This is one of the photographs I took on a personal documentary assignment that I recently worked on. I thought it worked quite well with what is now one of my favourite translation quotes.
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 material requirements for getting started as a freelance translator are relatively low, and this is one of the many great reasons for choosing it as a career. Since we provide a service and are not in the business of manufacturing or selling physical ‘things’, we really don’t need much space or capital to get going. But as with most new businesses, you’ll need some help in getting started.
Tools of the Trade
So what exactly do you need? As with most questions, there’s either the long answer, or the short one. The (very) short answer is that all you’d need is a computer and a high-speed, yet steady, internet connection.
That said, although I’m frequently able to work in different environments, especially on longer term projects (yes, it is possible to work on your laptop in a café), the daily reality is actually very different. Tough deadlines are often the norm. You’d therefore need a few things to help you deal with fast turnaround times, assist you with accuracy, ensure you’re contactable and of course, being comfortable is key.
So you will need a reliable computer. Laptops are useful for moving around, although some translators choose to work on two separate screens, so you might consider getting a second monitor. I haven’t found a need for this, but you’ll quickly figure out what suits you best.
A wireless internet connection and hotspot will enable you to work from anywhere in the house (having a separate dongle for travel is great, too). With mine I can sit outside on our front porch on balmy days. It overlooks a river, and we live in a pretty wild place, so it really appeals to the slightly rebellious side of me that is ever-grateful for not working in an office or cubicle. The irony is that much of the work I do is incredibly stimulating, and often from corporate clients, but I’ve managed to find a balance that works for me.
A Room of One’s Own
The porch is only a few paces away from my office, which is fully equipped. I realise that I’m incredibly lucky to have an entire study, and know that many might not currently have space available. I would however suggest that, at the very least, you set up a corner somewhere, with a table and a few shelves. No-one will be the wiser, and it will help you, and anyone you might be living with, to take your business seriously. Knowing that everything is in one place is also a big sanity saver.
Bells and Whistles
So the office (or dedicated corner), needs to have a few extra things. I find my printer invaluable, as well as my scanner. Since I specialise in legal translation, I often need to sign documents, such as non-disclosure agreements, so I can’t live without it. It’s also great being able to print out your final work as hard copy, as this is really the best way to do your final editing, for me anyway.
A fax number is also useful, although I don’t have an actual machine. You can get a free ‘fax to email’ number online. It’s a service that enables clients to send you faxes, which then get sent to your email address as an attachment. If you need to then sign these documents, you can print, scan and send it back via email. Should you ever need to send an actual fax (to a fax number, if your client doesn’t have access to internet for example, you can still use the fax to email service (email to fax in this instance), although there is usually a small fee.
You will also need a phone. I choose to only use a mobile, since one of the perks to the industry is the fact that it’s location independent, and I want clients to be able to reach me even when I’m travelling. Having a phone that allows you to access email, as well as social media sites, is also very handy. If you decide to work with any agencies, you might lose out on an assignment if you step out for a few hours and didn’t manage to pick up their email. Yes, it does sometimes move that fast. Setting up a Skype account is also handy if a client ever wants to have a ‘face-to-face’ meeting.
You would then also need some software, such as the usual MS Office packages, to be able to read and receive any client documents, as well as things such Adobe Acrobat for PDFs and so forth. You might also like to look at OpenOffice, as a free alternative to office software. A good anti-virus is also highly recommended. You might also want to look at getting a CAT tool. I use Wordfast and OmegaT, although at heart, I still prefer translating old-school style. That said, CAT tools are undeniably useful, and I’ve found them especially great when it comes to formatting – ie. making sure your client’s document looks exactly the same in the target file as it does in the source document. I’m thinking about getting MemoQ, but will post more about this once I’ve decided.
Translators also need reference material. Even though you will be able to do a lot of online research (for terminology and concepts), good quality dictionaries and glossaries are vital. You will also need a thesaurus, as well as any other industry-specific glossaries, should you decide to specialise. For example, if you do legal translations, you will need a number of legal dictionaries, glossaries and lexicons. Start small, and slowly build up your library as you grow.
Finally, translators also need to be found, and for this you’ll need a website and an email address (or several, if you choose). But more on this in Part III.
Seasoned translators, what have I left out? Are there any tools you simply can’t live without?
