Sooner or later, we all get to grow as translators and reach a point in our careers where things are going satisfactorily well, we have a large and diverse pot of clients and we’re generally happy with the business and career. It’s often referred to in business as “plateau”: after climbing up for a while and building solid foundations, you reach a safe haven and calm waters. But equally, things just keep being the same when you’ve reached your plateau.
“The sameness” of things may be a relief for many freelancers. No more restless pursuits of customers, no more heavy marketing campaigns, fewer financial worries. Yet at the same time, in business sense, it’s not a good place to be. It means your business is no longer developing and it’s on the path to its end of life.
Don’t get me wrong, it feels sooo great to enjoy your plateau for a while (go on holidays, release the pressure, cut down working hours, etc.), but planning to stay there forever is not a viable business approach.
What can you do after your business has plateaued then?
Of course, you can just keep doing what you’ve been doing and enjoy your stability. It will work for some translators in some language pairs in some niches. If you’re one of them and you’re enjoying “the sameness” there’s no need to change anything.
Move up market.
For the majority of businesses, a plateau is a place where they re-group and think of strategies to give them a boost to jump upwards in terms of sales and revenue. While as a translator you can’t really work more hours, the only viable way of increasing your revenue is to start charging more. This is where all the conversations about the premium market come in.
Develop another specialism.
While I’m personally not a fan of developing more specialisms (I’m one of those who’d tell you go deeper into the topic you already know), it’s a viable strategy that could spur your growth. If you’ve spotted a lucrative, promising niche and need to train up, go for it.
Diversify your services.
Another way to tackle it is to keep working within your specialisms but diversifying the range of services you’re providing. For example, I’ve been translating online content for the Polish market for years, and in the beginning of this year I added content marketing, copywriting and A/B testing services to my portfolio, just to name a few.
Work in a team.
Where you can’t break in as a freelancer (and many companies have valid – or less so – reasons why they can’t or won’t work with freelancers), you may have a better shot at it in a team. Getting together with the right people and branding your team services can get you where you couldn’t have gone by yourself. This includes forming teams not only with translators, but for example with web designers or programmers, or DTP specialists.
Some colleagues, when overflowing with work, start outsourcing translations to others and then proofread them before delivering to their clients, paying the actual translator and keeping a margin for themselves. My personal preference in terms of outsourcing is to outsource non-core tasks in my business (since my unique style and knowledge is what I’m implicitly selling in my translations) to free up time to translate more. In the past, I’ve outsourced: accounting and taxes, administration, market research, some marketing, social media, DTP, website creation and maintenance, file organisation and cleanup, among others.
Morph into a translation company.
If you feel like you have an appetite for risk, management and even more problem-solving, setting up a translation company may be the best way for you. A translator as an agency owner can bring a lot of value, but what I’ve been hearing from colleagues is that they often go into it thinking it’s not much different from being a freelancer, just doing it on a bigger scale. Well, just a word of caution: running a translation agency is very much different from being a translator and you’re definitely spending more time as a business administrator than anything else.
Can you think of any other potential avenues of growth?