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.

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

Entering the Big Game

How I started out only working for direct clients in my target language country, Sweden

Business networkingBackground
I decided to study to be a translator because I wanted the freedom of being self-employed along with the opportunity to do work I am passionate about. I also enjoy helping people from different cultures and backgrounds communicate with each other, so working with languages was a no-brainer for me.

I loved studying at the University of Gothenburg and enjoyed the conversations and discussions we had. However, we never really talked about setting up businesses, and how to market, pitch and sell your services.

As a result, I realized that everything I learned at the university was all well and good theoretically, but I was not at all prepared for the demands that come with being self-employed on the free market. This led me to that the world of academia and the world of business were parallel lines without a point of intersection, and made me wish that we had talked more about what it would be like to run your own business, networking and how to find your area of expertise and niche so you can market your business effectively. But I didn’t let that stop me. I was determined to find my place and find my own clients, and that is just what I eventually did.

Out of sight, out of mind
I decided pretty early on that I wanted to work for direct clients. What I didn’t know was how to find them. Therefore, I put on a jacket, brought a lot of business cards, went to several networking events and then joined a few of those networks. One of the networks I chose was Business Network International (BNI), which has both local and global roots.

The philosophy of BNI is built on the idea of “Givers Gain®”, which means that by giving business to others, you will get business in return. To join a BNI chapter, I paid a membership fee that I thought was rather expensive at the time for my new business. But I believe that you have to be prepared to invest real money if you want to see a real return on investment, and my return came in at tenfold the original investment within 18 months. The members of a BNI chapter increase their business through structured and professional breakfast or lunch meetings. The other dozens of people at those meetings are like your own personal sales force.

BNI has helped me develop long-term, meaningful relationships with other business professionals from several different industries. For example, I gained one of my best direct clients and collaborators through a BNI referral when a copywriter needed help with the translation of an article that was going to be rewritten for a Swedish hunting e-magazine. After that, they asked me to translate highly specific texts about hunting rifles, ammunition, and various scopes. I told them immediately that I do not hunt and I have never practiced target shooting, and therefore my knowledge is limited, but, I offered to give it a go if they agreed to assist me with the terminology using their industry expertise. They did, and I found that I was able to produce excellent results in collaboration with them and quickly get a feel for the industry-specific terms. This marked my entry into the Big Game as well as a truly fruitful partnership with a Swedish copywriter and an advertising agency.

Understanding what clients want
Willy Brandt once said: “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen”, and I think he made a very good point. There is a general opinion in Sweden, and maybe abroad too, that Swedes are very good at English. We are in general contexts, but not so much when it comes to specific contexts such as understanding manuals, instructions or guidelines. If there is a choice of having them in Swedish, most Swedes, even Swedish translators, would probably prefer to read them in Swedish.

Since I work with direct clients, I have the opportunity to engage in direct dialogue and understand what they want, and I turn to my clients when it comes to terminology. They do not expect me to know the name of every bolt, pin, spring or gasket on the hunting rifles because they know they are the experts when it comes to hunting weapons, but they do rely on me to make sure all of the information is transferred from the source text to the target text and that the text is well written and properly adapted for its purpose.

Whenever I am asked to translate advertising or marketing texts, which perhaps is more like transcreation than translation, I often present more than one version. I also ask questions, leave comments and cooperate with a copywriter or a journalist, someone who is used to writing for a target group and adapting the language to the target audience. The result of us working together helps make the end product much better than if I had done it myself without their input and if they had done it themselves without my input. My knowledge and their knowledge combined is what produces superb results.

However, if clients have queries about certain words, sentences, or have questions about the translation, it is always good to be able to give a grammatical, syntactical or cultural explanation, as long as the explanation shows that you know what you are doing. Explanations for your translation choices are often what separate the wheat from the chaff and leave a good impression of you. Professional translators and premium clients know that it takes a skilled translator with a good eye to achieve good results, just like hairdressers, surgeons, or carpenters. In my experience, it is better to show your clients you have the knowledge rather than telling them. This has benefitted my business by leading to more projects and new clients.

No matter how much training you have or how much knowledge you have in a particular field, you need to be able to look at things from your client’s perspective. For my clients, it is perhaps not so much outstanding syntactic solutions that matter to them. It is more important that I can deliver a-translation that is well suited to its purpose, in tune with the client’s objectives, and on time.

Recently a few of my clients told me that the way I run my translation business is innovative and is a fresh approach to the industry. I asked what they meant by that and the answer was simple: They have met me, had lunch with me and they talk to me on the phone. This allows me to understand what they want and need on a completely different level and assures them we are on the same page. For me, there is nothing out of the ordinary about speaking to clients on the phone or in person, but perhaps it is slightly unusual for translators, especially in Sweden, and therefore it seemed new to my clients and they felt that the results were better than other more impersonal translation services they had used in the past.

