When I first started building out a business as a freelance translator at the very end of 2007, I did what every translator does: I set up my profile on the ATA website and other similar professional association websites serving to match up agencies with freelance translators.
The problem I soon found was that I had very little control over the kind of work I received. After spending what I felt was a disproportionate amount of time printing, signing, scanning and e-mailing back all kinds of legal paperwork before even starting a project for a new agency (new as in one I had never worked with before), I could finally settle down to work on a project. It never seemed like my per-wordrate
was really adequate to cover all of these other costs: administrative paperwork, translation time, billing and accounting, marketing and self-promotion, time spent at industry conferences, continuing education, etc. I felt like other people – agencies – were calling the shots. Moreover, how much could I raise my rates in the face of cyclical pressures from things like a contracting global economy and massive structural changes like the emergence and growing importance of machine translation and cloud-based translation solutions, just to offer a
It did not take me long to realize that I would need to go after direct clients. The profit margins were more attractive on work that I could bring in myself and outsource to other translators, and I could have direct control. The question I had to address, of course, was how to do this.
This article is for freelance translators and interpreters, or language service providers more generally, who want to expand their businesses but do not quite know how, or who are seeking ways to improve the reach of their
marketing and self-promotion. Of course you do not need to be interested in outsourcing the work you get to other translators (i.e., fulfilling the role of a project manager). These marketing and self-promotion tips will be just as useful if you are a freelancer seeking direct clients – not for the purpose of outsourcing the translation work but rather for eliminating the middleman (the agency) – and are not sure how to get the clients.
What I am going to tell you about here is not a reinvention of the wheel, because I have not done that. It makes no sense to do that; it is not efficient. Other people have already figured this stuff out, so why not draw on their expertise? That’s what I have tried to do, and now I am going to share that with you, because I want every freelance translator in our community to be able to benefit from this and to be able to find new ways to attract direct clients through marketing, self-promotion and search engine optimization.
Your Business is Marketing
First and foremost you must remember that you are a walking self-promotion, press release, or advertisement for what you do and the product or service you provide. Your business is the business of translation or language service provider, right? Wrong! In actuality, you are in the business of marketing translation or language-based solutions. Whatever you do, you’re in the business of marketing. Then, there is your product or service. In your mind you may equate being self-promoting with bragging, but this is a something you hold to be true that may not actually be true.
Look at it another way. By not telling people about what you do and the service you provide, you may be depriving people of a valuable service that they need. I am not talking about standing at the entrance of Grand Central Station and handing out business cards, although that is a strategy I have seen people use. I have no idea whether it is effective. What I am suggesting, rather, is that whenever you see people you know – at your corner drugstore, at your dentist, your neighbor, your office mate, etc. – you respond to the query, “So, what’s up?” with something along the lines of:
-“Well, actually, I’m very excited about a new business plan I’ve got going. I am branching out and trying to take in direct clients now.”
-“Yes, well, you know I’m a Turkish to English translator, and, well, I usually get work from agencies, but I would love to be able to interact with clients in a more direct way. It’s so much more personal….”
I will grant that this approach may be more effective for me in Upstate NY where the communities tend to be smaller and have a very small town feel. This is true even in the suburbs and in cities like Albany. However, we all live in communities – belong to clubs or have gym memberships or take our kids to nursery school or daycare. In other words, we all interact with what are called natural networks that we can utilize as a means of communicating our marketing message. And remember,marketing is about letting people know you exist. Nobody knows you exist except the people who know you exist.
Marketing is about letting people know you exist. Nobody knows you exist except the people who know you exist.
That is really all marketing is. No one is going to know you are out there and available unless you tell them and that is especially true of all those potential direct clients. The easiest ones to get may be the ones right there in your own community, available to you through your own natural network. But there is only one way they are going to find out about you: you have to tell them.
You need to have conversations – real, live, in-person conversations with people – the people who will end up referring you to potential clients. I am not talking about LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter. That has its place. Social media can be extremely valuable, especially in the virtual world of the translation business, but if you want to get direct clients – people from your own community, for example – you need to reach out to that community in person. There is no substitute.
It is so tempting in our business, because we spend so much of our day locked down, so to speak, in front of a PC, to restrict the vast majority of our interactions to e-mail, Skype, and various forms of social media. But reaching direct clients will mean interacting face-to-face with people. It will probably mean getting out into the real world in a real way – one that many translators – unless they are also interpreters – are not necessarily entirely comfortable with. You are not alone. This is not as hard as you think. It really is as easy as the conversation example shown above. You can have it with anyone anywhere. The everyday people you know and interact with when you are dropping your kids off or picking them up or running to your local drycleaner – the places where you know people. And if you were to sit down in front of your computer with a spreadsheet or at a table with a pad and pen and make a list of all the people you know locally, you probably know many more people than you realize.
You might even want to try that exercise. It is called putting together your natural network, and it can really help you feel confident that you have the means to market yourself locally.
Do you have business cards?
And don’t ever forget your business cards! The first question is, do you have them and do you carry them with you at all times? And I mean at all times. That means even when you are working out at the gym. I have a second business card folder that I keep in the bag where I carry my I-Pod and extra water bottle and other essentials in the cardio room at the gym. I am never ever without it.
