Lesson 105: Why should you invest in your freelance translation business?

Lesson 105: Why should you invest in your freelance translation business?

The idea of investing in a freelance translation business very often ends on start-up costs. We take into account what we need to get properly set up, for example a computer, a chair, CAT tools, dictionaries, maybe a website, and off we go into the freelancing world. Later on we may need a software update or a training course, but these expenses are hardly ever planned, budgeted for or even less likely – treated as an investment.

What I would like to propose this time is to change the perspective from simply having business expenses to seeing them as investments. There is a crucial difference between these two. An expense is a necessary cost that running a business entails, for example buying a printer toner. It’s really hard to imagine working as a translator without having a functional printer. Investment, on the other hand, is money spent on acquiring something that is supposed to bring bigger return later. To give you an example of investment, going to a trade fair is a time and monetary investment and you’re expecting to find clients there. The key of investment is precisely this: return.

If you make this switch in your thinking and start considering the return of the money you spend, you’re much more likely to benefit from your investments.

First, analyse which areas of your business need investment. Maybe you could do with a training course? Perhaps a new, better CAT tool? Or going to a conference? Identify the different areas where you’re going to need some investment.

Second, draw a budget. Keep separate budgets for professional development, marketing and operations. Allocate how much money you can spend on these each year.

Third, establish the level of return you’re going to be satisfied with. Is it enough to break even on the training course you’ve attended, or would you rather have double the return? How much in terms of orders placed you need from attending a client event to make it worthwhile? Set yourself these goals and track the return. This will help you assess which investment was good and which one – not so.

But why, in the first place, would you like to invest in your freelance business?

  • 1. To achieve your goals. Very often our goals require specific investments. To give you an example, I had to invest in website development to have web presence I needed to target specific groups of clients I wanted to work with.
  • 2. To exceed your limitations. You may not have the skills you want or need yet, but through investing in your career, you can develop them. For example, you can learn another language, or you can study copywriting.
  • 3. To make yourself more marketable. If you invest in marketing your business or in gaining new skills, you’re not only getting your return, but also becoming more valuable on the market.
  • 4. To grow. Stagnation is not good for any business, and one of the ways to beat it is to invest.
  • 5. To connect with your passions. Perhaps the biggest benefit of freelancing is the possibility to fine-tune our businesses and align it with your passions. Through investment, you can fully realise your potential.

What is your attitude to investing?


  1. Angela , on Oct 15, 2014 at 19:14 Reply

    That’s very helpful Marta, thank you.
    I will try to follow these steps of analyse, draw a budget and get return of my investments.

  2. Lukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz , on Oct 24, 2014 at 10:59 Reply

    It’s a simple mechanism you can observe even in computer games, probably even the mini games you play on Facebook or your phone: small upfront investments tend to lead to a long path of progress with minimal steps; on the other hand, large upfront investments put you years ahead. This is because they increase your margin proportionally, and sometimes exponentially.

    Computers, office software, CAT software etc. are essentially costs, bars to be removed to unlock closed doors and bottlenecks to be removed to allow business to come in (and out). You definitely should not overinvest your hard-earned cash or hard-bargained loan in multiple CAT tools and all sorts of marginally important office software. However, a high-quality upfront marketing investment can give you visibility and establish your credibility, while projecting the image you want to the clients you want. And that does put you considerably ahead compared to relying on direct e-mail/CV spam and word of mouth alone or a DIY ‘fanpage’.

    But it’s probably the most important to keep investing in yourself, which coincides with the CPD (continued professional development) requirement of translators’ associations and regulatory bodies. Credentials, as their name suggests (:P) help establish your credibility, but sometimes you may just want to learn something useful.

    The best example of how upfront investments can save you years of trial and error is a book containing the business and marketing experience of other translators, and non-translators, gained over years and synthethized, abstracted, into a format you can read in one day or two. Investing in professional marketing could do the same but on a different front and in a less easy to visualize way.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Nov 6, 2014 at 18:48 Reply

      You are right – investing in yourself is the investing that won’t go to waste. Thank you for a very informative comment as well. 😉

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