Tips on Getting and Keeping Agency Clients

Tips on Getting and Keeping Agency ClientsAfter a ten-year stretch as director of the interpreting department for a mid-sized language company on the East Coast, I have recently reentered the freelance world. The language industry has changed considerably for independent contractors since I last worked as an interpreter, and while there is more work to be had, there are also more interpreters and more rigorous standards, certification requirements and regulations. I have encountered the freelance challenges of self promotion, procuring assignments, and negotiating scrutiny in the face of fierce competition. I’ve taken stock of what interests me, what I am good at, my current qualifications and of course, what is in demand.

My strategy is to secure work with agencies as much as possible to build my practice, while concurrently developing my skills, accreditations and specializations.

Below is a systematic approach which breaks down the various elements or steps in the process. This is not intended to be linear but rather circular in that many of the elements can be revisited and are interchangeable, overlapping and ongoing.


Knowledge is power. Keeping current means staying informed of latest trends, new regulations, recent developments and relevant technology to better understand your place in the business. Starting with a thorough and honest self-assessment will help you know how you fit into the professional spectrum and how you stack up against the competition, in order to leverage your services. This self examination can be critical in determining if and how you are equipped to be a successful freelancer in the language industry.


Education: What was your field of study, what degrees or certifications have you attained or do you need to attain to adequately compete?

Skills and Proficiency: For interpreters, modes in simultaneous, consecutive, or sight, and for translators, what CAT tools and formats do you work in and what is your maximum capacity of words per day?

Background: What are your working language pairs and are they equally bi-directional? Are you a native speaker of one or both languages of your pair (for interpreters) or of the target language (for translators)? Have you lived or worked in the non-native country? How many years have you worked in the industry?

Personal considerations: Are there any health or family restrictions? Interpreters: Are you willing to travel? Do you have the time and resources to service a large geographical area? With small children, how many hours a day can you dedicate? Are you the main breadwinner in your family and are you capable of working at this on a part-time or full-time basis? Are you financially able to weather seasonal dry spells? This may influence the volume of work you may need to generate as an independent contractor.

Industry Evaluation

Where is the work? Is there enough work for your language pair in your region to sustain a career in the language industry? Do you plan to work solely as an interpreter, a translator or both?

What is the going rate for your services in your region?

How unique is your language group – locally or nationally – and how do your qualifications compare to those of your colleagues with similar education and backgrounds?

What and where are some of the dominant or obvious business opportunities for your language group (e.g. Pashtu/Government, Japanese/Patents). If you know that the demand for your specialization is greater than the qualified supply, it is advisable to assess the current industry value, capitalize on that uniqueness and strategically position yourself accordingly.

Agency Evaluation

Once some of the questions above have been addressed, you can begin to research and explore the agencies which might best fit some of the above established criteria. For most interpreters, starting with a local search makes the most sense. Working through your local Chapter as well as the ATA for their corporate members is another good place to begin. The ATA annual conference attracts agencies from all over the country that have legal, medical, business and government clients in states beyond the location of their headquarters. Referrals from colleagues whom you trust and respect can also be a great way to expand your services to new agencies. Ultimately, you want to find agencies that are a good match for your services and that are reputable. It is always a good idea to cross-reference a new or unknown agency with other experienced and respected colleagues.


Once you have identified and captured your qualifications, you will need to organize and present your profile in a single document tailored specifically to feature your professional language skills. For most agencies, a one or two-page resumé should suffice to accurately package your services. Your resumé is your single most powerful marketing tool. It is your opportunity to tell your story, to pitch your unique services to a Project Manager (PM) or Vendor Manager. These are typically the ones who receive, analyze, file or discard solicitations by hundreds of applicants both locally and internationally. A resumé should be above all truthful, well organized and formatted, concise and easy to read, with consistent and accurate grammatical structure. I have seen too many resumés tossed because of poor planning, typos, gaps of information, or language skills hidden in obscure places where they are easily missed. Polish your resumé so that it is outstanding and structured so that your most salient skills are immediately recognizable at a glance.

For higher-level work (e.g. legal document review, conferences) a longer CV may be desirable which details the years, clients and specific nature of complex assignments. Resumés should always be sent in a protected format such as encrypted PDF to protect your information and prevent tampering or piracy.


Promotional Materials

Once you have conducted the necessary research to identify the targeted ideal agencies, you will need to put together an organized outreach strategy to circulate your resumé for potential work. Utilize LinkedIn and treat it as an extension of your resumé. If you do not have a website, recruiters doing a simple Google search of your name will find your LinkedIn profile. If not already a member of ATA or your local ATA chapter, invest the time and minor funds to join and tap into the terrific resources each offers. The better agencies will always resort to the directory in their searches for linguists. ATA, Chapter or Affiliate networking and educational events offer not only professional development and social support but also provide the opportunity for face-to-face contact with sponsoring agencies. The ATA annual conference and the ATA directory profile also attract top national agencies searching for talent. More and more professional translators and interpreters are creating websites to promote their services and can be another great marketing tool to reflect a polished, professional image, which can generate a lot of online traffic. Applying the same structural, aesthetic, grammatical and ethical rules as resumés, websites also require additional maintenance and utility. It should be noted that an outdated or dysfunctional website can be detrimental to landing a job and worse, to your reputation.

