Thursday, 29 September 2016

We Have to Swim Against the Tide

Many translators charge abysmally low rates — the kind that today's market refers to as 'best' — because they sense the tendency in the market (it's hard not to) and feel compelled to give a response or think there's no other way that to react to the trend.

The thing is, the translator's reaction — just like anyone else's — reaction doesn't have to be affirmative.

Where the rates are right now is a result of agencies, and to some extent clients, not affirming but trying to change the shape of the market they encountered a decade or two (or three) ago.

More precisely, it is  the delayed end result of many years of going against the tide by reducing translators' rates at every step. In the short run it may have been a cent or two here or there, but the accumulated result is in hundreds of percents.

My goal is not necessarily to persuade you to become a lone gunner for change; rather it is to show you that there are other ways than going overboard and meeting and exceeding concessions that haven't even been asked.

There is no such imperative, no such requirement, no nothing.

You are no less perceptive if you identify a tendency but refrain from jumping on the bandwagon. And one doesn't become a savvy businessperson by just simply giving one's profits away.

The market is not some emperor you have to prostrate yourself before and fall on your sword for. It could be compared to a force of nature. And if a force of nature, such as flood, threatens to destroy your house, you don't start smashing your own windows and tearing down your own walls and shoot yourself in the head when you're done because that's what is 'expected'. Instead, you build a dam to contain that force or relocate to avoid it.

It's the same with the market.

Confrontation, however, requires some stamina. Not even because of the fighting that's to come but because of all the work informing and persuading people is going to take. You've already seen where laziness and inaction has taken us.

Be different, you're allowed to. Don't be like a soldier who surrenders because that's what the enemy said you have to do. What kind of soldier would do that anyway?

One of things you need to have the gall to do is allow clients to learn some things the hard way. You know the adage: 'If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.' By all means give them a fair warning; your professional ethics require that you do that. But don't save them by actually halving your fees to meet their arbitrary price point that has every chance of being part of an abstract, general desire to pay less and keep more in the bank, wherever and whenever possible.

Save your breath, don't waste work time talking too much to people who choose to be in denial or fake ignorance. But realize that on every road to take there is always a first step. The best way to make sure nothing changes is to sit back and do nothing. Sometimes most of what a journey takes is a good start — so just put a minimum of effort in it and see where that takes you. Don't give up before you even try.

I want you to realize that, while your potential to make a difference is limited, realistically speaking, a lot of it is in your head. And that is something that mostly isn't outside your own control. You can't just press a brain switch to turn yourself into next William the Conqueror if that's not your nature, but you can certainly not actively help hostile market forces control your life by simply giving them what they want and more.

I hesitated to bring up this particular comparison, but it's a bit like dating. If a stranger asks you to do something you don't want to do, do you do that and more (let alone without even being asked but simply because you anticipate the wish), or do you rather say: 'Sorry, you need to back off.'? It's the same in business.

… Even though some of the forces active in the market certainly would like you to adopt a profound slave mentality to which any notion of defiance, resistance or just simply doing things in a different way is completely unthinkable. Here's what: You don't have to do that. It's in your head whether you yield to the pressure or not.


  1. Hi Luke:

    I would just add that there is no single "market". There are many markets for translation. There is a big difference in the rates being paid by direct clients and by translation agencies for the same translation, and there is also a significant difference being paid for the same work by different agencies. So a good strategy to survive falling rates is to identify a market segment that pays good rates and concentrate on that segment.

  2. Yes, Steve, I mean 'the market' as an umbrella term without implying that the description holds true for all that fits within in.


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