Freelance life during coronavirus: Financial lives less ordinary

by 6 Apr, 2020

For the last few years Martina has been living the freelance life dream, running a successful online translation business remotely while traveling the world and spending lots of time outdoors. Then the coronavirus reared its ugly head.

Like other freelancers around the world, Martina is now worried about her prospects as the Covid-19 crisis worsens. With the company registered in Italy, one of the worst-hit countries so far, she is entitled to a meagre €600 one-off handout from the government to help her get through the coronavirus crisis if work dries up. This is despite the self-employed making up some 23% of the Italian workforce.

Meanwhile, Martina’s business is already starting to feel the pinch compared to the previous year. “I can definitely see the difference from last year,” she says. “This January I made half of what I made last year. I only have international clients, no Italian ones, so orders are still coming in. But obviously everyone is affected.”

Freelance life 

For Martina, setting up her own business was the only way to escape odd waitressing jobs and living hand-to-mouth on a €300 a month salary. Having officially opened her company in 2013, by 2018 she managed to bring in revenues easily beating this while working from home and indulging her passion for traveling and outdoor sports.

Last year, Martina moved into a campervan with her boyfriend Fil and embarked on a nomadic lifestyle. But she had lived a less ordinary life for some time before this.

“I was moving a lot between apartments and I never lived in a mansion, so it wasn’t such a big change,” she says. “Before I met Fil, I was looking into buying a tiny house. I prefer living in a small space, but I always wanted to be in nature.”

Martina is an outdoor sports enthusiast, with passions for skiing, snowboarding and climbing. Before she met Fil, she used to spend her winters in the Italian Alps, skiing in the day and fitting her work in around her hobbies. Luckily, being a freelance translator, the majority of her business is conducted online and project-based, which means she can choose her own working schedule.

Getting started 

When Martina finished school in 2010, she tried to take the traditional study route by going to a private university in Italy to study languages. But halfway through her course, she found herself working three jobs and still unable to pay the study fees. She faced a choice: total burnout or total life change.

She decided to pack up her life in Italy and look for better paying jobs in Germany and Switzerland so she could finish her studies. On top of this, she was doing a little translation work on the side to help make ends meet. When she finally graduated she decided to put all her energy into her translation business.

And then one day, the breakthrough came. A Swiss-based company contacted her and asked if she would be their go-to translator for a specific client. She took the job, and it snowballed from there.

“It wasn’t a lot of money, but I was in Cambodia at this point, so my expenses were very low,” she says. “After that, I found all my other clients online. I remember sitting in an internet café for 10 hours at a time and learning how the online world works.”

Freelance life / work balance

Today, Martina has multiple clients across the world and offers translations in an array of languages. Any that she can’t do herself get outsourced to a team of freelancers she has built up over the years.

Her own workload depends on how many projects she has going at any one time, but on average she works 2-3 hours per day on translations and 2-3 hours on admin, marketing and project management.

“I always make sure my work is a priority,” she says. “Sometimes this means taking my laptop to the climbing crag with me, and sometimes I get up at 5am or stay up late to finish my work. It can be a bit stressful, but it’s worth it.”

Despite living in a campervan, Martina admits her living expenses are still relatively high, and her revenues are eroded by taxes and paying her team. As a result, around 40%-50% of her revenue does not reach her pocket.

Although she doesn’t pay rent, Martina is paying €375 a month toward a loan on a car and also has two cats that cost her around €200 a month. She also reinvests a few thousand a year into her business, for example in her recently re-launched website.

All in all, her monthly spending before food and other expenses comes to around €1,200. For emergencies, Martina has a savings account, which she tops up regularly. Nevertheless, the uncertainty around the scale of the impact of the coronavirus on her business is worrying.

But Martina is determined not to let the crisis break her: “If I have no translating work coming in, I have been doing other stuff, like paid webinars. I will get back on my feet somehow.”

Martina’s Websites: – for one-to-one work with companies – for marketing & digital translations – for sports translations


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About the author

About the author

Anna Fedorova

Former news editor at Investment Week and a freelance journalist across consumer and b2b media, Anna is a finance industry expert with a passion for making the world a better place.