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What are you? Translator, freelancer or businessperson?

WhatareyouViktoria Gimbe*

The perception we each have of ourselves determines how well our businesses perform (and thus how satisfied we all are of our breadwinning in general).
I am starting to see that there are three types of freelance translators —the translator, the freelancer and the businessperson. I guess some definitions are needed.


A professional translator who loves languages and is generally satisfied with the work s/he does. It is hard for these people to achieve a comfortable income but they’d rather accept slightly lower rates and slightly worse conditions than be stuck with no work or with well-paid but uninteresting work. Terms and conditions of contracts are negotiated.


People who love being independent and are happy to get some kind of revenue, provided they /he can set their own hours and don’t have to wait for the bus each morning in the cold. Increasingly, what matters to them most is being independent —being a translator is secondary. Many freelancers accept boring work because it’s just work. Many of them also accept work they are not qualified for. Freelancers are, for the most part, interested in a high daily output as opposed to high rates (excellent candidates for technology like CAT and voice recognition). Terms and conditions of contracts are dictated by the client.


These are the freelance translators who consider that they are one-man shows running a business. They generally love the work they do, but mostly because it allows them to carry on some kind of business. These are people who care to be professional, and even though some of them accept work they are not necessarily cut out for, they call on their contacts for help and negotiate their rates accordingly, so the overall output is still professional. These are usually people who will not go without negotiation, but also go to greater lengths than the other two categories when it comes to caring for their image, educating clients, networking and, above all, regular prospection to find clients willing to pay for the quality language services they need. Terms and conditions of contracts are set by the translator—if the client doesn’t like it, he can ask for a slight modification or look for another more influenceable translator. A businessperson’s business is much more high maintenance than the other two categories’ because of prospection, networking, marketing, etc. These people need to work hard to keep
it up.

Of course, we all have a bit of each category within us. The proportion in which each category (or personality) is present is what I call a profile. For example, my profile is 50% businessperson, 30% translator and 20% freelancer (my working hours are similar to a secretary’s and I respect them 95% of the time). You need to ask yourself what your profile is. Price matters a lot to businesspersons and matters much less to freelancers. Most freelancers get the bulk of their work from clients who stumbled upon their profile, while businesspersons mostly work with direct clients they had to seduce to get into a relationship with. Needless to say, the businessperson is the one who is most likely to open an agency.

Once you have figured out your profile, concentrate on the dominant personality.

If your dominant personality is the businessperson, then you will be sorry if you look for work on virtual communities for translators, because the rates are on the lowish side. On the other hand, if your businessperson personality comes here to get to know the industry well and to steal tricks of the trade, a membership in those sites may be your best investment.

If your dominant personality is the freelancer, you will be really happy if you look for work on those Internet communities. Wait long enough for your profile to be indexed by search engines and people will contact you each week with opportunities (provided your profile is complete, targeted at your ideal clients and well written).

If your dominant personality is the translator, then you will like those sites either way, but you may get frustrated after a while seeing how translation is being commoditized —a translator is a professional and being treated like cheap labour can hurt a professional’s feelings (and wallet).

What about CAT tools?

As for CAT tools, once again, it depends. In my opinion, there are only two valid reasons for a freelance translator to use a CAT tool. One is to be more efficient and to be able to deliver translations that are more consistent within a shorter timeframe. The other is to be able to deliver file formats that are compatible with your clients’ software (TMX, TTX, ITD, etc.).

Once again, it depends on your personality.

Freelancer: can’t work without a CAT tool – go buy it right away.

Translator: if you translate text that is naturally adapted to CAT tools, you will find your work easier and better organized —you may want to invest but most clients will not require it.

Businessperson: If you think it will help your bottom line, go for it , but if you are not going for clients who use CAT tools, you really don’t have to get a CAT tool.

* Technical translator

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