How many competitors do we actually have?

6 May

The main question is not the figure, which tells you nothing. Does it help you to know that you have 100 of them? It surely doesn`t. The fact that all these 100 people work in your language pair does not make them your competitors. As a result, the question of quantity becomes the question of quality of your competitors. Not all of them is your competition: (i) not all of them work in your area of specialization, and/or (ii) not all of them have the experience you have, and/or (iii) not all of these people have credentials you have, and/or (iv) not all of these translators have the clientele you have helping you reject “give-me-your-best-rate” projects, and/or (v) only some of them have a website/blog (i.e. stand out in the crowd), and/or (vi) only a tiny number of these service providers have marketing skills necessary for getting new clients, and/or (vii) not all of these translators will offer the price your clients want (sometimes this factor is the first one in terms of importance), etc. The list is virtually endless. Try to come up with your own characteristics, if you like.

By the way, this is why it is impossible to say who is the BEST translator in this language pair (some claim they are, which is an obviously absurd statement), since too many factors and characteristics should be taken into account (see above). If you take any other factor from the list (say, language pair + area of specialization), you still won`t be able to name this best expert, although your choice will be narrowed down to several dozens of specialists. Then you will take other factors – price, age (why not? A reflection of experience), etc.

In other words, it is completely wrong to try to size up your competition by simply running a directory search at proz.com, for example. First of all, a vast majority of people there are bottom-feeders (especially non-paying members). Do you want to consider them your competition? I don`t. Most of them will disappear within a year or less, or will be replaced by newcomers.

But do we have to reject the very notion of competition? Of course, not. But it is this unique mixture of your characteristics as a translation specialist that lets you stand out in the crowd. Don`t overestimate your competitors. Moreover, we don`t need 100 clients to be successful freelancers (that was a real revelation to me!). And, given the bursting effect of data volume virtually doubling every year on-line that can`t be processed by MT tools, you can (absolutely justifiably) take much less care about the competition.

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Is there a single marketing strategy for every translator?

16 Apr

Is there any kind of one-for-all, one-for-every-business marketing strategy for each and every service provider in the translation industry? Moreover, is there one magic marketing “key” that will help open hearts and minds of every client we are pitching to?

Once I was convinced that there was. First, I thought that an MA degree in linguistics and translation studies would help me land a job in the industry locally. Soon I discovered that there wasn`t a single position in the city which would be connected with pure translation. I soon realized that I had to learn a lot of new skills and information. In turned out that MA was not this magic “key”.

The next step was to discover the world of freelancing. I compiled a CV (which now seems ridiculously heavy, with dozens of unnecessary details). Once again, I thought that what you needed was a “strong” CV (with as many details as possible). I thought I had finally found the “key”. Although I managed to find certain clients here and there, my marketing campaign lacked one thing – exposure, or visibility. A CV was (and still is) absolutely not enough. I thought once I post it in 5-10 places on-line, I will be flooded with phone calls and e-mails. No such thing ever happened, of course.

The last thing I did while still searching for this magic source of hordes of clients was to buy full membership at proz.com. Very soon I discovered that I was not the only one out there. Each and every job post attracted dozens of potential translators. It was only natural that price had quickly become almost the only competition factor there.

Luckily enough, I came across some books about marketing. It turned out that there never was a single magic trick that you can use to find new clients. It is rather a combination of your mistakes and attempts made when searching for it. As Seth Godin said, all the creativity in the world won’t help if you’re unwilling to have lousy, lame, even bad ideas. Buying a proz.com account and just bidding in the hope that you will be selected from 60 other translators? Lame idea. But when you realize that it is a bad idea, you start searching for new one. That is the process of constant change, not of the core brand of your business, but of the methods you use to show your brand to your clients.

Old options become ineffective, while new methods emerge every year. It is exposure, or visibility, that matters. Your name, brand and business should be visible as much as possible, since THIS is this magic source of clients. But It is up to you to choose the best way to stay visible.

You don’t need 100 clients

15 Apr

Brilliant! Another thought: you can come across your perfect, generous client any moment. That is a huge plus of freelancing.

Thoughts On Translation

A quick but important piece of advice, especially if you’re in the trenches of your first few years of freelancing. Raise your hand if you’ve ever lamented a lack of progress in your freelance business by saying something like, “The problem is that most clients won’t pay my rates,” or “The problem is that most clients don’t need someone who does my language/specialization,” or “The problem is that most clients want someone who can do large projects on short notice.” If you’re honest, you’ve probably said or thought those things at some time: I certainly did during my first few years in business.

But here’s the thing: to build a viable freelance business, you don’t need 100 clients. You need, I’m going to say, four to seven regular clients and then some occasional clients to fill in the gaps. When I looked over my accounting for 2014, I earned about…

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A Brief History of “Translation Industry” from Version 1.0 to Version 4.0.1

8 Apr

Patenttranslator's Blog



The long history of what is now often called the Translation Industry (previously just translation, or translation business) can be divided into a number of time periods of varying lengths based mostly on the technical means that were or are used for this particular vocation and business.

I would like to propose the following division of the Translation Industry into 4 time periods resulting in 4 distinct versions of the industry.

Translation Industry Version 1.0

Translation Industry 1.0 would cover a very long period of time, from the invention of writing in Mesopotamia and Egypt about 3,200 years ago, and in China about 1,200 years ago, up until about the year 1970. Virtually no technology, other than stones and chisels, and later ink, quill, pen, paper, dictionaries and typewriters, was used for translating for about the first four millennia.

All of the following periods of Translation Industry, from Version 2.0…

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A Tale of Two Agencies

2 Feb

A very good strategy. We all started somewhere, taking jobs from any agency we came across. The one thing is important: you have to leave your comfort zone, otherwise you can be stuck there for years.

