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.

How do I get my first paying gig?

By Giovanna Lestermoney-42955_1280

Let’s start from the premise that you already have some training, you know the language and culture you will be working with, and now what you need is some exposure, some clients. Where do you go from here? The answer is multi-tiered and demands determination.

These are my recommendations to anyone about becoming a freelancer:

1. Identify your limitations – I can carry on a conversation in Spanish, but I do not bill myself as a Spanish interpreter. I do not have the training or the breadth of vocabulary.

2. Identify your passions – As a freelancer, you have the ability to say no to jobs you do not like.  Make sure to seek and be available for those jobs you do like.

3. List any work you may have done in the field, including internships – People view experience differently, and internships can afford you a variety of experiences; one of them might be a match.

4. Gather some letters of recommendation – Do not forget to ask for letters of recommendation or permission to refer prospective clients to your internship supervisor. That is a solid referral and you should use it.

5. Rework your résumé focusing on 1, 2 and 3 above – Your résumé should reflect what your customer is looking for. I have three résumés ready to provide to prospective clients. One focuses on translation, the other on interpreting and a generic one for good measure.

Trying to break into any market is hard. One cannot gain experience without a job and you cannot get a job without experience. But you can break the endless loop.

Exposure or introducing yourself

The first order of business is to get your name out there. An effective way to do so is by joining professional interpreting associations or following their blogs, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, for example. By participating in conversations – whether asking questions or contributing answers – you will get your colleagues to notice you.

Also, monitor the associations your clients belong to. If you are interested in working in the courts, for example, find out when the Bar Association in your city is having a social gathering. Make sure to have plenty of business cards on hand, sign up for the event and be in the mood to meet potential clients.

And have you googled yourself yet? This is the 21st century, and that’s one of the first things your potential clients will do. Your professional online profile is usually your first introduction to a potential client. So, make sure the information they can access online complements what you told them and invites them to give your services a try. It is time to streamline your online persona: review or create your online profile.

Making yourself known

Professional events – networking, conferences, symposiums, seminars – are great opportunities to meet colleagues and future clients. More importantly, your presence at these events tells them you are serious about your career, you are looking to improve your skills and you are dedicated to your profession. These are all positive attributes that will count in your favor next time they need an interpreter.

Now you get the picture. But, are you ready to sell yourself? I have a colleague who is a wallflower in network gatherings. That won’t do. Make sure you have your introduction speech ready. It should be concise, casual sounding, informative but not boring, and end with someone taking your business card.

Hope you are ready to go client hunting. The prospects are good!

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About the author: Brazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester has worked in the translation and interpreting fields since 1980. Gio is very active in her profession and in the associations she is affiliated with: ATA, NBCMI, IMIA, NAJIT, IAPTI, and the new ATA Florida Chapter, ATIF, which she co-founded in 2009 and served as its first elected president (2011-2012). As an international conference interpreter, Gio has been the voice of government heads and officials, scientists, researchers, doctors, hairdressers, teachers, engineers, investors and more. She loves to teach and share her experience.

How to Market Yourself at the ATA Conference

By Kevin Hendzel

Reblogged from Word Prisms with permission from the author

I’ve hired thousands of translators and interpreters for over 20 years, many from ATA conferences.   Here’s how to attract attention, stand out from the crowd and win new clients.

You’ve arrived in sunny San Diego to 70-degree, zero-humidity weather and spectacular views from your room of sailboats, cruise ships and bright lights on the bay.   The conference launches tonight with a Welcome Reception that is always packed and energetic.  It’s the first of many opportunities you will have over the next four days to market yourself and your skills to potential new clients.

Think like a translation buyer

A central tenet of successful marketing is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.   Think like a translation buyer, not a translation provider.  ATA conferences are distinctly different experiences for translation buyers.  They are bombarded and often overwhelmed by the hurricane forces of resumes, business cards and pitches and blasted by a dizzying array of faces, names, languages, events and sessions.   So everything becomes a blur.   When I used to work my company booth in the Exhibits Area, it took about two days before my brain staged a cognitive revolt.  I just wanted to hide under the table, mostly from the resumes.  And I’m a translator. Who likes to read resumes.

