Opportunity to fight stagnation

Opportunity to fight stagnation

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A turning point year

A review of the year is a snapshot: it gives a clear picture of the moment, but it’s a picture that can change a great deal over 12 months, as with photographs of a child growing up, for example. This time last year I was tremendously optimistic. I remember writing that I could feel myself moving up to another level. This year I’m no less optimistic, but things haven’t really worked out the way I’d planned.

Or perhaps planned isn’t quite the right word. Because the truth is that I had such a good year in 2015 that I probably became complacent. Great projects virtually fell into my lap and, although I realised that I was enjoying a lucky run, I didn’t do enough to ensure it continued. 2016 hasn’t been that kind of year. My higher rates have put off a number of agency customers and the great projects generally haven’t arrived. The result has been a much slower year, and stagnating income despite the higher rates. Something must be done about this, of course, of which more at the beginning of 2017.

I have done things this year to sell myself and to make myself more saleable, but perhaps my efforts have been too dispersed and not properly focused. In February I went to the ELIA conference in Barcelona which, in retrospect, was largely a waste of time. As I explained in various blog posts, I went largely because it was on my doorstep, but I didn’t think it through: this was a conference largely dominated by agencies, which were probably not the clients I was looking for. Even if they were, I didn’t really find many of them. I think I have worked for only one customer I met at ELIA, and that was only for one job.


In April, I saw the chance to do something I’d been wanting to do for some time: to take a recognised qualification in one of the subjects I specialise in, in this case wine. I took a short course in Barcelona leading to the WSET level 2 certificate, something I hoped would bring me greater credibility as a specialist in wine, as well as an improved practical knowledge of the industry’s terminology in English. It’s an advantage of not planning CPD activities too tightly that I can take this kind of opportunity, found at rather short notice, and I don’t regret it for a minute. I learned a lot, passed the examination with high marks and, shortly afterwards, I picked up my biggest direct wine industry client yet. If I had a real success 2016, this was it.

I spent the late summer and early autumn preparing my first conference presentation, to be given at METM16, held quite close to home, in Tarragona. It was a great event, as all the MET meetings I have attended have been, distinguished by the quality of its presentations, far above those at ELIA, earlier in the year. It’s not for me to comment on the quality of my own but I found preparing it and giving it less difficult or stressful than I had imagined and, judging by the number of people who approached me afterwards to say how enjoyable and useful they had found it, it seemed to go down well.


Almost as I delivered it, though, I realised that I was pronouncing a kind of obituary: describing an approach that had worked well for me in recent years, but which I had exhausted, like a rich seam of ore in a mine. I’m sure my tips can help others to escape from the low-paying agency trap, but I need a new way of operating, of which more in a future post.

There has been conflict this year, most of which I prefer not to recall, but one positive element has been my involvement in the establishment of a new group of translators, called Standing Up, formed from the wreckage of another group when it’s leader announced he was going to charge for membership. This has brought members of that group into contact with other inspiring colleagues who I have got to know, some online and some in person, during the year, and the interaction seems to be leading to some interesting exchanges of knowledge and opinions without the need for the kind of guru figure that has plagued translation communities.

My new contacts have also had a great influence on me and they are showing all kinds of ways forward, giving me real reasons for optimism. I’ve already blogged about quality, but there are other things I also want to apply in different areas and I will also be talking about these my first post of next year. I’m not going to be satisfied with stagnating income and the diminishing prospects threatened by the rise of machine translation: whatever has to be done will be done. These are exciting times.

This will be my last blog post this year. I will be back in 2017. Enjoy Christmas and have a great New Year!


  1. Timothy Barton

    To put a positive spin on it, I don’t think you’ve failed if you put up your rates and your income stagnated. On the contrary. I’d say that’s a success, as it means you’re earning the same for doing less work. That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim to increase your income, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed this year.

    Have a prosperous 2017!

    • Simon Berrill

      Thanks for the good wishes, Tim, and the same to you, of course. I suppose I must have been working less, but, to be honest, as it hasn’t been a deliberate strategy it doesn’t feel like it. I think last year was an exceptional year for me for various reasons and, if it is removed from the equation, the stagnation goes back even further. What I’m realising is that the model I’ve been using for the last few years of putting my rates up across the board, losing a few clients and making up for that with a few new ones is exhausted because I’ve reached the limit for the market I’m currently in. I am going to need to keep the base I have built, even if that means not putting up their rates in 2017, and be much more active in attracting new, higher-paying clients.


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