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What prospects are there for offering DTP services?
Thread poster: Fredrik Pettersson

Fredrik Pettersson  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Member (2009)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Mar 12

I have worked as a full-time translator since 2009 and am now contemplating to purchase a Mac and DTP software so I can widen my offering of services to include DTP as well. This is normally something the translation agencies handle themselves, but perhaps I could easier find direct customers by offering them DTP services.

As I translate in a language direction which is highly demanded, I receive more job offers than I can accept. How is the situation when it comes to DTP? And some more questions I am trying to find answers to:

1. Can I do DTP for other languages (at least languages I am somewhat familiar with, like Chinese, Russian and French)?

2. Which areas could I quite easily get a good start in within sub-areas of DTP? For example, DTP that is related to translation would be one sub-area. What other sub-areas are there?

3. Which industries require DTP from freelancers the most (more than the translation industry)?

4. How do I handle files if I work with DTP software on a Mac and my customers send me Windows DTP files?

5. How long would it take me to get started with DTP with no previous knowledge of it by just having the necessary hardware and software?

6. How good is the profit margin (how much competition is there)?

I am interested in starting with this, but need to make sure I can make a reasonable profit on it also before I purchase anything.


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 23:03
German to Swedish
+ ...
A couple of answers Mar 12

Fredrik Pettersson wrote:

5. How long would it take me to get started with DTP with no previous knowledge of it by just having the necessary hardware and software?



You can get into the basics (DTP, image editing, vector graphics) in a couple of days.
But you also need to read about printing technology, color separation, digital publishing etc.

Trados is complex, but DTP software is even more so. There are hundreds of settings that can apply to a paragraph of text. You won't be able to work comfortably with, say, Indesign until you're very familiar with it. This familiarity is generated not by following tutorials but by daily work with actual production files.

To make good design choices quickly you'll also need to accumulate experience and internalize a historic and cross-industry reference frame. That part takes years.

Fredrik Pettersson wrote:

4. How do I handle files if I work with DTP software on a Mac and my customers send me Windows DTP files?



A non-issue. You'll be working with cross-platform applications.

Fredrik Pettersson wrote:
6. How good is the profit margin (how much competition is there)?


DTP is like the translation market: Some people slave for peanuts, others make a comfortable living. Generalizations are almost meaningless.


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 23:03
German to Swedish
+ ...
Another one Mar 12

Fredrik Pettersson wrote:

1. Can I do DTP for other languages (at least languages I am somewhat familiar with, like Chinese, Russian and French)?



I'd say yes. "Somewhat familiar" isn't enough though, you'll have to know the language very well. But it depends on the product; a catalogue requires different skills than a magazine.

Anything that involves headlines, captions and rewriting (that is, all editorial DTP) requires native-level language skills and considerable talent (of a quite different kind than translation).

[Bearbeitet am 2017-03-12 16:49 GMT]


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Fredrik Pettersson  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Member (2009)
English to Swedish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Work remotely with DTP software Mar 12

Thanks, these were enlightening answers.

Another related question:

7. If I purchase the software and a Mac, can I, to start with at least, let someone else use this Mac with the installed DTP software and work remotely with DTP tasks? In other words, I give this other person full access to my Mac and all installed DTP software. Would it work for this other person to work full-time using this method?


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 23:03
German to Swedish
+ ...
Doubtful Mar 12

Fredrik Pettersson wrote:

7. If I purchase the software and a Mac, can I, to start with at least, let someone else use this Mac with the installed DTP software and work remotely with DTP tasks? In other words, I give this other person full access to my Mac and all installed DTP software. Would it work for this other person to work full-time using this method?


Check your software licensing terms.

But any software involving high-res image previews is extremely processor-intensive, the added unpredictable network lag would probably make it near-unusable. Even running Photoshop on an Ipad over local Wifi is slow.

Trying to save money on production tools is usually a bad idea.
One or two minor DTP jobs per month, and Adobe CC pays for itself.
Try it for a year, and the worst-case scenario is you've learned DTP. Worth the fee, I think.


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:03
English to Spanish
+ ...
Good points and not so good ones Mar 14

Hello, Fredrik: as a practicing multilanguage typesetter with years of Windows and Mac experience, I think I can help you there.

