A few months ago Nicole Y. Adams invited me to participate in a book project as one of the contributors. The book is called Diversification in the Language Industry, and its release is scheduled at the AUSIT Excellence Awards on November 16. Quoting Nicole, “the premise of the book is that it may be advisable for freelance translators today to diversify beyond mere translation in order to succeed or even survive in this increasingly volatile market.” I do share this perception, so I immediately liked the idea, readily accepted the invitation, and wrote my moderately pessimistic chapter on ‘Trends on Translation Market and their Consequences’. Still, there was an issue that, after a discussion, we decided to omit – the issue important enough to deserve a separate publication.
It’s about the scope of diversification, or, probably, interpretation of the entire diversification concept.
Every time I try to identify the reasons for and purpose of diversification (“Why should I diversify and what exactly do I want to achieve by it?”), I inevitably end up analyzing financial aspects and prospects of translation. “Success” and “survival” from Nicole’s definition may work fine in certain cases, though the former is way too vague and the latter is way too desperate.
In my view, the need for diversification comes primarily from our uncertainty in the profitability of translation in the future, and its purpose is to guarantee a certain income level or even increase it.
The book will focus on language or translation-related diversification opportunities whereas my approach was a bit wider: looking for additional income sources, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to language or translation. In fact, we shouldn’t limit ourselves at all – provided the earning opportunities are legal.
My assessment of the prospects at the translation market is as follows: the future looks pretty promising for about 15%-20% of the translators’ community; 20%-30% of us will manage to maintain our current status; for the rest, things will gradually get worse. Myself, I expect to stay in the “20%-30%” group for a while and will probably migrate to “the rest” in 5-7 years from now – or even earlier. If I’m right, translation is not going to earn me more than it does now (while the cost of living is steadily getting higher), and soon my income will start shrinking. So, diversification is indeed a good solution.
I’d split diversification into a few categories:
- Adding new specialization areas. Note that learning new subjects is not always necessary in this case! A colleague and a good friend of mine told me recently that nearly all of his current translation jobs have to do with football – after 20 years of translating philosophy and scientific papers. It started a couple of years before EURO 2012 when he started translating materials on the preparation of Ukraine for the European Football Cup and, being a football fan and expert, did an excellent job. Actually, he transformed his hobby into an area of expertise.
- Learning and offering additional services that may come together with translation. DTP or procession of AutoCAD files are two good examples.
- Offer new services (not related to translation) using the existing linguistic or professional skills. Language teaching? Translation training or workshops? Marketing classes? Anything you are good at can generate additional income.
- Independent income-generating line of business. Few of us work 24/7, or even receive enough jobs to keep us busy 8 hours a day; idle periods can last from a few hours to a few weeks. Why not use them for trying something new? Here, the choice is only limited by our imagination and preferences; anything, from growing organic spice herbs to painting, from online marriage counseling to guided tours about your home town, can be both enjoyable and, with appropriate marketing, profitable.
- Finally, proper management of available assets – financial, immobile, technical, etc. For example, local banks in Ukraine offer 20% or higher interests on deposits, and even with the relatively high risk of exchange rate fluctuations it’s a good way of saving and accumulating funds.
For myself, I do try different things, mostly out of curiosity, and as a security measure. So far, translation remains the primary source of income, not to be beaten by other sources in the next few years. But I’m not looking for immediate results; on the contrary, I’m more interested in long-term profitability and invest (time and/or money) accordingly – whether into bonsai, real estate, or new knowledge.