Takeaway: Freelancing vs. translation agency management

jobs would be assigned elsewhere. This makes it impossible for me to accept translation projects unless they have a generous deadline. If I employed a project manager, I could do more freelance work, but the salary of this project manager would gnaw away significantly at my profit margin, and I would have the constant fear of having my ideas and freelancers stolen. The whole idea of freelancing is that there are no overheads to be paid to my resources, nor any fixed salary, just the contract price, which is commensurate with the amount and kind of work performed by the freelancer.  So it has always been clear to me that freelancing, and at the same time managing a one-person translation agency, is a thing bordering on the impossible. My most regular client is one of the biggest translation companies in the world. Its projects are usually assigned within minutes of being announced. If I was working on a translation when the job offers came in, I would either have to suspend my work for a minute or risk missing out on the opportunity, possibly losing more money than what I’d get for the freelance project I’d been working on. A few minutes later another job offer might arrive that would distract me from my translation work again, and this could go on for the rest of the day. Clearly, the two activities are at odds with each other.

So let us weigh the advantages and disadvantages of freelancing as opposed to agency management. What are the benefits of a freelance career as opposed to running a one-person agency outsourcing its projects to other freelancers? For me, the biggest benefit of doing translations myself is the intellectual delight I find in rendering the meaning and intent of the source material into another language — in my case from Hungarian into English. Another great advantage is that you can manage your time according to your own routine, translation being an off-line process in most cases. Another benefit of working as a freelancer is the great feeling of being rewarded for your own translation work as opposed to the work of your resources. Moreover, as a freelancer, you don’t worry about quality, because the work is performed by yourself. Outsourcing work to other linguists presents the possibility that quality will not be of the required standard, except when you use your well-established, longstanding freelancers. However thoroughly a new linguist is vetted before the first assignment is sent, the first job is always a gamble. For me, these four arguments support the freelancing option.

What benefits does an agency management career offer versus freelancing? Number one: less work and less strain. Number two: interesting and enjoyable communication with people of various nationalities. Then there are other benefits, such as acquiring friends worldwide and the availability of considerably more time for your hobbies and family. I also enjoy engaging myself in marketing activities at least as much as I used to enjoy translating. I started freelancing in 1997 and established my small agency in 1998. Until 2003, I pursued the two activities alongside each other. After being overloaded and overstressed most of the time, and after carefully considering the pros and cons, I decided to abandon my freelance career and focus solely on the management of my translation company. Eight years later, I do not regret my decision, although I miss the intellectual challenge. However, I still squeeze in some translation work myself, which maintains my active vocabulary. Surprisingly, I would earn about the same amount of money by only doing freelance work as I do now as a company director — but with substantially more stress and substantially less time for my holidays and other pastimes. Establishing my own small agency and specializing in its management has proven to be the best decision of my life so far.