Specialization according to Irene Koukia
1) Why do you specialize? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
I am mainly a technical translator, specialized in heavy industry, electronics and all sorts of devices, software and equipment. Apart from that, I have 20 years’ experience in Tourism and Aviation, due to my former occupation and studies, in Journalism and Coaching, in which I obtained my diplomas in the last years, and in Business Administration, which I am currently studying at the Hellenic Open University. My “formal” specialization in Translation is Literature, Social Sciences and Humanities, according to my Certificate in Translation. In addition, I am a member of the STEMG, specializing in Simplified Technical English, which is a controlled language.
From all the above, I prefer being called a “Technical Translator” since that’s the field I prefer translating in and because most of my workload is nowadays of a technical nature. The rest is just to provide me with a change now and then, in order to get out of routine, although the material I am translating never gets boring. I mainly translate from English and German into Greek. Especially the latter has less competition in the market, since there are not many colleagues available with sufficient technical knowledge in German and fluency in Greek. That offers me an advantage. I have dedicated clients from the beginning of my career and more clients are coming along on the way.
As far as pricing is concerned, my clients in the technical field are mainly Translation Agencies, so my rates are the usual rates for the respective language pair and market. Greek Market has unfortunately lower rates and longer payment terms, so I have already dropped most of my clients here and concentrate nowadays mostly on the International Market, which offers me better terms. My preferred market is Germany, maybe because we share the same mentality, since I was born in Germany and my mother was German. Most of my clients have more or less the same rates for years, although I am trying to achieve better terms with new ones. I am negotiating minimum charges and better CAT-Tool discount terms with existent clients, since I wasn’t aware of the market conditions when I started, and these are things you are usually not told during your studies…
Specialization helps you work faster, since you get familiar with the material and any special conditions governing the field, such as EU Regulations, Health & Safety specifications, etc. In addition, you have the opportunity to build up a pretty good Translation Memory that helps you translate more efficiently, as well as Glossaries, that help you save time while looking for unknown terms. In addition, existing clients know that they can rely on you for such material and do assign difficult and complicated tasks to you without any doubt that you will manage to provide them with the best possible result.
I don’t see any drawbacks in specialization, at least in the technical field. Technology advances rapidly and there will always be enough work available. New machines, devices and equipment is produced frequently and there will always be need for multilingual documentation. I feel safe with Technical Translation but there is always a “Plan B”, since I have other fields I work in as well, that could “cover” me during rainy days.
2) Do you feel that marketing yourself as a specialist allows you/would allow you to charge higher rates?
I don’t think that your specialization is the main factor that allows you to raise your rates. If you provide good work, deliver on time and do respect your client, the client is always willing to pay for your services. Experience helps, not only in the field of specialization but also in general, in terms of years of working as a Translator. If you get established in the market as an “expert” in a specific translation field and language pair, yes, you may ask for a higher price but the risk that you might lose any potential client always remains, since there are many other colleagues who would work for less in this pretty international environment.
If you wish to raise your rates, your average rate or your annual income in general, you shouldn’t start by raising your rates for existing clients dramatically. You can make adjustments but you don’t want to risk losing them. You could add new clients with better terms to your Portfolio in order to raise your average rate or your annual income. Your new clients could either be Translation Agencies, Corporate Clients or Direct Clients. The latter are willing to pay the most, although you need to make sure that you do get paid. You should not treat direct clients as Translation Agencies, offering long payment deadlines and CAT-Tool discounts from the beginning. It is a different market. You don’t know them and they might only need your services once. If the project is big, sure, a discount would always be welcome and would make your potential client happy, but you can’t offer them payment in 45 days after invoicing, since they might vanish in thin air and may never hear from them again. It is a risk, but if you play it right there is great potential. You need to develop a Marketing Strategy though, and that would be another discussion.
3) How and why did you select your specialist field(s)?
Technical Translation just came up on the way. I picked my specialization during studies, as already mentioned above, but clients demanded technical translations more and more. I love technology myself and started to concentrate more intensively on such projects, reading a lot and researching extensively, in order to get familiar with this field. Today, I have already translated millions of words concerning technical material and I could say that I am an expert in heavy equipment, devices and tools. I have permanent clients for which I only translate technical documentation and manuals.
I dropped Literature, since the translation of a book requires a different pace and I can’t afford dropping my existing clients in order to draw back and translate a book for the next six months to a year. In addition, I am used to CAT-Tools and quick turnaround times, so a book translation would not fit into my schedule anymore. As far a Tourism is concerned, yes, I am an expert due to my former occupation but I would rather do a technical translation than translate a brochure or a hotel website. Technology is my big love at the moment and I would prefer to stick with it for now…
4) How would you go about adding another specialist area?
Technical Translation is such a wide field that provides many options. There are plenty of things you could translate as a Technical Translator. I don’t translate manuals for cars for example and I do not intend to. I simply don’t like this specialization. That would be a field other colleagues would love to take over and I would leave it with them. I prefer equipment, such as GPS devices, power tools, manufacturing machinery, electronics and computers.
My rather recent specialization is Simplified Technical English, the ASD-STE100 Specification. It is a controlled language and apart from Aerospace and Defense it is also used in other fields, such as Telecommunications, Engineering, Manufacturing, Automotive and Transportation, etc. It is very interesting from a linguistic point of view and it has great potential as a specialization, since there are not many colleagues who are familiar with STE.