The Translator's Business Cycle
Thread poster: Dr. Jason Faulkner

Dr. Jason Faulkner  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:28
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
Dec 3, 2006

Hello everyone. This being my first year in the online translation business, I'd like to know your experiences around this time of year. Traditionally, I don't get much translation work from my local clients around the year-end holiday extravaganza as many clients are on vacation, spending their money on new Nintendos, etc. It was never really much of a problem because my medical practice is always hopping in these months (thank you, influenza!).

However, after a little over 3 months in the online industry I've come to rely on the added income from outsourcers (btw, thanks ProZ!). I typically pick up 4-5 little projects a week through various outsourcers (mostly European). In the last two weeks, however, I've only received 2 projects (and one I'm now regretting passing off to another translator. No new Nintendo for me!).

So my question is, is this just the normal business cycle? In particular, do your European outsourcers also plan vacations around the Christmas/New Year/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/whatever period? I know we take Christmas very seriously in Latin America, but does the same apply in Europe? Also, are there other times of the year (holy week, etc.) that I should anticipate as slow periods?



Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:28
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
End of year rather busy Dec 3, 2006

After five years I have found no reliable pattern, but december-january was usually quite good. Holiday season holds opportunities too, when outsourcers have to look for new service providers.


Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
don't panic ... Dec 3, 2006

Dr. Jason Faulkner wrote:

So my question is, is this just the normal business cycle? In particular, do your European outsourcers also plan vacations around the Christmas/New Year/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/whatever period? I know we take Christmas very seriously in Latin America, but does the same apply in Europe? Also, are there other times of the year (holy week, etc.) that I should anticipate as slow periods?


I suppose that some of cyclical aspects depend on the area in which one works (and as you rightly point out, Jason, the geographic region). Like Heinrich, I see some variation but no clear pattern in the work flow I get.

My Mexico clients usually dump work on me right before they go on vacation for Christmas or Holy Week, and so I'm often very busy during those holidays.

My academic clients often get backlogged with grading etc. in November and early December, so sometimes they don't send things until January (because they are writing or organzing projects during the holiday rather than taking a much needed break).

This year, I worked frantically until about November 1. Work that was supposed to come in during November (from 3 different projects) has all been postponed until December--everyone is "working on it" but no one is done.

I've learned a couple of things from other similar episodes I've experienced:

1. Don't panic. The work will pick up again. (If you've planned ahead, you shouldn't have to be too worried about the bank ol' account.)

2. Do all the chores you've put off -- you could always organize your taxesicon_wink.gif

3. Call all your relatives and old friends (and don't bother telling them you have no work because as soon as you do, you'll jinx yourself and be inundated).

4. Go for the long hike you wanted to take three months ago but couldn't because you were in front of computer.

I'm sure before long you'll be able to buy your Ninetendo! (Did you send a letter to Santa?)


Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:28
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Work very brisk in January Dec 3, 2006

Hi, Jason!

My own experience to date is that December is rather a strange month. I have enough work generally (and at the moment more than enough), but it often comes from different clients in December, rather than from the regular ones.

As for January, my experience is that it is the busiest and most profitable month of the whole year - which is not bad if you happen to be snowed in anyway.



Local time: 09:28
German to English
December is usually good Dec 3, 2006

My experience is that December is usually good if you're around to work it - a number of native speakers go back to their home countries for Christmas, and agencies - and to a lesser extent direct clients - are sometimes desperate to find someone.

I'm swamped right now into next week, and frankly, I hope that no one further bothers me before I fly back to my home country. But they will. LOL


Local time: 09:28
German to English
Slow time Dec 3, 2006

The only letup I've seen (and for the past few years now) is in late May and early June in Germany.

I have no idea why that is.


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:28
English to French
+ ...
End of year hectic! Dec 4, 2006

In my experience, the end of the year is always hectic. There is a simple explanation to this: companies are getting close to the end of their accounting year and they need to spend their budget in order to ensure that the board will approve a similar or even better budget for next year. If they don't get to spend all their money, chances are their budget will be reduced for the next finance year. Yes, I know, sure sounds funny - but it's true!

