Three Lies You’ve Been Told About Being A Freelancer

Every fresh-faced freelancer has the same misconceptions about what it means to work for yourself.

When I was in college at Brigham Young University, I was enrolled in the Spanish Translation program. It was great except for one thing: The program didn’t focus at all on what it meant to be your own boss and work as a freelancer.

We were taught translation theory and had plenty of opportunities to practice our craft, but I had no clue on how to start my own freelance business or have my own language business.

So of course, when I got the idea in 1997 during my program to start my own freelance career, I had all sorts of visions of grandeur about the freelance “lifestyle”:

  • freelancers only have to work a couple of hours a day
  • freelancers don’t ever have to meet people or talk to others face-to-face
  • freelancers can work on whatever they want
  • freelancers just have to be good at their craft and everything else will fall into place
  • freelancers get tons of work and are loaded
  • freelancers work from home and never have to leave

Guess how long it took me to find out the truth about these myths.

Not very long.

I soon learned that if I was to be successful to any degree, I would have to discard these preconceived ideas.

I would need to treat my business as anything else I wanted to accomplish. I would have to put in the time, effort, and focus.

And that didn’t mean staying home in my room waiting for the masses to come to me for their translation needs.

If you want to be a successful freelancer, the sooner you figure this out and internalize it, the better off you’ll be.

Of all the myths I’ve heard over the years from other freelancers I’ve talked to, though, there are three that can be especially debilitating for new freelancers, and translators specifically.

1. You Don’t Have to Interact Face-to-Face With Anyone

Many freelancers are introverts. Now, I’m not saying all are. There are plenty of exceptions. But many people are attracted to the freelance lifestyle so that they don’t have to talk to anyone.

In fact, many freelancers take that route because of their desire to not have to go to the office and deal with people, be it customers or colleagues.

If that’s the reason you decided to try out freelancing, here’s some advice.


Find something else to do.

Become a monk. Or maybe move to the Montana hills and run a website where you have no clients.

Because a freelance translator (or freelance anything) cannot be an introvert. You have to put yourself out there in the world. You have to talk to people you’ve never met.

Can you speak intelligently over the phone or through Skype?

Can you handle criticism by people who only want to bring you down?

Are you willing to establish and maintain connections with fellow freelancers?

Do you look forward to not only attending conferences, lunches, or seminars, but also getting out of your comfort zone and networking?

Nothing about freelancing allows you to shut yourself off from the world and still get paid.

Google should not be your best friend.

2. You Only Work Part-Time for a Full-Time Income

The Bible lays out the following advice:

for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap

Or if fútbol is your bible, Liverpool great Craig Johnston had the following to say:

You know, I was crap. But I had the commitment, and I had the understanding, that the basis of football is skill on the ball, and if you spend time with it, you’re gonna reap the rewards.

As as freelancer, you can start out as crap. But if you have commitment and drive, and know where to focus, you will get what you deserve.

You just have to be willing to put in the time. And when you’re just starting out, it’s going to take more than 2 hours every other Saturday.

I can’t tell you how long it will take, though.

You’re different from me and different from every other freelance translator out there. You’ve got unique skills, talents, and weaknesses which are completely different from mine.

But like everyone else, you have a choice. Are you going to put in enough work to make it happen so you can reap the rewards, or are you going to give up because it’s too hard to devote the time and energy necessary to reach your goals?

3. Nothing Else Matters as Long as You’re a Great Translator

This is a HUGE lie constantly fed to translators.

Your language skills are important, of course. We all know that.

However, your language ability is not the most important skill you need as a freelance translator.

It’s not even the second most important skill.

Here’s why.

Your clients aren’t going to be impressed if you deliver a an especially well-worded translation.

They expect that.

We’re translators.

That’s what we do.

Top-notch language ability isn’t going to lead to a successful translation business.

What is going to turn you into a professional translator with a stable of clients are two things: your marketing efforts and your business acumen.

Marketing gets you initial business clients, while business intelligence gets you repeat customers.

Marketing is what gets your name and business in front of potential clients. There are a myriad of tactics freelancers use to accomplish this. Social networking, blogging, and website-building are all examples.

We’ll talk about these in-depth in other posts, but for now, the most important thing to remember is that if you want to be a successful translator, you need to have a change of mindset and sell yourself.

Once you get jobs, your professionalism is what is going to keep customers coming back. Turning the project in before the deadline, maintaining clear communication, and setting realistic expectations will impress clients and keep them requesting your services.

You need to focus on the areas of your business that are going to produce the best results.

And for the majority of translators, those areas do not include anything related to language.

I would bet money on a decent translator with superb marketing and business skills over a poor marketer with top-notch translation ability.

Decide which one you would rather be then focus your efforts accordingly.

Leave a Reply