Future-Proofing Your Career As A Translator


On May 10th 2015, I published a blog post entitled “What does the future hold for translators?” Based on a talk about the future of our profession that had made a considerable impact on me at the 2015 ITI Conference in Newcastle, it received over 600 views in just four days, and has since been viewed over 1,000 times.

I recently had both the honour and the pleasure of writing a guest post for eCPD Webinars about what happened next. Click here to find out how people reacted to my original post and what you can do to future-proof your career as a translator.


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Riding The Wave Of Technological Change As A Translator

Riding The Wave Of Technological Change As A Translator

While the aim of new technologies is to improve our efficiency and productivity as professional translators, could the ever-increasing speed at which new solutions are released be detrimental to our performance? And what can we do to ride the wave of technological change more effectively? Find out in my first contribution to newly launched online magazine Slator.


The Future-Proof Translator Webinar Series


The Future-Proof Translator is a series of 6 webinars designed to help translators prepare for the changes our industry is facing. As the pace of progress continues to increase, the aim of this course is to help participants adapt more effectively and with more confidence to the changes ahead, whether or not they choose to embrace the latest technologies.

The Future-Proof Translator

Part One (first 3 modules) is offered in partnership with eCPD Webinars, a leading provider of professional development courses designed to help language professionals develop their careers and run their businesses efficiently and profitably. Participants will have the opportunity to register for Part Two (3 modules) directly with Coaching For Translators.

For more information about the course, and to take a proactive step towards securing your future as a translator, please visit www.thefutureprooftranslator.com.

The Translator’s Second Curve


Business commentator and social philosopher Charles Handy based the idea for his latest book – The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society – on the sigmoid curve that describes the normal lifecycle of products, markets and organisations. He developed the Second Curve metaphor to help individuals and organisations manage their transitions more smoothly and more effectively in a world where technological change is occurring at an ever-increasing rate, as is the case in the translation industry.

The lifecycle of every product, service, organisation or market can be divided into 4 phases over time. The first phase, called the Inception Phase, often starts with a dip which corresponds to an initial period of learning and investment. In the case of an individual starting a translation business, this initial dip can include a period of training and experimenting, as well as the purchase of office equipment, software applications and professional memberships. During this phase, a freelance translator is likely to spend more money than they earn.

All going well, the Inception Phase is then followed by a period of Growth during which the product, service or organisation improves, becomes more and more efficient and strengthens its reputation. Our freelance translator feels energised and confident as more and more work comes in.

The sigmoid curve then reaches a third phase called the Maturity Phase. At that stage, individuals and organisations often feel comfortable and remain unaware of the fact that stagnation is setting in as their product/service reaches a plateau. In the case of our freelance translator, this could mean working full-time, with no capacity left for new clients, hence no growth.

The curve finally enters a phase of Decline, which can be caused by a number of factors, including obsolescence, the introduction of new products or services by competitors, a shift in the needs of the market and new technologies. Our freelance translator could for instance be superseded by a competitor who charges less, is more up-to-date with the latest terminology or uses technology that is better suited to the clients’ needs.

According to Charles Handy, there’s no need to worry about the Decline Phase in the sigmoid curve, as there can always be a second curve, ie a chance to start a new growth cycle with a new product or service or new business practices. The key, however, is to start this new cycle before the first curve peaks, when there are enough resources available to cover the initial dip in the new curve. Taking risks and initiating a change is much more difficult in a state of decline, when time, money, energy and confidence levels are falling.

The Translator's Second Curve

In the case of our freelance translator, a second curve could mean subcontracting to other freelancers before reaching full capacity, when there’s still time available for networking and getting to know potential partners. Here are a few more examples of possible second curves for translators (not all of them will apply to you):

  • Starting your freelance business while you’re still working for an employer
  • Looking for direct, premium clients while agency work is going strong
  • Launching a new service (cultural consultancy, copywriting, etc.) while your reputation as a translator is still growing
  • Investing in continuing professional development (CPD) to learn about new technologies while your current work practices are still viable
  • Switching to machine translation post-editing to make the most of the growing globalisation and localisation market before your clients demand it

The most successful businesses are the ones that follow the concept of the Second Curve and keep reinventing themselves – Apple is a very good example. But the problem with this concept lies in the difficulty of knowing when the first curve is about to peak, as people don’t tend to think about change in times of growth. “First curve success can blind one to the possibilities of a new technology or a new market, allowing others to seize the initiative” (Charles Handy, The Second Curve).

