Professional subjects from a personal perspective

Specialisation according to Percy Balemans

Today’s post features a translator who is very well known for her specific areas of specialisation.

Percy Balemans, German and English to Dutch translator, specialist in creative and advertising industries

Percy Balemans specialises in the advertising and creative industries, with significant experience in fashion (living the dream, in my opinion!). Percy recently updated her interview answers, adding some excellent advice for developing specialist knowledge.

Here is Percy’s interview:

Why do you specialise? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
Although one of the fun parts of being a translator is that you get to translate texts about a wide variety of subjects, I also like delving into a subject and learning as much about it as I can. So that’s one reason I specialise. But I find it also helps me to market my services better: clients who have texts about specific subjects will look for a translator who specialises in that subject and people (clients, but also colleagues) seem to remember you better if they can associate you with a specific specialisation. I know some translators are worried that if they specialise, they will lose out on other business, but that is not my experience. Even though I focus my marketing on my areas of specialisation, I still do other jobs as well.

Do you feel that marketing yourself as a specialist allows you to charge higher rates?
I think that specialisation does allow you to charge higher rates. After all, you are able to offer clients not just translation and writing skills, but also subject and terminology knowledge. However, rates also depend on the industry you work for.

How and why did you select your specialist field(s)?
To be honest, I didn’t really choose them, I ended up translating in these fields and liked them! A couple of years ago I was asked by an advertising agency to do a couple of small transcreation jobs for them. I enjoyed doing them and they were happy with my work and the rest is history. One of my main transcreation end clients is a high-street fashion brand, and working on their texts required quite a bit of research on the subject of fashion, so that led me to specialise in that field as well.

How would you go about adding another specialist area?
I would definitely pick a subject I am interested in. I don’t really believe in choosing a subject just because there is a high demand for it; you are going to spend a lot of time studying the subject, so you’d better find something that interests you!

I’m not sure there is one way to go about specialising, I think it very much depends on the subject and the kind of information and resources that are available for the subject. Just to give you an idea: when I decided that I wanted to specialise in fashion, I first started reading fashion magazines, both in my source languages and my native language. This helped me keep up to date with the latest news and trends and with the writing style and terminology used. I also started looking for books on fashion: by now I have a small collection ranging from fashion dictionaries to books on fashion history and biographies of influential people in the fashion world. Another great way to delve deeper into this particular subject is visiting museums: there are several museums in the Netherlands (the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and the Groninger Museum in Groningen) and in the UK (the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Fashion Museum in Bath) which have excellent fashion collections (and great bookshops!) and regularly organise fashion exhibitions. I was also lucky to find an evening class on fashion history which was taught in my area and which turned out to be very useful and a lot of fun. Finally, last month I attended my first fashion conference, a one-day event in Antwerp organised by the Flanders Fashion Institute featuring fashion journalists, fashion designers and other influential names from the world of fashion who gave their views on the future of the fashion industry. It was a very interesting event and a great way to test my knowledge and get more in touch with the fashion business.

Percy Balemans:
Percy is an English-Dutch/German-Dutch translator specialising in advertising (transcreation) and creative translations, mainly on the subjects of fashion, art and travel and tourism. Visit her website for more information:

Specialisation according to Marie Jackson





So here we are, well into January! Where did that time go? I’m hard at work on my goals for this year but, in the meantime, let’s get back to business with a new post in my specialisation interview series. Say hi to Marie Jackson:
Marie_Jackson Looking-Glass_Translations freelance_translator_interpreter


1) Why do you/don’t you specialise? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
I specialise in business, marketing, law and logistics, and am currently working on further developing my knowledge of law. Apart from giving me the opportunity to learn more about the fields I find interesting, I think that specialisation makes it easier to run a business. By specialising in a few select fields, I can better target my marketing and operate in a more focused manner. This also gives me the opportunity to work faster (with or without the help of CAT tools), which of course means I can take on more work! The main drawback of specialising is that it can be an expensive, time-consuming process. Ultimately, however, the return on investment is huge, both on a personal and professional level, so it’s certainly worth it.

2) Do you feel that marketing yourself as a specialist allows you/would allow you to charge higher rates?
I definitely feel that being a specialist allows you to command higher rates for your work. It’s the same in every other industry, so why not ours? It takes a lot of time, effort, money and sacrifice to specialise in a field alongside languages/translation/interpreting (which are already very time-intensive!), and our rates should reflect that.

3) How and why did you select your specialist field(s)?
Some of my specialisms were selected for me, and some I chose myself. I get lots of business and marketing work, and I covered these a lot at uni, so it makes sense for me to head in this direction. My logistics specialism arose from my first year of freelancing, during which I did a lot of work for a chemical logistics service provider in Germany. I’m now very comfortable working in the field, so although it may not have been my first choice, it’s a firm favourite today! It helps that my father works in logistics, so I grew up immersed in the field to an extent. Finally, law is my personal choice of specialism. I’ve always been interested in the law, and have found that it ultimately rests on semantics and pragmatics, which appeals to my inner nerd. Furthermore, communication is vital in a fair legal process, and so I can give something back by building my legal knowledge. By specialising in these four areas, I’m able to help my clients in all areas of their operations, from writing their first business plan and marketing their company, to drafting service contracts and managing distribution – and this is something they really value. I also often find that these fields overlap; I frequently translate marketing copy for logistics companies, for instance!