So you will want to stand out in this sea of sameness.

Shine like a star

Translators and interpreters are word people, but the world is a visual place.  This is especially true of human decision-making which turns out to be emotion-driven, not logic-driven. That means that you want to make your best impression visually, and persuade verbally, with the objective of imparting confidence, trust and interest in translation buyers.

  • Dress: Clean, crisp and professional.  Your first visual impression is important. People judge your dress emotionally and subconsciously, and are often not even aware of how visual impact affects them.  This is a subtle but powerful factor.
  • Business cards: Original, memorable, flawless and available.  Include your language(s) and direction(s) and multiple ways to reach you (phone, website, Twitter, LinkedIn, FB, etc.)
  • Body language: Much of this is common sense. Smile, don’t scowl; engage, don’t avoid; look at people, not your footwear.
  • Narrative: Gracious, inquisitive and thoughtful are better than the hard sell.  Lead with questions about the other person, finish with their wanting to hear more about you.
  • SubjectsGood translation customers care about the following, and in this order:
    • Expertise
    • Reliability
    • Accessibility
    • Flexibility
    • Value

They care a lot LESS about what translators instinctively and compulsively talk about in sort of an encoded-in-our-DNA way:

    • Education
    • Degrees
    • Countries of residence
    • Training programs
    • Certifications (really)

I recognize that this contradicts a lot of what you’ve been told about how to market yourself as a professional translator or interpreter at ATA conferences.  But it will make perfect sense if you think about what you, as a consumer, value when you are looking for a plumber, dentist, doctor or any other professional service and are spending your own money on them.  That top list is a lot more important and compelling to you as a consumer than the second one is. That’s because the second list is just a description of the provider’s personal history.  The first list is all about the customer.

Focus on your customer’s requirements, not your own life story (leave the highlights of your life story to your resume).  It can make all the difference to a translation buyer who you wish to impress and convince to buy your services.

Five Fails

Translators and interpreters are very good at many things at ATA conferences.  They always get out of the hotel and visit the host city, make fast friends with hotel staff, comb through all the dictionaries, software tools and vendor products, listen politely, share experiences and stories and are uncommonly generous.  The Five Fails listed below are the most common pitfalls encountered at the conference.  You will want to avoid these.

  1. Friends Only.  It never ceases to amaze me how many translators will fly thousands of miles to live for several days in a hotel room in a remote city surrounded by hundreds of potential new colleagues, mentors, advisors and friends only to insist on talking solely and exclusively to…people they already know.   The conference is certainly a great opportunity to meet with old friends and renew acquaintances, but its real value lies in pushing boundaries.  That means moving outside your comfort zone by striking out on your own and talking to new colleagues.
  2. Grousing and Complaining.  It’s a rich and supportive environment to let loose about downward pressures on rates, unreasonable client expectations, crazy deadlines, and a total lack of appreciation among the general public and even clients for what translators and interpreters do.  After all, where else will you find people who understand your professional life quite so well?  We all grumble at times about the vagaries of the profession, of course, but try to resist the temptation of grousing and complaining all the time, especially in the educational sessions or the ATA plenary events.  Negativity tends to breed downward spirals of doom and in its purest form is a stunningly powerful client repellant.
  3. Deadly Speeches.  Making comments or asking questions during sessions should be done in the service of the speaker and the topic.  Avoid the temptation to turn your public comments or questions into revival speeches, angry tirades or public challenges of the speaker’s integrity.  It’s the nature of controversial topics to sometimes incite such reactions, but if you go down this path, be prepared to alienate the audience.  It’s best to seek out a middle ground where civil discussion is possible, even (and especially) if you disagree with the speaker.
  4. Staring at Shoes.  There’s an old translator joke that goes like this: “Introverted translators stare at their shoes.  Extroverted translators stare at everybody else’s shoes.”   It may be true that translators are more introverted than other professionals, but take advantage of the more accommodating environment of your colleagues to speak up and share your experience.
  5. Arrogance Breeds Contempt.  Be careful about throwing your weight around too much.  If you want a lesson in humility – and in how spectacularly talented and accomplished your colleagues actually are – the ATA Conference is great place to learn all about it.