Translation Wordshop

The freelancer-large agency relationship is often an ambivalent one. On the one hand, the industry behemoths can provide a steady flow of work, which is a good thing if you have bills to pay. On the other hand, larger also means more layers of organization, so the people you talk to don’t have the authority to make decisions, and the people who do tend to be well-protected behind the organizational line of scrimmage. Plus some of them don’t pay a lot. When I first started translating I didn’t realize this was an issue, because I was happy to have work at all and I jumped on every job offer, no questions asked (which, in hindsight, I don’t recommend).

bureaucracy Image: Delmarva.Dealings

But at a certain point I realized that the rates I was agreeing to were on the low end of the scale, and that there were many people with similar…

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Diversification vs. specialization: two sides of the same coin

2 Feb

A lot has been said about diversification for translators recently. Although some claim that it is only now that the trend has become growing, the need for diversification has always been perceived by the absolute majority of language industry professionals (though under different names). A comprehensive, robust collection of thoughts on different types of diversification is contained in the book “Diversification in the Language Industry” by Nicole Adams (I provided a very short overview of the book several months ago). What I would like is to share my thoughts about diversification, since today I have finally read the book through (well, you don`t have too much time with a 2-year-old boy, actually). First, a natural way to secure your financial stability is to either let the partner add to the household income, or have a deposit covering 3 to 6 months of severe “famine”. Of course, I got married out of pure love, but when I was planning my transition to full-time freelancing, I seriously considered the contribution my wife could make (both that time and later on). I call it “diversification of your household income”. A lot has also been said about putting all your eggs in different baskets (the 80/20 rule to be considered here as well). You diversify your clientele by turning down large volumes of work from suspicious agencies or new clients, etc. On the other hand, a healthy balance must be kept here. It is quite dangerous and inappropriate to turn down projects from your reliable clients, since it is 5 times harder to get a new client then to keep your existing one. As far as linguistic diversification is concerned, traditional ways of diversifying your translation business are well-known. First, you brainstorm your areas of specialization (IT translation experts can easily become SEO specialists; translators of marketing materials can become successful marketers of services similar to translation, interpreting, etc. – for example, you can market services of public speakers). This is a very productive method of finding areas where you can get leads and (hopefully) projects, since you already have the expertise and (certain) skills. Second, you brainstorm the profession of a translator in general: what services can be added to the standard spectrum of translation services offered by thousands of translators? Answer: interpretation, editing, proofreading, transcription, transcreation, PEMT, etc. PLUS different (sometimes quite unexpected and unusual) combinations of these sub-services. Quite interesting and absolutely unique sets of services can be established in this way. For example, you may become the only translator who specializes in (or, in other words, who diversifies her business and income by) offering marketing-related translations specially tailored to suit the needs of companies who need their source text be transcreated for the particular market or culture. When translating the ST, you not only do the transcreation – you also adjust the final product to natch the needs of the respective audiences. What is more, you can also be the one able to produce a flawless copy of the ST using your DTP skills. Isn`t you then a one-stop service provider clients always want to cooperate with? “Diversification” for me is both a synonym and the other side of “specialization”, the term much more familiar to a lot of translators. By specializing and/or combining different services, you create your own blue ocean, your niche, where you don`t have competitors. Thus, you make your business less vulnerable. You diversify you income.

Are direct clients saints?

26 Jan

Today (after a rather long break in my normal routine of blogging) I am going to speak about direct clients (once again). The thing is that freelance translators seem to always talk about them with some sort of delight. Well, the half of the truth is that they usually pay much more than translation agencies. They also seem to pay quicker. But the whole truth is that these clients are totally unaware of certain peculiarities of the trade. First, they quite often tend to treat the profession of a translator as a “trade” – in other words, sharing general misconceptions relating to discounts (especially for quality issues), etc.

Second, while any project manager of any LSP or TA is usually focused solely on your professional skills, your price and your knowledge, the people who hire translators at times (or even for the first time) consider a lot more factors, including popular myths they once heard about translators and/or translation (some even seriously compare us with plumbers. Why don`t they try dentists instead?)

In December I was approached by a representative of one of the largest European manufacturers of special electronics (not a Fortune 500 company, but still, a seemingly generous source of steady workflow). I was told that they “tried out” some agencies here and there (first red flag), and now they wanted to have a one-stop provider (both for translation and DTP) who would charge a bit less (second red flag). I had a brief conversation with the contact person on the phone. It was agreed that it would be a paid test project.

Terms agreed, payment set.

The contact person spoke Russian (apparently it was her native language). She also had nothing to do with translation. Certain minute quality issues were recognized in the first part of the project (the second file was flawless, according to her).

That is the third point I would like to highlight. It is quite often that people who speak the language of the translation text and are not translators themselves raise quality-related issues in texts created by professionals. This should also be taken into account when dealing with direct clients (well, we are not talking here about obvious mistakes and/or machine translation).

I was asked for a discount I would deem appropriate for the quality I provided. Yes, you heard it right. I had to come up with the amount of this discount – not the client! Needless to say, we had never discussed such discounts for this test project before.

Well, few emails later I was assured that I would get the amount in full. Although the test piece was perfect, and they really wanted me aboard (according to the client), my way of negotiating things was not acceptable to the contact person (nothing rude has been said, of course). I don`t think that I lost much. My experience told me that this would be only the beginning of much greater problems with unexpected discounts later on.

I managed to get full amount.

But it all means that we have to critically consider every client we are approached by. Don`t fall into a trap of thinking that direct clients are angels. They are real-world clients who should and are invited to make this cooperation a two-way street, where translators help them earn more. And get more.