Okay, I admit, this title is pretty cheesy. But in my opinion, it can’t be more true. If you have been working as a freelance translator for a couple of years now, chances are you have decided to pick a field (or better yet, a niche!) in which you’d like to specialize and on which you wish to spend the larger part of your weekly schedule. This is a great idea: you will have a clearer idea of how to position yourself, of where to look for clients, and will generally be happier with your career choices.
But how do you specialize exactly? How do you reach that expert position you want so much? Many people will tell you to study, study and study harder. This can be achieved through several ways: watch targeted webinars, take specialized MOOCs or if you have enough time, you can even study for a diploma at your local university (tip: distance learning can be a great alternative for freelancers).
But something dawned on me last week. I’ve been working as a medical translator for a couple of years now, and have managed to gain specific knowledge by taking all the routes I’ve mentioned above (minus the diploma method: I’m not crazy enough to go to medical school!). Back to last week: I was offered a big job (read about 20K words) which consists in translating the website of a popular breast pump manufacturer. That’s when my ‘Eureka moment’ happened. As a mother, I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of books I’ve read that dealt with pregnancy, breastfeeding, motherhood, parenting, you-name-it. At the time, all of this reading was done out of personal interest, and absolutely not with the intention of making it one of my fields of specialization. But fate has its funny ways sometimes… Isn’t it true that when you are truly interested in something, your brain is more open and focused on what you are reading? Now that I’m working on this project, I can leverage all of my reading and my first-hand experience: I know the ins and outs of pregnancy, the various delivery procedures, and the needs that a new mother has because I have personally gone through them.
This is why you need to ask yourself what sets you apart when you create your business, when you try to position yourself, and yes, even when you decide which field you would like to specialize in. What do you know, what have you experienced that can be beneficial for your client? Personal experience counts and should not be underestimated. And I’m not only thinking about pregnancy here: maybe you have a deep interest for a specific region, you have been kayaking for a while or you are a dog-lover. Your passion can become your specialization and this, in my view, can bring a lot of benefits, not only to you, but also for your client. Off the top of my head:
- It gives you first-hand knowledge of the terminology used in the field. Goodbye, long and laborious research!
- You know which register to use because you were in the shoes of the client/user and you know what works and what doesn’t.
- Chances are you will translate more enthusiastically if you are working on a text that actually interests you.
- You will have a better vision of how the field is structured and will therefore have a better knowledge of where you can find new potential clients.
Of course, a pinch of salt must be added to all of this. Not every sub-field is profitable and you probably won’t build a multimillion-dollar company by translating documents for the reptile food industry (but who knows? :)). This is why it’s important to be realistic and avoid to put all your eggs in the same basket. The ideal mix would be to have a profitable specialization (but that you don’t thoroughly hate, of course) and one that makes you happy.
Do you have similar stories? How did you decide on your specializations? Feel free to share your own experience in the comments.