One of the questions I have been asked frequently over the last couple of years, particularly by mentees in the BDÜ’s mentoring programme, is why I spend so much time on mentoring when my schedule is already full and my life busy enough as it is. The answer to that question is fairly simple: having the opportunity to mentor new freelance translators has made me realise just how far I have come and how much progress I have made over the years. It reminds me of how I felt in the beginning when I was just starting out myself and makes me realise just how lucky I was to have mentors because these mentors have most certainly played a central role in my success.
When I started my first job as a legal translator back in 2002 in the translation department of a large commercial law firm here in southern Germany, I didn’t have any experience of translating legal texts. However, like most employees – and unlike freelancers – I did have two very experienced colleagues to put me on the right track. These colleagues answered my many many questions, proofread my work, introduced me to CAT tools and showed me how to use them effectively. I also had access to an authoritative translation memory, a large number of legal dictionaries and lots and lots of lawyers, many of whom were more than happy to explain the more complex points of German law to the “nichtjuristische Mitarbeiter” as we were called. When I started my freelance business several years later, I had learned an enormous amount and felt very confident in terms of translating complex legal texts. However, what I didn’t have was much of an idea about running a business or marketing myself effectively – or even at all.
Talking to translators starting their careers as freelancers and hearing about their struggles – both with business-related as well as translation-related issues – has made me wonder whether it isn’t actually essential for the language industry but also for the sanity of new freelance translators that they have access to experienced mentors to answer their questions, give them encouragement and keep them on the right track. I believe that many new freelance translators would also benefit from subject-specific mentoring, from mentors who can proofread their translations and provide advice on questions of terminology.
Freelancing has many benefits but it also has its challenges and one of those challenges is the fact that we often feel like we are all alone. For this reason it is extremely important to have a good network of other translators for support and advice. Mentoring and coaching is used in many businesses and many walks of life and we can all benefit from this type of support, whatever stage we are at in our careers. Whilst there will always be things we are good at and find easy, there will also always be things which don’t come naturally to us. At the beginning of my career my colleagues were excellent mentors for me and now, several years later, I have a marketing coach who has helped me to broaden my perspective, to see my business less emotionally and to present myself to my customers in the best possible light.
One of the most important things we need to remember as freelancers is that whilst we may work alone, there is no shame in asking for help and getting the extra support and encouragement we sometimes need to take the steps we need to take to get us where we know we want to go.