Finding and Keeping Direct Clients
for Your Translation Services
A Workshop by Janice Becker
Reported by Silvia Fosslien
This article, originally printed in the Summer 2004 edition of inforMATIon, recounts a presentation given at MATI's First Annual Conference, held in July of 2004 at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.
At the end of a long day filled with workshops, participants sometimes suffer from an overflow of information, and audience attention begins to wane. However, this was not true of our MATI conference. The last presentation of the day, “Finding and Keeping Direct Clients for Your Translations Services; Developing lasting relationships with direct clients” by Janice Becker was so lively and informative that everybody stayed focused until the very end.
Janice started out by defining three types of translators: in-house translators (the smallest percentage), translators who work for translation agencies, and translators who have direct clients, i.e. who deal directly with the end-user of a translation. Janice explained why direct clients are a useful part of any translator’s client mix. The biggest advantage of having direct clients is the opportunity to build a long-term relationship. The translator can find out about client needs by asking specific questions: For whom and for what is the translation, what is the time frame, are there alternatives? This is particularly helpful for client companies that are just starting to enter a new market. By consulting with the client, you are offering translation as a service which goes beyond the mere counting of words.
What made the presentation so realistic were the examples Janice quoted from her own personal experience. After several years of in-house work with two law firms in Germany, she had returned to Chicago and needed to build a client base from scratch. Here are a few highlights of what worked for her:
1. Seek out people in your field of specialization
. Check the calendar of events in business papers, go to trade shows, promotional meetings, business breakfasts, SBA events, etc. You can find out who is doing business where, what companies were awarded new contracts, who is planning to go international. As an added benefit, you also become more knowledgeable about the industry in which you specialize. Janice pointed out that this strategy is particularly helpful in the early stages of your marketing efforts when you usually have a lot more time than money.
Another possibility is finding a group that is a good fit for you and becoming involved. Janice, whose major fields are legal and business, attended meetings of Women in Trade, career nights of Women Employed, events sponsored by the German American Chamber of Commerce, as well as breakfast meetings on legal topics. When appropriate, you can hand out your business card or give a short (3 to 4 sentences) description about yourself and your services at these events. Janice advises against giving out resumes since you are not looking for a job but are offering a service instead.
2. Write articles
. An article about a translation-related topic in a trade journal can be an effective marketing tool. Also, whenever you read an article in which translation is misunderstood, use the opportunity and write a letter to the editor. This helps educate readers about our profession and establishes you as a translation expert.
3. Learn from your earliest clients
. Ask them what they read, how they heard about you, where else they would look for translation services.
4. Solicit recommendations from clients
. When satisfied clients send you an email thanking you and commending you for your work, ask whether they would put it on their letterhead so that you can use it as a reference for potential clients.
5. Treat all clients equally well
. Do not look down on small jobs. If you do not want to do them, pass them on to someone who will. Janice told about a client who was a refugee and needed to have his birth certificate translated. A few years later, he worked in a big company that needed translation services. He remembered her, and that contact a few years back brought her a major new client.
6. Participate in continuing education courses
. For her fields of specialization, Janice mentioned courses offered by the Chicago Board of Trade and the banking industry as examples. Continuous education will improve your skills, and you never know whether the person sitting next to you just might not become a client one day. This actually happened to Janice when she took an English writing course at the University of Chicago.
7. Say thank you
. When someone refers a client to you, never forget to thank the person who referred you. If you omit this courtesy, you may never get a second referral.
The presentation was interspersed with lively discussion. Participants asked questions and shared their experiences and success stories throughout the workshop, so everyone went away with new ideas.
Silvia Fosslien is a free-lance translator and interpreter for German and English. She holds degrees as a certified translator and interpreter from the University of Heidelberg and a Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Literature from the University of Chicago. Silvia is ATA accredited from English into German.