This time of the year is also great for picking up new clients. I know many translators who are already on leave for the holidays, and a chunk of those who aren't yet will be soon. In other words, in December, there is always a shortage of qualified translators. This has a funnel effect. On the one hand, there is more demand from clients because it's the end of the year, but on the other hand, there is less supply because we all are slipping off to our Christmas holidays. Clients can get desperate in December (as usual, it was due yesterday) - and if you are there to drag them out of a sticky situation, often, they are so thankful for it that they will keep giving you work all through the year (you will represent not only a good translator to them, but also one who saved their butts - major bonus!). I have picked up several clients this way last year - and they still send me work regularly. Christmas time is always a boost of fresh blood for my businessicon_biggrin.gif

If you don't get much work, there may be two reasons. Either you simply haven't been lucky lately and it's all about to pick up again, or your specialization is not in demand because maybe the people who order your translations are also off for the most part of December. You may then want to try shifting your specialization a bit by looking into who may be looking for your services at this time of the year and what are the corresponding subject areas that you are comfortable with and that are related to the fields you already are working in. For example, I am more specialized in technical fields, but I also took up video games - those need to be under the Christmas tree in time, thus there is always lots of gaming work on the market in November and the first half of December. I know, video games have nothing to do with compressors and this subject matter is not much related to my specializations, but then again, I'm good at video games translation, I enjoy doing it and the clients who provide me with this kind of work are happy with my work, so why not?

All the best!

Edit: Just wanted to let you know that I'm booked until mid-January already - and I am already saying no to contracts planned for January. I wish I could accept them, but sadly don't have any more free square in my calendar. So, I will have to be content with just one Nintendo for now...icon_biggrin.gif

[Edited at 2006-12-04 00:28]


Latin_Hellas (X)
United States
Local time: 09:28
Italian to English
+ ...
European Finance Downtimes Dec 4, 2006

I specialise in European finance, and my particular low-seasons are from around 15 December to 6 January and the month of August.


RobinB  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:28
German to English
Maybe for Italian... Dec 4, 2006

bale002 wrote: I specialise in European finance, and my particular low-seasons are from around 15 December to 6 January and the month of August.

...but certainly not for e.g. German->English. Firstly, the annual reports are coming in earlier this year, with some parts already received for translation. Secondly, the German capital markets are very buoyant at the moment, with plenty of IPOs and M&A work buzzing around.

We've already had to tell customers that no, they can't have the 100 pages they're sending on December 22nd back on the 27th, and in fact they won't get them till the new year.

I'm not sure if August is cyclically low, as things like school holidays are staggered in Germany. Some years are, others aren't. This year, August was booming, while June was a bit quiet because of the World Cup.

[Edited at 2006-12-04 12:56]


Gillian Searl  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:28
Member (2004)
German to English
In my experience Dec 4, 2006

these few weeks up to Christmas are hopping mad (this year too) right up to 24th December and then January is usually quiet. I often go on holiday in January. August is a month to be working because you pick up work from loads of agencies where all the regulars are on holiday. If you do a good job they might just come back again.

I can only echo the sentiments of the others - if it's quiet enjoy! It won't last! Do a whole load of stuff that you otherwise wouldn't do and my ace - don't sit in front of the computer - go out and do something and you can be sure there will be work when you come back!

I am waiting for that quiet period. I suddenly found I had archived only up to November so when December arrived all the projects are in the same folders as the 2005 projects. Oops!

And the other thing I have often found is that companies are reluctant to pay in December and there is a sudden clearing of outstanding invoices in January. Maybe they are pushing them into the new finanical year.

Enjoy the season.


Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 00:28
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Oct./Nov. Dec 4, 2006

For me, the busiest months are October and November. December would be crazy too, if I didn't set up boundaries and let everybody know ahead of time I'll be taking time off for the end-of-the-year holidays.

On the other hand, July through September tends to be a little slower than the rest of the year, unless I have a three-month project or something similar that is dragged into this gray zone.

Since I like to keep myself busy, I'm always on the lookout for voluntary projects. My background is in Computer Sciences / Data Processing and Social Communications / Journalism, so I try to look for opportunities to donate my business hours as a translator in these two areas.

In your case, if you need to build up your resume as a translator, websites dedicated to a certain health problem that publish newsletters and articles could be a good option for those times when you really don't get any paid project. That is, assuming you're kind of a "workaholic" and you do want to donate your free time to voluntary translations.



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