Specializing? Listen to your heart!

Okay, I admit, this title is pretty cheesy. But in my opinion, it can’t be more true. If you have been working as a freelance translator for a couple of years now, chances are you have decided to pick a field (or better yet, a niche!) in which you’d like to specialize and on which you wish to spend the larger part of your weekly schedule. This is a great idea: you will have a clearer idea of how to position yourself, of where to look for clients, and will generally be happier with your career choices.

But how do you specialize exactly? How do you reach that expert position you want so much? Many people will tell you to study, study and study harder. This can be achieved through several ways: watch targeted webinars, take specialized MOOCs or if you have enough time, you can even study for a diploma at your local university (tip: distance learning can be a great alternative for freelancers).

But something dawned on me last week. I’ve been working as a medical translator for a couple of years now, and have managed to gain specific knowledge by taking all the routes I’ve mentioned above (minus the diploma method: I’m not crazy enough to go to medical school!). Back to last week: I was offered a big job (read about 20K words) which consists in translating the website of a popular breast pump manufacturer. That’s when my ‘Eureka moment’ happened. As a mother, I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of books I’ve read that dealt with pregnancy, breastfeeding, motherhood, parenting, you-name-it. At the time, all of this reading was done out of personal interest, and absolutely not with the intention of making it one of my fields of specialization. But fate has its funny ways sometimes… Isn’t it true that when you are truly interested in something, your brain is more open and focused on what you are reading? Now that I’m working on this project, I can leverage all of my reading and my first-hand experience: I know the ins and outs of pregnancy, the various delivery procedures, and the needs that a new mother has because I have personally gone through them.

This is why you need to ask yourself what sets you apart when you create your business, when you try to position yourself, and yes, even when you decide which field you would like to specialize in. What do you know, what have you experienced that can be beneficial for your client? Personal experience counts and should not be underestimated. And I’m not only thinking about pregnancy here: maybe you have a deep interest for a specific region, you have been kayaking for a while or you are a dog-lover. Your passion can become your specialization and this, in my view, can bring a lot of benefits, not only to you, but also for your client. Off the top of my head:

  • It gives you first-hand knowledge of the terminology used in the field. Goodbye, long and laborious research!
  • You know which register to use because you were in the shoes of the client/user and you know what works and what doesn’t.
  • Chances are you will translate more enthusiastically if you are working on a text that actually interests you.
  • You will have a better vision of how the field is structured and will therefore have a better knowledge of where you can find new potential clients.

Of course, a pinch of salt must be added to all of this. Not every sub-field is profitable and you probably won’t build a multimillion-dollar company by translating documents for the reptile food industry (but who knows? :)). This is why it’s important to be realistic and avoid to put all your eggs in the same basket. The ideal mix would be to have a profitable specialization (but that you don’t thoroughly hate, of course) and one that makes you happy.

Do you have similar stories? How did you decide on your specializations? Feel free to share your own experience in the comments.

14 Responses to Specializing? Listen to your heart!

  1. Great post, Emeline! Made it my post of the day :)
    Indeed, your heart knows better. It’s not easy to find your passion, but once you do, you’ll be the happiest person and eventually it will bring both professional recognition and money. I only translate what I understand and what really interests me and that makes me happy. We’ as freelancers have this amazing power: ability to follow our dreams and I think that’s what everyone should do. Do what you love and you’ll be surprised by all those new opportunities it brings.

    • Emeline Jamoul says:

      I cannot agree more, Dmitry! Many thanks for your comment and for making this article your post of the day, I really appreciate it :).

  2. Dear Emeline, I am totally with you on this! I have been working with a fashion brand for moms and kids for a while and I can’t tell you how happy I am. Throughout the texts I am translating, I often find myself finding out things I wish I knew beforehand :) But translating for other moms is a great feeling. I wish you all the very best. Please share more.

    • Emeline Jamoul says:

      Magda, thank you so much for sharing your own story and for encouraging me! Yes, it’s always a great feeling to see that our own experience can be helpful in our job. The work you do with this brand must be so much fun :)! Well done!

  3. Great post, thanks Emeline! Really got me thinking, there’s one thing I’d love to do for work, but I’m just not sure how to go about finding clients who might be interested…the other slightly less, um, quirky shall we say, thing I would enjoy translating is about gluten free foods/restaurants/lifestyle etc as I have Coeliac Disease – also been contemplating starting a blog so I can share all the lovely cake photos and cafés I find on my travels! ;) but I digress…

    How did you start marketing your new ‘specialism’? Or didn’t you need to as you were already translating medical texts and didn’t really need to find new clients?

    Thanks again!

    • Emeline Jamoul says:

      Dear Amanda,
      Thank you so much for commenting! I’m glad the article resonated with you. Your idea is great, and as this sector is currently expanding, I’m pretty sure you could carve yourself a niche :). Let me know if you decide on taking this path!

      As for my new specialism, this is a work in progress. I was already translating medical texts in this sub-branch, so I have a number of clients who send me this type of document, but I would like to make it more substantial. This is going to take time, planning and creativity but I already have a few ideas in mind that I’d like to try to implement. Maybe this calls for a future blog post on my results!

  4. Julieta Vigna says:

    Great post, Emeline! I am also specializing as a medical translator, and, as one teacher once told me, sometimes your specialization finds you, and not the other way around! I have always been interested in medicine, and my husband is a vet, so little by little I have found myself moving towards this direction…and loving all about it!
    I also believe that some variation is good for our brains, so I feel happy when I receive projects that have little in common with what I usually do, for the sake of change!
    Congrats again for your post!

    • Emeline Jamoul says:

      Hello Julieta!
      Veterinary medicine is also very interesting! It’s so nice when things evolve naturally, doesn’t it? That’s actually what I would like to write about next :).
      I also always welcome variety in my work. After all, that’s what’s great about being freelancers!

      Thanks for your kind words :)!

  5. Isabelle Steenebruggen says:

    Hi Emeline,
    Thank you so much for this post :-)
    All this about becoming a mother, and especially breastfeeding rings a bell to me. The moment I decided to translate texts that interested me was when I had my babies. And of course I was specially interested in texts about pregnancy, education, and, as you know, other values that I wanted to pass onto my children: sustainable development, fair trade, cooperation…
    I am lucky enough to enjoy so much translating these texts and feel grateful for this :-)
    Have a nice week, see you tomorrow!


  6. Great post, and your example really spoke to me. I have sometimes thought that if I had a super-specialist niche, it would be breast pumps (I exclusively expressed for my daughter) and babywearing! Oh, and there is probably nothing I don’t know about fertility treatment. You’ve given me lots of food for thought, thanks.

    • Emeline Jamoul says:

      Thanks very much for your great comment, Marga! It’s funny how so many mothers reacted to this blog post. Fertility treatment, that’s an original field! Who knows, maybe there is some demand there. Good luck :)!

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