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ITI Profile - Tess Whitty

We talk to English > Swedish translator Tess Whitty, one of the tutors on ITI's Advancing your Freelance Translation Career programme, in the latest of our ITI Profile series.

Tess WhittyWhat were the most valuable things you learned from your first job(s)?

When I look at translation jobs in particular, I quickly learn what subjects I can handle and which I cannot. For example, at the beginning of my career as a freelance translator, I translated a lot of user manuals for home electronics, such as stereos, printers, and cameras. When I was offered a manual for a blow torch, I thought it would not be too difficult and accepted the job. I quickly discovered that I had bitten off more than I could chew, and even quite common words had a totally different meaning when it comes to welding tools. Needless to say, I did not do a good job, and the editor criticised me harshly. Not only did I learn to stick to a few subject areas that I know well, but I also learned how to deal with criticism.

 When and why did you decide you wanted to be a translator?

I have always been interested in languages and cultures. I started learning my second language in 3rd grade and after graduating from university, I had studied six languages. However, I could not imagine a viable career in languages for a long time. Instead, I studied international marketing and business communication at university. It wasn’t until I moved to the US, with a toddler and pregnant with our second child, that I started considering another career than corporate marketing. I started looking for jobs that I could do from home. A former colleague suggested I should look into translation, based on my language skills. I started researching freelance translation as a career, created a CV and registered on online profiles such as Proz.com. After receiving my first job I was hooked. That was 15 years ago and I have never regretted it. I’ve found a career where I can use my language skills, my writing skills and marketing skills, plus be my own boss.

 What is/are your specialism (s)?

Before moving to the US I worked in marketing for a telecom/IT company in Sweden. Since I had both studied and worked in marketing, it became a natural specialisation for me. I also learned a lot about IT during my years at the telecom/IT company and that became my second specialisation. These subject areas have developed over the years and I now specialise in IT, software localisation, website localisation, marketing, especially content marketing and transcreation.

Is there a recent project you are particularly proud of?

It’s hard to pick just one, but it is always nice to see my translations in print, whether it is an ad in a magazine or popular software that many people use in Sweden. For example, I am one of five translators in the Swedish localisation team for Dropbox. Other memorable projects have been translating a research proposal for a women’s rights campaign in Africa, and a wedding speech, including recording it, so that the father of the bride could give it in Swedish. That is one thing I love about my job. I learn something new practically every day.

You are a tutor on the Advancing your Freelance Translation Career course - what areas do you cover on the programme?

I cover how to find and work with your ideal clients. This means that I help the students to define their ideal clients and create a customer avatar, whether it is for translation agencies or direct clients. Once they have defined their ideal clients, I give them tips on how to find and contact these clients. The students also learn many ways to follow up and stay in touch, plus how to create mutually beneficial relationships with their clients.

What do you think are the major challenges for freelancers transitioning from the very earliest stages of their career?

I think the most challenging is to go from having an employee or student mindset, to a business and success mindset to be your own boss. I saw this in myself and I have seen it in many of my students. It’s hard to transfer from thinking that you are at the mercy of the clients or the market, to realising that you are your own boss. Only you are responsible for how much or little you work, the clients you choose to work with and how much you earn. Transferring from working with agencies to direct clients is also very challenging and requires a lot of work, plus a different mindset. You need to go from being a producer of translations to a business consultant that helps companies reach their own goals and overcome language barriers.

Is there a Swedish word or phrase you particularly like, that doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English?

I have not found a good translation for the Swedish word “lagom”. It means, not too much and not too little, just right. This word really encompasses the Swedish culture. You should not brag too much, be too rich, or too poor, too smart or too dumb… You get the point.

If someone was asking for recommendations on where to visit in Sweden, what would you suggest?

Well, I am, of course, partial to “my” town, Stockholm, also called the Venice of the North. It’s built on many islands, by the coast. It’s a beautiful city both in winter and summer and there’s a lot of things to do there. But there are so many other beautiful areas in Sweden, for example, the forests around “Mora” where the famous Nordic ski race – Vasaloppet – is held every year, Lapland with reindeers and the ice hotel, and the rolling fields down south.

You provide a lot of useful information on your Marketing Tips for Translators website. What sort of feedback do you get, what sort of things are people particularly interested in or concerned about?

Thanks! I get almost exclusively positive feedback and it’s so rewarding to receive an email or handwritten note from a freelance translator who thanks me and tell me how I have helped them in their translation career. I regularly do polls and ask what my audience want to learn more about, and the most common answer is “how to get more/better clients”. However, there is no easy solution. You have to first of all base your search on your current situation, then narrow down, in order to find ideal clients. Everything is easier with a marketing plan though. I have used one myself for several years. It does not have to be very complicated, just a plan so you know what your next step is. If you don’t, it’s easy to postpone the marketing. If the marketing doesn’t get done, it’s much harder, if not impossible, to find more or better clients.

Who has inspired you?

I listen to a lot of business podcasts and business books. One of my favourite podcasts is “Online Marketing Made Easy” with Amy Porterfield. She keeps inspiring me in my marketing, and I have also taken some of her courses. Among my colleagues, I have been inspired by my colleague and friend Corinne McKay. Corinne published her first book for freelance translators early on in my own career, and her blog and books have been invaluable. In life, I am forever inspired and look up to my “bonus mother” and would like to be like her when I grow old - caring, energetic, active.




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