Graphic Designer Brian Taylor grabs a coffee with Freelance Translator, Karolina Piotrowska, to talk leaping into self-employment, likely challenges and smart considerations.
Karolina moved from Poland to the UK nearly fifteen years ago. As a qualified teacher, she worked in various educational roles, before opening her translation business, Sepinroth Translations, in 2008, gradually cutting her school hours and going freelance full-time in 2011.
BT: What encouraged you to take that path?
KP: I always wanted to work with languages and BA in English was my first degree. My duties working at schools involved translating various educational material and interpreting during meetings and appointments with Polish community members. I did not enjoy the administrative part of teaching at all and after some time, I felt very restricted in a school environment; opening my own business was the next logical step.
The two most important, motivating factors were (and still are) freedom and money, in that order. Freedom, because I love choosing who to work with, when, how and where to do the job. This has always been my priority. Financial factor is pretty self-explanatory. For proactive, well-educated and talented professionals, there is always a lot of work for good rates.
When you started your own business how did you manage to find the clients?
I spent many months on research, sent hundreds of emails – not a single one was random or generic. The important thing is to keep looking, keep working and have a plan, even a basic one.
Since I am a night owl, I didn’t mind working late or at strange times – working globally with clients from different time zones opened new possibilities.
Almost every sector, if not all of them, has a networking/business portal online. There are many additional websites, online catalogues and registers. I made sure I was registered on every possible one. Catalogues are large websites with a ton of knowledge, super useful glossaries, lots of helpful people on the message boards and job listings from various clients. Regardless of how intimidating such portals may look, it is worth getting familiar with industry standards, preferences, and processes.
You need appropriate credentials and at first it is not easy if you don’t have any reputable references.
So, what can you use instead?
In my case, it was my education that did the trick. Apart from several degrees (I have three!), I got several subject-specific diplomas and qualifications, everything whilst I was still working part-time at school.
My last degree, which is my main one an MA in Translation was completed in 2016 entirely online. Having registered at the Chartered Institute of Linguists (one of the most reputable bodies for translators), I finally established solid, consistent and transparent online credentials.
Sometimes even a friend or close relative can be your first client, or they introduce you to other friends as clients. Can you tell me about the challenges you’ve faced as a freelancer?
Personal challenges, such as motivation, interest, lifestyle preferences (early bird or night owl), ability to focus, act proactively or reactively, procrastination and isolation issues, taking care of own health, diet, ability to deal with distractions, coping with many types of pressure – the list is long and really, it never ends. Regarding business challenges, the most obvious is getting clients, then setting rates, selecting payment methods (there are so many!), choosing the most interesting jobs/subject areas/projects, technical aspects (business specific), IT challenges (hardware, online presence and security, compliance with law), dealing with banks, taxes and insurance, what to do with late payments/no payments, coping with both positive and negative feedback.
How do you cope with criticism?
I realised I cannot please everyone – it was more than likely that at some point my work would not be appreciated by the assessing person, regardless of how much effort I put in it. In such cases it is important to remain calm, ask for a detailed description of issues, discuss the differences in a professional manner and explain what can be done to rectify any errors (if any). But imagine what happens when you get positive feedback? It always brings me so much joy and appreciation and on most occasions, I am genuinely proud of my work.
Continuing from what you said about personal challenges – I notice a lot of people who do freelancing tend to undervalue themselves and I think that why most of them tend to struggle.
I have met so many young freelancers who unfortunately take jobs for peanuts rates and do not realise that they are creating their own future and they should be focusing on their own skills, services and contacts. It is not an easy pathway but certainly very rewarding and worth every effort.
What advice do you have for those just starting out?
Have some sort of other income for the transitional period. It is crucial to have some sort of income. Not only it will cover the most basic needs (even if it is just food or bills), but will keep you sane, because the beginnings are usually slightly chaotic and scary. I do not recommend totally relying on your partner’s income or family, as it will negatively impact your self-esteem. Please also note that if you plan any major purchases like a house with a mortgage, usually the banks require the business to be well-established (2-3 years) before considering freelancer’s application, so planning is crucial. This may also apply to rent a property.
Make a decision on the final date of employment and stick to it. Mine was, the very first month my self-employment income exceeds the employment income, I am resigning.
Consider things such as:
- Working hours (are you working in the UK only? Or perhaps with clients in Europe/on a global scale?)
- Lifestyle preferences (best productivity times during the day, early bird vs night owl)
- Home conditions (do you have an office or a designated area? Comfy sofa? Or perhaps a separate workshop or adapted shed?)
- Options to work outside the home (cafes, libraries, shared workspaces to meet new people, network and avoid isolation.
- Actual networking in person (meetups are great, both social and professional)
- Online presence (Website, social media, industry-related portfolios)
- Time for research on your business (also get to know the law applicable to your business, taxes, online security and compliance) and what are the ways for looking for new clients in your business line â€“ this is probably the most important for new freelancers!
- Time for education/training/specialising (Including reading books/websites/publications applicable to your business). You never stop learning and technologies constantly evolve!
- Time for taking care of yourself (Other hobbies, interests, exercising, taking care of health).