Earlier this week, I posted an article on creating a well put together marketing campaign, which can be used for finding direct or indirect clients. Some translators prefer to work exclusively with agencies, whilst others enjoy the benefits of working with direct clients. Personally, I’ve found a mixture of both to work best for my purposes, although a higher percentage of my clients are direct.
If you’d like to find more direct clients, here are a few ideas for places you might like to look:
At the Chamber of Commerce
Your local Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start. They should have a database of companies that conduct business in the countries of your source language. Sometimes you might have to pay for access to these lists, but make contact and find out what the costs are. You can then decide whether you’re ready to invest or not.
With a Clearly Defined Online Search
A good idea would be to look for organisations that group together companies with related interests, or who have similar business goals. For example, you could start with bodies which represent import / exporters, and find out who is doing business in your language pair. You could then drill down even further, and look for ‘fruit’ importers, or for ‘textiles’ – whatever you’re interested, or specialised, in. Think out of the box and remember: sometimes the narrower your focus, the wider your net of opportunities.
Right Inside Your Inbox
Google Alerts is another great tool that delivers new leads straight into your inbox. Its tagline is: “Monitor the Web for Interesting New Content” – and if you’re savvy about it, you can use it for your translation business. For example, if you live in the UK and your language pair is English and Spanish, you could set up alerts for “England Spain” or “Spain UK” or even “Latin America UK”. Google then sends links (like an RSS feed) relevant to your terms. You might find out the UK will soon be hosting an international sporting event (it doesn’t need to be high-profile). You could then make contact with the sporting bodies and see if they need any work done (for example, any agreements or sporting codes) Or maybe a foreign construction company is joining forces with a local one . Once again, be creative. If you’d like to translate short stories, find the name of a writer you admire (preferably not too famous yet!), and set up an alert. If you’re into wine, track the upcoming international show. You can always fine-tune your alerts at a later stage, if you find it a bit overwhelming at first.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is probably the brass ring for most freelancers. It’s the most valuable form of marketing, and actually takes the least out of you, in terms of cost and time. Clients will happily recommend freelancers, in any field, who provide an excellent service, and who are willing to give just a little bit extra (without ever needing to sell oneself short). I don’t know about you, but I like being able to pass on a good contact. Same goes for clients.
The other form of ‘word of mouth’ starts with you. Talk about your business to your friends and people you meet. Hammering on about it like a drunk at the party is definitely not recommended, but be enthusiastic about what you do. If you enjoy what you do, this should be easy. It also helps to have a short, but memorable, ‘elevator pitch’ (although the term does make me feel a bit squeamish). When people ask me what I do, I say “I’m a French to English legal translator”. That’s it. Short and to the point, but I’ve made it more specific – not just ‘translator’. Next time they hear about someone doing business with a French company, they might just remember me. It’s happened before.
So these are just some of the ideas for finding direct clients. Where else is a good place? Any ideas? And translators, what’s your preference in terms of direct/indirect work?
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.