Guest post: Freelance versus in-house translator

Here we are again, with yet another guest in our series. Today, Mariana Sasso will talk about the differences between a freelance and an in-house translator. I hope you enjoy her writing as much as I did.

Welcome, Mariana!


Working in-house or from home: A few insights

When I graduated from university a few years ago, I had no idea what my future professional life would hold in store for me, but I was pretty sure I wanted to translate for a living. And that’s what I have been striving to do ever since, but not without a lot of support of colleagues and friends who’ve blazed the trail of living as a professional translator before me. Carol is among the dearest of them, so, when she asked me to share my take on in-house and freelance translation with her readers, I was more than glad to oblige.

However, the first thing that crossed my mind was my awareness that my professional experience is still so slender that I was not completely sure I’d be the right person to write about the perks and bereavements of these two ways of working as a translator. But, then I thought of all those who have taken their time to share their own experiences with me and how good it was to just listen and learn from them, no matter how much or how little their professional experiences related to mine. So I figured that it would still be worth (and fun) sharing my ever-under-construction experience here, however small it may be now. So I selected four aspects about working as an in-house and/or a freelance translator that I feel most comfortable exploring (and that I have been experiencing with greater intensity on a day-to-day basis over the last years) to share with you. I hope you enjoy the ride!

So, the first one is PRODUCTIVITY. When it comes to how much a translator can actually produce in a given workday, it goes without saying that too many a variable are involved, so let us focus only on the environmental one here. From working in-house, I found that there are certain things that can be inconvenient about being inside an office, surrounded by other people or professionals from different areas. Concentration breakers, such as overhearing talks and whispers of people around you or being interrupted by a fellow colleague who has a question (or just a comment on the weather) or by the door opening for mail delivery (without mentioning the telephone ringing almost non-stop) are less likely to happen at home. Not that these examples are necessarily bad things (I actually happen to enjoy them and find them important at times!), but, in the silence of your own home office, these things tend not to happen just as much. However, at home, for those living with stay-at-home family members (such as retired parents, siblings, children, spouses) we just can’t say that there’s unbreakable silence, right? In any case, being interrupted or having the train of thought lost by whatever reason it may be is something that people may consider as the primary factor to influence production, so if your productivity is significantly impaired by noise and distractions, you might find a lot of comfort working from home.

WORKDAY FLEXIBILITY. Some people tend to mention the working hour flexibility as the major perk of being a freelance translator. Schedule flexibility can be a reality, but that is not necessarily true every hour of every day. For instance, if you have few clients and are not near consolidated in the market, if you are at the initial stages of your career and still haven’t reached a somewhat fixed number of jobs a day, then you will probably be stuck at working when there’s work to do (nights, weekends or holidays too). But if that is not your case, yes you can have a very eventful life during weekdays and business hours, as long as you arrange your schedule and plan ahead of time. The word of order here is organization. One’s got to be extra, extra organized if they want to work from home and be self-employed. Remember: there’s no one pushing you forward, so you’ve got to do that yourself. If you have, say, a 9-to-5 job at a company, you’re usually guaranteed at least eight hours of work a day and you’ll stay there doing what is needed of you until the end of your work shift, when, more often than not, you will be “free” to go home and do your things. When you’re a freelance translator, however, those regular, specified and guaranteed working hours are not always a reality, so your schedule flexibility will depend on the jobs you have and their deadlines (and, if you have bills to pay at the end of the month, odds are that your expected schedule flexibility will be secondary to your dues).

