Greetings, readers! I hope that 2023 is off to a good start in all of your various corners of the world!
Why talk about income?
As usual, I’m kicking off the year with a review of last year and how it went in my freelance business. Also as usual, this article contains real income numbers from my business; if this bothers you or you find it tacky, no pressure to read on. I provide this information for a simple reason: because I teach classes on how to make money, and on how to make more money, as a freelancer. Personally, when I take those types of classes from other people, I want to know their real income numbers, because I like to know:
- When someone says “a low/high/decent/solid income,” I want to know what they mean. 25K? 200K?
- When someone talks about charging what I would consider a high rate, I want to know how much work they have at that level: are they charging high rates, but finding very few clients at that rate, or do they have a steady flow of work at that rate?
I also realize that some people find it weird, in poor taste, or “a sign of someone desperate for attention” to talk about one’s real income numbers. If that’s your feeling, no problem, and no pressure to read this article. That being said, let’s dive in!
Executive summary: things went well!
2022 was a good year. It was my first full calendar year of offering both interpreting and translation, and although (due to the loosening of COVID restrictions) I took a lot more vacation this year than in 2020 or 2021, my income didn’t decrease and I did a lot of interesting work. I’m happy with the scale-back in the number of courses offered by Training for Translators. I moved to a new office (my first time renting a small private office within a larger co-working space) and I love it. And yet, I have some bigger goals for 2023.
By the numbers
As I expected and similar to the past three years, I earned US $110K this year. That’s gross income, but after subtracting subcontracting payments: it doesn’t include revenue that I took in that was then immediately paid to other people—specifically, instructors for Training for Translators.
The 110K was divided almost exactly into thirds: one third interpreting, one third translation, one third teaching, writing, and consulting. I’m happy with that. The “triathlon” aspect of my business is diverse enough that there’s some resilience in the system (when one thing is down, often another thing is up), but not so diverse that I feel scattered. I’m hoping to maintain this distribution of revenue in 2023. An interesting distribution within this distribution is that the majority (23K) of my interpreting income came from agencies, while the majority (31K) of my translation income came from direct clients and individuals.
As mentioned above, this was my first full calendar year as an interpreter, after passing the Glendon MCI exit exams in July 2021. I love interpreting and am really glad that I pursued the degree at Glendon. In 2022, I interpreted a total of 165 days, or rather “days,” since a court interpreting “day” is sometimes 10 minutes. Of the 165 assignments, 113 were court and 52 were conference. Conference interpreting can be a tough world to break into, and I was very lucky to receive some excellent referrals from very generous colleagues. Overall, after hearing stories of people who spent more than a year looking for work after finishing a conference interpreting degree, I’m happy with my 52 assignments, and it’s definitely a goal to find more conference interpreting work for 2023.
Basically status quo, which is OK. I continued working for my regular direct clients, primarily US-based NGOs doing development work in francophone Africa, plus a few law firms. I like my translation clients and they seem to like me, but one of my longstanding NGO clients is wrapping up the project I’ve translated for (for five years!), so I’d definitely like to find another client to flesh things out.
Some significant shakeups here. At the start of COVID, everyone was so hungry for online training that all of my online courses were selling out, some even with a waiting list. Over time, things slowed down significantly, particularly when it came to longer, more expensive classes. I also realized that I’m not particularly good at, nor do I particularly enjoy, the administrative aspects of running a large-scale online training business. So, I decided to go back to basics, focusing on one master class per month taught by me. This has gone really well. Signups have been good, the money I earn is almost all profit (as opposed to paying a host and other instructors), and I love teaching. I’m happy with this reorganization and plan to stick with it, offering courses taught by other people only on an occasional basis.
Vacation and expenses
This was the first year since 2019 that (finally) felt pretty normal in terms of travel and vacation. I definitely took advantage of that; my husband and I spent most of July on a mountain bike road trip through British Columbia, Alberta, and the Tetons, we did a bunch of long weekend ski trips, and we spent two separate weeks mountain biking in Utah while working a little bit, plus spent New Year’s in Mexico with my college student daughter and her girlfriend. No complaints in the travel department this year.
My business expenses were fairly stable, with the exception that my office rent increased slightly (to $586 per month) because I jumped on the chance to rent a small private office for only $36 a month more than I was paying for a desk in my co-working office. The only issue is that I love having my own office instead of having to reserve a conference room every time I have a remote interpreting assignment, so I don’t see myself giving it up next year, even if the rent increases.
