Companies are looking for someone who is more than just a great translator and writer. They’re looking for someone who can translate, provide cultural and background expertise, and who is in tune with the company’s vision.
Finding and contacting potential direct clients can be perplexing for translators. One of the challenges is performing appropriately within the context of the client relationship. I’m always on the prowl for tips on how to finesse these relationships.
Recently, I listened to a webinar by Ed Gandia entitled “How to Launch a Profitable B2B Writing Business in 10 Weeks or Less.”1 While this audio course focused primarily on writers and copywriters and how they can make money quickly by zeroing in on corporate content writing, a number of strategies and ideas stood out to me as being relevant to translators marketing their services and dealing with direct clients.
Writing for businesses that sell to other businesses can be very profitable. Think potentially doubling whatever you thought would be a healthy freelancing income in our profession and you’ll get an idea about your potential profit margins for corporate content writing. How is this related to direct translation clients and a healthy freelancing career? Well, it has to do with the approach: being focused and strategic. As freelancers, we’re always trying to get on the right radar. We know clients are out there and that they need us, but exactly how to reach them is the issue.
Focus on What Clients Need
The first step toward securing clients is to stop pestering potential ones with details about what we do. Yes, we have to educate clients, but we can’t just overwhelm them with that education from the very beginning. We have to ease them into it, like getting in a hot tub. But before we invite them in, let’s make sure they have a swimsuit on and that they like to soak.
So, how can we get to clients? How can we let them know that we’re here to solve their problems? By offering to help with what they need most and learning about their businesses. Keep in mind that what you can do for clients and what they need can be two different things. In order to get the business we want—the fun projects, the high profile names, the work that makes a difference—before all that, we have to get clients, confidence, and experience. How? Once you’ve listened to what clients need, deliver it to them by going the extra mile.
Look Beyond Your Current Contacts
Find your ideal potential clients by looking for a business that offers services or products that are new, expensive, and complex, and—this is the key for translators—a business that wants to expand into a target market for your native language. This should be a company that has a lot of written material to explain and inform about the services and products it offers. This is a good time to showcase your writing skills as a translator by providing excellent copy in your target language.
The crux of the thing here is that companies are looking for someone who is more than just a great translator and writer. They’re looking for someone who can translate, provide cultural and background expertise, and who is in tune with the company’s vision.
To find these elusive companies, invest in a hyper-focused marketing effort. Hyper-focused? Yes, this is going to require some reflection. But break through those usual barriers where you say to yourself, “I don’t know anyone who needs my services,” or “I’ve already told everyone about what I do.” Instead, look beyond your contacts to the people they know. Investigate their circles online and consider where you could do meaningful work (i.e., the type of work that you enjoy most and excel). Here’s a possible path your thinking could follow:
- Think about the people you know in professional and personal circles.
- Think about the people you know and the companies where they work. Are you interested in any of those companies as potential clients?
- What’s your specialty or favorite type of text? What sector is it?
- Have you ever done work in that area? Ask a contact from a previous project for a recommendation.
For online research, you can start by looking at your contacts’ contacts on LinkedIn to see if there is an area where you can fill a need. For example, I browsed an investment banker’s contacts recently and not only learned a lot, but also got some great ideas for potential leads, even though I’m not involved in financial translation. (As a courtesy, you might want to mention to your existing contact that you found a potential lead on their profile list.)
Shift Your Focus
When you market your services as a translator, consider shifting your focus away from telling prospects about your business and services. Instead, how about learning about the companies your clients run and how they are organized? What do they want and need, and how can you make that happen for them?
For example, say you want to translate a book describing photography from the state where you live for a client in your source-language country. You know a client who will publish such a translation in your target language. Boom! Sounds great, right? But this client doesn’t know you, and the photography book is one of the most important things they’re doing this year. By finding the areas where they need help, not what you want to do for them, you get your foot in their door. Ask clients what their most urgent communication needs are related to cultural questions, translation, interpreting, or another service at which you excel.
Oh, and don’t forget to mention any certifications. Recently, I told a client that I’m certified as a translator by the Judiciary Council of the State of Jalisco. Although this has little to do with being a literary translator, it turned out that the client needed someone with this certification. After helping the client in this way, I became liked, known, and trusted. This is a great place to start a long-term relationship with a client.
Market Yourself as a Problem Solver, but Be Selective
Every client needs someone to solve his or her communication problems. Translators are in a unique position to do so because of the complexity of their work and the level of skill required. For each step in the translation process, the translator changes roles: from researcher to cultural expert; from writer to editor to word processor; from customer services representative to bookkeeper to innovator; from friend to colleague to mentor. What are we missing? Business, sales, negotiation, and soft skills (e.g., interpersonal skills).2
Clients need you to take the tasks off their hands that they don’t understand completely but realize are important. Unfortunately, working with clients who have no idea what translation involves is not the road to increased income and a comfortable freelancing career. Every freelancer works with clients who aren’t from the word world (i.e. linguists, writers, editors, etc.), and every professional has to explain what he or she does. However, if you work with clients who have even an inkling of what you do and why it’s important, you’ll be able to do business faster, more productively, and ultimately, more successfully.