BEING A REGULAR EMPLOYER versus BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR. I believe that this is the real deal-breaker for a professional translator to decide whether they can live as a freelance service provider for the long run or not. When you work for a company, its HR department will manage pretty much every aspect involved in the bureaucratic part of the employment relationship: collection, preparation and filing of documents; awareness and compliance with labor laws; collection, payment, deposit and transfer of fees, salaries, taxes, bonuses, vacation pay and rights, including the ever-so-needed FGTS (Brazilian Government Severance Indemnity Fund). When you are self-employed, you have to take care of all those things yourself and/or with the services of an accountant. On top of that, self-employed professionals will only “be paid” if they have work to do and, in order to have work to do, they need to develop their entrepreneurial side and literally go after the job; promote themselves and their work; explain and prove why they should be chosen over other professionals; advertise their services and, not rarely, almost literally dig the job from the mines. However, one might argue that this is no different than the reality of every other professional looking for a job. And I agree, but for self-employed translators, that’s the reality in most days, if not every day! There is an undeniable and material difference between working for a company and being the company yourself, in which case, you would need to take entrepreneurship to a whole new level. While some professionals will find this reality a bummer and extremely hard to deal with, others will find it challenging, stimulating, interesting and rewarding. I believe there is no real way to actually know for sure what suits you best unless you’ve experienced both ways. Believing you can be an effective entrepreneur may be proved right or wrong once you’ve experienced the real deal.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIP. Oh, the wonders of having co-workers by your side, keeping you company, interacting with you all day… (or not! :)). Even though this aspect interfaces with the first one mentioned in this post, this is not about productivity, but mainly about human interaction and being comfortable at your workplace. Some people simply enjoy the company of others as they work, while other people prefer to work by themselves, in the quietness and peacefulness of their own offices, where they can turn the music on, up or down, eat at their desks, not worry about wearing fancy clothes and tight shoes, enjoy the comfortableness of using their own bathrooms, remain quiet if they don’t feel like talking or chatting, and, of course, inevitably revving-up their concentration into full blast productivity. Other people just can’t stand the quietness and solitude: they need company and, sometimes, even noise; they like arriving at the office and dispensing heartfelt “good mornings”, sharing a cup of coffee and cookies in the company of the next-desk friend, gossiping over the latest facts, hearing the latest news, well, ultimately bonding with others during their working hours. That full dose of every-day human interaction at work can be really important and necessary for some (most?) people. Having in-house co-workers can make it easier for people to exchange opinions, experiences, questions, problems, excitements, achievements, frustrations, discoveries; improve and increase their network; learn from other people’s mistakes, you name it. However, in spite of being able to do all that in person, face to face and fairly instantly in an in-house environment, that absolutely does not mean you can’t have most any of those things working from home and using real-time technology to connect you with other people. It all depends on your needs and approach as to how efficiently and productively you want to establish your interpersonal relationships and build a solid network. It is undeniable that there are ups and downs to both ways and that they are not perfectly interchangeable, but I believe that having healthy and productive interpersonal relationships is just as possible at home as it is in the office, if you make it.

Well, there are so many other issues to explore on this topic that I could just go on forever, but Ithought it was best to focus on these four aspects of the topic at hand (Libra as I am, you might figure how hard it was for me to actually make the choice). Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below and/or contact me at

Best of luck!

Thanks a lot for accepting my invite and for dedicating your time and effort to writing this wonderful post, Mariana! I loved it! 🙂

Our next guest will be Sara Rivera, talking about translation traps between Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. Stay tuned!

Any in-house/freelance translators who want to share their takes?

About the author
537306_505047499518394_307875091_nI graduated in Translations in 2005 and, soon after that, I moved to the USA where I lived, studied and worked as an AuPair for two years. I completed my specialization in Advanced Studies in English Language in 2012 and I have been working as both an in-house and freelance Eng-Por-Eng translator since 2008.

31 thoughts on “Guest post: Freelance versus in-house translator

  1. Dear Mariana,
    I’m a freelance translator and I can say that you portrayed my reality extremely well! When I’m fed up of being alone and I can’t stand the silence anymore, I just invite some friends to have lunch with me. When lunch’s over, I really enjoy coming back to my quiet office!
    Thanks for sharing your experience with us!! 🙂


    • Oh…how much I treasure my office too! We end up loving it, right? Thanks for your generous feedback here and reply on my question about your thesis. I’ll let you know when I finally download it. It will be an honor to read your material. Thank you very much!


  2. Very interesting article!
    I’d like to share my own experience. I work both as in-house translator (9am-5pm) and freelancer. I can say that working in-house is very reassuring for many reasons (e.g. you get paid even if you work very little, you do not have to deal with invoicing, taxes, and so on – all the things Mariana said), but can also be just as awful for many others.
    Some examples:
    a) the agency you work for is specialised in fields different from yours. In the long run, you will end up losing passion and motivation;
    b) your boss treats you like he/she owns your life – yes, this happens;
    c) even though you are employed and work 8 hours per day, you do not earn enough to pay the bills and, therefore, you must work after long working days to earn something more. Result: you don’t live, you just work, and you’ll feel miserable about your career.
    The perks of freelancing are undeniable. You are your own boss, for starters. You get to organize your working day how you like, where you like, when you like. The key is indeed ‘organisation’. At the end of the day, a translator needs to understand which “dress” suits him/her better, wear it with motivation and rock!
    No cold feet, whichever path you choose! 🙂


    • Couldn’t agree more with you, Valentina! Very well-said!
      At the end of the day, at least for me, the perks make up for the bereavements. Besides, I actually enjoy working with my social media, advertising myself and taking care of my branding. And I just outsource the work I don’t like, e.g. accounting.
      Haven’t you ever thought of embracing freelance life?


