marketing tips for translators

How to Talk About Your Translation Services So People Get It

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What do you tell people when they ask you what you do for a living?

Do you just tell them you're a translator and then leave them to sit and think about it for a moment before they follow up with another question? Do you cringe a little when they ask you how many languages you speak, expecting you to say something like "5" or "10?"

The way we talk about the work we do helps to shape the way people see us as professionals. Not only is it important to get this right for your own business, but I'd argue that it's just as important for the entire market — all the professional translators out there who make a living at this!

So, how do you tell people about your translation services?

Do you also cringe at the thought of an "elevator speech?" I never liked that term... maybe because I always felt like what we do cannot be summed up in just a few sentences.

But truly… we should be able to sum up what we do in a few sentences. I don't mean we need to repeat the "bridging the language gap" cliché we've probably all used or heard some variation of at one point or another.

I'm talking about real, tangible stuff. The good stuff. The stuff our clients praise us for and want to receive in exchange for paying for our services. I'm talking about results.

So, when it comes time to talk about your translation services to someone who asks, pretend their question was really one of these questions below. It will make it much easier to explain what you do in a way that others can grasp so they can comprehend the enormous value you provide.

  1. What results do you help your translation clients obtain with the work you deliver?

  2. What problems or challenges do you solve for your translation clients?

  3. What goals do you help your translation clients reach?

What do translators do?

One thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of people who don't really understand what translators do. You may even be the first translator they've ever met. This is why it's important to get it right. They'll remember what you tell them and will remember it the next time they hear someone mention or ask about a translator.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is confuse the person who asks you what you do for a living. After all, they may know someone they could refer to you for business. Do your best to avoid using translation industry jargon like "target language" and "CAT tools," for example. Break down more complex concepts into everyday language. Remove any formality from the conversation, and talk to the person as you would a friend. This also makes it easier to follow up with a question: "Do you know anyone who needs a [fill in your language pair/specialization] translator?" It can't hurt to ask, right?

Practice the way you talk about your work with friends or acquaintances who are not all that familiar with translation. Ask them if what you've told them is clear. Also ask them if they have more questions about what you do based on the explanation you gave. If they do, that means you might want to tweak what you've said a bit until it becomes clear the first time you say it.

By practicing your professional value statement (now, that's much better than "elevator speech," right?!), you see what others find most interesting or surprising about what you do and continue to hone your message over time.

Now, you tell me! How do you tell others about your work as a professional translator?

Three Points to Consider When Prospecting for your T&I Business

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I'm pretty sure I've never heard a freelancer say, "I don't want any new clients." But if this is you, it might be good to skip this blog post. Having a revolving door of clients means that you can sustain your business for the long haul, especially if you were to lose one of your anchor or highest paying clients. But, as can be the case, it's not always easy to attract one new client after another.

Sure, you can learn to reach out to agencies and direct clients. You can send out your resume, visit trade shows and events where your clients hang out, connect with potential clients online and in person. These are all good ways to attract new clients!

However, if you're not exactly clear about what kind of client is right for your business, it can be easy to simply continue taking on every job that comes your way from any prospect. This is a cycle we should all strive to break. When prospecting for new clients (or when a new prospect approaches you), there are some important factors to think about. Not everyone will be the right fit for you, and vice versa.

Here are three points I believe worth considering when prospecting for new translation or interpreting clients for your freelance business.

  1. Only look for clients who pay more or the same amount you charge your current clients. If you're not happy with the rate you're currently charging, then it's time to search for clients and reach out to those who can (and will!) pay more. As you become busier with client work, it makes sense that you should only take on work from new clients who are willing to pay the same (if you're happy with that rate) or more than what you already make now.

