On speaking the client’s language (not the opposite)


Photo by Alexandra on Unsplash

I changed my bank accounts – moved to another bank. There I was, at my new bank, signing the endless sheets of contract papers while the manager was explaining how they worked using banking jargon. Besides feeling extremely mad I was losing precious working hours because the manager did not have everything ready, as she said she would, I felt lost a couple of times because I did not understand the specific terms she used. And I felt embarrassed for having to ask her what they meant. When I finally understood, I started asking myself why she wouldn’t use another term, a more commonly-used one with exactly the same meaning.

I struggle to understand financial and banking operations. Whenever I have to deal with related matters, I postpone it to the last possible minute. And when I finally have to take the bulls by the horn, I feel bored and petrified I might do something wrong I may regret later. So why make my life easier and use lay terms if they can show off their banking expertise, right?

I use every single experience as a customer to learn how to deal with my own clients. If I like something, I try to adapt it to my translation business. If not, I reflect to see if I do the same with my clients and, if so, I immediately try to change it.

Do I want my client to feel the way I feel when I have to deal with things I don’t understand?

We should always keep in mind that if a client is coming to us it means they want their problem solved. It doesn’t matter how we do it and the terms we use to describe it. In order to win the client, we need to be as straightforward and clear as possible, and make them feel relieved their problem will be solved according to their needs, so they can go on and worry about other things. We should try to make their lives as easier as possible.

On this note, is it really that important that the client knows the difference between a translation and an interpreting service? Will it really change your entire life to “teach” the client that you are an interpreter, not a translator, for Pete’s sake? In Portuguese, we have different terms for translation into our mother tongue and into our B language (the latter is called versão). Do my Brazilian clients need to know this difference?

Let’s leave our ego aside for a moment and take the focus off us and make it on the client.

First and foremost, we are the language experts – the main reason we should be the ones to speak our client’s language, not the opposite. Secondly, we will be the ones to handle their (written/spoken) words – another reason we should be the ones to speak their language, not the opposite. Thirdly, don’t you just love when, as a client, the service provider truly understands you and doesn’t vomit jargons you don’t understand?

Listen to your client, instead of focusing on “educating” them or “teaching” them. Try to truly understand their needs and talk to them in a language they understand. Do your homework and research more information about them to get to know them even further and understand their language and their world. Always remember the client is king/queen.


Guest post: How can I find translation clients?

Here we are with our first guest post after the new editorial calendar was launched. I won’t work tomorrow (today is a holiday here, so I decided to transfer the day off for tomorrow), so I’m anticipating it. As advertised, our guest today is Tess Whitty, from “Marketing Tips for Translators”.

Welcome, Tess!


Tips on where to find your ideal translation clients

When it comes to connecting with clients, the wonderful news for freelance translators is that potential clients are practically everywhere. It is simply a question of getting in front of them to be able to offer your translation services.

You are probably thinking that I make it sound easier than it actually is, as though you just jump in front of potential clients and they’ll drop everything and pull out their wallets to work with you.  Well, it’s not that easy, of course, but there are some reasonably simple steps you can take to make potential clients aware of your business and expertise.  That is, of course, the first step to attracting new business.

The easiest way to gain new business is to contact translation agencies and register yourself in their databases. In my experience, most translators are able to construct very successful careers by following this strategy.

You can also find translation buyers directly, forgoing agencies altogether. I know many translators that work solely with direct clients these days. Taking this route requires a much more active marketing campaign, but it can be very rewarding, since you get a personal relationship with the client.

In this article I will present some tips and steps for you to go out and find your ideal clients, whether you prefer working with direct clients or agencies.

Finding and contacting translation agencies

Thousands of translation agencies around the world are looking for freelance translators just like you. But, not all agencies are created equal. In fact, experience has taught me that agencies generally come in one of three varieties: smooth-operating professional agencies, price hagglers, and shady dealers. You want to focus on the first kind.

To do this, always research an agency before accepting work from them, and never be afraid to dump an agency if you find out that their working style does not align with your values. Simply bow out as professionally as possible and keep looking for partners who respect you and the work that you can contribute.

You can find lists of agencies in translation association directories, translation portals, databases for payment practices and by conducting a simple online search. After checking credibility, you should also check whether the agency works with your particular language pair and areas of specialization. At this stage, I recommend creating an Excel document with the agency name, location and a brief description about what makes that agency unique. This can help you streamline the process of contacting each one and tracking the results.

