Long time, no blog!
I’m coming back with a highly requested topic: how to find your specialization.
People often ask me if it’s possible to earn a good living and be a full time translator as if the two are not mutually exclusive. The answer is a resounding yes! While I do admit that there seems to be a never-ending race to the bottom of the rate barrel, I won’t concede that we’re all up the proverbial creek. I believe that the future of well-paid translation lies in specialization. Translators known for their expertise in specific fields are highly sought after. Why? Because the more you know about a topic, the better you are at translating it. And clients loooove great translators (they’ll even tell their industry-specific friends about them, too!).
As we all know, technology and globalization have made the barriers of entry into this field all but disappear. But it’s also done another thing: it is now easier than ever to learn a topic, get really good at it, and make it your niche. There is absolutely zero reason in 2015 why you can’t become a specialized super translator (really! I have faith in you). Use technology to your advantage: become a voracious reader, both online and off, about your subject. Go back to school part time. Apprentice at a trade (if that's your thing). Volunteer. Do anything and everything you can to soak up information about your chosen niche.
But how do you know what you should specialize in? I’ll tell you:
1. Find what you like…
This really goes without saying. Say you loved video games all throughout middle school and here you are at 30, still trying to rescue the Princess. That should tell you all you need to know—you should specialize in video game translation. The old adage about “loving your work and you’ll never work a day in your life” rings really true here. If you find a topic you absolutely love, learning as much as you can about it and immersing yourself in its world—the only real way to become an expert—will be enjoyable and won’t seem like a chore at all. The more you know about something, the better you translate. The better you translate, the happier your clients. The happier your clients, the more work you have. The more work you have, the more money you make! Who wouldn’t want that?
Besides allowing you to do something you love, specialization makes good financial sense.
2. … But make sure it makes sense for your language combination
Here’s the tricky part. The key to finding a specialization that works for you is knowing how to make it work with your language combination. I sort of fell into my own specialization which just so happens to fit perfectly with my language combination: the bulk of my clientele is made up of people seeking Italian dual citizenship. Because of my own dual citizenship, my language combination, and my passion for all things Italy, I’ve been able to build a lucrative career in Italian legal translations.
I’ve even been able to branch out into consulting services, have become highly knowledgeable on Italian citizenship law, and am attending law school to parlay that into even more value I can bring to my clients with the end goal of going to Italian court on their behalf. Currently, I assist private clients not only by translating for their citizenship applications, but also by accompanying some of them to Italy to interpret for them at all meetings, help them find a place to live, set them up in their new homes and show them around town. How cool is that? It doesn’t feel like work to me (despite it being very hard work), because I love what I do.
It’s all about finding a balance that works for you. Think about your language combination and try to view it with a critical eye. Let me give you an example:
Most Italian to English translators would have an easy time specializing in fashion, tourism, design, the naval industry, and automobiles because those sectors make up a large part of the Italian economy. But let’s take it even a step further: say you really like appliances. Why not become the best Italian to English appliance industry translator? It might sound like something too specific, but it’s actually not. Here’s why:
3. There are events in your niche and clients out there—and you can find them
Running with the appliance theme, I know for a fact that there exists a large Electronics Fair in Italy (http://www.expoelettronica.it/). While it might not specifically showcase appliances, you can bet that clients who might need your services will be there. So why not attend and hand out some business cards or chat up a few potentials? Just by googling for 3 minutes, I found a wealth of niche-specific information and events, including smaller events specifically for appliances. What’s the harm in going? You get to step away from the computer and practice that thing called “people skills.” Plus, you can probably expense your trip anyway. So go!
Find your clients. I promise you that they’re out there and they need your services.
4. Be reliable, prompt and courteous at all times
You would think this goes without saying, but it actually doesn’t. But if you’ve done the above three steps, you’ve already got your foot in the door. Hopefully by this time you’ve landed a few new clients. All it takes for them to keep coming back is stellar work (which, if you’ve specialized, should be a given) and a can-do attitude.
Be the translator who anticipates their needs. Be their go to language service provider by being reliable, prompt and courteous at all times. Be the translator who—despite by now being highly specialized—is humble. Nobody likes a know it all, no matter how good his or her work.
In 2015 and beyond, the chasm between low quality and stellar translation will grow even wider. However, this doesn’t mean that you should close up shop and quit. One of the best ways to failure-proof your future as a translator is to specialize. This will lead to more contact with direct (read: better paying) clients, as well as to less competition (read: better rates). Becoming the go to person in your subject for your language combination is almost always a winning bet.
Do you have any advice for those seeking a specialization? How did you specialize? Tell me about it in the comments section!
About the Author
Audra de Falco is a freelance Italian, Spanish, French and Sicilian to English translator based in New York, NY. She has been working in the industry since 2003 and is an advocate of fair industry practices and translators' rights.