The secret of continued growth and success is to monitor where you are on the sigmoid curve and to identify the ideal point of transformation. This is all the more critical in today’s fast-evolving global markets. As Charles Handy puts it in The Age of Paradox: “The world is changing. It is one of the paradoxes of success that the things and the ways which got you where you are, are seldom those that keep you there”.

When in the past did you start a new curve? When did you miss a turn? Where on the sigmoid curve are you currently standing and what will your next curve be?


How coaching can help:

The aim of coaching is to increase people’s awareness and help them take positive steps towards a successful future. A coach will act as a sounding board and allow you to explore new ideas before putting them into practice. They will remain impartial and non-judgemental while you discuss the reality, as well as the consequences, of taking certain actions. The decision whether or not to start a new curve will always remain yours.


You may also like:

What Does The Future Hold For Translators?

The Translator’s Business Priorities Wheel

The Translator’s Stretch Zone

The Translator’s Stretch Zone

When it comes to adapting to new situations or achieving new goals, many people believe that they have a Comfort Zone (where they feel safe and confident) and a Panic Zone (where they feel scared, insecure and/or overwhelmed). In reality, we all have a third, in-between zone called the Stretch Zone, a place where we feel energised, challenged and motivated to take action.

Our Comfort Zone and our Panic Zone couldn’t be more different (one feels good, the other feels bad), yet they share the same danger: stagnation — the former by leading to complacency, the latter by causing paralysis. Our Stretch Zone, on the other hand, is the zone where we take manageable risks, learn new things and grow. It’s the zone where change happens.

Many translators, whether they’re new to the industry or wish to expand their business, give up on their big goals too soon because of the sense of panic they feel when they think about what they’re trying to achieve. In other words, their “End Goal” is in their Panic Zone.

If you find yourself in that situation, the best way to avoid this sense of panic is to focus on the steps that are going to take you safely and efficiently to where you want to be, ie your “Journey Goals”. These steps will guide you through your Stretch Zone, where you will be able to feel more in control, learn new skills, and increase your confidence.

For instance, if your end goal is to work for direct clients and you’ve only worked with agencies so far, your journey goals will include updating your LinkedIn account, researching potential clients, creating a website, networking, etc.

Each time you’ll reach a new journey goal, your Comfort Zone will expand, pushing your Stretch Zone outwards, until it eventually includes your end goal. Your end goal will gradually seem less scary and easier to achieve.

Take a moment to think about what you’re trying to achieve as a freelance translator. What would a 10 out of 10 look like? Write it down on a piece of paper. How do you feel about this goal?

Now think about the different areas you will need to focus on in order to reach that goal? Write them down on your piece of paper. Which area will you need to focus on first? How do you feel about this journey goal? If it still feels too scary, how could you break it down into smaller steps?


How Coaching Can Help:

Coaching can help you break your goals down into manageable steps. Your coach will act as a sounding board using effective listening and questioning skills to support you through your Stretch Zone. They will help you stay focused and in control, thus allowing you to reach your goals more quickly and more efficiently than if you were doing it alone.


You may also like:

FREE Coaching Session For Translators And Interpreters (mp3 file)

“Calling Yourself A Coach?” – Demystifying Coaching In The Translation Community

The Translator’s Business Priorities Wheel

Five Common (And Surmountable) Barriers To A Fulfilling Career In Translation

The Translator’s Guide To Finding And Targeting A Niche Market

Time Management For Translators – Time Log Exercise

Coaching Tips For Translators (Video)

Success Mindset For Translators (Tess Whitty’s podcast)


To keep up-to-date with my latest posts and announcements, please feel free to use the links on this page to subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page. I look forward to seeing you there!