  2. Only look for clients who will respect your non-negotiables or "business standards". What am I talking about? Think about what is important to you for your business and your lifestyle. What hours do you want to work? What kinds of jobs do you want to take on? If you don't want to start working at night or on the weekend, then try to avoid clients who need quick turnarounds or require working extra hours to deliver a job on time. And if you're willing to take on the odd weekend of work, consider charging this client more to make up for missing out on time you could otherwise be spending with your family or friends. If you're tired of translating a certain type of document, or you no longer want to accept certain types of interpreting assignments, shy away from seeking out prospects who frequently offer them.

  3. Only look for clients who can supply the kinds of jobs you want to do. This is related to #2 above. For example, if you are a legal translator and you would prefer to maintain a handful of clients who send you lengthier documents to translate so that you can really sink your teeth into the assignment and necessary research required, then it's best to avoid seeking the type of client who would only call on you to complete quick one-off projects once or twice a year.


Carefully consider those you reach out to before you take the time to do so. Avoid accepting a job simply because your inbox is a little sparse in a given week. Unless you need to make money quickly, accepting lower-paying jobs for less-than-ideal clients can set you up for more disappointment later on. By lowering your standards (and your rates), you are essentially letting a client know you are okay with fulfilling unrealistic expectations or being paid less. It will also be more difficult to change these expectations with this client down the road.

Remember that prospecting is something over which you have a considerable amount of control. You will receive what you put out into the world. So, if you portray yourself as being confident in the type of client you want to attract, it will happen. While it's important to make a habit of prospecting for new clients, it's also vital to recognize that not all new clients are created equal when it comes to meeting your business goals. Seek prospects who offer a mutually fulfilling business relationship and long-term collaboration, while allowing you to meet the goals you put in place for your freelance business.

How to Land Your Next Translation Job in Less Than Five Minutes

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Have you ever heard that it's easier to market to existing clients than it is to market to new ones? I completely agree with this statement. It makes sense, right? Existing clients already know us and have some experience working with us. New ones have yet to enter the business relationship, so it's understandable that it would be bit more difficult to market to new clients.

But many times, because we already have existing clients, it can be easy to forget about or neglect them, albeit unintentional of course. One might think, "But I've already landed this client. Why would I continue to market to them?"

This way of thinking and handling existing clients is both a mistake and an easy issue to fix.

I like to stay in touch with my existing clients for many reasons. First of all, it's essential to stay top of mind with them. This can be as simple as letting them know when you have some availability for new projects (more on that in a moment!).

Getting in touch from time to time shows your care for the business relationship. It's also a really easy way to market and keep yourself informed about any changes your client has made since the last time you worked together. Perhaps there is a new contact person. Or maybe your client has a new position or title. It takes no time to send a brief handwritten note of congratulations. In the process of staying in touch, you can also get a good idea of any new projects in the pipeline. This gives you an overall idea of future project-related income as well.

But while I say this is a good marketing habit already, I am just as human as any other translator in the business. At times, I've found that I wasn't doing a great job of staying in touch with some of my best clients, or at least not as well as I could have been. Fixing this issue is really quite simple and doesn't take a lot of time.

I usually like to write to my existing clients with some offer of value. This could be an article I read that I think they'd be interested in as well, something new I've prepared for them that I believe will help them in their work, etc.

But from time to time, I may not have anything new or of concrete value to send them. This happened recently, in fact. So, I decided to test out a method that I read on Jennifer Gregory's blog and in her book. She suggests writing to clients to say hello and them know that you've recently finished a large project and have some availability in the coming few weeks.

I tested this only once… and it took me less than five minutes to write and send the email. I received a response almost immediately with a "I have a few things in the pipeline that we're waiting for approval on first, and then I'll let you know". This type of response is a positive one! I made a note to follow up a week later. But within three days, the client had already responded, offering me a translation assignment worth $1,250. That's an excellent return for something that took me less than five minutes to do!

As my good friend and colleague Emily Safrin puts it, "No fun, big return!" It may not be fun to sit and think of how to authentically craft an email to a client without coming across as salesy or pushy. But boy, when you do it right, the return can be big.