In his webinar, Ed Gandia alludes to a great parable about a man selling watches. Ed’s advice: if you’re selling watches, don’t try to sell to someone who doesn’t have a watch, since this is very hard. You need to find those clients who already have a watch and know its value. In our case, this means clients who appreciate the value of translation.
Whatever the reason for clients having some knowledge about what you do, it’s very helpful. Maybe it’s because you’re not the first translator they’re dealing with, maybe the text was botched the first time. Maybe it’s a marketing department at a large company where they know that translation is important, but don’t exactly understand everything that’s involved in shifting a text from one culture to another. Whatever it is, the kind of clients you market to makes all the difference.
I listened to another talk by legendary copywriter Bob Bly, and his marketing strategies are pure genius.3 In terms of positioning—that is, how you communicate with clients and the value you bring to their business—his strategies and suggestions are spot on in relation to freelance translation.
In addition to the types of clients to whom you market, the sheer number is crucial. Bob’s suggestion is to try and get two to five times the leads you can handle. In his words: “Don’t market to get business, market to have choice.”
How can you help ensure that your marketing efforts stand out? Freelance translators looking to attract great direct clients should have a cache of professional documents, samples, and website pages. When clients need information about what you do or your work process, you should have documents ready to send out that describe and highlight your value and explain your approach. For translators, this might mean a document showing how historical miscommunications have led to costly errors, or the traditional example of company names not working in target cultures.4
A great way to get clients’ attention is to show them how your cultural knowledge can help them save time and money. Find a translation blunder in your prospect’s industry and you’ll be sure to impress. This leads to a more satisfying business relationship and in turn generates new insights in your clients about the culture of their customers and suppliers. This document could include examples from their industry or that show how important it is to localize content. There are great examples in the book Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. Here’s an excerpt:
When Mistranslations Cost Millions
Banking and financial services giant HSBC had a popular Assume Nothing campaign, but the phrase was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in several countries. How to repair the damage done to the brand? A $10 million rebranding initiative soon followed.5
As an added value, you can check if the client has localized their products in your target language, or send them a short paragraph on why the brand name would work in country X, which, incidentally, might also be a good place to export. When you have industry-specific examples ready, it’s easy to connect with and educate clients.
Another suggestion is to write a book to market yourself. This could be great for many translators with vast specialty knowledge. A nonfiction book, a handout, or a pamphlet on your specialty knowledge subject area might be just the ticket. Your book could get noticed. As word spreads, you’ll gradually gain a reputation as an expert on the subject, and clients will come to you. This happens when someone buys your book, tells other people about it, or simply keeps it and picks it up again later. When you’ve written a book on a specialized sector you boost your authority and exposure. You can also send copies of your book to potential clients. Bob says it best: “A book is a brochure that will never be thrown away.” Remember, in every business, professionals have to explain what they do.
Take Advantage of ATA’s Client Outreach Kit
For translators working with clients who don’t have a precise idea about what translators or interpreters do, a short, informative, and entertaining document, brochure, case study or short presentation prepared beforehand with clients in mind is an invaluable resource. ATA’s Client Outreach Kit will help with some ideas on how to prepare your material.6 These documents will also showcase your writing skills, but they must be flawless. Get a top-notch translation editor to look over your material so that clients will be drawn in by the meticulous copy.
It’s Time to Determine What Works for You
What marketing methods have worked for you with direct clients? What cultural quandaries have you come into contact with? Consider creating a list with examples to use with future clients!
- “High-Level Business Writing with Ed Gandia,” http://b2blauncher.com.
- For a basic definition of soft skills, see http://bit.ly/soft-skills-defined.
- Bly, Bob. “Ten Steps to Having a Great Copywriting Career for Life,” http://bit.ly/Bob_Bly-talk.
- “13 Unfortunate Translations that Harmed Brand Reputations,” http://bit.ly/unfortunate-translations; also see “11 Brand Names that Sound Hilarious in a Different Language” (Huffington Post, August 11, 2012), http://bit.ly/hilarious-translations.
- Kelly, Nataly, and Jost Zetzsche. Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World (Perigee Books, 2012).
- ATA Client Outreach Kit, www.atanet.org/client_outreach.
Jesse Tomlinson is an interpreter, translator, editor, and voice talent. Originally hailing from Canada, she now lives in Mexico and translates from Spanish into English and interprets in both languages. Her special interests lie in Mexican culture, the tequila industry, and literature. She translates Mexican billboards and news into English on her blog, Tomlinson Translations (http://tomlinsontranslations.com/Blog). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.