First, with apologies to our colleague Joakim, the basics of graphic design (let alone typography and typesetting) require more, much more than a couple of days of learning. It's not about the software. Ever.

Second, congratulations on being a much sought-after translator (what is your language pair, by the way?) Clients come and go, so looking into ancillary services to compete with the middleman (i.e., translation agencies) is a wise step in the right direction. I took it myself 14 years ago.

Third, ask yourself: Do you enjoy doing design, layout or typesetting? This is more than just saying ❝I love working with Photoshop!❞ You have to love doing those tasks that can be tedious to others, like building master pages in InDesign, repositioning text boxes, working with multiple layers, knowing your color palettes and, most importantly:

a) Knowing the traditional or conventional typesetting styles of a particular language, and
b) Knowing and internalizing the principles of good design

For example, in (b) above, I can say that center justifying the text on a poster is very poor design. The same goes for using stock photography or clipart in PowerPoint slides, websites and marketing collaterals.

Fourth, of course you can typeset in any language you fall in love with (yes, love is required here). You gotta love to work with foreign language scripts (take Burmese, for example). You can see some of what I've done here: wordsmeet.com/portfolio to get an idea. The point is not ❝I have Quark Xpress or InDesign and I can do 40 foreign languages❞ since some languages, such as Arabic, require their own InDesign software.

I love doing graphic design and I've taken college courses on that and on typography. Check your local colleges for free or inexpensive courses (don't just depend on MOOC classes or some lynda.com online course). Play with your pencil and notebook: trace letters for fun, so you can get a more physical idea of typefaces.

There's much more to say, but the above should help you get started. Feel free to contact me if you want to talk about it. Cheers!

Mario


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 23:03
German to Swedish
+ ...
Well Mar 17

Mario Chavez wrote:

First, with apologies to our colleague Joakim, the basics of graphic design (let alone typography and typesetting) require more, much more than a couple of days of learning. It's not about the software. Ever.



With 20 years' experience as a magazine and newspaper designer I think I'm quite well aware of what the job involves.

The question was "how long would it take me to get started with DTP", and a couple of days is the answer.
Provided that there is computer literacy, good sense and taste.

Is a couple of days' experience sufficient to design from scratch and deliver to the printer a professional-looking magazine? No, of course not - but you will certainly be able to do basic editing of, for instance, DTP files provided by translation agencies.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:03
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Focus vs. diversification: which wins? Mar 18

Fredrik Pettersson wrote:
I am interested in starting with this, but need to make sure I can make a reasonable profit on it also before I purchase anything.

EDIT: My apologies. You clearly state "As I translate in a language direction which is highly demanded, I receive more job offers than I can accept." So my comments below about working to improve the translation business don't seem immediately applicable. But my points about return on investment still apply. Can you really expect a higher return in DTP? If you have more work than you can deal with in translation, why not just raise prices? Instant increase in profits.

I have been watching this thread with interest and wanted to make a few comments as an outsider with no particular axe to grind.

It seems to me that you risk disappointment if you insist that you "need to make sure [you] can make a reasonable profit on it also before [you] purchase anything". Buying SDL Studio does not guarantee you a return in the field of freelance translation, as of course you know. Is it realistic to hope that buying a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud will guarantee you a return in the field of freelance DTP?

There are some businesses in which returns are fairly predictable. If you run a general store near a busy railway station with little local competition, you'll get steady flows of retail business from people buying their papers, cigarettes, sandwiches, confectionery and stationery.

As freelance translators, we know that our business isn't like this. Few if any people walk past our (physical) front doors with clearly defined translation needs that we can meet. We have to go and look for the clients. There are no certainties, no guaranteed returns.

Now, although I have a long-standing amateur interest in DTP stretching back to the 1980s - when the Clerkenwell district near my college in London was still full of traditional print shops - I freely admit that I have never offered DTP services.

But freelancing is freelancing. If you move into DTP then, unless you happen to live in an area packed with printing shops, you would have to go and find the clients for DTP, just as you do in translation. If you have enough spare professional time to contemplate moving into DTP, would the return on your time/money not be higher if you were to make additional investments in translation rather than in an entirely new field?

My reasoning is that if you are a successful freelance translator, you should already be making a good income and be so busy that you're turning down work for much of the year. If you're not that successful in translation, why do you think that is, and is it a problem that can be fixed?