If you are asked to contact the agency by email, you can create an email template with the following information:

  • Subject line: Include your language combination and that you are a freelance translator looking for work/clients.
  • Email body: State that you would like to work for them as a freelance translator, highlight your accomplishments, experience, degrees and your field of specialization. Try to keep it brief, only two paragraphs.
  • Conclusion and Signature: Provide a link to your website, if you have one, and encourage the agency to visit to see what you can offer.  Also include your contact information and ask them to contact you for further information.

Most translation agencies these days have an application form on their websites that translators should use. Even if this method might seem impersonal, you must use it if this is their preferred method. Many agencies have these applications go directly to a database and you might just create more work for the agency or even get ignored if you apply by snail mail or email.

Keep track and follow up 

In your master Excel agency list, track the agencies you have contacted and follow up with an email in a week or so if you have not heard back. You can ask if they have received your email and if they have any questions or need further information.

Finding and contacting direct clients

As much as you may not like to hear it, the truth is that most direct clients are found through networking. Therefore, you have to be prepared to devote time and resources to put yourself in front of your prospective clients. If you’re going to start marketing directly to individuals or businesses, your first step will be to narrow down your target audience so you can bring focus to your communication efforts. Then, you can start researching potential clients online in your area of expertise.

Here are some steps to help structure this effort:

  • Decide on a niche and the type of companies in a specific industry that you want to target. Be specific. Include size, location, type of company, etc. What are the major companies? Are there any local companies in your area? I recommend writing this down or creating a database of potential clients so that you can use it for future reference.
  • Identify where these companies “hang out” online and in your community. Understand how you can make contact with them. This can be through LinkedIn, a local chamber of commerce, international industry events, and so on.
  • Check if you already have contacts in the industry that you can use to get in touch with your target clients.
  • Read or subscribe to trade journals in your area of expertise
  • Become a member in a relevant trade association.
  • Look for industry-specific events in your niche that you can attend.

Contacting direct clients can be tricky and perhaps uncomfortable at times, so it is important that you have done your research first. Only contact a direct client when you have the right person to contact. Make sure you have an angle to provide good solid value when you contact the client. The first contact can be done by email, sending out a brochure or meeting this client face-to-face at an event. Be prepared to research and contact many potential clients, and expect about a one percent return rate.

No matter whether you are targeting translation agencies or direct clients, there are some general tips and recommendations that can help you immensely along the way. Here are 10 tips:

  1. Don’t sit and wait for opportunities – create your own
  2. When you meet a good prospect, take action immediately, call and follow up
  3. Send thank you cards to clients
  4. Ask others to refer you and refer others back
  5. Help other translators and they will help you
  6. When you are not translating, make sure to work on your marketing strategy, brush up on your subject or translation technique through continuing education and keep up to date in your specialization and industry
  7. Living in a big city is a plus for networking, but you should also realize that you are not limited by geographic boundaries. Thanks to the Internet you can work with clients from anywhere
  8. That said, try to be available in your client’s time zones
  9. Keep track of your clients and congratulate them on accomplishments
  10. Send out reminders about your services to clients you have not heard from for a while

For more tips and in depth information, take a look at “The Marketing Cookbook – Foolproof Recipes for a Successful Freelance Career and Lifestyle” and for more free marketing tips, subscribe to the monthly newsletter at www.marketingtipsfortranslators.com.

Thanks a lot, Tess, for accepting my invitation and kindly taking the time to write something so useful for our blog! I loved the tips at the end and I completely agree with everything you said.

Comments, questions, doubts?

About the author
2013-09-24 12.29.09-2Tess Whitty has been a successful freelance translator and entrepreneur for over 10 years and owns the company Swedish Translation Services. Her educational and professional background is in marketing and she is passionate about sharing her knowledge with other freelancers in the form of presentations, training, mentoring and consulting. She is also the author of the book “Marketing Cookbook for Translators”, with easy to follow “recipes” for marketing your translation services and achieving a successful freelance lifestyle, and the award winning podcast “Marketing Tips for Translators”. For more information, and to connect, go to www.swedishtranslationservices.com or www.marketingtipsfortranslators.com.