Introductory and Follow-up Emails

An email is your chance to close the deal, especially if acquiring your services may satisfy a deficiency in an agency’s language roster or fill a void for the loss of another vendor through illness, death or relocation. If you are following up with an agency after personally meeting with the owner, vendor manager or PM, be sure to add a personal touch, recapping the event with perhaps an anecdote reminding them of a chat you might have had or a colleague’s introduction or referral. If you are reaching out cold, try to make it as personable as possible, addressing it to the appropriate person. Emails with an impersonal opening, poor grammar or spelling in the target language might be deleted without even getting the resumé attachment opened. Because you never have a second chance to make a good first impression, an introductory email has to strike the right note and indicate the courtesy, professionalism and communication skills that would be desirable from a vendor representing the agency if ultimately hired. At the risk of being obvious, when presented with a job opportunity, not missing deadlines and returning emails in a timely fashion are sacrosanct to a successful practice.


One of the most rewarding aspects of our profession and an additional benefit of working with multiple agencies is the variety of assignments you can enjoy in a given week. Both legal and medical certification programs require continuing professional development as part of the code of conduct and ethics. Developing skills through diverse workshops, courses and accreditation programs, besides refining our skills, can permit you to expand the types of agencies, clients and settings that require language access. Once an agency evaluates an independent contractor as a top-tier vendor, they will always call on them first when a choice assignment becomes available because they know they can rely on quality, with consistent, fairly priced services. Another great way to keep your profile prominent on an agency’s radar is to regularly communicate to them new certifications achieved, new industries you are able to cover or an increase in your availability. Once you become a regular and can develop a relationship with one or two PMs, remind them of your services, keeping them informed by contacting them with vacation notices, birth notices and/or Christmas cards. PMs will often share these with co-workers and the preferred status is then shared among departments. All of these individuals are more than clients; they are human beings who – in addition to appreciating quality, flexibility and punctuality – respond to kindness, humor and courtesy.

Header image credit: Unsplash

Author bio

 Tony GuerraTony Guerra, the current president of the Delaware Valley Translators Association, has more than 20 years of experience in the management, marketing and development of multicultural communications services. A native of Havana, Cuba, he has worked as an independent contractor as well as in-house with companies and agencies. His Spanish<>English translation and interpretation services specialize in legal, medical, government and marketing sectors. Besides chairing DVTA’s PR and Certification Committees, he is also highly involved in numerous volunteer activities for the American Translators Association (ATA) including as National Chapters Chair, the interpretation Policy Advisory Committee, the PR Committee’s Speakers Forum and ATA’s Mentoring Program.

Beat the January doldrums starting now

Beat the January doldrums starting nowThe holiday season is an interesting time in the freelance business cycle. For many freelancers, some much-wanted/needed time off turns into an unwelcome amount of down time when work is slow in January. Following are some tips on how to beat the January doldrums in your freelance business, starting now:

Tip 1: Work over the holidays if you need or want to. Many established freelancers may look forward to a holiday lull. And if you work with clients in Europe, they may all but shut down until about January 9, the first Monday after New Year’s. But especially if you’re just starting your freelance business (or if you need to bring in some more income before the end of the year), consider working over the holidays. This is an especially good time to land new clients, when all of a translation agency’s go-to translators are out of the office and they have no choice but to branch out.

Tip 2: Assign yourself some work for January. What do most freelancers do when work is slow? Panic. Assume that no client will ever call them again. What’s a better option? “Assign yourself” to those non-paying projects that (if you’re like me…) remain eternally on the back burner because they’re not due tomorrow. Demo some accounting software. Upgrade your website. Take an online course. Start researching a new specialization. Write an e-book. Pre-load your blog with 10 posts. The key here is to plan ahead, so that the “assignments” are in place when you sit down at your desk in the new year, and before panic mode sets in.

Tip 3: Do a marketing push ahead of your slow periods. The time to get on a client’s radar screen is before they need you. For next year, schedule a marketing push in early December, before your clients wind down for the holidays. For now, prepare a marketing push for the next big work slowdown (such as July and August, when a lot of clients and translators go on vacation). For example, write a warm e-mail that you can send to prospective clients; resolve to send at least three e-mails a day, starting two to three weeks before you expect your work volume to drop off. Check in with all of your current clients (anything in the pipeline that you might help with?) and prospect for some new clients.

Tip 4: Evaluate your business expenses. Many freelance translators spend *too little* on their businesses, in a way that can lead to stagnation. But it’s also important to look at what you’re currently spending, and where you could reallocate some money. This is especially critical if you tend to sign up for services that require a monthly fee, but then you don’t end up using as much as you anticipated. It’s also critical if you pay for big-ticket expenses such as health insurance or office rent. Otherwise, think about what expenses might make you happier and more productive in your work (an accountant? a better desk?) and allocate some money for those.

