Translators want to win direct customers for a number of reasons. Not only does working with direct customers often come with better remuneration, a translator can often expect more appreciation and a heightened sense of importance and satisfaction with their work.
It’s natural in life to want contact. If your friend’s wife dies, you would not ask your secretary to offer condolences on your behalf, and you would not leave a message on his answering machine. Likewise, craft has long been considered to be sacred, which is why craftspersons like to sign their work.
Translators almost never sign their work, which isn’t the end of the world. After all, it’s not like your customer’s PowerPoint is followed by Hollywood credits. But crafting a translation for an entity, who will then send it to another entity (who doesn’t know you exist), doesn’t feel right sometimes. Especially when the agency PM is not responsive or sensitive, nobody represents the translator, and the translator does not even represent herself.
In a world that is increasingly turning freelance, it’s important that we struggle together to shape that world in our favor. Therefore, I’ve written out the most important reasons why translators fail to get direct customers, and some innovative (I hope!) solutions to those problems. Good luck!
#1 – Translators are not sales people
Not everyone can sell. Almost all translators are introverted, according to a Zingword study, whereas most sales people are either ambiverts or extroverts. Most marketing tips for translators explain how to “put yourself out there,” which is a tall order for people who are qualified to translate, but aren’t really suited for selling.
Solution: Do the best you can, but also be on the lookout for “desktop” opportunities like Zingword, social media, and more. Try to establish relationships with great translation companies. And if you’re really ambitious, try to find someone to sell for you.
#2 – Writers, athletes, and musicians have agents. Translators have agencies.
What a translator needs is an agent or somebody to sell for them. It’s normal to pay somebody to represent/sell your services; it’s a fact of business. All businesses do it, and each freelance translator is a small business. The problem is that translators don’t have agents or sales people; they have agencies.
Sports agents represent their customers and take a percentage of their earnings. The agent represents the athlete, and if the athlete performs better, the agent will try to secure more money for the athlete in contract negotiations. Interests are aligned.
In translation with agencies, translator performance isn’t connected to translator earnings. The translator herself is hidden, and because it’s not based on cuts but rather “black box” fixed rates, interests are naturally not aligned. Great companies like Lingua Greca are few and far between, which is why they’re getting all the good business for Greek translations 🙂 But great translator <> agency relationships happen by the grace of the agency in a world where some business leaders lack grace.
Solution: Find a good partner or establish a cooperative with other translators. Try to pool your resources to achieve some marketing and sales traction; you are often better together than you are apart.
#3 – Customers perceive working directly with you to be a burden
It’s not always the case. It depends on the sector and the individual business. Whether it’s a business turning over projects on tight deadlines for whatever reason, or customers who do not have a robust IT department and need additional consulting, your services as an individual provider may not be what the customer wants. As for Zingword, you might think of us as an agent that represents you and makes direct relationships possible, but ultimately it’s your service and your face that the customer meets.
Solution: If given the opportunity, be sure to present yourself as knowledgeable about workflows, document processing, procedures, etc. Working with me is going to be easy as pie! Include sections on your website about work and not just about how great you are at translating.
#4 – You aren’t always available
Businesses need to turnaround projects quickly, because the whole world is trying to reach their objectives yesterday. As a freelance translator, you may or may not be available. This simple fact requires a business to have more than one adequate translator to contact, and many businesses simply do not have the skills or desire to build out such a freelance team. As a side note, this is often how wonderful boutique agencies get started.
You would expect that most businesses would know how to build their own freelance teams due to the boom of the freelancer economy. The reality is that the freelancer economy is driven by particular sectors and particular people who know how to navigate that world.
I have met countless businesses who had no idea how to find a freelance designer, developer, writer, translator, etc., and their natural reaction is to turn directly to agencies or friends of friends that they might know. In fact, it may not even occur to them that they can find a freelancer in a Google search. Yet these are our customers. And if you find a direct customer, for this simple reason they may turn to an agency anyway, because you might be the only translator they know, and that might make them uncomfortable.
Solution: I don’t really have a solution for this. Some translators will refer others in a kind of soft “referral agreement,” but most of the translators I’ve met don’t know other translators, which is pretty weird. If you belong to a cooperative, it’s easier to accomplish, and you can always start a boutique agency.
#5 – Accountability
In a direct relationship, you are accountable for your work. If your work needs to be revised, you of course are expected to do it. This is no problem for translators who are good and who have accepted a job suited to their skills.
The problem is when a translator is unable to perform the translation even after revisions are requested, because they aren’t suited for the job. In that case, accountability falls back on the customer.
When a customer has an agency, they simply demand a better product. There are so many awful agencies that the customer may still fail to get good work, but if you are responsible for choosing the provider, removing accountability from yourself and placing it on an agency provider is a good way to cover your butt.
Solution: Sell your qualifications for the job, and guarantee your work. Make yourself accountable, and don’t let them think you’ll fail. On the other hand, make sure you are in fact qualified for that job!
I hope that this post has been useful for somebody out there, and in the meantime, we’re working hard at Zingword to launch v1 of our platform and help translators build a better world together.
Robert Rogge is CEO of Zingword, which is launching this summer. Zingword helps translators get translation jobs from direct customers that always pay on-time. Our goal is to improve the lives of translators while also helping customers get better and faster translations.