How many times have your read about the benefits of specialisation in translation? Many, I bet. A sure-fire way to differentiate and add you credibility in an overcrowded market of language services, they say.
In my language combination (English to Russian), the competition is fierce. Numerous translators with the same education and the same tools offer their services to the same LSPs. Too often, everything comes down to price.
To land clients who do care about their translators, you definitely need some extras — subject field excellence, impressive recommendations, huge experience, etc. Your authentic point of differentiation. But here comes the tricky part. Where is the way to translation expertise?
1) Find your own path into the field
Every freelance translator can boast a unique story of coming into this business. But sometimes it seems to me that specialisation is most highly valued by those who went freelance after a pair of career turns.
With a degree in English and German, I never planned to be a translator — back then it seemed too boring. But soon after graduation I was offered an editor and translator position of a new magazine on flexography, a printing technology that saw a steep rise in demand in the local packaging market. Only years later did I realise that it was translation I enjoyed most in my broad scope of duties.
When choosing your specialty field, you are free to analyse the market needs, follow circumstances or your passion. But you should be sure you are in the game. Because after your eureka moment there comes hard work.
2) Be prepared to go an extra mile. Or a dozen
What does it take to become a subject-matter expert? Years of your time, hundred thousands of translated words, countless pages of feedback from your editors. Expert-level specialisation requires in-depth knowledge of the subject combined with excellent writing skills.
Time on the field can do wonders. You work with industry experts, valid terminology and real-life technologies mentioned in your translated texts. You try technical and marketing writing to improve your skills. You learn to think like your corporate clients.
Another way to in-depth industry knowledge is to get a degree or take courses in your specialisation. But whatever you choose, no shortcuts are available. To keep moving ahead you are to become better with every assignment you take. For that, you need a proven scheme: translation > feedback > analysis.
3) Search for mentors and editors
No matter how long and hard you work, you can’t make any serious progress without relevant oversight. Even trying your best, you will make the same mistakes over and over again because you are not aware of them.
A professional editor who shows you revised translations and explains your mistakes comes as a blessing. When I decided to go freelance, I offered my services to a couple of publishing houses.
As a rule, their rates are far from being high. But a year or two of translating specialised books and magazines can turn into a priceless experience: access to subject-related texts in both source and target languages, expert-level editors, published translations to compare with your original versions.
4) Keep your mind open
As you gain experience in the chosen subject, you will find blunders in your translations made several years ago. And that’s perfectly normal because you took your time and efforts to grow as an expert. Now you can leverage more on your language assets spending less time for research and having a good grasp of subject terminology.
May be it’s the right moment to add another specialization to your wish list now. After having worked with the graphic arts industry for several years, I had to search for new customers as the market was crushed by the crisis.
Back then the printing and publishing industry was actively implementing digital technologies and workflows. So I chose my next related field and started to gain experience with marketing texts for IT and telecom.
5) Turn your expertise into real-world benefits
Do you feel like a pro? Then it’s high time to consider a plan for identity development and promotion. Nobody will be aware that you are an expert until you stand out from the crowd.
To charge more for your services, you need recognition of your target market. Create an authentic brand or image associated with specialised projects. Do not forget value added services: customers appreciate the ability to solve their problems.
After you have identified your target market, it becomes easier to offer unique compelling services: from supporting social media accounts and news publishing to web site localisation, editing and copywriting.
Offer your expertise. Offer what clients keep asking for. You’ll like the results.
Dear Olesya, thank you for your valuable insight!
Olesya Zaytseva is a freelance English to Russian translator, specialising in printing and graphic arts. Olesya's background is linguistics and she has first-hand experience of translation, technical writing and marketing for industry insiders. You can contact her through her Russian web site (www.just-translate-it.com) and find her on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.