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Taking your freelance business to the next level
Thread poster: Chiara Foppa Pedretti

Chiara Foppa Pedretti  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:32
English to Italian
+ ...
Jun 17, 2015

Hi everyone,

I'm writing here since I feel the need to discuss this issue with someone like you fellow translators, who can understand my objectives and concerns.

I've been running a pretty well established freelance business for a few years now, but I'm currently starting to entertain the idea of a "next level". As freelancers, the only way in which we can increase our income is by raising our per hour rate or by increasing our working hours. And, of course, there is a limit to both things, whatever it is.

In other words, there is no way to release ourselves from this pattern. Or there is?
That is my question to you.

How can freelancers take their business to the next level?
I have considered a few ideas, but no one suits my personality and/or my goals in life:
• becoming an entrepreneur by starting a translation agency (I don't like this one because I want to translate and not to become a project manager)
• generating some "passive income" by creating courses, e-books and so on (but you need to have something to say and you must be good at it - and there are already so many bad/useless courses and e-books on the internet!)
• starting a second activity, e.g. a blog or something crafty (but in these cases, you will fall again within the same pattern: you get paid proportionally to your work and effort)

To summarise: I'm really happy with my business right now, but I also believe that you always have to reach for the sky, so… Why stop dreaming?

What are your thoughts? Any comment will be much appreciated!


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:32
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Cruising Jun 17, 2015

IMHO if you're successful and reach cruising altitude, you should just cruise and enjoy what you're doing. You might dream about doing something else, like hiking or sailing. Something healthy that compensates for the sedentary, indoor life of the translator.

[Edited at 2015-06-17 10:17 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 17:32
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Find or intensify specialist areas Jun 17, 2015

My feeling too is that it can be risky - and not profitable - to diversify too much as a one-person freelancer.

Some activities - like teaching or interpreting - are really completely different jobs from translating. While some find a good balance and synergy between them, I personally would not.

I don't think my musings justify a book or blog. Again, if you can, fine, but as you say yourself, don't expect quick or easy money!

What I did was to take a course in medical translation, which built on earlier experience and interests. I think specialising is the best way of 'future proofing' your business. That is where the best paid jobs are, and where there is least competition from crowsdourcing and MT...

Best of luck!

[Edited at 2015-06-17 12:16 GMT]


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DJHartmann  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Cut expenses Jun 17, 2015

Easiest way to earn more is to spend less. Easiest way to do that is move to where the cost of living is a fraction of what you're spending now

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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 17:32
English to Russian
+ ...
Here's a business plan Jun 17, 2015

Here is a simple business plan that has worked for me for as long as I have been in business:

1. Improve your translation skills, both generally and in your chosen subject field(s) (If you have none, choose one or more you like and understand).
2. Armed with these skills, recruit new clients willing to pay more money for better quality. Charge them slightly more than your old clients.
3. As your new clients take up more of your time, drop the old clients paying less or increase your rates for them.
4. Go to step 1. There is no limit to perfection.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:02
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
The time barrier is practically insurmountable Jun 17, 2015

We have all been allotted 24 hours a day, not a second more, and out of which we can manage about 8 hours of working time. In this time we can only translate so many words - about 3,000 in most cases.

There is an upper limit in rates, too. Even the top notch translators find another insurmountable barrier there. It is around 50 cents a word. So, technically, quoting by per word rate the maximum you can hope to earn a day is about 1,500 dollars.

This is the utter maximum which we will probably never reach.

You can take that to be the glass ceiling for our freelancer business model, where we quote by the word.

The only way to break it, is to quote per job or per project and offer a lot more than just top notch translation - things such as insight into the target market, for example. To reach that level, you need to be as good as our clients in what they do or even better, so that they would listen to your advice in humility and readily loosen their purse strings for you.

You can only do this in specific fields, so you will need to purse a narrow specialization. You need to be in the right language pair (you can't hope to be a millionaire if you translate from say Latin into Sanskrit), you need to be in the right location, for example, where industry leaders of your specialization frequent.

