5 pitfalls to avoid in your freelance translator web copy

by David Friedman

5 pitfalls to avoid in your freelance translator web copyImagine you are your own ideal client and you stumble across your translation website. Would you be able to find out everything you need to know from the website quickly and easily? Are the benefits clear enough to answer questions like, “What’s in it for me?” or, “What makes this translator different from all the other translators out there?” I’d like to share some thoughts and insights about pitfalls I have sought to avoid while working on my own website which I hope can help you attract the interest of more clients with your website.

Please bear in mind that this advice may not be universally applicable depending on your language combination and market. My new website is still under construction, I am not a copywriter and I do not offer services to fellow translators.

Unclear specialization

Don’t: List 15 different fields in no particular order and don’t mix up text types (corporate communications, technical documentation, legal documents, etc.) and industries (real estate, IT, construction etc.)
Do: Pick something clear and concise people will remember you by. It should be short enough to fit into a tagline and clear enough for people to instantly know what you are good at. Combine text types and industries as well instead of one or the other, e.g. “I translate technical documentation for the automotive industry,” or, “I translate corporate communications for the IT industry.”
Get over: Being afraid you will miss out on work that does not fit 100% perfectly into the way you have formulated your specialization or for an industry you have not listed. If anything, you appear more credible, because people are more likely to believe you are among the best at one or two things than 15. This credibility also builds trust, making it more likely people will ask for your honest opinion on whether you can do a good job on another kind of text or make a referral. (In that case, it is important that you are honest and realistic about what you would in fact be well suited for and when the client would be better served by a referral!) Honing in on a specific industry also helps you decide which conferences to attend, which associations to join, which CPD activities to participate in and where to focus your marketing.

Failing to mention the benefits of your location

Don’t: Put yourself in competition with the whole world unnecessarily.
Do: Tell clients how your location benefits them, such as allowing overnight delivery from New Zealand, or availability to meet in person for a free consultation. It’s hard to be the first choice for your language combination and specialization in the whole world, but it’s not hard to be among the best locally, or use your location to stand out from the competition in other ways.
Get over: Assuming your location is a handicap if you don’t live in a big city in your source language country. Find benefits such as leveraging different time zones or being perfectly positioned for adaptation to the target market.

Failing to leverage your native variety of your target language

Don’t: Compete with everyone else in the world who translates into your language.
Do: Offer translations into your native language variety and texts adapted for international audiences. For example, you could offer translations into Argentine Spanish and into international Spanish. You have just positioned yourself ahead of and distinguished yourself from all the other Spanish translators in the world who translate into a different variety of Spanish for clients targeting the Argentine market, while simultaneously catering to clients who are more interested in a neutral variety not targeting one specific market.
Get over: Assuming you will lose out on projects that aren’t in your variety of your target language.
Hint: Don’t presume to master other varieties of your target language on your own! If you are American, collaborate with an editor from the UK if your clients want international English so you can work together to avoid both Americanisms and Briticisms and make the text as accessible as possible to a wide audience.

False assumptions about what clients care about

Don’t: Assume they care a whole a lot about your life story.
Do: Focus on how your services benefit them.
Get over: Yourself! You aren’t applying for a job. You’re showing clients how they can benefit from your services. Focus on benefits as opposed to features. People are naturally self-centered and want to know what’s in it for them.

Relying too little or too much on others for your website

Don’t: Write, translate and design your website all by yourself without any help whatsoever. And don’t hire professionals to do these things with too little input from you.
Do: Decide what you want to say, use your own voice and style. Then bring in as much professional help as is necessary depending on your own strengths and weaknesses.
Get over: Assuming the wording on your website is not important. People looking for translators are inclined to judge them by the quality of the writing and translations on their websites. After all, our way with words is our calling card.

I’m currently reading Ca$hvertising by Drew Eric Whitman, which has given me a lot of great ideas and inspiration. I especially enjoy his no-nonsense approach to advertising. He basically says that, if you have a truly useful product or service that benefits people, you should feel no shame in pulling out every trick in the consumer psychology book to sell it. It’s a whole different story if you are a fraud using tricks to peddle snake oil. Check it out for yourself if you are interested in getting better at advertising your translation services or translating marketing materials for clients.