      • Oh, yes! I am actually working on it. I have always combined the two realities, but I feel more comfortable and more satisfied when I work “by myself”. It’s kind of spiritually rewarding. The only reason I’m not freelancing on a full-time basis at the moment is that I do not have (yet, hopefully) enough clients to cover all of the expenses necessary to live in a big city like Rome.
        It’s tough, because working all day long means that I cannot network and market myself properly, or attend events and meet new colleagues. It is something that is really missing in my professional growth. But I will get there 🙂 I won’t give up that easily!
        Thanks for asking 🙂


      • In Brazilian Portuguese, we usually say it’s a “snow ball” (bola de neve). One thing leads to the other. You don’t have enough clients now, but will you be able to, someday, with your limited hours? Don’t you think it’s worth taking the bull by the horns and just embrace freelance life? Maybe you should try saving money now so you can feel more comfortable with some savings in case it takes time for you to get adjusted in the beginning. And then you have total availability to hunt for clients and work on your networking/branding.
        I’m sorry if I’m being too nosy. I just felt like sharing my opinion… 😉


  3. Adorei o texto! Venho pensando bastante sobre o assunto há um tempo, mas não consigo chegar a uma conclusão… o que pega no meu caso é a questão da produtividade. Mas acho que é uma questão de treino e venho tentando melhorar neste aspecto para quem sabe no futuro poder trabalhar em casa… 😉


    • Como a Mariana mesmo disse, Bia, é tudo uma questão de organização, inclusive sua produtividade.
      Basta você definir metas diárias de produção (em palavras) e aceitar um volume que se encaixe nesse perfil.
      Se alguém dia você decidir encarar a linda vida de freelancer, posso te dar várias dicas. 😉


    • Bia, e eu aqui tentando aprender como revisar com competência. Pensa num ofício meticuloso, detalhado e vital? Gente, todas essas coisas juntas me fazem tremer na base rsrsrsrs Mas, na questão da produtividade..olha…vou te contar que também a questão que mais pega pra mim (acho que nao foi à toa que ela acabou sendo a primeira da minha lista hehehehehe)

      beijão! Obrigada pelo feedback, Bia.


  4. I’ve really enjoyed this post and the subsequent comments. I think Mariana’s analysis is spot-on.
    I went freelance over three years ago after an in-house job. It’s been the right decision for me because I enjoy the challenge of taking care of every aspect of my business. That said, since also having a child last year, being super-duper well-organised is key and sometimes it gets a little overwhelming!


      • Yes and no. It works very well in emergencies, like when he’s ill and needs to stay home from nursery. It allows me to look after him and try to keep on top of emails while he’s asleep. I also love that I don’t have to let colleagues down by suddenly disappearing to get a sick boy! Otherwise, however, I can’t really work properly with him around. Let’s just say he thinks all screens are for watching cartoons 😉


      • I see. Well, like everything, it has its pros and cons, right?
        I have a vague idea, because I have a 5-year-old nephew. Now he’s more understandable, but when he was little, he used to come to my computer and say I had worked enough, so I could go and play with him.


    • Hi, Eline

      Yeah…I can see how working from home can be wonderful, specially for parents with young kids. I’m glad it turned out to be the right decision for you. I believe that if I ever had children, I would jump back into full-time freelance life right away. Overwhelming as it may be sometimes (and it does get overwhelming, you’re right), I guess I’d still find many more pros than cons in having the possibility of being at home (rather than having to fight my way through traffic jams every day). Oh, and by the way: I admire your enjoying the challenge of being an entrepreneur (I have to admit I find this the hardest part of the deal).
      Thanks for your feedback!


