Let me preface this post by saying that I’m an okay translator. By okay I mean that I do alright for myself and always turn out great work for my clients. I make a comfortable living, really enjoy my career, and I couldn't think of anything I’d rather be doing (except possibly interning on the Howard Stern show, but that’s a post for another time and place). All this is, of course, to say that while I’m good at what I do, I’m no Pulitzer Prize winner (maybe one day!) and I don’t purport to be an expert. I’m simply someone with a keen interest in and a deep love of working with language who is able to turn out some pretty nice work.
That said, being in the game for quite some time now has afforded me the ability to see what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing my services. When I started translating back in 2003, I was a part time translator-cum-hobby linguist who didn’t ever see working with words as a viable career option. Slowly but steadily I honed my skills and developed a repeat client base. By 2009 I had taken the plunge and focused my efforts on full time translating. By 2012 my business had grown exponentially, far more than I could have ever imagined.
Take this post with a grain of salt. What works for me, my client base and my language combination might not necessarily work for you. Use this post as a springboard from which you can dive into other ideas more suited to the work you do. After all, only you know your market and clientele best.
So how does one start to focus their marketing efforts?
1. Think outside the box. Everyone and their mother is on ProZ and TranslatorsCafe these days. While these websites certainly rank high in search engine results, they also mean serious competition for (often) low paying jobs. There is value in joining ProZ and TranslatorsCafe, but not for the reasons you would think—these websites pay off because of the exposure, fora and term assistance. Having a profile there (with positive feedback from clients if at all possible) is a surefire way to get your name on Google and have at least a few clients contact you.
2. Set up a website. This is a no-brainer. If you’re savvy and blog a lot or have really good rotating content, Google will love your site and you’ll rank higher, especially if you cover a niche subject. Services like www.wix.com, www.weebly.com and www.wordpress.com offer low cost, easy solutions for private web hosting. Be sure to buy your own domain name, though! Not even the least internet savvy client wants to see www.iamatranslator.blogididntwanttopayfor.com. Bonus: having a website to put in your e-mail signature, on your business cards or to which you can refer your clients makes you look miles more professional.
3. Flyers, brochures and mailings. Set yourself up with some brochures, flyers and mail-outs that you can send to relevant and targeted business in your area. Include information such as rates, services and most of all, convey that you offer solutions to an existing problem. Clients love knowing they’ll be in good hands with you (and why wouldn’t they?). Websites like Vista Print even have mailing services where they do all the work for you. Consult someone to help you design your campaign if you can afford it, and compile a list of all local companies who might need your services.
4. Participate in social media. Set up a Twitter or a Facebook profile and be active! Get your word out there. Respond to blogs with witty, thoughtful contributions and be sure to include a link to your own social media or web presence.
5. Advertise locally. If you’re specialized in legal translations, advertise your services in a local legal journal. Likewise if you translate medical devices, ice cream maker manuals or fashion press releases. Find your clientele and hone your laser focus right onto them.
6. Attend trade shows and network. This one might be painful for some of us, but we have to do it. If you can’t bring yourself to attend a translation event, why not attend an industry-specific event for your specialization?
7. Join a translators’ association. Goes without saying, really. Being a member of a translation organization lends you an air of professionalism, gets your name out there and shows your clients that you are serious, mean business, and will do an excellent job.
8. Get published. Write something really good or really popular, get it published... and see your premium and brand name skyrocket.
9. Contact agencies yourself. When it all boils down to it, potential clients can’t possibly know about you if you don’t make yourself reachable or reach out first. Craft an individual, concise message to the agencies of your choice and include your updated and neat CV (containing relevant information such as language combination, experience, rates, education and tools). Be sure to be polite and get to the point: you’ve got about 10 seconds to catch their attention, so make it work!
Here are some other resources concerning the topic of marketing yourself as a freelance translator:
About the Author
Audra de Falco is a freelance Italian, Spanish, French and Sicilian to English translator based in New York, NY. She has been working in the industry since 2003 and is an advocate of fair industry practices and translators' rights.