Let me know in the comments if you found anything useful, have anything to add, or have a different opinion.

Header image credit: kaboompics

Book review: The Business Guide for Translators

By David Friedman

Book review The Business Guide for TranslatorsIt is widely recognized that there are several skills you need to be successful in translation. The fundamental skills include excellent source language comprehension, superb target language writing skills, and subject matter expertise. However, business skills are also essential, especially in today’s translation market where the majority of translators are self-employed freelancers. While reading, writing, and translation skills can be honed in language and translation degree programs, I think newcomers to the industry would be wise to work on their business skills at an early stage as well.

The Business Guide for Translators by Marta Stelmaszak provides an excellent starting point for shaping your translation business. The book is divided into five parts, each covering different business topics tailored for translators.

Part 1 introduces several fundamental business concepts, explains them simply, and shows how they are related to the language industry. Part 2 provides a diverse and powerful set of tools to analyze your business and create effective business strategies. Part 3 focuses on business management, including market research, planning, and goal setting. Part 4 starts off with several videos with hands-on tips for effectively communicating and negotiating with clients, which is followed by some additional key points in the quoting process. The final part rounds off the book with links for further reading on business practices.

One of the recurring themes of the book that resonated with me was “uniqueness”. Marta refers to uniqueness in several crucial contexts, such as in your unique selling point (USP) as a way to differentiate yourself from competitors. Uniqueness is also emphasized in the context of core competence, where you focus on creating a unique offering in what you excel at and outsource or don’t engage in weaker areas, thus adding value for clients. Uniqueness of service is mentioned as a key factor of supplier bargaining power in the section on Porter’s five forces. I personally feel that the way Marta employs uniqueness plays an interesting role in showing how we can get away from commoditization in the languages industry. Her strategies for identifying promising customer segments and selecting appropriate specializations in high demand play a key role in helping you find a USP that is profitable and well-rooted.

Another approach that intrigued me was the blue ocean strategy. As opposed to a red ocean strategy where you limit your focus to competing intensely for existing demand under existing conditions, a blue ocean strategy entails creating new demand, finding new clients, and making the competition irrelevant. Blue oceans are characterized as tranquil, uncharted territory, while read oceans have turned red from the bloody fighting of cutthroat competition. Marta also talks about shaping industry trends instead of following them in this section. All of this reminds me of the concept of reframing requirements so as to focus on showing clients what they need instead of selling yourself or catering to existing perceived needs, a point I heard in a webinar by John Niland. I’m looking forward to more consciously applying a blue ocean strategy in my business and seeing where that may lead.

I felt that The Business Guide for Translators will prove useful to translators at various stages in their careers and I certainly was given a useful reminder of some things I have read or thought about previously as well as some new tools and ways of thinking about my business.

In hindsight, I certainly wish that someone challenged me to think harder about my business the way Marta does when I was a newcomer, and I think this book can be especially useful to help newcomers to the languages industry make savvy business decisions and avoid getting off to as a rocky a start as some of us have.

The ATA Client Outreach Kit: A Hidden Gem

By David Friedman and Jamie Hartz

ATA's Client Outreach KitRecently, The Savvy Newcomer team was discussing what valuable ATA resources we could spotlight here on the blog. If you are an ATA member and are interested in growing your direct client business and/or are interested in client outreach and PR efforts to boost the whole association and profession, then at least consulting the Client Outreach Kit should be a no-brainer.

Even if you aren’t an ATA member, you can still read through some great advice and guidelines summarized on the web page without actually downloading the kit. However, you must be an ATA member to download the full kit (consisting of a customizable PowerPoint presentation for use at speaking engagements).

One of the points emphasized from the get-go if you click on the link above and read through the summary is that you need to take a completely different approach in your marketing tools for direct clients as opposed to for agencies. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that you may need to make some changes in order to take full advantage of the kit. You can check out the skills modules for more detailed guidelines on how to engage in client outreach and get the most out of the kit.

