There are many more than 3 translation business myths that need to be cleared up, but for now let’s take the top three. Countless languages in the world have many thousands and some even billions of monolingual or bilingual speakers.
The laws of statistics seem to dictate that any attempt to set up a translation business is futile. However, the reality is that serious competition from rivals is comparatively scarce.
Native speakers are generally held to be indisputable authorities on translation issues. This leads us to the first myth about the translation business: the native speaker is infallible..
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The Native Speaker is a Better Writer
Myth 1 of the 3 translation business myths is that the native writer is always the best source. When you start up your own translation business you will soon discover that most customers, especially the more knowledgeable ones, will demand that the translation be done by a native speaker, on the assumption that a native speaker is automatically a good writer. Not so.
While there may be over a billion native speakers of English worldwide, only a fraction of them can be relied upon to possess the judgement it takes to decide whether a translation is linguistically sound in a given business context.
We should not automatically assume that a native speaker is a good writer in his own language, and even less that he is a good translator. For one thing, translation requires thorough insight into the source language as well as the target language.
When you hire translators for your business, you should never forget that while a good translator is usually a native speaker of the target language, not all native speakers are good translators.
Quality is Most Important to Customers
Myth 2 of the 3 translation business myths has to do with client priorities, and the assumption that more than anything else, clients want quality. People can be excused for taking this myth seriously. Anyone in his right mind would expect that the client’s main concern when engaging a professional translation agency is to get a high-quality translation. Not so.
Studies have shown that most clients are in fact more interested in speed than in quality. This is not to say that your client will be pleased to accept any trash as long as he gets it fast; the point is that quality standards in a business context are different from those in an academic context, and may be overshadowed by practical concerns.
University students are trained to achieve linguistic perfection, to produce translations formulated in impeccable grammar and a superbly neutral style. Yet the fruits of such training may not be quite to the business clients taste. In fact, there are probably as many tastes as there are clients.
A lawyer will expect you first and foremost to build unambiguous clauses and use appropriate legalese; a machine builder requires technical insight and authentic technical jargon; and the publisher of a general interest magazine needs articles that are simply a good read.
What all clients tend to have in common, however, is a reverence for deadlines. After all, when a foreign client has arrived to sign a contract, there should be something to sign; when a magazine has been advertised to appear, it should be available when the market expects it.
In a business environment, many different parties may be involved in the production of a single document, which means that delays will accumulate fast and may have grave financial consequences.
If you manage to attract business, you will find that the translation industry can be quite profitable, even for business starters.
The third myth we would like to negate is that translation is essentially an ad hoc business with very low margins. Not so.
The Translation Business Is not Profitable
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Myth #3 of the 3 translation business myths is that translators don’t get paid that well. For example in the Netherlands and in Eastern Europe, the traditional image of the translator slaving away from dawn till dusk in an under-heated attic and still barely managing to make ends meet.
It is true that the translation process is extremely labor intensive, and despite all the computerization efforts, the signs are that it will essentially remain a manual affair for many years to come.
If you are capable of providing high-quality translations, geared to your clients requirements and within the set deadlines, you will find that you will be taken seriously as a partner and rewarded by very decent bottom line profits. Easily into the 6-figure range.