A few months ago, there was ProZ poll titled “Have you set an income target for your translation work in 2013?”, and 61.1% of the 1750 ProZ members who responded said no, they had not. I feel like writing this opening line alone should gear you up for a potentially controversial discussion!
I wasn’t the author of the question, but the results startled me, to put it rather mildly. On the one hand, we have some translators who complain that translation is a thankless profession with few financial rewards, and yet on the other hand we have an informal survey of individuals indicating that many of them do not know how much they actually would like to be getting.
Of course, this particular subset of translators, being members of ProZ, could be earning so much that they are making more than enough to live on and thus couldn’t be bothered with worrying about every little penny that comes their way – a much more pleasant interpretation of the figures in my opinion, but no less shocking! Another explanation could be that the responders all work as in-house translators – highly unlikely, considering the platform they are using as paid members, but plausible nonetheless.
Personal experience, however, suggests to me that this is not the case. So why is it important for freelancers in particular to set a financial target for the year anyway? Some of you might be thinking “Well, if I set a target and reach it, so what?”.
Others of you might know from experience that setting goals and targets can be a double-edged sword – pushing hard to achieve a certain figure may lead to compromise on quality, family/friend/pet/Xbox time or recovery from illness or exhaustion, which in turn may lead to burnout – nobody wants to be in that group. Still others may be thinking that failing to reach a target may simply make you feel bad personally for no good reason. My last example of a counterargument to setting a financial target would be those who rightly state that our global society places too much focus on “goal-orientation”, “financial success” and “driver personalities”, instead of valuing the inherent worth of individuals.
The thing about freelancing, though, is that you have taken the conscious decision to become a miniaturised version of a corporate structure. Sure, perhaps you weren’t aware of that when you started out, but once you hit the two year mark, it should hopefully have started to sink in – in some form or another.
Instead of rambling on about the benefits of goal-setting and why it is a good thing (if you’re reading this, you have access to Google), however, I’d like to talk about potential ways that you can help yourself to reach that figure by using your obvious linguistic talents. Depending on how much time you have left before the deadline you have set for yourself, how much free time you’re willing to invest in achieving your goal and how well you are able to organise your time, there are some rather interesting possibilities.
Online Language Teaching
Clearly you have some grasp of a language other than your native language – take advantage of that. There are two groups of potential clients that you could be marketing to: people who speak your native language and want to learn one of the languages that you know, or people who want to learn to speak your native language. In the Internet Age, you have a wealth of teaching methods at your disposal – you could record videos or sound clips and put them online for sale, you could conduct Skype lessons or use the Google Hangout feature (make sure you get paid upfront) or you could simply set up a language learning blog and charge people to subscribe. You are probably going to have to spend a little bit more time on marketing for this, but there are several online platforms that help you to meet language learners, and even some that allow you to conduct your business via their platform for a small fee. Some people are even looking for something as simple as a conversation partner – and are willing to pay for it.
Create Language Teaching Material
Perhaps you’re not keen on spending time that you could be using for translation on interpersonal interaction – that’s quite all right! You could consider using your language talents to create material for teaching languages that can be used by others. There are several people who use their knowledge of multiple languages offline, and while I could have used that as on option, I am assuming that, as a translator in the Internet Age, you spend a lot of time online or in front of a computer, thus you probably want something that will keep you within arm’s reach of your machine. If not, offline language teaching could be just the thing for you!
However, offline language teachers often use material that they find online, and would be more than grateful for reasonably priced materials that were created by someone with deep insight into both languages – or at least someone who has faced the challenges of learning. If you’re really creative, you could create a story or characters to make the materials more lively, but even a simple textbook style format could earn you a little bit of cash. Again, you will have to do some marketing, but you might be able to do this on a much more local scale.
This seems to be a great place to end off for this week and continue with the post next week. I hope I have at least given you some food for thought for now, and hope that you’ll be back next week for Part II!
Dr. Sarai Pahla is currently a freelance Japanese and German to English medical translator who is also a non-practicing medical doctor. In her free time, she enjoys playing first-person shooters on her Xbox, studying new languages (next on the list is Russian) blogging in her own blog, Loving Language, and reading other translation blogs. She is also currently inching her way slowly towards a future career in space exploration. You can find her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus.
Well, I have to say I am among those translators who don’t have a very specific target income.
I understand your points, but these targets are maybe not for every single translator.
I just don’t like the idea of having a point after which I should be satisfied. I have a business plan, I am organized, I am trying to raise my rates as often as possible and I am always trying to reach higher – that’s more than enough to keep me motivated, my income is growing every year and I have no intention to stop 🙂
Thanks for your comment, Anthony!
I agree that you are obviously moving in the right direction – good for you! Although you say that you don’t have targets, you know that your income has grown year on year, which means you keep track of it – in a way, one could say that your target is to “beat” your income of the previous year. Keep up the good work and all the best for the future!
While I agree that every business (including freelancers) should set income targets to make sure their business is profitable, keep track of their success and be ready to face the unexpected, I think we should be very cautious when offering additional/complementary services.
As a matter of fact, being a successful translator doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a good teacher. Also, offline and online teaching come with a variety of different characteristics, and an “offline teacher” might just not be as good when switching to online teaching mode. The medium has a strong impact on the output, and moving education online takes more than just creating a PDF instead of a traditional paper exercise sheet.
As an “online educator” myself, who also had experience in “offline teaching”, I spent more than a few sleepless nights reading manuals on the peculiarities of online teaching and learning about how to design training courses for online audiences (or for one-to-one teaching).
Same thing for creating language teaching material. You mention creativity, which is a good starting point, but that is not the main point. To create effective teaching material, you need solid knowledge in teaching techniques and tools, as well as a thorough understanding of the different kinds of learning approaches. Adults and kids learn differently, so there is no guarantee that a school-like language course will do for adult learners.
Thank you for your constructive comment, Alessandra, you have raised some very important points.
You are absolutely correct – there are some translators who couldn’t teach their way out of a cardboard box, and it is unlikely that they would find much success in this field. There is also a learning curve involve in moving from simple teaching to actual instructional design, which may not be the direction in which some people want to move.
I personally still believe, however, that there is value in allowing people the chance to explore the possibility. Whether they make a success of it is in their hands and certainly not guaranteed, but I would like to think that there are at least some translators out there who are actually excellent teachers and simply haven’t taken the time to think outside the box for various reasons.
If you have some time, perhaps you could write a short article detailing some of the points you mentioned above in greater detail? I quite enjoyed a few of the articles on your blog!
Thank you, Sarai, for sparking this interesting conversation! I’ve been following your blog for quite some time now and I was happy to find you here as well.
Of course it is good to provide people with food for thought on the possibilities, but I also think it is important to point out that every new activity comes with a set of skills on its own, which might require lots of prior research and development – in other words, I like to present the two sides of a coin right from the start.
Also, thank you for the article suggestion – I’ll be happy to write about education and I’ve been toying with the idea a couple of times before, but time is always ticking faster than it seems.
I’ll take on your input and schedule a blog post on this as soon as I’ll defeat the giant project which has been haunting my desk lately 😉
I’m glad to hear that you are being kept busy, Alessandra, but I must admit, I’m also really interested to read a post by you on this subject! Good luck with your project and when you do get around to it, I hope you post the link here for others to read – that would be a great opportunity for all of us to learn something new.
Thanks for the comments on my blog – blogging is fun, but it is getting increasingly difficult to maintain a regular schedule! 🙂