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Your business is thriving in these awful times: tell us why!
Thread poster: KSL Berlin

KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 17:44
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Feb 12, 2009

At the suggestion of a poster in another thread, I am starting this thread to discuss what appears to be making some translators' businesses recession-proof. Is it just quality? Is it the language pair? Some in-demand specialty? The right connection? Rock-bottom prices and a willingness to cut more? Pictures of your castle on the hill and your chauffeured Rolls Royce that convince others of your value? The fact that you offer 23 language combinations or that you focus tightly on only one in one direction? There are too many formulas for success, many of them very individual. Please share yours, and tell us which parts of the formula might work for many and which are applicable only to a few.

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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:44
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
I pray a lot! Feb 12, 2009

I would not say that my business is thriving. It's just normal, which is good because we are relatively busy under normal circumstances.

My "trick" is simple. In Spain we say: "A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando", which means "Pray to God you must, but hit hard with the club" (I made it rhyme a bit), i.e. pray a lot to God for guidance and sound translation/business decisions, but also try to work as intensely as possible.


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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:44
English to German
+ ...
Specialisation + networking Feb 12, 2009

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for posting this topic.

What works well for me is combination of strict specialisation (only one language pair, vice-versa, plus a well-defined subject area) and active networking. One aspect of the latter which I have found very useful is to go where your prospective clients are: trade conferences and similar events, marketing/communications events, etc.

Sorry for being very brief - if there are specific questions regarding the above, I'll be happy to comment.

Best regards,
Ralf

PS No Rolls-Royce, I'm afraid - but I hope the new company vehicle (scheduled for delivery in a couple of weeks) will attract a bit of attention...

[Edited at 2009-02-12 11:41 GMT]


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John Di Rico  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:44
Member (2006)
French to English
Good idea Kevin Feb 12, 2009

Here is what works for us:

1. We focus on providing quality work. Let's take the example of a car... Would you rather take it to a mechanic who is going to do a fast job but maybe forget to screw the bolts that keep your wheels on (this has happened to a friend) or to the mechanic that is going to spend an extra 15 or 30 minutes doing a safety check?

2. Specialize. You are fortunate enough to make a lot of money and decided to purchase a Ferrari. Would you take it to the Peugeot mechanic or to the Ferrrari mechanic who probably know a little bit more about them?

3. Get involved in your community and various associations. I am an active member of the Jaycees (www.jci.cc). The mission of this association is to provide development opportunities that empower young people to create positive change. This helps you become a better business person and citizen overall. The vision of JCI is to be the leading global network of young active citizens. This means you get opportunities to meet people from around the world. Back to the car, would you rather take your car to some random mechanic you found in the Yellow Pages or someone you know, someone whom you've worked with creating a fund-raising project for such and such a cause? Who are you more likely to trust?

I think things have slowed down... but I'm comforted by the fact that this gives me more time to devote to several associations I am a member of and work on bettering myself and my business in the process!

Good luck to all,
John Di Rico
www.apextra.fr


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 17:44
Dutch to English
+ ...
In no particular order ... Feb 12, 2009

1. Specialisation - in-depth subject knowledge (law)

2. Focusing only on two language pairs (Dutch and Portuguese)

3. Differentiated pricing and excellent price/quality ratio (not cheap, but money well spent)

4. Punctuality, reliability and accuracy

5. Flexibility (other than with regard to 30-day payment terms, which are not negotiable)

6. Very tight credit control

7. Proper vetting of clients

Probably more, but I'm busy moving house, so not really working today.

Good topic
Debs


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Amy Duncan  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 15:44
Portuguese to English
+ ...
I'm with Tomás! Feb 12, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

My "trick" is simple. In Spain we say: "A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando", which means "Pray to God you must, but hit hard with the club" (I made it rhyme a bit), i.e. pray a lot to God for guidance and sound translation/business decisions, but also try to work as intensely as possible.


I find that when I pray (not begging, but acknowledging the divine laws that govern us, with plenty of love and gratitude!) and then follow the leadings that come to me, things tend to work out well, and sometimes unexpected good things happen that I hadn't even thought of. Then I feel confident about what steps to take, instead of just flailing around.


