In a recent panel discussion during a Wordbee webinar on freelance translation management, we talked about how it’s important to specialise. This helps you stand out from the crowd of translators that offer to translate everything or almost everything under the sun. It also makes you more credible. Because being good at every subject is impossible, even if you do pride yourself on your research skills.
Another upside of specialising is that you can probably translate subjects you have an in-depth knowledge of much faster. You won’t have to spend hours trawling the Internet for terms because you won’t be translating texts on subjects you know nothing about. And if you’re working on similar documents most of the time, your CAT tool’s translation memory (TM) should start to come up with good matches that will speed up the process even further.
But unlike some of my fellow Wordbee panel members, I don’t think we should waste too much energy educating clients about this topic. Premium clients are probably already aware they need a specialist to do justice to their translated material. Everyone else (including some agencies that should really know better) will get the message when they hear: ‘I’m sorry, I don’t specialise in legal/medical/financial/technical/tourism translations so I won’t be able to help you with this job. However, I can recommend XYZ who does.’
I know it’s tempting to say ‘yes’ when a juicy job lands in your inbox and you have bills to pay and perhaps a family to support. But if it’s not your field, it could backfire on you. The client may not be happy with the outcome and either refuse to pay you or knock off a hefty discount to pay someone else to clean up your mess. Unfortunately, I’ve been there and done that. And it’s not fun realising you’ve let your client down. That you should be more aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Because failures tend to haunt you for longer than the high you get from your successes.
That’s why we need to have ‘no’ days and even some ‘no’ weeks. Imagine if every translator did that. Our clients would soon realise we’re not machines that can regurgitate anything. They’d have more respect for our profession. And we’d all be translating the type of texts we do well and love.
Here’s to saying ‘no’ more often.
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