American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Weathering Economic Doldrums

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Weathering Economic Doldrums

Weathering Economic Doldrums

In difficult economic times, service businesses are often the first to feel the pinch. Freelance contractors, who do not have a fixed income on which to rely, need to set up a strategy for leaner times in order to keep their businesses afloat.

Dear Business Smarts:

The news on television does not have to tell me about a possible slowdown of the U.S. economy. I can see a clear reduction of work in my order volume and the scope of projects I receive. This is the slowest my freelance translation business has been in five years. I have already started to look for work in online forums, but most projects pay so poorly that I might as well not accept them. I am wondering if I will be able to pull through this slow phase.

Dear Worried:

First and foremost, do not panic. You are certainly not alone in your concern about a recession in the U.S. economy. Since your business was thriving until a few months ago, however, there is every hope that you will eventually return to that same level of income. In the meantime, it is important to think about your strategy for a slow period.

First, take stock of your financial condition. How much consumer debt do you have, and what is your savings situation? What are your monthly fixed costs that absolutely must be covered? Based on this calculation, you can then try to identify any personal or work-related expenses that can be cut back to make up for lost revenue—being absolutely certain that a decrease in expenditure will not negatively affect the quality of your work. These figures will give you a realistic idea of the minimum monthly income you need to earn from your business, and will most likely put you at greater ease.

With that in mind, put a positive spin on your temporary downturn. This could be an excellent opportunity to embark on a new business venture. If you work in any language pairs that are in demand in Europe or Asia, explore the possibilities of finding customers in other countries. As the value of the U.S. dollar continues to slide against the euro, the fees of U.S.-based translators become increasingly attractive to European buyers, particularly because overseas transactions are also exempt from the high value-added tax (VAT) that is tacked on to service prices in many European countries. Restructure your résumé and application materials to suit this potential new market, stressing your experience and knowledge of local conditions in the U.S. Another approach may be to educate yourself for a new field of specialty that will continue to be in high demand, such as legal, medical, or financial translation.

It is most important to take a professional approach to your uncertain economic situation, by putting more effort into networking and making your presence known among your colleagues. Participate in online discussions in your specialization or language combination, but avoid the temptation to surf cheap auction sites to score poorly paid work assignments. A transient change in economic conditions can never destroy your experience and expertise.

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: April 2008, p 31