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xxxPeter Manda
Local time: 12:44
German to English
+ ...
not very successful Feb 12, 2009

I'm not very successful at the moment. Business fell drammatically after an incidence of cyber-bullying. But, I am sustaining the family; which is (at this moment) my ultimate goal.

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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:44
German to English
+ ...
I find it difficult to say "exactly" what it is... Feb 12, 2009

...but, like others have already mentioned, I think that my area of specialization (law), the quality of my work (which I can guarantee in my field of expertise), and the ease of doing business with me (I try to keep it simple) are the keys to my personal success.

=)


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:44
Italian to English
+ ...
Excellent idea, Kevin Feb 12, 2009

I just hope it's not tempting fate to post here!

Anyway, I'm not really much of a one for analysing the secret of my success, but I think it's due to a combination of things:

1) Reliability: I do what I've agreed by when I've agreed to. It sounds simple, but a friend of mine who works in the editorial field told me that an astonishing number of translators/revisers simply don't meet the deadline! Added to that, there are the no-brainers like always running your work through a spell-checker, having at least a basic knowledge of formatting (I know one translator who hasn't worked out what the tab bar is for yet - her formatting is done via a million spaces...), following the client's instructions and so on.
My tagline is "trouble-free translations" - that's what I aim to provide, and I hope I succeed.

2) Specialisation: I work in an area where there seem to be very few decent translators - so it's easy to make myself stand out. Plus, of course, specialising improves your throughput, as your expertise means you spend less time looking things up and more time actually translating.

3) Attention to detail (AKA going the extra mile): where appropriate, improving on the original, pointing out inconsistencies, suggesting extra points that could be used for added impact. This is normally easier with direct clients, but can also be possible through agencies, as I noted earlier on another thread.

4) Offering the occasional freebie: Only worthwhile with regular customers, of course, but throwing in the odd free translation of a tiny job (or giving advice on something that wouldn't normally concern me) doesn't affect my bottom line but keeps the client happy, and coming back. (I learned the hard way that this is not worth doing with potential clients - if they can get you doing things for free right from the word go, why should they ever start paying you?)

5) Rates: as far as I can tell, my rates are on the high side for my language pair, but on the low side for my fields. Certainly, from my POV the various threads dogmatically stating 10 cents a word to be the bare minimum any self-respecting translator should accept are pie in the sky, if we're talking about Euro - almost all my work is at a lower rate. But I care not a jot! I'm far more interested in my actual income, which is doing very nicely, thank you - and no, I'm not working my arse off at weekends to get there. Which brings me on to my final point:

6) Luck? I do an awful lot of extremely repetitive documents. They're scanned PDFs, so I don't get asked to do them with a CAT and apply a discount (although occasionally I apply one anyway - see 4)). What I do, with the help of Google Desktop, is search for similar files I've done in the past and use them as a template - often copying and pasting from 2 or 3 different documents so the amount of actual translating I have to do is minimal. This does of course then require extremely careful revision to make sure my copy-and-paste job matches the original exactly, but in any case it means I get a very high throughput on these jobs.

I added the question mark because I don't know if this is luck or not - I'm not familiar with any other fields, so I've no idea how many others are likely to contain such a high number of specialist-but-routine jobs. Surely mine can't be the only one though?

[Edited at 2009-02-12 12:28 GMT]


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Herminia Herrándiz Espuny  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:44
English to Spanish
+ ...
Hard to summarize... Feb 12, 2009

But I would say the key for success right now, at least for me, is networking and marketing strategies for finding new clients.

Obviously, also the quality of my work and everything posted before in order to maintain my oldest clients.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 17:44
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
You left something out, Ralf Feb 12, 2009

Ralf Lemster wrote:
What works well for me is combination of strict specialisation (only one language pair, vice-versa, plus a well-defined subject area) and active networking. One aspect of the latter which I have found very useful is to go where your prospective clients are: trade conferences and similar events, marketing/communications events, etc.


