How and Why You Should Diversify Your Freelance Translation Business (COVID-19 Series)

This post was originally published on Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo’s blog. It is reposted with permission.

More and more translators are seeing the need to diversify their freelance businesses these days.

Entrepreneur defines diversification as “a risk-reduction strategy that involves adding product, services, location, customers and markets to your company’s portfolio.”

For many translators, the idea of diversifying their business may have never been a top priority. You may even be thinking, “I’m a translator. I translate. What else could I offer my clients?”

I get it. But being a professional translator doesn’t mean you have to fit into a box of only offering translation services. Yes, you should take the time to hone your craft as much as you can. But as you become more established, diversification is simply a smart business move.

Diversifying your freelance translation business can help you through those bouts of “famine” that so many freelancers talk about.

In fact, the current economic crisis has taught a lot of businesses the lesson of not putting all their eggs in one basket. Those who are thriving are the ones who either pivoted quickly—ƒor example, the businesses that started offering curbside pick-up or delivery or those that moved their in-person offerings to a virtual setting—or those who recognized the importance of diversification before the pandemic broke out and the economy was turned upside down.

Why you should diversify your freelance translation business

If you have not been affected financially by the economic crisis that resulted from COVID-19, count yourself as one of the lucky ones. Maybe your specializations have allowed you to keep your usual workload mostly the same, or maybe you’ve already diversified your business.

I consider myself to fit squarely in both of these categories. And while I couldn’t have foreseen that my specializations (medicine and life sciences) would still be in high demand during all this—and I feel very much for my colleagues who have lost a large portion of their business as a result of this crisis—I did learn the tough lesson of having to diversify my business long before 2020.

Ready for a story?…

About five years ago, I took a bit of a chance (okay, a big one) by letting go of a client that was absolutely draining. I worked for them all. the. time. For many people, this might not seem like a problem. But the pay was not great, and the hours were long. They also didn’t respect boundaries related to weekends and vacation. I was left with no time to market my business to other clients who paid better and respected my work/life boundaries more.

After thinking about it for far longer that I’d like to admit, I made the decision to say “goodbye” to this client. I had a handful of other anchor clients who sent me steady work, and my husband and I were ready to expand our family. While letting go of this client meant that I was also saying “goodbye” to about $50,000 worth of my annual income (yes, you read that correctly), I was confident because I was making enough money at the time that I felt comfortable taking a financial hit for a several months while I looked for new clients to make up the difference in income.

Well, since life rarely works out the way we expect it to, I’ll cut this story short and tell you that my plan didn’t go as planned.

One of my other anchor clients ended up getting purchased by a larger company, and they completely stopped all of their vendor contracts that weren’t considered essential for close to a year while they reviewed their financial structure. Around the same time, I became pregnant with my daughter and my mother became very sick.

Over the course of the following year, I dealt with the challenges of new parenthood while mourning the loss of my mother.

It was a very rough year.

But it was during this time that I also learned to rebuild my business. I had never struggled financially as a freelancer like this until this point, so I felt some confidence in knowing I could find new clients. It would just take some time. I also promised myself that I would never again count on any one client or income stream to keep my business afloat.

Much like the circumstances I was experiencing (which I could not have foreseen), a global pandemic like COVID-19 and an economic crisis of this magnitude are also not something anyone any of us could have seen coming.

But what we can do is be proactive in preparing ourselves for what’s to come in the future (yes, another financial crisis will happen in our lifetimes… at least one more, depending on how much longer you plan to work).

So, instead of kicking ourselves for not diversifying our businesses sooner—trust me, it doesn’t work to keep this up and it isn’t good for your mental health either—we can turn that energy into something more productive by making a plan, even if we don’t know all the steps to make it work just yet.

The answer to the question, “Why should I diversify my translation business?” is simple.

Because it’s just smart business. Diversification doesn’t mean you’re “selling out” on what you’ve studied for years or the reason you became a translator in the first place.

Instead, you’re taking proactive steps to ensure the long-term stability of your business, both during a financial crisis and for the future.

How do you diversify your freelance translation business?

Consider, first, how you can position yourself now for the long term. You may have never thought about positioning yourself, but if you give it some thought and put some strategy behind this process, you can easily be seen and sought as an expert in your specialization/language pair or a complementary skill that you have.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to be known for?