Can you manage all this? More importantly, will you be happy doing all this?

Most translators come with a mentality where they are happiest when translating, not money-making, which is why after reaching Tom's cruising level, they are quite content cruising along happily at the same altitude.

But if you are made of different mettle and temperament, you could try the recipe outlined above, or turn into an agency, where you adopt a different business model to effectively break the 24 hour time barrier, by outsourcing your work to other competent translators. But again you would need to have the right temperament to enjoy being an agency, for then you would be doing practically no translation and only juggling deadlines, and, hopefully, laughing all the way to the bank!


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 14:32
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Expanding sideways Jun 17, 2015

I began doing most of it from day one as a freelancer because I had been moonlighting on parts of it, however I have lured some colleagues to expand their freelance translation business sideways.

I see many colleagues who only translate. Though I see them as one sharp knife, I get the impression they see me as a Swiss-Army pocket one.

So, a couple translation-peripheral areas I've been working on, and that some colleagues adopted later, and told me they are quite happy doing it. are...


Desktop Publishing

Though nowadays some CAT tools can "invade" DTP files, typically Trados trespassing on InDesign files, after translation it is likely that swollen or shrunk text will have left the layout somewhat cockeyed, if not completely messed up.

The client will have to hire a DTP operator to fix all that. If the translator - who already knows the material inside out in two languages - can do it, though generously paid for it, it will be cheaper than a DTP operator starting from square one.

I have been using PageMaker for a quarter century or so, hence I know the ropes inside out. InDesign - for translation purposes - is an overkill. It's like driving an old VW Beetle to the grocery store, however its dashboard having been replaced with one from Boeing 787. Yet clients use it to develop their publications. Some others use FrameMaker, QuarkXpress, lower-grade DTP apps, and even MS Word to create complex publications.

I chose to serve them all directly on the final result, usually a PDF file, using Infix Pro. A walk-through of the entire process (including translation) is available at http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/translating-a-pdf.html .


Video services

I began translating video for dubbing quite early. I was quite successful with it, didn't care much about subtitling, which at that time required about as much equipment.

Some 17 years later, I had a large subject-specific request for subtitling, so I learned the (translation) technique. To my surprise, I discovered that video had gone digital, so all that equipment was no longer necessary: I could do the entire job myself on the PC.

Later I learned digital video editing, DVD authoring, and became a complete digital video post-production studio.

Now you may see fellow translators complaining about abusively low rates paid for translation for subtitling, however that refers mostly to cinema and TV, where you get pre-segmented, pre-timed TEXT templates to work on.

I am referring to corporate video, i.e. from companies that want to show their products, technology, training programs, whatever, but whose core business does not include video production. They demand extremely high quality, however they are willing to pay adequately for that.


Other translation-peripheral areas where I know colleagues who provide services:
Multilingual web sites
CAD drawings translation
Voice talent (e.g. translating PPTs and recording the translated narration)


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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:32
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
My personal next level Jun 17, 2015

I am happy with being a freelance translator and I don't think that at this stage I could make more money per hour doing something else. However after almost 10 years of freelancing I've decided that I don't want to spend my entire working time behind a desk. I decided on beekeeping.

After all the bees need our help (or so I've heard) and I can really use some time on fresh air. So I invest significant part of money from translation into building an apiary. Hopefully in a few years time I will be able to make this way some 20% of my annual income and in the process I will enjoy fresh air and some exercise

We'll see how it works out.

Staszek


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:32
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Well, that was an unexpected plot twist! Jun 17, 2015

Stanislaw Czech, MCIL wrote:
I decided on beekeeping.

Good luck, my family has kept bees for decades and they're nice to have around, as well as fulfilling an important ecological role.

Regards
Dan


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:32
Member
Italian to English
Agree with Christine Jun 17, 2015

My feeling is that if translators truly want to excel and earn higher salaries, then specialisation is a must.
It makes you more appealing to clients, but I think it is also more satisfying on a professional level. If you want to take your translation business to the next level, it seems like the only viable option.

