Recently, a reader posted this comment on my Wrapping up 2009 post: “I just wonder how one goes about getting direct clients. It seems ideal, but it also seems like a hurdle to get over, that many of us have not learned how to do.” I think that a lot of translators feel this way: they’d love to work with more direct clients but they struggle to find them. So, here are a few of my theories about working with direct clients, feel free to add your own:
- You’re not going to find direct clients all in one place. Or as I heard someone else put it, “You need to think of ten ways to find one direct client, not one way to find ten direct clients.” I think that many of us who started out working with agencies did so by applying to many, many agencies that we found all in one place. For example, during my first year in business I applied to over 400 potential clients and I found the bulk of them by using just a few sources, such as association directories. See this post for more information about applying to agencies. So, first of all, I think it’s important to restrain yourself from looking for that gold mine of direct clients and accept that you are probably going to find them one at a time.
- Many direct clients will find you, rather than the other way around. Think of it this way; when you receive marketing materials from professional service providers (accountants, web designers, etc.), do you most often save them because you might need them in the future? Do you click on the links in most of the marketing e-mails you receive? I don’t either. So, you have to make sure that you’re easily findable when clients need you. I would say that 90% of the initial contacts I get from direct clients are in a moment of crisis; they have the opportunity to bid on a big contract but the RFP response has to be in English and it’s due next week, they’re exhibiting at a trade fair and just realized that they need their handouts in English, etc. So, make sure that you’re easy to find. Have an engaging and updated profile in the online directory of any associations you belong to; write articles for translation industry websites; get on LinkedIn and similar websites for your non-US countries; write a blog; have a good-looking professional website; join associations related to your specializations. I receive a lot of cold contacts from direct clients because if you Google “freelance French to English translator,” I’m on the first page: this really helps when direct clients are panicking and need a translator.
- You need to be the kind of person colleagues refer clients to. Quite a number of my direct clients have come to me through colleagues. One colleague closed her business to take an in-house job and gifted me a couple of clients; one colleague who works in English>French refers her clients to me when they need the opposite direction, and I receive a lot of referrals through people I meet at conferences and seminars. I know, this involves talking to people and potentially even putting on nice clothes and leaving your house, but it really works.
- Consider putting up a website that is only in your source language. Personally, I think that potential clients are attracted to a website that is exclusively in their language, because it makes you seem more approachable to them. For example, my colleague Eve Bodeux and I invested a very modest amount of money into putting up an exclusively French website. We picked a French domain name and the content is in French only (translated by our trusted colleague Marianne Reiner) and we have gotten excellent feedback on it from potential clients. Just for reference, this site cost us just a few hundred dollars to put up.
I don’t think that direct marketing to direct clients is worthless; personally I like postcard ad campaigns because they’re inexpensive and if you put a nice image on the card, clients may keep it just because they like it. However I do think that for most direct clients, “pull” marketing (where the client comes to you) is much more effective than “push” marketing where you go to the client.