Business Practice

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Business Practice

This month, we find that having a strategy for finding clients, including researching the market and tailoring your résumé so your skills match a particular company's needs, will make it easier for you to gain regular assignments as a freelancer. Of course, earning enough to pay the bills is just the beginning.

Dear Business Smarts:

Although I have had a full-time office job since graduation, I realized that my passion lies in translating, and I would like to become a self-employed translator. I have done part-time freelance work for a while and have a small client base, but not enough work to support myself financially. I tried reaching out to various agencies by mail and e-mail, without much response. What is it that agencies are looking for, and how can I get my foot in the door?
— F.R. by email

Dear F.R.:

Making the jump from a regular paycheck to the world of self-employment can be scary, and finding enough work to pay the bills is just the beginning. Every translation company needs translators, but a mass postal mailing to hundreds of agencies no longer brings the desired results, since much of the industry has now shifted to online communication. E-mail not only is a new medium for marketing your services, but also demands new strategies: "It is much better to send 20 targeted and personalized e-mail messages than 500 emails to a purchased list," advises Gianni Davico, CEO of the Turinbased translation agency Tesi & testi. Your résumé should be concise and fully up-to-date, and focus exclusively on your language skills and translation expertise. For follow-up, be ready to send out meaningful translation samples labeled with your name and contact information.

The Internet is another productive hunting ground. Look for reputable sites that post translation assignments, and respond to offers with a customized message that provides concise information about yourself and your availability. A short sample paragraph can showcase your writing skills and expertise in a given field. Always follow the outsourcer's directions (i.e., don't call when you are instructed to send email), and use an informative subject line for your message ("German assignment 2,500 words of financial text" rather than "Freelance"). Finally, triple-check your message for errors.

Getting an assignment is just the first step in a series of transactions. According to Hélène Pielmeier, director of client services at Iverson Language Associates, Inc., agencies are looking for translators who are team players and who have excellent communication skills as well as experience with computer-assisted translation tools: "Timely communication is key. This includes a timely response to confirm whether you are available to take a job, timely acknowledgement of receipt of files, and responsiveness to questions concerning a delivered translation." Be sure never to miss a deadline, and be available to answer questions after delivering the job. "Your ability to participate professionally in problem resolution is key to longevity in a business relationship," adds Patricia Bown, the translation manager at McElroy Translations.

Ultimately, the client's satisfaction with the work you provide will play a large role in your professional success. Says Beatriz Bonnet, CEO of the Syntes Language Group: "Convince us you consistently deliver top-quality work, and then be 100% sure to deliver on that promise."

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: April 2006, p 42