Savvy Diversification Series – From text translator to film subtitler in just a few months

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times.

With this in mind, we’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

A step-by-step guide

I’ll resist the urge to start this article by saying how 2020 was a huge mess for us all, because we’ve heard it one too many times, so I’ll get straight to the point. COVID-19 took my translation business from a surging one to a flatlining one in a matter of days. I’m a Spanish-to-English translator specialized in tourism, hospitality, destination events, and official documents. I also do some copywriting for my clients in these sectors.

For the last few years, my stream of work has been steady enough that I never stopped to think about what would happen if people stopped traveling, eating out, and immigrating to other countries all at the same time. (Well, to be fair, who ever would have thought that would happen?). But, the thing is, it did. The pandemic took away my livelihood in the blink of an eye.

So, I moved quickly. I decided to dive headfirst into a specialization I had been dreaming about for ages, but never had the time to study, research, and actually specialize in: subtitling. I love watching movies and TV, and I love watching them with subtitles on (even in English!). I always thought it’d be the coolest gig around town, but never had the time to make it happen.

The pandemic gave me something I desperately needed: A large chunk of time and a good reason to diversify my offerings. Here are the steps I followed to save my business and quickly transition from translator to subtitler:

1) I signed up for the ATA Audiovisual Division’s mentoring program

I was lucky enough to be paired up with Mara Campbell, a seasoned expert in the field. She gave me tons of great advice on how to get started and what to expect from the audiovisual industry. She also got me really excited about the profession. She’s so passionate about what she does and her enthusiasm made me realize that this type of work could also be a great fit for me. With her help and guidance, I was prepared to take the leap into audiovisual translation.

2) I took a specialized course

At the end of February 2020, with two months of government-imposed apartment lockdown ahead of me in Spain, I decided to take an online course recommended by Mara called GoSub Subtitle. The course is designed to take beginners from “zero” to “subtitler” in just a few weeks. And it did just that. I learned the ins and outs of subtitle translation: industry lingo, timing technicalities, reading-speed and character-per-line rules… By the end of the course I felt fully prepared and confident to present myself as a subtitler to the world.

3) I set up a rigorous marketing plan

The second I finished the course, I added a subtitling page to my website and started marketing like crazy. I created a list of dream agencies I wanted to work with and aimed high from the beginning (why not?). I started by reaching out to all Netflix Official Vendors within the first week after finishing the course. After that, I reached out to handfuls of subtitling agencies and post-production studios.

My marketing plan included a rigorous follow-up schedule which consisted of sending four follow-up emails to each agency, once a week, for one month. My final email had “This is my last follow-up attempt!” in the subject line, and that’s when I got the most responses.

4) I started working almost full time as a subtitler

Thanks to my new skill set and clear marketing plan, within just one month of finishing the course, I had almost full-time work as a subtitler. By the time September rolled around, I was invited to test to subtitle for the world’s largest streaming service… and passed. My first subtitled film was released on the platform at the end of February.

What my business looks like now

I’m currently subtitling about 80% of the time and translating 20% of the time. The pandemic taught me a tough lesson. While specialization is key, it’s important to have your eggs in more than one basket. I realize almost all my eggs are currently in my subtitling basket (which isn’t ideal either), but I plan to incorporate translation back into my business as the tourism and travel industry picks up again.

I’m passionate about all the services I provide, found a niche I love working in, and also feel more sturdy and confident in my business than ever before. And I guess I have the pandemic to thank for that.

About the author

Molly Yurick is a Spanish-to-English translator, subtitler, and copywriter based in northern Spain. She specializes in tourism and hospitality translations and her subtitles can be found on the world’s largest streaming service. She serves as Deputy Chair of ATA’s PR Committee and is also a member of ATA’s School Outreach Program and PR Writer’s Group. You can visit her website at: http://yuricktranslations.com/

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