How much marketing is enough?

When you’re actively looking for new clients, how much marketing is enough? I hear this question frequently, from beginning and experienced translators alike: beginners need more work, while experienced translators need better work. I’ll admit that I often give subjective answers, such as “Until you have as much work as you want,” or “Until you’re consistently meeting your target income every month.” Those answers aren’t wrong, but they dodge the issue: “enough” marketing is more, or way more, or waaaaaaaay more than most freelancers are doing.

Like many people who give business advice to freelancers, I frequently hear from people who are discouraged that their marketing efforts aren’t yielding better, or faster results. “I’ve contacted so many potential clients, and I still don’t have enough work.” One metric I often give: during my first year of freelancing, I applied to over 400 translation agencies, and it still took 18 months until I was replacing the income from my previous full-time job. Here’s a better answer; I found this in Jennifer Goforth Gregory’s book on business development for content marketing writers (not an affiliate link, I just liked the book!). If you’re having freelance marketer’s block, you should buy the book, and read Jennifer’s blog. Her posts on topics such as what to do when you lose an anchor client combine great advice about the freelance mindset with do-it-now advice on freelance marketing. I implemented a lot of the suggestions in that post when I simply wanted to make more money although I hadn’t lost any clients (it works!).

In her book, Jennifer puts some numbers on “enough” marketing, while commenting that many freelance writers think of 20-30 contacts as “enough,” when that’s actually very few. She recommends:

  • When you are actively looking for new clients, contact at least two new potential clients every business day.
  • After 50 contacts, you should have gotten at least one positive response (“We’ll keep your information on file.”)
  • After 100 contacts, you should have landed a new client
  • If you aren’t seeing results, adjust. Perhaps you’re contacting the wrong kinds of clients, or perhaps your chosen method isn’t working well, or something else. But if you are seeing those results, just keep swimming
  • If you are in urgent need of work–let’s say you’re new to freelancing, got laid off from your in-house job, or lost a client that provided the majority of your income–you should immediately launch a massive-action marketing plan. Jennifer’s blog features a guest post from freelance writer Holly Bowne, who contacted 139 potential clients in five weeks (using individual letters of introduction, not “Dear Sir or Madam”). If you simply don’t have enough work, you should be marketing yourself in every second you’re not generating income.

I really like Jennifer’s advice, because many translators make the mistake of expecting too great a return on too little marketing effort–feeling that after 25 contacts, they’ll surely be overwhelmed with high-paying, interesting work. Compared to when I started freelancing 16 years ago, two things are certainly true:

  • Translators at the low end of the market have a harder time making a living
  • Translators at the high end of the market face more competition

Back in the day (“the day” being the early 2000s; I started freelancing in 2002), things like meeting direct clients on their own turf, writing informational content for direct clients, and joining direct clients’ professional associations were novel concepts. Now, I talk to translators who run into multiple other translators at client-side conferences. It definitely takes more effort to break through the noise in 2018. If you want a definition of “enough” marketing to help you break through, Jennifer’s is a good one!

Readers, over to you: any thoughts on “enough” marketing?

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12 Responses to “How much marketing is enough?”
  1. Amanda Xiaoqing Mao August 13, 2018
    • Corinne McKay August 14, 2018
      • Amanda Xiaoqing Mao September 13, 2018
    • Jennifer Goforth Gregory August 14, 2018
  2. Oleg Gordeev August 14, 2018
    • Corinne McKay August 14, 2018
  3. Jennifer Goforth Gregory August 14, 2018
    • Corinne McKay August 14, 2018
  4. Madalena Zampaulo August 15, 2018
    • Corinne McKay August 15, 2018
  5. palomnik August 16, 2018
    • Corinne McKay August 16, 2018

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