Along those same lines, the end of the year is a good time to rack up tax-deductible business expenses. For example, make sure to renew your ATA membership and any other professional association memberships before December 31, so that you can claim the business expense for this year. If you need office equipment or a new computer, Black Friday and after-Christmas sales are a great time to shop for deals. Software companies may even run end-of-the-year specials. In future years, you may even want to earmark some money to spend in December.

Tip 5: Plan a “think swap” activity with other freelancers. January is a great time for types of activities that seem like a good idea, but for which you never have time. Invite three or four (or more) other freelancers, block out a couple of hours, and pick a topic. Maybe you invite other people in your language pair and everyone translates the same passage before you meet, then you go over your translations together. Maybe you invite freelancers of various flavors and trade marketing ideas. Go over each other’s resumes or LinkedIn profiles. Practice interpreting using YouTube videos. The possibilities are pretty much endless, and in January you may actually have the time for some of them!

Thanks for reading, and happy translating!

Header image credit: MTT

Author bio

Corinne McKayCorinne McKay, CT, is an ATA-certified French to English translator and the current ATA President-elect. She specializes in international development, corporate communications, and non-fiction book translation. She is also passionate about helping beginning and established translators launch, run, and grow successful freelance businesses. Her book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, has become a go-to reference for the industry with over 10,000 copies in print, and her blog, Thoughts on Translation, has been a lively gathering place for freelance translators since 2008. You can keep in touch with Corinne on Twitter @corinnemckay, or on LinkedIn.

Quoting a Large Translation Project

By May Fung Danis and Steven Marzuola

Quoting a Large Translation ProjectMay Fung Danis and Steven Marzuola each responded to a question about writing a proposal for a large translation project recently on the ATA Business Practices discussion group. We’ve combined our remarks for The Savvy Newcomer blog.

First, take a look at the following resources from the ATA:

Model translation job contract A job contract is a one-time arrangement covering an individual job or assignment. It specifies the details of the work for that job—and only for that job.

Model translation agreement A services agreement is a standing arrangement covering multiple jobs or assignments. It establishes a structure for an ongoing business relationship, generally between a company and a freelancer.

(To learn more about these documents, visit

The contract/agreement is relevant only when the client has decided to work with you. But looking at the contract/agreement will help you to think about the details that need to be addressed in your quote. For new clients, your quotation will typically contain the following (please note that not everything in this list will apply to you):

– Short note addressed to the person requesting the bid, acknowledging the request and thanking them for the opportunity.

– Description of services provided. This section will vary a great deal, depending on the client and industry. Feel free to omit what doesn’t make sense in your case.

  • Describe the source document. Title, revision number or date, approximate number of pages, source format (Word, PDF, etc.). This could be important if the client makes any changes to the document after they send it for translation, or if several different people have contacted you about the project.
  • Describe the target document, including the format of the finished translation. This is especially relevant when the format of your translation differs from the source, for example, if you are asked to deliver your translation as a bilingual table in a MSWord document when the source document is a .pdf file.
  • Describe how elements such as images, graphics or tables will be handled.
  • Describe whether third-party review is included. Your client may expect a document that is ready for publication. Others may only want a “draft” translation, for example, if they plan on editing the translation internally.
  • Describe whether review of proofs is included. Will the client ask you to check the printed copy for errors? A typesetter that normally works in language A might not get everything right in language B.
  • Describe whether post-delivery edits are included. When the translation is delivered, is the job complete? Or will the client perform their own review, and then ask for your consent for any changes?

– Description of your rate or price. If you are not offering a fixed price in advance, then explain how the price will be calculated.

– Description of turnaround time. Will the client make a decision immediately, or will they require some time to decide? If it’s the latter, then you should state that the delivery will be X weeks/months after they notify you of their approval.

– Description of delivery terms. Will you offer a single delivery, or does the client want to see partials?

– Description of payment terms:

  • Payment on delivery: These are the simplest terms and are preferred by most clients’ accounting departments.
  • Advance payment: Do you require an advance payment before you start work? If so, the typical percentage is 30-50% of the total, with the remaining balance due on delivery.
  • Partial payments: If the translation will take more than 30 days, will you require partial payments? Will the payments be linked to partial deliveries?

– Description of quotation validity. How long will your quotation be valid? (What will you do if you send the quotation, and before they respond, you receive a large assignment from another customer?)

– Description of service provider qualifications. This is especially relevant if your quotation will be reviewed by a number of people and not just the person who contacted you. If you are working with an editor, a translator of a different language, or any other service providers, you might include their qualifications here also. You can use your CV here. Or, better yet, write a short paragraph describing what makes you the right translator.

– Several possible closing remarks. For example, ask whether they have any other questions, and when you can expect the order.

– Thank them, and include your contact information.

