Image of Seth Godin's Startup School podcast on Soundcloud

In-house or freelancing? What about real entrepreneurship?

Every year I meet a new (and growing) group of MA in Applied Translation Studies students – together with future subtitlers and interpreters who choose the University of Leeds Centre for Translation Studies (CTS) to learn the skills of their chosen profession, too, of course. Some of them have a pretty good idea of what they would like to do at the end of the course, but quite a few are still not sure about what they can expect from the market (or they may secretly still want to delay having to deal with “the real world” for another year). Speaking to colleagues in UK universities and abroad, this mix of students is quite common and the question is therefore how to help them make the best decision for their individual preferences and circumstances.

In this post I’m not going to go into the many things we put in place in the CTS in order to give all our students as much hands-on experience with the latest technology available to translators, as well as with project management, localisation, translation and proofreading practices. Instead, I will highlight a resource which I have come across recently (although it has been around for a while) and which is available to translators everywhere (as well as all start-ups in general). It is recent, excellently-delivered, industry-independent and complements extremely well the brilliant Entrepreneurial Linguist resources created by Judy and Dagmar Jenner, Marta Stelmaszak’s Business School for Translators, and several other blogs and books written by and for professional translators about succeeding in our industry.

I am talking about Seth Godin’s Startup School which has proven to be a revelation for me on two levels: first of all, now I love Soundcloud as a platform for sharing audio. Secondly, Seth – whose TED talks I’m sure many of you are familiar with – has a lot of experience and a generous, non-pretentious way of sharing it. He is brilliant at what he is empowering others to do (as an aside, I must say I hardly ever use ’empowering’, because to me it comes with consultant’s pointy shoes, spiky hair, and slick surface talk with little substance behind it. With Seth, though, the effect is totally different and by making you think properly about what’s ahead if you don’t want an in-house job, he is really helping you make a much better and more motivated choice than you – most probably – would have made otherwise).

The first episode of the Startup School deals with something closely related to the in-house v freelance discussion I invariably hear at specialist conferences, but also adds a very interesting angle: what is the difference between a freelancer and a real entrepreneur? Seth talks about this in the context of the “industrial economy”, where success is based on making ‘stuff’ faster and cheaper – does this ring any bells, fellow translators? have you ever been asked to translate faster and for lower rates? – as opposed to the emerging “connection economy”, where one needs to aspire towards being the centre of connections in order to be successful. So how could the translators we train be successful in an industry where falling rates, increasing use of Machine Translation, and pressures on productivity are increasingly greater challenges to deal with? The Startup School will certainly give you all kinds of ideas, starting with building and capitalising on professional networks:

“One of the easiest ways to build a monopoly – a tiny, profitable monopoly – is to be the centre of connections; because connections are so valuable to people compared to ‘stuff’. We went through eight years of ’stuff’ and now the door is wide open for people who want to make ‘connection’ for a living.” (Seth Godin, Startup School, Episode 1)

A lot of food for thought for aspiring professional translators who need to become comfortable with growing their professional networks as early as possible, presenting themselves as problem-solvers for their direct clients, and with making the most of their networks and the latest technology to be successful.