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Established translators going through a dry spell: has that ever happened to you?
Thread poster: Vincent Lemma

Vincent Lemma  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 12:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
Nov 23, 2016

Hi all,
It seems that work is running along smoothly, quite a number of jobs rolling in as usual in your fields of expertise and then it happens... it all simmers down and work only trickles in little at a time.
Has that every happened to any of you?

This is something that I am going through at the moment and it leads to a series of considerations. Granted that the market is a competitive place, and customers are always seeking better services at lower rates, I have had steady customers for years without any complaints. It just seems that work in my field of specialization is not coming in. Obviously, I refer to work through agencies, so, as said earlier, it leads to a series of considerations as this is the first time this has ever happened in my reasonably long career as a translator.

I am taking the time to broaden my knowledge in other areas (always sticking to my main areas od specialization) and am considering getting certification, even though I have never needed it given my beefy CV. I just don't think, for instance, that ATA certification can really tip scales that much. Perhaps some more marketing is needed to get some new customers in... often translators have been accused of being poor at marketing their own services, and I guess that this can be true (otherwise ProZ would not offer training courses on the matter, I presume).

So, I just wanted to know if anyone else has been through these "dry spells" and how you react in these cases. What do you do if you have gone from a steady stream to a trickle?


Cheers,
Vincent


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:17
German to English
Unexplainable slowdowns Nov 23, 2016

You're not the only one who experiences this.
Apart from the usual Christmas drop-off and summer slowdowns, I get a 2-3 week dry period every year or so. It's not related to the time of year: sometimes it happens in the spring, sometimes in the winter or fall. It also doesn't seem to be language-related. Colleagues in the German > English language pair sometimes complain to me about lack of work when I'm almost at capacity. On the other hand, I've found that there are also unexplained peaks in demand, when I'll get 4-5 job offers in a single day.

It all seems to be random, at least in my case.

If you go for longer dry periods on a regular basis, then perhaps you need to engage more actively in marketing efforts.


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 06:17
Member (2008)
French to English
Feast/famine cycle seems normal for our business Nov 23, 2016

It happens to me periodically and I have finally come to the conclusion it's not really a slow period but a statistical anomaly. When I am very busy I don't want inquiries to come on top of each other, meaning I have to turn them down. I'm just as happy then to go a few days without inquiries.

Then I get to the end of a big job and the inquiries come in at the same pace - days pass by with nothing - then suddenly the burst of inquiries start up again.

If I had been busy with just one long job, I wouldn't have even noticed the days with no inquiries.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:17
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Not for all clients simultaneously Nov 23, 2016

Vincent Lemma wrote:
Has that every happened to any of you?

For individual clients, yes. For work as a whole, no. Diversification across industries helps, as does having some clients that deal with a broad range of material.

Dan


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:17
English to Spanish
+ ...
Dry spells —even wizards get them Nov 23, 2016

I wonder what my dentist, or a plumber or A/C technician would tell me if I asked them the same question. I only remember one time, two years ago, when my local A/C shop sent a letter to its current customers (maintenance customers) to offer a deeply discounted price on new A/C units. The letter mentioned two facts: a) new management, b) dry spell in February.

I almost went for it, but chose differently and I'm happy with my decision 2 years later.

I presume most professions, even lawyers, and small to medium-sized companies go through dry spells, ups and downs: phones don't ring, emails show nothing but enlargement offers for some part of your anatomy.

Clients come and go; some clients die, change business, leave the translation business altogether. Some agencies change project managers so often that the person you spent a great deal of effort to cultivate a relationship with is gone and you have to start all over again.

My solutions (they have worked for me in my case):

a) Write to old clients to reconnect
b) Make plans to attend a professional or industry event
c) Write an article for a journal or blog
d) Revise your CV and keep it to two pages, no more
e) Check your current business card: are you still proud of it? Is the design or typography stale? Does it show your current contact information? Was it professionally designed or does it need a refresh? For the last step, hire a professional, unless you're like me, who does desktop publishing and typesetting for a living as well
f) If you enjoy teaching, consider teaching a course at a local college or university: technical writing, technical translation, etc. MOOC courses and online courses pay a pittance. Webinars are a waste of time, especially those that are free. Knowledge and experience have a value and they're supposed to cost money to the recipient.

