Liberating yourself from professional labels

The other day someone I’d just met asked me what I do.  Just like that. Not even a “How are you?” An exchanging of names and then they dove straight in. As people are wont to. Because of course, in today’s world we’re all just a job title really, aren’t we? I replied, as tends to be my wont, that actually I do lots of different things, and started to list them. And suddenly, eyes widened, ears pricked up and I had my audience’s (OK, ‘her’….) undivided attention. Because it would seem that deep down, none of us really want to be definable as one thing. And we sure as heck don’t want to hear anyone who is bang on about it! We all dream of conquering the world, in our own way. And in order to do so – to be that person we truly feel we are deep down inside – one single, immutable label is the last thing we need.

This blog post is simply a nod, and a good dose of moral support, to all of those people who’ve ever had someone say to them:

“You need to stick to one thing”,

“You’ll only be successful if you become an expert in a single field” or

“Why didn’t you just carry on [in medicine/law/teaching/banking/translating – delete as appropriate]?”

and yet remain wholly unconvinced…as I always have been.

I generally tend to reply with a:

Er, no. I know what makes me happy and that just ain’t it!”

You are, of course, free to choose your own retort. In fact, being creative with your response is half the fun!

Most of us are conditioned to believe that  success  = having a lot of money and/or power (and a job title which impresses people!) I certainly was.

business-treadmill

In my own case, in the years after graduation, as all those around me made their way up the slippery ladder of corporatedom, I couldn’t shake the belief that the only true success I felt really worthy of achievement was being 100% authentic to myself. Life’s short (I knew that all too well after losing a couple of close friends by my early twenties). Why on earth would you simply get on a treadmill running towards a destination that you’d been told was the one you should be headed for?

And so I jumped off, rather inelegantly, at 2am one Christmas morning, whilst sat in a basement office with no windows. I was on my own – literally – supposedly trying to save a global IT system from falling over. I mean, WHO CARES??? Unfortunately (but rather fortuitously for my future), I certainly didn’t. Thank God for http://www.i-resign.com. Writing an articulate ‘I quit’ letter is hard for the best of us in the early hours.

Fast forward 15 years and I have tried so many things professionally, it’s simply not funny. (Although in some cases it is, as it makes for amusing dinner parties anecdotes). The thing I love most in life is helping people. So I worked in education for a while, figuring it was a vocation, and I enjoyed it; until a teenager threw a chair at me and then barricaded the classroom door. Seriously? And they thought the money I was being paid was enough??

Fortunately, I’d done a masters after my ignominious departure from the world of IT consultancy, so I set to trying to make a go of things as a freelance translator. And I have to say, all at once, I started to feel like I’d found my niche. Varied work? Tick. Mentally challenging? Tick. Control over my own working life? Tick. Until I found myself in a place that once again seemed to be more about external expectations than internal intentions. I woke up one day to find myself a mainly legal and financial translator. (Decent money? Tick!) And yet neither field floated my boat in the slightest.bored-of-job

So I did what any normal person does in a such a circumstance. I ran away to the Caribbean. And I came back having met someone equally as ‘non-conformist’ as myself. And from there, I thought “What the heck?”, I’m actually Creative, not Corporate, and jumped off the treadmill yet again, only this time for good. What happened thereafter only served to support the theory that you attract more of what you’re focused on. And that if you want a portfolio career, it pays to base it around ‘helping people’ in whatever way you can.

opportunity

I returned home and a colleague working in a university at the other end of the country got in touch, immediately. “If you’re able to learn this piece of software in 2 days, you can come and teach audiovisual translation for us.” “OK!” I said.   (How hard could it be?) And within a month I was travelling 3 hours each way every week to teach a 2-hour subtitling class, which I loved!

A few months later, the CEO of a translation company in Spain got in touch to say they were looking for a UK Director. Was I interested? “With absolutely no sales and marketing experience behind me?” I asked. “Yes, of course I am!” I continue to work with them to this day. They think outside the box and are all about social enterprise – my kind of people.

Alongside all this, I co-founded and ran a charity that’s now become international, with Mr. Non-Conformist. Because somewhere inside it felt like we could help a lot of people from the moment the idea arose. We used Google as our primary adviser in all things charity start-up related and its generosity was astounding! Those who help need help at times too.

