This is my very first blog post on freelancing! For that, I thought it would be best to start from the very beginning- how I became a successful freelancer with a steady, full-time workload.
First, what exactly is a successful freelancer, anyway?
There are two different definitions of a successful freelancer that I follow:
- The money you earn as a freelancer covers your cost of living, and you still have some money leftover to enjoy life and follow your dreams with.
- You have a nice range of top-profile end customers (direct brands/companies, as opposed to agencies) in your portfolio and, most importantly, you really enjoy your work as a freelancer and it is just an added bonus that you get paid to do it.
So far, my reality lies within the first definition; however, the second one is my goal for the next few years.
You may be wondering: How?
My journey started in the mid 00’s. At that time, I was studying at two different universities and, like almost all students, I wanted to earn some extra cash. After several unsuccessful attempts to get an office job (explainable, I was only 15!), I started researching opportunities to work online. Now, I will share the chronological story of how I went from being a busy student looking for extra money to a full-time successful freelancer.
My first freelancing love: Weblancer
One of the first freelance job portals I tried out was Weblancer. At the time, it was one of the most popular portals with a free subscription for freelancers from CIS-countries, and I was also very attracted to the fact that it had a USD e-wallet with escrow function. For a few years Weblancer was my #1 choice to get short, primarily one-time projects with the reassurance of payment.
There, I found two awesome long-term clients:
- A Russian businessman that owned a company selling professional juicers for smoothie and juice bars. For several years, I translated manuals and website material for him, as well as daily email conversations between him and his business partners.
- A Ukrainian IT news portal: for about 1 and a half years, I would translate 10 articles about new gadgets, mobile phones, and computer hardware every day.
My second attempt and an awesome find: FL.ru
The next stop on my way to becoming a successful freelancer was trying out FL.ru, a job portal for freelancers that was quite similar to Weblancer. However, as the most of the clients were based in Russia and were not going to pay me as much as I could earn on Weblancer, I didn’t place many bids with FL.ru. Also, at the time, they didn’t have an escrow service as user-friendly as Weblancer’s, so my chances of not getting paid were much greater. Regardless, I was still able to find:
- Several Russia-based agencies that provided me with a constant workload (more or less) and steady monthly payments.
- A Russia-based digital agency through which I translated medical news for an aesthetic center’s blog for several years.
- My husband! Yes, it was through FL.ru that I met the man that would later be my husband. He was also a freelance translator, and we both applied for the same translation project. We ended up getting married exactly in 2 years after he wrote me his first message (awe); we are celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary this August. So, we have been together for almost 6 years! Hooray!
Where things really started looking up: Proz & TranslatorsCafe
Registering on these two websites were major steps in my career as a freelancer.
I registered a free profile on this website in 2010. Unfortunately, however, non-paying members on Proz have very low chances of getting a decent job since most of the job postings are only accessible by paying, or “pro,” members only. For that, my first two years on Proz yielded very few results.
However, things changed drastically in early 2012. By that time, I had already been working as a team with Mr. D (my now husband) for several months; he proofread all my translations so that every piece of work I completed was of a top-notch quality. My work was looking so good that we were able to raise our rates and start working less and less with lower-paying Russia-based clients.
Luckily for us, Proz had an awesome promotion and we were able to get a huge discount on a subscription. From that, a new era of my life as a freelancer was born…
Although our initial projects on Proz were not as remunerable as we would have liked, we had a pretty good start on this freelance platform. Roughly ⅔ of our clients (mostly agencies) were found on Proz. One of them, I currently work for as a remote QA Editor on a full-time basis (thanks, Proz!).
I have now been a paid member for 6 years! I have completed their verification procedures and still occasionally place bids on one-time projects that look the most interesting to me.
I registered a free profile on this freelance job portal at the same time I registered one on Proz, but, as opposed to Proz, I was actually able to complete several decent projects right away.
At one point, I had promised myself that after the first month I earned more than $5,000 per month on freelance, I would pay for a one-year subscription on TranslatorsCafe. Well, while I had that promised one-year subscription, I got a gig translating into Ukrainian for a Dutch agency, and I have been working with them for about 3 years now.
That ended my story with TranslatorsCafe; I didn’t renew my subscription after the year because most of the clients were from Asia or the Middle East and usually paid much lower rates.
Reaching my goals: Upwork
When I first started, I was actually using a platform called Odesk, but they have since been acquired by Upwork.
Upwork is much like Weblancer and FL.ru, where you have a pretty high chance of working for an end customer. The downside of working for an end customer, however, is that although the work is long term and usually steady, the rates can be rather low.
However, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I am currently trying to move from being an outsourced specialist hired by several agencies, to being a true freelancer who works with end customers. For that, I am using Upwork as my first step to building a portfolio of end customers. As well, I am focusing only on projects that can provide a good balance between money earned, prospectivity of future cooperation, and value for my professional development.
My luck so far has been great! I’ve found my dream client via Upwork: a manufacturer of insulin pumps for whom I have already completed several translation projects. Aside from them being a fantastic client, the information I am exposed to while working for them is highly useful for me as a person with diabetes.
Some useful tips from my personal experience:
- Build your online presence- In other words, don’t be afraid to register on several different portals. Experiment! Test out different subscriptions, see what you like and don’t like, and always ask your clients to leave feedback after the work is completed.
- Keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date- One of my clients, with whom I have been earning about 60% of my monthly income for the past 4 years, is a UK-based agency. Their talent manager found me on LinkedIn, where I have the cheapest available paid subscription and have maintained a fully complete profile with several references from clients.
- Don’t be afraid to work with agencies- Yes, I know I have been striving to work with end customers, but there are also perks to working with agencies, like getting to work with top world brands. For instance, I have completed translation and transcreation jobs for such brands as Nikon, Samsung, Starwood, Four Seasons, Nivea, Pandora, Tiffany, Bally, and many others. However, I most likely won’t be having these brands in my portfolio of end customers anytime soon because it’s much easier for them to order multilingual translation+editing+DTP projects from agencies rather than searching for several freelancers and dealing with real-life situations, like not being available for a time-sensitive project.
- Getting paid every 45-60 days is okay- Another thing about working with agencies is the possibility of delayed pay. From my experience, most agencies will pay you within 30-45 (and sometimes up to 60) days after receipt of the invoice. Basically, that means that for a job completed on, let’s say, the 5th of March, you can get paid for that work on the last day of April. For me, these delays have never been a problem:
- 1.) If you have several agencies with whom you work for on a regular basis, after awhile you will stop noticing delays in payments altogether.
- 2.) You can actually plan your family budget several months in advance. For example, I know what my March income will be as early as January 31st. That’s kind of nice, isn’t it?
- Check the reputation of an agency on Proz- If we are on the same page about working with agencies in order to have a steady workload, then bear in mind one more tip: before accepting your first job from the agency, check out their BlueBoard profile on Proz. There, you can find reviews from real freelancers who have worked with the agency. So far, this has really worked for me.
- Lastly, don’t be afraid to raise your rates- At the beginning of my career, I started with rates as low as $0.02 per word. As I started gaining experience and more serious clients, I raised my rates to about $0.04 per word. With constant workload from those clients, I started asking for about $0.07 per word from all new clients (now, I am able to ask for up to $0.15!). The increase in pay helped me to rebuild my portfolio of customers. Now that’s a good practice, in my opinion!