Leave reasonably okay company for freelancing?
August 18, 2018 7:48 PM   Subscribe

In a nutshell: a) do I have good reasons for wanting to leave my job and switch to freelancing, and b) if I do this, how do I best maintain good personal and professional relationships with the people/organization I work for now? Details at length below the fold. Sorry for the wall of text.

I work at a medium-sized Japanese company as a technical translator/translation coordinator. I’m in my fifth year there. I have always wanted to work as a freelance translator rather than a full-time company employee, and the spousal visa I acquired this spring means I can now do that. I am hesitating over whether and when to take the plunge.

Financially and professionally, not such an issue: I have various solid reasons to believe that I can make a living freelancing and that I’ll be okay even if my income dips for a period. This country also provides national health insurance for legal residents without other insurance.

Reasons why I want to leave: Mostly the predictable ones, that it means fifty to seventy hours a week all year round spent on a lot of things I find hard to care about, both translation-related and annoying-corporate-type stuff. I would like to work on a broader range of commercial, academic, and individual translation as well as having time and energy to do some of the other things that interest me, including volunteering at schools where native English speakers with teaching experience are not usually found. (Have done this for a while, previous to this job, at a school for the deaf and enjoyed it; would like to go to other special-ed schools, nighttime junior highs, etc.) Also right now my weekend and my husband’s do not coincide, and it would be nice to have maybe one day a week when he and I could spend some time together in a relaxed fashion.

Reasons why I am hesitating to leave: As Japanese companies go, it’s a pretty decent place. Basically, I’m very fond of most of the people I work with on a daily basis; a) I would miss seeing them regularly, and b) I would hate to feel that I’d let them down by quitting. I enjoy the double reward of having good personal relationships with people whom I also trust as professional colleagues and who are kind enough to trust me too.

Current thoughts: Within a month or so, talk first to the colleague I work most closely with, who is also technically my immediate boss; once he and I can agree on a course of action, approach the company president. Hopefully suggest that I will quit working full time somewhere over the next six months, allowing them time to find and hire someone who can replace me. At that point, I would continue coming in on a part-time basis (as a freelance outsourcer rather than a company employee, not a situation without precedent; I could do some of the work previously sent to outside agencies, at a mutually satisfactory price). This would alleviate some immediate worries about whether the work will continue to get done, and also allow me to keep regular ties with the company and my colleagues there while causing them minimum inconvenience.
Once this process is in motion, I would look into increasing my existing freelance work and organizing regular volunteer gigs.

Question(s), finally: Does this sound like a reasonable plan? Am I forgetting anything important? Am I being unforgivably self-centered, and/or abandoning good human relations for a pipe dream?
(Caveat: I know I’m pretty lucky to be able to dither on this point at all rather than just be grateful for having a job, any job. Not failing to understand this…).
posted by huimangm to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you want to leave, and you think it would be possible to do so without destroying your life, then leave. You don't need another reason. The only time anyone should stay in a job when they don't want to is when they don't have another option. You don't require permission.

As to how to navigate the transition socially, I can't really speak to that. I've never done that kind of transition and I'm sure there are cultural factors of which I (someone who has always worked in the US) am wholly ignorant. But if you want to freelance, and you think you can pull it off, go for it!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:15 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is more or less exactly what I did, although I did so because I had to move to another country with my partner, so my departure wasn't really a personal choice.

I knew about my timetable for leaving far before I left, and I regret not talking to my manager sooner. I know I hurt some feelings when I gave just over a month of notice, although I certainly had other colleagues there who left with shorter notice. However, even though I loved my work environment and enjoyed quite good relations with everyone I knew at the company, I was apprehensive about placing myself in a vulnerable or uncomfortable position by telling anyone about my intentions to leave any earlier than necessary. The work culture I'd experienced in North America definitely discourages giving notice much longer than legally required, but I wasn't sure how to map that onto a Japanese context, which led to delaying the inevitable and stepping on some toes. I think your current thoughts about the departure process are pretty much spot on.

My process was to go to my direct supervisor, with whom I'd been working for a about a year, tell him that circumstances meant I would be leaving Japan, and that I wanted to come up with a plan of continuity for when I left (I was the only English-speaker in the department and the only person who had been doing the job since it had been created). I offered to work on a freelance basis (I still do work for them now, a few years later). HR and legal had a few meetings with me to work out what kind of contract I would a fall under, my co-workers in the translation department had some meetings to hammer out come documentation standards for the next person with my job, and I had a few incredibly busy, sad weeks of goodbye parties, scrambling to finish projects, and help with looking for a replacement.

I know that Japanese companies often create a somewhat co-dependent relationship with their employees, and I felt a lot of guilt immediately after announcing I was leaving. I wonder if that might be part of what's making you feel like you are being self-centered, since I don't believe you are.