In the last 5 years I’ve also become a published writer, again by trying to write something that would help people – young children in this case. I’ve been on property courses and have been able to help people who need a home. I’ve even helped start a Media Production company. None of it was meticulously planned, it simply involved ‘leaning into’ areas I had an interest in, saying yes to helping somebody wherever possible and learning as I went along. I think it’s fair to say that gone are the days of my being able to succinctly stick my job title on 1 by 2 inch sticky label at conferences. And I love that fact. I also adore meeting other people in exactly the same situation. Oh such colourful souls 🙂colourful-peopleSo if you have a gut feeling that perhaps you’re not destined to do the work that you’re doing now forever; or in your heart something really appeals, just because; and if anyone around you suggests that you stick with the safe, rather than the scary, or just one single thing, then I’d simply say “Don’t”. If what’s tickling your fancy also happens to help people, then so much the better.

There’s no need to go all out, jump ship and live the life of a starving artist (although it’s amazing the drive monetary pressure can generate!) Baby steps are all it takes. Contrary to common belief, those who take risks aren’t always huge daredevils. Neither are they another class of human being, untouchables, who we can admire from afar but never hope to emulate.

No, they’re people just like you and me, who decided that maybe that little voice inside really is worth listening to, no matter how loudly the rest of the world tries to shout it down 🙂 

labelling-in-society

Claire Culliford (Founder of TransTeach)

Have you got experience of breaking away from the professional ‘norm’, or creating a portfolio career? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share your stories with us in the comments section below 🙂 

 

 

How to find your professional ‘voice’

Finding your professional voice

A new year provides the opportunity for a new start. What better way than by identifying what it is that makes you professionally unique so you can truly make your mark on the world?

Every industry in the world, translation included, is becoming more and more competitive each day. Whether you work as a freelancer, an employee or run your own show and employ lots of other people, there is always someone or some other company out there vying for the work you’ve currently got. Complacency simply isn’t an option.

In light of this, it’s important to carve yourself out a niche, as early as possible. Delivering work of excellent quality and being someone that your colleagues actually want to work with has become something of a given. You now also need to ensure that you offer something unique; something that sets you apart from the rest. Here’s TransTeach’s practical guide to identifying your professional ‘voice’ and using it to give you the X-Factor.

 

1) Don’t overlook the obvious

First thing’s first, don’t try to re-invent the wheel and don’t overthink things. Ironically, what comes extremely easy to you is often the very thing that sets you apart. If you love playing around with gadgets/IT, then the technology/apps side of things could well be where you shine. Small or large scale, these are vital tools for everyone from sole traders to business magnates, so if you’ve got the know-how, flaunt it!

If you’ve always had a head for figures, whether you’re working in an accountancy firm or for a wildlife charity, make those numbers count! Let people know what you like and what you feel you’re good at, so that you get the opportunity to do more of it.

2) Research, Research, Research!

Find out what niches other people have adopted to rule out or inspire you with ideas. You may be surprised at the way in which your professional ‘voice’ permits you to marry your areas of professional expertise (Russian language and online chess apps, for example; property law and sustainable tourism; adult literacy and fashion design; the permutations and combinations are almost endless!) The more bizarre your combination of skills sounds, the more unique your ‘voice’ is going to be.

To give an illustrative example, when I decided to start the TransTeach blog, and as it has developed, I’ve carried out extensive research on the other translation blogs/writers in the market. This would seem like an opportune moment to thank individuals such as Andrew Morris (creator of Standing Out –https://www.facebook.com/groups/standingoutgroup/ and Standing Out Island – https://www.facebook.com/groups/standingoutisland), Corinne McKay (Thoughts on Translation http://thoughtsontranslation.com/), Claire Cox (Lines from a Linguist https://clairecoxtranslations.wordpress.com/),  Galina Green (http://britbitchberlin.com/), Lloyd Bingham (Capital Translations –http://capital-translations.co.uk/category/translation/) and countless others, for their ‘voice’, which has undoubtedly helped me to identify and carve out my own. I currently like to refer to this as Translation and Diversification [Trans-] meets Education [-Teach] (but more about that in point 4) below). Who knows what it will morph into in the future?

3) Try everything and anything

Your professional ‘voice’ changes over time, whether you think you can identify what it is straight away or not. If you can’t, because nothing immediately springs to mind, then get experimenting. Only by trying lots of things do you ever know where you particular talents lie. So, take online courses (there are plenty of free ones covering every topic imaginable these days), expose yourself to social media (both professionally and personally) and if something tickles your fancy, have a go!
I never set out in life to street dance, subtitle foreign films or help run a charity. When the opportunity arose to try these things, however, I was always at the front of the queue 🙂 Over time my professional voice has developed to include all of these unique facets.