The old red herring that translators are poor at marketing themselves is untrue because it is, after all, a gross generalization. Generalizations should be left to people who feel uncomfortable thinking by themselves. Even among translators, what works for you in marketing your services may not be a good fit for me, for example.

Hang in there.



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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Anch'io Nov 24, 2016

Vincent Lemma wrote:

Hi all,
It seems that work is running along smoothly, quite a number of jobs rolling in as usual in your fields of expertise and then it happens... it all simmers down and work only trickles in little at a time.
Has that every happened to any of you?


It's happening to me now. But I know that one of these days there is going to be an avalanche. I know you and I are in the same language pair. Maybe it's an Italian thing.


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Vincent Lemma  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 12:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
TOM Nov 24, 2016

I agree that there may be an avalanche that comes bolting down quite soon, but it really is nerve/racking at the moment.
See, we should make the best of this idle time, but we are all too busy planning and making marketing strategies and such, at least I am.

You are right, may be an Italian thing... or maybe the market is changing and Italian customers are relying on translators offering lower rates.. and often lower quality.

Guess I-ll take my dogs out for a walk and ponder the essence of life for the time being/


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Rates Nov 24, 2016

Vincent Lemma wrote:

.....maybe the market is changing and Italian customers are relying on translators offering lower rates.. and often lower quality.


Yes Vincent - and we know who they are. I am seeing Kudoz questions about Italian terms, these days, including in my specialist fields of architecture and construction, that should be relatively easy for an experienced translator. I make a point of NOT ANSWERING them even though I know the correct terms, and have them at the tips of my fingers. Let these cheaper, not-so-good Italian-to-English translators stew in their own juice. It's interesting to see their names, though.

You walk your dogs, I'll spend more time on architecture and my political activism

[Edited at 2016-11-24 08:51 GMT]


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Vincent Lemma  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 12:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
All valid tips to get the juices flowing Nov 24, 2016

Mario Chavez wrote:

I wonder what my dentist, or a plumber or A/C technician would tell me if I asked them the same question. I only remember one time, two years ago, when my local A/C shop sent a letter to its current customers (maintenance customers) to offer a deeply discounted price on new A/C units. The letter mentioned two facts: a) new management, b) dry spell in February.

I almost went for it, but chose differently and I'm happy with my decision 2 years later.

I presume most professions, even lawyers, and small to medium-sized companies go through dry spells, ups and downs: phones don't ring, emails show nothing but enlargement offers for some part of your anatomy.

Clients come and go; some clients die, change business, leave the translation business altogether. Some agencies change project managers so often that the person you spent a great deal of effort to cultivate a relationship with is gone and you have to start all over again.

My solutions (they have worked for me in my case):

a) Write to old clients to reconnect
b) Make plans to attend a professional or industry event
c) Write an article for a journal or blog
d) Revise your CV and keep it to two pages, no more
e) Check your current business card: are you still proud of it? Is the design or typography stale? Does it show your current contact information? Was it professionally designed or does it need a refresh? For the last step, hire a professional, unless you're like me, who does desktop publishing and typesetting for a living as well
f) If you enjoy teaching, consider teaching a course at a local college or university: technical writing, technical translation, etc. MOOC courses and online courses pay a pittance. Webinars are a waste of time, especially those that are free. Knowledge and experience have a value and they're supposed to cost money to the recipient.

The old red herring that translators are poor at marketing themselves is untrue because it is, after all, a gross generalization. Generalizations should be left to people who feel uncomfortable thinking by themselves. Even among translators, what works for you in marketing your services may not be a good fit for me, for example.

Hang in there.



All of your pointers are valid. I agree with you on your analysis of teaching and conferences. I try not to waste my time with free webinars and such, which really have little purpose in my opinion. I think that it is essential to stick to what you're good at, and in my case it is tech and medicine, so I'll likely use the time to delve into some study, just to keep fresh.
As for he CV, you are right, mine in too long and I'll shorten it. It might seem like a good idea to just list almost everything you've done, but it probably is tedious to the reader.
I'll follow your other pointers and see what happens, might get the water flowing again.. or I might get an onslaught of work from my old clients with new ones knocking at the door.


