Guest post: Freelancer as a sole breadwinner

Today, we should have the second part of Israel Alves de Souza Júnior’s guest post, but we had a change of plans. Stay tuned for his post next week. Meanwhile, I can assure you will love today’s guest. It is a huge pleasure to have her on our blog, since she is one of my role-models, besides being widely well-known in our profession. Please give a warm welcome to Marta Stelmaszak!

Welcome, Marta!


Freelance translator as a sole breadwinner: opportunities and challenges

The decision to go freelance may have different roots and causes. From sheer frustration with a working environment, to an entrepreneurial calling, professionals start their freelancing journey for a variety of reasons. Yet it hardly ever is a leap of faith. Freelancers, including many freelance translators I know in person, turn to running their own business often in situations where they can afford to – and of course that’s responsible, reasonable and safe.

The majority of freelance translators I know have a significant other who in part to the household expenses, or have themselves benefitted from previous careers in which they paid their student loans or mortgages off. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that and I never realised my situation was anyhow different until recently.

To give you a bit of background, I was supporting myself right through my higher education (I asked for it, leaving my country, parents and friends far behind), and jumped right into freelancing as my main and only source of income straight after graduating. For the past five, maybe six years, I’ve been a sole breadwinner for my one-person community. Now that it’s changed and I’m no longer sole, I’ve noticed a significant change in my circumstances. If you are a freelance translator who’s the main, or sole, breadwinner, I think you may have had similar experiences or thoughts.

Absolute freedom

On a positive note, if you’re a sole freelance translator, you can enjoy this absolute freedom to work any time you want, arrange your routine exactly the way you feel like and don’t feel like you’re affecting anyone around you. Truth to be told, it’s not solely applicable to sole freelancers, but if you have a partner, you’re most probably following some sort of a shared or negotiated schedule. Not that I miss it, but long gone are days where I’d pull an all-nighter or work right through the weekend with home food deliveries.

Survival instinct

Being a sole breadwinner, especially if you have others depending on you, can serve as a catalyst for your survival instinct. From my own experience, I know that it’s totally different to be faced with a situation where you have to do something about marketing your services or else you’ll be running out of money for rent, and the same situation where this means a slower month but it’s not a complete disaster. This survival instinct gives you strength to go out of your comfort zone and do things you haven’t thought you were capable of.


Another side effect is the determination you may accidentally develop as a sole freelancer. In my case, I knew that I had to find a way of growing my business and there were no other possibilities, nothing to fall back on if something goes wrong.

Health risks

On the flip side, all the sole freelance translators I know tend to be a bit neglecting when comes to their own health and condition. It’s so easy to stay up all night or just not eat properly, or work for 18 hours straight… I know I used to pay much less attention to my health and how I felt, always finding there were more important things to do, or issues that needed my attention. Of course, this was really damaging to my health, resulting in a long antibiotic treatment by the end of 2014.

More stress

I never felt I was particularly stressed back then, but now from a perspective of passing time and changed circumstances, I know just how nervous and overstressed I was on a day-to-day basis. Feast and famine periods, late payments, dealing with non-payers, currency fluctuations, these were recurrent topics in some of my worst nightmares. Sole freelancers tend to be exposed to these stress triggers much more, as of course they’d be affected more dramatically, but also there are very few people to share this worry with.

Workaholic tendencies

Do sole freelancers work more? This has proven to be the case in my scenario. I used to work much more than now, with lower productivity and generally less happy, but I did put more hours into my business. I secretly suspect I was a bit workaholic, while now I definitely have a much healthier attitude to work. What’s the push and what’s the pull?

If you’re a sole freelancer, have you experienced similar feelings or situations in your life? Do you agree with me?

Thank you so very much, Marta, for accepting my invitation and taking the time to write something to the blog! It is a huge pleasure to host you here, you being my role-model and all. 😀

I did have roughly the same experience as you: I used to work a lot more before than I do now. As I already told my readers over and over again, in my beginning, I used to work almost around the clock, sleeping threee to four hours a day at the most – when I slept. Nowadays, I work from 8 a.m. (or later, depending on my sleep needs) through 5 p.m., because I religiously go to gym every evening. I usually don’t work on weekends nor on holidays, except when necessary, of course. The benefits are way bigger than those of working too much.

Please do add your own experiences. 😉

About the author
4869smMarta Stelmaszak is a Polish and English translator and interpreter specialising in law, IT, marketing and business. She is a member of the Management Committee of the Interpreting Division at the Chartered Institute of Linguists and of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters. Marta is also a qualified business mentor, a member of the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs and the Chartered Institute of Marketing. In 2015, she has been selected by IPSE as one of top 15 freelancers in the UK and graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Marta runs the Business School for Translators, an online course and entrepreneurial blog for translators and interpreters and published a book. Marta is active on Twitter and Facebook, where she shares information related to the business aspects involved in being a translator and interpreter.

6 thoughts on “Guest post: Freelancer as a sole breadwinner

  1. Pingback: Greatest Women in Translation: Marta Stelmaszak | Carol's Adventures in Translation

  2. Thanks for sharing! I tend to be a workaholic when I have projects (just recently started freelancing full time), but I find it hard to be motivated to do other things when I don’t have a project. I apply to agencies, check job postings, and post on social media, but that’s about it. Is there anything else I should be doing?


    • Hi, Jennifer!

      I’m sorry for taking so long to reply!

      That was something I learned with time. I personally think that the more we have to do, the more we want to do. However, the less we have to do, the less we want to do. You know what I mean? Nowadays, since I follow strict working hours, I tend to work those working hours, no matter if I do or don’t have projects to work on. Right now, for example, I’m taking advantage of a downtime to organize my blog and schedule future posts.

      As to what you should or should not be doing, only you will know. Keep a list of things you can do in your downtime. Mine, for example: work on my blog, schedule social media posts, anticipate things I need to do in the future, etc.

      I hope it helps.

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment!


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