The growth of freelance translating

October 8, 2016
The growth of freelance translating

Across the world, freelancing is growing. The new reality of global economic uncertainty has created different ways of working, with many individuals forced out of traditional fulltime roles and into freelance positions out of necessity. However, many people have also opted to work freelance voluntarily, in pursuit of the financial and lifestyle benefits that freelancing can provide. 

Freelancing in America 2016

The annual Freelancing in America report, commissioned by the Freelancers Union and Upwork is one of the most in depth examinations of freelancing from a statistical perspective. The newly published Freelancing in America 2016 provides excellent insight into the growth of this way of working in the US. It is a pattern that is being mirrored in many countries around the world, as freelancing becomes ever more mainstream. 

Some 55 million Americans now work freelance, according to the report, accounting for 35% of the country’s workforce. The figure is up from 53 million in 2014 and 54 million in 2015. Between them, the 55 million US freelancers earned an estimated $1 trillion in the last year. 

Freelancing by choice

Interestingly, the percentage of those who freelance by choice is on the up. 63% of freelancers now say that they voluntarily opted to work freelance. Back in 2014 the figure was just 53%. Technology, freedom and flexibility are the three main drivers behind the workforce and while freelancing can mean less security than working fulltime, the Freelancing in America 2016 report found that:

“Full-time freelancers feel overwhelmingly positive about their work: they are significantly more likely than non-freelancers to feel respected, engaged, empowered, and excited to start each day.”

The growth of freelance translating

The figures from the US are, anecdotally at least, reflective of the freelance translating workforce in many parts of the world. As freelancing becomes more established as a career path – so much so that the term “independent workforce” is now becoming an established phrase to describe the world’s freelance community – more and more workers are seeing the benefits of leaving traditional fulltime employment behind. 

Translators were in many respects some of the early pioneers of freelance working. The nature of their work is ideally suited to a freelance lifestyle, particularly in relation to the freedom of location that freelancing can incorporate. Professional translation often includes the ebbs and flows of workload that many freelancers experience and translators are also well used to setting their own rates based around the lifestyle they wish to fund. 

Their rates are certainly something that freelancers in the US are enjoying managing, based on the data in the Freelancing in America 2016 report. 46% of freelancers put their rates up in the last year, while 54% plan to do so next year. The freedom to set your own value in this way is something which is denied to most of those who work fulltime under more traditional arrangements, when salary increases are at the discretion of their superiors and subject to the company’s performance and profits. 

The future of freelancing

As the independent workforce grows, countries are going to have to respond to the particular needs created by this increasingly mainstream way of working. Many freelancers currently lack holiday pay, health insurance/sick pay, maternity cover, pensions and a host of other benefits that are a given in fulltime employment. At present this is seen simply as a part of freelancing that cannot be avoided, but as the independent workforce expands, the right to such benefits is likely to become an increasingly contentious issue and many will turn to their government expecting a solution. 

The figures from the US are indicative of this need to plan (at a national level) for the support of the freelance workforce. 20% of freelancers in the US have no health insurance – that’s 11 million people. Of those who have purchased individual health insurance plans, 54% report that they are currently paying more for their insurance than they did last year. How long will freelancers be happy to put up with lesser conditions than full-timers, even if the pay-off is a better work/life balance thanks to the increased freedom and flexibility that freelancing brings?

Whatever the future may hold, freelance translation services look set to remain a cornerstone of the independent workforce, with the well-established community of freelance linguistic professionals continuing to pave the way for other professions to follow. 

Final thoughts

Did you become a freelance translator by choice or out or necessity? And now that you’ve experienced freelancing, would you ever voluntarily go back to fulltime employment? Share your story with us via the comments box and let us know if you consider freelancing to be the optimum career path for the future or simply something that we have to put up with as the modern working environment doesn’t leave us with any other options. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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