Too many people go into the translation business because they think that all it takes is a basic knowledge of two languages, a computer and a high-speed Internet connection. Without considering the opportunity costs, they’re satisfied making a few cents per word, translating one-off jobs. Over time they’re shocked that they can’t make any serious money, much less a profit.
This post was written for us by a former MiTiN member who would like to remain anonymous.
Recently, when I reviewed my business income and expenses for 2009, I wasn’t surprised to see that both my income and expenses were lower than the previous year. 2009 got off to a slow start for me because of the economy and finished with a loss of income due to health reasons. Correspondingly, my expenses, apart from fixed costs, were also less. As part of business development I normally try to attend a few out-of-town trade shows, and in odd-numbered years, the Frankfurt Auto show, which is also a parts show with suppliers from all over the world participating. In 2009 I didn’t get out of southeastern Michigan for business purposes.
Nevertheless, I did invest in my business with two significant expenditures. I expanded my reference library with the purchase of several dictionaries, and I bought an additional CAT (translation memory) tool. I usually update my reference library annually with new editions of obsolescent dictionaries, but the purchase of a new translation memory program is not a regular investment.
MemoQ, developed in Hungary, is the new kid on the block, and the developers are interested in grabbing significant market share by offering advanced features, compatibility with the latest production software and many other translation memory formats, while providing outstanding technical support. Kilgray, the developer, offers a free edition that allows you to work indefinitely using a single translation memory and terminology database. New projects require creation of new TMs and terminology databases.
But this isn’t about pitching a product. My point is that even in hard times, it is important to invest in your business. My investments in CAT tools have paid for themselves many times over, through productivity gains as well as additional opportunities offered by large projects.
Those who attended or viewed the webinar recently offered by Global LT heard that one of the impediments to hiring translators in the Detroit area is their lack of familiarity with CAT tools. As a consequence, local agencies have to look outside Michigan for talent.
Although much translation is performed as a cottage industry, this does not mean that translators don’t need to be sophisticated either as skilled technicians or business operators. Too many people go into the translation business because they think that all it takes is a basic knowledge of two languages, a computer and a high-speed Internet connection. Without considering the opportunity costs, they’re satisfied making a few cents per word, translating one-off jobs. Over time they’re shocked that they can’t make any serious money, much less a profit.
A principle of business economics is that enterprises with low barriers to entry have high rates of failure. One means to avoid failure is to adopt a professional approach to the entrepreneurship aspect of translation. This includes–and is not limited to–maintaining good business practices, expanding one’s skill set and taking steps to grow the enterprise.
If you’re in a crowded language combination such as mine, collaboration with other translators is a way to ensure a steady flow of work. If you can put together a team of skilled translators and editors with subject matter specialties, you will find yourself at an advantage over single generalist operators. Successful collaboration requires shared resources, terminology management and CAT tools that can utilize interchangeable formats.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s best technical translators in my language combination. Although we have varying backgrounds and possess different strengths, we all continuously improve our software skills and endeavor to master our translation tools. When I need to put together a team for a project, I want translators with more than linguistic acumen; they need to have software skills as well. When there is a large project with a short deadline, extensive hand-holding is simply not an option.
With collaboration come referrals. Regular job referrals can enhance your revenue and reduce the need to market yourself, allowing you more time to devote to translating. The more efficiently you can translate, the greater your output, and the higher your income. By expanding your capabilities to translating documents based on XML, SGML and other tagged formats, your attractiveness to translation buyers will increase, as will your income stream.