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Diversification is key for your translation business

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Starting out as a translator definitely comes with a set of specific challenges. Not only do you have to make sure that you’re all set up in the right tax category (and if you’re based in countries like Italy, well, you may need a double dose of luck with that), but you also need to have all your translation tools ready to go, and, of course, look for your first clients.

However, once things start to get rolling, you should never rest on your laurels:

What if there is a lack of clients?

What if there is too much competition in your language combination?

What if your daily translation tasks get – yes, I’m going to say it – BORING?

There’s no simple solution to all this, but as translators (or freelancers), we should really aim to adopt a diversification strategy. In fact, diversification is key to alternating sources of revenue should things get difficult. But how is this applicable to translation?

I recently attended an engaging webinar on Diversification for Translators, hosted by Dr Lindsay Bywood (Senior Lecturer at the University of Westminster and Deputy Editor of the Journal of Specialised Translation) as part of the Language Show 2021.

Although I started out as a translator, I now also work in the digital marketing sector and as a voice-over artist, so diversification is something I particularly enjoy talking about and something I really focus on.

For this webinar, Dr Bywood was joined by a panel of other professionals working in (but not limited to) the translation industry, who shared in detail their own, very different paths that have led to a diversified working life.

Let me share with you the takeaway from this webinar right away: It’s essential that you think about diversification when you decide to become a professional translator. So, if you haven’t yet thought about it, now is the time to do so.

Diversification can clearly take different forms. For instance, it could be “diversified in terms of languages and specialisations,” as Nicholas Nicou (freelance translator and editor) stated, who combines translation and editing, as well as tutoring and lecturing at university.

When you start to go beyond the sphere of translation and let diversification in, all the things you do every day end up feeding into each other. This is when your translator skills can be used in transferrable ways.

This also helps keep your work varied. Because, let’s face it, sometimes working purely on translations (especially when the percentage of creative content is a bare minimum) can get, well, a bit dull.

Michael Callaly (Blue Whale Global Media) shared an essential lesson that so many of us unfortunately overlook: “When it comes to specialisation, focus on the things you enjoy.”

We all know that different sectors pay differently, but it’s important to carefully consider if you'll end up not enjoying your work. If you’re not sure what you enjoy, then experiment with different types of content and tasks, until you find what gets you excited.

Seeking what brings you joy is, of course, a noble thing to do. However, you also need to make sure that you are actually opening up different streams of revenue and keeping your work varied. So, how do you do that?

The shortest answer is by going after the opportunities you’re looking for.

Too often, we feel limited by our field of study or not competent or suitable enough to venture into other sectors. Who says you can’t have a change of direction? Hanna Hagström (freelance translator, subtitler, QC'er and audio describer) explained how her university studies focused on literary translations. She now has over 10 years of experience as a freelance subtitler, including teaching translation and subtitling at Stockholm University.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. As you start to take on multiple diversified tasks and projects from different clients, you need to learn how to manage conflicting deadlines, as well as how to prioritise tasks.

Unfortunately, the real world runs on tight schedules, and here’s the truth: As a freelancer, you also need to be an excellent project manager.

So, here are a few key tips for you to print out and keep in sight every day:

Tip #1: Triple-check the deadlines.

It might sound cliché, but it needs to be said: It’s crucial that you agree on the deadline before accepting a project. There is often some margin for negotiation – yes, even when they tell you “ASAP”! Take the time to double-check that there are no conflicts with any other projects you’re working on before accepting a new task. I personally tend to dedicate different days a week to different projects – always keeping an “emergency slot” for any last-minute projects.

Tip #2: Remember that you’re not a superhero.

Although I understand that excitement that pervades you at times, especially when a new client approaches you, make sure that you know your limits. Don’t overburden yourself with too many tasks, otherwise you might end up delivering a poor job, or even missing a deadline. Also, don’t take on any tasks you’re not skilled to do – get trained first! (See Tip #4.)

Tip #3: Learn to say NO.

This partly relates to the previous tip. Make sure that you constantly monitor how you’re feeling (physically AND mentally). There are natural peaks of work during the month, and we (all-too) often need to roll up our sleeves and forge on into the early hours to deliver a project. Yes, you get things done, but at what cost? Your well-being? Your social life? Are you sure that the pace you’re keeping is sustainable? Learn to turn down projects (I know this hurts), or you might literally collapse. Like most of my colleagues, I always prioritise reliability and high-quality service. It will pay in the long-term.

Tip #4: Training is vital for your growth.

It’s perfectly fine to expand your horizons and look into other language-related fields, but don’t ever forget that training and experience (and possibly a professional qualification) is necessary in order to get into a specialised field. This takes time and effort, but you’ll get back skills and practice in return.

Tip #5: Stay connected.

So, now… how to get clients? From networking (both online and in-person) to applying for internships, there’s no right or wrong way to find clients. Clearly, visibility is imperative, in terms of both prospects and colleagues. LinkedIn is always a great way to network, even with fellow translators, like us at Launch In Translation; and don’t forget that one thing can often lead to another, so… let’s stay connected! ☺

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