There is a widespread belief that Sir Walter Scott was the first to use the term “freelancer”, with the meaning of “free lance”, in his novel Ivanhoe:
—I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them.
Although Ivanhoe was published in the early 19th century, freelancing as a format is a rather new phenomenon. Today, a growing number of experts from different trades are shifting to it.
In contrast to conventional work in an office, freelancing brings a number of advantages: you can decide yourself how long and when to work, take “good” orders and refuse “bad” ones, there are no long-term obligations, and it only takes a few steps to get to your working desk. Successful freelancers can post photos of themselves with a laptop, laying on a beach and boasting that they have “broken free from corporate slavery”.
However, we will talk about aspects that are usually left “behind-the-scenes” and appear only in freelancers’ black humor: the only window with lights on in a multi-story building, a skeleton at the desk, a lonely feast featuring a single mini-cake, a distorted face when they hear the word ”deadline”, etc.
There is time, but there is no time at all…One of the main reasons for going into freelancing is striving to be the master of your own time: there is no need to rush to the office for 9 a.m., spend time and money on travelling, and freelancers can work half a day and have a three-hour lunch break. The problem though is that their free time has to be controlled; otherwise it starts to control them.
Office workers must get up at a specific time and work eight hours in a row. This gives them the right not to think about their work until the next working day. Freelancers, on the other hand, are constantly tempted to get up at 11 a.m., leisurely make coffee, have breakfast, and start working when staffers have their lunch—even when there is enough work for the entire working day, and not taking into account any ‘surprises’ from their clients. New temptations can arise during the day: computer games, chats with friends, domesticities, the fridge (explained in detail below), etc. Eventually, they manage to get away from their PC by 2 a.m., although they only spent six hours on fulfilling their orders. Such an unorganized approach to business erases the boundaries between work and other activities and their day turns into chaos.
Freelancers must not give in to chaos. They ought to draw a strict line between their working hours and personal time. Establish time frames: when to get up, talk to your family and friends, listen to music, etc. These time frames can be adjusted depending on the circumstances, but they must be present by all means. Organize your life so that you are not distracted by your personal affairs. Otherwise, when you deal with your personal affairs, you will inevitably have to deal with your work.
Your family are your enemies
You will have a hard time explaining to your family, who lives with you under one roof, that right now you can’t go to the grocery store, wash the dishes, or even just talk to them. Even explaining the reasons is a loss of working time. Your family will hardly understand you: “Can’t you have a break for five minutes?” If you do not give them some attention immediately, they may be offended and accuse you of being stonehearted.
If you give in and spend some time with them, you will have to catch up in the evening. You will have to “take back” that time from your family anyway, or you will not meet the deadline and risk losing your customer. The only solution here is to find common ground with your family and explain that you can be distracted during business hours only if it is something urgent, and for a short time. But believe me, it won’t be easy to gain their understanding. This author’s one-and-a-half-year-old daughter was shaking his armchair using all her strength while he was writing this article. Then she took him by the hand and forced him to the room with toys...
It is better to separate your work and personal life not only in time, but also in space. Provide yourself with a separate, personal study, or at least a separate nook where everything can inspire you to work. Then everybody who lives with you will know that although work and family are close to you, there is a boundary between them.
The fridge and its friends
Translation is a sedentary activity with known consequences for health. A freelancers’ situation is aggravated by the fact they do not have to leave their house; his or her desk is several steps from the bed (in the neglected cases, it is right in it!).
To get to the office, a staffer has to go some distance and spend some calories for this activity. The time for lunch and the meal size are limited in the office.
Freelancers reach their office in half a minute after waking up: several steps and they already rub their sleepy eyes at the computer. They pay constant visits to their fridge during the day. Not because they are hungry, but more like a reflex, or a wish to stretch their legs. At home, what at first seemed like an advantage—“I do not have to spend time on travel!”—turns into a drawback: the desk, the bed, and the fridge are perilously close to each other.
