Diversifying your income stream

With the economy not really knowing what it’s doing this year, it’s a good time to look at your income stream: what’s up, what’s down, and how can you do more of the work that’s up? In my case, my work from U.S.-based agencies is markedly down, work from European clients (both direct clients and agencies) is holding steady and work related to translator training (such as my book and course) is way, way up.

Happily, most successful translators are good candidates for branching out beyond translation. If you’re running a successful freelance business, chances are that in addition to being fluent in at least two languages, you’re a good or excellent writer in your target language and you’re reasonably tech-savvy. All of these are good starting points for a sideline venture.

There’s a plethora of information on the web about how to create a spinoff business and make money from it. Many of these sites have useful tips on things that translators could potentially do, such as writing articles online and getting paid for it. The barometer that I always use is whether the site’s author gives actual data about their earnings so that you can judge whether the sideline business in question is a good possibility for you. For example, I  enjoy reading The Smart Passive Income Blog, because the author gives monthly reports about his income and what he did to earn it. For example, I deduced from reading this blog that writing articles on eHow, a possibility that I once considered as a remarketing tool for translation-related articles I’ve already written, is actually not a great option.  In addition, although the author of Smart Passive Income makes a lot of money from Google AdSense, I personally find ads on blogs to be pretty off-putting. By contrast, Smart Passive Income has a lot of great information about how to write and market an e-book, which I think could be useful to many translators.

Following are some ideas about diverse revenue streams for translators, feel free to contribute your own!

  • Write. This is probably the most obvious fit for many translators who are already good writers. Subject-specific glossaries and application-specific software guides offer fairly endless possibilities for writing. Also, I’ve seen from personal experience that niche business guides (how about something on marketing to direct clients?) can do very well. You can either create a simple PDF of your document and sell it on your website or use a self-publishing service such as Lulu (I use and enjoy Lulu but I don’t have any sort of affiliate deal with them) to create an e-book or traditional book.
  • Teach. You could teach classes at an established institution, maybe a course on how to run a successful freelance business via your local adult education program? Or you could offer courses on your own; how about something related to a translation-related tool that you use? With modern web-based tools, it’s not hard to set up a webinar, e-course, conference call, etc.
  • Do tech work for other translators. Think of a tech task that you’re proficient at and which is either labor-intensive/highly annoying or requires expensive software that most people don’t have. Alignment and PDF conversion are two tasks that spring to mind. I get a lot of PDFs to translate, but I’ve so far resisted purchasing a good conversion tool such as Abbyy FineReader because of the cost; I would definitely be willing to hire someone to do this task for me when it involves non-confidential documents.

In addition, why not expand these ideas to projects that aren’t translation-related? In the course of reading books with my elementary school-aged daughter, I’ve gotten interested in writing some historical fiction for young people and using the same publishing and marketing tools that I currently use for my book about how to become a translator. Any other ideas out there?

22 Responses to “Diversifying your income stream”
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