If, however, you want to improve your life in other ways, then that's another matter. And the options are virtually endless. Like beekeeping!

Best of luck, whatever you decide.


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Jean-Christophe Duc  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 17:32
English to French
+ ...
select your clients Jun 19, 2015

don't try to be all things to all people. The general idea is to identify what you/we are good at and stick to it/improve it.
Once you are busy, it is very difficult to make time for study (especially if you have a family and kids...), and to get some field experience.
Therefore, as indicated above, have a hard look at your clients, see who sends you the jobs that are the most in line with your skills/preferences, who pays late or sends you jobs that are a too time consuming, and it should help build a better/sounder business. Also, stay open to new proposals.
An other important thing is to learn to say no. If you are too busy, or have a bad feeling about a text, then just turn it down. It will avoid all sorts of difficulties later.
Some translators work as a team, and it could be a good solution to increase the volume of business. But obvioulsy, finding the right people to work with is in itself a major endeavour.
Last but not least, running good accounts, looking at all your expenses can also help build a better picture of your activity and identify areas of improvement. Remeber that you are a business, and that you need to invest time and money into it (new harware/software/light marketing...).


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sailingshoes
Local time: 17:32
Spanish to English
Incresase productivity Jun 19, 2015

It's the obvious one, I know.

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:32
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
What do you really want from this next level? Jun 19, 2015

Anton Konashenok wrote:
1. Improve your translation skills, both generally and in your chosen subject field(s) (If you have none, choose one or more you like and understand).
2. Armed with these skills, recruit new clients willing to pay more money for better quality. Charge them slightly more than your old clients.
3. As your new clients take up more of your time, drop the old clients paying less or increase your rates for them.
4. Go to step 1. There is no limit to perfection.

Follow Anton's advice and you'll soon be earning more in six hours than you used to earn in eight. That will give you the time and money to pursue either a hobby or an interesting sideline.

You say you're established and doing okay. If you don't want to spend time managing projects, risk money and reputation by outsourcing, or stress yourself silly working long hours, then why do any of them? You only have one life: why waste it doing things you don't really want to be doing, just to be "successful"? Some of the most successful people I know live very simply, doing what they love most, in the place where their heart is.


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2G Trad  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:32
Member (2000)
English to Italian
+ ...
Next level flowchart Jun 19, 2015

Anton Konashenok:
Here is a simple business plan that has worked for me for as long as I have been in business:

1. Improve your translation skills, both generally and in your chosen subject field(s) (If you have none, choose one or more you like and understand).
2. Armed with these skills, recruit new clients willing to pay more money for better quality. Charge them slightly more than your old clients.
3. As your new clients take up more of your time, drop the old clients paying less or increase your rates for them.
4. Go to step 1. There is no limit to perfection.


This flowchart is a piece of cake.
Especially the "recruit new clients willing to pay more money for better quality" part.

Cheers
Gianni


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Chiara Foppa Pedretti  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:32
English to Italian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Clearer picture Jun 19, 2015

Thank you so much for these interesting insights! They are really helping me having a clearer picture of my current and future situation.

I'd say the core point here is what Sheila wrote:

Sheila Wilson wrote:
Follow Anton's advice and you'll soon be earning more in six hours than you used to earn in eight. That will give you the time and money to pursue either a hobby or an interesting sideline.

You say you're established and doing okay. If you don't want to spend time managing projects, risk money and reputation by outsourcing, or stress yourself silly working long hours, then why do any of them? You only have one life: why waste it doing things you don't really want to be doing, just to be "successful"? Some of the most successful people I know live very simply, doing what they love most, in the place where their heart is.


This my definition of success, too, and one of the main reasons why I started a freelance business in the first place. I love being flexible enough to have daily walks, take care of my vegetable garden and have a coffee with my neighbours from time to time!

So yes, I think I'll stick with this "level" and strive to improve it, instead of pursuing the "next" one.
Of course, I'll read with pleasure any further comment...

[Edited at 2015-06-19 16:56 GMT]


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