Sunday, 1 February 2015

Visible translators - a new business model

Project manager with virtual team of coworking translators

The translation business model has seen little change for decades. Technology is challenging the status quo. Large, inflexible agencies and big technology solutions are not the answer for all clients.

Existing business models
Existing models often place linguists in charge of translation businesses or non-linguist entrepreneurs in the driving seat. Either party is felt to be too language-focused for business or too cut-throat and profit-oriented for the art of translation. Either way, the most important person in the quality chain, the translator gets squeezed. Not enough fight or too much - the result is the same.

Translator investment
As the translator's earnings are eroded, so too is his or her ability to
·      buy or rent a decent home and office
·      maintain fluency and keep source/target languages up-to-date
·      attend translation conferences and relevant trade fairs at home and abroad
·      equip an office and buy the latest software
·      make an ongoing investment in CPD
·      join professional associations and attain certifications/qualifications

Even experienced, full-time translators complain that they cannot afford many of the above. Current agency rates often fall short. Clients expect all the above in a professional. As a freelancer, I want to offer my clients the sort of service that I expected as a client. I therefore place great importance on CPD and attending trade events to keep up-to-date.

Future options
If existing translation agencies are unable or unwilling to increase the rates to freelancers, then there are two options. Option one is to leave the translation community all together. Option two is to cut out the middlemen.

Unprecedented opportunity for rate increase?
Agencies need to capitalise on high industry growth and improving economic growth to increase rates to translators. As a former client, I can see that the increased professionalisation and industry standards offer an unprecedented opportunity to justify an increase to clients. If not, then increasing numbers of translators will be forced to cut out the middlemen and work with direct clients at agency prices. Their alternative is to leave the profession. Many well-qualified legal interpreters have already been forced outside their chosen profession by the Ministry of Justice Framework Agreement.

Coworking with SMEs
Groups of freelance translators are particularly suited to working with SMEs for example. Large agencies do not have the necessary flexibility to give them all the help they need. A client who is new to translation buying, cultural issues and exporting can find that greater flexibility in working with freelancers.

At a translation conference several years ago, I heard about a Dutch company that put the translator back at the heart of the translation process. His team of translators work directly with clients. I would like Anglicity's future growth to take a similar path. Other business models will undoubtedly co-exist. I believe that there is a future for specialised, freelance coworking teams with direct client contact.

Karen Andrews is an
entrepreneurial freelance
translator and content
writer. Her past experience
as a client gives her a
near 360º perspective
on the translation
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