The importance of aiming low

…well, maybe not “low.” Maybe “The importance of setting realistic expectations” is a better way to put it.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many translators fail to reach their long-term goals because (paradoxically) they aim too high. Typical case scenario: a translator who has been in the business for a few years wants to move into the direct client market. Instead of marketing to small consulting companies, other solo entrepreneurs or small professional associations, the translator targets Fortune 500-size companies and is disappointed in the lack of response. Following are some tips on how aiming low/setting realistic expectations can help you achieve your long-term professional goals.

  • Break daunting tasks into smaller chunks. Sandra Smith, the multi-award-winning translator of Suite Française and many other titles, told me that she finished her first book-length translation by translating two pages every morning. This is a great strategy: rather than waiting for that big block of time that is never coming (“I’m waiting to translate this book because I need a month with nothing else to do”), pick a daily chunk of work that you will actually do.
  • Stop waiting to be completely ready. I’m currently reading C.J. Hayden’s Get Clients Now, and really loved her tip- “You will never be completely ready. Start from where you are.” This relates to a post I wrote last year on the tyranny of the sub-goal. Don’t let the elusive goal of complete readiness hold you back. If you’re avoiding doing e-mail marketing because your website is out of date, go to some in-person networking events instead. If you feel like you need 100 prospects in order to market in a new specialization, find one prospect a day and contact each prospect as soon as you find them.
  • Focus on building critical mass. Especially if your goals relate to marketing, focus on how many contacts you will have made if you persevere over time. One contact a day doesn’t sound like much, but if you contact one potential client a day for three months, you will have made 60 contacts. And I’m guessing that if you wait until you have time to contact 60 potential clients at once, you will probably never get there.
  • Aim at the appropriate level. Over time (and through a combination of success, failure, frustration and elation!) I’ve learned that in order to land a new client, you need to be able to get to the person who can actually hire you. Hence, in the Fortune 500 example at the start of the post, the translator likely failed because he/she did not have the level of contacts to get to the person who actually procures translation services for IBM or Sanofi-Aventis or the World Bank. But if you focus on organizations where you can make a direct contact with the person who can write a purchase order for your services, you’ll be a lot more successful. Some freelancers are at the level of the aforementioned organizations and some are at the level of contacting small consulting firms. Either way, if you aim at the appropriate level, you’ll get some interest!
  • Aim in accordance with your personality. Case in point: I hate cold-calling. I’m actually not a big phone person in general, even with my own friends. So I don’t even think of cold-calling prospective clients. E-mail works if you do it correctly and really target your messages. In-person networking works, because you learn to ask people about themselves so that you don’t have to talk about yourself so much. People love getting handwritten notes because it shows an investment of time and attention on the part of the person who wrote the note. So regardless of what you think of the potential effectiveness of a marketing technique, focus on what you will actually do and what will actually work for you.

Readers, anything else to add?

21 Responses to “The importance of aiming low”
  1. EP April 13, 2011
    • Corinne McKay April 22, 2011
      • Corinne Joy May 31, 2011
  2. sonpal April 14, 2011
    • Corinne McKay April 22, 2011
  3. Not-so-evil-PM April 14, 2011
    • Corinne McKay April 22, 2011
  4. Grant Hamilton April 14, 2011
    • Corinne McKay April 22, 2011
      • chloé May 2, 2011
  5. patenttranslator April 14, 2011
    • Corinne McKay April 22, 2011
  6. John Bunch April 15, 2011
    • Corinne McKay April 22, 2011
  7. patenttranslator April 15, 2011
    • Corinne McKay April 22, 2011
    • Corinne McKay April 22, 2011
  8. May April 22, 2011
    • Corinne McKay April 22, 2011
  9. chloé May 2, 2011

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