So you think you might have the personality traits of a freelance translator and you’re interested in starting up a translation business, but what would you need to set up shop?
At the very least, you’d need to be fluent in two languages, have excellent writing skills, and feel you might actually be good at it. But what kind of training or experience would you need?
Training vs. Experience
There are many different paths leading to the translation industry. Some translators take specific courses, whilst others get into translation more organically and by means of professional experience. At this stage the industry isn’t highly regulated, so there’s a relatively low barrier to entry. This is the good news and bad news unfortunately; you’ll need to work very hard to distinguish yourself, because in theory anyone can set up shop.
If you’d like to get formal training, there are many excellent degree programmes and a short online search should be able to pull up any programmes in your area. Contact your local or national translation organisations for more information and feedback on the courses you might be interested in, or at least be able to point you in the right direction. For example, in America you could contact the ATA and if you’re South African, you should contact SATI.
That said, there are many excellent translators that haven’t had any formal translation training, just as there are many trained translators that do not have the makings of professional translators, and vice versa. You need to decide what the best route would be for you in terms of your current circumstances and professional journey to date.
Having a degree would certainly help you find your first job, build up your portfolio and network, and allow you to gain knowledge about the industry. On the other hand, translators who have pre-existing professional experience are often able to specialise quite quickly. For example, corporates working in a specific, niche industry in a foreign country (using their foreign tongue) often become de facto translators, and have a great head start when the decide to make a career change.
Finding a mentor is also particularly valuable, whether you’ve trained or entered the industry by experience. Many professionals are happy to share their knowledge, since business has always been about professional relationships, and the wheel spins a full circle.
Then research and read as much as possible, and ensure that you’re absolutely ready before you start selling your services. There can be a lot at stake for your clients, as well as yourself. I’ll be following up on this in Part II tomorrow.
A friend of mine is thinking about making a career change and she recently asked for some tips. The 2012 Blogathon is the perfect opportunity for writing up a few pointers.
In the beginning, like with most things in life, you’ll probably be feeling your way around in the dark. You might also learn some very hard lessons. I know I did.
The best advice would be to read as much as possible and remember that Google is your friend. There’s the old question of “How do you eat an elephant?” and the answer, of course, is “one bite at a time“. This is fitting for any new endeavour. It’s also the African take on things – and why I love this continent.
As for me, I fell into translation, and was lucky enough to have a mentor, as well as a ‘built in’ specialistion, since I studied law in France. I’d highly recommend finding a mentor, if you’re able to.
There’s no magic formula, but over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting articles for new (and established) freelance translators.
What does it take to become a Freelance Translator?
First of all, you need to decide on your language pair. Your target language is usually your mother tongue – the language you were raised in, whilst your source language is your second (or third) language. Translators only translate from their source language into their target language ( unless you had a bilingiual upbringing, and are comfortable either way). You need to be fluent in at least two languages, and by fluency I mean that you’re able to fully understand, read and write a second language. And I don’t mean merely getting by – you need to understand your second language on a professional level.
Secondly, you need to have above average writing skills in your target language. After all, translators are writers, and you need to have an excellent grasp (and feel) for your target language. Many translators are in fact closet writers (even though translation is incredibly stimulating all by itself).
Over and above the nitty-griity, and the technical details, what are the essential qualities of a freelance translator? Answering the following questions might give you a better idea:
– Do you love languages and new cultures? Are you fluent in another language (so much so that you’d feel comfortable speaking to the president of a foreign country in this language?)
– Do you enjoy language-related challenges and are you a stickler for detail?
– In fact, are you at times a bit pedantic when it comes to grammar and spelling?
– Are you an eternal student (ie. are you thrilled to learn about new ideas and study new subjects)? Do you enjoy learning new things? Do you love researching?
– Are you an entrepreneur? Are you comfortable wearing many hats? Are you okay with doing admin and marketing and actual translations? In fact, do you crave variety in your work and environment?
– Are you brave enough to stand up for yourself, even when your business is still growing?
– Are you okay with spending time alone? Do you enjoy working independently? Are you inspired by a quiet work environment and would you be content with filling this time with research? Do you enjoy cracking ‘codes’ or figuring out puzzles?
If so, you might be the perfect translator. Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll be posting on the technical aspects of becoming a translator. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts, and thanks for stopping by.