Having observed a few years of translators interacting and discussing clients or their lack of clients here on ProZ, I believe that most freelancers struggle because they cannot or will not market themselves effectively. They believe themselves to be competent in translation and want that to be enough, when clearly competence is only one part of the equation. If you have a clearly defined product, and if you can market yourself and your product effectively, and if your product is good, then you will make money.

If you move into DTP, and you are already an effective marketer, then you will probably be able to acquire the clients but you will still need to acquire the competence. As Joakim and Mario have both already pointed out in different ways, true competence takes years to acquire.

On the other hand, if you're not already an effective marketer of your self and services in the field of freelance translation, and you move into DTP, you will still have your original problem of not connecting to clients as well as you could be. In addition, you will be diluting your specialisation and your focus as well as pouring resources into software, professional subscriptions, memberships, training and so on. If you were to deploy the same resources into translation, what could you achieve?

This is not a blanket rejection of a hybrid DTP/translation business model, because some people clearly make a good living from it. And if you enjoy DTP then that in itself is a good reason to get involved. Nevertheless, it seems to me as an independent observer that there would need to be very specific conditions in place for the odds to be in your favour.

For example, if you have an existing translation client who says something like "Oh, I have to send this off to the DTP bureau next week, and they always get it wrong and have no sensitivity for languages other than English" then that's an opportunity staring you in the face, if you are confident in your ability to produce DTP work.

But for a freelance translator who is not in such a fortunate situation, the question is whether it makes sense for them to split their energies. Shouldn't they be focusing on "doing one thing well"?

What do other people think?

Regards
Dan


[Edited at 2017-03-18 10:13 GMT]


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 23:03
German to Swedish
+ ...
Multi-trick ponies Mar 18

Dan Lucas wrote:

Shouldn't they be focusing on "doing one thing well"?



No, they should try to do several things well. Providing multiple (high-quality) services will reduce the impact of business cycles, outsourcing trends etc. Also translation clients will have occasional DTP jobs and vice versa. And variety is more fun. YMMV.

[Bearbeitet am 2017-03-18 10:46 GMT]


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:03
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Closely correlated Mar 18

Joakim Braun wrote:
No, they should try to do several things well. Providing multiple (high-quality) services will reduce the impact of business cycles, outsourcing trends etc. Also translation clients will have occasional DTP jobs and vice versa. And variety is more fun. YMMV.

Fun is a great argument, agreed.

I don't think your assertion that multiple services reduce the impact of business cycles is correct. On the contrary I would expect DTP to correlate pretty closely to translation, as a service depending on similar drivers. Example: I'm involved in the translation of a lot of annual reports for companies. Those reports generate substantial DTP work.

If your translation client base is well diversified, then you are unlikely to be hit by one specific trend. And if it is well diversified, then any trend big enough to hit your entire client base translation is going to hit DTP services as well.

Clever individuals might be able to buck the general trend of linkage between translation and DTP. But then, clever individuals would buck the general trend of business cycles and outsourcing in translation too!

Dan


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 23:03
German to Swedish
+ ...
Yes but Mar 18

Dan Lucas wrote:

If your translation client base is well diversified, then you are unlikely to be hit by one specific trend.


True; point taken.

Dan Lucas wrote:
And if it is well diversified, then any trend big enough to hit your entire client base translation is going to hit DTP services as well.


In my experience, diversification has worked very well. But almost none of my DTP work is translation-related.

[Bearbeitet am 2017-03-18 11:46 GMT]


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David GAY  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:03
Dutch to French
+ ...
easy to learn would imply low margins Mar 18

If it's (too) easy to learn, it would necessarily mean that the margin is low.
You would also have lots of competitors in countries where the wages are very low (China, Russia, India, Viet Nam...), which is probably not the case for your current business (translation into swedish).

[Modifié le 2017-03-18 15:21 GMT]

[Modifié le 2017-03-18 15:22 GMT]


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 23:03
German to Swedish
+ ...
Depends Mar 19

David GAY wrote:

You would also have lots of competitors in countries where the wages are very low (China, Russia, India, Viet Nam...), which is probably not the case for your current business (translation into swedish).


Can't do high-quality editorial DTP without writing the language better than most natives.
In that niche, Vietnam won't catch up anytime soon.

[Bearbeitet am 2017-03-20 00:12 GMT]


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