In a world of too many (and ever-increasing!) choices, most of us are familiar with the concept of analysis paralysis. In the face of too many options–whole, low-fat, skim, soy, or almond milk in that latte??–we either a) make no choice at all–let the barista pick…surprise me!–or b) waste cognitive and emotional resources on relatively insignificant decisions. This can come back to bite us when we have to make significant decisions, like how to market our freelance businesses.
Beating analysis paralysis is an important skill for a freelancer. I’ll hazard a completely unscientific guess that the top 10% of freelancers in our profession earn six figures or the part-time equivalent; over 100,000 dollars or euros a year, or an equivalent amount if they work less than full time. I’ll also hazard a guess that it’s not difficult to identify something the 10% do well: they’re the ones actively looking for the kinds of clients they want to work with, and taking intentional actions to draw those clients to them or to proactively contact those clients, rather than translating whatever lands in the inbox.
Analysis paralysis hamstrings a lot of freelancers. One of the most common things I hear from students in my classes is, “I have so many marketing ideas, I just don’t know where to start.” Or, “Every time I sit down at my desk to work on marketing, I get bogged down thinking of all the things I feel like I should do first: create a new website, update my LinkedIn profile, get a new headshot photo, order new business cards. I feel so overwhelmed that I don’t do anything.” Wikipedia tells us that, “Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.” Following are a few suggestions for short-circuiting analysis paralysis, and feel free to add your own in the comments:
- Admit that you’re caught in the trap. Call analysis paralysis what it is. It’s not helpful. It’s draining. It’s counter-productive. And you really can work on marketing without a new headshot photo. Seeing the problem is the first step. If necessary, say out loud, “I’m caught in analysis paralysis here, but I’m going to get over it and do something.”
- When you feel yourself flailing, think, “What’s working well right now?” Then build on that. Let’s say that you want to market to some new direct clients, but you don’t know where to start. Every time you think about clients who might need a translator with your skills, there are so many options that you feel paralyzed. You don’t know whether it’s better to target large companies or small ones, companies in your target or source country, and so on. Instead, do this: identify your current favorite client. Then look for more clients like them. No client is that unique–whatever you like about your current A+ client can be found in other, similar clients.
- Use special software only if it saves more time than it consumes. Lots of students ask me about customer relationship management software, lead tracking software, software that integrates with LinkedIn, and so on. Sure. If that type of tool motivates you to work on marketing, or if it saves you tons of time, use it. But for the amount of marketing that the average freelancer does–maybe a few hundred contacts a year at most–I think that a simple tool like Excel or a Google Sheet is just fine. That’s what I use. I have an Excel sheet called “Contacts,” and in it I record the name of the company or entity, the date I contacted them, how I contacted them, and then their response. I color-code their row: yellow means “contacted them, waiting to hear back.” Red means “they responded and I don’t need to contact them again” (i.e. they don’t work in English-speaking countries, or they only use pro bono translators). Green means “positive response from them.” Then I have a column for any followup action that needs to be taken. This is fast and easy to use.
- Pick one goal. Lots of translators are trying to achieve too many objectives at once: trying to find high-quality agency clients, direct clients in three different specializations, and cultural consulting clients, for example. If you can juggle all of that, go for it. But if–like 99% of freelancers–too many balls in the air just makes everything worse, then pick one goal. Right now you’re only contacting wellness retreats in Costa Rica that should have a better English web presence. Or e-learning companies that should be producing courses in Spanish. Or any other type of client: just pick one, not 12.
- Have an end goal in mind. “Why am I doing this?” is a question we ask far too infrequently. Are you interested in finding higher-paying work? More interesting work? Work from clients in a specific geographic area? Work in a specific specialization? Projects with longer deadlines? Keep your eye on that, and it will help you focus.
- Keep the actual marketing as simple as possible. Don’t overthink your message. If you identify a potential client who looks like a good fit, write something like this. “As a French to English translator with 15+ years’ experience translating for the development sector, I recently came across your website. Congratulations on the outstanding work you’re doing in the education and healthcare sectors in Haiti. In the context of your work, I can imagine that there might be a need for a translator to help with annual or quarterly reports, monitoring and evaluation documents, in-country employee materials and similar projects. Please let me know if my services might be helpful to you.” This might not be the jazziest marketing e-mail ever written, but it’s short and professional, it gets the point across, and it doesn’t subject the potential client to your life story. It gets the job done, and it’s something that anyone can write and send in just a few minutes.
I often tell other translators, “You know what kind of marketing works: the kind of marketing you do, not the kind of marketing you only think about.” In order to get it done, you need to force yourself out of analysis mode. Feel free to contribute your own ideas in the comments!