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Vincent Lemma  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 12:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Tempted however Nov 24, 2016

Tom in London wrote:

Vincent Lemma wrote:

.....maybe the market is changing and Italian customers are relying on translators offering lower rates.. and often lower quality.


Yes Vincent - and we know who they are. I am seeing Kudoz questions about Italian terms, these days, including in my specialist fields of architecture and construction, that should be relatively easy for an experienced translator. I make a point of NOT ANSWERING them even though I know the correct terms, and have them at the tips of my fingers. Let these cheaper, not-so-good Italian-to-English translators stew in their own juice. It's interesting to see their names, though.

You walk your dogs, I'll spend more time on architecture and my political activism

[Edited at 2016-11-24 08:51 GMT]


I must be honest, it is difficult at times to pass up an easy Koduz, but it is also equally interesting to see the answers proposed. Of course, tech is a vast area, so there are topics that I am less familiar with. Then again, we too were just starting out once .

Cheers on your political activist activities, I myself stick to animal advocacy and my association that I founded here in Italy keeps me just as busy as translation does... ahem, did... ahem, will do again.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Fun Nov 24, 2016

It's quite fun to watch a cheap translator with no real skills asking a question in Kudoz, being offered all sorts of wild guesses, and then picking the WRONG ANSWER

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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:17
English to Spanish
+ ...
Cheap is not what I would call them, though Nov 24, 2016

Tom in London wrote:

It's quite fun to watch a cheap translator with no real skills asking a question in Kudoz, being offered all sorts of wild guesses, and then picking the WRONG ANSWER


Lots of amateurs, students of some ilk, otherwise reputable translators wading (or sinking) in fields unfamiliar to them —perhaps the result of saying yes to any job offer, but “cheap” translators also gotta eat and pay the rent.

Having said that, I do like you do, Tom, avoiding to answer most of those queries even if I know the right answer. I enjoy helping but not to those who don't do proper research or who don't bother doing their homework (which is, in my opinion, reading a lot of related texts before posting a question on Proz!).

On occasion I tell them what I think about what they're doing, warts and all. The PC crowd may consider me harsh, but life is even harsher and, in the words of Sir David Attenborough, “pitiless indifferent.”


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:17
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Enjoy it while you can Nov 24, 2016

I've had two or three months in the doldrums - not catastrophic months but not great either. I was thinking that I might need to go looking for potential clients rather than waiting for them to come to me. But then I picked up a book editing through a personal recommendation (a client gave my name to a friend at a publishing house, who gave it to an author). That seemed to do the trick: the floodgates opened! This month, apart from the new client, just about every one of my regular and not-so-regular clients has popped up with work. It's all urgent, of course! So, I'll be invoicing as much this month as in the previous two or three, and getting very little time to do anything but work.

There's probably a scientific name for it. I remember way back when I was working as a "Saturday girl" in a stationer's that there would be nobody to serve for ages and then you'd suddenly have a queue of 10 people at the till, all looking at their watches every few seconds. In freelancing it's normally called the "feast or famine cycle". Google that for loads of advice on how to (try to) overcome it.


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Christophe Delaunay  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 12:17
Member (2011)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Also in my pair Nov 24, 2016

Tom in London wrote:

I am seeing Kudoz questions about Italian terms, these days, including in my specialist fields of architecture and construction, that should be relatively easy for an experienced translator. I make a point of NOT ANSWERING them even though I know the correct terms, and have them at the tips of my fingers. Let these cheaper, not-so-good Italian-to-English translators stew in their own juice.


This happened to me last week for a basic spanish expression (desde hace). I DID reply though asking "what is the problem?". Just sadly amazing!


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Vincent Lemma  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 12:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Too few customers Nov 24, 2016

I mostly work through agencies and I don't have a large number of agencies as these have supplied me with the majority of my income.

Therefore, I am prepared to expand my customer database, even though this perhaps is not as easy as it seems so I guess I just have to hang in there for the long haul.


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