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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Strategizing for Global Competition

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Strategizing for Global Competition

Strategizing for Global Competition


The ongoing globalization of business often has a tangible impact on translators, who face growing competition from countries with lower pricing standards. As foreign translators enter the market in increasing numbers, and price pressures on translation agencies are on the rise, new strategies are needed to retain and attract clients.

Dear Business Smarts:

I just got off the phone and am so angry I cannot see straight. A major long-term client, whom I have faithfully supplied with English into Portuguese translations for many years, recently became quiet and stopped sending assignments. When I inquired whether there had been a problem, I received evasive answers — until today, when I was asked to edit a text. That is when I found out that this client is now getting Portuguese translations directly from Brazil, at less than half the price I charge! I angrily declined the editing assignment, but am deeply troubled about this development. What can I do to ensure my business is not lost entirely to low-cost providers from abroad?
— Losing Business in Houston

Dear Losing Business:

The new global economy, with its instant communication and direct access to a variety of providers, certainly has its darker side. As domestic prices rise, businesses are examining their service costs and attempting to keep them as low as possible, often at the expense of and without regard for long-term suppliers like you. In their focus on the bottom line, managers who purchase translations often brush aside factors such as expertise, experience in specific fields, and familiarity with certain clients.

Upsetting as it may be, the loss of this major client to cheaper competition is also a wakeup call for you. It is time to examine your business strategy and realign it to make sure your business can survive in the face of global competition. First, think about all the features that set you apart from your foreign competitors. These may include your first-hand knowledge of U.S. culture and customs, courses you have taken, and any additional qualifications you have (including ATA certification). Also, think about the specific areas of expertise in translation you have developed over the years. Consider your particular strengths as well as the “added value” you can offer, such as expertise with translation tools, state-of-the art software, etc. The capabilities you have just listed are what marketing professionals call your “unique selling points.”

If you have neglected your marketing efforts for a while because you were comfortable with the volume of work you received from steady clients, now is the time to proactively distribute your résumé to specific clients who interest you. Reaching out to new clients may also require preparing a revised brochure about your services together with an appealing business card, possibly designed by a professional. Use the selling points you have developed, and emphasize them in your marketing efforts. Join networking groups and distribute your contact information. Are there any potential direct clients in your area who would appreciate having you within easy reach when they need translations? Are you easy to find in the telephone directory or through the Chamber of Commerce?

If you have not felt the need to brush up on your skills for a while, take a hard look at how competitive your translation skills truly are. If your knowledge is a little rusty, look for seminars and conferences in your area. Conduct your own research and update your knowledge in fields that are of interest to you. You may also need to devote some time to learning new computer software.

With all of these updates and a fresh approach, you are certain to attract new clients who will bring new challenges and many more successful years for your freelance business.


Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: September 2007, p 40