,
- being in charge of your working hours (within the constraint of actually having to earn a living),
- freedom to decide when to take a holiday (though they will be unpaid),
- able to live where ever you like.
Staff translators working from home
Having said all the above, there is a current trend for translation agencies to employ staff translators and asking them to work from home. No doubt this saves office running costs.
It means that a lot (though not all) of the points made above about conditions for freelance translators suddenly apply to staff translators too.
Staff translator versus freelancer: summary of pros and cons
As a staff translator you have income security and may receive perks for which you “pay” by accepting many restrictions. These include: doing as you’re told”; having to live near your place of work; spending time and money on travelling and enduring the associated stress levels. What is more, if a staff translator has children, it is likely that there will be childcare costs.
In contrast, independent freelance translators never know where the next job will be coming from. They have to do their own marketing and take full legal responsibility for the work they produce. Furthermore, they have full responsibility for all necessary and legally required business admin. However, they can choose where to live, how to arrange their time (inclusive of holidays) and which work to accept or decline.
While their gross income is likely to be lower than that of a staff translator, job satisfaction tends to be higher (more feedback from customers). A translator’s main reason for choosing to go freelance is often to have the opportunity of combining a family life with working. Being their own boss means quite flexible working hours so that they can fit family commitments around the translation work or vice versa.