Header image credit: Picjumbo

Author bio
Elisabeth SommarElisabeth Sommar is an English, German and Danish to Swedish translator specialized in technical and marketing texts. Her translations are mainly for hunting e-magazines, advertisements, and manuals for hunting rifles, shotguns and equipment for hunting and clay target shooting. In the past she has held various positions in the furniture production industry. Elisabeth has a master’s degree in translation from the University of Gothenburg and lives in western Sweden. You can connect with her on LinkedIn: se.linkedin.com/in/elisabeth-sommar

6-Step Strategy to Translators’ Visibility

By Carlos Djomo (@carlosdjomo)
Reblogged from the Adventures in Technical Translation blog with permission from the author (incl. the image)

6-Step Strategy to Translators’ VisibilityMany budding translators usually struggle to get into the professional world. They always admit that the transition from school to the field is far from being easy, although they believe they may have mastered the art of translation. Maybe it is “simply” a matter of approach. Indeed, one may be as good as St Jerome and still not be able to find their way into the professional circles. The 6-step approach outlined below can help several beginning translators break into the fantastic world of extraordinary linguists.

1. Get online

In today’s world viewed as a global village (or marketplace), people from different places can meet through this magical space called the Internet. Although “getting” online is now part of many people’s daily routine, we need to emphasise on certain key points: how do people know you are a translator? How do they get in touch with you and request your services? Why should they trust you? How do they pay you? Complex questions, simpler answers… First, launch a website or blog, displaying relevant information (diplomas, certifications, internships, strengths, values, contact information, value proposition). Then, make this virtual vitrine easy to find. Create a profile on translation platforms (Proz, TranslatorsCafe, TranslationDirectory, etc.) and update it frequently, adding the most valuable information that will make you more “trustworthy” as a translator.

2. Socialize

Create a profile on the major social media platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) and link them to your website/blog (this will help your site ranking). Be proactive on these social media (post, share, comment, reply), leveraging the best features that characterise each of them:

  • LinkedIn: professional connections, large-scope networking, industry news
  • Facebook: large number of contacts, viral pattern
  • Twitter: fast connection, easy interactivity, real-time updates

3. Interact

It is good to have updated online profiles displaying your most advantageous points, but it is more effective to drag people to these profiles and let them spread the word about your skills. Draw a list of leading bloggers in the industry (Catherine Christaki, Paul Sulzberger, Corinne McKay, Marta Stelmaszak, Tess Whitty, Paul Filkin, the Jenner Sisters, just to name a few) and follow them. Suggest topics, comment on articles, and/or ask for clarification. Most of the time, article authors reply to their readers’ comments and share a bit of their expertise. Remember to include a link to your website in the comment form (but not affiliate links) or sign in to the said blog with any of your social media account. But make sure your comments are interesting and to the point, otherwise they will be deleted by the website administrator (especially when they look more like spams).

4. Get Experience

This sounds like a Gospel truth: experience matters. Translation is no exception to the rule. Because translation and related sciences are powerful business catalysts, business owners like their projects to be handled by experienced linguists. Most of them are reluctant to entrusting their multilingual print ad campaigns or web documentation to newly-graduated translators. So, newbies are always frustrated and wonder how they could become experienced if they are never given a chance to show what they are capable of. If this is your case, consider the various possibilities below:

  • Volunteer as a translator to NGOs and similar organisations (the UNV programme is perfect for this).
  • Apply to translation companies (especially because most of them get your translations reviewed by in-house revisers).
  • Request testimonials for any successful tasks completed and include them into your portfolio (both Proz and LinkedIn offer such a feature).
  • Handle any project as a new challenge and work hard to complete it successfully.
  • Keep on applying for new opportunities even if you have several permanent clients.
  • Manage your “famine” period as an occasion to refine your marketing strategy (check out Nicole Y. Adams’ The Little Book of Social Media Marketing for Translators) and carry out continuous professional development (CPD) activities.

5. Build Reputation

Have a look at the industry. Since you started out in the profession, what problems seem to have remained unsolved? Whenever you discover pitfalls of specific software, practices that still prove ineffective, or ways and means to boost productivity among your profession, write them down as personal notes. Use these as the basis for guest posts, podcasts, or practical guides. Share tips through a variety of media/platforms (including Slideshare, Scribd or Prezi) and link your files back to your website/blog. Make all your productions interconnected and easily accessible. Share them among your email and social media contacts and let them spread the word.

6. Assess Yourself

Always self-assess your progress and, by so doing, be as sincere as possible. From the starting point, have you gone that far? (Don’t stop building capacity) What have you learned along the way? (Keep sharing your knowledge) What mistakes have you made and how can you avoid them in the future? (Refine your procedures and strategies) Give back to the community (Be humanist). Support a cause and let others benefit from your expertise, wealth or both.

Sure, there may be other ways of boosting a translator’s visibility. Feel free to share your own experience through comments.

Finding your first translation clients

By Corinne McKay

Reblogged from Thoughts On Translation with permission from the author

I receive a lot of inquiries from people who would like to become translators, and most of these e-mails have something to do with finding those first few elusive translation clients. If you ask 100 translators how they got started in the business, you’ll probably get at least 50 different answers. Some picked up the phone and started cold-calling, some turned an old business connection into a client, some volunteered, some went back to school, some were just in the right place at the right time. Following are some tips on how to break into the translation industry, depending on your interests and level of experience.