What Does The Future Hold For Translators?

Tech Comm expert Stefan Gentz talked about the future of our industry at the 2015 Institute of Translation and Interpreting Conference, which took place in Newcastle, UK, last month. His “10 facts about the future the translation industry cannot afford to ignore” were received with mixed reactions, including criticism about the one-sidedness of his presentation and his bias towards machine translation.

Although I’m not a fan of automatic translation, I was surprised by some of the comments I heard at the conference as I hadn’t expected Stefan’s talk to be about anything else. As a freelance translator affected by the emergence of MT and post-editing, I wanted to learn more about that side of our industry and what it holds for our future. The aim of this article is to present the key messages I took away from the talk.

Stefan isn’t a translator himself, which means that it wasn’t possible for him to connect with his audience on that level. Instead, he used humour and told us how, as a kid, he believed he would grow up to become a cowboy; and how things didn’t turned out that way – a familiar experience for many of us. Through his personal story, he described how reality often differs from our expectations, thus inviting us to consider an alternative future for ourselves and for the translation industry.

Stefan went on to share facts he believes translators cannot afford to ignore. Quickly abandoning his light-hearted tone in favour of a more provocative one, he displayed a series of bold statements on large red screens. His key messages were as follows:

  • Translation is now global. People buy and sell translation online, and most translation will happen in the cloud within 10 years’ time. We need to think and act globally.
  • Clients want faster translation. They’re no longer prepared to wait. We need to fulfil that need through the use of translation technology.
  • Clients also want cheaper translation, some even want it for free. Many of them need hundreds of thousands of words translated and simply can’t afford to pay the full price. Their prime motivation is cost reduction, not quality. We need new business models.
  • Translation has become an embedded sub-process. We have to embrace technology and the tools that are available to understand how our clients manage their content and to fulfil their needs.
  • 3 trillion gigabytes of data are produced every day. This represents a huge potential for translators, but we’ve already lost 99% of our market opportunity to Google and Microsoft because we’re not developing fast enough. Google translates more words in 1 minute than all human translators in one year!
  • Without translation, there’s no global business. We need to become more confident and to make a strong story of our business. The translation industry has a future, but we need to change because the world is changing.

Gentz Talk 1

By the end of the presentation, the mood in the audience had shifted. Some felt inspired, some were angry, while others felt that machine translation had nothing to do with them. As a translator specialising in IT and software localisation, I recognised the changes Stefan described in his talk. The introduction of MT and post-editing started to have a noticeable impact on my work a couple of years ago, and led me to add a new direction to my career.

Like me, you may not like the growing role that MT is playing in our industry or its effect on the quality of our work, but Stefan has a point: the world is changing, attitudes are changing, and the future of our profession will depend on our ability to transform what many perceive as a threat into a new opportunity. This is all the more feasible as MT doesn’t have to replace high-quality, human translation. Despite the disproportionate size of its potential market, it can simply coexist alongside it – a point Stefan should perhaps have stressed more during his presentation.

But apart from the “gold mine” the MT market could represent for translators, I believe there are two main reasons why we should reclaim it from companies like Google and Microsoft. The first one is that, although automatic translation isn’t currently producing the quality of work humans can, it will improve fast. I once heard someone say that it will be another 40 years before machines can translate like us. I disagree. I believe that MT will be of an acceptable standard within the next 10 to 15 years, at least in a number of fields. While of course I’m not an expert, I’m basing this estimate on the speed at which I’ve seen technology evolve over my 15-year career as a translator, and on conversations I’ve had with researchers and scientists in my hometown, Cambridge, aka Silicon Fen.

The second reason why I think we can’t afford to let Google and Microsoft take full ownership of the MT market is that, if we’re not careful, these companies will transform the way consumers view our services without us having a say in the matter. Microsoft’s corporate vice president Gurdeep Pall recently said “Translation is something we believe ought to be available to everybody for free”. Business models that include free products and services not only make sense for large companies, they’re something consumers have come to expect, especially the younger generations. “Freebies” are rapidly becoming the norm. Gmail and Facebook are free, linguee.com is free, this article is free. Business models are changing. We will need to change too.