4) Develop your social media presence

Nowadays, we’re constantly being told that an online presence is essential right from the off. Indeed it is. Social media provides opportunities that as a self-employed individual, employee or business owner you certainly shouldn’t miss out on. However, think carefully and research even more prudently before ever putting finger to keyboard. Why? Because a lot of people have done it before you and in the social media sphere too, you need to ‘shine’. You need to get known for what you and you alone can offer.

One way of developing your own virtual presence is to contribute to those of others. So, take your time, engage with those whose presence you admire and can relate to. Slowly but surely you’ll find your own ‘voice’ naturally emerges as a result.

As an example, since starting TransTeach I’ve always been recognised by my clients/colleagues for my diversification and my desire to help and educate others on how to do the same. They’ve also commented on the fact that I’m pretty creative. I freelance as well as being the UK and US Director for a large international translation agency. I also provide translator training and linguistic consultancy services. I’m the Development Director for a charity. I love all forms of creative writing and I’ve authored a number of children’s books. I invest in property as well because having multiple streams of income is always a good idea. As a result, I’ve personally followed, commented and retweeted lots of associated Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn content, slowly finding the place that I can call my professional home in the world of social media along the way.

 

5)  Whatever your ‘voice’, make it a positive one

No matter what you decide are your professional USPs, and how those change over time, make sure that what also makes you shine is your positivity. If there’s one thing people value above all else today, given the constant barrage of bad news and the pressure of the 21st Century workplace, it’s someone with a smile who motivates them, inspires them and makes their day seem just that little bit better. Whether it be by sharing your unique skills or using them productively to educate and support others, make sure you do so at every possible opportunity. Those with the loudest and most powerful professional ‘voices’ today are undoubtedly those who use their uniqueness to benefit as many other people as possible. So, find your own ‘voice’, sing loud with it and use your song to helps lots of other people along the way. Good luck!

Claire Culliford (Founder of TransTeach)

If you have any comments about or advice concerning how you found your own professional voice, then feel free to share them here or contact me at info@transteach.com. This is a topic that’s always a work in progress, so the more contributors, the better!

 

 

To Become Accredited or Not To Become Accredited, That is the Question…

The second in our series of posts for new translators…


Challenge 2: Whether to gain professional accreditation or not

At some point in their career, be it earlier or later, every translator becomes aware of the different professional organisations and bodies that carry clout in the industry. These tend to be national, rather than international, for example the Insitute of Translators and Interpreters in the UK (http://www.iti.org.uk/) and the American Translators’ Association in the United States (https://www.atanet.org/). The one notable exception is probably the global Proz forum (www.proz.com/pro-tag/info/), which accredits translators as a ‘Certified Pro’. Being accredited by any of these organisations undoubtedly has benefits. But is it an essential component for success in the industry?

With an increasing number of undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in translation becoming available across the globe, not to mention the rise in non-formal education (webinars on industry-specific topics, for instance) it can be all too easy to get lost in the translation qualification and certification quagmire. Here’s TransTeach’s advice for translators just starting out and those who’ve reached a juncture in their career where they’re considering accreditation with one of the industry’s professional associations.

Identify your priorities

If it’s practical aspects of the industry that you want to learn more about (anything from actually practising your translation skills to trying out subtitling, interpreting, translation technologies or improving your sales and marketing skills), academic or non-formal education is probably the best way forward. Professional associations aren’t really geared up to provide lots of content-rich training in this respect. That said, they do often provide information about and a another conduit to such training.

Equally, if you’ve recently completed academic or professional studies and want to focus on honing your translation skills and marketing yourself, then getting yourself an online presence and some work experience is probably a better use of your time in the immediate future. The accreditation process for many professional bodies can be lengthy and unless your studies have exempt you from some of the criteria (i.e. a module or an exam) can detract from gaining valuable work experience in the industry.

Professional bodies are, however, a good option if you want to have your existing skills accredited, increase your network of industry contacts and gain the benefits associated with accreditation.

NOTE: ‘Membership’ is not the same as ‘accreditation’. Membership of professional associations can often be obtained without accreditation. The advantages and disadvantage of membership of professional associations (reduced price subscription to industry-related publications, conferences and even professional indemnity insurance, to name but a few) warrants a whole separate post in its own right. This one deals only with accreditation.