To give you another perspective, I had the tables turned on me recently by a fellow translator. If you've been reading my blog for a while, or if you follow me on Twitter, you know that in addition to being a freelance translator, I also own a boutique translation agency. This translator had applied to work with my small agency about a year ago. At the time, I told him we'd let him know when something came up that fit his language pair and area of specialization.

Well, he followed up with me about a month ago just to say hello and to give me his holiday availability. And lo and behold, his timing was perfect. We had a current project that fit his qualifications and language pair perfectly. And just like that, he landed a project from us that paid out several hundred dollars.

Of course, I knew that he was making a marketing "move" (and a smart one at that!), I didn't mind at all. He was friendly, authentic and didn't come across as pushy or salesy in his message. And it paid off. He's now someone we will call on more frequently. In this process of working with him once, we were able to see that his work is superb, and he's very pleasant to work with. All that just from being consistent and writing an email that probably also took him less than five minutes to write!

So, you see? It very well may be easier to market to existing clients. The key really is consistent and authentic messages, offering value whenever you can. Have you tried this approach before? How did it work for you?

Finding (and Losing) Translation Clients: Why It's Important to Do Both

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There is the saying that when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. I've found this to be true in the translation world, and I know a lot of colleagues who have as well. So, while it's very important to take steps to attract clients (more on that here and here), it's just as important to repel clients who are not a good fit for you and your business.

I don't hear many people talking about how essential it is to turn translation clients off. But in reality, it's just as important as finding good translation clients.

Once you can pinpoint who your ideal clients are, you can quickly point out the ones who are not a good fit for you. This may sound a bit odd, but it is just as important to repel the wrong clients as it is to attract the ones with whom you prefer to work. So, how can you do both effectively and respectfully? Here are my tips on how to make sure you do this well.

  • Be very specific about your niche(s)/specialization(s).

In other words, don't call yourself a generalist, even if you believe yourself to be one for the most part. Just because you may have a variety of clients from more than one industry, you can still narrow down the type of work you do into a couple of specialized areas. By doing this, you are setting yourself up to work only with clients in those main areas. Of course, if one comes along who does not fit these areas of specialization, you can make the call to work with them or not. But the sooner you specialize, the sooner you can repel the clients who don't have a decent budget, who have unreasonable expectations or who simply don't fit the area(s) in which you work. By being very clear about what you do and for whom you work, it will be easier to repel those clients who are less than ideal.

  • Avoid mentioning the type of work you don't wish to do.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I've seen so many translators who advertise an area of specialization or a type of client work on their website that they would actually prefer to stop doing. They tell me that they continue to mention it because they don't want to seem inexperienced or close any doors. "What if that's the only type of work I have right now?" And here's where I'd say, "If you don't want to take on a certain type of translation work, then stop talking about (and accepting) it. The longer you do, the longer you'll attract that kind of work." This concept can be carried over to one's résumé, too. If you prefer not to handle certain types of documents or niche areas, it's best not to even mention them on your CV. Instead, focus on what you do want to do and you'll start to attract more of it.

  • Talk directly to the type of client you wish to attract, and avoid talking to those who no longer serve your career goals.

I mention this a lot on the blog and in my T&I Website Blueprint course. It is vital to direct all your marketing efforts, including your web copy and design, to speak to your ideal clients. Talk directly to them, addressing their challenges and pain points and show how you can help solve them. Just as you should avoid mentioning the type of work you don't want to take on, you should also avoid talking to clients with whom you don't wish to start a business relationship. Again, this may sound obvious, but if your web copy is attracting clients you no longer wish to work with on a regular basis, then it might be time to review and revise it. Pay attention to the language you use, and make sure it's fitting for the type of client you want to attract more of in the long run.

  • Check your mindset.

