For beginning and experienced translators alike, there is often no way around the need to cold contact potential clients. Beginners need to find those crucial first few clients, and those of us who are established in the industry may want to look for better-paying work, work with direct clients or work in a new specialization. As in any profession, a warm or hot contact is always the most attractive; a personal referral from a colleague or current client has a much higher success rate than an e-mail, phone call or letter out of the blue. However, there’s no denying that cold contacting works when you want to launch or grow your translation business. Here are a few cold contacting techniques and some tips on how to apply them.
Phone calls are of limited use as a first point of contact with a potential translation client. I think that a phone call is appropriate only in response to a job posting that lists a phone number, or if a potential client’s other contact information (e-mail, mailing address etc.) is not available and you’re simply making the call to get that information. If you make a phone call to a potential client, be like e-mail: introduce yourself, get to the point (“what would be the best way to send you my resumé?”), and then let the client go.
Mass e-mail campaigns are another cold contacting technique that I would discourage. Although it’s tempting to write a “dear agency” e-mail, attach your resumé and blast it off to a few hundred translation companies, this technique may a) be perceived as spam and simply deleted and b) appeal to the type of clients you don’t really want to work for: low payers or clients who do not focus on quality.
Personalized e-mail forms the backbone of most translators’ initial marketing campaigns. Most translation companies have application instructions right on their website (look for a link to “contact,” “freelancers” or “employment”), whereby you use either the agency’s online form or send your application materials to an e-mail address that the agency provides. If you are sending a cover letter by e-mail, keep it very brief. Something along the lines of “To the attention of X translation company: I am a freelance X to X translator, and I am interested in offering my services to your agency. My specializations include X, X and X, and I have X years of experience working with X types of clients. In addition, I (am certified by X translators association, have a PhD in biology, am a CPA, worked in international trade for 10 years, etc.). My resumé is attached for your consideration and I look forward to speaking with you about how we might work together in the future.”
Postal mail is a technique that I think can work well with direct clients. When you’re applying to a translation company, you don’t have to convince the company that they need your services, but with a direct client you may. So, you may want to give the client more information than is appropriate to send in a cold e-mail; for example samples of your work, a brochure about your services, etc. Online printing services have also made it much easier to create professional-looking marketing postcards, and these are fast and inexpensive to create and send out to potential clients.
One element of cold contacting that translators often overlook is requesting a personal interview with local clients, or with clients who are in a city that you will be visiting. Especially if you are just starting your business but present yourself well in person, I think it can work very well to e-mail a potential client and ask if you can “stop in for a few minutes to learn more about their business and how you might fit in.” Take a small gift and treat the meeting as an informational interview, where you are not so much trying to sell yourself as to find out what the client’s needs are.