Today’s interview for the popular specialisation series I started this summer is with German translator Annette Weizsäcker:
Thank you, Karen, for inviting me to take part in your specialisation series!
When I started my career as a translator, I did not know that this would be my future profession and passion and that, with Language Support, I would even become an entrepreneur. I am very glad that I got where I am today thanks to many special people who have crossed my path and have been wonderful mentors and friends over all these years. I feel that I am one of those fortunate people on the planet who have a job they really love and I look forward to sharing some of my secrets with you.
What are your specialist areas?
I am an English <-> German, Spanish <-> German and English <-> Spanish translator specialising in the pet and horse supplies & food industry, veterinary medicine, farm and stable supplies & building equipment, zoological gardens, the hunting and shooting sports industry, as well as (eco-)tourism, green products & concepts, and business administration in general.
How did you choose your specialist areas?
Funnily enough, it all began with my passion for horseback riding when I was a teenage girl. At that time western riding was not common in Germany at all and a riding instructor hard to find. Therefore I always asked my friends and family abroad to send me magazines, books and articles which I devoured. It is not surprising that my first translations were English-German translations of these articles for my riding pals.
Many years later, when I was at university majoring in international business, on a flight back to the US I had a nice chat with the president of a well-respected sporting goods manufacturer for the hunting and shooting sports who then asked me to translate a letter to a German business friend. He became my first real customer, a good friend and valuable mentor for this specialisation.
However, at this time I never thought of making a living from translations. As student jobs and after receiving my degrees, I worked for several companies in different positions, from tour guiding, trilingual secretarial work, technical documentation, to operations management, and as CEO of a small Chamber of Commerce and Industry abroad. Nevertheless, during all this time I did translations either on the job or as infrequent jobs on the side. Only when my family decided to settle down on a farm and continuous help was needed for my elderly parents, did I start thinking of becoming a solopreneur.
The decisive push for becoming a freelance translator and for this particular field of specialisation came from my late British riding instructor and good friend whom I had frequently helped with translations. One day he took me aside when I interpreted at one of his clinics and asked “Why don’t you do this for a living?”
After starting out with the pet and equine industries and with hunting and shooting sports, I later added specialist areas I was particularly interested in, enjoyed researching and already knew a lot about from my work or personal background.
What is your experience in these areas? Are there sufficient customers? Do you have sufficient work?
Today I am in the lucky position to answer “Yes” to this question. There is enough work to even share and grow the business. So far I have only worked with direct customers who have specifically chosen me as their translator because they also expected some kind of cultural consultancy and knew that I would be able to provide this because of my intercultural / business background and management work experience. In view of the increasing demand for these related services, I have recently added intercultural consulting services, trade show services, sales rep services and travel planning services to Language Support’s portfolio. Thanks to working with a small group of highly qualified freelancers and professionals in other fields, it is possible to collaborate on projects, especially if a request is for more than one language pair and involves complementary services.
In your opinion, what are the advantages of specialising? How has it helped you? How has it helped your business?
Specialisation in a few but very diverse areas has helped me a lot to stay focused and to better organize my time and my marketing efforts. In addition, research is quick and fun if you like your specialisations (you better not choose an area you are not interested in just because it is the most often requested or easiest to make money in). With growing experience and knowledge you will produce higher quality in less time. The results will be reflected in your hourly rate and customer satisfaction. A good reputation spreads easier by word-of-mouth within one industry than across industries. Recommendations are free and the best advertising you can get. However, even if you advertise or produce marketing materials, write a blog or send out newsletters, targeting just one or a few industries is easier, less time consuming and usually generates better response rates.
Do you have any other tips/advice/anecdotes for beginner translators?
Knowing what you really don’t like to do is as important as choosing your specialisations. In my case, these are all legal texts which go beyond the common General Terms and Conditions. There is no shame in turning down a job and it is in any case better than delivering a quick and messy translation which might even harm your reputation. Handing the work over or directly referring the customer to a trusted colleague, like Karen in my case, makes you look professional and sincere.
If you are just starting out, struggling to gain experience and to find your specialist areas, don’t ever accept lower rates as a way in. Instead volunteer for pro bono work (e.g. Translators without borders, Kiva). This way you can gather expertise and make our planet a better place at the same time.
Quality first! Always put 100% quality, attention to detail and outstanding customer service first and before quantity. Working through several nights in a row to meet a crazy deadline clearly compromises the quality of your translations (and your life!). It is rather wise and there is no shame at all in declining a 15 page catalogue project to be done by 10 am tomorrow.
Strengthen the bond with your existing customers. It is likely that happy customers will come back to you and save you all the effort of attracting new ones to fill the gap.
Find yourself mentors with specialist knowledge, preferably from the industries you are targeting. They might also become valuable referrers.
Translation is all about building bridges between cultures. If you haven’t lived in different countries yet, go for a backpacking trip and mingle with the locals as much as you can to get a feeling for the different perspectives another language and culture bring with them. Apart from adding to your intercultural experience, you will probably also pick up a good basic knowledge of another language on the fly which might be helpful when developing your business.
Above all, make your profession your passion and your passions your specialist areas!
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I’ll be glad to help.
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