If you absolutely do not want to pay a printer to make up business cards for you, you can simply Google “free business cards” and find numerous websites that will allow you to select free ones that you can design yourself, so long as you are willing to carry that company’s logo on your card. It really does not matter. You just need to make sure that you can always provide your contact information to people easily.You want people to remember who you are and to know how to contact you when a need arises.
Marketing and sales are numbers games.
Marketing and sales are numbers games. You need to talk to –that is, have live conversations with – so many people in order for that to yield so many potential project bids, which will then result in so many actual sales –i.e., closed deals.
A different approach: Waiting around to be contacted by agencies is one approach, but it takes the control out of your hands. Contacting the immigration attorney whose office is in your neighborhood and telling him you would like to offer a fixed price package on translation of all immigration related paperwork through him to his clients is a much more direct approach. Contacting five immigration attorneys might generate one actual lead in the form of a face-to-face meeting. Contacting 15 might generate three actual face-to-face meetings, of which one might lead to an actual business arrangement, from which you might actually start to get translation work referrals. Direct marketing and sales are numbers games, so start having conversations.
Or let’s say you have made up brochures and arranged with local businesses and restaurant owners to display them in your neighborhood, you need to check back in, say, ten days or two weeks to see whether they are still
there. What has happened to them?
·Is the restaurant window sill too crowded for all the brochures being displayed?
·Are one or two restaurants generating business for you, while others are not?
·Are none of them?
·Is this a worthwhile expenditure for you?
We have whizzed through some of the basics of Marketing 101, but when a person you have talked to or who has picked up your brochure is thinking about working with you, the first thing s/he may do is look for you on the internet and try to find your website.
Do you have a website? Have you thought about your website? I created mine through Weebly.com, which I found to be inexpensive and user-friendly, but there are ways to do it directly through Google or other vendors. However, if you are not the most IT-savvy person around, your time may be better spent on revenue-generating activities, such as translation work, or even handling your accounts receivables. You should consider outsourcing the creation of a website. Post the job on Elance.com or use a Google search to find vendors who will build a website for you and compare prices. But make sure you have a website. It is unlikely nowadays that someone picking up your business card or brochure, who has not met you first, will not try to find your website before contacting you.
Search Engine Optimization Basics and Promoting Your Website
Search engine optimization is highly complex, and I am not going to pretend to be an expert. However, there are certain basics that anyone can learn, and Google has provided its users with a starter’s manual that is easily
downloadable from the Google Webmaster Central Blog: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. You can also type into a Google search, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” and you will come to the appropriate webpage with a link to the downloadable PDF.
What is search engine optimization? Search engine optimization is about making small modifications to the content of your website so that it is easier for search engines, such as Google, to index and understand your content, thereby allowing your website to move higher in search engine results when potential customers look up terms related to the product or service you provide.
So how do you figure out which words to use? Do a Google search and type in “Google Adwords Keyword Tool.” Click on the lick that appears near the top of the list. Using the module that appears on that page will help you to start to figure out which terms are searched the most frequently by people seeking your particular type of translation service (e.g., “legal translations,” or “Spanish to English translations) so that you can begin – and I mean begin – to understand how the terminology you use on your site affects the ranking of your site in Google and other search engines.
The next step – and usually the easiest way to implement the results of the Google Adwords Keyword Tool – is by blogging. Blogging does not have to be an exercise in expository writing. There are many different approaches, and a format like Twitter is designed to accommodate so-called micro-blogging. Ultimately what you want is to be redirecting people to your website on a regular basis through the posting of new or updated content so that your website is always receiving enough traffic to appear on the first page of a Google search.
Optimally, I try to blog twice a month, but I usually am able to blog once a month. The important thing is that you choose a frequency and stick with it. My blog has its own name, “Turkish Dynamite!” and can be found under its own tab on my website. Immediately after publishing each new blog post, I alert my personal followers on Facebook and those people following the REL Translations Facebook page, and I post an alert on LinkedIn and Google+. Both the LinkedIn and Facebook page feed automatically to Twitter.
As I said earlier in this article, I am hardly an expert in any of this, and I am not trying to reinvent the wheel. I am just trying to share with all of you – my community of fellow translators, freelancers, project managers, and language service providers – what I have learned about marketing, self-promotion, and building out a business.
The next step for me in terms of blogging will be to focus on promoting my blog. As Diana Adams, author of the infographic found at the attached link points out, weekly or monthly blogging is great, but what about blog promotion? Once you feel like you have gotten the hang of blogging, there are numerous sites available for promoting your blog, beyond mere social media: http://www.bitrebels.com/social/30-ways-to-promote-your-blog/.
So get out there and start having conversations! Start marketing and promoting yourself. Do not be afraid to be a walking advertisement because the service you provide is necessary and useful. People need to know about it. Remember that even long-established companies like Coca Cola and Nike advertise. They just have sufficient resources to pay someone else to do the advertising for them, but even they understand that marketing and brand promotion are something that you never, ever stop having to do. You always want to be the first name that comes to mind. Just do it!