If you're going to attract your ideal clients, you have to come to terms with repelling clients, too. Not everyone should be a good fit for you. So, the next time you're at a party, and someone asks, "You're a translator? So, who are your clients?", try not to give the answer I've heard time and again: "Anyone who needs a [target language] translation." Please. "Anyone" is not your ideal client. The more specific and specialized you are when you describe yourself and your work (both in your marketing copy and when you discuss your work in person), the more you will attract your ideal clients.

It's okay that not every client is the right fit for you. This is a good thing. It means that you don't serve everyone. And honestly, who can?! It's important to recognize this and decide how you will start to actively attract (and repel) clients. By making a conscious effort to market to clients by appealing to them directly, you will inevitably start to repel those who are not your target audience. Instead of worrying about losing potential work or income, use the time you would be spending on that client's work by looking for better clients or handling jobs for clients you already value.

Five Mindset Shifts Worth Making in Your Translation Business

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I talk to a lot of translators and interpreters in our industry. They are amazing colleagues, and the diversity is always so inspiring for me. But one thing we all tend to have in common is that we make excuses when it comes to the things we want to keep putting off in our businesses. What can we say? We're human! But why do we do this? I recently heard this explanation: our brains are wired to avoid the things that feel uncomfortable and to keep on doing what is most comfortable, even if it means we don't grow or improve in the process. But at what point does staying in our comfort zone result in stagnation? I had this discussion with a few translator friends recently, and the conclusion seems to be the same. Going outside of our comfort zone is totally worth it. The outcomes are often better than we expected, and once we've reached the other side, we realize that it wasn't actually all that hard. Most of the difficulty was created from the excuses we made!

These excuses we make for ourselves are not serving us in any way. In reality, we usually just need to make a mindset shift in order to stop making these excuses. We can easily switch these excuses to action items that are less painful by making them a habit--something we do daily or weekly. Here are five excuses I often hear from colleagues and my suggestions on mindset shifts that result in action items to help move the needle forward in our businesses.

1. Excuse: I'll start __________ (marketing, updating my website, etc.) when I'm less busy with client projects.

Action Item: I'll work on __________ (marketing, updating my website, etc.) one morning a week so that I can make progress in this area while still serving my clients and building revenue in my business.

2. Excuse: I'll sign up for that ___________ (webinar, course, conference, etc.) when I am making more money.

Action Item: I'll invest in my professional development now and work hard to pay for this ___________ (webinar, course, conference, etc.), because I know that it will allow me to sharpen my skills, make more money, etc.

3. Excuse: Even though I would prefer better clients, I don't have time to market my business, because I am so busy with the ones I have.

Action Item: I will spend 20 minutes a day marketing my business so that I can slowly replace the difficult-to-work-with or low-paying clients with better ones this year.

4. Excuse: There don't seem to be any direct clients in my area(s) of specialization. All of them prefer to work with large language services companies. So, I'll probably just work for agencies for the rest of my career, unless I change or add a specialization to my service offerings.

Action Item: I'll will brainstorm or talk to a colleague for 15 minutes a week to come up with some ideas of direct clients to whom I could market my translation services. And I will consider developing a second area of specialization that would allow me to market my services to more direct clients.

5. Excuse: I have to be in my email inbox at all times, because I might lose a project if I don't respond right away. (Side note: I had this mentality when I first started as a freelancer. It is not healthy! And it's not true if you have the right clients for you.)

Action Item: I will look at my email three times a day (once in the morning, once before lunch and once at the end of the day before I wrap things up for the evening). I will respond to all client requests at that time, and I will let my clients know what times I'll be in my inbox so that they know when to expect my replies. I will also look for more clients who respect these boundaries and do not expect me to always be available to them.

It's easy to make these and other excuses. I'm guilty of making excuses myself. We all do it in some area of our lives and businesses! It's human nature to take the more comfortable route if given the option. But we will only grow or improve when we decide to take that stroll outside our comfort zone.

What kind of excuses do you make in your business? What mindset shifts can you make to help you overcome the excuses and start taking action?