Diversification in the Language Industry
I’ve spent the last few days reading Nicole Y. Adam’s book Diversification in the Language Industry: Success beyond Translation.
(Spoiler alert: I highly recommend her book.)
Nicole’s book already had me at the foreword. Annamaria Arnall (National President AUSIT) writes:
When you are translating, you are expressing other people’s thoughts. You choose the words and you erect the structure, but you cannot have any input into the meaning. It is someone else’s meaning, someone else’s message. When you translate, you must not have a message of your own. This self-denial aspect of the job is rarely pondered, yet also significant. Diversification is a way to free your ego from the constant repression. [my bolds] When you are engaged in your other-than-translating job, you can generate new ideas, you can let your inventiveness soar where it would and you reap economic and self-affirmatory rewards.
These words really strike a chord with me. Yes, the translation industry is changing. Yes, some translators are struggling to make ends meet. BUT, diversification can also be a great opportunity to unleash your inner non-translator. Or as Marta Stelmaszak says in the book: “I decided to free the business part of me and acknowledge its existence.” (p. 258) Translators don’t need to be one-trick ponies and this book provides abundant food for thought on possible directions our talents could take us. It’s the antidote to the persistent bellyaching that nobody is willing to pay properly for our services and that working with languages amounts to a dead-end career choice. The take-home message is that nothing comes without effort, but those who keep their ears to the ground and their eyes peeled for opportunities can have more than satisfying language careers.
Of course it’s a truism that good things come to those who work hard. Nicole’s book serves as a great reminder that you also need to put all that hard work to good use. Doggedly plugging away at your translations and hiding from developments around you may not be the best use of your time and energy.
The structure of the book
As a first step, Nicole takes a closer look at the types of diversification we can find in the language industry.
Different types of diversification
- Linguistic diversification: Expanding your portfolio around your core service of translation
- Extra-linguistic diversification: Developing new business strategies
- Passive diversification: Income through productization
- External diversification: Specialized services for language service providers and fellow translation professionals
- Distinctive diversification: Creating a unique niche
The main bulk of the book belongs to successful, real-life diversifiers sharing their stories in essays and interviews.
Here’s a random sample of the diversification strategies mentioned:
- Post-editing of MT
- Voice-over, transcription
- Cross-cultural consulting
- Project management
- Blogging and social networking
- Online marketing
- Continuing professional development
- Business training
- CAT tool consulting
- Web-related services
- Multilingual desktop publishing
And the list goes on. The sheer range of different diversification options open to translators is once again a testament to the very different kinds of people that come together in the translation community.
This book is worth reading purely for the wealth of different perspectives it presents. Some translators made the conscious decision to diversify, while others were simply open for an interesting opportunity. Diversification can be a natural development in your career and doesn’t necessarily require entrepreneurial superpowers. Nor does diversifying have to be a knee-jerk reaction to a bad income situation. The featured translators are honest and relatable in their interviews and essays and share some personal insights that are definitely worth reading. The book also doesn’t attempt to gloss over the pressure weighing on our industry, but the general tone is encouraging.
The message they all share is that you should never stop learning, asking questions or looking for opportunities (maybe even take a risk or two). Knowing your strengths and building on them is the only viable way to remain successful as a freelancer. Diversify your services and branch out in a way that makes sense to you – Nicole’s book demonstrated just how many different options there. And I’m sure there are more.
One thing is a given: More of the same is rarely a winning long-term strategy.