Such an imbalance of consumed and exerted energy displays itself quickly. At best, the bathroom scales and mirror will show it. At worst, your doctor will tell you. Freelancers have to compensate for their forced immobility by means of walks, stretching, and going to the gym. They have to control their nutrition and avoid visiting the kitchen.
Hit the books hard
Every company that runs its business efficiently has established processes for training its employees: newcomers are familiarized with the working procedures, are briefed about the use of software, and learn how to get assistance when something is unclear.
While this is true for staffers, it is more difficult to train freelancers; they work remotely and some things are difficult to explain distantly. There is also no guarantee that after being trained, a freelancer will continue taking orders and will not disappear.
Therefore, freelancers have to work and learn on their own. For example, freelancers who work with technical translations have to learn CAT tools, QA software, and several other software programs. There are many tutorials and videos on the Internet. All they need is to spend some time on learning.
Jack of all trades
In addition to staffers, translation agencies have other employees such as marketing managers, accountants, and system administrators. They ensure a smooth working process for translators who can perform their direct duties without being distracted by other activities.
Usually, translators who move to freelance are at first unpleasantly surprised that translation is only one part of the job that is on their shoulders. From now on, they will have to repair their computer, search for customers, convince them of their competence and reliability, create presentation materials and disseminate them, as well as spend time on maintaining orders, bookkeeping, sorting mail, etc. In the translation agency, all of the above tasks are managed by other people.
At first, those activities are perceived as a temporary “appendage” and not related to the core activity. Only with time do freelancers realize that all these activities do not yield any revenue, but instead constitute a mandatory part of their job.
Being a good translator does not necessarily mean being a successful freelancer: freelancers are sales and marketing managers, accountants, and office managers. To perform these roles, they sometimes spend a third of their working time. To calculate your real salary per hour, add the time spent on translation to the time spent on all the other additional activities.
Becoming a savage
Advanced technologies allow us to communicate with people without hearing them or knowing how they look (when writing in English, their gender may be unknown). In fact, if you wish, it is possible not to leave your apartment for years. Everything one needs for everyday activities, such as equipment, food, services, even private ones, can be ordered via the Internet. Having insulated themselves from the outside world, freelancers enter a virtual world similar to one of those MMORPG games.
A virtual communication is much easier than a real one. Usually it is limited to professional subjects and momentary issues. Everything else falls out. Talkers do not see the facial expressions of each other and do not hear the intonations. One may say an offensive phrase and not care about the consequences that seldom come. If you do not like a person, it is easy to avoid him or her. Or you may ‘ban’ this person and erase them from your life completely. It is convenient and easy. But the problem is that such a communication style grows into a habit and is transferred to real life.
People who have communicated virtually for too long may have issues with going into the real world: people are offended by them “all of a sudden” and think they are rude. Freelancers ask “forbidden” questions—acting with the directness of a child. They call people who do not agree with them “idiots”. They tell jokes that do not seem funny to their interlocutors. They provoke unnecessary conflicts, do not show any interest in other people, and cannot keep a conversation alive. With time, their indiscretion sneaks into their business emails, eventually resulting in losing orders. People do not want to continue relations with them after their first meeting. In the end, such people go back to their burrow where they do not have to find common ground with people. They look more or less like this:
Surely, it is a neglected case. But to some extent, such professional deformation hangs over every freelancer. It is important to be aware of this peril; it is not easy to get out of this pit. The antidote here is very simple: talk to your family, friends, colleagues, and other people as frequently as possible.
Yes, freelancing is freedom. But every freedom always implies responsibility. In the office, a person is disciplined, trained, and to some degree, socialized by other people. At home, everything must be done without help. Freelancers should try not to mix their work with their personal life. They have to learn new things on their own and keep in touch with the world of real-life people. If you succeed in this task, your work will conjoin smoothly with other areas of life.