Goals for 2023
I’d like to:
- Slightly increase my income, with a goal of around 120K, largely because I want to do more traveling that will cost money
- Find at least one more interpreting client with regular work
- Publish at least one new book (I’m working on an interpreting version of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator that I hope to publish this year)
- Translate another book (this is in the works; something in the public domain that I would self-publish)
- Continue teaching monthly master classes for Training for Translators
- On the personal side, I’m starting cello lessons while continuing to play the lute; stay tuned (haha!) on progress
Wishing all of you all the best for a healthy and prosperous 2023!
Corinne McKay (email@example.com) is the founder of Training for Translators, and has been a full-time freelancer since 2002. She holds a Master of Conference Interpreting from Glendon College, is an ATA-certified French to English translator, and is Colorado court-certified for French interpreting. If you enjoy her posts, consider joining the Training for Translators mailing list!
Julia Maitland says
Thank you for this great post. It is wonderful that you are candid about your earnings and very useful to know the breakdown. I think it’s great to have an idea of what one can earn as a translator/interpreter although this of course varies from one country to another. On this note, I’m wondering whether it might be useful to provide a figure for net earnings if you would be comfortable with that. In the past you have written about the importance of achieving a similar level of financial security as an employee, which I wholeheartedly agree with. Personally, when I see your income, it looks like a lot more than you would need to earn for financial security where I live (in France), for example. But if I’m not mistaken, in the US people pay a lot more for health insurance and the tax and retirement payment systems are different, not to mention that childcare in France is really cheap and we get up to 750 euros of CPD reimbursed per year 🙂 Obviously there are a lot of things to factor in, so I was wondering how the gross income you mentioned would convert to net after pension payments, health insurance, income taxes and all other business expenses, as the difference between gross and net can vary between countries.
Corinne McKay says
Thanks, Julia! Sure, I’m happy to provide some more detailed numbers, and you’re correct that it really varies between countries. Health insurance in the US is really expensive, but we get ours through my husband’s job, and then of course there are other variables: my daughter goes to an expensive university, but we own our house without a mortgage and are completely debt-free, so our basic living expenses are pretty low, etc. etc. etc. Also because I pay taxes as a corporation, I pay self-employment tax (15% on top of what you would pay if you worked for an employer) on some of my income but not on all of it. But anyway, here are some more numbers for you:
-Out of that 110K, I paid 20K in taxes, put 5K into retirement, and paid myself salary plus profit draw of 61K (35K as salary and 26K as corporate profit).
-My business expenses are what I would consider high, because running an online training business costs money, and because I choose to rent an office outside my house. My highest business expenses were $6,500 on office rent, $5,300 on business software and apps (Zoom, Mailchimp, Thinkific, Office 360, etc.), $3,800 on website maintenance services (the people who develop and maintain the Training for Translators site), and $3,300 on professional development. So in that sense, I’m spending almost 20K on things where a lot of freelancers’ budget is going to be zero: if you work from home, are using an older computer that has installed software instead of subscriptions, you don’t use someone else to maintain your website, and you don’t attend conferences.
Let me know if that helps!
Michael Schubert says
Thanks for sharing! You’re a great role model for all the solopreneurs in our industry, and I especially love the “triathlon” analogy and the mindset that drove you to launch yourself as an interpreter mid-career. Truly admirable!
Corinne McKay says
Thank you! I learn a ton from you as well!!
Corinne McKay says
Thank you! I learn a ton from you as well!! No two-figure invoices 🙂
Marjolein Thickett says
How refreshing to see how open and honest you are. I agree that knowledge and data is power, so seeing your figures gives me some new goals – I’m a fair way off!
Congratulations on a great year.
Corinne McKay says
Thanks for your comment, Marjolein! Glad you found it helpful!
Hey, Corinne, that’s amazing. You have successfully ventured out into the world of conference interpreting. I am sure you will be able to gain more clients! Thank you very much for sharing this insights and being transparent. That’s a great help.
Corinne McKay says
Thanks very much!
Thanks for the report. I have started to learn piano again, and it brings a lot of joy in my life. Cello is a great instrument, congrats on this new hobby!
Corinne McKay says
Thank you, and that’s very cool that you’re working on piano!