In the past weeks I tried to explain my point of view on competition: that in fact, freelance translators shouldn’t compete with other translators. I talked about making competition irrelevant and avoiding competing on price.
However, not all competition is wrong. In fact, it is owing to some of my greatest “competitors” that I managed to take my business where it is now. A healthy form of competition can be extremely motivating and drive growth.
Another way of looking at competition is the fact that there may be some factors where healthy competing makes perfect sense. In this article, I’m trying to look at these factors and argue for competing on them for our individual benefit, but also for the benefit of the entire profession.
By competing on specialist knowledge I mean going deeper and deeper into our areas of specialisation because there are others out there who have more of this knowledge. If I look at my career, I know that there are Polish English legal translators out there who know more about the law or have even completed law-related degrees. I want to compete with them in terms of this specialist legal knowledge and I’ll be studying more to bring up my understanding of this area to their level and beyond. I want to compete with them in terms of how much I know. And then my clients can choose.
How’s that beneficial for the entire profession? If we compete on specialist knowledge, we’re quite naturally increasing the level of professionalism and education in the entire profession. We’re raising the standard overall.
I’m a big fan of perfecting customer service and doing more for my clients, in pre-purchase, during purchase and in after-care. I like hearing that my clients are delighted and I believe that customer service is a factor we could start first benchmarking against and then trying to match what our competitors are doing. It can only be good for me: happier clients bring more clients, even if that’s not my sole motivator.
In a macro-perspective, raising the levels of customer service will eventually benefit the entire profession. Excellent customer service is something we can use to justify (even if subconsciously) higher prices. Isn’t that’s why we’re prepared to pay more for a better service at a five star hotel?
And no, in here I don’t mean competing on our personality traits, but on the level to which we infuse our businesses with our personalities. I’ve been advocating for that forever, and I’m not the only one saying we need to let our personalities shine through. Putting my personality in how I run my business is satisfying for a number of reasons. First, I feel closer to my business and my clients. Second, I work with clients who understand and accept my values and I don’t have to deal with those who’re guided by other principles. Third, I’m having much more fun in business. So what about competing on getting this personality in business thing right?
On the level of the whole profession, I dare say that the more personality we see, the more personalised the service becomes. If we have more translators and interpreters showing their personalities in the way they run their businesses, we may end up educating clients that translation is not just about chunking out words which could be done by anybody.
I don’t necessarily agree with competing on deadlines and delivery dates, but maybe competing on flexibility could be a good idea. I’m still trying to get my head around it, but maybe the fact that I can work on a Saturday could help me compete with translators who don’t work on Saturdays. Or maybe an hour or two of overtime in the evening could help me win a client. Maybe increasing flexibility (not only in relation to deadlines or working time) could be a good way of differentiating from competition? However, the reverse could be true as well: maybe by decreasing our flexibility in comparison with the industry standard could work.
In terms of the overall profession, increased flexibility could improve the image our clients have of translators and interpreters. If we, collectively, become more flexible, the clients may stop thinking that translation is this weird service delivered by people who’ll always find an excuse not to do it (I’ve heard that for a number of times).
This is a whole new concept in my understanding of business. There are companies out there in other industries that managed to build their businesses only on the grounds of increasing (or conversely decreasing) exclusivity around their products or services. So for me, I could try to say no (even) more often and become a more exclusive service provider, as compared do my competitors. In fact, I’ve been instinctively doing that for a while now.
I’m not yet sure of the impact of increasing exclusivity on the entire profession. On one hand, if we all start being a bit more exclusive and say no more often, we may redefine some of the recurrent problems (low rates, poor treatment, tight deadlines). But partial exclusivity could lead to even a wider division between what we now call the “bulk” and “premium” markets. Is that something that we want?
If we want to compete, we may look into offering additional services that not many other professionals offer. I keep repeating that it’s worked great with me and using Adobe InDesign to do basic DTP for my clients. This is not something that is widely offered by my competitors. Maybe finding an additional service you could offer would win you some clients over your competitors? And it doesn’t have to be about offering as many additional services as possible. It can be simply about offering the right service that your clients may need.
On the industry level, this could result in diversifying our portfolio and pulling other services under “translation”, yet again justifying higher pricing.
What do you think about these factors? Is there anything you compete on that I haven’t thought about? I’d love to hear your thoughts!