Mar 8 / Sara Reyniers

"Follow Your Passion" vs. "Paying the Bills"

If you’ve been following me, you may know that I like to talk about finding your own way of doing things, choosing something that brings you joy AND money, in all, leading a fulfilling life. You may think it’s in line with the “follow your passion” mantra... I don’t quite agree.

Passion vs. Goals

If you know what your passion is and you can build that into your freelance business in a lucrative way, that’s great! I’d say, go for it!  

Reading that sentence, you’ll see there are two conditions to make the passion business work:

  • You need to have a passion related to your professional skills
  • It needs to bring in money. If not, you’ll have to keep that passion project for your spare time 

The first condition may resonate with you if you don’t have something you feel particularly passionate about. There could be many subjects or projects you find interesting. This is the case for me: I can get really interested in a particular subject and read about it for six months, and then my interest just fades. After a few weeks, I usually discover another subject I want to dig into. 

The second condition is equally important, but sometimes overlooked. When your passion is bungee jumping, it’s clear it’ll be hard to find many translation projects on that topic. But what if your passion is rescuing stray cats? Maybe you’ll consider if animal shelters or some bigger organizations on animal welfare could have translation projects. However, you’ll find that many organizations in such a field work with volunteers. They usually won’t pay for any translation work. When you do find some organizations who have a budget for staff and external services, they’ll have volunteers offering them to do translations for free, so they won’t value your paid services.  

This can lead to frustration, a negative outlook on rates, and feeling underappreciated. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. To be able to deliver our best work, we all need to put boundaries and take care of ourselves. In this context, that means releasing this conflict caused by passion without money. Instead, it’s better to focus on projects that have a positive client contact, a good rate, and texts you’re comfortable with. 

And those cats? Of course you can do translation work for a shelter if you wish, but if it’s volunteering, see it as a spare time activity. Don’t spend your working hours on something that doesn’t have a future. One exception is building translation experience when you’re a newbie. In that case volunteering can fill in the “blank space” on your CV.

The Right Way to Set Goals

I prefer to talk about goal setting. The difference between a goal and a passion is that goals are a combination of your interests and strategic thinking. Passions, on the other hand, are more related to emotion and momentum. 



Strongly based on emotion
Interest + realistic strategy
Enthusiasm might be temporary. What if it fades?
Steadily working towards it using a timeframe
Might be unrealistic
Developing the goal is rooted in reality
Might be hazy
Have a clear focus
Might push you to keep going forever
Have a formulated end point (I’ve reached my goal if...)
Might be overwhelming
A strategy works one step at a time
Feeling devastated when attempts fail
Failing means something was wrong with the strategy. Time to revise and adapt the approach

 So how do we choose the right goals?

1.     Make a list of your interests and what you’re good at
2.     Check each item on your list and consider if it can be turned into a freelance service: for instance, “I like going to multilingual conversation meetups” becomes “I can tutor people who want to learn my language”. Not all your interests and skills will be suitable to turn into a service. To test if your item stands as a service, imagine a client saying: “You offer translation for/with x? OK, what's in it for me?” If you can answer that question, you’ll know what to say in your marketing
3.     Validating your ideas: who would be the potential clients for these services? Are they able to pay for such services? Are they willing to pay? Would you like to work with them?
4.     Marketing: how would you connect with potential clients? What efforts would be necessary? What are you willing to do?
5.     If you have several services left, it’s time to pick the one that makes you most enthusiastic and you’re willing to try out
6.     Make a plan: what would success look like for that service (within 5 years)? To reach that, where should you be within one year? To reach that, what could you do this month? How will you make a start this week?

You may think that this only works if you’re willing to develop specific skills and work for high-end direct clients, but that’s not the case.  

Let’s apply this to post-editing for agencies:

  • Skill/interest: preference for technical skills and production, less to no interest in studying and marketing
  • Freelance service: post-editing is in demand and will continue to be, so clients will be interested
  • Potential clients: agencies who have projects with big volumes
  • Able/willing: agencies are able to pay; their willingness, however, will depend on the rates
  • Wanting to work with them/marketing: agencies have the advantage that you don’t need to keep spending time on marketing, but they have a strong impact on your rates and workload
  • Interest: if you don’t have a particular field you like, you can see what’s in high demand, otherwise choose your field of interest and present yourself as a “medical post-editor” for instance     

Let’s look at the cat shelter example from above:

  • Interest: high interest in animal welfare
  • Freelance service: translations about animal welfare
  • Potential clients: shelters, NGOs and animal welfare organizations
  • Able/willing: if they’re used to working with volunteers: most probably not. OK, idea stops here 

    Let’s look at legal translation:

    • Skills/interest: legal translations can have an impact on businesses and society, and you like to study and build expertise
    • Freelance service: legal translations are in demand and are future proof: the type of text is too important to entrust to machines only
    • Potential clients: agencies and some direct clients such as public authorities, law firms, individual lawyers, companies, small businesses
    • Able/willing: agencies are able to pay; however, their willingness will depend on the rates. Direct clients such as public authorities, lawyers and companies: yes, able and willing
    • Wanting to work with them: in this field there are many types of clients, so you can focus on the ones you like
    • Marketing: preferably little to no marketing? It’s best to choose agencies and public authorities. Doing outreach and networking? Companies, lawyers. Letting clients find you? Lawyers, small businesses
    • If you have several options left: choose your focus and determine what success would look like for that type of client and project
    • Make a plan with a timeframe 

    Ready to try it yourself? E-mail me if you have questions or to let me know what you’ve discovered! 

    I’m also a strong believer in aligning your professional goals with your private goals. I have more exercises on that in both my courses. In “Roadmap to Freelancing for Explorers” we’ll first look at different translator profiles, all information you need to lead a freelance business, and how to develop your strategy over time. In “Translation Profile Exploration” we start with profiles and strategies and then discuss how you can transition from your current situation to your new situation. 

    If you run into problems with this, I’d love to help you. I’ll send more practical tips in my e-mails. Make sure to sign up for Sara’s Stories! And for a deeper dive and changing your business, do check out my courses!
    Drag to resize
    Did you like this article? Make sure you’ve signed up for Sara’s Stories (see footer below), so you don’t miss anything! You’ll get an e-mail whenever I publish new articles and some stories and tips I don’t share anywhere else.
    Created with