January 2016

The Freelancer’s Journal: Embracing the Uncertainty of Freelancing

Committing to a freelance career can be a scary prospect, particularly if you already have a full-time job.

The uncertainty of freelancing can raise doubts in our minds:

Do I have enough clients to freelance full-time? What will I do if there’s a quiet patch? How can I guarantee myself a certain level of income?

The fact is these doubts are very real and very serious. It’s important not to dismiss them in the excitement of becoming your own boss – particularly if you have a family to support. (Full disclosure: I don’t.)

So, preparation is key.

Try and get a feel for freelance life before quitting your current job. Is it right for you?

Use any spare time you have to source the clients you’ll need. Can you realistically expect to receive enough work?

And ask for advice from anyone who is already doing what you want to do. How will their experiences influence your own strategy?


But once you’ve prepared as much as you can, you’ve got to take the leap, bite the bullet, grab the bull by its horns and hastily seize any other idiom that comes to mind. That is, leave the relative safety of your old job behind and become the freelancer you’ve dreamed of becoming.

It’s not easy, but you have to decide whether you’re going to commit or not.


Some of us freelance translators, myself included, didn’t have the luxury of excessive preparation.

For me, I had chosen to leave a stable job I realised I couldn’t happily continue. And in my eagerness to move forward with my life, I had neither the foresight nor patience to plan my prefect entry into the world of full-time freelancing.

The time came to burn the boats. There was no going back.

I would besiege the gates of my freelance aspirations or be left defeated on the shores of disappointment.

Of course, by removing any sense of comfort or choice, I deliberately committed myself to making my vision happen.

Is this the perfect strategy? Probably not. Am I now at a position in my freelance career where I can be glad I took my decision? Absolutely.

Now, by burning the boats, I do not mean to burn my bridges. Let’s not confuse our pyrotechnical metaphors here.

Former colleagues may be able to offer advice, leads or words of encouragement – and in turn, we may also be able to help them in our own way.


Once you’re in, however, I personally believe freelancing can offer more stable employment. If only you’re willing to embrace short-term uncertainty.

In his highly recommendable book Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out that a self-employed person undergoes short-term uncertainty in favour of long-term stability of income. Consider the following:

A freelance trainer who underperforms, may lose a regular customer (and thus revenue) and is prompted to invest time and energy into improving her skills, professionalism, advertising and so on – thereby ultimately becoming more productive.

The market provides the self-employed trainer this signal, and she keeps her job.

Whereas, if an employee at a company were to underperform or lose an account for instance, he might not be so fortunate as to have the opportunity to develop his skills or work ethic and thereby become more productive.

The contrast is a freelancer’s drop in revenue to the employee’s dismissal and all the serious consequences that entails. The freelancer develops herself and improves; the dismissed employee stagnates and spends his time looking for a new job rather than building his resume.

You must only embrace the daily uncertainty of freelancing. It’s both liberating and empowering.


How did you become a full-time freelance translator? Was it a gradual and meticulously prepared transition? Or did you also have a similar experience?