For freelance translators, the prospect of finding direct clients has always been more appealing than working with agencies. Hypothetically speaking, clients should prefer to work directly with translators, too. However, their main reasons for hiring agencies remain the same as they were ten years ago: agencies are able to handle larger volumes of content, turn work around faster and multiple auxiliary services, including desktop publishing, additional proofreading, couriering, and supplying and setting up soundproof booths for simultaneous interpreters.
There is, though, one thing that has changed in the past ten years: in the early days of the Internet, freelancers couldn’t easily find each other in the public domain and had to simply accept the rates that agencies were offering. With the advent of professional social media, backed up by verified testimonials from clients, we now have easy access to shared information about the rates we should be charging. But have we been able to make full use of it yet? And is it really that simple?
A lot of translators and interpreters have blogs and use them to address the most pressing issues of the day, publishing posts quite regularly. There are also multiple dedicated groups of translators, interpreters, desktop publishing specialists, technicians owning and operating equipment for simultaneous interpreting, and other industry-related professionals on LinkedIn and Facebook. Numerous linguists are using Twitter to offer their services to both direct clients and agencies. Some even manage to find content for Instagram. But have we been able to team up with each other to offer the full range of services expected from an agency?
To be able to effectively compete with agencies, linguists need to start collaborating with providers of adjacent services and work as a team. For example, it would make sense for a simultaneous interpreter to connect with the owner of portable equipment for simultaneous interpreting (or, even better, buy it themselves) and a proven marketing specialist. Translators would benefit from partnering up with specialists in project management and DTP. As long as every member of the team is allocated sufficient time for carrying out their tasks properly, without compromising the quality of their work, there is no reason why this kind of model should not benefit everyone involved.
The life of a translation agency is not a bed of roses. They are constantly on the lookout for new clients. They have a budget for a whole sales and marketing department working day and night to secure high-profile clients. If you want to succeed in replicating the service that agencies provide, you will have to follow suit in every aspect of their work and spend much of your free time on business development.
Connecting with clients
Since I went freelance in May 2015, the most effective way of finding clients for me has been attending industry-related events. Some are free, some are not, but if you want to be aware of when and where they are taking place, sign up for relevant newsletters. To do that, you need to narrow down your specialisation and subscribe to updates on the websites of your potential clients. For example, some legal firms offer a free regular newsletter that contains details of events that are open to the general public, such as workshops, breakfasts and networking events. Attending one such event gave me a corporate client that generated 80% of my income in my first six months.
Considering that many of us live in or relatively close to London –one of the most popular business hubs in the world–, another good way to find clients is to attend conferences, summits and events in that city. Registration for such events can be quite expensive but quite often the fee is negotiable. Depending on ticket availability, organisers might be able to offer you a discount or even free registration when they find out that you are not a lawyer/salesperson/manufacturer.
The beauty of these events is that you have access to the names of the speakers and delegates and, even if you can’t meet them all in person after their talks or over a coffee break, you can always approach them via email later on, mentioning that you have attended their presentation. For me, this type of activity has resulted in two assignments.
You can also attend events specifically related to your subjects of interest. A good place to start would be any relevant chambers of commerce -in my case, the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce and the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain, plus many more chambers representing Spanish-speaking countries from Latin America. These are usually really good at organising networking events that are open to non-members for a relatively small fee. Once you get to know the relevant team, they are usually delighted to recommend other events that would be of use to you.
Also, with the UK attracting professionals from all over the world, you are sure to find a private business club offering membership to speakers in your language. In my case, there are quite a few of them: CIS Investment Banking & Private Equity, Russo-British Business & Social Club, Spanish Business Network, Spanish Language Meet-ups in London. Two orders have come to me as a consequence of attending a networking event organised by one of the above. A good example from the law sector is Arbitral Women, a membership association that brings together women working in dispute resolution, and organises a number of high-profile events that could be very useful for building relationships.
Membership for professional bodies such as ITI, CIoL or ATA gives you an opportunity to network with peers and, although some might consider chatting to competitors as wasting time, I would strongly disagree with that view. When you meet new people, you share ideas, industry news and, hopefully, learn from each other’s mistakes. And even though you might not realise this, people do make a mental note of who you are and what you do, so when the right opportunity comes up, they will call on you too. I have had three referrals and one assignment from other freelancers.
Some professionals find social media useful for their line of work, but I personally find that it require a great level of planning and care in order to avoid wasting time. I decided to limit my social media efforts to LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. LinkedIn is a great platform for publishing regular content and connecting with your professional networks, learning about relevant events and initiatives. Twitter allows you to stay up to date with the latest news in the industry and share updates with your communities, positioning yourself as an expert in your market -provided that your content is original and targeted. And Facebook is a fun way to engage with your audience, starting with friends. In the first nine months of my freelance activities, I had three individual clients from Facebook, one business from LinkedIn and none from Twitter.
As with any profession, there is no better way of proving your worth and fostering relationships with potential clients than by providing your services pro bono to a business that is operating in an adjacent industry. For example, I have been proofreading weekly newsletters for a private invitation-only members club, Russians in the City. In return, they have upgraded my membership and included my marketing content in their newsletters for free. I have received a few referrals from this activity.
And, if you are a good linguist, the chances are you are a good writer too. Why waste this amazing talent? If you specialise in a particular subject, you could bring more to the table than just translating. You could act as a contributor to a leading media outlet in your industry. Be it politics or fashion, cosmetics or design, I am sure you have a lot to share with potential clients in your area of expertise.
You just need to think about the needs of your client first. What do they want to hear about? What are their biggest concerns? What would help them to find the right translator? Share your stories, make them laugh, make them cry. Most editors are happy to receive contributions from freelancers and, more often than not, are able to pay for their services. You just need to know their style and content expectations to ensure you make full use of the opportunity.
Finally, the most important thing in maintaining relationships with your clients is to remind them that you are still there for them because they get bombarded by other translators more often than you think. You can choose your own way of doing it –by making a phone call, sending a personal email or a regular newsletter. Just make sure you mention the last job you did for them, so you don’t sound like a total stranger. The newsletter could include samples of your latest work, testimonials and ideally something that adds value to the client, i.e. a link to an article in an industry magazine. I know that some people even add their photo to their signature so that the recipients recognise them straight away.
To conclude, once you have properly assessed the amount of time and effort it takes to prospect direct clients, the seemingly low rates that agencies are offering will suddenly look more appealing to you. But as the saying goes, ‘No guts, no glory’. There must be something that agencies are doing right -and there is a lot that freelancers can learn from them.
Reblogged with permission by the author
This article was originally published in the ITI Bulletin (March-April 2016), the bi-monthly journal of the Institute of Translation & Interpreting (www.iti.org.uk).
Katya Roberts is a Russian/Spanish/English translator and interpreter with ten years of experience, based in Bedfordshire. She specialises in dispute resolution, finance and architecture and also offers services in copy writing, academic editing and communications management. You can find out more here – www.masterplus.co.uk.