Many beginning translators are just happy to get work, any work, and while this is understandable, not making a decision in favour of a particular area or particular areas of specialisation early in one’s freelance career can lead to a whole series of negative consequences. This article will discuss a few of these.
Why specialisation is essential
Specialisation is absolutely essential for a successful freelance translation business. Although it is most probably true that a good linguist using the right research techniques is in a position to tackle many different types of texts, specialising in a particular area or in a few particular areas will reduce the amount of research you have to do for each translation thus making you more efficient and more productive.
Won’t specialising reduce the amount of work I am offered?
Specialising will reduce the types of work you are offered or choose to accept but not necessarily the amount. Even if you are starting out working for agencies, agencies will keep a list of specialist areas against your name. If you don’t approach them with a list of specialisations, thinking that you just want to take on as much work as possible regardless of the type, you will most likely find that the agency will start to regularly send you texts belonging to a particular specialisation of their own choosing because even agencies know that translators are more efficient and more productive when they deal with similar types of texts. Letting an agency essentially choose your specialisation for you or leaving your specialisation to chance is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons for dissatisfaction among freelance translators.
If you start out as a non-specialist, don’t take a decision early on to specialise in a particular area and then wake up one day to find that, as a result of all of the research you have carried out in the course of your translations in a particular subject-field, you have become a specialist for an area you find mind-numbingly boring, you have done yourself a disservice. You have also wasted a lot of time and energy becoming a specialist in an area you never wanted to specialise in in the first place.
Even when you are starting out and feel like you have no experience or specialist skills, you need to sit down and seriously consider what skills you really have and could build on and what areas you are really interested in. In my opinion streamlining your business is absolutely essential for success. It will help you to determine your target customers which will, in turn, allow you to focus your marketing activities, help you to get projects which you find interesting, allow you to spend time researching and taking courses in subjects which really fascinate you and ultimately make you a much more confident, efficient and – perhaps most importantly – happy translator.