If you’re new to freelancing, one of the easiest ways to get off to a good start is with a direct marketing campaign. And whilst we all shudder when we hear the words ‘direct marketing’, the aim is not to make a nuisance of yourself. In fact, quite the opposite – so there’ll be no aggressive cold calling with breathless scripts. And if there is, you didn’t hear about it here.
A well-researched and cleverly put together campaign can be just what it takes to launch your career. It’s what got my translation business going a few years ago, and this year I’m doing it once again for my freelance (photo)journalism business.
Here are a few ideas to help you pull it off (without your work simply ending up in the trash can):
Research Potential Clients
The first thing you need to do is find potential clients. If you’re a translator, try searching for online lists of agencies you’d like to work for, as well as any direct clients that might need work done in your language pair. Writers can look for publications in their field of interest, whilst designers could look for businesses that need their services. Whatever your field, look up people and companies that might be a good fit.
Write a LOI
Otherwise known as a letter of introduction, this device is vital and is going to make or break your campaign. Think of it as a cover letter, where you introduce yourself and include all your relevant skills, experience and details, as well as why you’re interested in working with them. If you have a personal ‘in’ – for example if you someone recommended you – mention it. Make sure it reads well (no breathless scripts!), and include a link to your website, as well as any relevant work you might have done.
Hit the Sweet Spot
Tailor each and every email to the person you’re writing to. So no “Dear Sir/Madam”. Put in some effort and mention something to show you’ve done your homework (something from their website, for example). Also, including hundreds of CC’s is not going to make you very popular. If you do this, you definitely didn’t target your LOI. And don’t forget to attach your CV – I’ve found a one-pager works best, especially in the translation industry.
Don’t Spray and Pray
Next, don’t send out your LOI to hordes of potential clients and then hope that something sticks. This is a waste of everyone’s time, especially yours. You really need to target your campaign. Who would you like to do work for? Where are your skills a good match? What are the rates like? There’s no point in landing a client that pays peanuts, so rather look for decent (and professional) companies and clients. Make a list of the companies you researched, and go for those.
When you’re ready for blast off, remember to keep track of your campaign. Excel is great for this. I use a simple spreadsheet and include any important information as a reminder. For example, the company name, website, email, contact person and any notes, as well as the date I sent the LOI and when I received a response. Sometimes prospects answer that they’re not currently looking for anyone, but would like to keep your details on file. This is a great opportunity to contact them again at a later date, but you’ll only remember if you made a note of it.
In the beginning, you’ll have to send out quite a few. Not tens, more like hundreds. I sent out 200 with my first campaign. At first things might be a bit quiet, but work will soon start trickling in and, before you know it , you’ll have a handful of steady clients. Some might contact you months after you sent your details. This is good news. The trick is to make sure you keep at it. So after your initial push, make sure you have a LOI target every month – about 20 or so. This will help you navigate the feast and famine cycle of freelancing.
Good luck with your campaign. Let me know if you decide to try it – I’d love to hear from you. And for those that are already established freelancers, did I leave anything out? What else has worked for you?
The translation industry seems to be getting quite a bit of publicity. First there was “The Great Invisible Industry” article on Fox business that I spoke about in my last post. Then Huffington Post’s Nina Sankovitch offered her mea culpa for not having previously acknowledged the work of translators in making it possible for her to enjoy the books of authors from around the world. This was then picked up by Nataly Kelly in yet another Huffington Post article.
The common underlying theme is that translators are a hard-working bunch that toil away thanklessly in the darkness, never quite getting their day in the sun.
Unless, of course, if they go direct.
The majority of my clients are direct and this has been a conscious business decision on my part. It allows me to build personal (and lasting) client relationships and satisfies my need to actively operate as an entrepreneur. As with all ventures, this comes with risks, but that also means that the returns are more attractive. It goes without saying that this approach results in improved earnings, as well as happier clients who benefit from a better rate than if they had to pay the middleman.
What I found especially interesting in Nataly Kelly’s piece, in which she neatly outlines the ‘buying’ process, was that clients themselves are becoming aware of the benefits of having a direct link with translators, and that without it, there’s a noticeable impact on translation quality. I know that this particularly applies to on-going projects when it comes to things like ensuring cohesiveness, because agencies may have several different translators working consecutively (or even simultaneously) on a project.
In a direct situation, this doesn’t happen. My clients know that they have a single point of contact, which means I’m acutely aware of their specific needs and requirements. It also ensures accuracy and consistent terminology over the long-haul.
And then there’s also the fact that there’s a certain extra added commitment from freelancers, precisely because we’re often one man shows. The success of our businesses is directly related to our professional and financial well-being, so we often give new meaning to the phrase “jumping through hoops”. As in, how high?
That said, I’d be interested to hear your preferences via email or in the comments. So over to you.