We suggest that you include all of the above in a single business-style letter; perhaps in PDF format attached to an email. After you have worked with a client, you won’t need to include all of these details in future proposals. But you should still include these basics:

name and contact info
client’s name and contact info
date (important if your quote is only valid for a certain amount of time)
project description/details
turnaround/delivery date
payment terms (e.g. partial payment)

Good luck on your first big quote!

Author bios

May Fung Danis is a member of ATA’s Business Practices Education committee and serves as co-moderator for its discussion list. An ATA-certified French to English translator, May lives and works in Guadeloupe,

Steven Marzuola is a Spanish to English technical translator based in Houston, Texas. He specializes in the oil and gas industry and related technical and commercial documents.

6 Ways to Foster a Strong Relationship with your Project Manager and Earn More Work

6 Ways to Foster a Strong Relationship with your Project ManagerAs a freelance translator, some of your projects will come from language service providers (LSPs) as opposed to direct clients. If you attend the ATA Conference, you’ll meet almost as many LSP representatives as fellow translators, looking to hire their next batch of vendors. Many of those representatives will be project managers (PMs). PMs often decide whom to hire for a project, and whether to continue working with the translator after the project ends.

Responsibilities and internal structures vary from company to company, but most PMs have the same set of fundamental responsibilities. They work with translation-buyers to determine the scope, projected budget, and client needs for a given project. They contact translators and make sure that projects are completed to client specifications. PMs save translation buyers the hassle of locating good translators themselves, while translators spend less time locating direct clients and more time translating.

As a freelancer, it’s important to establish a continuous stream of work. Since many PMs enjoy great discretion in whom they assign work to, how can you ensure you’ll get the job and keep it?

As a PM myself, I’m so glad you asked. After consulting with colleagues and reflecting on past projects, I’ve listed six ways to foster strong relationships with your PMs and earn more work.

  1. Be responsive. When a PM sends an assignment, confirm your availability immediately. Every project is a race against time, and your responsiveness is key. If a client sends changes or cancels a project that’s already started, the faster you respond to a PM, the more time you save everyone.
  2. Be communicative. The first point’s close cousin. Keep your PM up to-date on anything that might affect the quality, cost, or delivery of your project. Is there some issue with the document that will affect its delivery or final quality? Let your PM know immediately. The faster and more forthcoming you are when a problem presents itself, the easier finding a solution will be, and you’ll have helped not only your PM, but the end client too.
  3. Do your homework. This has two parts. First, it means to research the content and terminology of the document you are translating. Putting in the work to learn the industry-standard translation of a term or the correct spelling of a name shows attention to detail and commitment to your work. Second, never be afraid to ask questions. If you are not sure whether a term should be left in the original language, or what it means, there’s no shame in asking. It doesn’t make you seem ignorant or incompetent. On the contrary, you’ll come off as much more competent and thoughtful than the translator who guesses.
  4. Accept reasonable deadlines, and then meet them. It goes without saying that you should always deliver on time. Knowing the amount of time it takes to complete a project to the best of your abilities ensures that you stick to this rule. Remember, you’re being paid in part for the quality of your work. Unless explicitly told otherwise, you should never sacrifice quality on the altar of turnaround. If you know you cannot meet a deadline, say so, or even propose an extension.
  5. Step in. In translation, rush requests are common. A translator who steps in with little advance warning is helping out both the PM and the client. A PM may also be having a hard time finding a translator to take on a challenging assignment, and your strengths may match that challenge in particular. Challenge yourself,.
  6. Know when to turn work down. Finally, never be afraid to say no to a project, just do it promptly. If you can’t take the project, I need to know as quickly as possible so I lose no time in finding someone else. If a project is outside your area of expertise, I’ll know what I can and cannot send you, saving us both time. Never accept a project that you cannot complete to a good standard. I, or your editor, or the client, will notice.

I’m sure many of you have other tips that have worked for you. We’d love to hear them in the comments! Remember, the ideal translation is a collaboration between you and your project manager. I’ve literally heard colleagues spontaneously exclaim that they love working with some of our translators. You can’t buy that kind of publicity, but you can earn it by doing great work.

Header image credit: Picjumbo

Author bio

Dan McCartney

Dan McCartney is a freelance French and Spanish to English translator based in Chicago. Before translating, he worked as a consultant, instructor, and freelance math problem writer.

Living the Dream? How Freelance Translators Can Become Digital Nomads

How Freelance Translators Can Become Digital NomadsPicture yourself newly-arrived on some tropical beach somewhere, or perhaps in a café in the middle of an exciting, cosmopolitan city. Laptop open in front of you, you’re adding the finishing touches to your latest translation project. As you close the file and click ‘Send’, you set off to explore this latest destination – sparing a thought, of course, for the poor project manager sitting in a boring office hundreds or thousands of miles away.

If this sounds like living the dream to you, then you might be interested in learning more about the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle. It’s made possible by two fast, (relatively) cheap conveniences of the modern world: internet access and international travel. Working remotely, a digital nomad might spend a month or two living in one place, then pack up and move somewhere else when they feel like they’ve seen enough. It’s a sort of hyper-mobile expat lifestyle.

