Whether you are looking for more work or just different work, the following 5 strategies are great ways to diversify your client base or take the plunge into becoming a full-time freelance translation business owner.
1) Cast a wide net
Especially if you’re brand new to the job, it’s important to cast a wide net and contact a LOT of potential clients. When I was just starting out, I would peruse job boards like Proz.com and the ATA database and contact any company that looked like they might give me a shot. You might think this is a losing strategy, but I assure you it isn’t. While it’s true that out of every 100 e-mails, I’d say getting 5 – 10 callbacks would be a huge success, consider that you really don’t need that many clients to make a great living and job boards are a great way for clients to tell you that they have work and have exceeded their current capacity to the point they are willing to post on a job board. The caveat to this is DO YOUR RESEARCH. Not all clients are created equal. Check paymentpractices.com or the Proz.com Blue Board to find out whether the client pays on time (or at all).
2) Fix mistakes
If you’re really interested in a certain type of translation, try to find mistakes in published work. Go on company websites and carefully assess the translation. Are there errors? Could you have done it better? If so, consider contacting that company and offering to fix a section for free…just be careful how you put it. Remember that the translator might be the CEO and that’s not a good person to offend. Still, showing that your translation is an improvement is a great way to demonstrate your expertise immediately on a text that is clearly useful to them (otherwise, it wouldn’t be published!).
While I don’t necessarily suggest this strategy for seasoned translators, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door. It’s also a great way to be very picky about what you translate despite being new to the industry or to that subject matter. For example, when I first started translating, I decided that I wanted to do legal translation so I contacted some nonprofits in France and asked if I could do some of their legal translation work. I explained that because I would be doing it for free, I wouldn’t be able to sign an NDA and would retain the right to use the work (minus any names or detailed information) as samples. Nearly everyone I contacted jumped at the opportunity. Professional translation for free? Umm, yes please.
Come on now, don’t roll your eyes. This is probably the most important tip I can give. Don’t give your client the impression that you’re a fly-by-night translator who will do their project when you get around to it. Present yourself as a business from day one. Get a website (WordPress has templates…you’ll be fine…I promise). Get business cards (and pay for them if at all possible…it just doesn’t look as professional to use free ones). Use a signature in your e-mail. Use an out-of-office message when you’re unavailable to respond. Use an e-mail with an actual domain name. If you have to use free e-mail, for some reason, Gmail is seen as more professional than the other freebies (yahoo, AOL, etc.). You can also link your domain to Gmail if you like. Please also use a professional name like, say, your name. If your e-mail is from your college days, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s probably inappropriate (sorry, but firstname.lastname@example.org is just not going to cut it). Think about it this way, it is reasonable to assume that your client doesn’t speak one of the languages you’re translating. If they did, they wouldn’t need you, right? So they are really taking a leap of faith by hiring you. Show them some respect with absolute professionalism.
5) LinkedIn and targeted client selection
LinkedIn is a great tool for getting work. It’s a fast and easy way to get in contact with people who work at the company you’d like to have as your client. Maybe that person isn’t who can hire you, but I bet he/she can find out who is a lot easier than you can. Start networking as much as possible and aggressively pursue clients you want to land. Once you’ve done the above steps, you’re ready for this one. At this stage, you already have a great LinkedIn profile, website, professional e-mail and business so you’re ready to present yourself to these hard-to-reach clients. Try to see who is in your network that knows someone at that company. Take that person out to lunch if you can. See if you can at least have a chat with them on the phone or Skype. Once that person gives you their time, value it. Try to focus on adding value for that person instead of focusing on what you can get from him/her. What can you offer that person?
In all of the above instances, remember to present yourself as a business and not as a potential employee looking for a job. What I mean by this is, consider a functional resume or a brochure instead of a typical resume that lists previous job experience and years worked. Click here to download my resume as an example of what I send agencies. If you’re going after direct clients, forget this all together and consider a brochure or focus on your website.
Author: Jenae Spry
Jenae has been a French > English translator for over 10 years and a productivity and performance coach for freelancers for over 5 years. Jenae launched the Success by Rx blog to help freelancers achieve success.
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Frankly, were I to include any of the previous items on this list ((“martial arts”?), I’d at least make sure to put “Linguistics” first and not last, as if it were a mere afterthought.
Thanks, Andy. It is in no way an afterthought (for any of my interests) but linguistics is not the same as translation at all. I have a degree in linguistics so I do translate educational materials for historical linguistics programs and other linguistics materials on occasion but this has nothing to do with the act of translation really. There’s no reason why that subject should take precedence over any of the others. Interests are listed to show that I have knowledge in other domains that I may not consider my specializations. I know translators and interpreters who have been hired for events because they played a sport or had experience in a given domain. You’d be surprised how much including keywords like this can pop, especially in an agency database.
Hi Andy, thanks for your tips that I have found very useful. I particularly like your resume which is very clear and intend to redo mine which is more about my previous jobs than my translation work. I guess I will have to start doing some marketing again as I had a lot of work during summer holidays but it is very quiet at the moment…
All the best
Great tips! I must say I have been really enjoying reading your blog. I think your advice on professionalism needs to be taken to heart. While it probably seems like common sense, you’d be amazed how many translators I see that are hurting their business by not following the simple guidelines you lay out.
Another tip I would add would be to network with other translators in your language pair and field(s) of expertise. Many translators I have spoken to have found some of their best direct clients from word of mouth recommendations from other translators. In addition to that, there might come a time where you get a job that is too large to handle and you need someone you can trust to help you out…and vice versa, you might get work from other translators you have met and built relationships with. I spoke to this point in a post I wrote recently on this same topic of finding work (https://www.tm-town.com/blog/the-4-step-proactive-approach-to-getting-translation-work).
Thank you for the article, Jenae! My approach to casting a wide net: I have a list of 1,500 agencies found in Proz and other reliable directories. From time to time, I go through this list, check what is new on agencies’ websites, and send them the updated CV. To avoid confusion, I register the history of e-mail communications in an Excel file.