How to Use Pareto’s Principle to Optimize Your Translation Business

A while back I read about the 20:80 principle (a.k.a. Pareto’s Principle) and found it quite amazing. I conducted my own observations for a while to find out whether this principle is true. I don’t know if it applies to all fields, but my experience and observations suggest that it is more or less true.




I first applied this principle to reading. According to the principle, 80% of the key concepts of a book will be contained in 20% of the content. I found that this was indeed the case (of course, the principle won’t apply to telephone books or dictionaries). Since then, I carefully look over the introduction, the table of contents, and postscript when reading to find the 20%. I discovered the importance of book reviews after this little experiment and read a lot of book reviews nowadays.


The following figure depicts the analysis of an institution’s donations. It will help you visualize the Pareto Principle. It shows 80% of the donation came from 20% of the donors.




The principle can be applied to many areas but I think its business application is more important for us. In business, the Pareto Principle can be applied in the following ways:



80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients [bctt tweet=”80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients” username=””]

Business is not my forte, so I can’t verify this statement for certain, but my observations tell me that this is more or less correct. The figure above also provides a good example. The ratio may be a little different depending on the profession. An author stated in his book that 90% of his income comes from 5% of his clients. Complaints, dissatisfaction, requests for refunds, etc., that make him unhappy and keep him tied to his office came from a small group of clients that provide less than 5% of his income. After adjusting his rate and “firing” these clients, he had a lot more time on his hands.



Only 20% of the activities and time spent on our business are directly related to making profit [bctt tweet=”Only 20% of the activities and time spent on our business are directly related to making profit” username=””]

This statement shocks me every time I read it, but I feel it is more or less true as well. Try to make your own observations. Don’t only rely on my conclusions. You will need to conduct observations for at least a week or so to come to a decision.



Next, how can we apply these principles to our translation businesses?


Make regular clients and focus on them

Instead of dealing with a lot of clients, I decided to focus more on the 20% of my clients that provide most of my income. I try to increase the number of transactions with the important clients I like. (This is what I am aiming for, but there can be exceptions and changes, of course. This also involves making regular clients.) As a result, I don’t have a large number of clients, but I work regularly with long-term clients. It’s also easy to work with them because these clients and I are familiar with each other. This saves me a lot of marketing effort and time.



Focus on key activities

Another method is to focus on translation work, which is what creates income. There are many different ways of building a translation business, most of them long and winding, but ultimately, it’s translation work that creates value. The aim should be to increase time spent on translating and decrease time spent all other work. (This does not mean increasing the total amount of time worked. It’s the opposite, actually.) I’ve spent a long time thinking about how I can decrease the amount of time spent on making invoices and marketing efforts. Using CAT tools can be a big help, too. With such tools, I no longer need to do formatting work.




Outsourcing is another method. In the translation business, outsourcing means passing work along to someone else. You, as the outsourcer, proofread this work when it is done and submit it to the client. I tried outsourcing for a long time, but I found it unsuitable for me. I am not rejecting outsourcing as a principle, but I do not think it was right for me. I feel more comfortable when I do the work myself (which is more fitting with my other principles), so I no longer outsource.


However, there will be many opportunities to outsource during a translator’s career. I outsource the following services.


Fixing my computer

I research and study certain basic computer skills that I need to know, but I outsource things that are beyond a translator’s reach. This includes fixing and upgrading, among other technical services. I know a computer professional whom I call and visit when I have issues with my computer. For problems with my CAT tools, I rely on the company’s technical support team that kindly assists me. They sometimes log onto my computer to detect the problem. I can see my mouse moving about as they poke and probe. I always sit there like a fascinated child, wide-eyed and staring into the computer screen. :D


Preparing source documents

I can easily run an OCR with PDFs, but comparing the OCR document and the original PDF document for editing errors must be done by a person. This is not translation work, so I try to outsource this whenever I can. You don’t need to be good at the source language for this task; you just need objective knowledge and the ability to produce a workable Word documents. I pay a per hour rate for this job. I am grateful for the person I outsource this task to as she always does a great job. I’ve come to realize over time that she can do this task faster and better than I.



I’ve designed the invoicing system I’m using myself, but I outsource making the invoices and organizing the invoices for the month or year to my son. I had to teach him at first, but now he’s much better at it than I am. If I accidentally mess up the Excel formula or format, he will fix these mistakes as well. I also prepare documents for tax reporting, but outsource the actual filing job to an accounting company.


These are the tasks I outsource. I try to think about how I can outsource more tasks in the future.


You may feel burdened by all the fees when you outsource, but a translator’s time is very valuable. Even when translators are not translating, their working time must be restricted so that they can rest, recharge, and work on self-development. They must try to spend this limited working time on work only they can do: translation.


브라이언은 의료분야에서 한영번역을 하는 번역가입니다. 캐나다 온타리오의 작은 시골 마을에서 아내와 둘이 삽니다. 여행과 독서와 음악과 커피를 좋아합니다.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

행복한 번역가