I can’t claim to be a digital nomad myself, but before I finally settled in Poland, I spent about five years living and working on the move. I went away three to four times a year, with each trip usually lasting between twenty and thirty days. As a resident of Ukraine, I had to face exhausting visa procedures for EU countries, but it never stopped me from travelling.

Frankly speaking, I could never dedicate more than about four hours a day to actual work – I was too busy trying to see as much as possible in these new places. I heard stories from a fellow translator who sometimes spends so much time working while travelling that he has hardly any opportunities to actually see the places he visits. That seems to defeat the purpose for me, personally, but I still try to always stay online when travelling by using local SIM cards or Wi-Fi connections, so that I never miss an important job. On the other hand, I also don’t hesitate to decline any urgent work while travelling if it ruins my plans for the day.

Speaking of Internet connections, I’ve noticed a tendency among four- and five- star hotels to charge extravagant rates for Wi-Fi connections in their rooms, while cheap apartments and hotels always seem to offer free internet. This is one of the reasons I prefer renting an apartment when I go abroad, rather than a hotel room. Besides, there’s also a kitchen and all the appliances that help you feel at home.

Before tablets and ultrabooks came into my life, I translated in an old-fashioned way: printing the source text out and translating it with pen and paper while taking a break from sightseeing in a café or park, or even on the beach. Once I got back to my accommodation, I would then type out the translation on my big, heavy notebook computer. Later, the rise of new mobile gadgets helped me to work a lot faster. I used my smartphone and tablet like a dual-screen display, with the source text on my phone and the translation itself on my tablet. This was a much better solution, but after a few scary moments where my Android-specific office software caused compatibility issues for the customers who received my files, I switched to a two-in-one Windows tablet/laptop instead.

All in all, the digital age has simplified this kind of lifestyle enormously, making it possible to combine work and leisure in new and exciting ways. With that said, however, there are some important factors to consider before you pack your bags and jump on the next flight.

Establish a strong client base before you leave

If this kind of lifestyle appeals to you, you should build up your business, then go travelling – not the other way around.

This is important for one key reason: travelling is expensive. Relatively speaking, it may be the cheapest it’s ever been in human history, but it can still eat into your finances in a big way. There are probably parts of the world where the cost of living is cheaper than wherever you live right now, but you still have to get there somehow and you still have to support yourself after you arrive. Where you go will be defined in part by what you can afford, which means you need a reliable budget and a reasonable expectation of continued income. Having a stable pool of customers who send you regular work will help immensely with that.

Think carefully about your destinations

Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? By all means, look into the places you’ve always had on your bucket list, but consider other sources of information too. There are a number of websites such as Nomad List and Numbeo that rank cities around the world according to factors like the cost of living, weather, internet access speeds and more.

These are all important issues, but as a freelance translator you should also consider a few other factors. What about time zones, for example? If you’re already working in the industry, you’ll know that many translation projects require an urgent turnaround — sometimes only a few hours. If you find yourself particularly far away from your regular customers, you risk missing out on projects because you’re simply unable to claim or complete them in time.

It’s a lifestyle, not a holiday

Being a digital nomad can sound exciting and glamorous—and sometimes it really is both of those things. However, it’s important to understand that this kind of long-term travel is a fundamentally different proposition from something like an ordinary two-week holiday. You’ll still need to work hard to support yourself, but maintaining that work-life balance is even more important when the stress of travel makes it all too easy to become tired and burned-out. If you reach that point, it can seriously impact the quality of your work and spoil your enjoyment of the amazing places you visit.

This isn’t intended to put you off the idea of travelling while working: it’s an opportunity for a unique adventure, and freelance translators are ideally-placed to make the most of it. If your expectations are realistic, and you’re prepared to take the rough with the smooth, then you really can live the dream. Do your research, weigh up every decision-making factor, and do what’s right for you.

For those of you who have already taken the plunge and set out to live as a digital nomad, what has it been like? Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of getting on the road? If so, we’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

Header image credit: freemagebank
Header image edited with Canva

Author bio

Oleg SemerikovOleg Semerikov started as an English to Russian freelance translator ten years ago. Nowadays, he runs his own company, Translators Family, a boutique translation agency specialising in Russian, Ukrainian and Polish, with expertise in English, German, and other European languages. Many long-term customers of Oleg as a freelancer became the permanent customers of his agency. Translators Family on social media: FacebookTwitterGoogle+ 

How I got off to a fast start as a freelance translator

How I got off to a fast start as a freelance translator

By Linda Kramer

After being employed for over ten years, I longed for more freedom in my life. During my maternity leave (which here in Sweden is a whopping 18 months) I decided to take the plunge and become a freelance translator. And I’m not going to lie, it was scary. Thoughts of how I would survive without the security of a steady paycheck kept me awake at night. But I longed for something more. I longed for freedom—the freedom to choose where, when and who I work for, the freedom to say yes or no to a project, and the freedom to decide how much or how little I want to work.

