Niche and efficiency

Yesterday’s post was about bidirectional translation and the differences in standard practice between English-speaking countries and Germany and I concluded by saying that the decision to translate in one language direction or both really comes down to what you want to do, what you can do and what you are capable of offering to your customers to a professional standard which meets their requirements.

However, the decision whether to translate in one or both directions should also be based on considerations of niche and efficiency. In order to run a successful business you don’t only need to know what it is your customers want and need but you also need to be able to provide a top-notch product in an efficient manner – not only because your customers may have tight deadlines but also because you, as an entrepreneur, need to make money. If it takes you a whole week to produce a perfect translation of a couple of pages, you will be unable to run a successful business even if that translation is excellent when it is finally finished.

In order to run a successful business, you therefore need to specialise. A lot of translators incorrectly believe that by specialising they will lose out on a lot of business and that they have a higher chance of getting more work by working as generalist translators. I disagree. By specialising you set yourself apart from other translators and carve out your own niche which allows you to clearly identify your target customers. Specialising also makes you more efficient. The more similar and related work you do, the more you learn about a particular subject field and the less research you will need to do for each future translation in this field. You will also be able to focus your CPD (continuing professional development) more effectively and market directly to customers active in your field. Within this field of specialisation you may, of course, want to specialise further and focus on a particular language combination or even a specific language direction – do you find it easier to translate in one direction than in the other? Are you more efficient translating into your native language? Does it speed up the proofreading stage? There’s no right or wrong here. It’s a very personal decision based on your strengths, your interests and the market. And don’t be too scared to narrow down your specialism as far as you can sensibly go. I translate law but only commercial law and only from German into British English and have no shortage of work, customers or potential clients. Yes, I could translate criminal law as well. Yes, I could also translate into German. I could even revive my French. But I choose not to do any of these things because my niche makes me both more effective and more efficient.

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