Do a cost/benefit analysis

Accreditation costs vary from country to country and there are often different categories available to choose from. The ITI, for example, offers 3 different levels of individual accreditation (Associate, Qualified Member and Fellow) to suit different stages of your career. Only by researching the cost (which is usually annual) and the different benefits offered can you work out whether or not accreditation of a given type is going to be right for you. To illustrate what can be involved in the application procedure, the criteria required and the kind of benefits that are on offer, the following comprehensive overview of the ITI Qualified Member status is worth a look: http://www.iti.org.uk/become-a-member/membership-categories/368-qualified-member-miti.

There may be more advantages to a particular accreditation than you first realise and these can undoubtedly sway any decision. They certainly have for the thousands of translators who are already accredited!

Our own personal experience is that whilst the benefit list may appear long, the benefits that you regularly utilise can be somewhat more limited. So, ask yourself which of them you really believe you will use. There is the argument that only through trial and error can you ever really tell what you will gain from accreditation. Our aim in this post is simply to ensure that you make an informed decision before deciding to commit to gaining it.

Consider the fields you work in or want to work in

For some areas of translation (legal, scientific, medical and technical in particular) accreditation from a particular association can undoubtedly provide evidence of your credibility to other colleagues in the industry as well as clients. Inclusion in professional body directories can add to your credentials. In fields where technical knowledge is essential because the accuracy of a translation really can be the difference between life and death (or at least being sued or not), then accreditation can often be another very beneficial string to your bow. In the fields of law, science and medicine accreditation is often compulsory for practising professionals. It is therefore no surprise that they look for similar attributes in translators within their field.

Talk to translation colleagues about their experiences

Everyone will have their own stories to tell. Some may be huge advocates of becoming accredited by professional associations; others may not have found the experience to be very beneficial and may never actually have gained any of their work as a direct result of their accredited status. The more people you speak to, the more balanced a view you will obtain about the realities of accreditation. Forewarned is forearmed and all that…

Do what’s right for you

Never, ever, ever, do anything because you feel you must. Here at TransTeach we’ve always been a bit ‘outside of the box’ in our thinking and only ever opted not to become accredited by Proz.com, rather than a particular national body. Our reasons? Proz.com is internationally recognised and therefore our clients all over the world can identify with it. We were also able to gain accreditation by using samples of our actual work (no exam involved) and this method was, for us, preferable. Ironically, we’ve always loved exams and performed well in them but we’ve never felt this was necessarily the fairest way of achieving accreditation. It looks as though things may well be changing in this respect in the future, something which we would welcome.

At TransTeach, we also believe there are manifold ways of gaining credibility and an industry-specific network. We’ve therefore tended to network organically, with individuals, institutions and companies that we really want to collaborate with in the fields that we are proficient in (subtitling, localisation, creative media, travel, education, economic development) and indeed in those that we want to work more in. There really is no substitute for enthusiasm and initiative.

Through client testimonials, social media and even word of mouth, we’ve found that we’re constantly able to develop and grown our business. The wealth of information on the Internet today has probably made this kind of business model even easier to adopt than when we started out.

For any new translators wishing to take a similar route, we’d thoroughly recommend becoming a part of some of the more social/community-based online forums. One of our favourites is the Standing Out group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/standingoutgroup) and the Standing Out Exchange group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/standingoutexchange/). Whilst still relatively new – they’ve been around for a couple of years – they offer a really positive, supportive environment with a huge amount of advice, and even offers of work, from translators all over the world and with all levels of experience, from the very novice right through to the seasoned pro. They also show that when it comes to accreditation there is a complete mix, with some translators having everything going and some having none. There simply isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ formula and discovering that alone can be reassuring.

To conclude this post then, we would suggest not worrying too much about accreditation until you have regular work and some kind of client base, unless, as mentioned, one of your existing courses of study or qualifications happens to exempt you from some components of the application process. Later on, when money and work flow are less of any issue, you can revisit the topic of accreditation and decide whether you see it as advantageous in moving forward with your translation career.

It’s probably worth noting, as a final point, that we see just as many colleagues not renewing their accreditation each year as we see gaining it. Take from that what you will. Just make sure that any decision you arrive at when it comes to translation accreditation is based on thorough research and made with your own professional objectives in mind.