Now I have been translating for one year and I have a steady stream of work I enjoy in my area of expertise, I have a strong network, and I have a solid foundation and potential to continue building my translation career. Upon reflection, there are some specific things I did that I felt made a big difference in getting off to a good start and helping me to find my niche in this diverse industry. I’ll share some of my thoughts with you and hope you will find them useful.

Build a network

Although you might find some jobs bidding on online job boards like Proz without leaving the house, I suggest you start working on expanding your network and find someone who can serve as a mentor. Before I even landed my first client, I was lucky enough to be introduced to David Friedman. He was kind enough to sit down with me and answer the numerous questions I had about being a freelance translator. He also introduced me to other local translators so I could get more support, input, constructive criticism and encouragement as I started out. This definitely made me feel more confident as I dove into the translation world. David and the other established translators I met shared some of the mistakes they made in their early days, in the hopes I would not have to make the same mistakes. I still made some, but I definitely got the feeling that I managed to avoid several potential mistakes and establish myself fairly quickly.

I joined my local translators association, the Swedish Association of Professional Translators (SFÖ), as soon as possible and immediately started volunteering to help organize events such as the International Translation Day event in Lund. I realized that being a part of an industry association and getting involved in its activities is a great way to build your network for several reasons.

First of all, you meet other people who know your business, who can answer questions and who might even serve as a mentor. Secondly, established translators inevitably get requests for projects they cannot do on their own, either because they are too busy or because they are unable to (if it falls outside their area of expertise or is for a different language combination). A lot of times, these translators prefer to recommend a suitable translator to their client, as making a good referral builds their own credibility and reliability. So the more translators that know you and what you are good at, the greater the chance you will get useful referrals.

Know your strengths

I went into the translation business with the mindset that I could translate anything. Just give me a text and I will sort it out, being a resourceful gal that knows how to do online research. However, I quickly discovered that I’m not really cut out to handle all texts. My test translations for translation agencies were either hit or miss depending on the type of source text. And I really did not enjoy translating legal or technical texts one bit. But I aced all my marketing tests. I could draw on my own professional marketing background, and they were fun to do! So know your strengths and what specializations you should emphasize to your clients. Face it, nobody wants an all-round handyman to renovate their kitchen – everybody wants the kitchen specialist.

Establish an online presence

Before I even started my freelance business last year, the first thing I thought was “I need to get a website”. More and more people look for products and services online than ever before and most people have come to expect that any professionally run business will have a website. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to get a fancy website. I created my own for free by just spending a couple of days learning how to create my own WordPress site from a free template. And the time I spent on it has paid off, as I can see from the statistics that a lot of new clients visit my website before they contact me.

Not only does having a website signal to potential clients that you are a professional, it is helpful in other ways too. It is an advertisement for your business that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it can answer a lot of the questions that clients might have regarding your language combinations and areas of specializations. A short simple website can serve you well in the meantime, even if you would like to have a fancy website with lots of bells and whistles in the long term.

This has been an exciting first year and I still can’t believe I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this for a living. I hope that you will find my thoughts on starting out useful and wish you the best of luck.

Header image credit: Picjumbo
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Author bio

Linda KramerLinda Kramer is an English to Swedish translator specialized in marketing and e-commerce. In the past she has worked as a marketing coordinator and a project manager for online companies in the fashion industry. She has an M.A. in marketing from Växjö University. She is currently based in southern Sweden, but she has lived in both Irvine, California and Liverpool, UK. You can visit her website at: Twitter: @lindakkramer

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.

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In Defense of Working with Translation Agencies

Working with Translation AgenciesAmidst all the chatter about rates, discounts, treatment of freelancers by agencies, etc., the commonly suggested solution seems to be to stop working for agencies and get direct clients.

I, for one, have absolutely no desire to work for direct clients and wish to speak in defense of the practice of working solely for agencies.

While working for direct clients may appear to be advantageous to us as freelancers, especially in terms of direct compensation, the disadvantages are seldom mentioned.

  • Inexperienced translators will find it difficult to provide the level of service required and market themselves well enough to obtain and retain direct clients.
  • Geography and language combinations may make it difficult to contact and negotiate with decision makers. Personally, I would need to woo German auditors, tax consultants and/or CFOs or corporate communications heads of SMEs in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. I find that extremely difficult to do from the USA.
  • There is a LOT of extra work and time involved in
  1. finding prospects
  2. selling yourself to those prospects
  3. client education when you win them over
  4. handholding before, during and after each project
  5. project management/outsourcing larger projects, DTP and layout work
  6. finding and keeping “substitutes” for you when you want some time off (and ensuring your helper doesn’t wind up taking your client away)

None of those activities (with the possible exception of project management duties) result in billable hours or pesos in your pocket. So while your gross per client/project may increase 1.5-fold or even 2-fold over agency pay, your net hourly pay could actually be lower depending on the time spent on these other non-billable activities.

Finally, some people, and I count myself among them, simply do not have the skills/aptitude, or may not have the desire to do all the marketing and “selling yourself” that is absolutely required to gain and hold direct clients.

