BlogBusiness School for Translators
Lesson 31: Does every translator have to be an entrepreneur?
I met one of my translation friends for a coffee, and she quite openly admitted she was struggling due to recession. “Agencies keep lowering their rates and it’s either accept it or go somewhere else. And whenever I send my CV to a new one, they start at half my rate.” Well, why don’t you try with direct clients, or why don’t you diversify, I asked. “Diversify? I’m no economist to know such terms. And how do you want me to get direct clients?” You could, for example, have a leaflet designed and send it to local multicultural companies. Or go to a couple of business events. “Business events? Do I look like one of those daredevil entrepreneurs?”
Translation and business still too often go together only in terms of specialist fields. There is only a handful of successful entrepreneurial translators (a number of them setting up agencies as soon as they can), but I believe that it’s not due to the fact that it is difficult to succeed. I am deeply convinced that too few of us even try.
There’s been a survey conducted in the USA asking people: what is the easiest way to become a millionaire? Some 40% believed the easiest way is to win a lottery, some considered robbing a bank. Only about 4% answered that the easiest way to have a million dollars is to set up own business. Surprisingly, another research showed that the number of millionaires in States oscillates around… 4%. Something tells me that if we counted the number of the most successful translators, we would get a similar proportion.
Since there seems to be a direct relation between entrepreneurship and earning millions (or at least a decent salary to start with), why so many of us, translators, just don’t go that way? Why so many of us see ourselves separate from “daredevil entrepreneurs”?
The world changes, my dear friend. We can no longer afford to be these geeky and detached linguists convinced that our intelligence and subtle knowledge will prove to be enough. We are used to be one step behind, or in a booth, or never mentioned on a cover. But the world doesn’t hire shy but studious secretaries anymore. Clients don’t want coy but diligent proofreaders. Agencies don’t contact proud and always-too-busy to respond translators. Recession means that everyone becomes competitive, everyone needs to have business cards, everyone needs to dare to be entrepreneurial. Is it really everyone?
There’s much talking about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship at the moment. Who is an entrepreneur and can every translator be one? There are some qualities we have in common by definition, such as:
- Search for new ideas and innovation
- Accepting constructive criticism and rejection
- Strong work ethic
- Good organisation
But that doesn’t make an entrepreneur. There are some “dangerous” areas, skills we would have to work on, such as:
- People skills
- Selling skills
- Leadership qualities
- Strong belief in ourselves
Recession sweeps the middle, in any profession, as pointed by Jan Snauwaert in one of his comments to my recent post :
I recently had a little discussion on ProZ on the topic if “this is a recession”, meaning that many of us, translators and interpreters, are experiencing a serious dip in the demand from clients or potential clients. One answer, that I take seriously, was the following: “In fact, there are some businesses doing very nicely, and many are still turning over vast profits, but that there is dramatic change afoot is undeniable and I don’t think any of us know where this is heading. My view, for what it’s worth, is that our industry invariably reflects society and the commercial world at large: those at the top will do well, those at the bottom working at very low rates, will also survive (just). In my view, it’s the middle that will be flushed out and there are a lot of us in the middle”.
If that’s the only strategy that can keep you afloat in the translation business, would you become one of these daredevil entrepreneurs? Or are you going to stick to your usual translator-self? Where do you stand: no place for traditional translators, or entrepreneurship is good for daredevils?
In that spirit, I’ve just recently been admitted as a member of the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs. I’m still working on my profile!