Lesson 70: Translation is a very competitive profession, translation is not a very competitive profession.

Lesson 70: Translation is a very competitive profession, translation is not a very competitive profession.

As I’ve already mentioned to my subscribers earlier on this week, November is going to be all about competition and making competition irrelevant. Again, many thoughts and ideas I’m going to share have been inspired by the Blue Ocean Strategy, which is an amazingly powerful tool to transform your business (and I don’t have any vested interests here). I just think it’s a great framework.

The reason why I wanted to talk about competition this month is that I’ve been hearing claims that translation is a very competitive profession quite often recently, or I’ve been asked “how can I compete against others” question once too much. Let’s debunk competition then to start with.

What is competition?

Reading a few definitions of competition may be quite helpful. I do believe that we all know what it is, but reading closely, we can identify some presupposed qualities of competition that we don’t think about on a day-to-day (or project-to-project) basis. OED says competition is “the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.” So you can already see that competition implies fighting, defeating and an enormous power struggle. Merriam-Webster’s definition (“the act or process of trying to get or win something (such as a prize or a higher level of success) that someone else is also trying to get or win”) places a similar emphasis on competing and defeating as the previous one. In a more business-oriented dictionary, we can read that competition is “rivalry in which every seller tries to get what other sellers are seeking at the same time: sales, profit, and market share by offering the best practicable combination of price, quality, and service.”

All these definitions assume rivalry, competing, fighting and defeating. The most basic form of competition is direct competition, in which providers of the same product (or service) fight to obtain buyers. Indirect competition, however, assumes that providers offer substitute (different) services to cater for the same need.

How does that relate to translation?

In the view of the majority of colleagues (or at least that’s my impression), translation profession is a market in which many providers provide the same service to win buyers (there certainly are many other Polish English translators and interpreters on the market). In this perspective, translation agencies are also our competition, because in the end of the day they provide the same service (yes, I know it’s a broad generalisation).

We’re then also exposed to indirect competition, where some machine translation providers want to provide substitute products to our buyers.

We could add many more examples of both direct and indirect competition, but you get my point. If we look at the profession this way, the first claim in the title certainly holds true: translation is a very competitive profession. But there’s an alternative way of looking at the whole situation.

Translation as a non-competitive profession

Finding out how to think differently about the profession, the market and competition took me a few years of business knowledge. In the beginning, I was convinced that translation is an extremely competitive profession where you have to constantly fight with others to get assignments. But now I propose an alternative view, a view which has shaped the way I run my business.

Acknowledging competition is one thing. We have to be aware of what other translators are doing, what services they provide and how they run their businesses. In fact, we have to be very aware of all that. Collecting information (and doing market research!) is essential.

Entering into a competitive situation is a totally different thing. If we claim that translation is a very competitive profession, we’d have to agree that we either all provide the same service (within our language pairs of course) or that there are clear substitutes to what we’re offering. I don’t know about you, but for me, no other Polish English translator can provide the same service as I do because we have different experience, education, background, writing style, you name it. I also don’t believe that MT can be a substitute to what I provide. It’s a matter of a mind-set. In my mind, I have no competition.

Getting the right mind-set is the first step to making competition irrelevant, a topic we’ll be discussing in detail over the next four weeks. You can find three good resources here: article, article, article.

What do you think about that? Can you make competition irrelevant in your case?


  1. Jana - Czech English Translator , on Feb 23, 2015 at 21:54 Reply

    Market research is definitely the basis of success in any field. If you don’t know what others are offering how can you beat them? 🙂 Keep up the good work!

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