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.