  • What skills do you have that you can offer someone that would help them reach their goals?

Yes, translation can certainly help someone reach their goals, but what else do you have to offer in addition to being a translator?

Perhaps you’re an expert in patent translation. Your clients know it. Your colleagues know it. But you’re not just a translator. You’re an expert in a very complex field. What can you do with this?

Go back to the questions above and consider the challenges that others face with patent translation—both other translators and your clients. What challenges can you help them overcome? What can you offer, in addition to translation or to complement it, that will help them reach their goals?

Others in our professions are already diversifying their service offerings and taking advantage of their complementary knowledge and skills. I know many colleagues who offer editing, post-editing, transcreation, localization, and more. Even if you already offer several translation-related services, perhaps you’re just scratching the surface. Think bigger!

Here are some ideas to help you brainstorm ways to diversify your translation business

These ideas (in no particular order) are in addition to the typical translation/editing/proofreading services so many of us already offer. For all of these services, I suggest getting training and doing quite a bit of research before you begin offering them to clients.

  • Audio editing

  • Consulting for clients and/or colleagues (on a wide range of topics, depending on your expertise)

  • Content/editorial calendar creation and strategy, especially for businesses that need this in your target language

  • Content for language-learning apps (I did for a while, and I recommend training in teaching and—like most items on this list—truly advanced language skills to do this well.)

  • Copywriting and content marketing

  • Ghostwriting

  • Language teaching (I did this for several years at different universities, and it can help improve your language skills while you earn some additional cash. Like most on this list, I recommend training in pedagogy methods before you ever begin teaching, of course.)

  • Linguistic validation

  • Localization

  • Monolingual editing for academics and researchers, graduate students, professors, etc.

  • Multilingual design/DTP

  • Project Management

  • Social media or blog content creation in your target language

  • Subtitling and dubbing (there are loads of resources available through ATA’s Audiovisual Division)

  • Training and teaching (especially virtually right now)

  • Transcription

  • Tutoring and conversation partner services

  • Voice-over work

Almost all of these ideas require you to tap into your language skills in some way, but of course, you could diversify your business with additional services that complement language-related skills, like design, website creation, etc.

In addition to brainstorming additional services that could help you diversify your business, consider additional specializations for your translation offerings.

Research what specializations are experiencing an uptick in volume right now, and ask yourself:

  • Do any of these complement your current specialization(s)?

  • Can you start working in one of these areas right away, or will you need some additional training first?

Check out this tweet (and the comments) from Jost Zetzsche from early April for insights from colleagues.

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As you can see, there are many opportunities to be had.

While I would recommend looking at your current specialization(s) and skill set first, there’s no stopping you from branching out into a completely different area of translation that is unrelated to your normal flow of work.

Get creative!

The point of diversification is to open new doors and to allow your business to still flourish during times when client work may be lacking in any one area.

To figure out how you can best serve your current clients during an economic crisis while diversifying your business, you could ask yourself these additional questions:

  • What are their challenges and goals right now during the COVID-19 pandemic? What will they be in the future, and how can you be ready to help them?

  • Similar to the previous questions, how can you help position your clients for the future? They will be going back to work and will be working at full capacity at some point (hopefully sooner than later). Many will need to communicate differently or more often with customers or put new protocols in place that may require your skills.

  • How can you create additional opportunities to help your clients while diversifying your business? For example, perhaps you translate websites for your clients. Could you possibly learn more about SEO translation to add even more value for your clients? What about multilingual copywriting?

By diversifying your business, you are empowering yourself to handle future challenges. You also get the opportunity to see what else interests you and where you have additional (and marketable) strengths.

How have you diversified your translation business? Or if diversification is new for you, what are you excited to dive into? I’d love to hear from you in the comments at the end of this post.

Author bio

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo is the owner of Accessible Translation Solutions (ATS), a boutique translation company based in Southern California. She is also a Spanish and Portuguese to English translator, specializing in medicine and life sciences. Madalena’s interest in online marketing and copywriting has led her to write and teach about the benefits of using informational content online to attract and retain clients. After seeing the advantages of intentional and strategic marketing in her own business, Madalena now teaches those same skills to other freelance language professionals. She blogs and teaches courses on topics related to marketing your freelance translation business by deliberately building and shaping your online presence. For more information, visit www.madalenazampaulo.com.