I am a big proponent of making communications more effective, handling matters electronically as much as possible, and I really enjoy the enormous benefits of being able to connect with people anywhere in the world, from the comfort of my computer or any other electronic device. However, in this era of Internet, emails, and social media, it is very easy to forget about the importance of human touch in our communications.
Let Us Not Forget Mr. Graham Bell
Recently, we had an interesting discussion on this blog about a translator who had never actually made direct contact with one of her main clients; by direct contact I mean meeting a representative of the agency over the phone.
It is very common for freelancers to receive emails (sometimes, mass emails) from agencies looking for new talent. There are a number of websites that allow you to create a profile and bid on projects solely through an online interface. These are all perfectly valid ways to obtain new business and acquire new clients, but there are also some inherent risks attached to these practices. As a newcomer to the profession, you might not be aware of certain standards in the industry, your “sixth sense” about potential clients (or scammers) might not be fully developed, and you might not have access to resources to check about the trustworthiness of a certain agency (let alone a direct client!).
This is where the good old phone comes in handy. No other form of communication can give you a better understanding of a potential client than talking directly with him or her –except, of course, meeting in person, but that is a luxury we seldom ever have. Sure, you want to have all the terms of the job or contract in writing (via email), but having a brief conversation with your client is an excellent way to gauge whether the two of you are a good match.
Yes, you want to land that first job with this client, but you also need to make sure they will meet your expectations. Being a newcomer does not mean you have to accept all their terms. By now, you will have set your rates and terms. For example, are you willing to work on a 6000-word project for tomorrow at your standard rate? Having the opportunity to talk opens a channel for negotiation; this is harder to do through an email exchange.
It never ceases to amaze me that, even in large corporations, human interaction plays an important role in business. That is why people are still called in for interviews in person, they are not hired based on their resume or LinkedIn profile (although having a nice resume or an impressive profile does help). Employers want to talk to the candidate, to see if, beyond his or her vast experience, they have other intangibles that cannot be seen in a CV.
For freelancers this translates into: “Get out there”. Go to local networking events or trade shows for a particular industry you might be interested in. Think about a translator or interpreter living in Las Vegas, interested in the consumer electronics industry. Well, this freelancer has a golden opportunity every year at the Consumer Electronics Show! Nothing like that in your town? What about the local Chamber of Commerce? They normally organize events throughout the year.
Talk to friends, acquaintances, neighbors, anyone, about what you do, not in a hard-sale way but casually; work it into a conversation. You will be surprised at the results.
When I launched my new website I was so genuinely excited I would tell everybody about it, show them my new business cards (give them one, if they were interested), even my old friends. I was sharing my accomplishment; I was not trying to sell anything. But that is how I got an important contract with a local hospital as a direct client: Through a long-time neighbor who had not realized I specialize in medical and marketing, and was looking for somebody with my qualifications.
Raise your hand!
I had not thought about the enormous benefits of volunteering at different T&I organizations until my name was mentioned as a potential candidate for one of the ATA Leadership Councils. How did this happen in the first place? I became a volunteer proctor for the ATA Certification Test through my local chapter, ATIF. I also started attending some of their networking events. I met the president and board members, as well as other colleagues. Then, I became a member of the ATA Spanish Division Leadership Council, and through my involvement with them I was contacted by two (prominent) members who own translation companies, and I am happy to report I have been consistently working with them. The same thing happened at a local level, thanks to my involvement with ATIF.
This was not the primary objective of volunteering, but it is a very important by-product that I had not thought about.
Volunteering is, first and foremost, the best way to meet other colleagues, and it is a great way to become more involved with the T&I community, to network, and to become known.
A word of caution: Your offline efforts need to be coherent with your online life. If you have not done so already, update all of your existing profiles on the Internet and make sure your business cards are up-to-date.
Now, grab a stack of those business cards and get out there!