I suppose you consider it a given, but I am sure that an uncompromising commitment to quality control is part of that success too. We don't work together much, so I can't say if you always do this, but I was frankly amazed and extremely pleased at the rigor and sheer number of review cycles for an important text. I work with a lot of good people, but for me this requires a word that implies something beyond "premium" service. If more people followed that path, it would be a very good thing.

I love the new company car, BTW....


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theda  Identity Verified
Colombia
Local time: 12:44
German to French
+ ...
I agree with Marie-Hélène Feb 12, 2009

I could have been writing this.
Ok, maybe not the repetitive part, but points 1, 2, 3 and 4 are exactly what I would say.
And I think that luck is also important, since I received a long-term project in my field 3 weeks ago, a project that will keep me busy until march.
Maybe it was the result of practicing points 1 to 4 through the last year, maybe it was luck it came up right when I needed it.
But anyway, I am very thankful to be able to work in my field and not forced to take up projects I loath (but that I can handle professionally) just to pay the rent.


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:44
Italian to English
+ ...
I've edited Feb 12, 2009

theda wrote:

I could have been writing this.
Ok, maybe not the repetitive part, but points 1, 2, 3 and 4 are exactly what I would say.


You probably mean points 2, 3, 4 and 5 now

Thanks, anyway.


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John Cutler  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:44
Spanish to English
+ ...
What's worked for me... Feb 12, 2009

I’m going to save time and use (copy) Lawyer-Linguist’s points:
1. Specialization - in-depth subject knowledge (pharmaceuticals). Some people might say specializing is a drawback, but I’ve found it to be a plus.

2. Focusing on two language pairs (Spanish and Catalan). The latter is a minority but up-and-coming language. Some Catalans only want to write in Catalan and find translators who can work in the language. It’s a great niche market.

3. I negotiate all my rates. I’m thriving economically because I don’t take any old offer that comes my way. I’ve never understood the idea of, “You should accept a lower rate because we’ll give you tons of work”. My philosophy is to work fewer hours at a higher rate, but I’ve had to struggle and negotiate to get there.

4. Punctuality, reliability and accuracy. Need I say more?

5. I live in my source language(s) country. That means I stand out a bit from the crowd, and clients like dealing with me because they don’t have to look abroad for their needs.

6. Proper vetting of clients. Any first time client who approaches me in an informal way (Starting an email with “Hi John” or even “Dear Translator”) is automatically rejected. First impressions are everything and from experience I’ve found that if people aren’t serious and formal in the beginning, they won’t be later on either.

Now copying John Di Rico…
7. Get involved in your community and various associations. Many of my direct (and therefore most profitable) clients have come from personal contact with people in the city I live in. In the cyber age, I think too many translators believe that business should only be done over the Internet. They stay at home alone with their cat (sorry cat lovers) and think work will appear by sending out electronic messages around the world. I make a point to chat with people (neighbors, clients, parents picking up their kids at school, volunteer groups I’ve belonged to, etc, and that’s brought me many direct clients).

Agreeing with Tomás Cano…
8. I also pray a lot. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not but a little faith (or just a positive attitude) goes a long way.

9. See yourself as a business person. My impressions from reading posts here at proz.com are that too many translators have a flower-power, kumbayah approach to translating. They’re very naïve in the business sense of the word. We deal with people in the dog-eat-dog business world and should at least know how they think and be prepared to deal with them on their terms.

10. Participate actively in proz.com. While doing so, show a constructive attitude and DON’T moan about agencies. Do translators here really think that PMs don’t visit this site and check out what people are saying?


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xxxLatin_Hellas
United States
Local time: 18:44
Italian to English
+ ...
A Different Take Feb 12, 2009

I have specialized in finance - a sector in which customers value most an optimal combination of speed, accuracy and price - and have now been through two boom and bust cycles over the past 15 years. Both times I made the most of the boom, enjoying income around three times the statistical average (in the US at least), in this last cycle highly diversifying my client base in terms of languages and geographically, as well as the types of texts that I have worked on, and I also save as much as possible to get through the leaner periods.

I have the impression that such fields as technology, medical and legal are more stable over the business cycles.


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