If you click on the “Getting invited to speak” skill module and scroll down to the bottom, you will find the example of a real story about an ATA member who decided to branch out and begin a series of workshops about translation and multilingual marketing in her local community. There is also a full article in the ATA Chronicle from 2009 about this story, which is a good read.

The customizable PowerPoint presentation available to ATA members contains some basic but fundamental information on the language industry, as well as talking points for speaking engagements, making it a great tool for anyone interested in reaching out to their local community to find potential direct clients and advance the status of the translation industry.

We are glad we volunteered to write this blog post to give ourselves a nudge to read through the kit again. If you have any thoughts or experiences in relation to the kit or client outreach, write a comment on this post!

We are confident that it would be highly beneficial for translators to discuss this topic. So what are you waiting for? Looking forward to hearing from you and we hope you enjoy using the kit.

Header image credit: Life of Pix
Header image edited with Canva

Collaborating with Other Translators

Lund Translation Team by David Friedman

hand-523231_1280I wanted to find a way to collaborate closely with other translators ever since the early days of my translation career, because I thought it would open up more opportunities and would be more fun than going it alone.  This is the reason I have experimented with different forms of collaboration, strategies, methods and groups of people since 2011.

At first all we had was a group of four independent freelance translators with a joint website and monthly meetings to try to find a way to appeal to direct clients together. But we struggled to figure out where we should focus our efforts. This went on for a little while as an experiment with different people joining and leaving the team until I heard about an incubator program called LIFT at Lunds Nyföretagarcentrum (Lund Center for New Businesses) at Ideon Science Park in Lund, Sweden. The program was aimed at services companies with unique ideas aiming for rapid growth within two years. I was accepted into the program and that was the turning point when Lund Translation Team in its current form was born.

We were given access to regular business counseling, a free crash course in entrepreneurship, quarterly meetings with an advisory board consisting of hand-picked professionals volunteering their time to give us advice, and subsidized office space with affordable rent. Instead of just sharing one-time costs for our business expenses such as website and business cards as before, we set fixed monthly membership fees to cover the recurring rent of the office and leave a small surplus for our joint marketing activities. Setting this fixed fee separated the wheat from the chaff, and resulted in only those of us who were serious about investing money, time, and energy into building a successful translation business with direct clients remaining.

So what is Lund Translation Team today? Lund Translation Team is not a separate legal entity, but a joint brand shared by multiple freelance translators, each with their own sole proprietorships and accounting. We share joint marketing costs, spread the brand name by using it in our marketing  and market each other’s services together as a whole. Everyone still invoices separately and charges clients for the work they do individually. We have one office in Lund and one in Ängelholm, about an hour apart in the same region of southern Sweden. The whole team meets in person twice a month, once in each location, and is in daily electronic contact. The monthly fees are paid to the treasurer who then pays for all the team’s joint expenses.

Within the team we cover about six major European languages into Swedish, as well as English and Swedish to Chinese and Swedish and German to English. We work with a few select external partners as well, mainly to cover more European languages. We decided to put a clearer focus on the specialization of each of our members recently to show what makes each of us unique (e.g. I now call myself the team’s financial communications translation expert).

We still have a lot of work to do, but I feel we are really going in the right direction now and our networking is slowly paying off and bringing in more direct clients. I have found an amazing group of people to collaborate with and I find it very rewarding. From sharing tips on quoting, pitching and other business practices to helping each other with terms, sentences, CAT tools and all kinds of work-related issues. It is very rewarding socially too, with a steady stream of laughter coming from our office on meeting days.

I don’t think there is a single right or wrong form of collaboration between translators, but I am convinced that there is a lot to gain by working together in some way. Here are some ways translators can collaborate:

–          A pair of translators revising each other’s work on a regular basis

–          Translators referring jobs they don’t have time for or languages and fields they don’t do

–          Translators in different countries partnering up to reach each other’s markets

–          Local translators partnering up to share office space and/or to target local clients together

And here are some of the benefits of working together:

–          Make office space and marketing materials more affordable through cost-sharing

–          Expand your networking reach

–          Attract direct clients who need more than one language

–          Get advice and feedback on all kinds of translation and business challenges

–          Forge strong professional and social relationships

–          Have someone to cover for you when you are sick, on vacation or underestimated a job

How would you like to collaborate with other translators? Or what experiences do you already have? Don’t forget that the ATA and the other national translator associations are very valuable resources for getting to know potential collaborators. The more involved you get, the more people you meet and the better you get to know them. So what are you waiting for? Reach out to a fellow translator today!