4) How would you go about adding another specialist area?
As a very visual/kinaesthetic learner, I like to read widely around my subject and get personally invested in the field. Much like when studying a language, I have used an immersive approach to building my specialisms. In particular, I read a lot of daily magazines and newsletters about law, my newest specialism, since they help me to understand the issues which affect that industry. They also show me the language lawyers themselves use to discuss their field. In addition, I attend industry events, which offer great opportunities to learn more and make valuable contacts. Finally, I find that I’m always more motivated when I’m working to deadlines, so I like to take courses relevant to my field. These force me to be disciplined and ultimately end in some form of assessment, which I see as a validation of my knowledge in that field that can also help to reassure my clients. I’m still developing my legal specialism, but this approach has helped me to really get my foot in the door. Specialising can be a challenge, but I think that it really appeals to linguists in that we’re often very curious people who like to learn about the world around us. We might therefore be one of the few professional groups who actually love doing CPD – I know I do!

Marie Jackson MA (Hons) AITI is a professional translator and interpreter and owner of Looking-Glass Translations. She works from French and German into English and specialises in business and marketing, law and logistics. Find her online on LinkedIn and Twitter, or visit her website for more information on her services and CPD record.

2014: where do I go from here?

New Year’s Resolutions are everywhere at the moment, so I’ll make mine short and sweet:

1) Work with more local companies

Last year, I hired The Sketch Collective for professional photos and Rachel Bonness Design to design some marketing materials. I loved having the opportunity to meet in person to discuss my ideas, and supporting other young businesses was fantastic. Here are the results:

Speech Marks Translation marketing postcards

Graphic design by Rachel Bonness, photography by Thom Williams of The Sketch Collective

2) Attend client events

There are always plenty of translator only events to choose from, and they are both beneficial and enjoyable (see my post on the 2013 ITI Conference). In 2014, though, my goal is to change my focus to industry events, where I can maintain and improve subject knowledge, gain expert contacts for terminology queries and, ultimately, identify potential clients. If you’re joining me in looking for possible events, here are Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s top tips for visiting trade shows.

3) More CPD

2013 was all about maintaining (or attempting) a balance between my business and my degree. Now that my course is over – I’ll graduate in a few weeks’ time – I can give my business my full attention. One of my main aims for this year is to dedicate more time to new and existing skills with the help of in-person courses and online options from providers such as eCPD Webinars and Coursera.

4) Celebrate achievements and reward myself

Sometimes, we freelancers can be a little hard on ourselves. I, for one, can be a bit of a mean boss on occasion. In order to stay motivated, it’s really important to recognise and celebrate achievements. 2013 was the year that I finished my Master’s degree, worked with more direct clients than ever before and turned colleagues into true friends. What’s not to love? If you’re looking for a way to reward yourself for a job well done in 2013, take a look at Corinne McKay’s post on giving yourself a bonus.

What are your goals for this coming year?

How Many Things You Love Can You Share in 10 Minutes?

I’m a bit late joining in with this series of posts because December has been one of my busiest months this year.

If you don’t get updates from me on Facebook or Twitter, you might not know that I have been completing my Master’s degree for the past two years, so it’s a real joy to completely focus on my business from now on.

Anyway, here’s how it works: Olga Arakelyan came up with the idea of inviting fellow translators to list as many of their favourite things as they can in 10 minutes, and I thought it would be a nice way to end another year of blogging. I’ve got the timer on, so here goes:

• My boyfriend – I’m a very independent person, but I can’t imagine life without him
• Herefordshire – my boyfriend and I were both born and brought up here (although we met at university), and this is absolutely where we want to be.
• Swansea and the Gower Peninsula, where I lived for five years. I miss this:

Caswell Bay, Gower Peninsula, Wales

• New York City, or rather the idea of it. I *will* get there one day!
• Paisley pattern
• Doctor Who – oh yes.
• Snuggling up and listening to rain against the window
• Cheese – pretty much any kind
• Typography – I have a ridiculous amount of free fonts on my computer
• All variants of mint green, aqua and teal (but you’d guessed that, right?)
• Ranunculus and peonies
• That gorgeous smell after it rains
• Fireworks
• German pretzels – the real, doughy ones
• Tartelettes aux framboises – I used to pick one up on my walk home from lectures in Geneva
• That feeling when a client gives you glowing feedback
• Invoicing – yes, really
• Planning trips all over the world that I can’t afford, either time-wise or money-wise

Right, my time’s up. I spent most of it trying to find the picture on my computer, but I hope you’ve got an idea of the kind of things that make me tick.

Thanks to Olga for coming up with this idea – it was fun!

I hope that you all have a wonderful festive period – if you celebrate this time of year – and have a brilliant start to 2014.