Lesson 62: What is market research for translation business and why you should’ve done it when starting out?

Lesson 62: What is market research for translation business and why you should’ve done it when starting out?

When I was doing a business course a while back, one of the first things the tutor asked was whether we’ve done some research about our intended markets. At that point, many of the start-up entrepreneurs who were participating in the course with me had a number of ideas, limitless passion and willingness to work hard to make it work. But we all lacked something and I’m eternally grateful to my tutor for pointing it out at the very first step of my business journey.

The situation of start-up entrepreneurs is quite similar to this of freelance translators. We have an idea, we don’t lack passion, and we just want to jump at sending our CVs or offers out. This eagerness and enthusiasm is of course a good thing, but we can’t forget we’re in business and we’re not here alone.

My tutor introduced me to market research for translation business, a quite time-consuming and tedious task. Having done it slightly post-factum, I am now teaching the same principle to my Business School course students: do your market research first.

This is why I decided to dedicate the entire September to discussing the issues of market research. This is the first post on this topic, so treat it as an introduction. Many of you will be starting out, or will have graduated by now, or will look at what to do in the remaining few months this year. Let’s dive into market research, then!

What is market research in business?

Market research definition: The process of gathering, analyzing and interpreting information about a market, about a product or service to be offered for sale in that market, and about the past, present and potential customers for the product or service; research into the characteristics, spending habits, location and needs of your business’s target market, the industry as a whole, and the particular competitors you face.

In other words, market research is all about collecting information about your market and your clients. It’s like looking at a map before setting off on a journey. The purpose of market research is to equip you with the knowledge needed to run your business successfully and efficiently. And who wouldn’t want that?

Why is it important for freelance translators?

In my career, I came across a number of freelancers whose careers started from saying “I want to be a literary translator” and they just went for it. Of course, some of them succeeded. But such examples of spontaneous and under-researched business decisions shouldn’t take place. As freelancers, we never exist on our own. We’re always linked to, or we even depend, on our markets. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s very dangerous, or even impossible, to enter a market without knowing a lot about it first?

To give you an example, when I was still toying with the idea of becoming a Polish English translator, I wanted to translate Polish poetry and literature into English. Apart from being very naïve, I was also very careless. I just had this idea for my business, with a beautiful literature-themed website and candle-lit photos, without any serious insights. I am very grateful I never had to fail to realise you can’t really be a successful freelance translator or interpreter without any (even subconscious) market research.

By using market research methods (which I’ll describe in the upcoming posts), I managed to discover the most lucrative areas of specialisation in Polish and English translation, and I have also identified sources of good interpreting clients in the UK. But most importantly, market research has helped me to make informed business decisions, based on solid data. And I’m happy with the results.

What do you gain by researching your market?

Apart from not failing as a freelancer, you can get a range of very important insights, including:

  • Identifying potential customers
  • Who may need your services? Where to find these people? How to convince them to buy translations from you?

  • Understanding your existing customers
  • Why do they choose you over other translators? What do they value?

  • Setting realistic targets
  • Based on the collected data, you’ll be able to set realistic targets for your freelance business.

  • Developing business strategies
  • You’ll be better suited to price your services, to decide which channels to use to sell them, or whether you need to specialise or diversify.

  • Examining and solving business problems
  • By researching your market, you’ll have a clearer view on why you’re always getting less assignments on a given month or why a certain customer stopped using your services.

  • Identifying opportunities
  • In the course of researching your market, you may discover a lucrative niche or an under-saturated area.

  • Analysing competition
  • You’ll be able to see what other freelancers are up to, as much as I hate to call them competition.

    What are the risks of not researching your market?

    As I said, the biggest risk is failure as a freelancer. We can’t technically speaking go bankrupt, but we can simply not make enough money as freelancers. Researching your market will help you ensure that you don’t invest your time and energy into a business which will fail.

    Moreover, by looking at your competition, you’ll be able to provide better services and get your pricing right.
    What are the areas worth researching?

    This is the first post in the whole series, so I just want to touch upon the areas worth researching. I’ll dig deeper into them in a couple of weeks. For now, you may want to look at the following areas and start gathering resources:

  • Clients (Who buys translation… and who may want to buy it?)
  • Demand (Should you specialise in this area?)
  • Competition (Who already translates?)
  • Rates (How much can you charge?)
  • Professional organisations (Who’s representing your interests?)
  • Qualifications (How to deliver better services?)
  • What else? What would you add to this list? Next week, we’ll look at these areas in detail, so let’s gather as many of them as possible.


    1. Diana Coada , on Sep 5, 2013 at 11:16 Reply

      What a detailed introduction. I’m really looking forward to your precious insights into this topic.

    2. Véronique Stone , on Sep 5, 2013 at 19:36 Reply

      You are so right, knowing your market is necessary if you want to grow your business. I am looking forward to reading your posts on the subject.

    3. jhon byron orrego , on Oct 7, 2013 at 02:51 Reply

      Thanks a lot for your advises. They’re very useful for people like me, who are trying to start a bussiness as a FreeLancer, and with no idea of how to do it.


    4. Maria Macovei , on Oct 7, 2013 at 14:23 Reply

      Great article! I am looking forward to find some more.

      • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 3, 2015 at 23:27 Reply

        Thank you, Maria, I hope you’ll find them helpful 🙂

    5. Catherine Demaison-Doherty , on Nov 17, 2013 at 21:56 Reply

      I think what’s difficult, when you’re starting out, when asking yourself what it is you have to offer compared to other people, is that you don’t yet know what that special something is, and what it is that you do a little differently or better than others.

      • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 3, 2015 at 23:28 Reply

        Yes, but then you figure it out and it’s the best feeling in the world 🙂

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