Michelle Vranizan Rafter’s blog has a great post
entitled “Freelancers’ Strategies for Prospering in Bad Times.” Although my sense is that most translators are not feeling the hit of the economic downturn, this post has some very useful information for growing your freelance business under any circumstances; even a beginning freelance translator could apply this information to get established, and for those of us who are already in the business, it’s always good to be reminded about the importance of continuous marketing.
The advice in this blog post reminded me of an interview with noted financial translator Chris Durban that appeared on Business Week’s website in 2004. I like to hear Chris Durban’s thoughts about pretty much anything (her “Onionskin” column is the first thing I read in every issue of the ATA Chronicle), but I thought that her comments about marketing were particularly insightful. Chris’ interview and Michelle Rafter’s blog post point out what I see as critical marketing errors on the part of many freelance translators:
- Living by the computer alone. I’ll second the person in Michelle’s blog post who said that most of their best clients have come through in-person meetings or personal referrals. I actually met one of my biggest clients in the hallway at an ATA conference, and I find that I have a closer rapport with clients who I’ve met in person and cultivated a relationship with. In addition, I think that high-value clients, those who either pay very well or have a large volume of work, are much more likely to trust someone they have met in person. So, every once in a while (or even more often!), shut off the computer and talk to some live people. Attend an ATA or local chapter event, join your local Chamber of Commerce, go to a freelancers’ group potluck, attend a trade show for your specialization.
- Competing on price alone. I think that many translators do this simply because they can’t think of a way not to; they automatically assume that if they need more work and the going rate for their language is X cents per word, if they charge X-2 cents, they’ll stand out. There are a few problems with this. First, I think that many quality-conscious clients are skeptical about translators who charge low rates, feeling that there must be some reason why the person is willing to work for so little. Second, I think that most translators do a better job when they feel that they are being paid fairly, and that the reverse is true as well. Third, I think that competing on price sets up a negative dynamic between the client and the translator, where the client’s view of the translator is as a commodity provider. Lastly, racing to the bottom is a losing battle; there will always be someone willing to work for one cent less. Rather than competing on price, charge what you feel your work is worth and compete on quality and service.
- Resting on laurels. No question, the translation industry is booming, and most established translators are not hurting for work. However, many of us also rely on steady flows of work from regular clients, each of whom may provide 30%, 50% or more of our yearly income. It’s important to have a plan for what happens if one of these relationships dries up. Instead of assuming that you’ll be happily translating away for your current clients indefinitely, always be thinking of who your next clients will be and how you will market to them.