Why Translators Should Build a Personal Brand?

Is it true that translators should not distract themselves to build a personal brand? A translator recently told me that she once had a chat with a senior translator about "building a personal brand." The more experienced translator believes that translators should stick to honing his/her translation skills. Distracting oneself to build a personal brand is a big no-no for translators. As long as you are good at translation, you will never run out of work," she said. Her point is, in short, "a good product sells itself."

Well, what the senior translator said might be true decades ago, but it is unlikely the case nowadays. The reason is simple: competition. Translators today have to face more competition than ever. Take a look at some popular freelance translator platforms, and you can see how competitive the market is.

Take ProZ.com, for example. I searched for English to Chinese translation jobs on Feb. 11, and a total of 51 jobs turned up. But when I searched for English to Chinese translators, there were more than 16,000 of them. If you change the language pair, the results are quite similar. Even accounting for those who have registered but are not actively looking for cases, the gap between supply and demand is still vast. Basically, this phenomenon is pretty typical for the translation or any kind of freelancing job market.

I mainly translate books and work with publishing houses. Although no precise numbers exist that says just how competitive the book translation job market is, basically the scenario is quite similar. Such being the case, it is inevitable that the unit price for translation has stayed so low: This is a buyer's market.

In a market like this, even if good products can sell themselves in theory, it is increasingly difficult to find success stories like that in practice. If there are five wineries selling wine in your town, your chance of beating out the competition is relatively high. Yes, you still have to work hard to beat your competitors, but you do have a fair chance. But what if now you have 50 competitors in your village? No matter how good your wine tastes, your opportunity to attract passersby can be very slim if you decided not to advertise.

However, having fierce competition does not spell certain doom. In fact, there are many opportunities to be explored.I'll show you how to find your niche market in later posts. But first, I want to delve into a psychological phenomenon which I find very important: why do some people just don't like “marketing”? If this is you, I suggest that you think hard about this is so before you read on.

When your product is placed on such a long, deep shelf, do you still think that you don't need self-branding?

Why do you hate marketing so much?

Some people just can't get along with marketing ideas or terms, and I think I'm an excellent example of that. In fact, it is not just "branding" or "marketing" that made me roll my eyes when hearing them. Not long ago I couldn't stand words like "business model," "B2B," or "upsell strategy," either.

Of course, now I don't have this issue anymore, but I have reflected on it. I think the key is that these words remind me of awful experiences I've had, and I took those experiences as "this is what marketing is all about."

For example, I was once stopped by a salesman on the street who so desperately wanted people just walking by to sign up for credit cards. Even though I declined and walked away, he was not willing to concede and kept bothering me for a while. The only thing I remember about this now was the name of the bank he worked for. I recall myself saying, "I definitely don't want to do business with his bank." This is a negative example of marketing!

There are tons of negative examples online too: all kinds of unwanted pop-ups, overlays and interstitials. In short, online ads that disrupt your user experiences. I think people who are sick of "branding" or "marketing" probably feel that way because they connect the words to those unpleasant experiences. But here comes the interesting part: it is precisely the constant bombardment of ads and promotions that make branding and marketing more crucial than ever.

Why branding?

This is the era of information explosion. A study conducted by researchers suggests that people are bombarded by the equivalent of 34 gigabytes of information every day. We receive about 105,000 words or 23 words per second during waking hours (half a day, i.e. 12 hours).

If your brain deems a piece of information useless, it filters out the info immediately.What kinds of info are most likely to be wiped out? An email that looks like an ad; a cover letter that has obviously been recycled; a flyer that tells only how good your product is. The list goes on and on. If your message is considered irrelevant by your target audiences, no matter how hard you work, you work in vain.

So, what is branding? Branding is making clients immediately ask for your help when they are in need.

Q: Why should clients ask for your help?(Why)

A: Clients ask for your help because they consider you "useful" to them. Or, in business term, you can provide "value" to them. Value is a critical concept. Branding and marketing all center around value, but since the business "value" is the same word as our everyday "value", we don't appreciate it enough. I'll save this part for another day.

Q: What can we do to make ourselves useful to potential clients?(How)

A: The answer is a bit long, and I will discuss it over several later posts. But it's now clear that sending useless contents to potential clients will only drive them away from you.


1. "A good product sells itself" is no longer valid in this day and age.

2. If you are uncomfortable with business ideas and terms, please figure out why. This is very important.

3. Branding is about making your clients ask for your help when they are in need. Sending useless information is not marketing at all. It’s suicide!mation is not marketing at all.It’s suicide!

This article was originally written in traditional Chinese by Joanne Chou, Co-founder of Termsoup, and later translated into English by Gary Liaw.



Joanne Chou

Joanne is an English-Chinese translator, a UI/UX designer, and the co-founder of Termsoup.