There are numerous ways to get your freelance translation business up and running, or revive it when you’ve taken time off or haven’t had much work. These range from the unexciting but effective (i.e. applying to every agency in the ATA or a similar association) to the creative and pricey (i.e. preparing slick marketing materials and attending trade fairs for your target industries).
So far (I always feel obligated to write that in case the bottom falls out of the industry at some point!) the global economic meltdown seems to have left most freelance translators relatively unaffected. At the ATA conference, many people I spoke with commented that they have never been busier. But, let’s say that you really want to ramp up your marketing efforts; I’ll offer a few suggestions and I’m sure that other people have great tips too.
- Write articles for trade publications. I think that writing for translation industry publications is really worthwhile too, but if you want to find clients, offer to write for publications that serve your target industries. A simple “best practices for purchasing translations for the (financial, legal, automotive, pharmaceutical, you name it) industry” could position you as the expert in that field. And don’t try to make the excuse that there aren’t any good publications in your areas of specialization; if the worldwide dredging industry has a magazine (and a very nice website!), I’m guessing that your target industries do too!
- Ask potential clients in your area for an informational interview. This could include local agencies, direct clients, association presidents, etc. Don’t be high pressure; just ask if the potential client would like to have coffee so that you can “learn more about their business and how translation fits in” or something similar. Don’t depend on meeting these decision-makers at networking events; go to them and get a one on one meeting…and of course you pick up the tab for their coffee or lunch.
- Work when no one else is working. Whether it’s nights, weekends or the week between Christmas and New Years, the flow of international business rarely stops. Market yourself specifically as the go-to person for those times, the person who takes over when the client’s office closes down.
- Take a marketing trip to your source language country(ies). As I mentioned in a previous post, Payment Practices and similar services can help you find highly-rated clients overseas. Payment Practices lists two pages of agencies in Paris that are rated 4.0/5.0 or higher by translators who have worked for them. In addition, the post-holiday season is a great time to find cheap airfares. So, enlist the help of a trusted colleague who is a native speaker of your source language(s); compose an e-mail asking these highly rated agencies for an informational interview (coffee or lunch at your expense; see above!). Arrive in your nice business outfit with your resumé and cover letter in the client’s language (see trusted colleague) and network away. In any major city, I think that a freelancer with some experience could easily have in-person meetings with 10 or more potential clients during a five day trip.
Some of these strategies are free, some cost money; some are for introverts and others demand a lot of smiling and shaking of hands. The point is, if you’d like your business to be better than it is, try something new; try something that everyone else isn’t doing, and reap the benefits!