Adventures with Direct Clients—Part One

By David Friedman

pocket-watch-331021_1280I have always wanted to work with direct clients, since the early stages of my translation career. I would like to tell you the story of what has so far been my most exciting direct client adventure, to show that these kinds of things actually happen in the real world if you play your cards right. You don’t have to be a superhero, just little old me, a 30-year-old with five years of translation experience and almost no business background. But first, allow me to set the scene by explaining my specific challenges in relation to selling to potential direct clients.

I had some experience with direct clients I got through referrals, but I struggled initially when clients approached me in a competitive situation. This is where the pressure was on to make a good impression, to ask the right questions, to give the right reasons for choosing you, to tailor your quotes appropriately, and listen to and understand their needs.

Sometimes they just asked for a price and deadline, I replied, and then they said thanks but chose someone else, or they never answered. I slowly started to learn that I needed to find out more from them before giving a quote, and more recently, there were a couple of times where I talked to them on the phone first to ask how urgent it is and who the target audience is and tell them I offer different prices depending on the urgency of the translation. As I got more practice, I started to try to mention some of the benefits of choosing me and my translation team, and these selling points started to gradually slip off the tongue easier when speaking with potential clients seeking a quote on the phone. I could feel that I was getting closer to finding a method that worked for me and to increasing my chances of success, but still had not really reaped the rewards I was hoping for yet.

One day, an inquiry came in out of the blue for a specific type of text and specific number of words (a relatively large project) to be translated into English. So I called the client to see where it might lead. I took a risk and gave him some approximate price and deadline options on the phone, even though I generally try to avoid doing that so I can see the text first. I also took the opportunity to mention some of the benefits of choosing me, such as direct contact with the translator, you know who the translator is and that I have experience translating this type of text, and that revision is always included. He responded by telling me that he has other quotes (from translation agencies), and asked if I could match a certain rate and time frame.

Although it was slightly lower than my initial quote, these terms were acceptable to me and still within the price range I had in mind going into the call. He then asked me to send him an email with a sample of my work from this field, and to reconfirm the price and deadline, as well as to restate in the email the reasons to choose me, and that was the end of the phone call.

What did I learn from this phone call? If I had not in this particular case begun to discuss the pricing and timing, the client may have never revealed the terms of the other quotes he had received and may have just passed up on me. And perhaps my sales pitch gave the client a favorable impression of me, which made him interested in seeing if I could match the terms of a competitor instead of not bothering to ask.

Next, I put a lot of thought and energy into which particular passage from a past job to send as a sample, and how to phrase the selling points in the email. I didn’t hear back from him for a couple days, but then suddenly around 5 o’clock on a Friday, I got an email saying “I would like to choose you; please call me Monday morning to discuss the details.”

I had no idea during our initial negotiations, but I soon found out that the client wanted me to draft a formal contract with fixed prices and delivery time frames for ongoing work over a six-month period. This was completely uncharted territory for me, and it was exciting that a direct client wanted to establish this kind of formal, close business relationship with me.

The next thing I knew, I was invited to visit the client’s offices to sign the contract. This was also a first for me. In the past, I had never seen the people, the context, and the space that my translation would be used in. I was struck by how friendly everyone I was introduced to was, even though I was an outsider touring their closely-knit world. The decorations, the furniture, the layout and everything about the office had a very specific feel to it and their contemporary approach to consulting appealed to me. I really felt at home in this setting and enamored with it.

Later, when I went on to do my first translation for the client, I could see and feel the setting and tone in my mind’s eye while I was working, and noticed that it affected the wording I naturally was inclined to choose. This is something I had never experienced before, and it was very exciting.

I am proud to be able to say that I had a good understanding of my client’s corporate culture and that this definitely improved the quality of my work and helped us hit it off very quickly and build a close successful relationship. I hope to have more adventures in “direct client land” to share with you soon and would love to hear some of yours too!