2020 Round up: experimenting and specialising

This year has been my first complete calendar year of running an editing and translation business full-time, despite having run a part-time business for over five years. Over the year, I figured out my longer-term approach, started to see good results from my marketing, and refocused my website on my specialist areas.

Yet back in January, I hadn’t fully shaken off habits picked up in my former career as an academic researcher, and hadn’t got my head around pricing – especially as I’d lived in countries with very different prices.

Translation was more of learning curve this year than editing. Here’s what happened over the year:

Editing

I finished my PTC proofreading training (passed with merit) and continued working as an academic editor, becoming a professional member of the CIEP in November. I normally work with authors before submission to a mainstream publisher, but in spring, I copyedited several books for publishers too, which helped me better understand the editorial process. Next year I plan to finish my copyediting training and continue working directly with academic authors on book projects and on texts for publishers. I realised I enjoy line editing most of all (transforming sentences to improve style and clarity).

Translation

As my background is in linguistics and anthropology rather than translation, I decided to do a preparation course for the CIOL Diploma in Translation. Feedback on translations I completed in my favourite genres (social science and literary translation) and general translation was invaluable. This helped me massively in reviewing my own work (e.g. noticing kinds of errors – readability, omissions, register errors etc.) and learning how to respond to client feedback. If an issue arises, I now know whether the problem lies with me or with the author’s understanding of the process.

This kind of training is not available for Croatian, but I have set up an initiative with other translators to organise workshops and similar online training in future. I also realised that the field was much more hierarchical for German than Croatian – people had very specific niches, whereas with Croatian people were more likely to do a bigger variety of jobs, as the language and pool of translators was small.

By the autumn, I had also realised that non-specialist translation agencies weren’t a good fit for me, for the following reasons:

  • Requests for small and general jobs were rarely very well paid and always urgent (e.g. send me this press release/certificate/document by tomorrow)
  • My prices were generally too high (living in the UK) for Croatian and Serbian agencies
  • As there are few HR>EN native speaker translators, I found the reviewing process (key to learning and improving my craft) was often skipped

Working with agencies was a better fit for German translation work, though. And it’s highly likely that in future I will receive some more specialist requests from agencies that are a great fit. While I see such agency work (like publisher work for copyediting) as useful on the side, and for keeping up to speed with changes in the industry, my preference for large non-urgent projects means I am better suited to direct work with universities and authors. Finally, I noticed that the most interesting work came from my former academic and research networks. This makes sense as I have a personal connection to the topic.

Specialising

By July I knew my focus would be mostly in publishing and would include book translation and different kinds of editing and writing. One afternoon, I was reading Louise Harnby’s book on marketing for editorial freelancers. She says having a specialism is important when you start out, as you will bring your networks and clients from your previous job. Once you have run a full-time business for several years, you can then diversify e.g. by moving into a new kind of editorial field, like fiction or literary translation.

This helped me reorganise my marketing around my niches. Once this was clear, it was easy to rework parts of my website to make it more compelling. And things got really niche in places…

Translation specialismsEditing specialisms
Partisan art, media and politicssocial sciences and humanities
Emotions in anthropologypsychotherapy
Museums, marketing and tourismCentral Europe/South East Europe

In the autumn I started to receive a much larger amount of demand for my services. This meant I could pick and choose to avoid problem clients (I also realised a general rule of thumb – ego often comes to the fore when the quality of writing is bad).

What about 2021?

The next year or two will be focused on getting more titles in my specialist areas under my belt, and on finishing my training in copyediting and then line editing.

Finally, I plan on finishing a copywriting course I started, as this fits my interests in published texts that communicate with large audiences. Translation and blog writing also benefit from good copywriting skills, especially when written for big audiences. I have also started to learn a bit about content design, content marketing and UX design.

Yes, I got to the end without mentioning the C-word!

COVID-19 has not had a big positive or negative impact on my work so far, apart from making it difficult to concentrate at times. The spring was slightly quieter than the autumn, but this was a period when I needed to focus on my CPD, translator and proofreading training, and get the basic experience with agencies and publishers needed to confirm my work was up to industry standards. Things are looking particularly good right now compared with a year ago!