How competitive is the translation industry really?

I often hear people complaining about how competitive the translation industry is and from new translators trying to work out how low they can afford to set their rates in the hope that will get any work at all.

But is the translation industry really that competitive?

In many ways, of course, it is. There are a lot of translation agencies and a lot of freelance translators out there fighting for work and trying their very best to undercut each other on prices. You only need to look at and similar sites to see that this is where many translators spend their time and where they seem to find their translation work. The lower-end of the market, therefore, is indeed fiercely competitive. But is the lower-end of the market really where you want to be?

A premium product for a premium price

I for one certainly wouldn’t still be a freelance translator if my daily bread consisted of grappling round at the bottom of the food chain for a few cents here and there. This is why I offer a premium product – but not only that, I offer this premium product to those customers who want and are therefore also prepared to pay for a premium product.

Here’s how:

1) Identify your ideal customers on the basis of your unique set of skills –  you cannot possibly serve everybody or provide the range of different types of services every potential customer will ever need, so work out what you can do and what you want to do and seek out customers who match your profile.

2) Get to know your customers and make sure that you are providing them with the precise service and product they want and need – if not, make adjustments where feasible and where these seem sensible, otherwise consider whether this particular customer is really a good match for you.

3) Build up a long-term partnership with your customers so that when they have a translation requirement, they automatically come straight to you – it is much easier to keep existing customers then to attract new ones and you also have the added benefit of knowing how they operate, that they pay on time, etc.

4) Make yourself indispensable – I know they say we’re all dispensible but if you find ways to go the extra mile for your customers and become a valuable asset, they should never have reason to find out whether or not this is true.

If price is the only thing you feel you have to compete on, I urge you to take another look at your business strategy.

Why it is important to choose your specialisation

Many beginning translators are just happy to get work, any work, and while this is understandable, not making a decision in favour of a particular area or particular areas of specialisation early in one’s freelance career can lead to a whole series of negative consequences. This article will discuss a few of these.

Why specialisation is essential

Specialisation is absolutely essential for a successful freelance translation business. Although it is most probably true that a good linguist using the right research techniques is in a position to tackle many different types of texts, specialising in a particular area or in a few particular areas will reduce the amount of research you have to do for each translation thus making you more efficient and more productive.

Won’t specialising reduce the amount of work I am offered?

Specialising will reduce the types of work you are offered or choose to accept but not necessarily the amount. Even if you are starting out working for agencies, agencies will keep a list of specialist areas against your name. If you don’t approach them with a list of specialisations, thinking that you just want to take on as much work as possible regardless of the type, you will most likely find that the agency will start to regularly send you texts belonging to a particular specialisation of their own choosing because even agencies know that translators are more efficient and more productive when they deal with similar types of texts. Letting an agency essentially choose your specialisation for you or leaving your specialisation to chance is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons for dissatisfaction among freelance translators.


If you start out as a non-specialist, don’t take a decision early on to specialise in a particular area and then wake up one day to find that, as a result of all of the research you have carried out in the course of your translations in a particular subject-field, you have become a specialist for an area you find mind-numbingly boring, you have done yourself a disservice. You have also wasted a lot of time and energy becoming a specialist in an area you never wanted to specialise in in the first place.

Take responsibility

Even when you are starting out and feel like you have no experience or specialist skills, you need to sit down and seriously consider what skills you really have and could build on and what areas you are really interested in. In my opinion streamlining your business is absolutely essential for success. It will help you to determine your target customers which will, in turn, allow you to focus your marketing activities, help you to get projects which you find interesting, allow you to spend time researching and taking courses in subjects which really fascinate you and ultimately make you a much more confident, efficient and – perhaps most importantly – happy translator.