Going it alone: A freelancer check-in

Kalle Jelen
Diplomierter Fachübersetzer FH
  • 15.02.2022
  • 4 min
When presented with the opportunity to write a profile, I wondered whether the endeavor wasn’t premature. Writing a startup story without the benefit of hindsight is hard – if not impossible – especially when there is little substance to embellish and few glory days to humble the beginnings. But several weeks have elapsed since I began drafting this piece, and events have started unfolding in my favor. So now is as good time as any to share a little something about my time working in the language industry so far.

My gateway to the language industry was a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), specializing in professional translation. Before that, I completed a BA in philosophy and contemporary history, which really honed my analytical capabilities. I was apprehensive when the summer rolled around and my time at the ZHAW gradually came to an end. The last few months felt like being sucked into a washing machine stuck in a frenzied spin and spit back out again. Writing my thesis had been both immensely rewarding and incredibly nerve-wracking, and when the dust had finally settled, I knew that that fulfilling career as a language professional that I had always imagined was not going to pursue itself.


My first few weeks/months working on a freelance basis can most aptly be summarized as a period of stocktaking, reflecting on what precisely had been drilled into me those last couple years and what skills I could reasonably hope to monetize. I began sending out resumés and applications – at first, my consistency in this area was spotty at best – without knowing where they were ending up and who was reading them. Self-promotion, too, became less alien. Saying I’ve discovered something of the salesman in me would be pushing it, but as in most other things in life, skin and myelin gets thicker, I suppose.


I was able to check a few items off my list early on: coming up with a domain name, getting a batch of business cards printed and letting them roam free in the wild, joining the translator/interpreter associations DÜV and ASTTI. In the meantime, I’ve also been able to land several subtitling and translation assignments. Accepting my first brief was exciting, even though it was one I eventually realized I was being criminally underpaid for. In the beginning at least, it helps to think of experience as its own reward. And while I’m not yet backlogged with briefs, I can say that my prospects are in fact rosier than I cared to let on for dramatic license. Budding linguists can rest easy knowing theirs will be, too – with just a little patience!

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