Why you shouldn’t worry about the competition

Several weeks ago I was catching up with a friend of mine who is a Spanish interpreter and translator. As usual we started talking about our businesses and that’s when she told me she had left freelancing behind and had taken a full-time in-house interpreting job.

I was a little shocked, especially since she went into freelancing for the freedom and flexibility it offered. So I asked why and what she said surprised me.

You see, my friend was convinced she couldn’t make it as a freelance translator because there is too much competition. This is something translators complain about all the time. But the thing is, competition is a good sign.

When an industry has a lot of competition it shows that there is a real demand. Unfortunately for my friend, she couldn’t see this and when I tried to explain she said…

“It’s because you work in a small language and you don’t have a lot of competition”.

Ironically, when I first started working as a freelancer, fellow translators suggested I keep my day job because it would be tough trying to freelance full-time working in a small language.

You can image the look on my face when she said this.There are plenty of freelance translators working in popular language pairs making a great living.

And instead of seeing successful translators as the exception to the rule, we should try to uncover what they’re doing right and how we could make it work for us. We always have to test our assumptions.

One of the biggest barriers to making a great living as a freelance translator is mindset traps. Once you understand it, you start seeing it everywhere. Mindset traps manifest themselves in comments like:

•There is too much competition

•I don’t have a lot of experience

•I work in small language pairs

•Clients only want to work with the cheapest

There is a formula to succeeding as freelance translator and it’s in your control. To duplicate the success of others, study the best. What are leading freelance translators doing right? And how can you make it work for you.

Successful translators are never concerned with the competition. They listen to the market to find out what specializations are in demand for their language pairs.

They don’t get knocked down by failure–instead they embrace it as an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t. And they pursue the type of clients that value the results their translation services produce–and not the type that need convincing.

There is so much more to being a top translator than finding high-paying clients and raising your rates. What separates successful freelance translators from the struggling ones really boils down to mindset.

With that being said, are there mindset traps that have held you back from reaching your full potential? What are the some of the most common ones you hear yourself or other translators say? Share your comments below.




  • Nina

    Reply Reply January 5, 2017

    Dear Maryam,

    First of all, thank you for your blog! I feel so motivated now to try this out! 😀 I have a question, though. You always talk about “listen to the market to find out what specializations are in demand for their language pairs”. How? How do you find out which market needs my translation skill? Which, btw, is a very common language pair: English German. I would like to improve my other languages as well so that I can offer those as well. Plus, I actually have a couple of interests and you suggest that those fields should be used as niches for my work, right?

    Did you sit down, thought about which companies you wanted to work with – or what kind of company – and then directly contacted them? I am a bit unsure how I should do this very first step of finding clients.

    And my other question would be about the price. You wrote about raising your rates, but where should I start in the first place? I know that translators charge per word but I am not sure how much I should charge. I had an eye out for what other people charge, but it varies between very much and very little.

    I don’t know if this message will reach you but if you would find the time to reply, I’d be very grateful.

    All the best and happy new year.

    • admin

      Reply Reply March 16, 2017

      Hi Nina,

      Great questions! When you’re selecting a specialization “listening to the market” entails researching the industries that have a demand for translations in your language pairs. This includes finding the top industries in English speaking countries that do business with Germany and viceversa. If there is a lot of competition in a certain specialization for your language pairs that’s a good sign there’s a healthy demand. Another strategy I like to use when “testing” a specialization is searching on LinkedIn for other German < -> English translators. Ask yourself, what are some of the specializations that keep coming up?

      Listening to the market also includes talking to other translators, project managers and potential clients about the subject matter you’re interested in so you can gauge the demand. Besides searching for top industries you need to draw on your educational and professional background; being experienced and having an interest in your specialization will improve the quality of your translations and make your work more enjoyable. It’s important to ensure that there is sufficient business to sustain your translation practice. Choosing an area of expertise haphazardly or following your “passion” could sometimes lead you to a dead-end specialization. After testing your specialization and ensuring there is enough demand for your language pairs, the next step is to find potential clients. I like to use the “Foot-in-the-Door Strategy” using LinkedIn. You can find the detailed step-by-step strategy here http://www.thoughtsontranslation.com/2017/02/17/finding-clients-on-linkedin-guest-post-by-maryam-abdi/ This is usually how I get in contact with direct clients.

      As for raising your rates, it depends. First determine if your ideal clients have the willingness and ability to pay for your translation services. For example, most non-profits have a need for translation services but they don’t always have the ability to pay. This will put a cap on what you can charge. My suggestion is to use what I call the “1% strategy.” This involves pursuing robust specializations and then pursuing the top players a.k.a the one percent. These are usually the type of clients that have a lot to lose from faulty translation; they care a lot about their business and they’re willing to pay for quality translations. It’s always a good idea to see what the top translators in your specialization and language pairs are charging but that shouldn’t limit you either. You’ll have to experiment with your rates quite a bit to understand what the market is willing to pay. These strategies do involve doing the bulk of the work upfront but the payoff is well worth it. Let me know if you have additional questions.

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