And contrary to what many freelancers may think, or the impression newcomers may get reading blogs, LinkedIn or other social media “news” about our industry, there are plenty of translation agencies/companies that do pay fair rates (given market conditions), that do respect their vendors, that do pay as agreed, and that do return to those vendors/freelancers who not only deliver as promised, but also respect the agency for what they do.

Yes, the current wave of consolidation is seeing some of the “good guys” being taken over by some “not so great guys”. But even the mega-agencies have their “premium segments” and I have heard from numerous freelancers who are quite happy working for them under quite reasonable conditions. And there are still numerous SME-type agencies/companies out there that are run by “us”, as well as the “boutique” agencies that specialize in a niche market or a certain language pair/direction.

Working for direct clients is NOT the panacea for all of our freelancer woes. Yes, it may be the answer for some of us but it is not the only answer for all of us.

So until the market forces me to adopt a new strategy, I will happily continue to work for translation agencies and companies as my “direct” clients. I am more than happy to let them do all work required to get and retain clients, while I focus on delivering quality translations. And I am happy to let them take their fair share of the pie for that work. Such agencies are the norm, not the exception in my experience.

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Author bio

Ted R. WozniakTed R. Wozniak holds bachelor’s degrees in accounting and German and is a graduate of the German Basic Course at the Defense Language Institute. Before becoming a freelance translator, he was an accountant, stockbroker, Army liaison officer in Germany, and an interrogation instructor at the U.S. Army Intelligence School. After pursuing graduate studies in Germanics, he became a freelance German > English translator, specializing in finance, accounting and taxation. He is also the president of Payment Practices, Inc., an online database of translation-company payment practices, a former mentor at the Graham School, University of Chicago German to English financial translation program, a former instructor in the New York University German to English financial translation course, isthe current Treasurer of the American Translators Association, and owner/moderator of Finanztrans, a mailing list for German financial translators. He resides in New Orleans, LA.

People Do Business with People They Know, Like, and Trust

by Jamie Hartz

It’s all about peopleOne of my more menial but surprisingly rewarding jobs during college was working at a Chick-fil-A. This came in handy recently when I had to translate a 20,000-word catalog of industrial kitchen equipment, most of which I would have never laid eyes on had it not been for the many hours I spent chatting in the “back of the house” with the Mexican kitchen staff of the franchise I worked at. But a knack for Spanish and a knowledge of the difference between fregadero and lavamanos aren’t the only thing I gained from this experience; my years there also gave me very valuable insights about customer service.

In case you’ve never been to a Chick-fil-A before, I’ll fill you in: Chick-fil-A is a fast food restaurant that regularly wins accolades for delivering on its stated goal of providing customers above-average service. From greeting customers cheerily when they walk through the door, to always responding with “It’s my pleasure” when guests say “Thank you,” to anticipating unspoken needs, the chain’s positive culture is contagious. During the four summers I worked there, I saw time and time again how genuinely impressed our customers were when we as employees provided service that went above and beyond their expectations, and it was this type of experience that endeared them to our brand and kept them coming back to us.

I’m happy to report that my Chick-fil-A days are over (the uniform wasn’t particularly flattering, and I didn’t love cleaning waffle fries off the floor), but the will and passion to serve my customers remains. As I launch into a full-time freelance career, I’m continuing to learn the importance of serving customers—and the line between that and letting them walk all over me. I don’t bend over backwards to do unpaid work when a client asks for a “quick favor,” but I do go the extra mile in order to make each client feel that they are important.

One client recently wrote me this: “Your work is like a wrist watch; every gear has to do its intended job so that the clock can function. You not only installed the gear, you did extra work, like adding oil to it.” I believe in producing high-quality work so that each client knows that I have gone above and beyond in my work for them. Providing this type of experience leads, as I learned during my restaurant days, to loyal clients who trust me because they know that I have gone the extra mile to exceed their expectations. Along these same lines, I’m also learning the truth to the saying that “people do business with people they know, like, and trust.”

This phrase puts into words a phenomenon with which I have become familiar: social capital. Similar to the concept of economic capital, social capital is the set of resources and connections that a person has and can mobilize in order to gain more resources. In a nutshell, it’s your network. In May 2015, I completed a master’s thesis at Kent State University, for which I translated a sociological journal article on this topic (interested? Read my translation here). The author actually tries to debunk the concept of social capital, but I found the phenomenon to be very applicable to my own work.

In the business world, an example of social capital is the idea that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. When I look through the list of clients I’ve done work for in the last six months, and think about how I became connected with them initially, more than 90% of my income has been from clients who I either met at an American Translators Association conference, or who were referred to me by someone I knew personally. Only 10% came from listings in online directories or marketing emails I sent. Think about where the majority of your projects come from. How many of them were the result of a connection with someone who knows, likes, and trusts you because you made a personal connection with them?

When I look at that list and think about how social capital has played a role in starting my business, it highlights something that my dad has always told me: “It’s all about people.” This is something that doesn’t come easily to me, as a task-oriented translator who works from home. It’s also part of the reason I attend the ATA conference, try to maintain my relationship with classmates from undergrad and grad school, and am getting involved in my community. Social capital is real, and we need it for more than just business reasons.