  5. Wow! So many interesting comments, indeed. Caroline, to answer the question you asked me on Twitter, whether I ever worked in-house, well, yes and no. Yes, if I take into consideration the time when, while still at uni, I worked (a sort of unpaid experience) for a small firm; they dealt with European projects (e.g. Leonardo) and I translated and interpreted a lot during that time, but I was doing other things too. The other time I worked in-house was when I did an internship at a translation agency, but it was project management rather than translating.

    I never worked as a full-time freelancer either, as I always had a full-time job as well (teaching); although I can say I am my own boss now and I do feel like I’m freelancing most of the time. There are definitely advantages of being a freelancer (and I think they have already been covered in the previous comments), but it may just not be for everyone.

    Valentina, I can totally relate to what you are saying regarding networking and social media. When I was working full-time as a teacher and also freelancing as a translator on top of that, there was no time for those aspects. Now I can see what I’ve been missing, as I really enjoy writing on my blog, reading other blogs and using social media.


    • Wow! You had a couple of differente experiences there! A bit of each different aspect of the translation world, right? I’m sure it helps you have an overall view now.

      I had a very brief experience as in-house translator. I worked one month and a half in early 2013 in-house at a translation agency who is a client of mine. I had to commute, worked 8 hours a day and had to translate whatever project they gave me. I just hated the experience! I don’t regret it though, because now I know for sure that in-house is not for me.

      However, I have friends who simply did not get used to the loneliness of freelancing and gave up. So it’s definitely a matter of personality.

      Thanks a lot for your interesting comment, Alina! 🙂


  6. A great post – and some really interesting comments too! I did a 6-month internship in-house with an agency, and I’m now freelancing, and I definitely think it’s true that each side has pluses and minuses. My favourite aspect about freelancing is the freedom to work where and when I want – I can manage my own time, and could move countries without worrying about finding a new job. I am also hugely grateful for social media, which lessens the negative aspects of working from home – I see twitter as a sort of ‘coffee break’ where I can chat to other translators if I’m starting to feel a bit lonely.
    I agree with Alina when she says that freelancing may not be for everyone – but if you have the motivation and determination for it, the pay-off can be huge!


    • We don’t just share a common first name, Carol. We also share exactly the same opinions on this matter. I also love the fact that we can be virtually anywhere. This came handy for me last year, when my father passed away and I was able to move back home to stay with my mom. I didn’t have to think twice.
      Besides, we can have days off whenever we want. If we’re sick, need to take care of something urgent or whatever other reason, we just have to check our agenda.
      And I also think Twitter is like the office cafeteria. If we’re tired, we can grab a coffee/tea and talk to our “co-workers”, right? It’s fantastic!

      I really appreciate your comment, Carol! 🙂


    • Carol, thanks for your feedback. I can see so much passion and motivation in the way you talk about freelancing. It’s sooooo good when we feel comfortable and happy at work, right? (Oh, and those coffe breaks of yours, I really do miss them! hihihi) Not that I can’t use social media at my in-house job (we can log on to Facebook during work hours), but we all know it’s different than managing your social media time at home, right?

      Best regards.


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  9. Great post Mariana (and Carol)! For me being a freelancer is a constant challenge, which I feel that I need to keep myself motivated. If all I do is translate for too long, I get demotivated, particularly because I am in the very specific niche (medical translations) and there are no “soft topics”. Like Carol, I love the entrepreneurial aspect of the business, and that it has enabled me to travel the world and live in several different countries, which has only contributed to my translation skills. However, like Mari, I am sometimes overwhelmed by having to do it all, particularly when the demand fluctuates and is either too high or too low. In such circumstances, it feels like all that “freedom” of freelancing goes out the window and I am a slave to my demand, either “mining” for more jobs (as well said by Mari) or just trying to cope and to keep all my clients happy.


      • Hi Carol,
        I have thought of it many times, but since I started translating I have moved around a lot and I really don’t want to give up this flexibility. I can move countries, travel, go out and all I need to ensure I can continue working is my laptop and an Internet connection. This has so far tipped the scale far towards freelancing for me. Perhaps one day when I settle down… Have you done any in-house work?


      • Yeah, this flexibility is just great!
        Last week I was so tired that I decided, last minute, to visit my cousin who lives in another city, just like that, in the middle of a week day. Who can do that, except from us, freelancers?
        I did work in-house in early 2013 for about 45 days at a client. It was the only experience I had working in-house and it did prove it to me that I was just born to work as a freelance. I wouldn’t change anything in my professional life, I’m feel completely fulfilled professionally. 🙂


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