Stefan’s talk really opened my eyes to the size of the MT market, as well as its impact on the future of our profession. While I strongly believe that specialisation and “premiumisation” are our best tools when it comes to making it as successful translators, I don’t think we can afford to boycott or even neglect machine translation. We can’t afford to let Google and Microsoft turn our profession into a freebie for all. To respond to new trends and fulfil new needs, we will need to adapt, be creative, and develop business models that make the most of the latest technologies. These could include free, standard and premium levels of service, or translation services provided as part of a diversified offering. New, innovative ideas are needed.

With his cowboy story, Stefan encouraged us to drop some of our expectations about the future and consider new alternatives. But if our attitudes towards machine translation are to change, we may need a stronger narrative. Perhaps an inspiring “David and Goliath” story – the translation industry versus the software giants of the Internet. Maybe then will translators consider the latest trends and technologies as weapons for renewal, growth and continued success.


You may also like:

Free Downloadable Coaching Session For Translators and Interpreters (Create a motivating action plan for the next couple of weeks)

“Calling Yourself A Coach?” – Demystifying Coaching In The Translation Community

The Translator’s Business Priorities Wheel

The Translator’s Stretch Zone

The Translator’s Guide To Finding And Targeting A Niche Market

Time Management For Translators – Time Log Exercise

Coaching Tips For Translators (Video)

Success Mindset For Translators (Tess Whitty’s podcast)


To keep up-to-date with my latest posts and announcements, please feel free to use the links on this page to subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page. I look forward to seeing you there!

Photos courtesy of Corinne Durand (@FrenchTranslatr)

The Translator’s Business Priorities Wheel

The Translator's Wheel

The Translator’s Business Priorities Wheel is based on a tool which is widely used in coaching: the Wheel of Life. It helps you to measure your current levels of satisfaction in key areas of your life (in this case, your work life), and enables you to identify the areas you need to address first in order to achieve better results and a better balance.

The Translator’s Business Priorities Wheel contains 8 sections that represent various aspects of your translation business. The figure above is provided as an example only, and you may wish to use your own categories. For instance, you may wish to break the Clients category into Direct Clients and Agencies, or to rename it Sales or Customer Service. You may also wish to group Marketing, Online Presence and Networking into one single category. The structure of the wheel is up to you.

How It Works

1- Creating the wheel: Get a blank copy of the Translator’s Business Priorities Wheel here. Once you have downloaded the file, label the 8 sections of the wheel according to your top 8 categories.

2- Outside each section/category, write down what a “10 out of 10” would look like, i.e. your goal. Be as specific as you can.

3- Rate your level of satisfaction with regards to what you have achieved so far in each category. Zero means “not satisfied” and 10 means “highly satisfied; I have achieved my goal”. Connect the lines to form an inner wheel. This will give you an overview of the balance you have achieved so far between the various areas of your translation business.


If the tyres on your car looked like this, how bumpy would the ride be?

4- Interpreting the wheel: Your aim is now to have all categories scored evenly, above 7 and as close to 10 as possible. If some categories are scored lower than 7, investigate how they may interact with each other in order to identify the area to address first.

For example, in the figure above, the translator felt that she had reached a plateau in terms of her productivity. The wheel helped her to identify CPD as an area she needed to tackle first. Her low score in that category could be linked to her low score in the Admin Work category, which could be linked to her productivity having plateaued.

5- Taking Action: Once you have identified the category to address first, determine the action you will need to take in order to get one step closer to the goal you wrote down for that category. How are you going to do it? When are you going to do it?

In our example, the translator decided to spend time online the following morning to search for the next available Project Management course for translators.

6- Committing: On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 meaning “Not committed at all” and 10 meaning “Totally committed”, how committed are you to taking the action you identified in step 5? What will be the benefits of taking that action?

I hope you have found this exercise useful. To keep up-to-date with my latest posts and announcements, please feel free to use the links on this page to subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page. I look forward to seeing you there!