I also want to emphasize that the title of this article doesn’t only go for freelancers. I unwittingly proved it recently when I hired a lawyer to set up my LLC. I made a lot of calls and emails looking for the right person for the job. One person responded two weeks later saying that he’s not good with “these machines” (meaning email) and didn’t realize he had never responded to my message. Do I trust him? No. One person I spoke with on the phone gave me the distinct impression that I wasn’t worth his time. Do I like him? No. One person was referred to me by a translator I know in the Philadelphia area. When I called, he responded immediately. He was knowledgeable, friendly, and professional. In the words of Goldilocks, he was “juuust right.” Which of these do you think I chose to set up my business? Professionalism and quality are important—don’t get me wrong—but when push comes to shove, people do business with people they know, like, and trust.

Moral of the story: be someone that people know, like, and trust!


Don’t Just Sit and Pitch: What I’ve Learned as a Translator-Turned-Salesman

Translator-Turned-SalesmanOver the past few months I’ve learned more about translations, the people who need them, and good customer service than I ever thought I would—all without translating a single word.

In May, I joined Multilingual Connections, a translation and transcription company based near Chicago, as their customer relations manager. In the office, we have debates over what words really mean in this particular document in this particular language, and trilingual magnetic refrigerator poetry in English, Spanish, and Yiddish. It’s also a front-row seat to the sheer variety of demand for translations. In a single day, I might talk to the owner of a small consulting firm, a museum curator, and a project manager at a construction company with multiple overseas branches. I say “might” as a technicality; there’s no reason they couldn’t all call on the same day.

A natural consequence of all this variety is that no two requests for translations are identical. This is where I come in. As the customer relations manager, it’s my job to make sure that no client’s needs or requests get overlooked as I confirm their project details and prepare them to be handed over to their project manager. As a result, I’ve been lucky enough to talk to people with wildly different backgrounds and jobs from completely unrelated industries about what they expect in their translations. If I want to keep my project managers happy—and doing so has always been one of my highest priorities both as CRM and as a freelance translator—I have to learn as much as possible from the customers before we start.

While I can’t share any hacks that will make a prospective client buy on the spot, I have learned some strategies for strong customer service that I wish I had known when I first started as a freelancer:

Patience is a virtue.

You never know who will want something translated, and even if you do, finding that person may take more than one attempt. I once cold-called a company and, with no better strategy, I asked the person who answered the phone who was in charge of translations. She connected me with the marketing department, where I proceeded to leave voicemail messages several times over the next few weeks before finally finding the contact’s email address. A reply came just five minutes after I wrote: She wasn’t in charge of translations, but here was the address of someone who was. It was tempting to give up on contact with the company after receiving no response to my first call, but persistence (not pushiness!) got results.

Don’t sell the drill, sell the hole.

I must give credit to my boss, who said this to me during my first week. It’s easy to get excited about translations and your expertise as a translator, but it also pays to remember that clients are trying to solve problems. Translations are just the tools to do so. I once spoke with a client in Texas who worked for a mortgage company and needed the deed for a property in Mexico translated into English as part of a legal procedure. He stayed silent as I went through our editing process and the qualifications we expect our translators to have. When I mentioned that the translation would be notarized, he sighed and thanked me. His concern hadn’t really been whether the translation was of the highest quality, although I’m sure he appreciated it. He had just wanted to keep his legal proceedings simple, and notarization did that. I’ve found that attention to clients’ problems, and offering tailored solutions, is a mainstay of good customer service.

Yes, and.

In her memoir Bossypants, Tina Fey writes about a basic principle of improv comedy, commonly called “yes, and.” The idea is simple: when someone says something, it’s always best to agree, then add something. When talking to clients, I’ve found this can make a tremendous difference in how they feel the conversation went, particularly when conversations turn negative. It’s a technique that simultaneously validates the customer’s concern and naturally steers you towards finding a solution.

Yes, you’ve missed a deadline, and you’re working to finish the assignment as you speak. It can make bad news sound positive too. I once listened to a colleague tell an upset customer that, yes, we could not deliver the translation within their ideal timeframe, but delivering it so quickly would put the translation at risk for errors. The customer hadn’t seen things that way, and agreed to a more lenient deadline. I’m still convinced that it was the “yes, but…” method of spinning the negative (a delayed translation) into a positive (a more accurate translation) that did it.

If nothing else, I’ve found that people buying translations are like any other buyers. They want to know that the product will address their concerns, and they want to know that the vendor understands their concerns. I’m still learning how to do that, but I’ve found the best starting point is listening. Not for nothing did I attach a Post-It note to my monitor during my first weeks to nudge my brain when I was on the phone. All it read was, “Tell me more about that.”

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Author bio

Dan McCartney

A translator of French and Spanish to English by training, Dan McCartney is the friendly voice incoming customers hear when they call Multilingual Connections, a translation and transcription company. He lives on the North Side of Chicago.