What else can you do?
It’s one of the longest running debates in the industry: to specialise or not to specialise, that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously specific texts on an everyday basis, or to take arms against a sea of terminology and by opposing it, end it, or at least hardly ever see it again.
Okay, okay, it’s not quite that tragic. Mind you, it is an interesting question for new freelancers. In this short article, I want to suggest that, unless you already have a sea of clients waiting for your expertise or an absolutely fail-safe strategy for gaining them quickly, you might want to consider the option of flexibility, at least in the beginning.
I won’t bore you with a long, involved argument. I am sure most of you have heard it all before. About the only thing I can add is this: while I have found that clients like to know a few areas you are more experienced in, they will never stop asking the question “what else can you do?” You can crow about your experience in analytical chemistry all you like but they might still offer you website work. Even more shocking, you might only have been trained as a translator but if you have other skills, like handling complex spreadsheets or editing for style, you will get a lot more work.
Why is that? Are clients inherently lazy? I don’t think so. The real answer is that they are looking for “go to” people, collaborators who can help them out when they are in a pinch, add that extra something to their work to wow clients or simply people who will roll up their sleeves and help out when needed.
Now, what I am not saying is that you should take on work that you are not able to do. If, like me, your medical expertise extends to just about managing to open a child-proof cap on a paracetamol bottle, you should not be touching medical records. Similarly, if the last time you were in church was when flairs were fashionable, Christian translation is not where you should be working.
But, there is a huge variety of more general texts that need work. There is also a veritable mountain of language related tasks that clients might need help with. If you can prove that you are happy to proofread someone else’s work, sort out formatting, compile terminology from translation memories or even help someone on a research project, you will gain favour with your clients. To use the buzz-phrase that has been going about, you are looking to become a Language Services Provider. You want your clients to say “we can rely on x. We know that s/he will always do a good job for us.”
Given time, you might find that you have the financial space to really target a smaller set of clients and become more specialist in the projects you take on. Until that time, a little bit of flexibility, within the confines of your abilities, will go a long way.
Believe it or not, it will also help when it does come time to say “no.” Even the most multi-skilled translator or interpreter will sometimes come across texts and tasks that they cannot do. If you have proven yourself reliable before, your “no” is far more likely to be read as an honest and sincere account of your abilities and care for the client’s welfare than rank laziness and unhelpfulness.
You can make it even better by recommending someone who just might be able to do the job. In fact, if you do that, you have just proven that you have another skill and your client is likely to come back to you again. I don’t have space to list the amazing people who have been all to happy to help out when needed and who have won my loyalty by doing so. The one thing they all have in common though is simply their desire to be helpful, it’s something we all need!