As a freelance translator, your two basic categories of clients are translation agencies, companies that serve as a middleman between an end client and various freelance translators, and direct clients, where you work directly for the translation buyer with no middleman involved. Each of these approaches has its benefits and costs; translation agencies can sometimes provide a steady flow of work to their regular translators and provide value-added services such as marketing, collections, proofreading and project management, but in return for this, the agency takes a portion of the total fee they collect for the translation. Direct clients can offer higher earning potential, but often require the translator to perform tasks such as quoting jobs, editing, proofreading, etc. that are usually handled by agencies.

If you’re starting out by applying to translation agencies, remember to play by their rules in order to maximize your chances of getting work. Most agencies have a translator application form on their websites; the “Contact Us” or “Opportunities” sections of agency websites are good places to look for these. Although it feels impersonal to apply for work this way, resist the urge to distinguish yourself by sending in a paper resume if the agency requests an electronic one; what seems to you like a personal touch will only create more work for your potential client, and may get your application materials tossed without a second look. Along the same lines, most agencies prefer not to be contacted by phone unless you are applying for a specific position that they’ve advertised. If the online application form includes a “Comments” field, this is the place to ask for an in-person meeting or introduce yourself as a new translator in the area.

Whether applying to translation agencies or direct clients, there are a few basic rules to follow. You’re applying for language work, so your application materials should be error-free. Make sure that everything you send out is proofed by yourself and at least one other person. When sending inquiries by e-mail, use a clear subject line, such as “German-English freelance inquiry.” Don’t disguise your intentions or make your message look like a response to an e-mail from the agency. State your language pairs prominently. As amazing as it may sound, many people neglect this simple step. Start your e-mail with a sentence such as “I am a freelance English to Spanish translator and I would like to offer my services to your agency/company, etc.”

Use translation industry directories wisely. Translators associations and translation client rating lists are great places to find the names of agencies to apply to, but make sure not to misuse or abuse these resources. For example, once you find an agency in a translators association directory, never (never!) use the contact information that is listed in the directory. Simply go to that agency’s website and follow the application process listed there.

Looking for work with direct clients has some positive and negative points for a beginning translator. As a newcomer to the profession, it can be helpful to have some of the safety nets that a translation agency offers; for example when you work for an agency, your work is almost always proofread before being sent to the end client, which guards against a true disaster if you make a mistake. However, direct clients, especially those located in areas where there are not many translators to choose from, may be more likely than a translation agency to take a chance on an inexperienced translator. Whereas a translation agency has a wide range of translators to choose from with no geographic restrictions, a direct client who wants to work with someone local has a bigger incentive to work with someone new.

If you’d like to work with direct clients, any large businesses, hospitals, or school systems in your area are worth contacting, even if they don’t have obvious international ties. Probably the best source of direct client contacts is international business organizations such as international chambers of commerce since you can be sure that the member companies use your non-English language in their business operations. Joining one of these organizations is also an excellent way to network with potential clients. Try Googling the chamber of commerce for your language pair, i.e. “German-American Chamber of Commerce,” “Korean-American Chamber of Commerce,” etc.

Think locally. Especially if you present yourself better in person than on paper, start out by asking for in-person meetings with every translation or interpreting agency in your local area. By asking for a meeting to learn more about the agency and talk about how you might fit in, you’ll both benefit from the interaction. Don’t be dissuaded if local agencies “have no work in your language combinations right now.” By asking for an in-person meeting, you’ll position yourself to step in when their needs change.

Blanket the field. One of the biggest mistakes made by beginning translators and interpreters is to assume that they will be working full-time after sending out five or ten inquiries. On the contrary, you should expect no more than a one percent return rate on your cold-contacting efforts. A good start (emphasis: start) if you’d like to be working full-time would be to contact 300-500 potential clients during your first year in business. Your prospective clients may include translation agencies in the U.S., agencies in countries where your other languages are spoken, and companies in your area that could use your services.

Keep in touch Instead of just firing off e-mails or making phone calls and then waiting to hear back from your potential clients, keep a log of the person you talked to or e-mailed and what his or her response was to your inquiry. As you get more experience, periodically contact these people to let them know that you’re still interested and available. Let them know what types of projects you’ve been working on, and let them know that you would be happy to help them out with similar jobs.

Once you’ve landed your first few clients, marketing yourself becomes easier in the sense that you have something to tell new prospective clients about, other than the fact that you’re looking for work. In general, even a successful freelancer must spend at least ten percent of his or her time on marketing; for beginning translators this figure may increase to as much as 50 percent, and for those who have been in the business for many years, the need to market may fall by the wayside. However, many marketing experts caution that “if you’re not marketing, you’re dying.” While this advice may seem extreme, it’s important for even experienced translators to prepare for the loss of a major client or a downturn in the economy by keeping up a steady flow of outbound promotion.