You may also like:

Free Coaching Session For Translators and Interpreters (mp3 file)

“Calling Yourself A Coach?” – Demystifying Coaching In The Translation Community

The Translator’s Stretch Zone

The Translator’s Guide To Finding And Targeting A Niche Market

Time Management For Translators – Time Log Exercise

Five Common (And Surmountable) Barriers To A Fulfilling Career In Translation

Coaching Tips For Translators (Video)

Success Mindset For Translators (Tess Whitty’s podcast)

Interdependence – The Key To Success

One of the main challenges freelance translators have to face is isolation. Working alone for hours on end, day after day, can have a negative impact on our mood, while in the absence of a boss looking over our shoulder focusing and staying productive can soon become quite tricky. But there’s an even greater danger, as Stephen Covey explains in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: isolation prevents us from being truly successful.

Covey’s Maturity Continuum shows how, to be able to realise our full potential and reap the rewards, we need others. We need to connect and move from Independence (something many freelancers value) to Interdependence (the highest level of maturity): “Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.”

We start life in a state of Dependence. We are fed, looked after and shown the way. Without this level of support, we wouldn’t last very long. As the years go by, we become more and more independent — physically, intellectually, emotionally and financially — until we are totally in charge of ourselves. For many, this state of Independence, or Self-Mastery, is the ultimate goal. It is often seen in our society as the epitome of success. Few consider the next stage.

As a higher level of maturity, reaching Independence is a major accomplishment, but it isn’t the ultimate ideal in effective living. “Life is, by nature, highly interdependent. To try to achieve maximum effectiveness through independence is like trying to play tennis with a golf club.” Yet the concept of Interdependence is often misunderstood and many see it as regressive, as a step back towards Dependence. As a result, many relationships come to an end when partners, for fear of losing their hard-earned Independence, seek to re-affirm themselves.

Moving from Independence to Interdependence is not moving back to Dependence. Interdependence is a much deeper concept which implies a higher level of maturity. People who enter interdependent relationships (in business and in life) are self-assured, confident and self-reliant. They know that what they can achieve through Synergy with others is much bigger than the sum of what they would achieve independently.

“Interdependence is a far more mature, more advanced concept. If I am (…) interdependent, I am self-reliant and capable, but I also realize that you and I working together can accomplish far more than, even at my best, I could accomplish alone (…) As an interdependent person, I have the opportunity to share myself deeply, meaningfully, with others, and I have access to the vast resources and potential of other human beings. Interdependence is a choice only independent people can make. Dependent people cannot choose to become interdependent. They don’t have the character to do it; they don’t own enough of themselves.” (Stephen Covey)

What level of maturity have you achieved at work, and in your life? What could you do to move to the next stage? What could you do to connect more and increase your chances of success and fulfillment?

Photo credit: StockMonkeys.com

The 8 Principles Of Coaching

A coach believes that individuals possess huge potential to resolve their own issues.
(The coach doesn’t give advice.)

The coach brings no pre-conceived ideas or judgement but acts as a catalyst for change.

The coachee remains responsible at all times for the situation and the solutions.

The focus is always on what the coachee thinks and experiences.

A coach believes that coachees can generate perfect solutions.

Coaching is about helping people to learn rather than teaching them.

Coaching focuses on future possibilities, not past failures.

A coach believes in the value and uniqueness of each individual.


What has been your experience with coaching so far? How would you feel if a coach offered you the time and space to think creatively about something you want to change or achieve? What would you use it for?

The Happy Secret to Better Work

With over 9 million views, Shawn Achor’s fast-moving, highly entertaining presentation ranks among the 20 most popular TED talks. Based on his research and 12 years of experience at Harvard, Achor explains how happiness can actually inspire productivity, and reveals a formula which is proven to train the brain into seeing the world in a more positive way, thus making us happier and more efficient at work.

Shawn Achor is the CEO of Good Think Inc., a global consulting firm with a mission to teach the principles of positive psychology. He is a leading expert on the connection between happiness and success, and is the author of The Happiness Advantage.