Not to say that all Japanese companies are the same, and mine was rather atypical in a lot of ways, but I tried to approach it with the attitude that I knew I was causing all kinds of problems for people (so many meiwakus got kakeru'ed), but that I wanted to make sure my choices would impact the company and my colleagues as little as possible. To a certain extent, there's nothing you can do if some colleagues resent you and start gossip, but copious apologies and working to make sure your departure generates less work for others will probably go a long way. Positioning the choice as the realization of a long-time dream is likely to help quell any suspicions that you're leaving because of problems with co-workers or the company. I would probably not mention things like wanting to spend time with your husband, since plenty of your colleagues would probably love to spend more time on "frivolous" personal things, and it might come off as insensitive. Getting some small gifts or something to give to your immediate co-workers is also probably a nice idea, and it could help alleviate some of the guilt you might feel when they inevitably organize comparatively elaborate goodbye gift for you (Japanese people seem to be so much better at that kind of thing than I am).

Anyway, as it turned out, my supervisor ended up leaving the company about a year later to work for a really relaxed LOHAS-themed start-up. His Facebook feed now looks so happy and peaceful, and judging from the comments our old colleagues have left, they seem to be nothing but happy that he's moved on to a job that lets him spend more time with his family.
posted by wakannai at 4:37 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe you do have good reasons. But it might be good to think more about freelancing as a job, lifestyle and career choice. There isn't much in your question about that beyond the idea that you would have enough income and be able to do a broader range of things inside and outside of work. A great start, but seems not so thought through?

Other things to think about, if you haven't already:
- you seem to value relationships with colleagues a lot - would you be isolated working by yourself?
- how would you find clients (do you like networking?)
- how do you deal with uncertainty?
- where would you work?
- how would you grow?
- what is the income range you would be aiming for? (minimum, ideal)
- how much would you need to work for that? (remember there's often a lot of unpaid work to get the paid work)
- long-term finances

There'll be quite a lot of literature around this, including, I imagine, some specific to your technical field and/or being a freelancer in the Japanese context.
posted by squishles at 8:57 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

(I'm also a freelance translator who previously worked in offices, tho not as a translator.)

Would it be feasible (I guess not, but worth asking) to do a 50/50 split? Or as you freelance for them, you can perhaps do it on site some/all of the time? I am an introvert and was always completely peopled out by the end of an office work day, but I still felt kinda isolated once I started working from home.

Squishles also raises good points. Paid holidays, sick days etc are not worth nothing. And I do have moments of panic every few months where I think "Oh God, that big client is drying up, I will be destitute!" I work a lot less now than I used to (just over 50% on average), but I also earn a lot less. I wouldn't be able to do a 7-8 hour day of intense work - an office job always has down times, whereas at home if I go for a coffee or loo break, I'm not making money.

(That said, after all those caveats, I'd totally do it. I have never regretted it. The freedom and flexibility are invaluable. If it's sunny I go for a run! I can work later! But as I said, I work part time.)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:41 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

So many great points above. The one thing I would add in your case, especially since you mention how much you value your work friendships and social contact, is to think through how you can replace that while working on your own. That's not to say that you won't still be friends with your current coworkers. But often we don't always realize how much of the glue in our social relationships is formed from sharing the same day-to-day environment and having the same organizational concerns. Once that context is removed, some friendships can make the leap into a more durable, cross-context mode, and some can't. It sounds like you may find self-employment a lot easier if you can plan for that, find other groups of people who share your new situation, etc.
posted by shelbaroo at 5:50 AM on August 20, 2018

50 to 70 hours per week? I am a freelancer. There are other ways to socialize. You will never get those hours back and no matter how nice your colleagues are, they are not your husband. It is OK to make this change if this is a change you want to make. I’m sure many things in Japanese culture want to make you feel guilty and selfish about this, but you shouldn’t feel guilty and no one else will get you what you need or want but you. And you can do it in a way that is thoughtful and professional rather than selfish. Whatever you decide, best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:17 AM on August 20, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you very much for the helpful answers (I've marked wakannai's as best on account of wakatte iru the specific situation ;), but everyone had great points to make).
A little bit of follow-up to the points raised: I've bounced around among jobs enough to know that, as mentioned, some friendships stay after leaving and some fade out, and am resigned to this (although some of my current work friendships are mostly silly chat on text-Skype right now, which hopefully would be maintainable). I did in fact spend a year successfully freelancing before starting my current job, mainly working for two or three large translation agencies, with whom I've kept up contact (doing smaller amounts of work at a time), so that I should be able to begin by letting them know I'm now able to do larger jobs.
I'd hope to maintain/develop personal networks by regular "internal freelancing" at my current company, as well as regular school volunteer gigs where I could get to know the kids and teachers.
Your various kind and helpful ideas are very much appreciated, giving me a better idea of what to focus on. Watch this space, and thanks again.
posted by huimangm at 6:41 AM on August 21, 2018

« Older Using probit regressions coefficients to derive...   |   Late night urgent reader’s advisory Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.