Soon, Exactitude Translations will enter its fifth year. I started it in the smallest studio you can imagine, situated in the illustrious Notting Hill. At that time, the kitchen table, which took up 1/4 of the entire studio, doubled as my office space.
From the get-go, I have kept encountering four key lessons for a successful freelance translation service. On one hand, I've come to consider these lessons as my imaginary friends. On the other hand, they have a habit of sneaking up on me, reminding me of their importance just when I’m getting a bit too comfortable.
Through this blog series, I'm delighted to share some decisive, incisive, and precise reasons for why my freelance business is thriving.
"Growth goes hand in hand with change as per definition
you can't actual grow without changing, at least a bit."
Growth goes hand in hand with change, as per definition you can't grow without actually changing. I quite enjoy change, and that trait has become integral to my business. As the German linguist Annette Hilgendag puts it:
If you don't respond to changes on the market, then other people will do it for you #diversifying#ciol
Growth is a multidimensional and perpetual need. The first post of this series is dedicated to demonstrating how your commitment to professional development can keep your business growing.
Expand your specialities
When I set out four years ago, my brief was: “Offer services to clients in need of Norwegian language skills". When you think about it, the scope of that brief is wide, which was – and is – my intention. I pin a large part of my success down to my appreciation for a diverse workload, and my willingness to take on a challenge. I would of course never suggest for anyone to agree on a job you are not sure you actually can do successfully. That being said, allow enough flexibility within your business to undertake completely new tasks
The tweet above is directed towards writers, but its underlying message should hold value for any creative freelancer. Often, all it takes is mixing a “learning-by-doing” attitude and a dash of lateral thinking, and the result can manifest itself in you having reasons to market your self anew.
Engage new clients
I have an automatic alert in my work calendar that goes off every three days: “Market your business to a new client”.
Just like you, your clients are facing constant changes, too. The fluctuation in their demand for your services is inevitable. If you are constantly forward thinking, sudden changes in client relationships won’t hurt you.
Hence, always engage in the pursuit of future business relationships to prevent yourself from falling victim to the twist and turns of your existing clients. The German to Swedish translator Erik Hansson tweeted:
Translator's wisdom: No matter how happy you are w/ your present clients, never stop searching for new ones. #xl8
I have had to learn this lesson more than once since starting my English to Norwegian translation service. Now, I have an automatic alert in my work calendar that goes off every three days, and reads: “Market your business to a new client”. That’s one small task with big positive implications for a business.
Looking back, I’ve been fortunate that some of my new connections instantly turned into on-going linguistic work. That's of immense value, because developing new relations to the point of them trusting you with profitable work can take a great deal of time. Moving forward, my goal is that I will never need to re-learn this lesson.
I’m never as happy professionally as when languages can be my hobby in addition to my profession. Plenty of translators participate in various activities outside their office for that very reason. Some will prefer to read for pleasure, some will attend professional meet-ups or events. My preference is to attend language courses. The latest course I did was in Italian, hosted by an enthusiastic linguist at the University of Bath. Even if I don’t work with Italian, attending the course re-inspired the way I carry out my daily work. I was almost surfing through my workload due to the personal growth I felt when learning languages for fun.
"If we don't change, we don't grow.
If we don't grow, we aren't really living".
The American author Gail Sheehy once said: "If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living". Aid professional growth by embracing change, and your business will change – and grow – with you.
Whilst passing through the remote coast of Cornwall, UK, several hours west of London, I was quite sure that I was the only Norwegian speaker around. I was surprised when I heard a Norwegian lady's exclamations. The curious thing was that she uttered a word for word translation into Norwegian of a well-known English idiom. "I'm a bit under the weather" became "Jeg er litt under været". It sounded like a computer-generated translation with non-existent meaning.
Her mock-translation was naturally done in jest, but as an example, it's very relevant. If you want your message to be heard in a world of constant communication, or "connection" as we call it these days, you must combine exactness and creativity. Failing that, your message may very well drown in the constant haze of words surrounding us.
"Your message may very well drown in the constant haze of words surrounding us."
The best tool for transforming your English text into a perfected message in a different language is there right in front of you. No, I’m not referring to Google Translate, but a more complex, more intricate and at the end of the day a more fun tool: The human mind.
One thing separating human intelligence from artificial intelligence is that to humans, a word is not only a word, but also a part of a sentence. A sentence is a part of a paragraph. A paragraph forms a part of a text. When choosing the exact translation for one individual word, you must take into account the nature of the entire text before finally deciding on the target word. A prerequisite is contextual thinking, which we have yet to equip our computers with.
While writing this, I remembered how much time it took my American wife and me to understand what the other actually was implying when using the word "interesting". I will save the full story for another time, but to think that one single word can cause that much confusion! It's a keen reminder of how communication in reality is about adapting to your target audience your natural way of self-expression.
For this very reason, relying too heavily on technology alone may hurt more than aid you. Can you plot information about your target audience into a machine and have it adapt accordingly? I thought not. It takes one to know one as the saying goes, and what you need for your message to be heard by Norwegians for instance is – well – a Norwegian.
"As far as creativity goes, man is still defeating machines, at least for now."
What makes English more – interesting, is the vast array of idioms. I introduced this text with one idiom that simply does not work in other languages. It takes creativity to handle exactly those kinds of subtleties. As far as creativity goes, man is still defeating machines, at least for now. At the end of the day, a sterile and uncreative translation won't cut the mustard, that's my two pennies’ worth.
(You may want to plot that last sentence into Google Translate, using any output language you want. Ask a native speaker of the chosen language to read it. Watch the reaction).